Allied Warships

HMS Forester (H 74)

Destroyer of the F class


HMS Forester during the Second World War

NavyThe Royal Navy
TypeDestroyer
ClassF 
PennantH 74 
Built byJ.S. White & Co. (Cowes, U.K.) 
Ordered17 Mar 1933 
Laid down15 May 1933 
Launched28 Jun 1934 
Commissioned29 Mar 1935 
End service 
History

Sold to be broken up for scrap on 22 January 1946. Scrapped at Rosyth in June 1947.

 

Commands listed for HMS Forester (H 74)

Please note that we're still working on this section.

CommanderFromTo
1Lt.Cdr. Edward Bernard Tancock, RN31 Jan 1939Jan 1942
2Lt.Cdr. George Pepys Huddart, RNJan 19421 May 1942 (+)
3Lt. Jack Bitmead, RN1 May 194220 May 1942
4Lt.Cdr. Robert Augustus Fell, RN20 May 1942mid 1942
5Lt. Jack Bitmead, RNmid 19424 Aug 1942
6Lt.Cdr. James Arbouin Burnett, DSC, RN4 Aug 194221 May 1944
7Cdr. George Windsor Gregorie, RD, RNR21 May 19449 Jul 1944
8Lt. David Creagh Beatty, RN9 Jul 194417 Apr 1945
9Lt.Cdr. Peter Ronald Ward, RN17 Apr 19456 Jun 1945
10A/Lt.Cdr. Louis John Hilary Gamble, DSC, RN6 Jun 19455 Jan 1946

You can help improve our commands section
Click here to Submit events/comments/updates for this vessel.
Please use this if you spot mistakes or want to improve this ships page.

Notable events involving Forester include:


31 Aug 1939
Around 1800 hours, the Home Fleet departed Scapa Flow to patrol between Scotland, Iceland and Norway for returning German merchant vessels.

Ships that participated in this patrol were; battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN, flying the flag of Admiral J.M. Forbes, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Rodney (Capt. E.N. Syfret, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. A.J. Power, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells, CB, DSO, RN), light cruisers HMS Aurora (Capt. G.B. Middleton, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral R.H.C. Hallifax, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. E. de F. Renouf, CVO, RN), HMS Belfast (Capt. G.A. Scott, DSC, RN) (from the 18th Cruiser Squadron), HMS Effingham (Capt. J.M. Howson, RN), HMS Cardiff (Capt. P.K. Enright, RN), HMS Dunedin (Capt. C.E. Lambe, CVO, RN), HMS Emerald (Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN) (from the 12th Cruiser Squadron), HMS Caledon (Capt. C.P. Clark, RN), HMS Calypso (Capt. N.J.W. William-Powlett, DSC, RN), HMS Diomede (Capt. E.B.C. Dicken, RN), HMS Dragon (Capt. R.G. Bowes-Lyon, MVO, RN) (from the 7th Cruiser Squadron. These ships were escorted by destroyers from the 8th Destroyer Flotilla; HMS Faulknor (Capt. C.S. Daniel, RN), HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. P.H. Hadow, RN) and HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN).

To patrol off the Skagerrak was the battlecruiser squadron which was made up of the battlecruisers HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN) which were escorted by destroyers from the 6th Destroyer Flotilla; HMS Somali (Capt. R.S.G. Nicholson, DSC, RN), HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. St. J.A. Micklethwait, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. P.V. McLaughlin, RN), HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, RN) and HMS Tartar (Capt. G.H. Warner, DSC, RN). (1)

4 Sep 1939
The battleships HMS Royal Oak (Capt. W.G. Benn, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.E.C. Blagrove, RN) and HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. L.V. Morgan, CBE, MVO, DSC, RN) both departed Scapa Flow to patrol to the east of the Fair Isle Channel. They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Broke (Capt. R. Kerr, RN), HMS Wanderer (Cdr. R.F. Morice, RN) and HMS Whitehall (Lt.Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN). They were joined at sea early in the afternoon of the 6th by three more destroyers; HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN).

6 Sep 1939
Late in the afternoon the battleships HMS Royal Oak (Capt. W.G. Benn, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.E.C. Blagrove, RN) and HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. L.V. Morgan, CBE, MVO, DSC, RN) and their escorting destroyers; HMS Broke (Capt. R. Kerr, RN), HMS Wanderer (Cdr. R.F. Morice, RN) and HMS Whitehall (Lt.Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN) returned to Scapa Flow from their patrol to the east of the Fair Isle Channel.

8 Sep 1939
The battlecruisers HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN), light cruisers HMS Belfast (Capt. G.A. Scott, DSC, RN), HMS Edinburgh (Capt. F.C. Bradley, RN) and the destroyers HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) sailed from Scapa Flow to patrol between Iceland and the Faroes as cover for the cruisers of the Northern Patrol. The destroyer HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN) joined the force at sea later on the 8th.

12 Sep 1939
The battlecruisers HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN) and the destroyers HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN) returned to Scapa Flow.

The light cruisers HMS Belfast (Capt. G.A. Scott, DSC, RN) and HMS Edinburgh (Capt. F.C. Bradley, RN) had in the meantime been detached for patrol duties. They refuelled at Sullom Voe on 15 September and then continued their patrol. They only returned to Scapa Flow on 20 September.

20 Sep 1939
German U-boat U-27 was sunk in the North Atlanic west of Hebrides, in position 58°35'N, 09°02'W, by depth charges from the British destroyers HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN).

20 Sep 1939
Battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN, flying the flag of Admiral J.M. Forbes, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Rodney (Capt. E.N. Syfret, RN), battlecruisers HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. A.J. Power, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells, CB, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, RN) and HMS Tartar (Capt. G.H. Warner, DSC, RN) departed Loch Ewe in the evening for Scapa Flow. They were joined by the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. C.S. Daniel, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. P.H. Hadow, RN) and HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN) which had departed Scapa Flow earlier to join the escort.

This force arrived at Scapa Flow on the 21st but not before four more destroyers; HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. St. J.A. Micklethwait, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. P.V. McLaughlin, RN) and HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN) had joined the escort.

22 Sep 1939
To conduct an operation against German shipping off the Norwegian coast the light cruiser HMS Aurora (Capt. G.B. Middleton, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral R.H.C. Hallifax, RN) and the destroyers HMS Tartar (Capt. G.H. Warner, DSC, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. St. J.A. Micklethwait, RN) and HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, RN) departed Scapa Flow as well as the light cruisers HMS Southampton (Capt. F.W.H. Jeans, CVO, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral G.F.B. Edward-Collins, CB, KCVO, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. E. de F. Renouf, CVO, RN), HMS Glasgow (Capt. F.H. Pegram, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, RN), HMS Javelin (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. D.B. Wyburd, RN) departed Rosyth. HMS Jersey (Lt.Cdr. A.M. McKillop, RN), coming from the Chatham Dockyard, joined at sea.

To provide cover for this operation two forces were deployed from Scapa Flow. One force was made up of the battlecruisers HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN) and HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, RN).

The other force was made up of the battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN, flying the flag of Admiral J.M. Forbes, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Rodney (Capt. E.N. Syfret, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. A.J. Power, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells, CB, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. C.S. Daniel, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. P.H. Hadow, RN), HMS Somali (Capt. R.S.G. Nicholson, DSC, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. P.V. McLaughlin, RN) and HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN). Later the destroyers HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN), HMS Esk (Lt.Cdr. R.J.H. Couch, RN) and HMS Express (Cdr. J.G. Bickford, RN) joined at sea.

The raid was abandoned when HMS Javelin and HMS Jersey collided in position 57°09'N, 03°08'W at 2038/22.

All forces returned to their port of departure on 23 September but not before HMS Hood reported an explosion at 1330/23. The destroyers HMS Firedrake and HMS Fortune were detached to investigate but no contact was obtained. In fact this was indeed an attack by a German submarine; U-24 which reported to have made a failed torpedo attack at 1328/23 on HMS Hood and two escorting destroyers.

25 Sep 1939
At 0510/25 a radio message was received from the submarine HMS Spearfish (Lt. J.H. Eaden, RN) that she had been badly damaged by enemy warships and that she was unable to dive and was proceeding along the Danish coast try to make it back to the U.K.

Around 0730 hours the light cruisers HMS Southampton (Capt. F.W.H. Jeans, CVO, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral G.F.B. Edward-Collins, CB, KCVO, RN) and HMS Glasgow (Capt. F.H. Pegram, RN) departed Rosyth and joined destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, RN) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. D.B. Wyburd, RN) near May Island shortly after 0900 hours. They were to operate off the Norwegian coast at 60°N to closely cover the retreat of the damaged submarine. with the destroyers HMS Somali (Capt. R.S.G. Nicholson, DSC, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. St. J.A. Micklethwait, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. P.V. McLaughlin, RN) and HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN) which were already on patrol in that area.

The light cruisers HMS Aurora (Capt. G.B. Middleton, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral R.H.C. Hallifax, RN) and HMS Sheffield (Capt. E. de F. Renouf, CVO, RN) which were already patrolling at sea were ordered to proceed well into the approaches of the Skagerrak with the destroyers HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN), and HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN) which had been on the Fare Island patrol. These ships were to try to make contact with HMS Spearfish.

To provide more distant cover for the whole operation the battlecruisers HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN), heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.G.B. Wilson, DSO, RN), light cruisers HMS Newcastle (Capt. J. Figgins, RN), HMS Edinburgh (Capt. F.C. Bradley, RN) and the destroyers (Capt. A.G.B. Wilson, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. C.S. Daniel, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, RN) and HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. P.H. Hadow, RN) departed Scapa Flow.

Also from Scapa Flow sailed yet another cover force made up of the battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN, flying the flag of Admiral J.M. Forbes, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Rodney (Capt. E.N. Syfret, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. A.J. Power, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells, CB, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Tartar (Capt. G.H. Warner, DSC, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, RN) and HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN).

Around 0100/26 the destroyers HMS Somali and HMS Eskimo made contact with HMS Spearfish which was then safely escorted to Rosyth despite German air attacks during which HMS Ark Royal was near missed and HMS Hood struck by a bomb which did not explode.

All ships were back in port on 27 September minus HMS Norfolk which was detached earlier to join the Northern Patrol.

8 Oct 1939
A force of German warships departed Kiel to operate off the south coast of Norway. They were to sink Allied shipping and lure the British Home Fleet into the range of Luftwaffe aircraft. This force was made up of the battlecruiser Gneisenau, light cruiser Köln and the destroyers Z 3 / Max Schultz, Z 5 / Paul Jacobi, Z 11 / Bernd von Arnim, Z/14 Friedrich Ihn, Z 15 / Erich Steinbrinck, Z 16 / Friedrich Eckholdt, Z 17 / Diether von Roeder, Z 20 / Karl Galster, Z 21 / Wilhelm Heidkamp. In addition, four submarines were deployed in a patrol line to attack the Home Fleet, these were U-10, U-18, U-20 and U-23.

The Admiralty took the bait and around 1600/8 the battlecruisers HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN), light cruisers HMS Aurora (Capt. G.B. Middleton, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral R.H.C. Hallifax, RN) and HMS Sheffield (Capt. E. de F. Renouf, CVO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Somali (Capt. R.S.G. Nicholson, DSC, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. P.V. McLaughlin, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. St. J.A. Micklethwait, RN) and HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN) departed Scapa Flow for a position about 50 miles to the north-west of Stadlandet, Norway.

Around 1900 hours the battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN, flying the flag of Admiral J.M. Forbes, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Rodney (Capt. E.N. Syfret, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. M.L. Clarke, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Newcastle (Capt. J. Figgins, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. C.S. Daniel, RN), HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, RN) and HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, RN) departed Scapa Flow for a position north of Muckle Flugga. Both forces were to reach their positions by dawn the following day and then steam towards each other in a pincer movement to cut off the German ships from their home ports.

The light cruisers HMS Southampton (Capt. F.W.H. Jeans, CVO, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral G.F.B. Edward-Collins, CB, KCVO, RN), HMS Glasgow (Capt. F.H. Pegram, RN), HMS Edinburgh (Capt. F.C. Bradley, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. D.B. Wyburd, RN). They were joined at sea by the destroyers HMS Jackal (Cdr. T.M. Napier, RN) and HMS Janus (Lt.Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN) which came from Grimsby. This force was ordered to operate off the western end of the Skagerrak and then sweep northwards.

At 0600/9 HMS Jaguar was ordered to return to Rosyth to refuel. En-route there she was attacked by German aircraft but she was not hit.

HMS Jervis and HMS Jupiter were ordered to search for the small Danish merchant vessel Teddy (503 GRT, built 1907) which had reported that she had picked up the crew of a German flying boat whih was shot down on the 8th. They were attacked by German aircraft at 1518/9, but neither destroyer was damaged. However, about 1.5 hours laters HMS Jupiter broke down and had to be taken in tow by her sister ship.

HMS Jaguar meanwhile had completed refuelling at Rosyth. She left that port together with HMS Jersey (Lt.Cdr. A.M. McKillop, RN) which just finished repairs to the damage sustained in her collision of 22 September.

The were ordered to screen the withdrawal of HMS Jervis and HMS Jupiter. But it was not to be as shorty after departing Rosyth, Jaguar struck a small islet above the Forth bridge and damaged her starboard propeller shaft and HMS Jersey struck the Rosyth boom defence. Both destroyers proceeded to Leith for repairs.

Between 1120 and 1645/9 the Luftwaffe heavily bombed the 'Humber force' made up at that time of HMS Southampton, HMS Glasgow, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Jackal and HMS Janus which had arrived off the western entrance to the Skagerrak by that time. HMS Southampton and HMS Glasgow were near missed but were not damaged.

The German force returned to Kiel shortlyafter midnight during the night of 9/10 October. This news reached the C-in-C, Home Fleet in the afternoon of the 10th after which all ships were ordered to return to port.

HMS Nelson, HMS Rodney, HMS Hood, HMS Faulknor, HMS Firedrake, HMS Forester, HMS Fury, HMS Bedouin and HMS Punjabi proceeded to Loch Ewe arriving on the 11th.

HMS Repulse, HMS Furious, HMS Aurora, HMS Newcastle, HMS Southampton, HMS Glasgow, HMS Somali, HMS Mashona, HMS Eskimo, HMS Ashanti, HMS Fame, HMS Foresight, HMS Jervis, HMS Jackal, HMS Janus and HMS Jupiter (which by now as able to proceed under her own power) arrived at Scapa Flow on the 11th. They had been joined at sea before arrival by two more destroyers which came from Scapa Flow; HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN) and HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. P.H. Hadow, RN).

HMS Edinburgh had been detached and proceeded to Rosyth.

HMS Sheffield had already been detached on the 9th with orders to patrol in the Denmark Strait.

15 Oct 1939
The battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN, flying the flag of Admiral J.M. Forbes, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Rodney (Capt. E.N. Syfret, RN), battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Furious (Capt. M.L. Clarke, DSC, RN), light cruisers HMS Aurora (Capt. G.B. Middleton, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral R.H.C. Hallifax, RN), HMS Belfast (Capt. G.A. Scott, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. P.H. Hadow, RN) and HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN).

They were to patrol north of Iceland as it was thought the German pocket battleship Deutschland was proceeding into the Atlantic. From this position they were able to support the Northern Patrol.

More destroyers later joined at sea; HMS Mashona (Cdr. P.V. McLaughlin, RN), HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, RN and HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, RN) departed Scapa Flow on the 15th. They were followed on the 16th by HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN).

On the 18th the battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN), which had completed boiler cleaning, departed Rosyth escorted by the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, RN), HMS Jersey (Lt.Cdr. A.M. McKillop, RN), HMS Cossack (Capt. D. de Pass, RN) and HMS Maori (Cdr. G.N. Brewer, RN). HMS Cossack and HMS Maori returned to Rosyth on the 19th. HMS Repulse, HMS Jervis and HMS Jersey joined the fleet at sea on the 20th but HMS Jervis and HMS Jersey were detached to Sullum Voe shortly afterwards.

HMS Nelson, HMS Rodney, HMS Hood, HMS Repulse, HMS Furious, HMS Aurora, HMS Belfast, HMS Bedouin, HMS Mashona, HMS Matabele, HMS Punjabi, HMS Fearless, HMS Firedrake, HMS Forester, HMS Foxhound and HMS Fury arrived at Loch Ewe on 22 October.

23 Oct 1939
In the evening, the battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. M.L. Clarke, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), left Loch Ewe (Port A) for the Clyde where they arrived the following morning.

26 Oct 1939
Around 0430/26, the battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. M.L. Clarke, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. P.H. Hadow, RN) departed the Clyde to provide cover for convoys in the North Atlantic.

The destroyers parted company around dawn on the 27th.

HMS Repulse and HMS Furious arrived at Halifax on 3 November.

23 Nov 1939

Sinking of the armed merchant cruiser HMS Rawalpindi

Around midday on 21 November 1939 the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, escorted by the light cruisers Köln and Leipzig and the destroyers Z 11 / Bernd von Arnim, Z 12 / Erich Giese and Z 20 / Karl Galster, departed Wilhelmshaven for a raid into the North Atlantic, this was to relieve the pressure of the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee operating in the South Atlantic. Late on the 21st the escorts left the battlecruisers.

Just after 1500 hours on 23 November the British armed merchant cruiser HMS Rawalpindi (Capt.(Retd.) E.C. Kennedy, RN) sighted the Scharnhorst. Rawalpindi was part of the British Northern Patrol and was stationed south-east of Iceland in the Iceland-Faroe gap. Captain Kennedy at first tried to outrun the German ship, to report to the Admiralty that he sighted the German pocket battleship Deutschland, still believed to be operating in the North Atlantic, and to buy time so that other ships of the Northern patrol could come to his assistance. Just after 1600 hours, Rawalpindi came within range of the Scharnhorst and was quickly reduced to a flaming wreck. During this engagement Scharnhorst was hit by a 6in shell from Rawalpindi causing only light damage. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau together picked up 27 survivors from the Rawalpindi which finally sank around 2000 hours.

The British light cruiser HMS Newcastle (Capt J. Figgins, RN), that was also part of the Northern Patrol, picked up Rawalpindi's signal and closed the scene. She sighted the Gneisenau but the Germans managed to escape in the fog.

The Admiralty also thought the ship sighted by Rawalpindi and Newcastle was the Deutschland that was trying to return to Germany. In response to the sighting and destruction of the Rawalpindi the Admiralty took immediate action;
The battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN, flying the flag of Admiral J.M. Forbes, KCB, DSO, RN) HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN) and the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire (Capt. J.M. Mansfield, DSC, RN) escorted by the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. C.S. Daniel, RN), HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, RN) and HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN) departed the Clyde to patrol of Norway to cut off the way to Germany for the Deutschland.

The light cruisers HMS Southampton (Capt. F.W.H. Jeans, CVO, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral G.F.B. Edward-Collins, CB, KCVO, RN), HMS Edinburgh (Capt. F.C. Bradley, RN) and HMS Aurora (Capt. G.B. Middleton, RN) escorted by the destroyers HMS Afridi (Capt. G.H. Creswell, DSC, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. F.R. Parham, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, RN), HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Somerville, RN) and HMS Isis (Cdr. J.C. Clouston, RN) departed Rosyth to patrol between the Orkney and Shetland islands.

Light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. E. de F. Renouf, CVO, RN) was sent from Loch Ewe to the last known position of the German ship(s).

On northern patrol, south of the Faroes were the light cruisers HMS Caledon (Capt. C.P. Clark, RN), HMS Cardiff (Capt. P.K. Enright, RN) and HMS Colombo (Capt. R.J.R. Scott, RN). These were joined by HMS Dunedin (Capt. C.E. Lambe, CVO, RN) and HMS Diomede (Capt. E.B.C. Dicken, RN).

Of the ships of the Denmark strait patrol, the heavy cruisers HMS Suffolk (Capt. J.W. Durnford, RN) and HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.G.B. Wilson, MVO, DSO, RN) were ordered to proceed to the Bill Bailey Bank (to the south-west of the Faroe Islands).

The light cruiser HMS Glasgow (Capt. F.H. Pegram, RN) escorted by the destroyers HMS Maori (Cdr. G.N. Brewer, RN) and HMS Zulu (Cdr. J.S. Crawford, RN) were already at sea patrolling north-east of the Shetlands were to be joined by the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, RN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.de W. Kitcat, RN), HMS Impulsive (Lt.Cdr. W.S. Thomas, RN) and HMS Imogen (Cdr. E.B.K. Stevens, RN).

The light cruisers HMS Calypso (Capt. N.J.W. William-Powlett, DSC, RN) and HMS Ceres (Capt. E.G. Abbott, AM, RN) were stationed off Kelso Light to act as a night attack striking force. The destroyers HMS Somali (Capt. R.S.G. Nicholson, DSC, RN), HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. P.V. McLaughlin, RN) and HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, RN) had just departed Belfast on escort duties. They were ordered to join Admiral Forbes. The ships they were escorting were ordered to return to Belfast.

The destroyers HMS Tartar (Lt.Cdr. D.E. Holland-Martin, RN), HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, RN) and HMS Kashmir (Cdr. H.A. King, RN) departed Scapa Flow with orders to locate and shadow the German ships. HMS Tartar however had to return to Scapa Flow the next day due to a damaged rudder. The other two destroyers were ordered to join HMS Aurora which was to form a strike group of destroyers.

Despite the British effort to intercept the German ships, both German battlecruisers returned to Wilhelmshaven on the 27th.

10 Dec 1939

Convoy TC 1.

This convoy of troopships departed Halifax at 0510 hours on 10 December 1939 for the Clyde where it arrived on 17 December 1939.

The convoy was made up of the following troopships / liners; Aquitania (British, 44786 GRT, built 1914, carrying 2638 troops), Duchess of Bedford (British, 20123 GRT, built 1928, carrying 1312 troops), Empress of Australia (British, 21833 GRT, built 1914, carrying 1235 troops), Empress of Britain (British, 42348 GRT, built 1931, carrying 1303 troops) and Monarch of Bermuda (British, 22424 GRT, built 1931, carrying 961 troops),

Close escort was provided on leaving Halifax by the battleship HMS Resolution (Capt. O. Bevir, RN) and 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) and HMCS St. Laurent (Lt.Cdr. H.G. de Wolf, RCN). These Canadian destroyers remained with the convoy until 12 December 1939 when they set course to return to Halifax.

Cover for the convoy was provided by the battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. M.L. Clarke, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Emerald (Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Hunter (Lt.Cdr. L. de Villiers, RN) and HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN). At dusk on the 10th both destroyers were detached to join the local escort. They returned to Halifax with the Canadian destroyers.

Early on the 15th, HMS Emerald was detached, HMS Newcastle (Capt. J. Figgins, RN) had joined the cover force in the afternoon of the 14th to take her place.

When the convoy approached the British isles, the destroyers HMS Eskimo (Cdr. St.J.A. Micklethwait, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. P.V. McLaughlin, RN), HMS Somali (Capt. R.S.G. Nicholson, DSC, RN), HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, RN), HMS Khartoum (Cdr. D.T. Dowler, RN), HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Somerville, RN), HMS Kashmir (Cdr. H.A. King, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, RN) and HMS Impulsive (Lt.Cdr. W.S. Thomas, RN) departed the Clyde on the 12th to sweep ahead of the convoy. HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.de W. Kitcat, RN) was also to have sailed but was unable to join. HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN) was sailed in her place and later joined the other destroyers at sea.

After German warships had been reported in the North Sea, and concerned for the safety of convoy TC.1, Admiral Forbes, departed the Clyde on the 13th to provide additional cover with the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. V.A.C. Crutchley, VC, DSC, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. H.T.C. Walker, RN), battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, RN), HMS Imogen (Cdr. E.B.K. Stevens, RN), HMS Imperial, HMS Isis (Cdr. J.C. Clouston, RN) and HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. P.H. Hadow, RN). The destroyers HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, RN) sailed from Loch Ewe and later joined this force at sea. Three cruisers from the Northern Patrol were ordered to patrol in position 53°55’N, 25°00’W to provide cover for the convoy. These were the heavy cruisers HMS Berwick (Capt. I.M. Palmer, DSC, RN), HMS Devonshire (Capt. J.M. Mansfield, DSC, RN) and the light cruiser HMS Glasgow (Capt. F.H. Pegram, RN).

The light cruisers HMS Southampton (Capt. F.W.H. Jeans, CVO, RN), HMS Edinburgh (Capt. F.C. Bradley, RN) departed Rosyth to patrol between the Shetlands and the Faroes.

The destroyers HMS Afridi (Capt. G.H. Creswell, DSC, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. G.N. Brewer, RN) and HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN) departed Rosyth and proceeded north at high speed to try to cut of the enemy warhips if they were to enter the Atlantic.

The light cruisers HMS Cardiff (Capt. P.K. Enright, RN), HMS Ceres (Capt. E.G. Abbott, AM, RN), HMS Delhi (Capt L.H.K. Hamilton, DSO, RN), HMS Diomede (Capt. E.B.C. Dicken, RN) which were on the Northern Patrol were to concentrate near the Faroes where they were joined by HMS Colombo (Capt. R.J.R. Scott, RN) and HMS Dragon (Capt. R.G. Bowes-Lyon, MVO, RN) which were on passage to their patrol stations.

Nothing happened and the convoy arrived safely in the Clyde on 17 December 1939. (2)

13 Dec 1939
The battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. V.A.C. Crutchley, VC, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Admiral J.M. Forbes, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. H.T.C. Walker, RN), battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, RN), HMS Imogen (Cdr. E.B.K. Stevens, RN), HMS Imperial, HMS Isis (Cdr. J.C. Clouston, RN) and HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. P.H. Hadow, RN) sailed from the Clyde to provide cover for convoy TC 1. This convoy transported Canadian troops to the U.K. The destroyers HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, RN) sailed from Loch Ewe and later joined this force at sea.

[For more info on convoy TC 1 see the event 'Convoy TC 1' for 10 December 1939.]

9 Jan 1940

Convoy HN 7

This convoy was assembled in Norwegian waters near Bergen on 9 January 1940 and arrived at Methil on 12 January 1940.

Convoy ON 7 arrived in Norwegian waters near Bergen. After a few hours convoy HN 7 departed for the U.K. The convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels; Abisko (Swedish, 3088 GRT, built 1913), Activ (Norwegian, 507 GRT, built 1903), Basel (Norwegian, 1110 GRT, built 1924), Bauta (Norwegian, 1657 GRT, built 1919), Begonia (Estonian, 1591 GRT, built 1890), Bokn (Norwegian, 697 GRT, built 1890), Bolette (Norwegian, 1167 GRT, built 1920), Bollsta (Norwegian, 1832 GRT, built 1934), Burgos (Norwegian, 3220 GRT, built 1920), Corvus (Norwegian, 1317 GRT, built 1921), Elsa S. (Finnish, 1219 GRT, built 1910), Fintra (British, 2089 GRT, built 1918), Forsvik (Norwegian, GRT, 1248 built 1919), Gudvang (Norwegian, 1469 GRT, built 1912), Gudveig (Norwegian, 1300 GRT, built 1919), Hadrian (Norwegian, 1620 GRT, built 1919), Inari (Finnish, 2216 GRT, built 1900), Ivalo (Finnish, 2035 GRT, built 1902), Kaupanger (Norwegian, 1584 GRT, built 1930), Lysland (Norwegian, 1335 GRT, built 1907), Margo (British, 1245 GRT, built 1895), Merisaar (Estonian, 2136 GRT, built 1900), Merkur (Estonian, 1291 GRT, built 1913), Nordost (Swedish, 1035 GRT, built 1918), Risoy (Norwegian, 793 GRT, built 1918), Rolf (Swedish, 1120 GRT, built 1919), Salerno (British, 870 GRT, built 1924), Sarpfoss (Norwegian ,1493 GRT, built 1919), Skum (Norwegian, 1304 GRT, built 1916), Urd (Swedish, 1008 GRT, built 1922), Vestmanrod (Norwegian, 691 GRT, built 1919), Vienti (Finnish, 1915 GRT, built 1911), Vim (Norwegian, 1114 GRT, built 1913), Wanda (Finnish, 1902 GRT, built 1897), Wilke (Finnish, 2598 GRT, built 1909) and Wirpi (Finnish, 1227 GRT, built 1899).

Escort was provided by the destroyers HMS Tartar (Lt.Cdr. D.E. Holland-Martin, DSC, RN) (later relieved by HMS Maori (Cdr. G.N. Brewer, RN)), HMS Kashmir (Cdr. H.A. King, RN), HMS Khartoum (Cdr. D.T. Dowler, RN) and HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, RN). HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC, RN) later joined at sea. Also part of the escort was the submarine HMS Triton (Lt.Cdr. E.F. Pizey, RN).

Cover for this convoy, like with convoy ON 7, was provided by the light cruisers HMS Glasgow (Capt. F.H. Pegram, RN) and HMS Edinburgh (Capt. C.M. Blackman, DSO, RN).

HMS Kharthoum split off from the convoy on the 11th with five merchant vessels she was to take to the Clyde. Off Scapa Flow they were joined by two tankers; Arndale (RFA, 8296 GRT, built 1937) and Scottish American (6999 GRT, built 1920). They arrived in the Clyde on 13 January 1940. (3)

15 Jan 1940
The battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), battleship HMS Warspite (Capt. V.A.C. Crutchley, VC, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN), HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN) departed the Clyde to take up a patrol position near the Faroes.

24 Jan 1940
The battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), battleship HMS Warspite (Capt. V.A.C. Crutchley, VC, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN), HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN) returned to the Clyde from patrol.

5 Feb 1940
HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN) departed the Clyde for Plymouth (Devonport Dockyard). She was escorted by the destroyers HMS Kashmir (Cdr. H.A. King, RN), HMS Khartoum (Cdr. D.T. Dowler, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN).

At sea they were joined by HMS Isis (Cdr. J.C. Clouston, RN).

The next day they were joined by HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, RN) which apparently took the place of HMS Forester in the screen as this destroyer returned to the Clyde that day (6 February 1940). HMS Kandahar had departed Rosyth on 4 February, having completed her repairs there. (4)

9 Feb 1940
The battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), battleship HMS Warspite (Capt. V.A.C. Crutchley, VC, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. C.S. Daniel, RN), HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN), HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN) departed the Clyde for patrol and to cover various operations in northern waters.

27 Feb 1940
The battleships HMS Malaya (Capt. I.B.B. Tower, DSC, RN) and the armed merchant cruiser HMS Ascania (Capt.(Retd.) C.H. Ringrose-Wharton, RN) departed Greenock for Halifax. They had embarked gold that was to be shipped to Canada for safekeeping.

They were escorted until 2000/28 by the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN) and HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN). (5)

1 Mar 1940
HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN) and HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN) arrived at the Clyde.

2 Mar 1940
At 1600 hours the battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), battleship HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN) and the destroyers HMS Kelly (Capt. L.F.A.V.N. Mountbatten, GCVO, RN), HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. J.A. Giffard, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. C.S. Daniel, RN), HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) departed the Clyde area to provide cover for convoy operations to and from Norway.

3 Mar 1940
At 1330 hours, the force made up of HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), battleship HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN) and the destroyers HMS Kelly (Capt. L.F.A.V.N. Mountbatten, GCVO, RN), HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. J.A. Giffard, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. C.S. Daniel, RN), HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) was off North Minch when in position 58°27'N, 05°46'W, HMS Forester obtained an A/S contact and attacked it. Four more attacks were made between 1240 and 1500 hours during which HMS Forester was joined by HMS Fame. HMS Forester remained in the area of the attacks for around a day before rejoining the force.

Shorty after 2130 hours HMS Kelly obtained and attacked an A/S contact in position 61°06'N, 03°58'W. Contact was lost after the attack and HMS Kelly immediately rejoined the force.

Only one German U-boat was in the general area, operating to the north of Scotland, this was U-38 but she was not attacked on this day so all the contact must have been bogus.

7 Mar 1940
Around 1600 hours, HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), battleship HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN) and the destroyers HMS Kelly (Capt. L.F.A.V.N. Mountbatten, GCVO, RN), HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. J.A. Giffard, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) arrived at Scapa Flow.

7 Mar 1940
In the late afternoon, the battleship HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN, flying the flag of Admiral J.M. Forbes, KCB, DSO, RN), battlecruisers HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN) and HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Hardy (Capt. B.A. Warburton-Lee, RN), HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN), HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, RN), HMS Imogen (Cdr. C.L. Firth, MVO, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, RN) and HMS Kimberley (Lt.Cdr. R.G.K. Knowling, RN) departed the Clyde for Scapa Flow.

They were joined shortly after noon on the 8th by the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN).

At 1730/8, they arrived off the Hoxa entrance to Scapa Flow but was could not enter due to the possible threat from aerial laid magnetic mines. The force remained steaming up and down in the Pentland Firth whilst minesweepers started to clear the entrance.

The ships were only able to enter Scapa Flow around 1000/9.

19 Mar 1940
Ships from the Home Fleet departed Scapa Flow in the afternoon in two groups to cover (convoy) operations.

These groups were;
Battleships HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN, flying the flag of Admiral J.M. Forbes, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN) and HMS Warspite (Capt. V.A.C. Crutchley, VC, DSC, RN). These were escorted by the destroyers HMS Hardy (Capt. B.A. Warburton-Lee, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN), HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, RN), HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, RN), HMS Hunter (Lt.Cdr. L. de Villiers, RN), HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN).

Battlecruisers HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN) and HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN). These were escorted by the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Delight (Cdr. M. Fogg-Elliot, RN), HMS Diana (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN) and HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, RN).

27 Mar 1940
The two groups of the Home Fleet that had been covering operations returned to Scapa Flow around 1100 hours. These were;

Battleships HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN, flying the flag of Admiral J.M. Forbes, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN) and HMS Warspite (Capt. V.A.C. Crutchley, VC, DSC, RN). Escorted by the destroyers HMS Hardy (Capt. B.A. Warburton-Lee, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN), HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, RN), HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, RN), HMS Hunter (Lt.Cdr. L. de Villiers, RN), HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN).

Battlecruisers HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN) and HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN). Escorted by the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Delight (Cdr. M. Fogg-Elliot, RN), HMS Diana (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN) and HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, RN).

30 Mar 1940
HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN) departed the Clyde for Plymouth where she is to refit at the Devonport Dockyard. Most important work that needs to be done is the retubing of her condensors and some modifications to the armament were to be made.

During the passage to Plymouth she was escorted by the destoyers HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN) and HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN).

31 Mar 1940
HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN) and HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN) arrived at Plymouth.

12 Apr 1940
After having patrolled off the Lofoton on the 11th and part of the 12th, around 0730/12, HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN) and HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN) made rendezvous with the Home Fleet that comprised, at that moment, battleships HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN, flying the flag of Admiral J.M. Forbes, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Warspite (Capt. V.A.C. Crutchley, VC, DSC, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN) and the destroyers HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN), HMS Cossack (Cdr. R.St.V. Sherbrooke, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. G.N. Brewer, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. J.S. Crawford, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Javelin (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN) and HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN).

Around 1300/12, HMS Valiant, HMS Repulse, HMS Janus, HMS Javelin and HMS Juno parted company with the Fleet.

At 2300/12, Vice-Admiral Whitworth transferred his flag from HMS Renown to HMS Warspite.

HMS Rodney, HMS Renown and HMS Furious continued to operate off the Vestfiord / Lofoten until 15 April when HMS Rodney and HMS Renown set course for Scapa Flow. HMS Furious remained in the area.

[During their patrol they were escorted by several destroyers but it is unknown to us which destroyers were with them during which time as there are no logs of destroyers available for this period and the logs of the capital ships don't give the names of the escorting destroyers.]

16 Apr 1940

Operation Duck.


Bombardment of the Sola airfield off Stavanger.

Timespan: 16 to 18 April 1940.

The heavy cruiser HMS Suffolk (Capt. J.W. Durnford, RN) and the destroyers HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN) and HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St. Clair-Ford, RN) departed Scapa Flow around 1700/16 for this operation.

Early on the 17th this force contacted the submarine HMS Seal (Lt.Cdr. R.P. Lonsdale, RN) which was to act as a beacon to home in the ships.

Between 0513 and 0602 hours, HMS Suffolk bombarded the airfield. Following this she and the destroyers were ordered to proceeded northwards to intercept a reported group of enemy destroyers, the result was that their air cover that was provided during their retirement did not sight the ships which then came under heavy air attack from the German Luftwaffe for about seven hours from 0825 hours onwards.

The result was that HMS Suffolk was heavily damaged. She suffered 32 dead and 41 wounded. HMS Kipling was also damaged by two near misses.

Air cover finally arrived at 1415 hours but even then the Germans continued to attack.

The battlecruisers HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN), the AA cruiser HMS Cairo (Capt. P.V. McLaughlin, RN) and the destroyers HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fury (Cdr. E.W.B. Sim, RN), HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN), HMS Javelin (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Kimberley (Lt.Cdr. J.S.M. Richardson, RN), ORP Blyscawica (Lt.Cdr. S.M. Nahorski, ORP) and ORP Grom (Lt.Cdr. S. Hryniewiecki) rushed towards to give support. The destroyer HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN) joined later.

HMS Suffolk limped towards Scapa Flow where she arrived with a heavy list at 0545/18. She arrived at Scapa Flow escorted by HMS Renown, HMS Forester, HMS Fury, HMS Hereward, HMS Hyperion, HMS Janus, HMS Juno, HMS Kimberley and HMS Kipling (also damaged). Upon arrival HMS Suffolk was beached to prevent her from sinking.

5 Jun 1940
At 2130/5 the battlecruisers HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN), heavy cruiser HMS Sussex (Capt. R.V. Symonds-Tayler, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Newcastle (Capt. J. Figgins, RN) and the destroyers HMS Maori (Cdr. H.T. Armstrong, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. J.S. Crawford, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN) and HMS Kelvin (Lt.Cdr. J.L. Machin, RN) departed Scapa Flow after two unidentified warships were spotted in position 64°45'N, 00°24'W proceeding towards the Iceland - Faroes passage.

Around 0200/8 the force was split up; HMS Renown escortedby HMS Zulu and HMS Kipling were ordered to return to Scapa Flow where they arrived at 0500/9.

HMS Repulse, HMS Sussex, HMS Newcastle, HMS Maori, HMS Forester and HMS Foxhound remained on patrol.

Around 1030/9, they were ordered to proceed eastwards to join up with other warships and to provide cover for convoys of ships that had been involved in evacuating the Narvik/Hartadt/Tromso area.

Around 1345/9, HMS Maori, HMS Forester and HMS Foxhound parted company.

At 0100/10, HMS Maori, HMS Forester and HMS Foxhound arrived at Sullom Voe to fuel. They departed again at 0800 hours to rejoin but HMS Foxhound had to return soon after with defects.

At 0900/10, HMS Repulse and the cruisers joined up with the 'HMS Valiant' group that was escorting the evacuation convoys. (6)

9 Jun 1940
At 1245 hours, the battleship HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN, flying the flag of Admiral of the Fleet C.M. Forbes, KCB, DSO, RN), battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN) escorted by the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, RN), HMS Electra (Lt.Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN), HMS Escort (Lt.Cdr. J. Bostock, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. J.S. Crawford, RN) and HMS Kelvin (Lt.Cdr. J.L. Machin, RN) departed Scapa Flow to provide cover for convoys coming down from Norway and to search for the reported German capital ships. A sixth destroyer, HMS Amazon (Lt.Cdr. N.E.G. Roper, RN), which had been en-route from the Clyde to Scapa Flow, apparently joined at sea.

At 1345/10, HMS Amazon was detached to fuel at Sullom Voe.

On June, 10th the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) was ordered to join this force which she did at 1525/10. She had the destroyers HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN) and HMS Highlander (Cdr. W.A. Dallmeyer, RN) with her.

At 1925/10, HMS Mashona was detached to join the destroyer HMS Campbell (Lt.Cdr. R.M. Aubrey, RN) and escort this destroyer, which had to proceed at the most economical speed due to fuel shortage, to Sullom Voe where they arrived at 0745/12.

At 1020/11, HMS Ashanti and HMS Highlander were detached to Scapa Flow. They were ordered to proceed through positions 64'N, 05'W and 61'N, 05'W.

The destroyers HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, RN), and HMS Amazon departed Sullom Voe at 2230/11th to join the Home Fleet at sea which they did at 0830/12. [HMS Amazon did not join the Home Fleet so either she did not sail or returned.] At 2100/12, the destroyer HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) sailed from Scapa Flow to make rendez-vous with the Home Fleet in position 63'N, 04'W at 1300/13. The destroyers HMS Mashona, HMS Campbell and HMS Veteran (Cdr. J.E. Broome, RN) departed Sullom Voe at 0400/13 to do the same. They joined the Home Fleet at 1725/14 with the exception of HMS Campbell which joined HMS Ark Royal's screen at 2230/13.

Between 0007 and 0015/13, HMS Ark Royal flew off fifteen Skuas to attack German warships at Trondheim. Seven of them returned around 0330 hours, eight had been lost.

Around 0430/13, HMS Electra collided with HMS Antelope in thick fog which the Fleet had just entered. HMS Inglefiel stood by HMS Antelope while HMS Zulu took HMS Electra in tow. All set course for Scapa Flow.

At 0600/13, HMS Ark Royal was detached to proceed to Scapa Flow escorted by HMS Escort and HMS Kelvin. HMS Campbell joined them at 2230/13. They arrived at Scapa Flow wit at 1545/14.

At 1130/13, the destroyers HMS Tartar (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. H.T. Armstrong, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, DSO, RN) and HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN) departed Scapa Flow to make rendez-vous with the Home Fleet in position 65'N, 04'W. They joined at 0840/14.

At 0950/14, HMS Escapade was detached from the screen of the Home Fleet to join HMS Electra that was being towed by HMS Zulu..

At 0100/15, HMS Forester and HMS Veteran were detatched from the Home Fleet to proceed to the Faroes for escort duty.

At 0330/15, HMS Antelope, escorted by HMS Inglefield arrived at Scapa Flow.

At 1715/15, HMS Rodney, HMS Renown, HMS Tartar, HMS Mashona, HMS Maori, HMS Bedouin, HMS Ashanti and HMS Fearless arrived at Scapa Flow.

At 1430/16, HMS Electra, in tow of the tug HMS Brigand and escorted by HMS Zulu and HMS Escapade arrived at Scapa Flow. (6)

11 Jun 1940
The battleship HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Tartar (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, DSO, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. H.T. Armstrong, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Diana (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN) and HMS Acheron (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) arrived at Scapa Flow from operations off Norway.

15 Jun 1940

Sinking of the armed merchant cruiser HMS Andania.

At 2330/15 (0030/16 German time), the armed merchant cruiser HMS Andania (Capt. D.K. Bain, RN) was torpedoed and heavily damaged by the German submarine U-A south-west of Iceland in position 62°36'N, 15°09'W. The ship sank slowly by the stern and the crew was taken off by the Icelandic trawler Skallagrímur.

In response the destroyer HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) was sent from the Faroes. HMS Amazon (Lt.Cdr. N.E.G. Roper, RN), which was part of the escort of a transport ship from Scapa Flow to the Faroes was also ordered to leave this transport ship and proceed to the attack position. HMS Amazon however had to return to Scapa Flow with defects and arrived there around 1115/17.

At 0200/16, the destroyer HMS Kelvin (Lt.Cdr. J.L. Machin, RN) departed Scapa Flow to assist. She was later ordered to proceed to the Faroes.

At 0240/16, the destroyers HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN) and HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, DSO, RN) departed Scapa Flow for Reykjavik, Iceland. They were to try to find the Icelandic trawler Skallagrímur which had the survivors of the Andania on board. They could however not find the trawler in the low visibility. These two destroyers were later ordered to hunt a German submarine which was reported to be near Reykjavik.

It was HMS Forester who encountered the trawler on the 16th but the survivors could not be transferred due to the weather conditions.

On the 17th it was possible to take over the survivors and they were taken to Scapa Flow by HMS Forester. She arrived there at 2230/17. (6)

21 Jun 1940
Heavy cruiser HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), light cruisers HMS Manchester (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and HMS Birmingham (Capt. A.C.G. Madden, RN) departed Rosyth escorted by the destroyer HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN) to rendez-vous with the heavy cruiser HMS Sussex (Capt. R.V. Symonds-Tayler, DSC, RN) and light cruiser HMS Newcastle (Capt. J. Figgins, RN) at sea (These two cruisers had departed Scapa Flow early in the morning) and then to join the battlecruisers HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. J.S. Crawford, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. H.T. Armstrong, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Escort (Lt.Cdr. J. Bostock, RN) and HMS Diana (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN) which had departed Scapa Flow at 1220/21.

The German battlecruiser Scharnhorst had been sighted leaving Trondheim southwards escorted by four destroyers and four torpedo-boats. The Germans however retreated inside the fjords and the British ships were recalled. (7)

22 Jun 1940
HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN), HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. J.S. Crawford, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Escort (Lt.Cdr. J. Bostock, RN) and HMS Diana (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN) returned to Scapa Flow.

2 Jul 1940

Operations Catapult and Lever.

Operations agains the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir.

Timespan: 2 to 6 July 1940.

Polical situation June / July 1940.

The situation created by the collapse of French military resistance in June 1940 brought to the forefront the question of the disposal of the powerful modern French Fleet. With France eliminated from the contest, Great Britain would stand virtually alone, separated only by the English Channel from the triumphant German Army and threatened by the largest Air Force in the World. On her command of the sea depended her very existence. Suddenly to lose the co-operation of the French Fleet would be a severe blow, but it was a matter of life and death that it should not be added to those of her opponents and used against her.

In circumstances of increasing chaos the marsh of events was swift. On 11 June 1940 the French Prime Minister and the French Government retired to Tours, and three days later moved on to Bordeaux. On the same day the Germans entered Paris.

It was the French Prime Minister who had declared ‘We shall fight before Paris, we shall fight behind Paris. We shall shut ourselves up in one of our provinces and if they drive us out we shall go to north Africa and, if need be, to our American possessions. It was the French Prime Minister who asked the British Government on 16 June to release France from her treaty obligations. The Cabinet refused to do so asked for French warships to be despatched to British ports and offered an Act of Union. The offer fell on deaf ears. The French Prime Minister (Mr. M Reynaud) was no longer in power. He had been displaced in the night of 16/17 June by a defeatist group headed by Marshal Pétain, General Weygand, Admiral Darlan, Mr. Laval, Mr. Baudouin and other politicians.

Negotiations with Germany were opened on 17 June, when Marshal Pétain, in a letter to Hitler, asked if he was ready to sign with him, as between soldiers after the fight and in honour, terms that would put an end to the hostilities.

The British Government, receiving the news ‘with grief and amazement’ refused to release France from her treaty obligations, and announced its intention to continue the fight. Every effort was made to persuade the French Government to order the French Fleet to British ports, or to sink itself before armistice terms were discussed. But the situation was very confusing and no guarantees could be obtained. At the same time it was determined that, if all other courses failed, action should be taken to prevent any important French ships falling into the enemy’s hands. British offers of assistance to the French authorities in arranging for an evacuation from Marseilles to North African ports were declined.

The terms of the armistice signed by France were not made public until 25 June, the day on which the hostilities ended. The clauses effecting the French sea forces stated that the French Fleet was to be assembled in ports under German or Italian control and demilitarized.

It seemed clear to the British Government that in these clauses the enemy had merely provided themselves with a pretext for keeping the whole French Fleet in a state of readiness for action against us when an opportunity accurred. The British Government had evidence, too, that from 20 June the Germans were in possession of, and were using, French naval codes.

The first reactions to the armistice terms of the French naval, military and colonial authorities indicated a determination to fight on. This attitude, however, in face of instructions was however soon abandoned. The British Government consequently decided to offer the French Naval Commanders the following alternatives: to continue the fight; complete immobilisation in certain ports; to demilitarise or sink their ships. By no other means could the French Fleet be prevented from falling into the hands of the enemy.

Reports received from various sources indicated that, the senior French Naval Officers had elected to obey their central government, most junior Officers desired to continue the struggle. The men, divided in their loyalties and lacking firm leadership, were chiefly influenced by the fear of reprisals to their families.

The French Fleet at Oran, coast defences, etc.

The bulk of the French Fleet was distributed between Toulon and the French North African ports in the Western Mediterranean. A squadron of one battleship, four cruisers and a few destroyers was at Alexandria; operating with Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham’s Mediterranean Fleet. The new battleships Richelieu and Jean Bart which had been completing at Brest had sailed a few days before respectively for Dakar and Casablanca. But by far the most important concentration of French warships was at Mers-el-Kebir, under Vice-Admiral Gensoul.

The shore defences of Mers-el-Kebir cosisted of a battery of two 7.5” guns on top of a hill to the west of the harbour. The harbour entrance was protected by an anti-torpedo boom and anti-submarine booms. A mine net stretched from Cape Falcon to a point one mile north of Cape Canastel. The breakwater (30 feet high) and Fort Mers-el-Kebir (100 feet high) afforded a certain amount of protection to the side armour of the ships inside the harbour from short range gunfire. Also in the vicinity of Oran there was a battery of two 9.2” guns at Cape Canastel.

Assembly of ‘Force H’ at Gibraltar.

In order to fill the Allied vacuum in the Western Mediterranean, caused by the defection of the French Fleet, the Admiralty decided to assemble a strong force, to be known as Force H, at Gibraltar. On 27 June Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville was ordered to hoist his flag in the light cruiser HMS Aretusa and to proceed there to take command of ‘Force H’. His immediate task was to secure the transfer, surrender or destruction of the French ships at Mers-el-Kebir and Oran, so as to ensure that they could not fall into German or Italian hands. It was hoped that the employment of force would be unnecessary, but every preparation to use it was to be made. This was explained to him in an interview with the First Lord and the First Sea Lord.

The Vice-Admiral sailed from Spithead in HMS Arethusa on 28 June. During his passage to Gibraltar he was in constant communication with the Admiralty. On the 29th he received Admiralty message 0435/29, stating certain alternatives which it was proposed to offer the French. (a) to steam their ships to a British port. (b) to sink their ships. (c) to have their ships sunk by gunfire. Later in the day the Admiralty directed the submarines HMS Pandora and HMS Proteus to patrol off Algiers and Oran respectively in order to report any French movements, but not to attack. On the 30th they ordered the Vice-Admiral, Aircraft carriers (Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells) to establish a destroyer patrol 30 nautical miles to the west of Oran and that should the French battlecruisers Dunkerque and Strasbourg proceed to the westward, they were to be captured and taken to the United Kingdom.

Vice-Admiral Somerville arrived at Gibraltar on 30 June where he transferred his flag to the battlecruiser HMS Hood. He lost no time with discussing the matter with the Vice-Admiral North Atlantic (Vice-Admiral Sir D.B.N. North) and later with Vice-Admiral Wells, his senior officers and with two officers who had recently been attached to the French as liaison officers. All were strongly opposed to the use of force, believing that this would alienate the French completely and turn them from a defeated ally into an active enemy. So impressed was Vice-Admiral Somerville by these views that he communicated them to the Admiralty at 1230 hours on 1 July together with certain alternative proposals. He received a reply that evening that it was the firm intention of His Majesty’s Government that if the French would not accept (any of) the alternatives then being sent to him, their ships must be destroyed.

Meanwhile a plan of operation had been drawn up, and the Admiralty was informed that the earliest date for it’s execution would be A.M. 3 July. The operation was named ‘Catapult’.

Admiralty instructions to Vice-Admiral Somerville.

At 0426, 2 July, Vice-Admiral Somerville received his final instructions from the Admiralty in dealing with the French Fleet at Mers-el-Keber. These may be summarised as follows:
A) Four alternatives were to be offered to the French:
(1) To sail their ships to a British port to continue the fight with us.
(2) To sail their ships with reduced crews to a British port from which the crews would be repatriated whenever desired.
(3) To sail their ships with reduced crews to a French port in the West Indies. After arrival there they would either be demilitarised to our satisfaction, if so desired or to be entrusted to U.S.A. jurisdiction for the remainder of the war. The crews would be repatriated.
(4) To sink their ships.

In case of alternatives 1 or 2 being adopted the ships were to be restrored to France at the conclusion of the war, or full ompensation would be paid if they were damaged meanwhile. If the French Admiral accepted alternative 2 but asked that the ships would not be used during the war, we would accept this condition for so long Germany and Italy observed the armistice terms. We particularly did not want to raise this point ourselves.

B) If the French Admiral refused to observe all the above alternatives and suggested demilitarisation of his ships to our satisfaction at their present berths acceptance of this further alternative was authorised, provided that the Flag Officer, ‘Force H’ was satisfied that the measures for demilitarization could be carried out under his supervision within six hours, so as to prevent the ships being brought to service for at least one year, even at a fully equipped dockyard port.

C) If none of the alternatives were accepted by the French, the Flag Officer ‘Force H’ was to endeavour to destroy the ships in Mers-el-Kebir, particularly the Dunkerque and Strasbourg, using all means at his disposal. Ships at Oran should also be destroyed, if this did not entail any considerable loss of civilian life.

As it was undesirable to have to deal with the French Fleet at sea, the Flag Officer ‘Force H’ was instructed to arrive in the vicinity of Oran at his selected time, to send emissaries ashore, and to take such action as he considered fit in the period before the given time limit expired.

A further signal timed 0108 contained the terms in which these demands were to delivered to Admiral Gensoul.

Plan for ‘Operation Catapult’.

A meeting of Flag and Commanding Officers was held during the forenoon of 2nd July, at which the orders for ‘Operation Catapult’ were explained and discussed.

Capt. C.S. Holland, of the Ark Royal, who had recently been Naval Attaché at Paris, had been selected to act as emissary assisted by Lt.Cdr’s A.Y. Spearman and G.P.S. Davies, lately employed as liaison officers. The destroyer HMS Foxhound was detailed to embark these officers. Captain Holland was instructed, if necessity arose, to question the French concerning their plan for demilitarisation at two hours’ notice which had been mentioned to Vice-Admiral North at Gibraltar, and to enquire whether the proposed measures would render the ships ‘ineffective for service during 12 months, even with dockyard assistance.’

The intention of the Flag Officer ‘Force H’, if he was obliged to use force was: a) To destroy morale, damage AA equipment and induce the French crews to abandon their ships by means of long range gunfire with the main armaments of his capital ships, assisted by aircraft spotting.
b) Bombing by the aircraft of HMS Ark Royal with the same object.
c) Torpedo attack by aircraft from HMS Ark Royal in order to cripple those ships exposed to torpedo fire.
d) Sinking of ships still afloat by demolition parties from destroyers.
e) The cruisers were to engage light craft or shore batteries as ordered.

The orders drawn up did not propose the laying of magnetic mines by aircraft from HMS Ark Royal, which was held to interference with the first two alternatives offered to the French but if needed this measure could be resorted to.

Attempts to Communicate with Admiral Gensoul.

At 1500 hours, 2nd July, destroyers sailed to carry out an A/S sweep in Gibraltar Bay and approaches and ‘Force H’ cleared harbour at 1700/2.

The composition of ‘Force H’ was as follows; battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), battleships HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Resolution (Capt. O. Bevir, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells, CB, DSO, RN) [as Capt. Holland had been embarked on the destroyer HMS Foxhound, it was probably Cdr. R.M.T. Taylor, RN who was temporary in command], light cruisers HMS Arethusa (Capt. Q.D. Graham, RN), HMS Enterprise (Capt. J.C. Annesley, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN), HMS Escort (Lt.Cdr. J. Bostock, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. E.C.L. Turner, RN), HMS Keppel (Lt.Cdr.(Emgy.) E.G. Heywood-Lonsdale, RN), HMS Wrestler (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, RN), HMS Vortigern (Lt.Cdr. R.S. Howlett, RN) and HMS Vidette (Cdr.(Retd.) D.R. Brocklebank, RN).

The submarines HMS Pandora (Lt.Cdr. J.W. Linton, RN) and HMS Proteus (Lt.Cdr. R.T. Gordon-Duff, RN) were then nearing their patrol areas.

The operations orders referred to the possibility of interference but the only evidence of them being even remotely on the alert was that at 2247/2 in position 36°12’N, 03°05’W HMS Vortigern reported a torpedo exploding ahead of her. This was indeed an attack by an Italian submarine, the Marconi. HMS Vortigern and HMS Vidette hunted the submarine for a little over an hour but without success.

At 0300/3, HMS Foxhound was sent ahead and arrived of Cape Falcon at 0545/3. Communication was established with the Port War Signal Station and at 0620 hours the following message was passed. ‘To Admiral Gensoul, The British Admiralty had sent Captain Holland to confer with you. The British Navy hopes that their proposals will enable you and the valiant and glorious French Navy to be by our side. In these circumstances your ships would remain yours and no one need to have anxiety for the future. A British fleet is at sea off Oran waiting to welcome you.’

Permission for HMS Foxhound to enter the port of Mers-el-Kebir was received at 0742 hours. She anchored at 0805/3, outside the net defence, in a position 1.6 nautical miles, 115° from Mers-el-Kebir lighthouse. Five minutes later the French Flag Lieutenant came alongside and informed Capt. Holland that Admiral Gensoul was unable to see him, but would sent his Chief of Staff.

Admiral’s Gensoul refusal to confer with Capt. Holland was emphasized when at 0847 hours HMS Foxhound received a signal from him requisting her to sail immediately. She weighted accordingly, leaving Capt. Holland and Lt.Cdr’s Spearman and Davies behind in her motor boat. Meeting the French Flag Lieutenant off the entrance, Capt. Holland handed him the written British proposals to be given to Admiral Gensoul, saying that he would await a reply. It was around 0935 hours when they reached Admiral Gensoul. The French ships were reported by air reconnaissance to be raising steam. At 1000 hours the Flag Lieutenant returned and handed over a written reply from Admiral Gensoul. It stated the same that had earlier been said to Vice-Admiral North that the French Fleet would never be surrendered and that force would be met by force.

Then followed a further exchange of written statements and a discussion with the French Chief of Staff who came out at 1109 hours. As it was evident that Admiral Gensoul was resolved not to see Capt. Holland, the latter returned on board HMS Foxhound to communicate with Vice-Admiral Somerville.

Meanwhile ‘Force H’ had arrived off Mers-el-Kebir at 0910/3 and by means of projectors transferred the following message (in French) ‘To Admiral Gensoul from Admiral Somerville. We hope most sincerely that the proposals will be acceptable and hat we shall ave you by our side.’

’Force H’ then proceeded to steam to and from across the bay while HMS Ark Royal, with a destroyer screen, was acting independently for flying off aircraft.

At 1140/3 Lt.Cdr. Spearman was sent in with a message from the Flag Officer ‘Force H’ that the French ships would not be allowed to leave harbour unless the terms were accepted. It was at this time that Capt. Holland signalled to the French Admiral, from HMS Foxhound, information of the action taken by Admiral Godfroy at Alexandria to demilitarise his ships. HMS Foxhound then proceeded outside the outer boom to a position inside visual signalling range.

British delegate received and terms refused.

Admiral Gensoul’s reply reached HMS Hood at 1227/3 and Vice-Admiral Somerville considering that it was unsatisfactory and indicated an intention to put to sea and fight, gave the order to mine the harbour entrance. Five mines were accordingly laid by aircraft inside the booms guarding the entrance to Mers-el-Kebir harbour.

It was Vice-Admiral Somerville’s first intention to open fire at 1330 hours but the time for a final answer was extended to 1500 hours on the strength of air reports that there was no immediate indication of the French ships proceeding to sea. In order to ensure the least possible delay, a signal was passed to Admiral Gensoul requisting him to hoist a large square flag at the masthead if he accepted the British terms.

These measures appeared to be effective, for at 1440 hours Admiral Gensoul signalled that he would receive a delegate for honourable discussion. This message forstalled, only by a few minutes, the despatch of a signal from Vice-Admiral Somerville notifying that he would proceed to destroy the French ships at 1530 hours. Despite Vice-Admiral Somerville’s suspicion that the French Admiral was temporizing, he authorised Capt. Holland to proceed, and the latter, in the motor boat from HMS Foxhound and accompanied by Lt.Cdr. Davies, reached the Dunkerque at 1615/3.

Captain Holland’s reception on board the Dunkerque was coldly formal. Admiral Gensoul was extremely indignant and angry. A lengthy discussion ensued, in which he emphasised that the use of force would range the whole French Navy against the British, and that in effect he rejected all conditions proposed stating that he would only obey orders from his Government and Admiral Darlan. It was evident to Captain Holland that it was only during this discussion that Admiral Gensoul began to realise that force might actually be used.

Whilst the discussion was proceeding an Admiralty message was received at 1646 hours by HMS Hood instructing Vice-Admiral Somerville to settle matters quickly or he would have reinforcements to deal with. A signal accordingly passed by visual and wireless at 1715 hours to Admiral Gensoul informing him that if one of the alternatives was not accepted by 1730 hours his ships would be sunk. At the same time action stations was sounded in the ships of the British Fleet.

A summary of Admiral Gensoul’s final statement was passed by signal from Capt. Holland to Vice-Admiral Somerville. It read ‘Admiral Gensoul says crews being reduced and if threatened by enemy would go Martinique or U.S.A. but this is not quite our proposition. Can get no nearer.’

This signal was received on board HMS Hood at 1729 hours. As it did not comply with any of the alternatives laid down, the air striking force from HMS Ark Royal was ordered to fly off and the battleships stood in towards the coast.

Captain Holland left the Dunkerque at 1725 hours. As he left ‘Action stations’ was being sounded in the French ships, all of which were by that time in an advanced state of readiness for sea, with tugs standing by and control positions manned.

Meanwhile signs of movement of French ships in adjacent harbour of Oran having been reported by air reconnaissance, two mines were laid in it’s entrance, and the destroyer HMS Wrestler was ordered to relieve HMS Vortigern on patrol there.

Action against the French ships at Mers-el-Kebir.

At 1754/3 fire was opened at 17500 yards. Aircraft were spotting. The line of fire was from the north-west, so that fire from the French ships was blanked to some extent by Mers-el-Kebir Fort, and risk of damage to civilian life and property reduced.

The four French capital ships and aviation transport were moored stern-on to the mole in the following order, from north-west to south-east; Dunkerque, Provence, Strasbourg, Bretagne and Commandant Teste while the remaining ships were moored on the west side of the harbour. The destroyers, according to an aircraft report, were underway inside the booms.

The effect of the opening salvoes was observed from the Foxhound’s motor boat. The first salvo fell short. The second hit the breakwater, sending large fragments of concrete flying through the air, which probably caused casualties amongst the crews of the ships. The third salvo fell amongst the ships and the battleship Bretagne blew up, a column of orange flame leaping into the sky, followed by an immense column of smoke several hundred feet high. Another smaller explosion indicated that a destroyer had blown up (Mogador). By this time the harbour was shrouded in smoke from explosions and fires. Direct spotting was almost impossible and air spotting most difficult. The French shore batteries and Dunkerque and Strasbourg opened fire about a minute after the first British salvo. The shore batteries were promptly engaged by HMS Arethusa, the older guns of HMS Enterprise being outranged. Heavy projectiles were soon falling near the British battleships as the French fire, at first very short, began to improve in accuracy. The observers in Foxhound’s motor boat recorded several direct hits on the French ships, another explosion with a sheet of orange flame from a battleship, and a direct hit on a large destroyer as she was leaving harbour.

None of the French projectiles hit, though a number of them fell close to – and in some cases straddled – the British ships. Some splinters caused some minor superficial damage in HMS Hood and injured one officer and a rating. After thirty-six salvoes of 15” the fire of the French ships died down, but hat of the forts became increasingly accurate. To avoid damage from the latter, course was altered 180° to port together and the ships were ordered to make smoke.

At 1803/3 as the French ships were no longer firing, ‘cease fire’ was ordered. Vice-Admiral Somerville considered that this would give them an opportunity to abandon their vessels and as the entrance to the harbour had been mined they would make no attempts to put to sea. Repeated signals were being receive in HMS Hood from the shore visual and wireless stations requisting fire to be discontinued, to which the reply was made: ‘unless I see your ships sinking, I shall open fire again’. Vice-Admiral Somerville then proceeded to the westward to take up a position from which, if necessary, the bombardment could be renewed without causing casualties to men in boats or exposing the British ships to unduly fire from the forts. He also deemed it prudent to stand out to sea to avoid the possibility of a surprise attack by aircraft under cover of the clouds of smoke then laying between his ships and the shore.

When the pall of smoke over Mers-el-Kebir harbour cleared away, the scene viewed from HMS Foxhound’s boat showed the Dunkerque, which had slipped from the mole, lying stopped in the harbour. The Provence appeared to have been hit, fires were burning in the Commandant Teste, while nothing could be seen of the Bretagne. Clear of the harbour and gathering speed fast were the Strasbourg and two destroyers (thought to be Mogador-class), steering eastward close under the land.

Chase of, and F.A.A. attacks on, the Strasbourg.

Vice-Admiral Somerville received an air report at 1820/3 that one of the Dunkerque-class battlecruisers had put to sea and was steering east. This report was confirmed 10 minutes later. An air striking force of six Swordfish aircraft of no. 818 Squadron armed with 250-lb. bombs and escorted by Skua’s was flow off by HMS Ark Royal at 1825 hours to attack the ships in Mers-el-Kebir but they were then diverted to attack the fleeing ship which was accompanied by eight destroyers. ‘Force H’ altered course to the eastward at 1838 hours and commenced a chase.

During this period, HMS Wrestler, which was patrolling of Oran, was heavily engaged by shore batteries. At least 100 shells fell near her before she withdrew in accordance with orders.

At 1843 hours the cruisers and destroyers with HMS Hood were ordered to proceed ahead. Both battleships following behind at their best speed without a destroyer screen. Every ships worked up to full speed.

The bombing attack on the Strasbourg was well pressed home, and, although it was met with heavy opposition, was believed to have obtained at least one hit. Two Swordfish aircraft failed to return, but the crews were picked up by HMS Wrestler.

At 1914/3 HMS Wrestler picked up Capt. Holland and Lt.Cdr.’s Spearman, Davies and the crew from the motor boat of HMS Foxhound. The motor boat was then abandoned.

Between 1933 and 1945 hours a French destroyer, steering west close inshore, was engaged at ranges of 12000 and 18000 yards by the Arethusa and Enterprise. Later the Hood and Valiant fired a few 15” salvoes at her. At least three hits were observed before the destroyer turned back to Oran. The British ships were obliged to alter course to avoid torpedoes.

at 1950/3 six Swordfish aircraft of no. 820 Squadron, armed with torpedoes were flown off from HMS Ark Royal, with orders to press home their attack, making use of the failing light. They attacked at 2055 hours, twenty minutes after sunset. Approaching from the land, with their target silhouetted against the afterglow, they were able to deliver the attack unseen, only the last two attacking aircraft encountered some machine gun fire from the screening destroyers. The observation of results was rendered difficult by darkness and funnel smoke, but an explosion was seen under the Strasbourg’s stern and there was some evidence of a hit amidships. All the aircraft returned safely, through one came under machine gun fire from a group of destroyers seven miles astern of the target.

Chase abandoned and return to Gibraltar.

Meanwhile Vice-Admiral Somerville had abandoned the chase about half-an-hour before the torpedo attack took place. At 2020/3 the Strasbourg with her attendant destroyers, was some 25 nautical miles ahead of him. By that time the French Algiers force with several 8” and 6” cruisers was known to be at sea and was calculated to be able to join the Strasbourg shortly after 2100 hours.

Vice-Admiral Somerville considered that a night contact and engagement was not justified. His destroyers had not had recent experience of shadowing, and the French would be numerically superior. Besides that there were more reasons to disengage.

Accordingly at 2025/3 course was altered to the westwards and the Admiralty was informed that ‘Force H’ would remain to the west of Oran during the night with the intention to carry out air attacks on the ships at Mers-el-Kebir at dawn.

Between 1930 and 2100 hours French reconnaissance and bomber aircraft were fired on. These dropped a few bombs which all fell wide except for four bombs which fell close to HMS Wrestler. The attacks were not pressed home.

At 2150/3 the submarine HMS Proteus, which had been ordered to keep clear of ‘Force H’ to the northward during the day, was ordered to patrol north of 35°55’N off Cape de l’Aiguille or Abuja Point (15 nautical miles east of Oran). At the same time she and HMS Pandora (off Algiers) were ordered to sink any French ships encountered. The latter, which had reported six cruisers and four destroyers making to the westward at 1745/3, was warned that the Strasbourg might arrive off Algiers at 2300/3.

During the night of 3 / 4 July. ‘Force H’ steered to reach position 36°12’N, 01°48‘W (about 60 nautical miles west-north-west of Mers-el-Kebir) at 0430/4. It was intended to then fly off 12 Swordfish and 9 Skua aircraft to finish off the ships remaining in the harbour. Shortly after 0400/4, however dense fog was encountered. This rendered flying impossible. As Vice-Admiral Somerville had received a message from Admiral Gensoul the evening before (2250/3) stating that his ships were ‘hors de combat’ (‘out of action’) and that he had ordered the crews to evacuate them, Vice-Admiral Somerville decided to return to Gibraltar where ‘Force H’ arrived at 1900/4.

Review of the operation by Vice-Admiral Somerville.

Reviewing the operation, Vice-Admiral Somerville remarked that it was clear he committed an error of judgement in proceeding so far to the westward after ceasing fire, and gave his reasons for his decision.

He considered that the mines laid in the harbour entrance were sufficient to prevent any French ships from leaving and also he was under the impression that the French crews were abandoning their ships due to the signals to ‘cease shelling’ and the heavy explosions observed. The though uppermost in his mind was how to complete his task without causing further loss of life to the very gallant but ill-advised Frenchmen, and without exposing his fleet to damage by the shore batteries or to submarine attack. He was also under the impression that a torpedo flight, to complete the destruction of ships afloat, had either taken off or was about to do so. In fact, however, the repeated postponement of the attack by gunfire had, unknown to him, seriously upset the Ark Royal’s flying on and off programme.

Vice-Admiral Somerville went into question whether the use of force might have been avoided had Admiral Gensoul agreed at once to receive Capt. Holland. The French Admiral’s final offer differed, unfortunately, from the British proposals in the single proviso that the disablement of ships would only be carried into effect if there was a danger of the French ships falling into enemy hands. Admiral Gensoul maintained that this danger was not imminent, whereas we maintained that it was. Had more time been available Capt. Holland might possibly have converted Admiral Gensoul to the British point of view, but when he made his offer it was already too late, for the discussion could not be continued beyond 1720 hours as French reinforcements were approaching and the ordered of His Majesty’s Government were explicit that a decision had to be reached before dark.

’ I consider ‘ wrote Vice-Admiral Somerville, ‘ that Capt. Holland carried out his most difficult task with the greatest tact, courage and perseverance. That he failed in his mission was not his fault – that he nearly succeeded is greatly to his credit ‘.

Preparations to renew the attack on the Dunkerque.

After the arrival of ‘Force H’ at Gibraltar the ships were immediately completed with fuel and ammunition so to be able to carry out operations against the French battleship Richelieu at Dakar if required.

Vice-Admiral Somerville informed the Admiralty that it was not possible from aircraft observation positively to assess the damage done to the battlecruiser Dunkerque, but that she was aground. Consequently the Admiralty directed that unless Vice-Admiral Somerville was certain that the Dunkerque could not be refloated and repaired in less then a year, she was to be subjected to further destruction by bombardment. This was to precede any operation against the Richelieu.

To put this decision into effect, plans were drawn up for another operation (Operation Lever), and the Admiralty was informed that a further bombardment would be carried out at 0900/6 by ‘Force H’.

At 2005/4 a signal was received from the Admiralty. It contained instructions with regard to the attitude to be adopted towards French warships, which stated that ‘ships must be prepared for attack, but should not fire the first shot’. After confirmation at 2045/5 that this applied to the submarines operating of Oran and Algiers, the instructions were passed on to HMS Pandora and HMS Proteus. It was however already too late.

Proceeding by British submarines 4-6 July 1940.

When ‘Force H’ returned to Gibraltar on 4 July, the submarines HMS Pandora and HMS Proteus remained on patrol off the North African coast.

At 1126/4, HMS Pandora, off Algiers, sighted three destroyers 065° about 1 nautical mile from the shore, but she was unable to get within range. Three and a half hours later (1458/4), however, she sighted a French cruiser thought at that time to be of the La Galissoniere class. In fact it was the sloop Rigault de Genouilly. HMS Pandora turned immediately to a firing course and at 1507/4 HMS Pandora fired four torpedoes from about 3800 yards. Two certain and one probable hits were obtained. The French ship stopped at once and soon after she was observed to be on fire. Closing in HMS Pandora saw that there was no chance this ship could be saved. At 1632/4 she was seen to sink by the stern and a few seconds later an extremely heavy explosion occurred, probably her magines blowing up.

For some time from 1718/4 HMS Pandora was hunted by aircraft and a destroyer or patrol craft, explosions of bombs and or death charges were heard at intervals.

The Admiralty expressed deep regret to the French Ambassy for the tragic happening, which was ascribed to the fact that on completion of the operation at Mers-el-Kebir on 3 July, the instructions that French ships were no longer to be attacked did not reach one submarine.

The seaplane carrier Commandant Teste was more fortunate. She was sighted by HMS Proteus at 1447/4. The weather was foggy and before an attack could be started the French ship altered course to the eastward and was soon lost out of sight.

At 2200/5, in obedience to instructions, HMS Proteus proceeded to patrol off Cape Khamis, about 65 nautical miles east of Oran. At 0243/6 a signal from the Flag Officer Commanding North Atlantic (F.O.C.N.A.) was received that French ships were not to be attacked unless they attacked first.

The Commandant Teste was again sighted at 1734/6. This time she was accompanied by two destroyers. Shorty afterwards HMS Proteus was ordered to proceed to Gibraltar.

HMS Pandora remained on patrol until July 7th when she too was ordered to proceed to Gibraltar.

F.A.A. attack on the Dunkerque, 6 July 1940.

Meanwhile ‘Force H’ sailed from Gibraltar at 2000/5. They first proceeded westwards but turned to the east at 2200 hours and proceeded at 22 knots towards Oran.

’Force H’ was now made up of the battlecruiser HMS Hood, battleship HMS Valiant, aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, light cruisers HMS Aurora, HMS Enterprise and the destroyers HMS Fearless, HMS Forester, HMS Foxhound, HMS Escort, HMS Active, HMS Velox (Cdr.(Retd.) J.C. Colvill, RN), HMS Vidette, HMS Vortigern and HMS Wrestler.

At 0250/6, Vice-Admiral Somerville received a signal from the Admiralty which instructed him to cancel the bombardment. He was ordered to attack the Dunkerque from the air until she was sufficiently damaged.

In position 36°19’N, 02°23’W (about 90 nautical miles from Oran) at 0515/6, the first striking force was flown off. The attack on the Dunkerque was made in three waves. The aircraft taking part were armed with torpedoes, carrying Duplex pistols, set for depth 12 feet, speed 27 knots.

The first wave of six Swordfish of no. 820 Squadron took of from the Ark Royal at 0515 hours. It made landfall at Habibas Island (about 20 nautical miles west of Mers-el-Kebir) and then shaped course at 7000 feet to keep 15 miles from the coast in order to gain up-sun position from the target as the sun rose. The attack achieved complete surprise, only one aircraftbeing fired upon during the get-away. As the first rays of the sun, rising above thick haze, struck the Dunkerque, the flight commenced a shallow dive in line ahead down the path of the sun. Coming in low over the breakwater, the aircraft attacked in succession. The first torpedo hit the Dunkerque amidships, glanced off without exploding and continued it’s run. It had probably been released inside pistol safety range. The second was thought at the time to have hit and exploded under the bridge on the starboard side. The third torpedo to have missed and exploded ashore and the remaining three torpedoes to have hit and exploded near ‘B’ turret. In the light of later information, it seems that no torpedo in this or subsequent attacks actually hit and damaged her. The first (as noticed by the British) glanced off without exploding. The second exploded underneath the stern of a trawler, the Terre Neuve, which – apparently unnoticed by the aircraft – was about 30 yards to starboard of the battlecruiser and sank the trawler. Of the remainder three torpedoes may have hit without exploding or run into shallow water, and one missed. One torpedo exploded ashore against a jetty.

The second attack was made by three Swordfish of no. 810 Squadron with a fighter escort of six Skua’s. They took off at 0545 hours. This sub-flight manoeuvred to a position up-sun at 2000 feet. At 0647 hours they tuned to attack in line astern. They came under heavy AA fire and had to take avoiding action during their approach and they made their attack from over the breakwater. The torpedo of the first aircraft was not released. The second and third torpedoes are thought to have hit the starboard side of the Dunkerque. During the get-away a large explosion was observed, smoke and spray rising in a great column over 600 feet high which was thought to have possibly been a magazine explosion in the Dunkerque. Actually, one torpedo hit the wreck of the Terre Neuve, detonating about 24 to 28 depth charges with which she was loaded, and thereby causing considerable damage to the Dunkerque. The other torpedo missed astern and exploded ashore. No enemy aircraft were encountered, but the 6” and 4” batteries from the east of Oran to Mers-el-Kebir Point kept up continuous fire throughout the attack.

The third wave was also made up of three Swordfish from no. 810 Squadron. These too were escorted by six Skua’s. They wre flown off at 0620 hours. They made landfall at a height of 4000 feet at 0650 hours over Cape Falcon. In line astern the sub-flight made a shallow dive with avoiding action as the Provence and shore batteries opened fire. This sub-flight then came in low over the town of Mers-el-Kebir for its attack. The first torpedo is reported to have struck the Dunkerque amidships on her port side but it did not explode. The second, which would have hit the ship, exploded under a tug close to her which blew the tug into the air. The third torpedo was dropped too close and did therefore not explode, although it appeared to be going to hit. While making its get-away this sub-flight was engaged by French fighter aircraft. The Skua escorts had many dog fights with the French fighters which easily out-manoeuvred our aircraft but they did not press home their attacks. One Skua, damaged in combat, had to make a forced landing on the water on its return. The crew was rescued by a destroyer. There were no casualties although several aircraft were damaged by gunfire.

Vice-Admiral Somerville was satisfied with the results as it appeared that the Dunkerque for sure would be out of action for more then a year. ‘Force H’, having completed its task returned to Gibraltar at 1830/6. After temporary repairs the Dunkerque arrived at Toulon only on 19 February 1942 having made the passage under her own power escorted by five destroyers. (8)

8 Jul 1940
The battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), battleships HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Resolution (Capt. O. Bevir, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells, CB, DSO, RN) [as Capt. Holland had been embarked on the destroyer HMS Foxhound, it was probably Cdr. R.M.T. Taylor, RN who was temporary in command], light cruisers HMS Arethusa (Capt. Q.D. Graham, RN), HMS Enterprise (Capt. J.C. Annesley, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN), HMS Escort (Lt.Cdr. J. Bostock, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. E.C.L. Turner, RN), HMS Douglas (Cdr.(Retd.) J.G. Crossley, RN), HMS Velox (Cdr.(Retd.) J.C. Colvill, RN), HMS Vortigern (Lt.Cdr. R.S. Howlett, RN) and HMS Wrestler (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, RN) departed Gibraltar as a diversion during operation in the central and eastern Mediterranean. They were also to conduct and air attack against Cagliary, Sardinia but this air attack was later cancelled.

In the late afternoon and early evening of the 9th Force H came under air attack by Italian aircraft. HMS Resolution and HMS Hood were near missed with bombs.

While on the way back to Gibraltar the destroyer HMS Escort was torpedoed by the Italian submarine Marconi at 0300/11 in position 36°20'N, 03°46'W. She was heavily damaged and was taken in tow by HMS Forester while being screened by HMS Faulknor.

Force H meanwhile had arrived at Gibraltar. The destroyers HMS Keppel (Lt.Cdr.(Emgy.) E.G. Heywood-Lonsdale, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN) and HMS Foxhound were then sent out to escort the damaged HMS Escort but she later foundered while under tow.

31 Jul 1940

Operation Hurry

Transfer of twelve Hurricane fighters and two Skua aircraft to Malta, air attack on Cagliari, minelaying in Cagliari Bay by Force H and diversion in the Eastern Mediterranean by the Mediterranean Fleet.

Operations of Force H.

At 0800 hours on 31 August 1940, Force H, consisting of the battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), battleship HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Argus (Capt. H.C. Bovell, RN), light cruisers HMS Arethusa (Capt. Q.D. Graham, RN), HMS Enterprise (Capt. J.C.A. Annesley, DSO, RN) and escorted by the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN), HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H Layman, DSO, RN), HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSC, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St.J. Morgan, RN), HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, RN) and HMS Velox (Cdr.(Retd.) J.C. Colvill, RN). sailed from Gibraltar.

Passage eastward was uneventful until at 1749/1 eight Italian aircraft were seen coming in to attack in position 37.34’N, 04.10’E. The aircraft turned away before they reached a favourable attack position. A few minutes later a second wave of nine aircraft was seen coming in but this attack was also not pressed home with determination and no hits were obtained. Some 80 bombs in all were dropped and only a few near misses were obtained on HMS Ark Royal and HMS Forester.

At 2045/1 the attack force for Cagliari was detached. This force was made up of HMS Hood, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Enterprise, HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester and HMS Foxhound. They proceeded at 20 knots towards position 38.30’N, 07.00’E where the striking force from HMS Ark Royal was to be flown off.

The remaining ships of Force H also proceeded eastwards to fly off the aircraft for Malta from HMS Argus at dawn. The position where the aircraft were to be launched depended on the latest weather reports coming in from Malta.

At 2130/1, HMS Enterprise, was detached by the attack force to create a diversion and intercept a Vichy-French ship en-route from Algiers to Marseilles.

At 0200/2, HMS Ark Royal and the destroyers proceeded ahead and aircraft were launched at 0230 hours. Twelve aircraft were launched, nine carried bombs and three carried mines. One of the aircraft crashed on taking off. Due to a misunderstanding the crew was not picked up and was lost.

In the air attacks direct hits were reported four hangars, two of which were reported to burn fiercely. At least four aircraft which were parked in the open were reported to have been destroyed in addition to those in the hangars. Many aerodrome buildings were destroyed or damaged. Three mines were laid inside Cagliari harbour. One Swordfish aircraft made a forced landing on an Italian airfield and the crew was made prisoner of war.

After flying of the air striking force the group of which HMS Ark Royal was part turned to the southward to rejoin the other ships of Force H which had in the meantime also proceeded eastwards and adjusted speed to be in position 37.40’N, 07.20’E at 0445/2. Two flights of one Skua and six Hurricane’s each were launched from HMS Argus at 0515/2 and 0600/2. The two groups of ships from Force H sighted each other at 0520/2 and then made rendez-vous which was effected at 0815/2. All aircraft launched by HMS Argus reached Malta but one of the Hurricane’s crashed on lading.

At 0930/3, HMS Arethusa, was detached to search for the Vichy French ship HMS Enterprise was also searching for. They both failed to intercept this ship. HMS Enterprise was to the north of Minorca and was in supporting distance from Force H and was therefore ordered to proceed to Gibraltar passing west of the Baleares. HMS Arethusa rejoined force H before dark on the 3rd.

HMS Ark Royal, escorted by HMS Hotspur, HMS Encounter and HMS Escapade, were detached as to arrive at Gibraltar before dark on the 3rd. The remainder of Force H arrived at Gibraltar around dawn on the 4th.

Diversions by the Mediterranean Fleet in the eastern Mediterranean. Operation MA 9.

At 0600/31, light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, CB, RAN) and destroyers HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN) and ORP Garland (Lt. A. Doroszkowski, ORP) departed Alexandria for an anti-shipping raid / contraband control in the Gulf of Athens area. They were to pass through the Kaso Strait and arrived off the Doro Channel at dawn on 1 August. They then exercises contraband control during the day in the Gulf of Athens area retiring to the westward between Cape Malea and Agria Grabusa at dusk. After dark they returned to the Aegean to exercise contraband control on 2 August. They returned to Alexandria in the evening of 3 August 1940.

A cover force went to sea around 1420 hours, this force was made up of the battleships HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN), HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Hostile (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Burnell-Nugent, DSC, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN) and HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN) and HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades, RAN). They carried out exercises and then proceeded westwards towards Gavdos Island to the south of Crete. Due to engine problems in HMS Malaya the cover force returned to Alexandria late on the the morning of August 1st. (9)

4 Aug 1940
The battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), battleship HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Argus (Capt. H.C. Bovell, RN), light cruisers HMS Arethusa (Capt. Q.D. Graham, RN), HMS Enterprise (Capt. J.C.A. Annesley, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St.J. Morgan, RN), HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, RN), HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSC, RN) and HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H Layman, DSO, RN) departed Gibraltar as part of Force H had to proceed to the U.K.

HMS Ark Royal, HMS Enterprise, HMS Encounter, HMS Gallant, HMS Greyhound and HMS Hotspur parted company with Force H at 1040/6 to return to Gibraltar where they arrived around 0900/6.

At 0735/9 the destroyers HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, DSO, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, DSO, RN) and HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN) joined.

At 0745/9 the battleship HMS Valiant, aircraft carrier HMS Argus and the destroyers HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight and HMS Forester parted company to proceed to Liverpool where they arrived around 1530/10.

HMS Hood, HMS Arethusa, HMS Escapade, HMS Foxhound, HMS Bedouin, HMS Punjabi and HMS Tartar arrived at Scapa Flow at 0600/10.

22 Aug 1940

Convoy's AP 1 and AP 2.

This combined convoy sailed from the U.K. on 22 August 1940 and was made up of the following ships; Denbighshire (British, 8983 GRT, built 1938), Duchess of Bedford (British, 20123 GRT, built 1928), Sydney Star (British, 12696 GRT, built 1936) and Waiotira (British, 11090 GRT, built 1939).

The aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN) was also part of this convoy serving in the role as aircraft transport.

The convoy was heavily escorted, mostly by warships proceeding from home waters to join other stations.

The aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral A.L.St.G. Lyster, CVO, DSO, RN), heavy cruiser HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and the destroyers HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, DSO, RN) and HMS Tartar (Capt. C. Caslon, RN) departed Scapa Flow around 1045/22.

From Liverpool the battleship HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), light cruiser HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D. McCarthy, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) sailed around 1430/22.

From the Clyde the AA cruisers HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN), HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN) and the destroyer HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN) sailed around 2030/22.

HMS Ashanti, HMS Bedouin and HMS Tartar had detached on 24 August.

HMS Valiant, HMS Illustrious, HMS Sheffield, HMS Calcutta, HMS Coventry, HMS Faulknor, HMS Firedrake, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Fortune and HMS Fury proceeded to Gibraltar where they arrived on 29 August.

Convoy AP 1 arrived at Freetown on 1 September escorted by HMS York. It departed for Capetown later the same day.

Convoy AP 2 (Sydney Star and HMS Argus arrived at Freetown on 2 September 1940 escorted by HMS Ajax. It departed for Durban later the same day. HMS Argus parted company with the convoy on 4 September and proceeded to Takoradi.

Convoy AP 1 arrived at Capetown on 9 September. HMS York proceeed to Simonstown arriving later the same day. The convoy departed again on 10 September still escorted by HMS York.

Convoy AP 2 arrived at Durban on 13 September and sailed again later the same day still escorted by HMS Ajax.

On 20 September 1940, HMS York turned over the escort of convoy AP 1 to the light cruiser HMAS Hobart (Capt. H.L. Howden, RAN), AA cruiser HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN) and the destroyers HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN) and HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, RN) which escorted the convoy in the Red Sea. The convoy arrived at Suez on 23 September 1940. After turning over the convoy HMS York proceeded to Aden arriving in the evening of September, 20th.

Convoy AP 2 arrived off Aden on 22 September, still escorted by HMS Ajax. There it was joined by the transport Amra (British, 8314 GRT, built 1938), heavy cruiserHMS York and the destroyers HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, DSO, RN) and HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Somerville, DSO, RN). HMS Ajax was then detached to Aden. The AA cruiser HMS Coventry also joined later on 22 September, parting company again at 1300/23.

Convoy AP 2 arrived at Suez on 25 September 1940.

25 Aug 1940
At 0730/25, HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), HMS Enterprise (Capt. J.C. Annesley, DSO, RN), HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, DSO, RN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN) and HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN) departed Gibraltar for exercises.

At 2030/25, HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN), HMS Velox (Cdr.(Retd.) J.C. Colvill, RN) and HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN) departed Gibraltar to join the Ark Royal group at sea. Course was then set into the North Atlantic to make rendezvous with ships coming from the UK.

Rendezvous was effected around 0730/27 with HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral A.L.St.G. Lyster, CVO, DSO, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN), HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN), HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and the transport Royal Scotsman (3244 GRT, built 1936).

HMS Enterprise, HMS Velox and HMS Vidette then parted company and escorted the Royal Scotsman to Gibraltar. (10)

28 Aug 1940

Operation Menace, the attack on Dakar, 23-24 September 1940.


Part I, initial movements of the Allied naval forces

The actual attack on Dakar took place on 23 and 24 September 1940 but preparations off course started earlier.

28 August 1940.

The battleship HMS Barham (Capt G.C. Cooke, RN) departed Scapa Flow for Gibraltar. She was escorted by HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) and HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN). They were joined at sea by HMS Echo (Cdr. S.H.K. Spurgeon, DSO, RAN) which sailed later.

29 August 1940.

The transports Anadyr (British, 5321 GRT, built 1930), Casamance (French, 5817 GRT, built 1921), Fort Lamy (British, 5242 GRT, built 1919), Nevada (French, 5693 GRT, built 1918) and the tanker Ocean Coast (British, 1173 GRT, built 1935) split off in position 54’N, 18’W from convoy OB 204 (which had departed from the British east coast on 26/27 August) to proceed to Dakar. When they split off their escort towards Dakar were the Free French sloop Savorgnan de Brazza and the Free French A/S trawler President Houduce.

31 August 1940.

On this day three groups of ships departed from British ports.

From Scapa Flow the following ships sailed; troopships Ettrick (British, 11279 GRT, built 1938), Kenya (British, 9890 GRT, built 1938) and Sobieski (Polish, 11030 GRT, built 1939). These were escorted by the light cruiser HMS Fiji (Capt. W.G. Benn, RN) and the destroyers HMS Ambuscade (Lt.Cdr. R.A. Fell, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, DSO, RN), HMS Volunteer (Lt.Cdr. N. Lanyon, RN) and HMS Wanderer.

From Liverpool the following ships sailed; troopships Karanja (British, 9891 GRT, built 1931), Pennland (Dutch, 16082 GRT, built 1922) and Westernland (Dutch, 16313 GRT, built 1918) and the transport Belgravian (British, 3136 GRT, built 1937). These were escorted by the destroyers HMS Mackay (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN), HMS Vanoc (Lt.Cdr. J.G.W. Deneys, RN) and the corvette HMS Erica (Lt.Cdr. W.C. Riley, RNR).

From the Clyde the following warships sailed; HMS Devonshire (Capt. J.M. Mansfield, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.H.D. Cunningham, CB, MVO, RN, the Commander of the upcoming operation), the destroyer HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, RN) and the French sloops (minesweepers) Commandant Dominé and Commandant Duboc.

All these ships were expected to arrive at Freetown on 13 September where they would be joined by ships coming from Gibraltar and ships that were based at Freetown.

1 September 1940.

The outward passage was initially uneventful and Vice-Admiral Cunningham’s group joined up with the group that came from Liverpool at 0600/1 (zone -1). But that evening misfortune occurred when HMS Fiji was torpedoed by the German submarine U-32 when about 40 nautical miles north-northeast of Rockall in position 58°10’N, 12°55’W. She then returned to the Clyde. Her convoy then continued on escorted by the four destroyers until they met Vice-Admiral Cunningham’s force at 0900/2. The convoy was now known as ‘Convoy MP’. The place of HMS Fiji in the operation was subsequently taken over by the Australian heavy cruiser HMAS Australia (Capt. R.R. Stewart, RN).

2 September 1940.

HMS Barham (Capt G.C. Cooke, RN), HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Echo (Cdr. S.H.K. Spurgeon, DSO, RAN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) and HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN) arrived at Gibraltar from Scapa Flow.

The destroyer escort for the MP convoy parted company at 1400/2 and was ordered to join HMS Revenge (Capt. E.R. Archer, RN) which was escorting Canadian troop convoy TC 7 to the Clyde.

Passage of the MP convoy southwards was relatively uneventful except for some submarine alarms and also some engine defects during which speed had to be reduced a bit.

6 September 1940.

HMS Barham (Capt G.C. Cooke, RN), HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Echo (Cdr. S.H.K. Spurgeon, DSO, RAN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) and HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN) departed Gibraltar for Freetown in the evening but now accompanied by ships from Force H; the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), battleship HMS Resolution (Capt. O. Bevir, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN).

After passing between Madeira and the Canary Islands on the 8th this force, which constituted the major part of the warships involved in the upcoming operation, turned south at 0900/9. By 0800/11 the force was in position 20°18’N, 19°54’W about 1000 nautical miles south of Casablanca.

Vice-Admiral Cunningham in HMS Devonshire was then in position 16°50’N, 22°00’W, about 240 nautical miles to the south-west ward of the main force. He had just sighted the MS convoy (the five transports), escorted by Savorgnan de Brazza, some 300 nautical miles north-west of Dakar. Vice-Admiral Cunningham ordered the convoy Commodore to take the convoy into Freetown.

A signal was then received that Vichy-French warships had passed the Straits of Gibraltar and had turned south. Three light cruisers and three large destroyers were reported to have made up this force. It was not known where they were bound for but possibly Casablanca. Their appearance seriously affected the whole operation.

The Vichy-French cruiser force.

At 1850 hours on 9 September 1940, H.M. Consul General, Tangier, had informed Admiral Sir Dudley North, Flag Officer commanding North Atlantic, and repeated to the Foreign Office, that a French Squadron in the Mediterranean might try to pass through the Strait of Gibraltar within the next 72 hours. This report received confirmation the next day when the French Admiralty requested the British Naval Attaché, Madrid, to advise the Naval authorities at Gibraltar of the departure from Toulon on the 9th of three light cruisers of the Georges Leygues class and three large destroyers of the Fantasque class. They would pass through the Straits of Gibraltar on the morning of the 11th, no mention was made of their destination. This information reached the Admiralty at 2350/10 and Admiral North at 0008/11.

The Government policy with regards to Vichy warships at that time had been defined in a signal sent to all Commanders-in-Chief and Flag Officers commanding shortly after the attack on the battleship Richelieu at Dakar in July. This message, after stressing the importance of terminating the state of tension then existing between the French navy and ourselves, stated that His Majesty’s Government had decided to take no further action in regard to French ships in French colonial and North African ports, and went on to say ‘ We shall, of course, however, reserve the right to take action in regard to French warships proceeding to enemy controlled ports.’ Recent intelligence had indicated that it was highly improbable that any warships would make for the German occupied Biscay ports, and a Admiral North had not been informed of the Dakar project, he saw no reason to take any steps to interfere with the movements of the French warships.

Early on September 11th, the destroyers HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, DSO, RN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN) and HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN), which were hunting a reported submarine to the eastward of the Strait of Gibraltar. At 0445 they sighted six French warships steaming fast to the westward and reported them. At 0617/11, Admiral North informed the Admiralty that the lights of six ships, probably warships, steering west at high speed, had been reported by HMS Hotspur at 0515 hours in position 36°03'N, 04°14'W (60 miles east of Gibraltar) and that he had ordered the destroyers to take no further action. At 0711 hours he added that he intended to keep in touch with this force by air and that he would report probable destination.

Meanwhile, Vice-Admiral Somerville, commanding Force H, on receiving the signal from HMS Hotspur had brought HMS Renown (Capt C.E.B. Simeon, RN) and the only destroyer available, HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN), to one hour’s notice for full speed. He did not put to sea because he too, believed the Government’s policy was to avoid interference with French warships as stated in the signal of 12 July.

The French squadron passed Gibraltar to the westward shortly after 0830/11 having given it’s composition in reply to the demand as the light cruisers Georges Leygues, Gloire, Montcalm and the destroyers Le Malin, Le Fantasque and L’Audacieux. This information reached the Admiralty at 1043/11 in a signal sent by Admiral North at 0917/11.

No further action was taken during the forenoon and the situation at noon was that the French Squadron was in position 35°00'N, 06°40'W (about 75 nautical miles south-south-west of Gibraltar) steering 213° at 20 knots. They were being observed by reconnaissance aircraft from RAF 200 Sq. based at Gibraltar. The Admiralty and Air Ministery were being kept informed.

Here was a complication that might well effect the Dakar operation should Dakar be the destination of the French Squadron. It does not seem to have been viewed in this light at the Admiralty, until the 1st Sea Lord himself, who was attending a meeting in the Cabinet Offices that forenoon, telephoned orders for HMS Renown and all available destroyers to raise steam for full speed. A signal to this end was then sent to Admiral Somerville at 1239/11. This was over twelve hours after the original message from Madrid had reached the Admiralty.

Movements of Force H, 11 to 14 September 1940.

The noon position and their course indicated Casablanca as the most probable destination of the French Squadron and at 1347/11 the Admiralty ordered Admiral Somerville to sea to intercept them. Further instructions followed at 1429 hours. These was no objection with them going to Casablanca but they could not be allowed to proceed to Dakar. Shortly after 1600 hours aircraft reported that the French Squadron had entered Casablanca.

Admiral Somerville left Gibraltar at 1630 hours in the Renown escorted by the destroyers HMS Griffin, HMS Velox (Cdr.(Retd.) J.C. Colvill, RN) and HMS Vidette. At 2006 hours he was ordered by the Admiralty to establish a patrol to intercept the French Squadron if they sailed southwards from Casablanca. In the early morning hours of the 12th at 0235 hours, HMS Vidette, encountered a four-funneled French destroyer (this was Milan) in position 33°55'N, 08°31'W (west-north-west of Casablanca). She sighted a darkened ship some 6 miles on her port bow. She challenged but got no reply. A searchlight was turned on and revealed a four-funneled French destroyer. Vidette then fired two salvoes and the French destroyer, ignoring a signal to stop, then retired at high speed behind a smoke screen. Shortly afterwards Vidette was recalled from her patrol and ordered to rejoin Renown.

The French squadron was still at Casablanca at 0923/12 according to an aircraft report. At 0934 hours, Admiral Somerville turned north to meet three more destroyers coming from Gibraltar. These were; HMS Hotspur, HMS Encounter and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN). These were met at 1300 hours, in position 33°05'N, 09°40'W. They then turned to the south-west again. HMS Hotspur was stationed to patrol closer inshore.

At 0405/13, HMS Renown sighted three darkened ships in position 31°25'N, 11°30'W. These were thought to be the three Fantasque class destroyers. They were steaming north at 20 knots and were allowed to proceed. Admiral Somerville continued his patrol but fuel began to become an issue. The weather was to rough for the destroyers to fill up at sea and two of them will have to be detached that evening to refuel. This would much reduce the chance to intercept the French Squadron and Admiral Somerville informed the Admiralty of this. Adding tat he considered a patrol should be established off Dakar. His signal crossed one from the Admiralty stating that according to French sources the Squadron would remain only shortly at Casablanca before proceeding to Dakar.

This forecast proved correct. At 1530/13 aircraft reported that the light cruisers were no longer at Casablanca. Due to his fuel situation Admiral Somerville signalled that he would leave his patrol area for Gibraltar at 2000 hours that evening. But at 1916 hours the Admiralty ordered him to steer for Dakar at 18 knots. This was being done but Vidette and Velox were detached to Gibraltar to fuel.

At 2335/19 the Admiralty cancelled the order so at 0121/14, Renown and the four remaining destroyers set course to return to Gibraltar which they reached at 2000/14.

Patrol of Dakar by Vice-Admiral Cunningham’s forces.

To return to Vice-Admiral Cunningham. He knew that the French Squadron had left the Mediterranean at 1542/11 and that Vice-Admiral Somerville had been ordered to intercept them. Within a couple of hours he learnt that the French Squadron had entered Casablanca. The next forenoon (0947/12) he was informed that Vice-Admiral Somerville had been ordered to establish a patrol and to prevent them from proceeding to the south.

Vice-Admiral Cunningham’s forces were then approaching Freetown. At 1145/12, an aircraft from HMS Ark Royal approached HMS Devonshire to report that the Ark Royal would be in position 13°59'N, 20°08'W at 1300 hours and expected to arrive at Freetown with HMS Barham, HMS Resolution and ten destroyers at 0700/14. The next morning, 13 September, at 0820 hours an aircraft again closed HMS Devonshire. An order was then passed that four destroyers were to be detached to join HMS Devonshire and the convoy before dark. At 1008 hours HMS Devonshire left the convoy to close Ark Royal’s force, sighing it an hour later 20 nautical miles to the north-north-east. Devonshire remained in visual touch until 1700 hours when course was set to return to the convoy taking the destroyers HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester and HMS Fury with him.

Shortly after 1800/13, Vice-Admiral Cunningham was informed that the French cruisers had left Casablanca and that Vice-Admiral Somerville in the Renown had been ordered to proceed to the Dakar area.

Shortly after midnight 13th/14th, a signal came in from the Admiralty ordering Vice-Admiral Cunningham to establish a patrol immediately to prevent the French cruisers from reaching Dakar, employing every available ship. The same orders went to the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic. HMS Cumberland (Capt. G.H.E. Russell, RN), which had departed Freetown for the U.K. at 2000/13 was placed under Vice-Admiral Cunninham’s orders and HMS Cornwall (Capt. C.F. Hammill, RN), on her way from Simonstown to Freetown, was ordered to increase speed.

The original operation was now swallowed up in the task of intercepting the French ships. Time had become a factor of the utmost importance and without waiting for daylight, Vice-Admiral Cunningham and General Irwin, went over to see General de Gaulle on board the Westernland at 0120/14, who immediately roused Capitaine Thierry d’Argenlieu and armed him with a letter forbidding any French warship to proceed to Dakar. Within twenty minutes they were on their way back to the Dorsetshire with Capt. D’Argenlieu and the following measures were taken;

HMAS Australia which was coming from the Clyde to take the place of HMS Fiji was ordered to close HMS Devonshire, which would be steering for Dakar, then 400 nautical miles distant.

The Ark Royal was ordered to sent her six remaining destroyers; HMS Inglefield, HMS Greyhoud, HMS Fortune, HMS Echo, HMS Eclipse and HMS Escapade to Freetown to fuel and herself proceed with despatch to position 16’N, 17°40’W.

HMS Barham and HMS Resolution and the other four destroyers; HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester and HMS Fury, were to fuel at Freetown and leave for the Dakar area as soon as fuelling had been completed.

Convoy’s MP and MS were to proceed to Freetown with their French escorts.

HMS Devonshire meanwhile had altered course to the northward for Dakar at 0230/14, speed 18 knots. It was not possible to transfer General Irwin and his staff and the General thus found himself speeding northward with the orders for the landing while his troops went on to Freetown. HMAS Australia joined HMS Devonshire at 0300 hours and half an hour later the cruisers had worked up to 27 knots. HMS Cumberland and HMS Ark Royal were approaching from the south.

At 1000/14, HMS Devonshire and HMAS Australia were 200 nautical miles south of Dakar in position 11°23’N, 17°42’W, with HMS Cumberland and HMS Ark Royal respectively 45 and 100 miles astern of them. Aircraft from Ark Royal carried out reconnaissance ahead of Devonshire and Australia from this time onwards. Also flights over Dakar were carried out. That afternoon a large amount of shipping was reported in the harbour and also a submarine was sighted on the surface at 1533 in position 260°, Cape Manuel, 10 nautical miles, steering 260°. It could not be seen if the French cruisers had arrived at Dakar.

At 1900/14 the Devonshire and Australia, reduced to 17 knots on reaching the latitude of Dakar and then turned back to join Cumberland. She was met at 1940 hours and then the cruisers turned northward once more. They established a patrol line at 2320 hours, 4 miles apart, courses 270°-090°, between the meridians 17°30’W and 18°00W in latitude 16°00’N.

But they were too late. Just before midnight 14/15 September a message was received from the Admiralty that a Vichy report had announced that the cruisers had arrived safely at Dakar. The Vichy cruisers actually had arrived at Dakar at 1600/14.

Dawn air reconnaissance on the 15th failed to spot the cruisers at Dakar and by this time the three heavy cruisers were running low on fuel and at 1001 hours Vice-Admiral Cunningham sent a signal to the Admiralty to ask if he should withdraw to Freetown to refuel and prepare for operation ‘Menace’, leaving HMS Cumberland to patrol off Dakar, or to report the patrol about 0001/17 and accept indefinite delay of operation ‘Menace’. He recommended the first alternative.

At 1027 hours, however, the Ark Royal signalled that the cruisers had been located at Dakar. All ships then set course for Freetown to refuel except HMS Cumberland which was left to patrol off Dakar. The next day, the 16th, she met the Vichy French merchant vessel Poitiers (4185 GRT, built 1921) 100 miles south of Dakar and fired a salvo across her bows. Her crew then set her on fire and abandoned her. She was then sunk by gunfire from the cruiser.

Cancellation of Operation ‘Menace’.

By the evening of 15 September, Vice-Admiral Cunningham’s forces were all making once again for Freetown. A destroyer had been sent on ahead with the operation orders and two staff officers. The escape of the French cruisers, however, called for a drastic re-consideration of the original plan.

In London the War Cabinet met at 1000/16 to consider the new situation. The Prime Minister pointed out that in his view the operation had to be cancelled and at 1346/16, Vice-Admiral Cunningham received a signal that the landing of troops at Dakar in ‘Operation Menace’ was impracticable. It was proposed that General de Gaulle’s force should land at Duala with the object of consolidating his influence in the Cameroons, Equatorial Africa and the Chads. The British portion of the force was to remain at Freetown. Unless de Gaulle had any strong objection, this plan had to be put into operation forthwith.

Vice-Admiral Cunningham and General Irwin were reluctant to take this view. They replied at 1642 hours suggesting that if HMS Cornwall and HMS Cumberland would be added to their force they should be enough to deal with the French cruisers. The answer came at 2245 hours; they were left a liberty to consider the whole situation and discuss it with de Gaulle, whom they informed of the new proposal.

HMS Devonshire arrived at Freetown at 0630/17. The Vice-Admiral and the General proceeded to consult with General de Gaulle. The latter was much perturbed at the possible cancellation of the original plan and that very morning he sent a telegram to the Prime Minister desiring ‘to insist’ that the plan should be carried out and emphasising the vital importance to the Allies of gaining control of the basis in French Africa. He now urged on the Force Commanders that if the unopposed landing failed the Free French troops should attempt a landing at Rufisque. They decided to support this proposal and shortly after midnight they forwarded their recommendations to the Admiralty for consideration. The reply from H.M. Government came at 1159/18;
‘ We cannot judge relative advantages of alternative schemes from here. We give you full authority to go ahead and do what you think is best, in order to give effect to the original purpose of the expedition. Keep us informed.’

With a free hand such as is seldom enjoyed in these days of rapid communication by the leaders of an overseas expedition in unbroken touch with their Government, the Joint Commanders decided to proceed with ‘Menace’ on 22 September.

The French cruisers again, 19 to 26 September 1940.

The naval and military staffs were working hard at preparations for the landing when the next day, 19 September, French cruiser appeared again on the scene. HMAS Australia, which had left Freetown the day before to relieve HMS Cumberland on patrol, at 1019/19 in position 10°23’N, 16°54’W, north-west of Freetown, sighted the three La Galissonniere class cruisers 14 nautical miles off steering south-east. Once more the naval forces had to raise steam with all despatch. HMAS Australia and HMS Cumberland were already had on the trial. General de Gaulle again arranged for Captain Thierry d’Angenlieu to carry a message requisting the French cruisers to return to Casablanca.

General Irwin and his staff, with Admiral Cunningham’s Chief Staff Officer, Capt. P.N. Walter, were transferred to the troopship Karanja, and at 1400 hours HMS Devonshire left Freetown at 27 knots with the destroyers HMS Inglefield, HMS Greyhound and HMS Escapade. It was hoped to sight the French cruisers before dark. HMS Barham with HMS Fortune and HMS Fury made for a position to the south-east of the French. HMS Ark Royal, which had engine trouble to repair first, was to follow at 0500/20. A message came from the Admiralty that the French cruisers were not to return to Dakar.

The French cruisers turned back to the north-west and increased speed to 29 knots. Torrential rain was falling, hiding everything from view, but HMAS Australia and HMS Cumberland were able to keep in touch and at 1830/19 HMAS Australia managed to pass directions not to return to Dakar. She was then in position 09°02’N, 15°14’W, just keeping in touch while doing 31 knots. Then the French cruiser Gloire broke down and separated from the other two cruisers. The British then lost touch with these two cruisers. HMS Devonshire meanwhile was steaming to a position to cut off the way to Conakri in French Guinea. HMS Cumberland then regained touch with the two French cruisers (Georges Leygues (flag) and Montcalm) who were speeding north while HMAS Australia picked up the Gloire which was steering eastwards at reduced speed. Night had fallen when HMS Devonshire with HMS Inglefield still in company showed up. HMS Inglefield took Captain d’Argenlieu on board of the Gloire. The French captain refused to accede to his representations, but when Vice-Admiral Cunningham intervened he agreed to proceed to Casablanca. HMAS Australia escorted her until 21 September, leaving her then, on Admiralty instructions, to proceed unescorted.

HMS Cumberland meanwhile managed to keep in touch with the other two cruisers. Her attempts at parley failed, but the French signalled that ‘under no circumstances shall my cruisers pass under German control’. HMS Cumberland followed them all the way to Dakar but was unable to prevent them from entering, which they did at 0550/20.

Meanwhile, on 18 September, far away to the southward, a fourth French cruiser had been sighted escorting a naval tanker. This was the Primaguet escorting the Tarn. HMS Cornwall had departed Freetown on 16 September to meet HMS Delhi (Capt. A.S. Russell, RN) and HMS Dragon (Capt. R.W. Shaw, MBE, RN) off Cape Formosa (south Nigeria). They swept towards Fernando Po [now called Bioko] to intercept any French forces bound for the Cameroons with instructions to direct them back to Casablanca. On 17 September at 2000 hours information came that a French warship and an oiler had been in position 07°25’N, 14°40’W at 1500/15. The Cornwall proceeded to search and on the 18th her aircraft picked up the cruiser Primaguet and oiler Tarn 35 nautical miles ahead. The Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic ordered her to be shadowed.

Her lights were sighted at 2142/18 but disappeared at 0425/19. When dawn broke the horizon was clear. She was picked up again at 1009/19. A boarding party from HMS Delhi went on board. The Captain, after making a formal protest, asked to be allowed to remain stopped until 1700/19 after which she proceeded, first westward, then northward, being shadowed by HMS Cornwall and HMS Delhi until 1830/21 when HMS Delhi had to proceed to Freetown to refuel. HMS Cornwall shadowed her alone untul the 23rd when she was rejoined by HMS Delhi. For two days they followed her close, still steaming north. On the 25th Primaguet fuelled from the Tarn. They were then off the Cape Verde Island. The next day the Admiralty approved the cruisers to return to Freetown. The Primaguet gave a promise that she would proceed to Casablanca with the Tarn where they indeed arrived in due course. The British cruisers then turned south. They had kept the Primaguet and Tarn in sight for five days. Thus two out of the four cruisers in the area had been diverted to Casablanca without the use of force. (11)

29 Aug 1940

Operation Hats.

Passage of reinforcements for the Mediterranean Fleet from Gibraltar to Alexandria, subsequent operations by the fleet as well as the passage of convoys MF 2 from Alexandria to Malta and AS 3 from Piraeus to Port Said.

29 August 1940.

At 2045 convoy MF 2, made up of the transports Cornwall (10603 GRT, built 1920), Volo (1587 GRT, built 1938) and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Plumleaf (5916 GRT, built 1917) departed Alexandria for Malta. These ships were escorted by the destroyers (‘Force J’) HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN) and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN).

30 August 1940.

At 0445 hours the main battlefleet (‘Force I’) departed Alexandria and was made up of the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of A/Admiral A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Malaya (Capt. Sir A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN), light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN) and HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, CB, RAN). Escort was provided by the destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN), HMAS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, RAN), HMAS Vampire (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN), HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades, RAN), HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, RN), HMS Defender (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN) and ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. A. Doroszkowski, ORP).

Shortly afterwards the heavy cruiser HMS Kent (Capt. D. Young-Jamieson, RN), light cruisers HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN), HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN) and the destroyers Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN) and HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN) also departed Alexandria. These ships were also part of ‘Force I’.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

From Gibraltar the following forces went to sea, they departed around 0845 hours.

’Force B’ which was made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN). Escort was provided by the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN) , HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN).

At the same time ‘Force F’ departed, this force was the reinforcement for the Mediterranean Fleet and was made up of the battleship HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral A.L.St.G. Lyster, CVO, DSO, RN), light (AA) cruisers HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN), HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN). They were escorted by HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN) and HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H Layman, DSO, RN).

A third ‘force’, called ‘Force W’ also departed at the same time, it was made up of the destroyers HMS Velox (Cdr.(Retd.) J.C. Colvill, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN). These destroyers were to split off from the other forces off the Baliaric Islands and proceed northwards and transmit false messages deceiving the Italians into thinking that ‘Force H’ from Gibraltar was proceeding towards the Genoa area.

31 August 1940.

During the day HMS Eagle flew off A/S and fighter patrols.

At 0845 hours HMS Kent, HMS Liverpool, HMS Gloucester and their escort of HMS Hyperion, HMS Hasty and HMS Ilex were sighted by enemy aircraft. They made rendez-vous with the bulk of the Mediterranean Fleet later the same day which was then also sighted by enemy aircraft.

Shortly after noon convoy MF 2 was bombed by enemy aircraft in position 35°14’N, 23°11’E.

At 1420 hours two Gladiators were flown off by HMS Eagle. When these returned at 1530 hours they reported that they had shot down an Italian aircraft but another shadowing aircraft was heard to be making reports.

At 1554 hours HMS Kent, HMS Liverpool and HMS Gloucester were detached to give AA protection to the convoy. They were ordered to rejoin the fleet at 2000 hours.

At 1635 hours an aircraft reported that the transport Cornwall had been hit aft by a bomb and that she was on fire. It was also reported that the fire was under control and that Cornwall was still proceeding with the convoy.

At 1815 hours HMS Decoy was detached to join the three cruisers.

Also at 1815 hours, an aircraft from HMS Eagle reported sighting an enemy force of two battleship, seven cruisers and eight destroyers in position 37°18’N, 18°52’E. Which was about 140 nautical miles from Warspite at that moment. This position was later corrected to 37°02’N, 19°04’E. It was therefore decided to remain close to the convoy during the night.

At 1930 hours the three cruisers were sighted and between 1950 and 2020 hours all aircraft returned to HMS Eagle.

At 2057 hours, HMS Jervis reported that at 2015 hours the convoy was in position 35°24’N, 21°50’E, course 260°, speed 9.5 knots. It was also reported that Cornwall her steering gear had been wrecked and that she was steering on her main engines.

Later that evening more sighting reports of enemy warships were received coming from two submarines.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

At 0815 hours, HMS Ark Royal launched six search aircraft. Fighter patrol was also maintained overhead

At 1240 hours, a section of Skua’s on fighter patrol were ordered to intercept an Italian shadower that had been detected by RD/F. They managed to intercept the enemy at 1248 hours and shoot it down in flames.

At 1630 hour another Italian shadower was shot down by the fighter patrol.

At 2150 hours, in position 39°30’N, 04°01’E, ‘Force W’ comprising HMS Velox and HMS Wishart, was detached for the W/T diversion. They were to proceed to the north-east and during the passage they were to transmit a series of messages by W/T in approximate position 41°00’N, 04°30’E. This part of the operation was called ‘Operation Squawk’.

1 September 1940.

At 0630 hours, HMS Eagle launched nine aircraft to conduct a search between 310° and 140° to a depth of 100 miles. These aircraft sighted nothing.

At 1035 hours, four more aircraft were flown off to search between 180° and 210° to a depth of 60 miles.

At noon ‘Force I’, the main battlefleet, was in position 34°48’N, 18°59’E.

At 1300 hours, HMS Eagle flew off four more aircraft to search between 235° and 315° to a depth of 60 miles. This search was maintained for the remainder of the day. Aircraft being flown off at 1545 and 1745 hours. The last patrol returned at 2015 hours. No enemy forces had been sighted.

At 1330 hours an enemy reconnaissance aircraft was sighted over the fleet.

At 1400 hours, HMS Orion and HMAS Sydney were detached to make rendez-vous in position 34°42’N, 16°20’E with the destroyer HMS Wryneck (Lt.Cdr. R.H.D. Lane, RN) which had been refitting and rearming at Malta and had recently recommissioned for service. They were then to make rendez-vous with ‘Force J’. The convoy was sighted at 1530 hours.

A flying boat operating from Malta reported enemy warships, a force made up of two battleships, ten cruisers and a large number of destroyers was sighted in position 38°52’N, 18°16’E at 1600 hours. They were steering towards Taranto. These forces were shadowed until 1857 hours when it was absolutely clear that the enemy was returning to their bases.

During the night the fleet would remain near the convoy with the cruiser force to the north and the battleforce to the south of the convoy.

Plumleaf and Volo, escorted by HMS Dainty and HMS Diamond were ordered to proceed to Malta at maximum speed while HMS Jervis and HMS Juno remained behind with the damaged Cornwall.

From the main battleforce HMAS Stuart, HMAS Vendetta, HMAS Vampire and HMS Defender were detached to Malta at 2000 hours where they were to refuel.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Meanwhile in the western Mediterranean at 0325 hours a strike force was launched by HMS Ark Royal, 155 miles, 264° from Cagliari to raid Elmas aerodrome. After flying off the fleet altered course to the flying on position which was 120 miles, 226° from Cagliari.

The striking force consisted of nine Swordfish each armed with four 250lb G.P. bombs and 8 250lb incendiary bombs. Parachute flares were also carried by each plane. Weather conditions were good.

At 0600 hours the aircraft attacked the aerodrome after establishing its position by dropping flares. Bombs were released from 3000 feet and hits were observed on the barracks, aerodrome buildings and aircraft dispersed round the aerodrome. Several fires were seen to start.

All aircraft returned safely, landing on around 0800 hours. On the way back they had attacked an enemy submarine with machine gun fire in position 38°20’N, 07°20’E. The submarine fired a yellow flare and then dived. HMS Greyhound and HMS Hotspur were then detached to hunt the submarine but they did not made contact with the enemy. The submarine involved was the Italian Diaspro. She was first machine gunned and reported the attacking aircraft as a Sunderland (sic). She then dived. Five explosions were then heard of which one was close enough to shake the submarine.

After landing on the striking force course was altered to the south-westward to give the Italians the impression that having bombed Cagliari the force had achieved its object and was withdrawing. But as there apparently there were no Italian aircraft shadowing the force at this moment this seems to have failed.

At 1030 hours course was altered to 080°. From this time onwards fighter patrols, each of six aircraft, were maintained over the force throughout the day.

At 1630 hours HMS Illustrious flew off seven aircraft to conduct a search to the eastward until maximum range.

At 1730 hours RD/F reported an aircraft approaching the force from ahead. Intercepted Italian reports indicted that the force was being shadowed. Both carriers then vectored fighters. They did not sight enemy aircraft but a section of Fulmars from HMS Illustrious attacked a British Hudson in error.

At 2200 hours, when in position 38°06’N, 10°51’E, HMS Valiant, HMS Illustrious, HMS Coventry, HMS Calcutta, HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk, HMS Janus, HMS Hero, HMS Gallant, HMS Griffin, HMS Greyhound and HMS Hotspur parted company and proceeded to the south-eastward.

The remainder of the ships proceeded to the northwards for 15 minutes and then altered course to the west and increased speed to 24 knots to reach a suitable spot for a second air strike on Cagliari.

2 September 1940.

At 0700 hours A/S patrols were flown off by HMS Eagle and the mean line of advance was changed to 320° for the rendez-vous position with ‘Force F’. At 0800 hours the fleet was in position 35°25’N, 13°48’E.

At 0900 hours HMS Valiant and HMS Illustrious were sighted right ahead. With them were HMS Orion, HMAS Sydney, HMS Wryneck, HMS Gallant, HMS Greyhound, HMS Griffin and HMS Hotspur. HMS Coventry, HMS Calcutta, HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk, HMS Janus and HMS Juno had been detached to Malta to refuel.

At 0930 hours, HMAS Vampire and HMAS Vendetta rejoined from Malta and HMS Hereward and HMS Ilex were now detached to refuel at Malta.

At 0940 hours, when the fleet was in position 35°40’N, 13°43’E, and steaming on a course of 140°, the fleet was formed as follows; HMS Warspite, HMS Illustrious, HMS Malaya, HMS Eagle, HMS Valiant. HMS Orion and HMAS Sydney were stationed 12 cables 20° on either bow. The destroyers were in Sreening Diagram No. 6A.

A standing patrol of four Fulmars from HMS Illustrious was maintained over the fleet at 12000 feet. A/S patrols were provided by Illustrious and Eagle if required.

At 1010 hours, HMS Valiant was detached to Malta with an escort of the destroyers HMS Hyperion, HMS Hasty, HMS Decoy and HMS Wryneck.

At 0930 hours an enemy aircraft reported three cruisers and at 1030 hours, Rear-Admiral Cruiser Squadron 3 with HMS Kent, HMS Liverpool and HMS Gloucester, reported that they were being shadowed in position 35°29’N, 14°40’E. Three Fulmars for A/S protection were then flown off.

At 1050 hours an enemy aircraft was heard to report a large naval force. An Italian reconnaissance aircraft was shot down shortly afterwards and nothing more was heard from this aircraft after this.

At 1130 hours the Vice-Admiral Malta reported that the convoy had arrived there safely.

At noon the fleet was in position 35°29’N, 14°25’E steering 100°. The fleet remained about 35 nautical miles south of Malta during the afternoon.

At 1425 hours HMS Janus was detached to Malta with correspondence and to refuel.

At 1504 hours, HMS Coventry, HMS Janus, HMS Juno, HMS Nubian and HMS Mohawk, joined the fleet.

At 1600 hours, the fleet was in position 35°14’N, 14°21’E. At this time a bombing attack took place. Eight bombs fell astern of HMS Eagle.

At 1645 hours, HMS Hereward and HMS Ilex rejoined the fleet.

At 1657 hours, HMS Malaya, HMS Eagle, HMS Coventry, HMS Janus, HMS Juno, HMS Dainty, HMS Diamond, HMAS Vampire, HMAS Vendetta (‘Force E’) and HMS Kent, HMS Liverpool, HMS Gloucester, HMS Nubian and HMS Mohawk (‘Force A’) were detached.

At 1730 hours, HMS Gallant and HMS Ilex reported a submarine contact and attacked with depth charges. The fleet made an emergency alteration of course.

At 1856 hours, HMAS Voyager was detached to Malta and at 1900 hours HMS Calcutta, HMS Hasty, HMS Hero, HMS Decoy and HMS Wryneck rejoined.

Between 1900 and 1910 hours, two bombing attacks were made on the fleet. During these attacks several Italian aircraft were shot down.

At 1945 hours, when in position 35°20’N, 14°07’E, the fleet altered course to 040° to close the Malta swept channel as HMS Valiant was expected to rejoin the fleet at this time. Valiant was , however, delayed until 2030 hours owing to an air raid on Malta and course was altered to 140° at 15 knots at 2100 hours in position 35°38’N, 14°26’E. In the meantime the last aircraft had returned at 2045 hours.

At 2200 hours, HMS Gallant, HMS Greyhound, HMS Griffin, HMS Hotspur and ORP Garland detached to Malta to refuel and then they were to proceed to Gibraltar.

At 2330 hours, HMS Valiant, screened by HMAS Stuart, HMS Hyperion, HMS Imperial and HMS Janus, was 10 nautical miles 270° from HMS Warspite. Course was altered to 090° and speed was increased to 18 knots at this time.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

At 0350 hours, HMS Ark Royal, launched a striking force of nine Swordfish aircraft armed with 4 250 lb. G.P. bombs and 20 lb. Cooper of 25 lb. incendiary bombs, in addition to parachute flares. Weather conditions were however not very good.

On reaching the vicinity of their objectives, the aerodrome and the power station, the aircraft encountered a layer of cloud at 5000 feet and another layer at 4000 feet. The valleys appeared to be filled with mist or fog and low clouds. Parachute flares were dropped at intervals for a period of about 45 minutes in the hope of identifying the targets, but without success.

Four aircraft then attacked searchlights, putting one of them out of action. Two attacked, what was thought to be, a flare path which turned out to be a field two miles to the north-west of the aerodrome, The three remaining aircraft jettisoned their bombs into the sea.

During the attack the aircraft encountered heavy AA barrage fire. This fire was continued until the aircraft were over 17 miles from the aerodrome. It was apparent that the AA defence had been increased since the last attack. Searchlights were few and ineffective and appeared to have no form of control.

By 0800 hours all aircraft had returned and the fleet was in position 37°48’N, 06°11’E and the fleet proceeded at 26 knots to the westward to get out of range of the expected enemy air attack. These however did not develop as apparently the fleet was not shadowed by the enemy.

3 September 1940.

At 0130 hours, HMS Valiant took station astern of the line and HMAS Stuart, HMS Hyperion, HMS Imperial and HMS Janus joined the screen.

At 0640 hours, A/S patrols were flown off, two aircraft were searching up to a depth of 60 nautical miles.

At 0700 hours, HMS Defender rejoined. She had been delayed at Malta with a defective Asdic dome and had been docked there. Repairs however could not be made as there were no spare parts available at Malta.

At 0800 hours, the Commander-in-Chief, with ‘Force I’ was in position 35°27’N, 19°10’E, steering for the Kithera Channel and ‘Force A’ was in position 35°16’N, 20°58’E steering for the south of Crete. HMS Kent, HMS Liverpool, HMS Gloucester, HMS Nubian and HMS Mohawk had been detached at dawn and were proceeding direct to make rendez-vous with convoy AS 3 in position 37°10’N, 23°15’E (off the Gulf of Athens) at 1800/3.

Convoy AS 3 was made up of the following merchant vessels Cavallo (British, 2269 GRT , built 1922), Destro (British, 3553 GRT , built 1920), Ann Stathatos (Greek, 5685 GRT , built 1918) and Hydroussa (Greek, 2038 GRT , built 1922).

At 2200 hours, HMAS Stuart stopped with a burst steam pipe and was instructed to join convoy AS 3 after repairs.

At 2230 hours, HMS Ilex and HMS Decoy were detached for a dawn bombardment of Scarpanto.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Meanwhile in the western Mediterranean nothing of further interest occured with the fleet and ' Force H ' arrived at Gibraltar around 1100 hours.

At 1645 hours, HMS Gallant, HMS Griffin, HMS Greyhound, HMS Hotspur and ORP Garland departed Malta for Gibraltar. They first made an A/S sweep to the south and west of Malta before continuing on their passage.

4 September 1940.

At 0345 hours, in position 35°44’N, 25°56’E, eight Swordfish aircraft were flow off from HMS Illustrious to attack Calatos aerodrome (Rhodos). Twelve aircraft were initially intended to carry out this attack but due to a crash on deck the remainder could not be launched. Twelve aircraft were flown off by HMS Eagle to attack Maritsa aerodrome (also on Rhodos).

At 0400 hours, HMS Calcutta parted company to join convoy AS 3.

At 0505 hours, HMS Orion and HMAS Sydney were in position 35°09’N, 26°55’E. HMAS Sydney then proceeded to bombard Makryalo aerodrome and HMS Orion to bombard Pegadia Bay.

At 0625 hours, a Swordfish aircraft from HMS Illustrious crashed while taking off, two of the crew were rescued by HMS Imperial but the observer did not survive the crash.

Between 0730 and 0740 hours the striking forces returned to HMS Illustrious and HMS Eagle. The aircraft from Illustrious reported that at 0555 hours two of them had attacked barracks and ammunition dumps at south-east of Callato. The other six Swordfish attacked Callato and a number of aircraft parked on the north edge of the field were probably destroyed. The aircraft from Eagle reported two main hangers hit at Maritsa as well as a petrol dump, barrack blocks and workshops set on fire. The aircraft from Eagle encountered fighters and our of them failed to return.

At 0800 hours, the Commander-in-Chief with his force was in position 35°00’N, 26°54’E, steering 150°. At 0820 hours, large volumes of smoke were seen over the horizon in the direction of Rhodes.

At 1055 hours, HMS Orion, HMAS Sydney, HMS Ilex and HMS Decoy rejoined. Orion reported that no military targets could be identified at Pegadia and what might have been the military barracks had a considerable village behind it. She had fired only a few rounds. Sydney reported that the eastern part of the landing ground at Makriyalo was plasetered. Only one small building was seen and it was destroyed. Two Motor Torpedo Boats which came out were engaged by Ilex and were reported sunk. Sydney’s aircraft reported that three more were present and that two retired and the third one was damaged.

Between 1110 and 1158 hours, three bombing attacks were made on the fleet. Three aircraft dropped six bombs just astern of HMS Warspite. Another aircraft dropped a stick of six bombs near the destroyer screen. Another aircraft dropped a stick of bombs near HMS Ilex.

At 1145 hours, an A/S patrol aircraft dropped a bomb on a suspected submarine some two nautical miles from Warspite. HMS Imperial obtained a faint contact and attacked but without result.

At noon, the Commander-in-Chief, in HMS Warspite was with HMS Valiant, HMS Illustrious, HMS Hyperion, HMS Hero, HMS Hasty, HMS Hereward, HMS Imperial, HMS Janus and HMS Defender in position 34°42’N, 27°35’E.
HMS Malaya, HMS Eagle, HMS Juno, HMS Dainty, HMS Diamond, HMAS Vampire, HMAS Vendetta and HMS Wryneck were 40 nautical miles to the southward proceeding independently to Alexandria where they arrived at 2100 hours on this day.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Meanwhile in the western Mediterreanean, between 1225 and 1430 hours, HMS Gallant, HMS Griffin, HMS Greyhound, HMS Hotspur and ORP Garland were attacked by high level bombers without result.Garland had leaks in two boilers was towed from 1715 to 1845 hours by Griffin until she was able to proceed after repairs on one boiler.

5 September 1940.

At 0610 hours, HMS Hereward investigated a contact and the fleet made an emergency turn. Shortly afterwards, at 0700 hours, the swept channel was reached and the fleet entered Alexandria harbour without further incident.

HMS Kent, HMS Liverpool, HMS Gloucester were ordered to remain with convoy AS 3 until after dark and then to proceed to Alexandria where they arrived early the next day.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

HMS Gallant, HMS Griffin, HMS Greyhound, HMS Hotspur and ORP Garland arrived at Gibraltar at 2020 hours.

6 September 1940.

HMS Nubian and HMS Mohawk remained with convoy AS 3 until relieved at 0600/6 by HMS Hereward and HMS Imperial. They arrived at Alexandria in the afternoon.

Already before noon HMS Coventry, HMS Calcutta and HMAS Stuart had arrived at Alexandria.

Convoy AS 3, now escorted by HMS Hereward and HMS Imperial arrived at Port Said in the afternoon as well. (12)

23 Sep 1940

Operations Menace, the attack on Dakar, 23-24 September 1940.


Part II, the actual attack.

General intentions.

By 20 September the attack force was assembled at Freetown. It was made up of the following warships; battleships HMS Barham (Capt G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.H.D. Cunningham, CB, MVO, RN), HMS Resolution (Capt. O. Bevir, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), heavy cruisers HMS Cumberland (Capt. G.H.E. Russell, RN), HMS Cornwall (Capt. C.F. Hammill, RN) (detached), HMAS Australia (Capt. R.R. Stewart, RN), light cruisers HMS Delhi (Capt. A.S. Russell, RN) (detached) and HMS Dragon (Capt. R.W. Shaw, MBE, RN), destroyers HMS Echo (Cdr. S.H.K. Spurgeon, DSO, RAN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) and HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN) and HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), sloops HMS Bridgewater (A/Cdr. (Retd.) H.F.G. Leftwich, RN), HMS Milford, Savorgnan de Brazza (Free French, Lt.Cdr. A. Roux), Commandant Dominé (Free French, Lt. J.P.Y. de la Porte des Vaux) and Commandant Duboc (Free French, Lt.Cdr. M.A.F. Bourgine) , auxiliary patrol vessel Président Houduce (Free French, Lt. L. Deschatres) and the net tender HMS Quannet (T/Lt. C.E. Richardson, RNR).

Vice-Admiral Cunningham then transferred his flag from HMS Devonshire to HMS Barham accompanied by General Irwin and his staff. All was ready for the passage to Dakar but at General de Gaulle request the opening day was deferred to 23 September.

The task force would arrive off Dakar at dawn on 23 September. It would patrol in groups while French airmen would take off in aircraft from HMS Ark Royal and land at Ouakam airfield to endeavour to win over the French air force. British aircraft meanwhile would drop proclamations and announcements of the arrival of de Gaulle on the town of Dakar and the forts.

An hour later, Captain d’Argenlieu would land in a motor boat with a communication from General de Gaulle to the Governor requiring a reply within two hours. The Free French sloops carrying de Gaulle’s troops would approach and, if necessary, force the anti-submarine boom. Meanwhile Vice-Admiral Cunningham’s Force with fighter and anti-submarine patrols would lie off the harbour as follows.

Group A) The two French troopships, Pennland and Westernland, ten miles to the south of Cape Manuel.

Group B) HMS Barham, HMS Resolution and the cruisers, two miles to the seaward of group A.

Group C) The four British troopships, two miles to the seaward of Group B.

Group D) The other transports, six miles to the seaward of Group C.

Group E) HMS Ark Royal further to the seaward.

If there appeared to be a good chance of a favourable reception the Free French sloops would land their troops at one of the wharves while the French troopships made for the harbour.

It was hoped that the forts would be reluctant to fire on French ships and as soon as de Gaulle was firmly established the British Force would withdraw. If the forts offered serious resistance General de Gaulle would call on Vice-Admiral Cunningham to quell it with a minimum of force. If it was clear that an organised and continuous resistance would be offered and local authorities refused to parley, the Free French ships would withdraw out of range while the British force broke down resistance and landed troops to capture the town and its defences.

The possible contingencies would be referred to as situation ‘Happy’, ‘Sticky’ or ‘Nasty’ according to events. ‘Happy’ would mean a favourable reception and unopposed landing. ‘Sticky’ would mean resistance of a formal or sporadic nature. ‘Nasty’ would mean serious resistance. HM ships then would move in to engage the forts, and British troops would prepare to land.

Commencement of operations.

The forces left Freetown in three groups;

Group I consisted of the five transports escorted by HMS Bridgewater, HMS Quannet and President Houduce. It had already left Freetown on the 19th of September.

Group II consisted of the French troopships Pennland and Westernland, the food ship Belgravian and the three Free French sloops and also of the British troopships Ettrick, Karanja, Kenya and Sobieski escorted by HMS Devonshire, HMS Faulknor, HMS Forester, HMS Fury and HMS Milford (Capt.(Retd.) S.K. Smyth, RN). This group departed Freetown at 0600/21.

Group III consisted of HMS Barham, HMS Resolution, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Inglefield, HMS Greyhound, HMS Foresight, HMS Fortune, HMS Echo and HMS Escapade. This group departed Freetown at 0900/21. Early the next day this group was joined by HMS Cumberland, HMAS Australia and HMS Dragon.

The weather was fine and the sea was calm. Passage north to Dakar was uneventful. Aircraft from the Ark Royal conducted photographic reconnaissance on the 22nd.

At Dakar there were the following French warships; the uncompleted battleship Richelieu, the light cruisers Georges Leygues and Montcalm, the destroyers Le Fantasque, Le Malin, L’Audacieux and Le Hardi, three submarines Ajax, Perseé and Bévéziers (this last one was in dock) and some smaller vessels.

Zero hour for the commencement of the attack was set at 0550/23 and all ships managed to get into their assigned positions at that time. Visibility was however very poor due to mist, and was no more then 3 to 5 nautical miles. The fog was expected to clear during the day but in fact the opposite happened and visibility decreased steadily during the day. The shore was rarely sighted.

During the forenoon, the warships and transports patrolled up and down. Punctually at daybreak (0505 hours), HMS Ark Royal, then some 25 nautical miles from Dakar, flew off five aircraft most of which were manned by Free French flying officers. Two of these aircraft landed safely at Ouakam airfield at 0554 hours. Within 10 minutes a signal was displayed indicating ‘success’. This however proved to be premature. At 0608 hours a third aircraft landed on the airfield. Disembarked her three passengers and then took off without much interference. Two minutes later the ‘success’ signal was removed and a fourth aircraft broke off her attempt to land. Nothing more was heard from the Free French officers that had been landed. Two fighters were then seen to take off and they chased away the three remaining aircraft together with AA fire from the Richelieu and from the battery on Gorée Island. The attempt to win over the airfield had failed.

HMS Barham had sighted the Westernland at 0600 hours and Vice-Admiral Cunningham had sent a message of goodwill to General de Gaulle. The Free French sloop Savorgnan de Brazza was of the boom at 0555 hours and her two motor boats, with Captain d’Argenlieu and the Generals other emissaries were on their way to the boom gate at 0605 hours. The gate was open and at 0640 hours they were entering the harbour.

Visibility was poor, and the Savorgnan de Brazza took station of the boom to keep the boats in sight. The emissaries landed and encountered a hot reception. They were fired on and wounded in resisting an attempt to arrest them, but managed to re-embark and withdraw under fire. A blank round was fired at the Savorgnan de Brazza at 0745 hours followed by three salvoes, which fell astern. Just then the motor boats were sighted and at 0750 hours Captain d’Argenlieu sent a signal that he had met serious resistance. This reached Vice-Admiral Cunningham at 0807 hours. The other French sloops were to be at the boom at 0905 hours to pass it (or force it if needed) and land their troops. If the reception had been favourable the French troopships were then to enter the harbour to disembark the main body of troops. The Commandant Dominé and Commandant Duboc were actually at the boom at 0805 hours, one hour early. They encountered no opposition until they approached the mole. They were taken under fire with heavy machine guns and were ordered to stop. The Richelieu fired a blank round and then opened fire with small guns. Both sloops then turned for the gate under the cover of a smoke screen. Also the guns from the Gorée Island battery were joining in. At 0820 hours the Commandant Dominé and Commandant Duboc were sighted by the Savorgnan de Brazza which was intended to lead them in at 0905 hours. The sloops had not expected such a hostile reception and retired on the British Fleet which was sighted a 0900 hours.

Meanwhile HMS Barham at 0706 hours had turned north-north-west towards the land, and at 0740 hours Cape Manuel was in sight some 5 nautical miles away. At 0827 hours, with the land still just visible from HMS Barham Vice-Admiral Cunningham asked General de Gaulle whether he wished the British ships to close the shore and show themselves at the risk of being fired on. Five minutes later came the signal ‘proposals rejected’. At 0840 hours General de Gaulle signalled that the Richelieu and Gorée Island guns had been firing and that he had ordered his own ships to make a determined effort; if they failed he suggested that the Vice-Admiral should show himself of Dakar. Just then, one minute later, came the signal from the Savorgnan de Brazza confirming the emissary’s proposals had been rejected.

Situation deteriorates.

It was clear by this time an unfavourable situation was rapidly developing. General de Gaulle’s proposals to the Governor had been rejected and two of his emissaries had been seriously wounded, his sloops had been fired upon and the Vichy French ships in the harbour were raising steam. In spite of these manifest tokens of hostility the General apparently still hoped for a peaceful solution. At 0905 hours, however, Vice-Admiral Cunningham warned his force that the situation was developing towards ‘Sticky’.

Valuable and comprehensive reports were coming in from the British aircraft reconnoitring Dakar. Although these aircraft were fired on by all the French ships in the harbour and by machine guns on the jetty, Vice-Admiral Cunningham gave orders that a French flying boat over the fleet should not be attaked, for there still seemed to be hopeful signs that the French air force might join de Gaulle. At 0948 hours a signal arrived from HMS Ark Royal to say that one of the Gloire class cruisers had slipped. The Vice-Admiral at once instructed HMS Foresight, the northern destroyer of the anti-submarine screen, to order any French cruiser sighted to return to harbour. At 1005 hours, however, the shore batteries opened fire on HMS Foresight and the Vice-Admiral ordered her to withdraw following this with a signal to HMS Ark Royal to stand by with six aircraft to bomb Gorée Island. He also warned the French Admiral that if the fire were continued he would regretfully be compelled to return it. The French Admiral replied that if Vice-Admiral Cunningham did not wish him to fire he should remove himself more then 20 nautical miles from Dakar. Meanwhile the force had turned westwards at 1016 hours. Two minutes later Vice-Admiral Cunningham detached HMAS Australia to examine a ship reported to the north. At 1025 hours, HMAS Australia, identified two Le Fantasque class destroyers steering westwards and ordered them to return to harbour, backing up this order with a warning shot. They at once turned back and the Australia then resumed her place in line after having been fired upon by shore guns.

At 1030 hours, two La Galissonnière class cruisers were reported leaving Dakar and Vice-Admiral Cunningham at once informed the French that if their ships left the harbour he would use force to compel their return. Two French submarines were also reported to be underway and at 1050 hours Vice-Admiral Cunningham warned the French Admiral that if they left Dakar harbour he would attack them. One minute later a report came in that the submarines were passing the entrance and when a torpedo missed HMS Foresight Vice-Admiral Cunningham cancelled the order for HMS Ark Royal to bomb Gorée Island but to bomb the submarines instead. At the same time he detached HMS Inglefield and HMS Foresight to attack them and he also turned the remained of the force to close Gorée Island to support them. Almost immediately HMS Foresight came under fire and at 1051 hours she was hit forward by a shell. Thus the actual first hit was made by the French.

By 1100 hours the whole force was under fire from the guns at Cape Manuel. HMS Inglefield reported also being missed by a torpedo. Two minutes later HMS Inglefield and HMS Foresight were were engaging one of the submarines (the Perseé) on the surface to the north-westward. Events followed rapidly. HMS Inglefield was hit by a shore battery. By 1104 hours the submarine was sighted on the Barham’s port bow. She was engaged by the 6” guns from HMS Barham, HMS Resolution and HMS Dragon. She was badly hit and soon abandoned by her crew, finally sinking at 1137 hours in position 065°, Cape Manuel lighthouse, 2740 yards. Simultaneously HMS Barham fired five 15” gun salvoes at the Cape Manuel battery but accordingly to a subsequent French broadcast they caused heavy civilian casualties ashore.

When the force turned back to the south-westwards at 1107 hours, HMS Inglefield was again hit aft by a shore battery. With HMS Foresight she engaged the second submarine (the Ajax) which at once made for the harbour entrance, and Vice-Admiral Cunningham, still hoping for a peaceful solution, and in accordance with the agreement to use no more force then necessary to overcome sporadic resistance, ordered the force to cease fire.

At 1119 hours however, HMS Dragon, ordered to attack the second submarine, came under fire from the guns at Cape Manuel. The whole force at once turned west but though the land was barely visible through the mist, HMS Foresight and HMS Cumberland, which were close to HMS Barham were hit almost immediately by the shore guns. The damage to HMS Cumberland was serious. She was struck by what was thought to be an 11.2” shell (actually it was a 9.4” shell) just above the armour belt on the port side. The engine rooms became temporary untendable and she was forced to withdraw, taking no further part in the operation. Nothing further was to be gained by remaining close inshore and at 1135 hours the force turned to the southward.

At 1154 hours a signal from the High Commissioner, French West Africa was received stating ‘We confirm that we will oppose all landings, you have taken the initiative in causing French blood to flow’. The situation at noon was thus far from hopeful but it was decided a final attempt to land the Free French troops at Rufisque would be undertaken (operation ‘Charles’).

Situation ‘Sticky’.

Operation ‘Charles’ was to be a final attempt for a peaceful landing of the Free French troops at Rufisque Bay before beginning a systematic reduction of the Dakar defences as a preliminary to a British landing.

It was considered essential in this plan to maintain the French character of the landing as far as possible; the Free French transports were to be accompanied as far as possible by their own warships, and by two British destroyers only, HMS Inglefield and HMS Forester, which would lead them in and, if necessary, provide flanking fire.

At 1158 hours, Vice-Admiral Cunningham signalled to de Gaulle, ‘what about operation ‘Charles’ now ?’. The General replied at 1212 hours that he desired to to ahead with operation ‘Charles’ but that he required the latest reports. He was then given the latest aircraft reports, which showed no surface ships outside the boom. A zero hour for ‘Charles’ was then set at 1530 hours if the Generals ships could reach Rufisque Bay in time. A signal was sent to the entire force that the situation was now ‘Sticky’.

General de Gaulle then asked Vice-Admiral Cunningham what opposition might be expected from shore batteries and the Vice-Admiral replied that the bad visibility would help the forces taking part in ‘Operation Charles’. At 1335 hours HMS Barham proceeded westwards to endeavour to locate the General’s flagship the Westernland but she could not be found. HMS Barham then spent three hours searching for her in the mist.

A baffling phase of uncertainty followed. In the thick weather which precluded visual signalling between Barham and Westernland radio telephony and wireless communication between Vice-Admiral Cunningham and General de Gaulle, though at first satisfactory, deteriorated progressively during the afternoon. This was due to jamming of radio telephony by a heavy traffic of military signals between the Westernland herself and the Free French sloops. At the root of the trouble was the fact that General de Gaulle was in a separate ship. Everything possible had been done to improvise additional lines of communication, but these proved inadequate to meet the situation. For some three hours that afternoon all contact was lost with General de Gaulle and the French transports.

At 1358 hours Vice-Admiral Cunningham informed the Admiralty that de Gaulle was attempting a landing but at 1445 hours a signal was received from de Gaulle to say that he was awaiting instructions to which the Vice-Admiral replied at 1504 hours ‘carry out Charles, report zero hour’.

But to carry out ‘Charles’, however, HMS Inglefield and HMS Forester had to get in touch with the French transports, and despite repeated calls for their positions no one knew where they were.

An ultimatum was made ready to be sent to the authorities and people of Dakar informing them that failing to accept General de Gaulle proposals, the British fleet would open fire on the fortifications of Dakar. This was misunderstood by General de Gaulle and he thought that the ultimatum had already been delivered so he suspended ‘Operation Charles’. Troops would not be landed by the transports but only a smaller number would be landed by the French sloops. Vice-Admiral Cunningham was only informed about this after two hours.

Meanwhile further complications had arisen. Aircraft reported a French destroyer off Gorée Island (this was the L’Audacieux), threatening the approach to Rufisque Bay. HMAS Australia, HMS Fury and HMS Greyhound were detached at 1608 hours to ward her off. The French destroyer was engaged and set on fire after she had fired two torpedoes at HMAS Australia.

Around 1630 hours HMS Devonshire finally sighted the French transports some 20 nautical miles from Rufisque Bay. This meant that ‘Charles’ could not be completed before dark. These was at least one enemy submarine (possibly two) in the area. In these weather conditions it was not though possible to give sufficient protection to the transports in Rufisque Bay. On these grounds Vice-Admiral Cunningham cancelled ‘Operation Charles’ at 1642 hours.

Two minutes later an air report reached him reporting two La Galissonniere class cruisers three nautical miles north-north-east of Gorée Island which were steering towards Rufisque Bay at 17 knots. Vice-Admiral Cunningham at once turned the battleships towards Rufisque to cover the Westernland and Pennland in case they were still making for it. He held this course until 1710 hours and then altered to the southward to regain contact with the British transports. A signal timed 1635 hours from General de Gaulle that he expected to arrive at 1650 hours, which would be zero hour, reached Vice-Admiral Cunningham at 1720 hours. Actually at that moment the Free French sloops, having parted from the French transports at 1648 hours reached Rufisque Bay. It is not clear how they were missed by the Vichy cruisers, which and air report placed, together with a large destroyer, two nautical miles were of Rufisque at 1740 hours. This was the last air report, for at 1745 hours weather conditions obliged HMS Ark Royal to withdraw all reconnaissance aircraft. It did not reach Vice-Admiral Cunningham until 1835 hours.

Meanwhile at 1805 hours, General de Gaulle’s signal timed 1620 hours had at last arrived and the Vice-Admiral knew that the Free French sloops would probably be attempting a landing. He immediately sent off HMS Inglefield and HMS Forester, which found the Westernland in position 155°, Rufisque Bay, 10 nautical miles at 1835 hours.

Free French sloops at Rufisque, 23 September 1940.

As mentioned previously the Free French sloops parted company with the Westernland and Pennland at 1648 hours some 7.5 nautical miles from Rufisque to carry out ‘their mission’. There seemed to be considerable doubt as to what this mission was. It certainly was not ‘Operation Charles’ as had been intended. The landing party in each sloop consisted of about 60 ‘fusilier marines’, making it about 180 in total. They arrived off Rusfisque at 1720 hours. The Savornan de Brazza, whose draught was greater then the other two, anchored about 500 yards from the shore. The Commandant Dominé and Commandant Duboc pushed in right towards the jetty, and all three lowered their boats. Fire was almost immediately opened on the Commandant Duboc by a 4” gun in a blockhouse at Cap de Biches. She was hit and one officer was killed and three men seriously wounded. Fire was opened by the sloops and the battery was knocked out. The Commandant Duboc then retired behind a smoke screen. Two of the Savorgnan de Brazza’s motor boats towing whalers were making for the beach to the right of the jetty. When within 300 yards from the shore they met with heavy machine gun fire and stopped, while the Commandant Dominé, covering them, opened fire on the shore emplacements, but could not locate them in the failing light and mist. But then at 1758 hours a signal was received from the Westernland cancelling ‘Operation Charles’. The landing parties were then re-embarked and at 1838 hours the three Free French sloops left for their patrol line.

Situation ‘Nasty’.

The day was drawing to a close. All hopes of a friendly reception had been scattered. The ships were lying in a fog off a hostile coast with submarines in the vicinity. Vice-Admiral Cunningham and General Irwin considered landing British forces at Rufisque, but decided against it.

At 1910/23, while the Free French sloops were closing the Westernland and Pennland, Vice-Admiral Cunningham with the ‘battlefleet’; HMS Barham, HMS Resolution and HMS Devonshire, turned west to cover the transports (which were still to the southward) for the night.

Ten minutes before, at 1900 hours, the Vichy French Governor General, M. Pierre Boisson, had in a broadcast stated emphatically that Dakar would not submit. There could be no further hope of a peaceful settlement and at 2052 hours General de Gaulle was asked whether he agreed that the situation was now ‘Nasty’ and to the issue of the ultimatum. The Admiralty had been kept fully informed of the situation and at 2105 hours a personal message from the Prime Minister arrived ‘Having begun we must go on to the end, stop at nothing’.

General de Gaulle reply arrived at 22235 hours, he agreed that the situation was now ‘Nasty’ and that the ultimatum should go out. It was broadcast at 2345 hours in French and English to the Admiral, Governor General and people of Dakar. They had prevented General de Gaulle from landing. Dakar might be seized by the Germans / Italians and the Allies were bound to prevent this. Their forces were approaching. The conditions offered must be accepted by 0600/24 or the guns of the Allies would open fire.

The Governor General’s answer reached Vice-Admiral Cunningham at 0400/24. It was an unqualified refusal; ‘I shall defend Dakar to the end’. There was nothing more to be said. At dawn the battlefleet was approaching the coast to take up their bombardment stations.

The attack on Dakar, the attack opens, 24 September 1940.

HMS Ark Royal had orders to carry out a reconnaissance as early as possible backed up by bombing attacks on the Richelieu, Forts Manual and Gorée, and the two light cruisers lying off Dakar.

Visibility had greatly improved since the previous day and was six nautical miles at 0625 hours when the first striking force of six Skua’s of No. 800 Squadron, loaded with 500 lb. S.A.P. bombs, took off from HMS Ark Royal to attack the cruisers and other suitable targets.

At 0703 hours aircraft reported a destroyer damaged off Rufisque, two cruisers in the roads and three destroyers coming slowly out. It was seven minutes later when the Skuas carried out a high level bombing attack on the Richelieu and one of the destroyers. By this time the battlefleet was on its bombardment course and the Barham’s spotting aircraft was in the air. They were followed by six Swordfish of No. 820 Squadron loaded with G.P. bombs for an attack on the town of Dakar, which was to synchronise with the ships bombardment.

It had been calculated that at 0725 hours the battlefleet would be within 16000 yards of the forts and fire could be opened, but unfortunately when the moment arrived nothing could be seen of them in the prevailing mist. A long range bombardment was clearly impractical, and the fleet turned away temporarily in order to re-dispose the cruisers and destroyers for a short range attack. At the same time HMS Fortune was detached to obtain a shore fix, but she came under accurate fire from the forts and her fix proved unreliable.

The Ark Royal’s first Swordfish striking force was diverted to bomb Cape Manuel. At 0800 hours she despatched another striking force of six Swordfish of No. 810 Squadron loaded with S.A.P. bombs to attack the Richelieu. It was hoped that by the time it attacked the Richelieu the opening of the naval bombardment would provide a diversion, but this did not occur; one Swordfish was shot down and two others failed to return.

A diversion was also provided on the enemy’s side. At 0805 hours HMS Fortune, which had rejoined the battlefleet, reported a submarine contact inside the screen and dropped three depth charges. At 0831 hours the Vichy French submarine Ajax surfaced. She was unable to dive or move and surrendered. Her whole crew was rescued before she sank. The Fortune’s boarding party found six ‘tube ready’ light burning, and it was evidently only the destroyers depth charges that saved the fleet from attack.

The incident still further delayed the bombardment and it was not till 0920 hours, forty minutes after the first Swordfish striking force had attacked the Richelieu with S.A.P. bombs, that Gorée Island was sighted. At 0935 hours the shore batteries opened fire and one minute later the Barham and Resolution replied with their 15” guns, firing on the Richelieu at ranges of 13600 to 15000 yards respectively, while the cruisers HMAS Australia and HMS Devonshire engaged a destroyer of the Le Fantasque class.

The first bombardment.

As soon as the British ships opened fire a French destroyer of the Le Fantasque class steamed south laying a smoke screen to the eastward of the anchorage and Gorée Island. The French cruisers inside the boom to the northward, sheltering amongst the many merchant vessels, also made a smoke screen, which drifted slowly south and, combining with the mist and heavy smoke from the vicinity of the Richelieu, eventually obscured all targets.

Shooting became extreme difficult, for range taking was nearly impossible. There were other serious handicaps. HMS Barham, which was newly commissioned after repairs, had never carried out any bombardment practice. Neither battleship had done any concentration firing, and neither had its customary observer in the air.

After engaging the Richelieu for nine minutes the Resolution’s director training gear failed and she shifted fire to the Cape Manuel battery, on which she probably obtained a hit. The Barham’s aircraft reported several straddles across the Richelieu, which was thought to have been hit. The smoke-laying cruiser was still active, and at 0942 hours the Barham’s 6” guns engaged her without success.

Meanwhile the Devonshire and Australia had engaged and damaged a large destroyer of Rufisque which was subsequently engaged by the Inglefield, Foresight and Forester, and left burning.

The fire encountered by the fleet consisted of occasional one- and two-gun salvoes (yellow splash) from the Richelieu’s 15” guns, salvoes of 9.4” from Cape Manuel (white splash), Gorée Island, and an unseen battery, and a number of smaller rounds from the Richelieu and various shore batteries. The French fire was slow but accurate. By 1010 hours the targets were wholly obscured by smoke, and shortly afterward the fleet withdrew to the southward, leaving the Ark Royal to report the result of the bombardment.

As the fleet made to the south, Vichy Glenn-Martin bombers made high level attacks on it without success, though three bombs fell close to HMAS Australia.

At 1141 hours the Ark Royal reported the results of the bombardment; several near misses with bombs on the Richelieu; one near miss with a bomb on a destroyers; one 15” hit on the Cape Manual battery, which had ceased fire; one 15” hit and repeated straddles on the Richelieu; straddles across the cruisers in Hahn Bay, one of which was set on fire aft. No hits had been obtained on the Gorée Island battery.

The second bombardment.

At 1146 hours relief spotting aircraft for the battleships were ordered and targets for a further bombardment at 1315 hours were allocated as follows; the Barham on Richelieu; the Resolution on Goréé Island; the Devonshire on Cape Manuel; the Australia on the cruisers inside the boom. The spotting aircraft took off from HMS Ark Royal at 1220 hours and as a report reached her about this time that Vichy cruisers and destroyers were proceeding towards Rufisque, a torpedo striking force was got ready to attack them immediately after the second bombardment.

French aircraft were still busy. At 1217 hours a French bomber dropped six bombs close to HMS Barham. It was driven off by Skuas. Shortly afterwards a shadowing cruiser was sighted while the fleet was approaching Gorée Island. She was engaged from 14500 yards by the main armament from HMS Barham and HMS Resolution. She then turned away under a smoke screen. Fire was then checked. At 1248 hours, Vice-Admiral Cunningham ordered the Devonshire and Australia to engage her, but cancelled this order five minutes later when his destroyers, which were coming under an accurate fire from shore batteries, were told to take station on his disengaged side. By an unfortunate mischance the first order – to engage the cruiser – never reached the Devonshire and she interpreted Vice-Admiral Cunningham’s second signal ‘cruisers negative engage’, which referred only to the hostile cruiser, as an order to take no further part in the bombardment. Accordingly at 1300 hours she turned away to the east with HMAS Australia and neither ship took part in the subsequent bombardment.

The bombardment was reopened in the afternoon, at 1300 hours HMS Barham obtained a shore fix and turned north-west on her bombardment course. Five minutes later she engaged the Richelieu bearing 330°, range 17000 yards. HMS Resolution opened fire on Gorée Island from 16000 yards. The batteries at Cape Manuel, which had been reported hit, Gorée Island and Dakar Point at once replied. The Richelieu also opened fire with her 15” guns firing two gun salvoes with fair accuracy. She continued firing until her fire was blanked by the mole.

The French gunfire concentrated on the Barham and was heaviest between 1312 and 1320 hours. At 1315 hours an 9.4” projectile hit the Barham. At 1320 hours she was hit again and two minutes later she was hit twice.

The smoke screen tactics of the forenoon were repeated as soon as the British ships were sighted, and by 1311 hours the targets again became obscured. Although spotting aircraft reported that the Barham was straddling the Richelieu, the salvos appeared to be out for line, and apparently the Vichy French battleship was not being hit. The Resolution did not succeed in silencing the main Gorée Island battery and it is doubtful whether she was being spotted on the correct target. She was straddled by several salvoes of 5.4” and 6” shells from the shore batteries. At 1323 hours the Richelieu ceased fire. A minute later HMS Barham and HMS Resolution broke off the attack and at at 1326 hours the shore batteries also ceased firing.

The results of the bombardment were not encouraging. Despite the expenditure of nearly 400 rounds of 15” ammunition, none of the larger shore batteries had been silenced. The Richelieu was still in action, and the position of several 5.4” batteries, whose fire had proven effective against the destroyers, and would be still more so against the transports, had not even been located.

In spite of the poor visibility the fire of the shore batteries had been remarkably accurate and indicated that their fire was directed by listening devices rather then from forward observation posts, from which the battlefleet would generally had been out of sight. French air action had increased considerably since the previous day and the French will to resist appeared unimpaired. A report from HMS Ark Royal stated that the hostile attitude of the French fighters had made it hazardous for her aircraft to operate in the Dakar harbour area.

The question of a landing in force still remained. In these circumstances Vice-Admiral Cunningham decided to consult General de Gaulle and at 1400 hours the Barham withdrew to the southward to meet the Westernland before dark.

Swordfish aircraft attack the French cruisers.

Then minutes later, at 1410 hours, HMS Ark Royal’s striking force of nine Swordfish aircraft of No. 820 and 810 Squadrons took off while a fighter escort of three Skuas to attack the Vichy-French cruisers proceeding towards Rufisque. At 1440 hours the leader was forced down with engine trouble, his crew being picked up by the destroyer HMS Escapade. At 1500 hours the eight remaining Swordfish Swordfish attacked the two La Galissonnière class cruisers and a destroyer in the bay. In the prevailing haze the attack, which was made from an east-south-easterly direction, took the French by surprise. When the first sub-flight came down just outside the anti-submarine nets the three vessels were barely moving, but they immediately put their helms hard over and turned to port at full speed. The Swordfish claimed hits on one of the cruisers and the destroyer but this seemed to be doubtful. One Swordfish was forced down by AA fire on her way back to the Ark Royal. The crew was rescued by the destroyer HMS Echo.

Conference with General de Gaulle.

HMS Barham stopped at 1615 hours. General de Gaulle then came on board to confer with Vice-Admiral Cunningham and General Irwin. General de Gaulle, though deeply distressed and surprised about the nature of the defences, was still confident that the situation in French West Africa would improve as the power of his movement grew stronger. He explained that in view of the determined opposition encountered, and the probable destructive effects of the bombardment, it was imperative, from the point of view from the French opinion, that he should not be closely connected with the destruction and loss of French life, which had presumably taken place, lest his further utility to the common cause should be hopelessly compromised.

Though he would prefer not to use his troops he was prepared, if really needed, to support a British landing regardless of consequences. He considered, however, that a British landing was no longer feasible, and emphasised that a reverse would be a most serious check to the Allied cause.

He blamed himself for undue optimism in underestimating the possibility of a resolute defence, and suggested that the bombardment should be suspended at his direct request and Dakar so informed; that his forces should go to Bathurst for exercises, with a view of a possible advance upon Dakar over land; that British naval action should be taken to cover his passage and prevent the reinforcement and revictualling of Dakar.

General de Gaulle returned to the Westernland at 1800 hours. The situation was considered by Vice-Admiral Cunningham and General Irwin in the light of these proposals. A Swordfish, which had crashed near the Barham at 1830 hours, reported that one cruiser was beached and burning east of Rufisque, one buring in Gorée Bay, and two detroyers were beached in Hann Bay (this information was subsequently found to be incorrect). It was essential to immobilise the Vichy French cruisers and neutralise the main armament of the French forts before attempting a landing. It was decided that the attack on the defences must be renewed the next day if weather conditions were favourable. General de Gaulle and the Admiralty were informed accordingly and dispositions were made for a landing of British troops at Rufisque, to follow up any success obtained by the bombardment.

Final bombardment. HMS Resolution torpedoed.

The next day, 25 September 1940, broke fine and clear with extreme visibility. The Ark Royal at 1531/24 had proposed bombing Ouakam and Gorée at dawn and at 2348/24 was ordered to do so, but owning to wireless congestion, this was not received until 0200/25 when Captain Holland considered it too late. The targets allocated to the battleships and cruisers were the same as for the second bombardment; spotting aircraft, with fighter protection, were to be in position at 0900/25. At 0530 hours three reconnaissance aircraft took off from the Ark Royal, but by 0700 hours, two had been driven back by French fighter patrols. At 0754 hours, HMS Devonshire sighted a submarine submerging some eight nautical miles to the east of the battlefleet, which was then some 25 nautical miles to the south of Dakar. HMS Forester was at once detached to hunt it, leaving only two destroyers to screen the battlefleet.

At 0803 hours they were ordered to withdraw to the disengaged flank as soon as the shore batteries opened fire. The battleships were then steaming towards Gorée Island ready to open fire, with the cruisers three miles away to the east. HMS Resolution had orders to take independent avoiding action if necessary during the bombardment. At 0857 hours a circular buoy was sighted which HMS Barham fired on, suspecting it to be a sound locating device. One minute later the Richelieu opened fire on HMS Barham from a range of 23000 yards.

At 0901 hours the signal to turn to the bombarding course (050°) was hauled down in HMS Barham. It was not only the British which acted on this signal. Captain Lancelot of the Vichy submarine Bévézièrs was watching the approaching battleships though the periscope. Experience with the Royal Navy before the fall of France had taught him our manoeuvring signals. On seeing ‘Blue 7’ hoised, he waited for it to be hauled down; then fired his torpedoes at the turning point. Thus it came about that as the Resolution was turning, five torpedoes were seen approaching her port beam. Already committed to the turn she could only apply full helm in the hope of turning short and combing the tracks. In this she almost succeeded, for three torpedoes passed ahead and another narrowly missed her astern. The fifth, however, struck her on the port side amidships causing serious flooding, but fortunately no loss of life. HMS Barham avoided the three torpedoes that had missed the Resolution ahead and they passed astern, exploding harmlessly on the bottom.

HMS Resolution, which had developed a list of 12° to port, was still able to steam. At 0905 hours HMS Barham opened fire on the Richelieu from 21000 yards and also the cruisers engaged their targets, HMS Devonshire firing on Cape Manuel and HMAS Australia on the French cruisers inside the boom. Fire from the Richelieu and shore batteries was deliberate and accurate; it was concentrated on HMS Barham and frequently straddled her. The British cruisers were also under heavy fire. HMS Barham was hit once and HMAS Australia twice. HMS Resolution was badly damaged and it was necessary for her to withdraw and at 0912 hours HMS Barham turned to cover her. About this time HMS Foresight reported that she had sunk the French submarine with depth charges (but this was not the case). She and HMS Inglefield were then ordered to cover HMS Resolution with a smoke screen. The two cruisers were recalled. About 0918 hours Vichy French fighters shot down the Australia’s Walrus aircraft. HMS Forester was ordered to try to rescue the crew but she came under heavy fire from shore batteries and had to retire.

At 0921 hours, HMS Barham ceased fire and took station close astern of HMS Resolution with HMS Devonshire and HMAS Australia on each quarter. The Ark Royal was ordered to provide maximum fighter protection, and the battlefleet withdrew to the southward.

HMS Resolution was steaming at 10 knots and between 0940 and 0950 hours two high level bombing attacks were made on her, both of them were unsuccessful. The whole force now steered south-west at the best possible speed and by 1134 hours the flagship, HMS Barham had the whole force in sight.

The Vice-Admiral now had to decide whether to continue the attack on Dakar or to withdraw his force. The chance of capturing Dakar was clearly remote and in the end it was decided to discontinue the attack and to withdraw his force to Freetown without further delay. A signal to this effect was made at 1152 hours.

Withdrawal to Freetown.

Before a signal could be passed to the Admiralty a signal was received from the Prime Minister who was aware of the damage to HMS Resolution. Vice-Admiral Cunningham was ordered to abandon the enterprise against Dakar.

By 2000/25, HMS Barham was about 100 nautical miles south of Dakar steering south at 7 knots. The next day the sea was smooth as the weather was fine. HMS Resolution was taken in tow by HMS Barham. On the 27th the tow parted but was quickly secured again and the battleships were able to continue southwards at 6 knots.

HMS Cumberland rejoined the force having effected temporary repairs at Freetown. HMS Cornwall and HMS Delhi had also joined after having chased the French cruiser Primaguet and the tanker Tarn.

At 0550/29, HMS Barham passed the boom at Freetown followed by the rest of the force. So ended a difficult operation. No British warship had been sunk but several had been damaged. HMS Cumberland was out of action for 13 day and HMS Fiji for six months. HMS Resolution was temporarily patched up at Freetown but was not fully operational. She returned to England six months later but was then sent on to the U.S.A. for full repairs. It was a full year later before she was again ready for active service. Five more ships HMS Barham, HMAS Australia, HMS Dragon, HMS Inglefield and HMS Foresight were also damaged but their fighting efficiency was not seriously impaired. (11)

31 Oct 1940
The destroyer HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN), which was on patrol to the east of Gibraltar sighted five Vichy French destroyers at 0610/31 (Bordelais, Brestois, L'Alcyon, Simoun and Tempête) proceeding westwards to pass the Strait of Gibraltar possibly bound for Casablanca.

The battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), battleship HMS Barham (Capt G.C. Cooke, RN) and the destroyers HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN) departed Gibraltar at 0830/31 to the westward to intercept. Destroyers which were on patrol to the eastward of Gibraltar were ordered to join HMS Renown to the west of Gibraltar. These were HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN).

HMS Griffin was ordered to shadow the Vichy French ships.

HMS Renown, HMS Barham, HMS Wishart, HMS Encounter, HMS Firedrake, HMS Forester, HMS Fortune, HMS Fury, HMS Gallant and HMS Greyhound returned to Gibraltar at 1000/1. (13)

4 Nov 1940

Several operations in the Mediterranean.


Operation MB 8, convoy operations in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Operation Coat, transfer of reinforcements from the Western Mediterranean to the Eastern Mediterranean.

Operation Crack, air attack on Cagliary, Sardinia.

Operation Judgment, air attack on Taranto.

4 November 1940.

Convoy AN 6 departed Port Said / Alexandria today for Greece. The convoy was made up of the following tankers; Adinda (Dutch, 3359 GRT, built 1939), British Sergeant (5868 GRT, built 1922), Pass of Balhama (758 GRT, built 1933) and the transports Hannah Moller (2931 GRT, built 1911), Odysseus (Greek, 4577 GRT, built 1913). Several more transports (probably Greek) were also part of this convoy.

The Pass of Balhama sailed from Alexandria, the others from Port Said.

The convoy was escorted by the A/S trawlers HMS Kingston Crystal (Lt.Cdr. G.H.P. James, RNR) and HMS Kingston Cyanite (Skr. F.A. Yeomans, RNR).

HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D. McCarthy, RN) and HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, CB, RAN) both shifted from Alexandria to Port Said on this day. At Port Said the were to embark troops for Crete.

Owning to breakdowns in Kingston Crystal and Kingston Cyanite, HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, DSO, RN), HMS Kingston Coral (Skr. W. Kirman, RNR) and HMS Sindonis (Ch.Skr. G. Rawding, RNR) departed Alexandria late on the 4th to rendez-vous with convoy AN 6.

5 November 1940.

Convoy MW 3 departed Alexandria for Malta. This convoy was made up of the transports Devis (6054 GRT, built 1938), Rodi (3220 GRT, built 1928, former Italian), Volo (1587 GRT, built 1938), Waiwera ( 12435 GRT, built 1934) and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Plumleaf (5916 GRT, built 1917).

Escort was provided by the AA cruisers HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN), HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN), HMAS Vampire (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN), HMAS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, DSO, RAN), HMAS Waterhen (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RAN) and the minesweeper HMS Abingdon (Lt. G.A. Simmers, RNR).

Also sailing with this convoy were the transport Brisbane Star (12791 GRT, built 1937) and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker (5917 GRT, built 1917), the the armed boarding vessels HMS Chakla (Cdr. L.C. Bach, RD, RNR) and HMS Fiona (Cdr. A.H.H. Griffiths, RD, RNR), net tender HMS Protector (Cdr. R.J. Gardner, RN). They were to sail with this convoy until off Crete when they were to proceed to Suda Bay.

HMS Ajax and HMAS Sydney departed Port Said for Suda Bay with Headquarters, 14th Infantery Brigade, one light and one heavy AA battery and administrative troops.

6 November 1940.

Vice-Admiral light forces, in HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), left Alexandria for Piraeus to consult with the Greek authorities. Also some RAF personnel was embarked for passage.

At 0600 hours, convoy AN 6 was in position 34°40’N, 22°20’E.

The Commander-in-Chief departed Alexandria with the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Valiant (A/Capt. J.P.L. Reid, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral A.L.St.G. Lyster, CVO, DSO, RN). They were escorted by HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), ), HMS Havock (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN) and HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN).

The Rear-Admiral 1st Battle Squadron sailed with HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN, flying the flag of A/Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Read, RN). They were escorted by HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Thyrwhitt, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN) and HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN). HMS Eagle had defects and was unable to proceed to sea with this group as had been originally intended. Three aircraft from Eagle were embarked on Illustrious.

The heavy cruiser HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN) and the light cruiser HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E. de F. Renouf, CVO, RN) also departed Alexandria for these operations.

The fleet was clear of the harbour by 1300 hours, and then proceded on a mean line of advance of 310° until 1800 hours when it was changed to 270°. At 2000 hours, course was changed to 320°.

7 November 1940.

There were no incidents during the night.

At 0800 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 34°15’N, 24°47’E.

Around 1000 hours, the Vice-Admiral light forces, arrived at Piraeus in HMS Orion.

At noon, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 34°26’N, 23°43’E. At this time the mean line of advance was changed to 320°.

At 1300 hours, aircraft were flown off to search a sector 300° to 360°. Nothing was however sighted by this search.

At 1700 hours, HMAS Sydney joined the Commander-in-Chief from Suda Bay. She reported that ships for Suda Bay had all arrived according to plan and that stores and troops had all ben landed by dark on 6 November.

At 1800 hours, the position of convoy MW 3 was 35°44’N, 22°41’E and shortly afterwards the convoy altered course to 290°.

At 2000 hours, the position of the convoy was 35°48’N. 21°45’E, course was now altered to 320°.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

At 1800 hours, ‘Force H’ departed Gibraltar for ‘Operation Coat’ and ‘Operation Crack’. ‘Force H’ was made up of the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Duncan (Cdr. A.D.B. James, RN), HMS Isis (Cdr. C.S.B. Swinley, DSC, RN). Also part of this force were a group of warships that was to reinforce the Mediterranean Fleet. These were the battleship HMS Barham (Capt G.C. Cooke, RN), heavy cruiser HMS Berwick (Capt. G.L. Warren, RN), light cruiser HMS Glasgow (Capt. H. Hickling, RN) and the destroyers HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSC, RN) and HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN). These ships carried troops for Malta as well as three of the destroyers from ‘Force H’, HMS Faulknor, HMS Fortune, HMS Fury. A total of 2150 troops were embarked as follows; HMS Berwick 750, HMS Barham 700, HMS Glasgow 400, and the six destroyers had each 50 troops on board.

8 November 1940.

At 0001 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 36°36’N, 21°08’E, the mean line of advance was 280°.

At 0400 hours, the mean line of advance was changed to 220°.

At 0645 hours, an air search was flown off to search a sector 310° to the Greek coast. It sighted nothing.

At 0900 hours, when the Commander-in-Chief was in position 36°40’N, 18°50’E course was changed to 180° to close the convoy.

At noon, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°57’N, 18°46’E. The convoy was at that time in position 35°46’N, 18°41’E. Also around noon he convoy was reported by an enemy aircraft and at 1230 hours one Cant. 501 was attacked by Gladiators but apparently managed to escape.

At 1400 hours, aircraft were flown off to search between 200° and 350°. Also one aircraft was flown off with messages for Malta. The air search again sighted nothing.

At 1520 hours, the fleet was reported by enemy aircraft.

At 1610 hours, three Fulmar fighters attacked a formation of seven Italian S. 79’s shooting down two of them. The remainder jettisoned their bombs and made off.

At 1700 hours, HMS Ajax joined the fleet coming from Suda Bay.

The fleet had remained in a covering position to the north of the convoy all day and at 1830 hours, when in position 35°’20’N, 17°25’E course was changed to 000°. At that time the convoy was only five nautical miles to the southward of the fleet.

At 2130 hours, the fleet altered course to 180°.

At 2230 hours, the fleet altered course to 210°.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

At dawn A/S air patrols were flown off by HMS Ark Royal. These were maintained throughout the day.

A fighter patrol was maintained throughout the afternoon but no enemy aircraft were encountered.

The weather was fine and visibility good it was considered very likely that the force would be sighted and attacked by enemy aircraft. So it was decided at 1530 hours that HMS Ark Royal, HMS Sheffield, HMS Glasgow and six destroyers would proceed ahead to carry out the planned attack (‘Operation Crack’) on the Cagliari aerodrome. [According to the plan these destroyers should be HMS Faulknor, HMS Foretune, HMS Fury, Gallant, HMS Greyhound and HMS Griffin. It is currently not known to us if it were indeed these destroyers that with this force when they split off from the other ships.]

That evening fighters from the Ark Royal shot down an enemy aircraft.

9 November 1940.

At 0001 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°42’N, 17°09’E, the mean line of advance was 270°.

At 0800 hours, the convoy was closed in position 34°42’N, 15°00’E.

At 0920 hours, HMS Ramillies, HMS Hyperion, HMS Hero and HMS Ilex were detached to join the convoy and escort it to Malta. The weather was overcast and squally so no air search was flown off.

The main fleet remained to the south-west of the Medina-Bank during the day. The 3rd and 7th Cruiser Squadrons being detached to search to the north.

The main fleet was being shadowed by enemy aircraft and was reported four times between 1048 and 1550 hours. One Cant 506B aircraft was shot down by a Fulmar at 1640 hours.

At noon, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 34°47’N, 16°35’E.

At 1219 hours, a Swordfish A/S patrol force landed near HMS Warspite shortly after taking off. The crew was picked up by HMS Jervis. The depth charge and A/S bombs exploded close to Warspite.

At 2100 hours, when the Commander-in-Chief was in position 34°45’N, 16°10’E, course was altered to 310° to make rendez-vous with ‘Force F’, the reinforcements for the Mediterranean Fleet coming from Gibraltar.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

At 0430 hours, HMS Ark Royal launched a strike force of nine Swordfish aircraft to bomb Cagliari aerodrome with direct and delay action bombs. On completion of flying off, course was altered to 160° for the flying on position.

At 0745 hours, a fighter section and a section of three Fulmars that were to be transferred to HMS Illustrious (via Malta) were flown off and the nine Swordfish of the strike force landed on. The fighter section for Illustrious landed at Malta at 1020 hours.

The raid on Cagliari appeared to have been quite successful. Five Swordfish attacked the aerodrome and hits were observed on two hangars an other buildings. Two fires were seen to break out and also a large explosion occurred. One Swordfish attacked a group of seaplanes moored off the jetty. Another Swordfish attacked some factories near the power station and obtained a direct hit with a 250-lb bomb and incendiaries. The remaining two aircraft were unable to locate the target and attacked AA batteries instead. Two fires were seen to start but the AA batteries continued firing.

On completion of flying on course was altered to rendez-vous with HMS Barham, HMS Berwick and the remaining five destroyers which were sighted at 0910 hours. The ships then formed up in formation and set off on an easterly course at 18 knots.

At 0930 an enemy aircraft that was shadowing the fleet was picked up by RD/F at a distance of about thirty miles. After working round the fleet clockwise the aircraft was sighted by HMS Barham and then by the Fulmar fighter patrol. The aircraft, which was a large floatplane, was shot down at 1005 hours, twenty miles on the starboard beam of the fleet.

At 1048 hours, a large formation of enemy aircraft was located by RD/F about fifty miles ahead of the fleet and closing. Five minutes later a section of Skua’s was flown off.

A section of Fulmar’s intercepted the enemy as they were working their way round to the sun and forced them to turn away but ten minutes later the enemy again approached. The fleet was then bombed from a height of 13000 feet. No British ships were hit, although HMS Barham, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Duncan had been near missed. It was believed that one of the attackers was shot down.

Throughout the remainder of the day fighter patrols were kept up but no further enemy aircraft attacked the fleet.

At 1915 hours, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Sheffield, HMS Duncan, HMS Isis, HMS Firedrake, HMS Forester and HMS Foxhound turned to the west. HMS Barham, HMS Berwick, HMS Glasgow, HMS Faulknor, HMS Fortune, HMS Fury, HMS Gallant, HMS Greyhound and HMS Griffin continued to the east under the command of Capt. Warren of the Berwick, which was the senior Captain.

10 November 1940.

At 0001 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°13’N, 15°25’E steering 300°. Shortly afterwards, at 0010 hours, two heavy explosions were felt. It appears that the fleet had been under attack at this time.

At 0700 hours, aircraft were flown off to search a sector 315° to 045°. Shortly after takeoff one Swordfish crashed into the sea. The crew was rescued by HMS Nubian.

At 0715 hours, the 3rd and 7th Cruiser Squadrons rejoined. Shortly afterwards, at 0730 hours, HMAS Vampire, HMAS Voyager, HMAS Waterhen, HMS Dainty, HMS Diamond, HMS Hyperion, HMS Havock and HMS Ilex joined the fleet. HMS Jervis, HMS Janus, HMS Juno, HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk, HMS Decoy, HMS Defender and HMS Hasty were detached to fuel at Malta.

At 1015 hours, rendez-vous was made with ‘Force F’ which was made up of HMS Barham, HMS Berwick, HMS Glasgow, HMS Griffin, HMS Greyhound, HMS Gallant, HMS Fury, HMS Fortune and HMS Faulknor. HMS Fortune and HMS Fury joined the destroyer screen. The other ships were ordered to proceed to Malta to land troops and stores there. The course of he fleet was changed to 110° in position 36°08’N, 13°10’E around this time.

At noon, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°55’N, 13°30’E.

At 1330 hours, convoy ME 3 departed Malta. It consisted of the transports Memnon (7506 GRT, built 1931), Lanarkshire (11275 GRT, built 1940), Clan Macaulay (10492 GRT, built 1936) and Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938). Escort was provided by the battleship HMS Ramillies, AA cruiser HMS Coventry and the destroyers HMS Decoy and HMS Defender.

At 1400 hours the monitor HMS Terror (Cdr. H.J. Haynes, DSC, RN) and the destroyer HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades RAN) departed Malta.

At 1435 hours, HMS Mohawk rejoined the fleet.

At 1450 hours, HMS Hero was detached to Malta with correspondence.

In the afternoon three Fulmars, which had been flown to Malta from HMS Ark Royal, landed on HMS Illustrious.

At 2100 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°15’N, 14°16’E steering 090°. The 3rd and 7th Cruiser Squadrons were detached to search between 020° to 040°.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In the western Mediterranean all was quiet. Fighter patrols were maintained overhead during the day. Also A/S patrols were maintained all day.

11 November 1940.

At 0001 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°18’N, 15°14’E. At 0100 hours the fleet altered course to 060°.

At 0135 hours, HMS Ramillies, which was with convoy ME 3, reported three explosions in position 34°35’N, 16°08’E. This might have been a submarine attack. [This was indeed the case as the Italian submarine Pier Capponi attacked a battleship around this time.]

At 0700 hours, an air search was launched to search between 315° and 045°. One aircraft was flown to Malta to collect photographs of Taranto harbour.

At 0800 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 36°55’N, 17°36’E.

At noon, the Vice-Admiral light forces in HMS Orion coming from Piraeus, joined the fleet in position 36°10’N, 18°30’E. Correspondence was transferred to HMS Warspite via HMS Griffin.

At 1310 hours, the Vice-Admiral light forces, in HMS Orion and with HMS Ajax and HMAS Sydney, HMS Nubian and HMS Mohawk in company, parted company to carry out an anti-shipping raid into the Straits of Otranto.

At 1800 hours, HMS Illustrious, HMS York, HMS Gloucester, escorted by HMS Hyperion, HMS Hasty, HMS Havock and HMS Ilex were detached for ‘Operation Judgement’ the torpedo and dive-bombing attack on the Italian fleet in Taranto harbour.

For this operation this force proceeded to position 38°11’N, 19°30’E. Here aircraft were flown off in two waves, at 2000 and at 2100 hours.

At 2000 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 37°54’N, 19°09’E. One hour later the fleet altered course to 000°.

At 2030 hours, the Vice-Admiral light forces with the cruisers passed through position 39°10’N, 19°30’E, course 340° doing 25 knots.

At 2140 hours, HMS Juno obtained an A/S contact and attacked it with depth charges.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In the western Mediterranean the fleet arrived back at Gibraltar around 0800 hours.

12 November 1940.

At 0700 hours, both detached groups rejoined the fleet. The attack on Taranto harbour was reported as a success. Eleven torpedoes had been dropped and hits were claimed on a Littorio-class and two Cavour-class battleships in the outer harbour. Sticks of bombs had been dropped amongst the warships in the inner harbour. Two aircraft failed to return to HMS Illustrious. [Damage was done to the battleships Littorio (three torpedo hits), Caio Duilio and Conte di Cavour (one torpedo hit each), in fact the Conti di Cavour never returned to service. Also damaged (by bombs) were the heavy cruiser Trento and the destroyer Libeccio.]

The raid into the Straits of Otranto had also been successful as an Italian convoy had been intercepted off Valona around 0115 and largely destroyed. The convoy had been made up of four merchant vessels which had all been sunk. There had been two escorts, thought to be destroyers or torpedo boats. These managed to escape. [The merchant vessels Antonio Locatelli (5691 GRT, built 1920), Capo Vado (4391 GRT, built 1906), Catalani (2429 GRT, built 1929) and Premuda (4427 GRT, built 1907) had been sunk. Their escorts had been the armed merchant cruiser Ramb III (3667 GRT, built 1938) and the torpedo boat Nicola Fabrizi. The convoy had been en-route from Vlore, Albania to Brindisi.]

At 0800 hours, the fleet was in position 37°20’N, 20°18’E.

At 0930 hours, HMS Warspite catapulted her Walrus aircraft to take massages to Suda Bay for forwarding to the Admiralty by transmission.

At noon, the fleet was in position 37°20’N, 20°08’E. Course at that time was 140°.

As it was intended to repeat ‘Operation Judgement’ tonight the fleet remained in the area. Course being altered to 340° at 1600 hours.

Fortunately the fleet was not reported at this time. Three enemy aircraft were shot down during the day but these were shot down before they had reported the fleet.

At 1800 hours, the decision was taken not to proceed with the repeat of ‘Operation Jugement’ due to the bad weather in the Gulf of Taranto. At that time the fleet was in position 37°06’N, 19°44’E. Course was set to 140° to return to Alexandria.

At 1830 hours, HMS Malaya, HMS Ajax, HMS Dainty, HMS Diamond, HMS Greyhound, HMS Griffin and HMS Gallant were detached to fuel at Suda Bay. HMS Berwick and HMS York were detached to proceed to Alexandria where they arrived in the evening of the 13th.

13 November 1940.

At 0001 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°44’N, 20°53’E.

At 0630 hours, HMS Terror and HMAS Vendetta arrived at Suda Bay. Terror was to remain at Suda Bay as guardship.

At 1000 hours, the force with HMS Malaya arrived at Suda Bay. After fuelling the departed later the same day for Alexandria taking HMAS Vendetta with them.

Also around 1000 hours, convoy ME 3 arrived at Alexandria.

At noon, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 34°23’N, 23°43’E.

At about 1530 hours, Fulmar’s attacked an Italian shadowing aircraft which however managed to escape although damaged.

At 1600 hours, the fleet altered course to 050° when in position 33°23’N, 26°18’E. Course was altered back to 090° at 1800 hours. RD/F later detacted an enemy formation to the southward but the fleet was not sighted.

At 2000 hours, the fleet was in position 33°38’N, 27°34’E.

14 November 1940.

Around 0700 hours, the bulk of the fleet with the Commander-in-Chief arrived at Alexandria. (14)

5 Nov 1940

Hunt for the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer after the attack on convoy HX 84.

Timespan: 5 October to 23 October 1940.

In response to the attack on convoy HX 84 by the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer the Admiralty acted quickly.

The battlecruisers HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN), light cruisers HMS Naiad (Capt. M.H.A. Kelsey, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.L.S. King, CB, MVO, RN), HMS Phoebe (Capt. G. Grantham, RN), HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.J. Egerton, RN) and the destroyers HMS Somali (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. St. J.A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN), HMS Matabele (Cdr. R.St.V. Sherbrooke, DSO, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, DSO, RN) and HMS Electra (Lt.Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN) departed Scapa Flow at 2330/5 to proceed to the last reported position of the German pocket battleship 52°50'N, 32°15'W at 2003/5.

At 1050/6 the force split up; HMS Hood, HMS Naiad, HMS Phoebe, HMS Somali, HMS Eskimo and HMS Punjabi proceeded to patrol off the Bay of Biscay to cover the approaches to Brest and Lorient.

HMS Repulse, HMS Bonaventure, HMS Mashona, HMS Matabele and HMS Electra towards the Admiral Scheer's last known position.

At 0700/6 the battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN, flying the flag of Admiral of the Fleet C.M. Forbes, GCB, DSO, RN) and HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN), light cruiser HMS Southampton (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN) and the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. H.T. Armstrong, RN), HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN), HMS Douglas (Cdr.(Retd.) J.G. Crossley, RN), HMS Keppel (Lt. R.J. Hanson, RN) and HMS Vimy (Lt.Cdr. D.J.B. Jewitt, RN) departed Scapa Flow to cover the patrols in the Iceland-Faroes Channel.

Shortly before midnight during the night of 6/7 November HMS Rodney was detached to escort to escort convoy HX 83 and once this convoy was safe, HX 85 from Halifax.

Three armed merchant cruisers, which were on patrol were recalled to port on the 8th. These were HMS Chitral (Capt.(Retd.) G. Hamilton, RN), which was to the northwest of Iceland and HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, RAN) and HMS Worcestershire (A/Capt. J. Creswell, RN), which were to the south of Iceland. The light cruiser HMS Southampton was ordered to take over the place of HMS Chitral. She split off from HMS Nelson at 1600/8. HMS Worcestershire joined HMS Nelson and her escorting destroyers around 1500/9.

There were also the destroyers HMS Churchill (Cdr.(Retd.) G.R. Cousins, RN), HMS Lewes (Lt.Cdr. J.N.K. Knight, RN), HMS Lincoln (Cdr. A.M. Sheffield, RN) and HMS Ludlow (Cdr. G.B. Sayer, RN). They were en-route to the U.K. and had departed Halifax on 31 October and refuelled at St. Johns on 3 November. After receiving distress signals from ships in convoy HX 84 they rushed to the reported location. The only thing they found was an empty lifeboat. They then continued their Atlantic crossing and arrived at Londonderry on 9 November.

The destroyer HMS Stanley (A/Lt.Cdr. R.B. Stannard, VC, RNR) had departed Halifax on 1 November and St. Johns on 5 November. Now she and the Canadian destroyer HMCS St.Francis (Lt.Cdr. H.F. Pullen, RCN) escorted convoy HX 85, which had been recalled, back to Nova Scotia.

On 8 November, after machinery defects had been repaired, the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia (Capt. R.R. Stewart, RN) departed the Clyde to protect convoys.

The battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt C.E.B. Simeon, RN) and the destroyers HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN) departed Gibraltar at 0500/6 to provide cover for convoys HG 46 and SL 53.

At 1225/6, off Cape St Vincent, the submarine HMS Utmost (Lt. J.H. Eaden, DSC, RN) was identified as enemy by HMS Encounter which then rammed the submarine which was en-route to Gibraltar. HMS Encounter was escorted to Gibraltar by HMS Forester. They arrived at 0800/7.

On 11 November, HMAS Australia relieved Renown from covering convoy HG 46 and Renown arrived back at Gibraltar around 1515/12. Renown had been joined at 0807/12 by the destroyers HMS Duncan (Cdr. A.D.B. James, RN) and HMS Forester.

Aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Despatch (Capt. C.E. Douglas-Pennant, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Verity (Cdr. R.H. Mills, RN), HMS Vesper (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN) and HMS Windsor (Lt.Cdr. G.P. Huddart, RN) departed the Clyde on 7 November for Gibraltar and were also ordered to keep a look out for the German pocket battleship. The destroyers were later detached; HMS Windsor around 0100/9 and HMS Verity and HMS Vesper around 0600/9. HMS Despatch was detached at 1000/13 and proceeded to Gibraltar where she arrived at the next day. Shortly before HMS Despatch was detached the destroyers HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN) and HMS Wrestler (Lt. E.L. Jones, DSC, RN) had joined followed later in the day by HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN). HMS Argus, HMS Vidette, HMS Wishart and HMS Wrestler arrived at Gibraltar very late on the 14th.

Battlecruiser HMS Repulse escorted by the destroyers HMS Matabele and HMS Electra arrived at Scapa Flow for refuelling around 1100/11.

Light cruiser HMS Bonaventure and destroyer HMS Mashona arrived at Scapa Flow around 1130/11 for refuelling.

Battlecruiser HMS Hood, light cruisers HMS Naiad, HMS Phoebe and the destroyers HMS Somali, HMS Eskimo and HMS Punjabi returned to Scapa Flow around 1400/11 for refuelling. HMS Eskimo had suffered weather damage to her asdic dome and had some forecastle deck plates buckled. She was docked for repairs in the floating drydock at Scapa Flow from 13 to 16 November.

After fuelling HMS Bonaventure departed Scapa Flow at 2300/11 to continue to search for survivors from convoy HX 84. Armed merchant cruiser HMS Chitral was also back at sea to search for survivors. She had departed from Reykjavik, Iceland around 2330/10.

HMS Bonaventure returned to Scapa Flow on the 19th with weather damage.

The armed merchant cruiser HMS Letitia (A/Capt. E.H. Longsdon, RN) departed the Clyde around 1300/11 for the Northern Patrol.

HMS Repulse, HMS Naiad departed Scapa Flow around 1330/12 for patrol and also to provide cover for ships of the Northern Patrol. They were escorted by the destoyers HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN), HMS Mashona, HMS Matabele and HMS Punjabi.

HMS Naiad parted company on the 13th to proceed to Jan Mayen Island where a German weather / wireless station in Jameson Bay was to be raided.

HMS Repulse returned to Scapa Flow at 0015/19 being escorted by the destroyers HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN), HMS Mashona and HMS Matabele. They had provided cover for HMS Naiad during her raid on Jan Mayen Island.

The battleship HMS Nelson arrived at Scapa Flow around 1630/13 escorted by the destryers Maori, HMS Beagle (Lt.Cdr. R.H. Wright, RN), HMS Bulldog (Lt.Cdr. F.J.G. Hewitt, RN) and Keppel.

Battleship HMS Rodney arrived at Scapa Flow around 1500/23rd. She had been joined at dawn the previous day by the destroyers HMS Beagle, HMS Brilliant, HMS Bulldog and HMS Electra. (15)

6 Nov 1940
The battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt C.E.B. Simeon, RN) and the destroyers HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN) departed Gibraltar at 0500/6 to provide cover for convoys HG 46 and SL 53.

At 1225/6, off Cape St Vincent, the submarine HMS Utmost (Lt. J.H. Eaden, DSC, RN) was identified as enemy by HMS Encounter which then rammed the submarine which was en-route to Gibraltar. HMS Encounter was escorted to Gibraltar by HMS Forester. They arrived at 0800/7.

On 11 November, HMAS Australia relieved Renown from covering convoy HG 46 and Renown arrived back at Gibraltar around 1515/12. Renown had been joined at 0807/12 by the destroyers HMS Duncan (Cdr. A.D.B. James, RN) and HMS Forester. (13)

15 Nov 1940

Operation White.

Transfer of aircraft to Malta.

At 0400/15, ' Force H ', made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), HMS Argus (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), light cruisers HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN), HMS Despatch (Capt. Cyril Eustace Douglas-Pennant, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Duncan (Cdr. A.D.B. James, RN), HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN) departed Gibraltar in bright moonlight. Course was shaped at 16 knots to pass to the south of Alboran Island.

A/S patrols were flown off at dawn. The wind was westerly, force 4 throughout the day. For flying operations course had to be reversed. During the day some training exercises were carried out.

At 1130/15, an aircraft, most probably a Spanish air liner from Tetuan to Melilla, passed down the starboard side of the Fleet on a westerly course, in position 35°50'N, 03°56'W at a range of about 12 miles. At 1315/15, in position 35°35'N, 03°43'W a similar machine was seen passing the Fleet in the reverse direction. By this time however, the course of the Fleet was to the eastward. It is probable that these air lines report British units whenever sighted.

All aircraft were landed on by 1800/15. At 1900/15 course was altered to the north-eastward.

At 2101/15 a signal was received from the Air Officer Commanding, Mediterranean that arrangements had been made for meeting the Hurricanes. These were that a Sunderland from Malta would be in the rendezvous position of Galita Island to meet the first range of Hurricanes flying off at 0615/17, and a Glenn Martin from Malta to meet the second range flying off at 0710/17.

After dawn on the 16th, course was altered to the south-eastward and shortly afterwards, fighter and A/S patrols were flown off. The westerly wind had increased to force 6 and remained at that strenght throughout the day.

By noon the sea had increased and the conditions for operating aircrft had become severe. As visibility from the air was low and as the RDF screen remained clear, Vice-Admiral Somerville decided to cancel flying operations and maintain a fighter section at readiness in the carrier.

As there appeared to be every chance of avoiding detection and since bad weather conditions appeared likely to persist, Vice-Admiral Somerville decided at 1430/16 not to carry out the intended bombing attack on Alghero aerodrome.

Italian naval units were then reported to be at sea to the south of Naples and it was decided, in view of this, to launch the aircraft for Malta from as far west as the weather conditions would admit. HMS Argus reported that in te present weather the aircraft could be flown off from longtitude 06°40'E.

At 1500/16 the course of the fleet was therefore reversed for an hour to reduce the chances of detection before dark and in order to maintain a speed of not less then 16 knots during the night.

By 0200/17 the strong westerly wind had backed sightly and dropped considerably. Visibility had improved and was maximum at dawn.

At 0545/17 the force was split into two groups, HMS Argus, HMS Despatch and three of the destroyers were to fly off the Hurricanes for Malta. HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Sheffield and the remaining five destroyers were to fly off A/S patrols, a fighter section and a reconnaissance to the eastward.

At the time of flying off, the wind at 2000 feet in the flying off position was 220°, 20 knots, and the latest forecast received from Malta, which was timed 1130/16, reported the wind in the Malta chennel as south-west. As no further report was received it was presumed there was no change.

Te first flight took off at 0615/17 in position 37°29'N, 06°43'E and the second flight at 0715/17 in position 37°24'N, 06°52'E.

Arrangements had been made for a Sunderland to meet the first flight five miles to the northward of Galita Island, and for a Glen Martin to meet the second flight in the same position. From signals intercepted, it was apparent that the Sunderlandhad effected a rendezvous but that the Glen Martin had failed to do so.

On completion of flying off, the two groups joined company and ' Force H ' withdrew to the westward at 18.5 knots.

Reconnaissance aircraft returned at 0945/17 and reported nothing in sight within 100 miles to the east of ' Force H '. Two fighter sections were maintained in the air until 1400/17 but no enemy aircraft appeared.

From signals it was learnt that only one Skua and four Hurricanes had arrived at Malta. It is suspected that easterly winds had been encountered resullting in the loss of many aircraft and their pilots.

At 1530/17, the wind had increased to Force 6 so speed had to be reduced t 15 knots to avoid damage to the destroyers. A/S and fighter patrols were landed on and flying was cancelled for the day.

At 1550/17, HMS Sheffield was sent on ahead in order that she might fuel and obtain a night in harbour befor proceeding to the westward to rendezvous with the transport ships of operation Collar.

Speed had to be further reduced to 12 knots at 1635/17, and to 10 knots at 1655/17 to allow HMS Firedrake, which had dropped behind to effect some repairs, to regain station.

At 1800/17, Admiralty's message 1727/27 was received ordering ' Force H ' to return to Gibraltar at maximum speed. Vice-Admiral Somerville therefore reported position, course and speed (37°34'N, 03°31'E, 265°, 9 knots) and added that all ships were steaming into a full westerly gale.

Shortly afterwards Admiralty's message 1800/27 was received stating that the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer was thought to be in the vicinity of the Azores and ordering HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal and other units to proceed to Gibraltar at maximum speed, refuel and than proceed to the Azores. In reply Vice-Admiral Somerville stated that by proceeding without a destroyer screen HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal could proceed at a somewhat hight speed, provided that the situation justified additional submarine risks.

At 2006/17, speed was increased to 12 knots and to 13 knots at 2035/17. At 2100/17, Admiralty's message timed 2025/17 was received ordering Vice-Admiral Somerville to retain the destroyers.

A small fire was observed in HMS Argus at 2140/17. At 2310/17, HMS Fury reported that damage was being sustained and speed was reduced to 12 knots.

At 0417/18, speed was increased to 13 knots and at 0454/18 to 14 knots. At 0600/18 the Admiralty was informed of the speed and position of ' Force H ' (37°24'N, 00°57'E). A further increase of speed to 18 knots was possible at 0837/18.

At 1110/18, speed was increased to 19 knots. HMS Argus, HMS Despatch, HMS Wishart, HMS Duncan and HMS Fury were then detached while HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Faulknor, HMS Firedrake, HMS Forester, HMS Fortune and HMS Foxhound proceeded ahead. They increased speed to 20 knots but at 1335/18 speed had to be reduced to 18 knots and at 1435/18 to 15 knots.

From this time onwards speed was varied between 15 and 20 knots in accordance with conditions prevailing. Arrangements were made with Admiral Commanding North Atlantic Station for HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal to oil in Gibraltar Bay, destroyers and A/S trawlers meanwhile carrying out an A/S patrol in the vicinity.

At 0230/19, as the Renown group was about to enter Gibraltar Bay, Admiralty's message 0140/19 was received cancelling the deployment of ships proceeding to the Azores. Renown and Ark Royal therefore proceeded into harbour. HMS Renown entered harbour at 0350/19. HMS Argus and her group at 0850/19. (13)

21 Nov 1940
Late in the afternoon, HMS Manchester (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN), HMS Duncan (A/Capt. A.D.B. James, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) (these had joined at 1400/20 coming from Gibraltar) and the merchant ship Franconia (20175 GRT, built 1923) of the convoy arrived at Gibraltar. (16)

25 Nov 1940

Operation Collar and the resulting Battle of Cape Spartivento.

See also the event for 23 November 1940 called ‘Operation MB 9’ for the events in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Departure of the convoy from Gibraltar / passage through the Straits of Gibraltar and plan of the operation.

During the night of 24/25 November 1940 the three merchants / troop transports, Clan Forbes (7529 GRT, built 1938), Clan Fraser (7529 GRT, built 1939) and New Zealand Star (10740 GRT, built 1935), passed the Straits of Gibraltar. To the eastward of Gibraltar they were joined by the four corvettes (HMS Peony (Lt.Cdr. (rtd.) M.B. Sherwood, DSO, RN), (HMS Salvia (Lt.Cdr. J.I. Miller, DSO, RD, RNR), HMS Gloxinia (Lt.Cdr. A.J.C. Pomeroy, RNVR) and HMS Hyacinth (T/Lt. F.C. Hopkins, RNR) that were part of Force ‘F’, which was the close support force of the convoy. The other ships of Force ‘F’ were the light cruisers HMS Manchester (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN) and HMS Southampton (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN) and the destroyer HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H Layman, DSO, RN), which was in a damaged state and was to proceed to Malta for full repairs. These last three ships sailed at 0800/25. The cruisers had each about 700 RAF and other military personnel onboard that were to be transported to Alexandria.

The cover force for this convoy, force ‘B’ also left Gibraltar at 0800/25. This force was made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), the light cruisers HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and HMS Despatch (Capt. Cyril Eustace Douglas-Pennant, DSC, RN). They were escorted by destroyers from the 8th and 13th Destroyer Flotillas; HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN, Capt. D.8), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Duncan (Capt. A.D.B. James, RN, Capt. D.13), HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN), HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St.J. Morgan, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Allison, DSO, RN) and HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN).

Force ‘F’ and the merchant ship New Zealand Star were to proceed to Alexandria except for HMS Hotspur which was to detach to Malta as mentioned earlier as well as the other two merchant ships. Force ‘B’ was to cover Force ‘F’ and the merchant ships during the passage of the Western Mediterranean. To the south of Sardinia these forces were to be joined around noon on 27 November 1940 by Force ‘D’ which came from the Eastern Mediterranean and was made up of the battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Reid, RN), the heavy cruiser HMS Berwick (Capt. G.L. Warren, RN), the light cruiser HMS Newcastle (Capt. E.A. Aylmer, DSC, RN) and the AA cruiser HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN), HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN), HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSC, RN) and HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN). [actually HMS Diamond however did not join Force 'D'] All forces were then to proceed towards the Sicilian narrows for a position between Sicily and Cape Bon which was to be reached at dusk. After dark Force ’F’, reinforced by HMS Coventry and the destroyers from Force ‘D’ were then to proceed through the narrows to the Eastern Mediterranean where they would be met the next day by ships of the Mediterranean Fleet. Force ‘B’ with HMS Ramillies, HMS Berwick and HMS Newcastle from Force ‘D’ were then to return to Gibraltar.

Disposition of British forces at 0800 hours, 27 November 1940.

At 0800/27, about half an hour before sunrise, the situation was as follows. Vice-Admiral Somerville in HMS Renown, with HMS Ark Royal, HMS Sheffield and four destroyers were in position 37°48’N, 07°24’E (about 95 nautical miles south-west of Cape Spartivento, Sardinia) steering 083° at 16 knots.

Some 25 nautical miles to the south-west of him, the Vice-Admiral 18th cruiser squadron in HMS Manchester, with HMS Southampton, HMS Despatch and five destroyers were in company with the convoy in position 37°37’N, 06°54’E. The four corvettes had been unable to keep up with the convoy and were about 10 nautical miles to the westward of it. The visibility was excellent, the wind south-easterly, force 3 to 4 and the sea was calm.

At this time HMS Ark Royal flew off a section of fighters, one A/S patrol, one meteorological machine and seven reconnaissance aircraft. Vice-Admiral Somerville continued on his easterly course to concentrate with Force ‘D’ which was approaching from the Skerki Bank. At 0900 hours he changed course to the south-west to join the convoy to provide additional AA defence for the convoy for expected air attacks from Sardinian aerodromes.

Reconnaissance aircraft report enemy forces at sea.

Shortly before the course change, at 0852/27 one of Ark Royal’s aicraft sighted a group of enemy warships about 25 nautical miles to the southward of Cape Spartivento and while closing to investigate at 0906 hours sent an alarm report of four cruisers and six destroyers, which, however was not received by any ship of the British forces. On sighting the convoy at 0920 hours, HMS Renown maneuvered to pass astern of it and take station to the southward and up sun, in the probable direction of any air attack. At 0956 hours, while still on the port quarter of the convoy, Vice-Admiral Somerville received from HMS Ark Royal an aircraft report timed 0920/27, of five cruisers and five destroyers some 65 nautical miles to the north-eastward of him.

Steam was at once ordered for full speed and screens of two destroyers each were arranged for both HMS Ark Royal and the merchant ships. Further reports from aircraft, confirmed by HMS Ark Royal, established by 1015/27 the presence of enemy battleships and cruisers and HMS Renown altered course to 075° to join HMS Ramillies increasing speed as rapidly as possible to 28 knots.

Measures to safeguard the convoy and to join Force ‘D’.

At 1035/27 the plot showed enemy forces to the north-east but their composition and relative position were still in doubt. In these circumstances Vice-Admiral Somerville decided that the convoy should continue to its destination steering a south-easterly course (120°) in order to keep clear of any action which might develop. It was given an escort of two cruisers, HMS Despatch and HMS Coventry and the destroyers HMS Duncan and HMS Wishart. The remaining two cruisers and three destroyers of Force ‘F’ were ordered to join Force ‘B’ which steered to make contact with Force ‘D’ which was approaching from the east and then to attack the enemy together. HMS Ark Royal was ordered to prepare and fly off a torpedo bomber striking force. She was to act independently escorted by HMS Kelvin and HMS Jaguar and under cover from the battlefleet.

At 1058/27 a Sunderland flying boat closed HMS Renown and reported Force ‘D’ bearing 070°, range 34 nautical miles. As the junction of the two forces seemed to be assured, the speed was reduced to 24 knots, in order to maintain a position between the convoy and the enemy force which estimated position was bearing 025°, range 50 nautical miles. The Sunderland flying boat was ordered to shadow and report its composition.

The cruisers HMS Manchester, HMS Southampton and HMS Sheffield had meanwhile concentrated with the destroyers in the van, bearing 5 nautical miles from HMS Renown in the direction of the enemy.

Reports from the reconnaissance aircraft of HMS Ark Royal contained a number of discrepancies which made it impossible to obtain a clear picture of the situation. Two groups of cruisers had been reported, as well as two battleships. It seemed certain that five or six cruisers were present, but the number of battleships remained in doubt. But whatever the composition of the enemy force in order to get the convoy through Vice-Admiral Somerville wanted to attack as soon as possible. At 1115/27 the enemy was reported to be changing course to the eastward.

All this time Force ‘D’ had been coming westwards and at 1128/27 they were sighted from HMS Renown bearing 073°, range about 24 nautical miles. The aircraft reports now indicated that the enemy force was made up of two battleships, six or more cruisers and a considerable number of destroyers. The action seemed likely to develop into a chase, and HMS Ramillies was therefore ordered to steer 045°, so as not to lose ground due to her slow speed. Vice-Admiral Holland was put in command of all the cruisers in the van and HMS Berwick and HMS Newcastle from Force ‘D’ were ordered to join him. It was shortly after this that HMS Ark Royal flew off her first torpedo bombers striking force.

The approach on the enemy.

At 1134 hours, Vice-Admiral Somerville increased to 28 knots and at 1140 hours altered course to 050° to close the enemy. The position of the British forces was now as follows. Fine on the port bow of HMS Renown were HMS Manchester, HMS Southampton and HMS Sheffield in single line ahead. HMS Berwick and HMS Newcastle was coming from the eastward to join them. Two miles astern HMS Faulknor (Capt. D 8) was gradually collecting the other ships of his Flotilla and HMS Encounter some of which had been screening the convoy. The four destroyers of Force ‘D’, HMS Defender, HMS Gallant, HMS Greyhound and HMS Hereward were proceeding westwards to join and were eventually stationed bearing 270°, 3 nautical miles from her.

Ten nautical miles fine on the starboard bow of HMS Renown, HMS Ramillies was altering to a parallel course. HMS Ark Royal had dropped some distance astern. She was carrying out flying operations between the main force and the convoy, which was now about 22 nautical miles west-south-west of HMS Renown.

At 1154 hours, the Sunderland aircraft returned and reported six cruisers and eight destroyers bearing 330°, range 30 nautical miles from HMS Renown. Her report unfortunately did not give course and speed of the enemy and she disappeared from sight before these could be obtained. It appeared now that one of the enemy forces was further to the west than previously thought and might be in a position to outflank the main force and attack HMS Ark Royal and the convoy. Course was therefore altered to the north in order to avoid getting to far to the eastward.

Vice-Admiral Somerville’s appreciation of the situation at noon, 27 November 1940.

The prospects of bringing the enemy into action seemed favourable. The composition of the enemy force was still not definitely established but there did not appear to be more than two battleships with them. The British had effected their concentration of which the enemy seemed to be unaware, since no shadowing aircraft had been sighted or detected by RD/F. The speed of the enemy was reported as being 14 to 18 knots. The sun was immediately behind the British forces, giving them the advantage of light and if the nearest reported position of the enemy was correct there seemed every possibility of bringing off a simultaneous surface and torpedo bombers attack, providing that the enemy did not retire immediately at high speed. Vice-Admiral Somerville’s intentions were; To drive off the enemy from any position from which he could attack the convoy and to except some risk to the convoy providing there was a reasonable prospect of sinking one or more of the enemy battleships. To achieve the second of them he considered that the speed of the enemy would have to be reduced to 20 knots or less by torpedo bombers attacks and that the enemy battleships could be attacked by HMS Renown and HMS Ramillies in concert.

Contact with the enemy.

At 1207/27, HMS Renown developed a hot bearing on one shaft which limited her speed to 27.5 knots. At the same time puffs of smoke were observed on the horizon bearing 006°, and the cruisers of the van sighted masts between 006° and 346°. At 1213 hours a signal came in from HMS Ark Royal reporting the composition of the enemy as two battleships, six cruisers accompanied by destroyers. The British cruisers in the van by this time had formed a line of bearing 075° to 255° in the sequence from west to east, HMS Sheffield, HMS Southampton, HMS Newcastle, HMS Manchester, HMS Berwick.

The nine destroyers were stationed five miles bearing 040° from HMS Renown in order to be placed favourably to counter-attack any destroyers attempting a torpedo attack on HMS Renown or HMS Ramillies.

The situation as seen by the cruisers immediately before the action commenced was as follows. Between the bearings of 340° to 350° three enemy cruisers and some destroyers were visible at a range of about 11 nautical miles. These were steering a northerly course. This force will be referred to as ‘the Western Group’. A second group of cruisers, also accompanied by destroyers, which will be referred to as the ‘Eastern Group’ bore between 003° and 013°. This group was further away and steering approximately 100°.

The action

At 1220/27 the enemy cruisers in the ‘Western Group’ opened fire, and the British advanced forces immediately replied. The enemy’s first salvo fell close to HMS Manchester. As soon as fire was opened by the British cruisers, the Italians made smoke and retired on courses varying between north-west and north-east. Behind their smoke screen they seemed to be making large and frequent alterations of course.

At 1224 hours HMS Renown opened fire at the right hand ship in the ‘Western Group’ which was identified as a Zara-class heavy cruiser. Range was 26500 yards. After six salvoes, the target was lost in smoke. HMS Ramillies also fired two salvoes at maximum elevation to test the range but both fell short. She then dropped astern in the wake of HMS Renown and tried to follow at her best speed, 20.7 knots, throughout the action.

Just before opening fire HMS Renown had sighted two ships which were not making smoke, bearing 020° at extreme visibility. These were thought at first to be the Italian battleships but later turned out to be cruisers of the ‘Eastern Group’. On losing her first target HMS Renown altered course to starboard to close these supposed battleships and to bring the cruisers of the ‘Western Group’ broader on the bow. She had hardly done so when the centre ship of the latter group appeared momentarily through the smoke and was given two salvoes. Again course was altered to open ‘A’ arcs on the left hand ship, at which eight salvoes were fired before she too disappeared in the smoke at 1245 hours. At this moment two large ships steering westward emerged from the smoke cloud but before fire was opened these ships were identified as French liners.

The enemy by this time was on the run and had passed outside the range of our capital ships although at 1311 hours, HMS Renown fired two ranging salvoes at two ships of the ‘Eastern Group’ but both fell short. Meanwhile the British cruisers had been hotly engaged at ranges varying between 23000 and 16000 yards. Many straddles were obtained, but smoke rendered spotting and observation very difficult.

HMS Manchester, HMS Sheffield and HMS Newcastle all opened fire on the right-hand ship of the ‘Western Group’. HMS Berwick engaged the left-hand ship of the same group and HMS Southampton engaged the left-hand ship of the ‘Eastern Group’. HMS Manchester and HMS Sheffield continued to fire at the same ship for about 20 minutes (until 1236 and 1240 hours respectively) but HMS Newcastle shifted target to the ship already engaged by HMS Berwick after 18 salvoes. HMS Southampton, after 5 salvoes shifted target to a destroyer which was seen to be hit. At least one other destroyer is believed to have been hit during this phase and two hits by a large caliber shell on a cruiser were observed by HMS Faulknor at 1227 and HMS Newcastle at 1233 hours.

The enemy’s fire was accurate during the initial stages but when fully engaged it deteriorated rapidly and the spread became ragged. Their rate of fire was described as extremely slow. The only casualties on the British side occurred in HMS Berwick when at 1222 hours she received a hit from an 8” shell which put ‘Y’ turret out of action. HMS Manchester was straddled several times but despite being under continuous fire from 1221 to 1300 hours escaped unscatched. Her passengers were quite excited about having been in a sea battle.

At 1245 hours the cruisers altered course to 090° to prevent the enemy from working round ahead to attack the convoy. This brought the relative beating of the ‘Eastern Group’ to Red 40° and HMS Manchester once more engaged the left-hand ship. Five minutes later a further alteration of course to the southward was made to counter what appeared to be an attempt by the enemy to ‘cross the T’ of the cruisers. The enemy however at once resumed their north-easterly course and Vice-Admiral Holland led back to 070° at 1256 hours and 030° at 1258 hours. The rear ship of the enemy line was heavily on fire aft and she appeared to loose speed. But at 1259 hours picked up again and drew away with her consorts.

At 1301 hours the masts of a fresh enemy unit steering to the south-west were seen at extreme visibility right ahead of HMS Manchester. It bore 045° and two minutes later two battleships were identified in it. Their presence was quickly corroborated by large splashes which commenced to fall near HMS Manchester and HMS Berwick and these ships were reported to Vice-Admiral Somerville. The end on approach resulted in the range decreasing very rapidly and at 1305 hours Vice-Admiral Holland turned to cruisers to 120° with the dual purpose of working round the flank of the battleships and closing the gap to HMS Renown. The enemy battleships were not prepared to close and altered course to the north-eastward, presumably to join their 8” cruisers. Vice-Admiral Holland therefore altered course to 090° at 1308 hours and shortly afterwards to 050°. The enemy were by now rapidly running out of range and ten minutes later the action came to an end.

First attack by the torpedo bombers from HMS Ark Royal

Meanwhile a torpedo bomber striking force consisting of 11 Swordfish of no. 810 Squadron had been flown off from HMS Ark Royal at 1130 hours with orders to attack the Italian battleships. At 1216 hours they sighted two battleships and altered course as to approach them from the direction of the sun. The ships were identified as one Littorio-class and one Cavour-class. They were screened by seven destroyers. Enemy course was easterly at a speed of 18 knots. The leading battleship (Littorio-class) was selected as the target and all torpedoes were dropped inside the destroyer screen at ranges of 700 to 800 yards. One hit was observed abaft the after funnel and another explosion was seen just astern of the target. Yet another explosion was seen ahead of the Cavour-class. No other hits were seen. All aircraft returned safely to HMS Ark Royal.

Vice-Admiral Somerville’s Appreciation at 1315/27.

At 1315/27 firing had practically ceased owning to the enemy drawing out of range. The heavy smoke made by the Italians during the chase had prevented accurate fire, and so far as was known, no serious damage was inflicted on them. The torpedo bomber striking force from HMS Ark Royal had attacked but no report had been received yet but it seemed evident that the speed of the enemy had not been materially reduced.

The British forces were meanwhile rapidly closing the enemy coast. The main object of the whole operation was the safe passage of the convoy. The main enemy units had been driven off far enough that they could no longer interfere with it. It was also important to provide additional AA protection to the convoy against enemy air attack at dusk and in order to reach the convoy in time to do this course had to be set for it before 1400 hours so it was decided to break off the chase.

The chase broken off and further attacks by aircraft from HMS Ark Royal.

Around 1345/27, a damaged enemy cruiser was reported, Vice-Admiral Somerville considered sending HMS Berwick and HMS Newcastle north to finish this ship off. As these two cruisers also needed a cover/support force this idea was quickly abandoned. HMS Ark Royal was ordered to attack this cruiser with aircraft. A second torpedo bomber squadron was about to take off and Skua dive bombers were also being armed. Capt. Holland of the Ark Royal intended to attack the battleships again with the torpedo bombers and sent out the dive bombers to attack the damaged cruiser.

The torpedo bomber force of 9 Swordfish was flown off at 1415 hours. The Squadron Leader was given the enemy battleships as his objective, but with the full liberty to change it to his discretion, as he alone would be in a position to judge the possibility or otherwise achieving a successful attack.

The aircraft sighted three cruisers escorted by four destroyers about 12 nautical miles off the south-east coast of Sardinia, steering to the eastward at high speed. Some 8 nautical miles ahead of these cruisers were the two battleships escorted by about ten destroyers. There was a total absence of cloud cover, and it was considered essential to attack from the direction of the sun, if any degree of surprise were to be achieved. As any attempt, however, to gain such a position with regard to the battleships would inevitably have led to the striking force being sighted by the cruisers it was decided to attack the latter.

The attack was carried out at 1520/27 and was not sighted by the enemy until very late, only two salvoes being fired against the aircraft before the first torpedo was dropped. As the first aircraft reached the dropping position, the cruisers turned together to starboard causing several of the following Swordfish who had already committed to their drop to miss their targets. One hit was claimed on the rear cruiser and a possible one on the leading cruiser. Two Swordfish were hit by shrapnel from enemy AA fire but air aircraft returned safely to HMS Ark Royal.

A striking force of 7 Skua’s had meanwhile been flown off at 1500 hours. They failed to locate the reported damaged cruiser but reported to have carried out an attack on three light cruisers steering north of the south-west corner of Sardinia. Two near misses may have caused some damage to the rear ship. On the way back to HMS Ark Royal they encountered and shot down an Italian RO 43 reconnaissance aircraft from the battleship Vittorio Venoto.

Enemy air attacks on British Forces.

While these British flying operations were taking place Vice-Admiral Somerville had been steering to the southward in accordance with his decision to close the convoy. HMS Ark Royal had lost sight of HMS Renown to the north-eastward about 1250 hours, but since the receipt of the signal ordering the retirement of the British forces, Captain Holland had been making good a course of 090°, so far as his flying operations permitted, in order to rejoin the Flag. The first RD/F indications of the presence of enemy aircraft were received in HMS Renown at 1407 hours. Shortly afterwards bomb splashes were seen on the horizon when the Italian aircraft were attacked by Fulmars from the Ark Royal and several machines jettisoned their bombs. Ten enemy aircraft were then seen to be coming in and they eventually dropped their bombs well clear of the heavy ships but close to the screening destroyers.

Two further attacks were made around 1645/27 when two groups of five aircraft each concentrated on HMS Ark Royal, which by that time was in company with the Fleet, but owning to flying operations, not actually in the line. Apart from a few bombs being jettisoned again as a result of the interception by the Fulmar fighters, the high level bombing performed from a height of 13000 feet was most accurate. Some 30 bombs fell near HMS Ark Royal, two at least within 10 yards, and she was completely obscured by splashes.

About 1,5 minutes after this attack a stick of bombs dropped by four Caproni bombers, which had not been seen during the previous attack, missed HMS Ark Royal by a very narrow margin. HMS Ark Royal fortunately suffered no damage.

The British ships sighted the convoy at 1700/27 and proceeded to join it for passage to the Sicilian narrows.

The Battle of Cape Spartivento from the Italian side

At noon on 26 November 1940 the Italian had received reports that British forces had left Gibraltar and Alexandria the day before. The Italians then went to sea from Naples and Messina in three forces;

From Naples.
Battleships Vittorio Veneto and Giulio Cesare, escorted by the 13th Destroyer Flotilla made up of the Granatiere, Fuciliere, Bersagliere and Alpino and the 7th Destroyer Flotilla made up of the Freccia, Saetta, Dardo.
Heavy cruisers from the 1st Cruiser Division Pola, Fiume and Gorizia) escorted by the 9th Destroyer Flotilla made up of Vittorio Alfieri, Alfredo Oriani, Giosuè Carducci and Vincenzo Gioberti.

From Messina.
Heavy cruisers from the 3rd Cruiser Division Trieste, Trento and Bolzano and the 12th Destroyer Flotilla made up of the Lanciere, Ascari, Carabiniere and Libeccio. This last destroyer had temporarily replaced the Carabinieri.

These forces were to intercept the British forces coming from Gibraltar.

From Trapani, Sicily, torpedo-boats from the 10th Torpedo-boat Flotilla, Vega, Sagittario, Alcione and Sirio, were ordered to patrol in the Sicily narrows to scout for possible British forces proceeding westwards from the Eastern Meditarranean. Sirio actually made an unobserved torpedo attack shortly after midnight (during the night of 26/27 November) on a group of seven enemy warships (Force ‘D’).

By 1015/27 the Italian forces were in the Sardinia-Sicily Channel. The only information available to the Italian Commander-in-Chief (Admiral Campioni in the Vittorio Veneto) up to that moment was that Force H had left Gibraltar westwards on the 25th and on the same day a force had also left Alexandria westwards. He assumed correctly that the force attacked by the torpedo-boat Sirio was en-route to rendez-vous with Force H.

Then at 1015 hours he received an aircraft report (from an aircraft catapulted by the heavy cruiser Bolzano) that at 0945/27 it had sighted a group of enemy warships comprising one battleship, two light cruisers and four destroyers 20 nautical miles north of Cape de Fer. Enemy course was 090°. These were also seven warships, the same number as reported by torpedo-boat Sirio the night before but these were too far to the West to be the same ships.

Then at 1144 hours he received another aircraft report (from an aircraft catapulted by the heavy cruiser Gorizia) that confirmed the position given at 1015 hours. It did not report the two cruisers however but by that time these had split from HMS Renown and had gone ahead.

Acting on the report of the aircraft of the Bolzano the Italian Admiral turned to course 135° at 1128/27. Both divisions of cruisers also turned round. He then thought to be making for an encounter with HMS Renown and two cruisers supported by a few destroyers. The 1144/27 report from the aircraft of the Gorizia confirmed him in this belief. The Italian admiral was unaware of the fact that by that time Force ‘D’ had already joined with the other British forces. He was also unaware that HMS Ark Royal was present although he was aware of the fact that she had left Gibraltar westwards with the other ships two days before.

The Italian admiral was very careful, after the attack on Taranto only two battleships were operational and he could not afford any further reduction in strength of the capital ships. He therefore decided that his forces were not to come in action but before he could sent out a signal regarding this his cruiser were already in action with the British. They were ordered to break off the action and retire at high speed.

The Italians were then attacked by aircraft from the Ark Royal but despite the claim by the British for hits none were actually obtained. The Italians claimed to have shot down two aircraft but this also was not the case.

At 1235/27, the destroyer Lanciere was hit by a 6” shell in the after engine room. This shell is thought to have been originated from HMS Southampton. She continued at 23 knots on her forward engines but at 1240 hours another shell struck her amidships on the port side, penetrating a petrol tank. Then a third shell struck her on the starboard side without exploding and without penetrating the hull. Around 1300 hours she came to a stop with no water in her boilers, and asked for a tow. Ater about one hour her boilers were relit (seawater being used to feed them) and her forward engines were restarted. At 1440 hours, the Ascari took her in tow and both made for Cagliari at 7 knots. The 3rd Cruiser Division was ordered to protect the retreat of these destroyers.

A force of 10 bombers and 5 fighters had taken off at 1330 hours. These were driven off but the Fulmars from HMS Ark Royal. Almost two hours later, at 1520 hours a second force of 20 bombers took off. It were these aircraft that attacked and almost hit HMS Ark Royal.

Convoy operations in the Eastern Mediterranean and the subsequent movements of the ‘Collar’ convoy.

Before and during operation Collar there were also convoy movements in the Eastern Mediterranean going on. [See also the event for 23 November 1940 called ‘Operation MB 9’ for the events in the Eastern Mediterranean.]

After passing through the Sicilian narrows the Clan Forbes and Clan Fraser went to Malta escorted by HMS Hotspur and HMS Decoy. Both destroyers were to repair and refit at Malta. The New Zealand Star proceeded to Suda Bay escorted by HMS Defender and HMS Hereward and covered part of the way by HMS Manchester and HMS Southampton. (17)

29 Nov 1940

At 1430 hours HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Berwick (Capt. G.L. Warren, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) returned from Gibraltar from operation Collar. One hour later they were followed by Ramillies, HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), HMS Despatch (Capt. Cyril Eustace Douglas-Pennant, DSC, RN), HMS Newcastle (Capt. E.A. Aylmer, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Capt. A.D.B. James, RN), HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St.J. Morgan, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN) and HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Allison, DSO, RN). (13)

14 Dec 1940

At 0237/14 a signal was received from the Admiralty ordering ' Force H ' to sail as early as possible to the Azores.

At 1030/14, HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Isis (Cdr. C.S.B. Swinley, DSC, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St.J. Morgan, RN) and HMS Duncan (A/Capt. A.D.B. James, RN) departed Gibraltar and proceeded westwards. Ark Royal flew off A/S patrol and also landed on aircraft from North Front.

At 1730/14, a signal from the Admiralty was received stating that the sailing of ' Force H 'was a precautionary move and that more information would follow later.

At 0730/15, a signal was received from the Admiralty timed 0216/15 stating that the RFA tanker Orangeleaf was to sail from Gibraltar to join ' Force H '.

At 0945/15, a signal was received from the Admiralty 0200/15 instructing Vice-Admiral Somerville to patrol of the Azores as a German invasion of the Azores was feared.

The dawn reconnassance report was blank. By this time a north-westerly swell had increased to such anextent that Vice-Admiral Somerville considered it advisable to cancel the afternoon reconnaissance owing to the risk of damage to aircraft.

At 1235/15 course was altered to 285° in order that the dawn reconnaissance the following day should cover the approach routes from the Bay of Biscay to the Azores.

At 1745/15, when in position 37°18'N, 15°20'E the A/S patrol sighted and reported a raft 15 miles on the starboard of HMS Renown. HMS Fury was detached to investigate and located the raft, which was found to belong to the Swedish merchant vessel Gwalia. There were no survivors.

At 2230/15, a darkened sailing ship was sighted in position 37°36'N, 17°00'E. Course was altered away and HMS Fury was detached to investigate. It proved to be a Portugese schooner which was allowed to proceed.

By dawn on 16 December the north-westerly swell had sussided slightly, and nine aircraft were flown off in position 38°15'N, 19°50'E, to carry out a reconnaissance between 200° and 335° to a depth of 140 miles. Nothing was sighted.

At 0900/16, a ship was sighted 18 miles on the starboard beam in position 38°16'N, 20°30'W. Again HMS Fury was sent to investigate and reported her to be the merchant vessel David Livingstone (British, 4022 GRT, built 1930) bound from England to Bathurst.

Gunnery exercises were carried out in the afternoon.

At 1415/16, a second reconnaissance flight of nine aircraft was flown off in position 38°19'N, 21°57'W, co cover the area between 260° and 035° to a depth of 120 miles. Nothing as sighted.

At 0100/17, ' Force H ' was ordered to return to Gibraltar at best convenient speed so course was altered to 095° and speed was increased to 18 knots.

A dawn reconnaissance of nine aircraft was flown off at 0735/17 in position 38°13'N, 19°56'W, to cover the area between 000° and 160° to a depth of 130 miles. Only two British merchant vessels were sighted.

During the forenoon some exercises were carried out.

At 1400/17, the afternoon reconnaissance took off in position 38°18'N, 21°53'W, and covered the area between 035° and 170° to a depth of 150 miles. One one, Portugese, ship was sighted.

More exercises were carried out in the afternoon. Shortly after dark two destroyers were detached from the screen to carry out a night encounter exercise.

At dawn on the 18th, 12 aircraft were flown off to carry out an extensive search with the object of locating the German ship Baden which had been reported to have departed Tenerife on the night of 15/16 December.

More exercises were carried out during the day. The result of the reconnaissance was blank except that HMS Berwick was sighted proceeding to the Azores.

At 1400/18, HMS Renown, HMS Faulknor, HMS Forester and HMS Fury parted company with HMS Ark Royal, HMS Isis, HMS Encounter and HMS Duncan.

HMS Renown and her three escorting destroyers arrived at Gibraltar at 0830/19 followed by HMS Ark Royal and her three destroyers two hours later. (13)

15 Dec 1940

Operations MC 2, MC 3 and HIDE


Convoy operations in the Mediterranean (MC 2), raid by the Mediterranean fleet into the Straits of Otranto (MC 3) and the passage of two transports from Malta, HMS Malaya and five destroyers to Gibraltar (HIDE).

15 December 1940.

The Port Said section of convoy MW 5B departed today. It was made up of the transports Volo (1587 GRT, built 1938), Rodi (3220 GRT, built 1928, former Italian), tanker Pontfield (8290 GRT, built 1940) and transport Ulster Prince (3791 GRT, built 1930). They were escorted by the corvette HMS Peony (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) M.B. Sherwood, RN).

Also on this day HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN) departed Alexandria for Suda Bay and Piraeus.

16 December 1940.

The Alexandria section of convoy MW 5B departed today. It was made up of the transport Devis (6054 GRT, built 1938) and the tanker Hoegh Hood (9351 GRT, built 1936, Norwegian). The submarine HMS Parthian (Lt.Cdr. M.G. Rimington, DSO, RN) also took passage in this convoy to Malta. Escort for this convoy was provided by HMS Havock (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC, RN). This convoy sailed before noon. The corvettes HMS Salvia (Lt.Cdr. J.I. Miller, DSO, RD, RNR) and HMS Hyacinth (T/Lt. F.C. Hopkins, RNR) joined the convoy at sea coming from Suda Bay.

Another convoy for Malta also departed today, MW 5A, this convoy was made up of the faster transports Waiwera (12435 GRT, built 1934), Lanarkshire (8167 GRT, built 1940). Close escort for this convoy was made up of the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN) and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN). This convoy sailed in the afternoon.

Cover for these convoys was provided by ships from the Mediterranean fleet which for this sortie was made up of the battleships HMS Waspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral A.L.St.G. Lyster, CVO, DSO, RN), heavy cruiser HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E. de F. Renouf, CVO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Thyrwhitt, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall-A’Deane, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, DSO, RN), HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN) and HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC and Bar, RN) . This cover force sailed from Alexandria around 0100 hours.

At 0745 hours, HMS York, HMS Gloucester, HMS Dainty and HMS Greyhound were detached to fuel at Suda Bay.

At noon the Commander-in-Chief in HMS Warspite was in position 33°36’N, 28°14’E. Course was set for the Kaso Strait which was reached at midnight.

Also on this day HMS Orion arrived at Piraeus. HMS Ajax and HMAS Sydney then departed that port for Suda Bay.

17 December 1940.

At 0400 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°50’N, 25°56’E. Between 0345 and 0430 hours ten aircraft were flown off by HMS Illustrious to attack Stampalia and Rhodes. Results of these attacks were difficult to observe but several fires were seen to have been started at Stampalia. The weather over Rhodes was bad and only one aircraft was able to locate the target there.

At 0500 hours HMS York, HMS Gloucester, HMS Dainty and HMS Greyhound arrived at Suda Bay where they immediately started to fuel. They departed again at 0700 hours joined by the destroyer HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC, RN). The 3rd Cruiser Squadron was to patrol off the Kithera Channel and the destroyers were to carry out an A/S patrol off the bay when the fleet was to fuel at Suda Bay.

At 0600 hours, HMS Orion arrived at Suda Bay from Piraeus. She sailed at 130 hours to join HMS Ajax and HMAS Sydney which were patrolling to the west of Crete and had departed Suda Bay at 0300 hours today.

At 0800 hours, the Alexandria and Port Said sections of convoy MW 5B made rendez-vous in position 33°40’N, 27°10’E. Owning to the slow speed of the Hoegh Hood she was detached escorted by HMS Havock.

At 0830 hours, the fleet entered Suda Bay and the destroyers were fuelled.

At 1130 hours, the Rear-Admiral Aircraft Carriers proceeded independently with HMS Illustrious, HMS Valiant, HMS Jervis, HMS Janus, HMS Juno and HMS Mohawk. They were to make rendez-vous with the remainder of the fleet on the 18th but until then had to act independently.

At 1415 hours, the remainder of the fleet also departed. Course was set for the Anti-Kithera Channel which was passed at 1830 hours.

At 1600 hours, the destroyer HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, RN) departed Malta to join the Commander-in-Chief.

The 3rd Cruiser Squadron (York and Gloucester) and the 7th Cruiser Squadron (Orion, Ajax and Sydney) carried out a sweep to the north-west during the night.

At midnight the Commander-in-Chief was in position 34°42’N, 21°45’E.

18 December 1940.

At 0900 hours, the 3rd and 7th Cruiser Squadrons rejoined the Commander-in-Chief in position 36°45’N, 20°28’E. Also HMS Griffin joined from Malta.

At 0930 hours, the Rear-Admiral Aircraft Carriers, also joined.

During the afternoon the weather deteriorated, with high winds and bad visibility, and it appeared unlikely that the proposed bombardment of Valona could take place and that air operations were certainly out of the question.

It was however decided to proceed with the sweep into the Adriatic.

At 1600 hours therefore, a striking force made up of HMS Orion, HMS Ajax, HMAS Sydney, HMS Jervis, HMS Juno and HMS Mohawk was detached. They were ordered to cross latitude 40°25’N at 2330 hours.

At 1800 hours the air striking force, made up of HMS Illustrious, HMS York, HMS Gloucester, HMS Dainty, HMS Greyhound, HMS Gallant and HMS Griffin was also detached. They were to be in position 39°00’N, 20°00’E by 2200 hours.

At 2000 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 39°19’N, 19°20’E.

19 December 1940.

At 0001 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 40°15’N, 19°05’E and at that time the weather had undergone great improvement with good visibility.

It was therefore decided to go ahead with the bombardment. Course was altered to 120° at 0030 hours to close Valona. At 0110 hours, course was altered to a firing course of 140°. HMS Hasty and HMS Hereward swept ahead of HMS Warspite with T.S.D.S. (Two Speed Destroyer Sweep) but no mines were encountered.

At 0113 hours, fire was opened and ceased seven minutes later. About 100 round having been fired. The results of the firing could not be observed.

Between 0130 and 0200 hours, enemy starshell and searchlights were seen in the neighbourhood of Saseno but the bombardment appeared to be a complete surprise to the enemy.

Couse was altered to 210° at 0130 and to 170° and 0230 hours.

In the meantime the striking force had swept up to the line Bari – Durazzo but sighted nothing.

At 0800 hours, the Vice-Admiral light forces (in HMS Orion and his force rejoined the Commander-in-Chief in position 38°33’N, 19°32’E.

One hour later, the Rear-Admiral Aircraft Carriers (in HMS Illustrious and his force also rejoined the Commander-in-Chief. Course was then altered to 220°.

At noon, when in position 34°42’N, 18°44’E, the cuisers HMS Orion, HMS Ajax, HMAS Sydney, HMS Gloucester and HMS York as well as the destroyers HMS Dainty, HMS Gallant, HMS Greyhound, HMS Griffin and HMS Hasty were detached to cover the convoy’s.

At 1400 hours, one aircraft was flown off by HMS Illustrious to carry correspondence to Malta.

There were no further incidents during the day and course was altered to 180° at 1400 hours, to 240° at 2000 hours.

At midnight the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°40’N, 16°37’E.

20 December 1940.

At 0300 hours, course was altered to 270°.

Early in the morning, convoy MW 5A and her escort of HMS Malaya, HMS Defender, HMS Diamond and now also HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN) and HMS Wryneck (Lt.Cdr. R.H.D. Lane, RN) arrived at Malta. After fuelling the destroyers left Malta to join the Commander-in-Chief which they did around 0800 hours.

After these destroyers joined the Commander-in-Chief, HMS Hyperion, HMS Hero, HMS Hereward and HMS Ilex were then detached to fuel.

Meanwhile, at 0630 hours, the destroyers HMS Dainty, HMS Gallant, HMS Greyhound, HMS Griffin and HMS Hasty arrived at Malta to refuel. They had been detached by the Vice-Admiral light forces (in HMS Orion). After fuelling these five destroyers joined the Commander-in-Chief at 1000 hours.

At noon the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°40’N, 14°10’E. HMS Warspite escorted by HMS Jervis, HMS Janus and HMS Juno then proceeded into Grand Harbour, Malta.

At 1205 hours, the first part of convoy MW 5B arrived at Malta, the other part arrived a little over an hour later except for the Hoegh Hood and her escort HMS Havock.

At 1250 hours, HMS Malaya, escorted by HMS Hyperion, HMS Hereward and HMS Ilex departed Malta to join HMS Illustrious and HMS Valiant and the remaining destroyers at sea.

At 1450 hours, convoy ME 5A sailed from Malta for the east. It was made up of the transports Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938), Clan Macaulay (10492 GRT, built 1936), Memnon (7506 GRT, built 1931) and HMS Beconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939). They were escorted by the AA cruiser HMS Calcutta and the corvettes HMS Peony, HMS Salvia and HMS Hyacinth. The destroyer HMS Wryneck also joined.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Meanwhile in the western Mediterranean ‘Force H’ was to sail from Gibraltar today to provide cover for convoy MG 1 (see below) and HMS Malaya during their passage to Gibraltar.

At 0930 hours, five destroyers; HMS Duncan (A/Capt. A.D.B. James, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St.J. Morgan, RN), HMS Isis (Cdr. C.S.B. Swinley, DSC, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN) departed Gibraltar eastward. This was done so they could sweep ahead of the fleet and that they could also economise fuel in a proportion of the destroyers so the be able to conduct another A/S sweep ahead of ‘Force H’ later in the Skerki Channel.

The remainder of ‘Force H’; battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), departed Gibraltar westwards at 18 knots at 1800 hours. It was then still daylight. At 1930 hours, when it was completely dark, they reversed course to pass Gibraltar eastwards and also increased speed to 23 knots.

21 December 1940.

At 0700 hours, Hoegh Hood and HMS Havock arrived at Malta.

At 0845 hours, the Vice-Admiral Light Forces which was escorting convoy ME 5, detached HMAS Sydney to Suda Bay where she was to pick up her damaged Walrus aircraft following which Sydney was to proceed to Malta for a short refit.

At 1000 hours, HMS Hyperion, HMS Hero, HMS Hereward and HMS Ilex put into Malta.

At noon, convoy MG 1 departed Malta for Gibraltar, it was made up of transports Clan Forbes (7529 GRT, built 1938) and Clan Fraser (7529 GRT, built 1939) escorted by HMS Hyperion, HMS Hasty, HMS Hero, HMS Hereward and HMS Ilex. At sea HMS Malaya also joined.

Also at noon, HMS Jervis, HMS Janus and HMS Juno departed Malta to proceed ahead of convoy MG 1 on an A/S sweep to the north-west of Pantelleria.

At 1300 hours, a reconnaissance aircraft from HMS Illustrious sighted an enemy convoy. This convoy was then attacked by nine Swordfish fitted with torpedoes. They managed to sink two Italian transports in position 34°39’N, 10°48’E. These were the Norge (6511 GRT, built 1907) and Peuceta (1926 GRT, built 1902).

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As dawn broke the five destroyers that had sailed earlier were sighted by ‘Force H’ and then joined the fleet. Speed was reduced to 18 knots. A/S patrol aircraft were launched by Ark Royal and a section of fighters was kept at the ready but the RD/F (radar) screens remained clear.

At 1800 hours, four destroyers; HMS Duncan, HMS Encounter, HMS Isis and HMS Jaguar went ahead at 26 knots to make the A/S sweep referred to earlier. ‘Force H’ meanwhile increased speed to 20 knots and at 1930 hours to 22.5 knots.

22 December 1940.

At 0240 hours, HMS Malaya reported that HMS Hyperion had been mined in positon 37°04’N, 11°31’E. HMS Ilex was detached to pick up survivors which she did. She then proceeded to Malta to land them there.

HMS Dainty and HMS Greyhound were detached by the Rear-Admiral Aircraft Carriers to Malta to escort HMS Warspite which was due to return to rejoin the fleet at sea. She departed Malta at 0700 hours escorted by these two destroyers as well as HMS Havock. They rejoined the fleet shortly after 1100 hours in position 35°38’N, 14°06’E

Earlier that morning HMS Illustrious had launched a total of fifteen Swordfish aircraft, in two waves, at 0515 and 0615 hours, to attack Tripoli. Fires were seen to have been started and a warehouse was seen to blew up. All aircraft returned safely.

At 0900 hours, convoy MG 1 and her escort made rendez-vous with ‘Force H’ near Galita Island and continued on the west.

At noon, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°34’N, 14°15’E. Course was then set for the eastward.

At 1415 hours, an air search was flown off to search between the Sicilian coast and 070°. This search sighted nothing except a hospital ship.

At 1715 hours, HMS Dainty, HMS Greyhound and HMS Ilex departed Malta to joined the Commander-in-Chief around 0900 hours the next day.

The fleet proceeded to the eastward without incident. Course being altered to 070° at 1800 hours and to 100° at 2030 hours.

At midnight the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°17’N, 17°56’E.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The moon rose at 0135 hours and visibility was high. Therefore a torpedo bomber striking force was made ready on board HMS Ark Royal as of 0200 hours.

At 0400 hours, a signal was received from HMS Malaya, that one of the destroyers in her screen, HMS Hyperion, had been mined in position 37°04’N, 11°34’E.

At 0834 hours, a signal was received that HMS Hyperion had sunk and that HMS Ilex had the survivors on board and was proceeding to Malta leaving three destroyers with HMS Malaya.

Shortly before dawn eight aircraft were flown off by HMS Ark Royal but these sighted no enemy ships. Two enemy aircraft were sighted, one by a Swordfish aircraft and one by HMS Jaguar. HMS Duncan and HMS Isis rejoined with ‘Force H’. HMS Encounter and HMS Jaguar had been detached to join HMS Malaya which made rendez-vous with ‘Force H’ at 0940 hours. They then proceeded westwards at 15 knots.

Ark Royal launched a feighter patrol at 1020 hours and this was maintained throughout the day.

At 1245 hours another air search was flown off but again they sighted no enemy ships.

Shortly afterwards, when ‘Force H’ was in position 37°49’N, 08°33’E an aircraft was detected by RD/F and Ark Royal reported that her Skua patrol had driven off an Italian aircraft.

The remainder of the day was uneventful except for sighting a Vichy-French convoy which was not molested.

23 December 1940.

At 0745 hours, an air search was flown off to search a sector between 290° and 270°.

At 0800 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°02’N, 20°35’E. Course was 095°.

At 1315 hours, HMS Dainty, HMS Greyhound and HMS Ilex joined the fleet. They had been delayed due to a defect to the steering gear of HMS Greyhound.

At 1400 hours, HMS Defender and HMS Griffin were detached for convoy escort duty with convoy AS 9. They arrived at Suda Bay later this day.

There were no further incidents during the day.

The Vice-Admiral Light Forces in HMS Orion arrived at Alexandia today with HMS Ajax and convoy ME 5. The third cruiser squadron (HMS Gloucester and HMS York) had been detached earlier for Piraeus where they arrived on this day. They had made a short stop at Suda Bay on 22 December.

HMAS Sydney arrived at Malta for a shot refit.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Meanwhile in the western Mediterranean all was quiet as well. Air patrol was kept up throughout the day but they saw no action. Some destroyers carried out exercises.

At 1700 hours, the force was split into two groups; HMS Renown, HMS Malaya and HMS Ark Royal went ahead with a screen on nine destroyers (HMS Faulknor, HMS Firedrake, HMS Forester, HMS Fortune, HMS Foxhound, HMS Fury, HMS Hasty, HMS Hero and HMS Hereward) and set course for Gibraltar at 18 knots. The merchant vessels proceeded at 13 knots escorted by HMS Sheffield and five destroyers (HMS Duncan, HMS Encounter, HMS Isis, HMS Jaguar and HMS Wishart).

24 December 1940.

At 0001 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 33°34’N, 25°27’E steering 120°.

There were no incidents during the day and Alexandria was reached around 1500 hours.

’Force H’ and convoy MG 1 and it’s escort all arrived at Gibraltar today. At 0730 hours, HMS Renown and three destroyers (HMS Faulknor, HMS Forester and HMS Foxhound had increased speed to 24 knots to exercises with the defences of Gibraltar. All ships of the ‘fast group’ had entered Gibraltar by 1230 hours. The ‘slow group’ entered Gibraltar around 1500 hours. (14)

6 Jan 1941

Operations Excess and Operation M.C. 4.

Convoy operations in the Mediterranean.

Timespan; 6 January to 18 January 1941.

The principal object of this operation was the passage of a convoy of four ships (five were intended, see below) from Gibraltar to Malta and Piraeus (Operation Excess). One of these was to unload her stores at Malta, the other three had supplies on board for the Greek army.

Three subsidiary convoys (Operation M.C. 4) were to be run between Malta and Egypt. These consisted of two fast ships from Malta to Alexandria (convoy M.E. 5½), two fast ships from Alexandria to Malta (convoy M.W. 5½) and six slow ships from Malta to Port Said and Alexandria (convoy M.E. 6).

Composition of the convoys and their escort.

The ‘Excess convoy from Gibraltar’ was made up of one ship that was to proceed with stores to Malta. This was the Essex (11063 GRT, built 1936). The three other ships were to proceed with stores to Piraeus, these were the Clan Cumming (7264 GRT, built 1938), Clan Macdonald (9653 GRT, built 1939) and Empire Song (9228 GRT, built 1940). It had the light cruiser HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN) and the destroyers HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN) and HMS Duncan (A/Capt. A.D.B. James, RN) as close escort (‘Force F’). A fifth merchant ship was to have been part of this convoy and was to have proceeded to Malta with stores and troops. However this ship, the Northern Prince (10917 GRT, built 1929) grounded at Gibraltar and was not able to join the convoy. The about four-hundred troops now boarded HMS Bonaventure for passage to Malta.

The most dangerous part of the ‘Excess convoy’ would be the part between Sardinia and Malta. For a stretch of about 400 nautical miles ships were exposed to enemy air attack from bases in Sardinia and Sicily less then 150 nautical miles away from the convoy’s track. Also submarines and surface torpedo craft were a constant menace. An attack by large enemy surface forces was thought less likely although this was potentially more dangerous.

’Convoy M.W.5 ½ from Alexandria to Malta’ made the passage westwards at the same time as the Mediterranean fleet moved westwards (see below). This convoy was made up of HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) and Clan Macauley (10492 GRT, built 1936). These ships were escorted by HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN), HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN) and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN).

’Convoy’s M.E. 5½ and M.E. 6’ that sailed from Malta to Egypt will be dealth with later on.

Cover forces for these convoy’s

At Gibraltar there was ‘Force H’ which had the following ships available for the operation.
Battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN and flagship of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, RN, KCB, DSO, RN), battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN).

’Force H’ was to provide cover for the ‘Excess convoy’ from Gibraltar to the Sicilian narrows.

South-south-west of Sardina ‘Force H’ was to be reinforced by ‘Force B’ which came from the eastern Mediterranean and was made up of the light cruisers HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E. de F. Renouf, CVO, RN), HMS Southampton (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN) and the destroyer HMS Ilex (Capt. H.St.L. Nicholson, DSO and Bar, RN). The destroyer HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN) had also been part of 'Force B' during the passage from Alexandria to Malta but remained there for a quick docking. After this docking she departed Malta around noon on the 10th to join 'Force A'.

Further cover was to be provided by ‘Force A’, this was the Mediterranean fleet based at Alexandria. This force was made up of the following warships.
Battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral A.L.St.G. Lyster, CB, CVO, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Thyrwhitt, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall-A’Deane, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC, RN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, RN) and HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, DSO, RN).

During the passage of the ‘Excess convoy’ three submarines were stationed off Sardinia. HMS Pandora off the east coast and HMS Triumph and HMS Upholder were stationed to the south of Sardinia.

Chronology of events

The actual ‘Excess convoy’ and it’s escort (Force F) departed Gibraltar before dark in the evening of January 6th. Course was set to the west as if to proceed into the Atlantic. This was done to deceive enemy spies based in Spain. They turned back in the night after moonset and passes Europa Point well before daylight next morning. At dawn the next morning HMS Bonaventure parted company with the convoy to make rendez-vous with ‘Force H’ which departed Gibraltar around that time. All that day the ‘Excess convoy’ followed the Spanish coast so as if to make for a Spanish port. During the night of 7/8 January the convoy crossed over towards the coast of North-Africa and steered eastwards towards the Sicilian narrows while keeping about 30 nautical miles from the shore of North Africa. ‘Force H’ overtook the convoy during the night and was now stationed to the north-east of it to shield it from Italian air attack. If Italian naval units were reported the plan was that he would join the convoy.

In the morning of the 8th, HMS Bonaventure rejoined the actual ‘Excess convoy’. Late in the afternoon of the 8th HMS Malaya escorted by HMS Firedrake and HMS Jaguar parted company with ‘Force H’ and joined the ‘Excess convoy’ very early in the evening.

At dawn on the 9th ‘Force H’ was ahead of the convoy. At 0500/9, while in position 37°45’N, 07°15’E, HMS Ark Royal flew off five Swordfish aircraft for Malta which was still some 350 nautical miles away. All of which arrived safely. ‘Force H’ then turned back and joined the ‘Excess convoy’ at 0900/9 about 120 nautical miles south-west of Sardinia. HMS Ark Royal meanwhile had launched several aircraft, one of her reconnaissance aircraft reported at 0918 hours that it had sighted two enemy cruisers and two destroyers but this soon turned out to be Rear-Admiral Renouf’s ‘Force B’ which was to join the Excess convoy for the passage through the Sicilian narrows. They joined the convoy about one hour later.

’Force B’ had departed Alexandria in the morning of the 6th with troop for Malta on board. They had arrived at Malta in the morning of the 8th and after disembarking the troops (25 officers and 484 other ranks of the Army and RAF) sailed early in the afternoon. At 0900/9 ‘Force B’ was sighted by an Italian reconnaissance aircraft. This aircraft soon made off when being fired at. One hour later another Italian reconnaissance aircraft was however sighted. It was engaged by the fighter patrol from HMS Ark Royal but managed to escape. At 1320 hours, while in position 37°38’N, 08°31’E, Italian bombers arrived on the scene and made their attack on the convoy.

The convoy of the four merchant ships was steaming in two columns in line ahead, 1500 yards apart. HMS Gloucester and HMS Malaya were leading the columns while HMS Bonaventure and HMS Southampton were the sternmost ships. The seven destroyers were placed as a screen ahead of the convoy. ‘Force H’, with HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Sheffield and their five escorting destroyers were on the convoy’s port quarter, operating in close support. The mean line of advance was 088° and the ships were zigzagging at 14 knots.

The enemy consisted of ten Savoia bombers. HMS Sheffield detected them on her radar about 43 nautical miles off, this was the maximum range of her radar equipment. They were fine on the starboard bow and came into sight fourteen minutes later, flying down the starboard side of the convoy out of range of the AA guns at a eight of about 11000 feet. At 1346 hours, when they were broad on the bow, they started their attack. They came in from 145°, which was the bearing of the sun. All the ships opened up a very heavy fire and the enemy was diverted of their course. Eight of the aircraft were seen to drop bombs, some of which fell close to HMS Gloucester and HMS Malaya but no damage was caused. The other two bombers were seen to turn away during their approach. Both were shot down by a Fulmar fighter from HMS Ark Royal. Three men from their crews were picked up from the water. Another bombers is thought to have been shot down by HMS Bonaventure. The other seven are thought to have got away.

Nothing more happened during the afternoon of the 9th. Reconnaissance showed that the Italian fleet was not at sea so at dusk, while in position 37°42’N, 09°53’E, some 30 nautical miles west of the Sicilian narrows and north of Bizerta, Tunisia, ‘Force H’ parted company with the ‘Excess convoy’ and set course to return to Gibraltar. Rear-Admiral Renouf in HMS Gloucester meanwhile continued eastwards with the convoy with his three cruisers and five destroyers of forces ‘B’ and ‘F’.

They had a quiet night, passing Pantelleria after moonset. They remained in deep water to reduce the danger of mines. Next morning, at dawn on the 10th at 0720 hours, they encountered two Italian torpedo boats in position 36°30’N, 12°10’E. HMS Jaguar, the port wing destroyer in the screen, and HMS Bonaventure, stationed astern of the convoy columns, sighted the enemy at the same time. Initially thinking they might be destroyers from the Mediterranean Fleet, which the convoy was due to meet. British ships reported the contact by signal to Rear-Admiral Renouf. HMS Bonaventure challenged the ‘strangers’ and fired a star shell and then turned to engage the enemy working up to full speed. Rear-Admiral Renouf meanwhile turned away with the bulk of the convoy. HMS Southampton, HMS Jaguar and HMS Hereward hauled out from their stations on the engaged side of the convoy and made for the enemy. HMS Bonaventure meanwhile was engaging the right-hand ship of the pair. When the other three ships arrived on the scene Bonaventure shifted her fire to the other enemy ship which came towards her at full speed to attack. The enemy fired her torpedoes which HMS Bonaventure avoided. The four British ships now quickly stopped the enemy but she did not sink. In the end HMS Hereward torpedoed the damaged Italian torpedo boat some 40 minutes later. The other Italian torpedo-boat meanwhile had disappeared. [The Italian ships were the torpedo-boats Vega, which was sunk, and the Circe. HMS Boneventure had sustained some superficial damage from splinters during the action.

Enemy air attacks during 10 January.

At 0800/10, Admiral Cunningham arrived on the scene with ‘Force A’ before the fight was finished. ‘Force A’ turned to the south-east in the wake of the ‘Excess convoy around 0830 hours. While doing so, the destroyer HMS Gallant hit a mine and had her bow blown off. [This was a mine from the Italian minefield ‘7 AN’]. HMS Mohawk took the stricken destroyer in tow towards Malta escorted by HMS Bonaventure and HMS Griffin. They were later joined by HMS Gloucester and HMS Southampton. While HMS Mohawk was passing the towline two Italian torpedo planes attacked but they had to drop their torpedoes from long range and they missed. Between 1130 and 1800 hours, as the tow crept along at five or six knots, with their escort zig-zagging at 20 knots, they were attacked or threatened by aircraft ten times. Nearly all German high level bombers, which came in ones, twos or threes. The enemy dropped bombs in five out of the ten attempts but no hits were obtained. At 1300 hours German dive bombers arrived an obtained a near miss on HMS Southampton causing some minor damage.

At 0500/11, when about 15 nautical miles from Malta, all was going well and Rear-Admiral Renouf made off with for Suda Bay, Crete with HMS Gloucester, HMS Southampton and HMS Diamond. This last ship had joined the evening before. HMS Gallant, still being towed by HMS Mohawk and escorted by HMS Bonaventure and HMS Griffin arrived at Malta in the forenoon. At Malta, HMS Bonaventure disembarked the soldiers she had on board. [HMS Gallant was further damaged by bombs while at Malta and was eventually found to be beyond economical repair and was cannibalized for spares.]

Meanwhile, Admiral Cunningham in ‘Force A’ had a similar experience on a larger scale. He had sailed from Alexandria on the 7th and enemy aircraft spotted his force already on the same day. During the afternoon of the 10th heavy dive bombing attacks were pressed home by the emeny with skill and determination. The main target was HMS Illustrious. Had the enemy attacked the convoy itself the four transports would most likely all have been sunk, instead the Ilustrious was disabled and she would be out of action of many months.

At noon on the 10th the transports were steering south-eastward, zigzagging at 14 to 15 knots with an escort of three destroyers. At 1320 hours, HMS Calcutta joined them. HMS Warspite, HMS Illustrious and HMS Valiant were steaming in line ahead on the convoy’s starboard quarter, course 110° and zigzagging at 17 to 18 knots. These ships were screened by seven destroyers. The weather was clear, with high cloud.

The fleet was in position 35°59’N, 13°13’E some 55 nautical miles west of Malta when the battle began with an air attack by two Savoia torpedo planes which were detected six nautical miles away on the starboard beam at 1220 hours. They came in at a steady level, 150 feet above the water and dropped their torpedoes about 2500 yards from the battleships. They were sighted a minute before firing and the ships received them with a barrage from long- and short-range guns, altering course to avoid the torpedoes, which passed astern of the rearmost ship HMS Valiant. Five Fulmar fighters from the Illustrious had been patrolling above the fleet. One had returned before the attack being damaged while assisting to destroy a shadower some time before the attack. The other four aircraft chased the torpedo aircraft all the way to Linosa Island, which was about 20 miles to the westward. They claimed to have damaged both the enemy machines.

Directly after this attack, while the ships were reforming the line, a strong force of aircraft were reported at 1235 hours, coming from the northward some 30 miles away. The Fulmars, of course, were then a long way off, flying low and with little ammunition remaining. Actually two were even out of ammunition. They were ordered to return and the Illustrious sent up four fresh fighters as well as reliefs for the anti-submarine patrol. This meant a turn of 100° to starboard into the wind to fly off these aircraft. The enemy aircraft came into sight in the middle of this operation which lasted about four minutes. All the ships opened fire. The fleet had just got back to the proper course, 110°, and the Admiral had made the signal to assume loose formation, when the new attack began. The enemy had assembled astern of their target ‘in two very loose and flexible formations’ at a height of 12000 feet.

They were Junkers dive bombers, perhaps as many as 36, of which 18 to 24 attacked HMS Illustrious at 1240 hours, while a dozen attacked the battleships and the destroyer screen. They came down in flights of three on different bearings astern and on either beam, to release their bombs at heights from 1500 to 800 feet, ‘a very severe and brilliantly executed dive-bombing attack’ says Captain Boyd of the Illustrious. The ships altered course continually, and beginning with long-range controlled fire during the approach, shifted to barrage fire as the enemy dived for attack. The ships shot down at least three machines, while the eight Fulmar fighters that were up shot down five more, at the coast of one British machine. Even the two Fulmars that were out of ammo made dummy attacks and forced two Germans to turn away. But, as Captain Boyd pointed out ‘ at least twelve fighters in the air would have been required to make any impression on the enemy, and double that number to keep them off’.

HMS Illustrious was seriously damaged. She was hit six times, mostly with armour-piercing bombs of 1100 pounds. They wrecked the flight deck, destroyed nine aircraft on board and put half the 4.5” guns out of action, and did other damage, besides setting the ship on fire fore and aft and killing and wounding many of the ship’s company (13 officers and 113 ratings killed and 7 officers and 84 ratings injured) . The Warspite too, narrowly escaped serious injury, but got away with a split hawsepipe and a damaged anchor.

As HMS Illustrious was now useless as a carrier and likely to become a drag on the fleet Captain Boyd decided to make for Malta. The Commander-in-Chief gave her two destroyers as escort, one from his own screen and one from the convoy’s (these were HMS Hasty and HMS Jaguar) and she parted company accordingly. She had continual trouble with her steering gear, which at last broke down altogether, so that she had to steer with the engines, making only 17 to 18 knots. Her aircraft that were in the air also proceeded to Malta.

A third attack came at 1330 hours. By this time HMS Illustrious was 10 nautical miles north-eastward of the battleships which, due to the manoeuvres during the previous attack, were nearly as far away from the transports. The enemy came in again with high level bombers. Seven machines attacked the Illustrious and seven more the battleships. They were received with heavy AA fire. All the bombs they dropped fell wide. HMS Calcutta claimed to have destroyed one of the attackers.

More serious in it’s results was a second dive-bombing attack upon HMS Illustrious at 1610 hours. There were 15 JU-87’s Stuka’s escorted by 5 fighters. Actually 9 of the Stuka’s dropped their bombs, the other 6 were kept at bay due to heavy AA fire from the Illustrious, Hasty and Jaguar. One bomb hit and two near misses on the Illustrious were obtained by the enemy for the loss of one of their aircraft which was shot down by the Illustrious and the Jaguar. A few minutes later the 6 Stuka’s that had been driven off attacked the battleships but they again retired after fire was opened on them.

At 1715 hours, 17 more Stuka’s attacked the battleships. Again they were received with heavy AA fire. The enemy dropped their bombs from a greater height and non of them hit although splinters from a near miss killed a rating on board HMS Valiant and a bombs fell very near HMS Janus but it did not explode. The ships may have destroyed one aircraft with their AA fire. Three of the Fulmars from the Illustrious came from Malta and destroyed three of the attackers.

This turned out to be the end of the ordeal for the ‘Excess Convoy’ and its supporting ships of war, but not for HMS Illustrious which had one more encounter with the enemy before she reached Malta. At about 1920 hours, a little more then an hour after sunset and in moonlight, some aircraft approached from seaward when she was only five nautical miles from the entrance to Grand Harbour, Malta. She had received warning from Malta that enemy aircraft were about and she sighted two – probably torpedo planes. Illustrious, Hasty and Jaguar fired a blind barrage on which the enemy disappeared. Directly afterwards HMS Hasty obtained an Asdic contact and attacked it with depth charges, but whether it was a submarine remains uncertain. HMS Illustrious finally entered harbour at 2100 hours accompanied by HMS Jaguar which had passengers to land.

Movements of the actual ‘Excess Convoy’.

In the meantime, after the mild attack at 1340/10, the convoy went on its way unhindered. Its movements then became involved in those of the Malta to Egypt convoys, which were to sail under cover of the main operation with the special support of Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell’s ‘Force D’ which was made up of the cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN) and HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN). The first of these convoys, the two ships of M.W. 5½ (see above), had left Alexandria for Malta on 7 January, some hours after Admiral Cunningham sailed westwards with ‘Force A’ to meet the ‘Excess Convoy’. Both ships of this convoy reached Malta without adventure in the morning of the 10th escorted by HMS Calcutta, HMS Diamond and HMS Defender. On arrival HMS Calcutta joined the six slow ships which made up convoy M.E. 6 which was bound for Port Said and Alexandria. The ships in this convoy were the; Devis (6054 GRT, built 1938), Hoegh Hood (tanker, Norwegian, 9351 GRT, built 1936), Pontfield (tanker, 8290 GRT, built 1940), Rodi (3220 GRT, built 1928, former Italian), Trocas (tanker, 7406 GRT, built 1927) and Volo (1587 GRT, built 1938). They were escorted by four corvettes; HMS Peony (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) M.B. Sherwood, DSO, RN), HMS Salvia (Lt.Cdr. J.I. Miller, DSO, RN, RNR), HMS Hyacinth (T/Lt. F.C. Hopkins, RNR), HMS Gloxinia (Lt.Cdr. A.J.C. Pomeroy, RNVR). At the end of the searched channel this convoy was joined by ‘Force D’. HMS Calcutta was then ordered to join the ‘Excess Convoy’ and arrived in time to defend it from the Italian bombers as already described.

The last convoy, M.E. 5½, two fast ships (the Lanarkshire (8167 GRT, built 1940) and Waiwera (12435 GRT, built 1934)) bound for Alexandria, also left Malta in the morning of the 10th under escort of HMS Diamond. They were to join the ‘Excess Convoy’ until they were to turn to the south to clear Crete and then proceed to Alexandria. The ‘Excess Convoy’ would then proceed to Piraeus, Greece. The two convoys met that afternoon. The transport Essex then left and proceeded to Malta escorted by HMS Hero. After the Essex was safely inside Grand Harbour, HMS Hero joined the fleet.

Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell stayed with convoy M.E. 6 until dark on the 10th. As ‘Force A’ was somewhat behind due to the air attacks and Admiral Cunningham ordered Vice Admiral Pridham-Whippell to position HMS Orion and HMAS Perth to the north of the convoy to be in a good position in case of an attack by Italian surface forces. ‘Force A’ made good ground during the night and was some 25 nautical miles north of the convoy by daylight on the 11th at which time Orion and Perth joined ‘Force A’. Their forces stayed within a few miles of the convoy until the afternoon when they turned back to help HMS Gloucester, HMS Southampton which had come under air attack (see below). In the evening the ships destined for Alexandria left the convoy, while HMS Calcutta went ahead to Suda Bay to fuel there. The three ships and their destroyer escort continued on to Piraeus where they arrived safely next morning, at 1000 on the 12th.

HMS Ajax and HMS York had been ordered to join convoy M.E. 6. HMS Ajax however was ordered to proceed to Suda Bay soon after she had joined the convoy. In the morning of the 11th therefore, Rear-Admiral Renouf in HMS Gloucester and with HMS Southampton and HMS Diamond in company, was ordered to overtake the convoy and support it. They were at that moment steering for Suda Bay having left the disabled Gallant off Malta some hours before. Rear-Admiral Renouf altered course accordingly and made 24 knots against the convoys 9 to 10 knots. He also send up a Walrus aircraft to find the convoy.

The sinking of HMS Southampton.

At 1522 hours, when his ships were some 30 nautical miles astern of the convoy, and in position 34°56’N, 18°19’E, they were suddenly attacked by a dozen German Ju-87 ‘Stuka’ dive-bombers. Fortune was against them. The attack came as an entire surprise and according to Captain Rowley of the Gloucester the ‘aircraft were not sighted until the whistle of the first bomb was heard’. Six machines attacked each cruiser, diving steeply from the direction of the sun, releasing a 550-lb bomb each, at heights of around 1500 to 800 feet. The ships opened fire with 4” AA guns and smaller AA guns. They also increased speed and altered course to avoid the attack but two bombs, perhaps three hit HMS Southampton causing disastrous damage. Another hit and some near misses did some damage to HMS Gloucester, most important damage was to her DCT (director control tower). Half-an-hour later seven high-level bombers attacked but they were detected in time and taken under fire as a result of which all bombs fell wide. During the attack the Walrus from HMS Gloucester returned and ditched alongside HMS Diamond which took off the crew and then scuttled the aircraft.

Rear-Admiral Renouf immediately reported the damage to his cruisers to Admiral Cunningham who went to their aid. He send Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell ahead with the Orion, Perth, Jervis and Janus. From Malta HMS Griffin and HMS Mohawk were sent. Before they arrived however, Rear-Admiral Renouf reported that the Southampton must be abandoned and that he would sink her. HMS Gloucester took on board 33 officers and 678 ratings of which 4 officers and 58 ratings were wounded while HMS Diamond took on board 16 wounded ratings. Upon this signal the battleships turned east again. HMS Southampton had cought fire badly upon being hit. For a time the ships company fought the fire successfully and kept the ship in action and under control but in the end the fire got out of control. Also it was found that some magazines could not be flooded. In the end the crew had to give it up and was taken off. A torpedo was fired into her by HMS Gloucester but it did not sink her. Soon afterwards Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell arrived on the scene and his flagship, HMS Orion then scuttled her with three more torpedoes (four were fired).

Further proceedings of the convoys and the fleet.

Next morning, the 12th, HMS Orion, HMS Perth, HMS Gloucester, HMS Jervis and HMS Janus joined Admiral Cunningham’s Force off the west end of Crete meeting there also A/Rear-Admiral Rawlings (‘Force X’) in HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of A/Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN) and with HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, CBE, RN), HMS Ajax and their destroyer screen made up of HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN), HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN), HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhodes, RAN), HMAS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, DSO, RAN) and HMS Wryneck (Lt.Cdr. R.H.D. Lane, RN). These ships were to have begun a series of attacks on the Italian shipping routes but the disabling of HMS Illustrious put an end to that part of the plan so Admiral Cunningham took HMS Warspite, HMS Valiant, HMS Gloucester and the destroyers HMS Jervis, HMS Janus, HMS Greyhound, HMS Diamond, HMS Defender, HMS Hero and HMAS Voyager straight to Alexandria where they arrived in the early morning hours of the 13th.

HMS Barham, HMS Eagle, HMS York, HMS Orion, HMS Ajax, HMAS Perth, HMAS Stuart, HMAS Vampire, HMAS Vendetta, HMS Wryneck, HMS Griffin and HMS Mohawk then proceeded to Suda Bay to fuel where they arrived around 1900/12.

After fuelling at Suda Bay, Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell took HMS Orion, HMAS Perth to Piraeus where they arrived at 0230/13. There they took some troops from the ‘Excess Convoy’ on board and departed for Malta at 0600/13, a task the Southampton was to have done. They arrived at Malta around 0830/14. After unloading HMS Orion departed for Alexandria later the same day together with HMS Bonaventure and HMS Jaguar. They arrived at Alexandria in the morning of the 16th. HMAS Perth remained at Malta due to defects.

Meanwhile the six ships of convoy M.E. 6 arrived safely at their destinations on 13 January.

HMS Barham, HMS Eagle, HMS Ajax, HMAS Stuart, HMS Juno, HMS Hereward, HMS Hasty and HMS Dainty departed Suda Bay for operations south-west of Crete early in the morning of the 13th. The destroyers HMS Ilex, HMS Wryneck, HMAS Vampire and HMAS Vendetta also departed Suda Bay to conduct a sweep in the Kythera Channel. They joined ‘Force X’ around noon but Vampire and Vendetta were soon detached to investigate explosions which turned out to be underwater volcano activity. Meanwhile Ilex and Wryneck were also detached for a sweep towards Stampalia.

’Force X’ returned to Suda Bay in the afternoon of the 15th and departed from there on the 16th for Alexandria where they arrived on the 18th, although some of the destroyers remained behind at Suda Bay.

Not a single of the 14 merchant ships in the convoys was lost but the fleet paid a heavy price for this loosing a light cruiser and a valuable aircraft carrier out of action for many months. As there were now German aircraft based in Italy future operations for the supply of Malta would be extremely difficult and dangerous.

The return of ' Force H' to Gibraltar.

That now leaves us with the return of ' Force H ' to Gibraltar which parted company with the eastbound convoy and its escort at 1920/9 in position 37°42'N, 09°53'E. ' Force H ' turned away to port. At 1935/9, ' Force H ' alter course to 300° and increased speed to 20 knots. Further alterations to course were made at 2200/9 to 260° and at mindnight durng the night of 9/10 January to 290°.

At 0100/10 course was altered for a quarter of an hour to clear three merchant vessels which had been sighted to the northward in position 38°03'N, 07°58'N, steering 180°. At 0900/10, course was altered to 246° and speed reduced to 18 knots.

A reconnaissance flight of seven aircraft was flown off to carry out an all round search to a depth of 50 miles from position 38°44'N, 05°18'E. On their return at 1030/10, they had nothing to report. Visibility was variable - from 5 to 15 miles. There was a slight sea and wind, force 3 from south-south-west. Speed was increased to 19 knots at 1110/10 since there appeared vibration in HMS Malaya when proceeding at 18 knots.

During the afternoon, three attack exercises were carried out on ' Force H ' by a total of nine Swordfish. Flying was completed by 1800/10. Moonlight exercises were cancelled due to a deterioration of weather and visibility. During the night the wind veered to the southwest and increased to force 6.

At 2345/10, Captain (D), 8th Destroyer Flottila, reported that the destroyers could maintain 19 knots provided that their A/S domes were housed, but would have to reduce to 16 knots if they were to remain lowered. Destroyers were accordingly orderd to house their domes.

The sea increased considerably, and by 0020/11 it was necessary to reduce speed to 14 knots in order to prevent damage to the destroyers. Course was altered for a short time at 0135/11 to avoid a merchant ship sighted in position 36°37'N, 00°06'W, steering to the north. Speed was further reduced to 11 knots by 0310/11, but gradual improvement in sea conditions permitted a corresponding increase of speed, so that by 0700/11, ' Force H ' was proceeding at 17 knots. Later in the day HMS Fury reported tat her forward gun shield had been distorted and that the gun could not be trained.

Six Swordfish were flown off by HMS Ark Royal at 0715/11 in order to carry out a light torpedo attack on ' Force H '. They were landed at 0815/11. At 0930/11, course was altered to 270° and speed increased to 19 knots. Weather conditions continued unfavourable, and not only had air training to be abandoned, but also the projected reconnaissance flight to Oran and Mers-el-Kebir to obtain photographs requisted by the Admiralty.

A London flying boat sent out from Gibraltar as A/S patrol ahead of ' Force H ' was sighted at 1015/11. By 1220/11, the sea had moderated sufficiently for the destroyers to increase speed and HMS Renown, HMS Sheffield, HMS Faulknor and HMS Foxhound proceeded ahead at 24 knots, increasing at 1730/11 to 26 knots. They arrived in harbour at 1920/11. The remainder of ' Force H ' arrived in harbour at 2020/11. (18)

7 Jan 1941

Convoy WS 5B

This convoy departed U.K. ports on 7 January 1941 for variuos ports in the Far East and Mediterranean (see below).

The convoy was made up of the following troop transports; Arundel Castle (British, 19118 GRT, built 1921), Athlone Castle (25564 GRT, built 1936), Britannic (British, 26943 GRT, built 1930), Capetown Castle (British, 27002 GRT, built 1938), Duchess of Bedford (British, 20123 GRT, built 1928), Duchess of Richmond (British, 20022 GRT, built 1928), Duchess of York (British, 20021 GRT, built 1929), Durban Castle (British, 17388 GRT, built 1938), Empress of Australia (British, 21833 GRT, built 1914), Empress of Japan (British, 26032 GRT, built 1930), Franconia (British, 20175 GRT, built 1923), Highland Chieftain (British, 14131 GRT, built 1929), Highland Princess (British, 14133 GRT, built 1930), Monarch of Bermuda (British, 22424 GRT, built 1931), Nea Hellas (British, 16991 GRT, built 1922), Orbita (British, 15495 GRT, built 1915), Ormonde (British, 14982 GRT, built 1917), Pennland (Dutch, 16082 GRT, built 1922), Samaria (British, 19597 GRT, built 1921), Winchester Castle (British, 20012 GRT, built 1930) and Windsor Castle (British, 19141 GRT, built 1922).

Four of these ships departed Avonmouth on 7 January and six sailed from Liverpool. These ships anchored in Moelfre Bay for several days as the eleven ships that were to be sailed from the Clyde could not do so due to thick fog.

The Avonmouth (Bristol Channel) section of the convoy had been escorted to Moelfre Bay by the destroyer HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. R.L.S. Gaisford, RN).

The Liverpool section was escorted to Moelfre Bay by the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia (Capt. R.R. Stewart, RN) and the destroyers HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, DSC, RN), HMS Highlander (Cdr. W.A. Dallmeyer, DSO, RN) and HMS Witherington (Lt.Cdr. J.B. Palmer, RN).

The ships and their escorts anchored in Moelfre Bay from 8 to 11 January. The escorts remained there for A/S patrol and AA protection and were joined by the destroyer HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN) which had departed Liverpool on the 8th and the light cruiser HMS Naiad (Capt. M.H.A. Kelsey, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.L.S. King, CB, MVO, RN) which came from the Clyde.

When it became clear that the ships from the Clyde were finally able to sail the ships in Moelfre Bay sailed for Lough Foyle (near Londonderry, Northern Ireland) to take on board additional water.

The ships from Lough Foyle and the Clyde made rendez-vous at sea on 12 January and course was then set to Freetown.

The convoy was now escorted by the battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Read, RN), heavy cruiser HMAS Australia, light cruisers HMS Phoebe (Capt. G. Grantham, RN), HMS Naiad, destroyers HMS Jackal (Cdr. C.L. Firth, MVO, RN), HMS Harvester, HMS Highlander, HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN), HMS Beagle (Lt.Cdr. R.H. Wright, DSC, RN), HMS Witherington, HMS Watchman (Lt.Cdr. E.C.L. Day, RN), HMS Vansittart, HMS Lincoln (Cdr. A.M. Sheffield, RN), HMS Leamington (Cdr. W.E. Banks, DSC, RN) and Léopard (Lt.Cdr. J. Evenou).

On 14 January the destroyers HMS Witherington and FFS Leopard parted company.

The light cruiser HMS Emerald (Capt. F.C. Flynn, RN) departed Plymouth on 12 January. She joined the convoy around noon on the 15th. Shortly afterwards HMS Naiad then parted company with the convoy and proceeded to Scapa Flow where she arrrived around 1430/17.

HMS Phoebe and HMS Fearless also parted company with the convoy escorting the Capetown Castle and Monarch of Bermuda to Gibraltar where they arrived in the afternoon of the 18th. On the 17th they were joined by the destroyer HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and on the 18th by two more destroyers; HMS Duncan (A/Capt. A.D.B. James, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN).

At Gibraltar the two troopships took on board troops from the damaged troopship Empire Trooper. They departed Gibraltar for Freetown on 19 January being escorted by the destroyers HMS Fury, HMS Fearless and HMS Duncan until 21 January when they parted company. Both troopships arrived at Freetown on 26 January escorted by HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN) and HMS Forester.

Meanwhile convoy WS 5B had coninued its passage southwards.

On the 16 January all remaining destroyers parted company.

HMS Ramillies parted company with the convoy on 17 January.

The troopship / liner Duchess of York was apparently detached at some point.

When approaching Freetown local A/S vessels started to join the convoy. On 21 January the corvettes HMS Asphodel (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) K.W. Stewart, RN) and HMS Calendula (Lt.Cdr. A.D. Bruford, RNVR) joined and the next day the destroyer HMS Velox (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Roper, DSC, RN) also joined the convoy. Finally on 24 January the destroyer HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN) also joined the convoy.

On 25 January 1941 the convoy arrived at Freetown escorted by HMAS Australia, HMS Emerald, HMS Velox, HMS Vidette, HMS Asphodel and HMS Calendula.

The convoy departed Freetown on 29 January with the addition of troop transport Cameronia (British, 16297 GRT, built 1920) still escorted by HMAS Australia and HMS Emerald. A local A/S force remained with the convoy until 1 February and was made up of the destroyers HMS Faulknor, HMS Forester, sloop HMS Milford (Capt.(Retd.) S.K. Smyth, RN) and the corvettes HMS Clematis (Cdr. Y.M. Cleeves, DSC, RD, RNR) and HMS Cyclamen (Lt. H.N. Lawson, RNR).

HMS Emerald arrived at Capetown on 8 February escorting Arundel Castle, Athlone Castle, Capetown Castle, Duchess of Bedford, Durban Castle, Empress of Australia, Empress of Japan, Monarch of Bermuda and Winchester Castle. The light cruiser then went to Simonstown.

HMAS Australia arrived at Durban on 11 February with Britannic, Cameronia, Duchess of Richmond, Franconia, Highland Chieftain, Highland Princess, Nea Hellas, Ormonde, Pennland, Samaria and Windsor Castle.

The Capetown section departed that place on 12 February and the Durban section on 15 February after which a rendez-vous of Durban was effected.

On 21 February the troopships Empress of Australia, Empress of Japan, Ormonde and Windsor Castle were detached to Mombasa escorted by HMS Emerald. They arrived at Mombasa on 22 February. In the approaches to Mombasa the convoy was joined by the destroyer HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, RN).

The remainder of the convoy continued on Suez escorted by HMS Australia and HMS Hawkins (Capt. H.P.K. Oram, RN) which joined the convoy shortly before HMS Emerald and the four troopships for Mombasa were detached, arriving on 3 March. The sloop HMAS Parramatta (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Walker, MVO, RAN) provided A/S escort during the passage through the Red Sea. The convoy arrived at Suez on 3 March 1941.

The 'Mombasa section' meanwhile departed there on 24 February as convoy WS 5X now escorted by light cruiser HMS Enterprise (Capt. J.C. Annesley, DSO, RN). On 27 February light cruiser HMS Capetown (Capt. P.H.G. James, RN) joined this convoy as additional escort. The convoy arrived at Bombay on 3 March 1941.

Convoy WS 5X, now made up of the troopship Aquitania (British, 44786 GRT, built 1914) and Empress of Japan, departed Bombay for Singapore on 5 March escorted by HMS Enterprise. The convoy was joined on 8 March by the light cruiser HMS Durban (Capt. J.A.S. Eccles, RN). HMS Enterprise left the convoy on 9 March. The convoy arrived at Singapore on 11 March.

9 Feb 1941

Convoy WS 6A.

This convoy departed U.K. waters on 9 February 1941 and arrived at Freetown on 1 March 1941.

The convoy was formed at in position from three sections of troopships / transports coming from Avonmouth, Liverpool and the Clyde.

The convoy was made up of the following troopships / transports; Almanzora (British, 15551 GRT, built 1914), Ascanius (British, 10048 GRT, built 1910), Bellerophon (British, 9019 GRT, built 1906), Bergensfjord (Norwegian, 11015 GRT, built 1913), Burdwan (British, 6069 GRT, built 1928), Cape Horn (British, 5643 GRT, built 1929), City of Athens (British, 6558 GRT, built 1923), City of Corinth (British, 5318 GRT, built 1918), City of Hankow (British, 7360 GRT, built 1915), City of Pittsburg (British, 7377 GRT, built 1922), Consuelo (British, 4847 GRT, built 1937), Dalesman (British, 6343 GRT, built 1940), Highland Brigade (British, 14134 GRT, built 1929), Kina II (British, 9823 GRT, built 1939), Leopoldville (Belgian, 11509 GRT, built 1929), Llandaff Castle (British, 10799 GRT, built 1926), Llangibby Castle (British, 11951 GRT, built 1929), Logician (British, 5993 GRT, built 1928), Masheer (British, 7911 GRT, built 1925), Manchester Citizen (British, 5343 GRT, built 1925), Mataroa (British, 12390 GRT, built 1922), Nova Scotia (British, 6796 GRT, built 1926), Opawa (British, 10354 GRT, built 1931), Port Alma (British, 8400 GRT, built 1928), Rangitata (British, 16737 GRT, built 1929), Ruahine (British, 10832 GRT, built 1909), Salween (British, 7063 GRT, built 1937), Scythia (British, 19761 GRT, built 1920) and Thysville (Belgian, 8351 GRT, built 1922).

Escort was initially provided by the light cruisers HMS Birmingham (Capt. A.C.G. Madden, RN), HMS Phoebe (Capt. G. Grantham, RN), armed merchant cruiser HMS Cathay (A/Capt.(Retd.) C.M. Merewether, RN), destroyers HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, RN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, RAN), HMCS Ottawa (Cdr. E.R. Mainguy, RCN), HMCS Restigouche (Cdr. H.N. Lay, OBE, RN), HMCS St. Laurent (Lt. H.S. Rayner, RCN), HMCS Skeena (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Hibbard, RCN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. K.F. Namiesniowski, ORP), HMS Keppel (?), HMS Broadwater (Lt.Cdr. C.L.de H. Bell, RD, RNR) and the escort destroyers HMS Atherstone (Lt.Cdr. R.F. Jenks, RN) and HMS Cottesmore (Lt.Cdr. J.C.A. Ingram, RN).

Information on this convoy is difficult to find but it appears that most of the A/S escort parted company with the convoy in the early evening of 12 February (according to the logbook of HMS Birmingham) and then proceeded as follows; HMAS Napier and HMAS Nizam to Scapa Flow passing north of Rockall, HMS Keppel, HMS Atherstone and HMS Cottesmore to Londonderry, HMCS Ottawa, HMS Restigouche, HMCS St. Laurent and HMCS Skeena through area 52°N to 53°N, 23°W to 20°W and then to Greenock through position 55°N, 15°W, HMS Legion, HMS Broadwater, ORP Piorun and ORP Garland through position 57°N, 19°W and then to Greenock while passing north of Rockall. All groups were to conduct A/S sweeps on their way back.

Shortly before noon on the 15th the battleship HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN) joined the convoy.

Shortly after Rodney joined HMS Phoebe parted company with the convoy to fuel at Gibraltar.

HMS Rodney remained with the convoy until 1700/16. She then set course to join convoy HX 108.

The battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN) and aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) joined the convoy at 1000/17. They remained with the convoy until 1030/21 when they were relieved by HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN).

HMS Phoebe rejoined the convoy shortly before noon on 23 February 1941.

Shortly after noon on 25 February 1941 the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) joined the convoy.

At 2030/25 the armed yacht HMS Surprise (Capt.(Retd.) E.C. Stubbs, RN) also joined.

Around 0900/27 the sloop HMS Milford (Cdr.(Retd.) the Hon. V.M. Wyndham-Quin, RN) and the destroyers HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN) joined the escort of the convoy.

On February 28th, HMS Malaya parted company with the convoy to proceed to Freetown taking the destroyers HMS Faulknor and HMS Forester with her. Also on this day the destroyers HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and HMS Isis (Cdr. C.S.B. Swinley, DSC, RN) joined the escort of the convoy.

Shortly before arrival at Freetown on 2 March 1941 the corvettes HMS Calendula (Lt.Cdr. A.D. Bruford, RNVR) and HMS Clematis (Cdr. Y.M. Cleeves, DSC, RD, RNR) joined. (19)

11 Feb 1941
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) departed Freetown for Capetown, South Africa, She was escorting the infantery landing ships HMS Glenearn (Capt.(Retd.) L.B. Hill, OBE, RN), HMS Glengyle (A/Capt.(Retd.) C.H. Petrie, RN) and HMS Glenroy (Capt.(Retd.) Sir J.F. Paget, RN) that were to proceed to the Middle East. Two destroyers, HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), were present as A/S screen until shortly after noon on the 12th. (20)

1 Mar 1941
HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) arrived at Freetown from escort duties. (21)

1 Mar 1941

Convoy SL 67.

This convoy departed Freetown on 1 March 1941 and arrived at Liverpool on 26 March 1941.

This convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels; Alphard (Dutch, 5483 GRT, built 1937), Anadyr (British, 5321 GRT, built 1930), Ashworth (British, 5227 GRT, built 1920), Banffshire (British, 6479 GRT, built 1912), Baron Belhaven (British, 6591 GRT, built 1925), Baron Cawdor (British, 3638 GRT, built 1935), Beaconstreet (Detached to Gibraltar on 11 March) (British, 7467 GRT, built 1927), Bolton Castle (British, 5203 GRT, built 1939), British Captain (British (tanker), 6968 GRT, built 1923), British Diligence (British (tanker), 8408 GRT, built 1937), British Hope (Detached to Gibraltar on 11 March) (British (tanker), 6951 GRT, built 1928), British Integrity (British (tankr), 8412 GRT, built 1927), British Security (British (tanker), 8470 GRT, built 1937), Celtic Monarch (British, 5824 GRT, built 1929), City of Cairo (British, 8034 GRT, built 1915), City of Dunkirk (British, 5861 GRT, built 1912), City of Kimberley (British, 6169 GRT, built 1925), City of Nagpur (British, 10146 GRT, built 1922), City of Rangoon (British, 6635 GRT, built 1914), Clan Macbean (British, 5000 GRT, built 1918), Copeland (British (rescue vessel), 1526 GRT, built 1923), Deebank (British, 5060 GRT, built 1929), Defender (British, 8258 GRT, built 1915), Dunkwa (British, 4752 GRT, built 1927), Friesland (Dutch, 2662 GRT, built 1930), Godfrey B. Holt (British, 3585 GRT, built 1929), Guido (British, 3921 GRT, built 1920), Harmodius (British, 5229 GRT, built 1919), Harpefjell (Norwegian, 1333 GRT, built 1939), Helder (Dutch, 3629 GRT, built 1920), Henrik Ibsen (British, 4671 GRT, built 1906), Hindpool (British, 4897 GRT, built 1928), Inneroy (Norwegian (tanker), 8260 GRT, built 1936), King Edwin (British, 4536 GRT, built 1927), Lahore (British, 5304 GRT, built 1920), Llangollen (British, 5056 GRT, built 1928), Martaban (British, 4161 GRT, built 1934), Mendoza (British, 8233 GRT, built 1919), Nagina (British, 6551 GRT, built 1921), Nardana (British, 7974 GRT, built 1919), Nebraska (British, 8261 GRT, built 1920), Ogmore Castle (British, 2481 GRT, built 1919), Peisander (British, 6225 GRT, built 1925), Queen Anne (British, 4937 GRT, built 1937), Recorder (British, 2276 GRT, built 1902), Roxane (British (tanker), 7813 GRT, built 1929), Sansu (British, 5446 GRT, built 1939), Sire (British, 5664 GRT, built 1938), Solfonn (Norwegian (tanker), 9925 GRT, built 1939), Taxiarchis (Greek, 4221 GRT, built 1913), Tielbank (British, 5084 GRT, built 1937), Tunisia (British, 4337 GRT, built 1927), Turkistan (British, 6935 GRT, built 1939), Umberleigh (British, 4950 GRT, built 1927), Urbino (British, 5198 GRT, built 1918), Winsum (Dutch, 3224 GRT, built 1921) and Zamalek (British (rescue vessel), 1567 GRT, built 1921).

On departure from Freetown the convoy was escorted by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Cicilia (Capt.(Retd.) V.B. Cardwell, OBE, RN), corvette HMS Asphodel (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) K.W. Stewart, RN) and the auxiliary A/S trawlers HMS Kelt (T/Lt. W.T. Hodson, RNVR), HMS Spaniard (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Webster, RNR) and HMS Turcoman (Skr. A.G. Day, RNR).

At 1700/3 the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) joined the escort of the convoy.

At 1800/4 the three A/S trawlers parted company with the convoy.

In the early morning hours of 8 March 1941 the convoy was attacked by the German submarines U-105 and U-124. Five ships of the convoy were sunk, these were the Harmodius, Hindpool, Lahore, Tielbank and Nardana.

At 1330/8 HMS Forester, which was well to the west of the convoy, briefly sighted the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau steaming towards the convoy. The German ships were also sighted around the same time by HMS Malaya's Swordfish aircraft. Following the report of the sighting HMS Malaya and HMS Faulknor left the convoy to join HMS Forester to put themselves between the convoy and the enemy.

At 1645/8 hours HMS Malaya and the Scharnhorst sighted each other and the German battlecruisers turned away being chased briefly by HMS Malaya and the destroyers. As Malaya's speed was much lower contact was soon lost and the battleship and the destroyers then returned to the convoy. At 1900 hours they rejoined the convoy

In the afteroon of March, 10th, the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN) and aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) joined the escort of the convoy. HMS Malaya then parted company with the convoy and set course for Gibraltar.

At 1730/11, HMS Asphodel parted company with the convoy with the tankers Beaconstreet and British Hope which she then escorted to Gibraltar.

At 1000/13, HMS Faulknor and HMS Foresight parted company with the convoy and set course for Gibraltar.

At 1000/19, HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN) joined the convoy to take over the escort. At 1600/19, HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Cilicia parted company with the convoy.

On 21 March the escort of the convoy was reinforced with the destroyers HMS Havelock (Cdr. E.H. Thomas, DSC, RN), HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN), HMS Hurricane (Lt.Cdr. H.C. Simms, RN), HMS Veteran (Cdr. W.T. Couchman, OBE, RN), HMS Verity (Cdr. R.H. Mills, RN), HMS Wolsey (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Campbell, RN), HMS Salisbury (Lt.Cdr. H.M.R. Crichton, RN), HNoMS Mansfield (Cdr. F. Ulstrup, RNorN), the corvettes HMS Arbutus (T/Lt. A.L.W. Warren, RNR), HMS Camellia (Lt.Cdr. A.E. Willmott, RNR) and the catapult ship HMS Pegasus (Capt.(Retd.) P.G. Wodehouse, RN). HMS Kenya parted company with the convoy in the afternoon.

HMS Havelock and HMS Verity parted company with the convoy on 24 March as did HMS Veteran on the 25th.

2 Mar 1941
HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) departed Freetown to overtake convoy SL 67 and join the escort.

[See the event ' Convoy SL 67 ' for 1 March 1941 for more information on this convoy.] (21)

8 Mar 1941
The British merchants Lahore and Tielbank are torpedoed and sunk north of the Cape Verde Islands in position 20°51'N, 20°32'W by German U-boat U-124. HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC, RN) later picks up 82 survivors from the Lahore and 62 from the Tielbank.

HMS Faulknor, and HMS Forester together pick up 107 survivors from the British merchant Nardana that was also torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-124 north of the Cape Verde Islands in position 20°51'N, 20°32'W.

8 Mar 1941

At 2145/8, HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), HMS Velox (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Roper, DSC, RN) and HMS Wrestler (Lt. E.L. Jones, DSC, RN) departed Gibraltar for the Canary Islands area. Speed was set to 27 knots. The German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had been reported in that area by HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN) trying to attack convoy convoy SL 67.

At 0015/9, the destroyers were detached being unable to keep up with the larger ships in the current weather conditions.

A reconnaissance of six aircraft was flow off by HMS Ark Royal at 1500/9 to search from 180° through west to 360° to a depth of 130 miles. The visibility was 30 miles. Two ships were sighted, one Ocean Boarding Vessel and a British tanker.

At 1030/9, Vice-Admiral Somerville received instructions from the Admiralty that HMS Arethusa was to return to Gibraltar and that HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal were to take over the escort of convoy SL 67 from HMS Malaya p.m. 10th March after which HMS Malaya was to return to Freetown. HMS Arethusa was then detached in position 32°42'N, 13°08'W.

Course was altered to 230° at 1900/9.

At 0830/10, course was altered to 220° to rendezvous with HMS Malaya and an A/S and security patrol were flown off in low visibility. A reconnaissance of six aircraft was flown off at 0950/10 to search from 180° through west to 360° to a relative depth of 70 miles but nothing was sighted. The visibility was 15 miles.

A further reconnaissance was of six aircraft was flown off at 1330/10 to search from 090° through south to 270° to a depth of 80 miles. The convoy having been located by the air search, course was altered to 160° and at 1720/10 HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal joined the convoy which was being escorted by HMS Malaya, HMS Cicilia (Capt.(Retd.) V.B. Cardwell, OBE, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), in position 26°12'N, 19°38'W. At 1730/10, HMS Malaya was detached to return to Freetown. [For more info on this convoy see the event ' Convoy SL 67 ' for 1 March 1941.]

A dusk reconnaissance to a depth of 45 miles sighed nothing in a visibility of 8 to 15 miles.

A reconnaissance was flown off at a.m. and p.m. on the 11th but nothing was sighted. Two aircraft armed with depth charges and one without broke their undercarriages while landing on. There was a moderate swell and wind force 6. A/S bombs were therefore carried till conditions improved.

At 0700/12, A/S and security patrols were flown off followed an hour later by a reconnaissance of nine aircraft to carry out an all round search to a depth of 90 miles. Visibility was 10 - 15 miles. The only ships sighted were the ones that had been detached from the convoy earlier.

The p.m. reconnaissance carried out an all round search to a depth of 90 miles sighted nothing.

At 0700/13 the A/S patrol was flown off. Later a reconnaissance was flown off which conducted an all round search for a depth of 120 miles. Visibility was 10 miles but was deteriorating.

At 1000/13, HMS Faulknor and HMS Forester were detached for Gibraltar.

During the forenoon HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal conducted exercises with aircraft from Ark Royal which then also conducted practice attacks on ships in the convoy.

The evening reconnaissance on the 13th from position 32°12'N, 21°07'W, searched to a depth of 120 miles but sighted nothing except HMS Faulknor and HMS Forester returning to Gibraltar.

At 0650/14, an A/S patrol was flown off and an all round reconnaissance an hour later. They searched to a depth of 100 miles from position 33°27'N, 21°27'W but they sighted nothing of interest. During the forenoon some flying exercises were carried out.

The afternoon reconnaissance was flown off and searched for a depth of 1000 miles again sighted nothing of interest.

At 2200/14, a signal was received with instructions that HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal were to leave the convoy at dusk on 19 March.

At 0250/15, when in position 35°24'N, 22°18'W, a darkened ship was sighted crossing ahead of the convoy. HMS Cilicia was ordered to investigate and it turned out to be the merchant vessel St.Clair II (British, 3753 GRT, built 1929) bound for Freetown.

At 0650/15, the A/S patrol was flown off. Ten minutes later the merchant vessel New Westminster City (British, 4747 GRT, built 1929) was sighted in position 35°46'N, 22°09'W. On sighting HMS Renown she made a raider report but cancelled it 22 minutes later.

In the forenoon more flying exercises were carried out and HMS Cilicia was ordered to proceed to the tanker Roxane (British, 7813 GRT, built 1929) which had straggled from the convoy. The forenoon reconnaissance to a depth of 110 miles sighted noting.

The afternoon reconnaissance searched to a depth of 120 miles from position 36°50'N, 22°25'W. They sighted a Spanish tanker but nothing further of interest. One Swordfish aircraft failed to return and was considered lost with its crew.

Around dawn on the 16th the usual A/S patrol and reconnaissance aircraft were flown off. They searched to a depth of 100 miles but nothing was sighted.

The afternoon reconnaissance also searched to a depth of 100 miles (from position 39°30'N, 23°05'W) sighted five merchant vessels but nothing further.

At 2200/16, a signal was received from the Admiralty in which Vice-Admiral Somerville was informed of the fact that the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper had departed Brest.

A darkened ship was sighted at 0140/17 which was found on investigatation by HMS Cilicia to be merchant vessel River Lugar (British, 5423 GRT, built 1937) bound for Freetown.

The A/S and security patrol flew off at dawn and at 0950/17 they reported they sighted the armed merchant cruiser HMS Bulolo (Capt.(Retd.) R.L. Hamer, RN) which was en-route to Freetown.

A full reconnaissance was carried out at 1100/17 to a depth of 130 miles with average visibility of 20 miles. The only ship sighted was the ocean boarding vessel HMS Hilary (Cdr. T.L. Owen, RD, RNR) in position 43°08'N, 24°38'W. She passed the convoy at 1800/17.

At 1700/17, a reconnaissance was flown off to the north and east to a depth of 100 miles but nothing was sighted.

At 0700/18, the A/S and security patrols were flown off. At 0800/18 the forenoon reconnaissance was flown off from position 43°25'N, 23°48'W to search to a depth of 140 miles. Only one merchant vessel was sighted.

The afternoon reconnaissance sighted nothing in a search to a depth of 140 miles between 325° and 045° and 135° and 225° from position 44°40'N, 23°40'W.

At 0700/19 an A/S patrol was flown off followed at 0745/19 by a reconnaissance to a depth of 160 miles from position 45°40'N, 23°40'W. This reconnaissance informed HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN) of the position, course and speed of the convoy, which she joined at 1000/19. Also a merchant vessel was sighted which appeared somewhat suspicious and HMS Cilicia was ordered to investigate and then return to Freetown.

Meanwhile information had been received that the German tanker Antarktis (10711 GRT, built 1939) had sailed from Vigo during the night 17/18 March and it was Vice-Admiral Somervilles intention to search for this ship to the north-east and south-east of the Azores before returning to Gibraltar.

HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal parted company with the convoy at 1600/19. Also a reconnaissance was flown off to locate the suspicious merchant vessel. At 1906/19 a report was received that it had been sighted in position 45°15'N, 23°48'W at 1800/19 steering 280° at slow speed. This information was passed on to HMS Cilicia. Shortly afterwards a second merchant vessel was sighted which also fitted the discription of the suspicious merchent vessel (close observation was not possible, the aircraft had been ordered to remain out of sight). This too was passed on to HMS Cilicia.

The evening reconnaissance reported the Norwegian tanker Bianca (5688 GRT, built 1926) in position 45°22'N, 23°35'W at 1740/19, steering 090°, 12 knots, half laden. An Admiralty signal had been intercepted at 1800/15 containing the names of 14 outward bound tankers estimated to be within 150 miles from where raider signals had been received on that day. As Bianca was one of these ships mentioned, and as she was evidently in ballast and steering for Bordeaux, Vice-Admiral Somerville concluded that she must have a German price crew on board. He therefore decided to intercept in the morning before starting the search for the Antarktis.

At 0655/20 an A/S patrol was flown off followed at 0740/20 by a reconnaissance to a depth of 120 miles from south through west to north. At 0857/20, the Bianca was reported to be in postion bearing 180°, 68 miles from HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal. HMS Renown then set course to intercept parting company with HMS Ark Royal which continued her flying operations.

At 1147/20 an aircraft dropped a message on board HMS Renown that the British tanker San Casimiro (8046 GRT, built 1936) had been sighted in position 44°50'N, 22°15'W, steering 076° at 11 knots. An hour later another aircraft reported having sighted the Norwegian tanker Polykarp (6405 GRT, built 1931) at 0920/20 in position 45°40'N, 23°26'W, steering east at 7 knots and that she had altered course to 010° on being sighted. Both these tankers were included in the Admiralty's signal referred to earlier so it was thought these tankers were also under German control. Vice-Admiral Somerville decided to try to intercept the Bianca and sSan Casimiro today and the Polykarp with the help of an air search the following morning.

The Bianca was sighted at 1210/20 in position 44°16'N, 19°21'W. HMS Renown closed and sent a boarding party. The weather was perfect for boarding . When Renown was still 6 miles from Bianca she was seen to be abandoning ship, and as the boats pulled clear scuttling charges exploded and fire broke out in the engine room aft and also on the bridge. The boarding party proceeded on board and the launch rounded up the Bianca's boats and ordered them to return to their ship. The fires were extinguished but the ship was low in the water with a considerable list to port and down by the stern. It soon became apparent that the ship could not be saved.

By 1500/20 Bianca's ship's company, the German prize crew and the boarding party had returned on board HMS Renown and a course of 340° was shaped at 24 knots to intercept the San Casimiro.

Vice-Admiral Somerville gave orders to HMS Ark Royal that when HMS Renown appeared in sight of the San Casimiro the shadowing aircraft was to close and deter the prise crew from scuttling the ship.

The San Casimiro was sighted at 1715/20 in position 45°12'N, 19°42'W. Immediately afterwards she abandoned ship and scuttling charges were fired. The bridge of the ship was soon engulfed in flames. By the time HMS Renown was near her she was low in the water and was listing to port.

The tankers boats were closing HMS Renown and the boarding party were in the act of transferring some of San Casimiro's officers from the boats to the launch in order to return to their ship and see if anything could be done to save the ship when an enemy report was received by V/S from a Fulmar at 1815/20 that two enemy battlecruisers had been sighted at 1730/20 in position 45°56'N, 21°36'W, steering north at 20 knots. This position was 110 miles north-west of HMS Renown. At this time HMS Ark Royal was in sight from Renown bearing 215°.

Boats were immediately recalled and clearedso at 1850/20 HMS Renown proceeded to close HMS Ark Royal. As it was obvious nothing could be done to save the San Casimiro a few rounds of 4.5" were fired into her when HMS Renown passed.

The W/T installation of the Fulmar had malfunctioned therefore she had to close HMS Renown to pass the enemy report. HMS Ark Royal was informed by the Fulmar at 1825/20. The distance of the enemy ships to HMS Ark Royal at this moment was estimated to be 147 miles. At 1844/20 HMS Ark Royal reported that she had shadowers ready on deck but they would be unable to make contact before dark.

At 1830/20, an enemy report was sent to the Admiralty together with the position, course and speed of HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal. By 1915/20, HMS Renown had closed HMS Ark Royal and a course of 340° was shaped at 25 knots to overhaul the enemy. A Fulmar to search for the enemy was flown off at 1930/20.

This Fulmar reported at 2040/20, 'thick weather, nothing sighted', having searched to a depth of 168 miles and having encountered thick cloud down to the sea level between bearing 320° and 070° with further cloud patches to the westward, and eventually returned soon after 2100/20 and made a perfect arrival without any aid. This was a most creditable piece of work on behalf of the pilot and his observer.

Although it seemed unlikely, owing to the poor visibility to the northward, that the enemy could have ben kept under observation Vice-Admiral Somerville consider that HMS Ark Royal should have flown off a fighter to shadow as soon as possible after the receipt of the enemy report.

At 2110/20, Vice-Admiral Somerville informed the Admiralty that night shadowing and to attack was impracticable due to low visibility and that he intended a dawn search in the direction of convoy SL 67 and to the westward of that convoy. If nothing was sighted he told the Admiralty it was his intention to return to Gibraltar.

His choices to search this sector were based on the following.
1) Shore based air and surface reconnaissance from the UK could cover to some extent the area to the eastward but not to the westward.
2) It was considered possible but unlikely that the enemy would make for Brest, France in view of its proximity to the UK.
3) A more probable course of action by the enemy appeared to be an attack on convoy SL 67 or, after starting off to the westward, a run to the south to be followed by an attack on the trade routes at prestent being used by convoys in this area.

Course was altered at 2200/20 to 003° to reach the best possible position for the dawn reconnaissance.

At 0345/21, Vice-Admiral Somerville was informed that HMS Malaya, escorting convoy SL 68 had been torpedoed.

At 0645/21, a reconnaissance of nine Swordfish flew off from position 49°25'N, 19°50'W, to search between 250° through north to 040°. The depth of the search was limited to appoximately 50 miles by a heavy fog bank extending to a height of 3000 feet and nothing was sighted.

All reconnaissance aircraft landed on at 1100/21 and course was then altered to 150° and speed reduced to 19 knots.

At 1630/21, A Swordfish armed with depth charges, cashed over the bows of HMS Ark Royal when being accelerated for an A/S patrol. The aircraft appeared to break in half across the rear cockpit and fell straight into the sea immediately ahead of the ship. The depth charges fired under 35 station and some damage was caused. The crew of the aircraft was killed.

The afternoon reconnaissance flew off from position 50°05'N, 18°50'W an searched from 110° through south to 230° to a depth of 160 miles without sighting anything.

At 0630/22, an A/S patrol was flown off followed at 0700/22 by a reconnaissance from position 45°52'N, 17°39'W. This covered the area between 280° and 050° to a depth of 70 miles and from 050° to 100° to a depth of 135 miles. Nothing was sighted.

The p.m. reconnaissance searched to a depth of 150 miles from position 44°10'N, 16°50'W from 100° through south to 280°. Nothing was sighted. Course was then set as to arrive at Gibraltar early on the 24th.

On 23 March the usual A/S patrol was maintained during the day. Instructions were received from the Admiralty that on return to Gibraltar, HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal were to fuel as soon as possible to return to the Atlantic and continue operations against the enemy battlecruisers.

At 1335/23, the destroyers HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Forester, HMS Velox and HMS Wrestler made rendezvous.

HMS Renown arrived at Gibraltar around 0700/24. HMS Ark Royal escorted by HMS Fearless, HMS Forester, HMS Velox and HMS Wrestler entered the harbour around 0945/24 first having replacement aircraft being flown on from North Front. (22)

13 Mar 1941
HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN) arrived at Gibraltar from escort duty. (21)

21 Mar 1941
HrMs O 23 (Lt.Cdr. G.B.M. van Erkel, RNN) carried out A/S exercises off Gibraltar with the British destroyer HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN). (23)

24 Mar 1941
At 2230/24, HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN) departed Gibraltar for a patrol off the Bay of Biscay. The whereabouts of the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were still not known although it was suspected that had arrived in Brest.

A course of 285° was maintained until 1930/25 when an alteration was made to the north-west. A/S patrol was maintained throughout the day. In the afternoon some flying exercises were carried out. At 2120/25 HMS Foresight and HMS Fortune parted company. In the evening flying exercises with dropping flares were carried out.

Durnig the night of 25/26 March a signal from the Admiralty was received. This stated that it was not considered shore-based air reconnaissance could be relied upon to detect the departure of the enemy in time. Submarine patrols were being established and it was hoped that this information would be received from that source. It was therefore considered desirble that ' Force H ' should operate generally in the vicinity of the convoy routes between the latitudes of Ushant and Lisbon, outside the area of enemy shore-based air reconnaissance.

Around 1000/26, HMS Forester was detached to Gibraltar after first having collected mail from HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal. Course was to the west to close the convoy routes as soon as possible.

During the forenoon of the 26th an all round reconnaissance to a depth of 60 miles from position 38°58'N, 15°18'W sighted nothing.

Some exercises were carried out during the forenoon. Fog was encountered at noon but it cleared later. A reconnaissance was flown off at 1640/26 from position 39°35'N, 17°12'W to search to a depth of 100 miles from south through north. Nothing was sighted.

In the late afternoon / early evening (dog watches) fighter training was carried out followed by shadowing and night flying exercises. The last aircraft landed on around 2100/26. At midnight course was altered to the north.

On 27 March flying was not possible throughout the day due to the weather conditions. ' Force H ' operated in the vicinity of 42°00'N, 19°40'W. At 2000/27 course was set to 170° for the night. This was to run parallel to convoy OG 36.

Information was receinved during the day that a reliable source had stated that the enemy battlecruisers had entered Brest.

At 0200/28 an enemy unit was reported by D/F about 350 miles to the northward of Renown and Ark Royal but in view of the improbability of being able to operate aircraft Vice-Admiral Somerville decided to remain to the southward in the vicinity of the convoys.

Daylight on the 28th brought moderate but deteriorating visibility, and an A/S patrol only was flown off. The visibility soon became very bad with rain and squalls and by noon the A/S patrol was withdrawn.

Instructions were received that ' Force ' was going to be relieved p.m. on 30th March.

At 1800/28 course was altered to 090° to keep clear of the convoy route, and at 2000/28 again altered to 010° to reach at dawn a more favourable position for the interception of the enemy battlecruisers should a report of their departure be received from the submarines patrolling the Bay of Biscay. Information was received at 2130/28 that the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had been located by air reconnaissance to be in Brest.

At 0700/29, course was altered to 050° towards Brest so as to reach a suitable position should any further information be received concerning the enemy battlecruisers. The A/S patrol was flown off, but low visibility precluded long distance reconnaissance.

Bu 1000/29, no news regarding the enemy had been received. Course was altered to 300° with a view to standing to the westward till dusk. The visibility improved but wind and sea conditions prevented flying off a reconnaissance. The A/S patrol also had to be abandoned.

During the day QQQQ (raider) signals were intercepted from three merchant vessels but these were all cancelled. These signals wre made from the vicinity of 44°N, 30°W, where our Ocean Boarding Vessels were known to be patrolling.

By 1500/29 speed was reduced to 12 knots on account of the sea conditions, but by nightfall conditions had improved and when course was altered to 085° at 2230/29 speed was increased to 18 knots.

At 0800/30 course was altered to 160° and speed was increased to 19.5 knots to make for the rendezvous with the destroyer screen in position 37°35'N, 14°28'W.

The usual A/S patrol was maintained and an a.m. and p.m. reconnaissance both sighted nothing. Also some flying exercises were carried out.

At 1345/30 information was received that the enemy battlecruisers were still at Brest.

At 0845/31, the destroyers HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, RN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, RAN) and HMS Fortune joined in position 37°34'N, 14°28'W. Course was then shaped for Gibraltar at 24 knots.

The usual A/S patrol was maintained and during the day some flying exercises were carried out.

HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMAS Napier, HMAS Nizam and HMS Fortune arrived at Gibraltar at 0630/1. (24)

24 Apr 1941

Operations Dunlop and Salient.


Transfer of fighter aircraft to Malta and reinforcements for the Mediterranean Fleet.

Timespan: 24 to 28 April 1941.

24 April 1941.

At 2200/25, ‘Force S’, made up of the light cruiser HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN, Senior Officer), fast minelayer HMS Abdiel (Capt. Hon. E. Pleydell-Bouverie, MVO, RN), destroyers HMS Kelly (Capt. L.F.A.V.N. Mountbatten, GCVO, DSO, RN), HMS Kashmir (Cdr. H.A. King, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Allison, DSO, RN), HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St. Clair-Ford, RN), HMS Jackal (Lt.Cdr. R.McC.P. Jonas, DSC, RN) and HMS Jersey (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Burnell-Nugent, DSC, RN) departed Gibraltar westwards but they soon turned eastwards again to pass Gibraltar eastwards after dark. The ships also had on board stores for Malta. Most of these on HMS Dido and HMS Abdiel.

They were followed one hour later, at 2300/25, by ‘Force H’. They departed Gibraltar and immediately turned eastwards. ‘Force H’ for this occasion was made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN).

25 April 1941.

On 26 April 1941 both forces proceeded to the east independently. At 2050 hours ‘Force H’ altered course and increased speed to reach the flying off position for the Hurricanes for Malta. They were to reach approximate position 37°40’N, 06°10’E at dawn the next day.

At 2120 hours a signal was received from Malta reporting that the weather was unsuitable and that the flying off had to be postponed for 24 hours. Speed was then reduced and at 2300 hours ‘Force H’ altered course to the westwards for an area to the south-west of Ibiza.

26 April 1941.

In the morning weather reports came in from Malta which were favourable. ‘Force H’ then altered course to 220° and at 1100 hours course was altered to the north-east. The object was to remain unsighted throughout the day. This was successful due to the poor visibility. Two more favourable weather reports came from Malta throughout the day.

In the evening a signal was received from HMS Dido stating that ‘Force S’ had also postponed their passage to Malta by 24 hours.

At 2100 hours ‘Force H’ was in position 38°35’N, 02°14’E. They then altered course to 106° and increased speed to 24 knots to again reach the flying off position for the Hurricanes at dawn.

27 April 1941.

Two more favourable weather reports were received during the early hours of the night. Weather in ‘Force H’ position was however not so good and at 0445 hours, in position 37°40’N, 05°55’E the destroyers had to be detached as they had difficulty keeping up with the other ships in the rising sea.

Flying off started at 0515 hours and was completed at 0613 hours. A total of 23 Hurricanes were flown off in two batches of eight and one of seven. These were all led by a Fulmar. On completion of flying off the Hurricanes an A/S patrol was launched as well as some Fulmars for fighter protection while the ships retired to the northwest on course 300° at 27 knots.

Though visibility was poor, a lone Heinkel appeared from the clouds over HMS Renown at 0850 hours and fire was opened on it. The enemy aircraft then made off the north-east with some of the Fulmars chasing it. The enemy was able to get back in the clouds before the Fulmars could overtake it. This aircraft reported the position, course and speed of the formation.

At 1000 hours a new section of Fulmars was flown off to relieve the others and at 1036 hours a signal was received from Malta that all the Hurricanes and their escorting Fulmars had landed safely.

At noon the destroyers rejoined and formed an A/S screen. Speed was reduced to 18 knots. ‘Force H’ remained in a position to support ‘Force S’ if needed. Aircraft for A/S and fighter protection were flown off during the day.

By 2000 hours all aircraft had returned to HMS Ark Royal and course was set to return to Gibraltar.

28 April 1941.

At dawn nine Swordfish were flown off for a practice attack on ‘Force H’. However one of the Swordfish hit the bridge of HMS Ark Royal and crashed into the sea. HMS Sheffield was able to pick up two of the three crew members. There was now sign of the air gunner and he was missing, presumed killed in the crash.

More air exercises were carried out during the day.

At 1130 hours, HMS Sheffield was detached to proceed to Gibraltar for a docking.

All ships of ‘Force H’ arrived at Gibraltar later on the day.

The ships of ‘Force S’ arrived safely at Malta on the 28th. (24)

2 May 1941
On 30 April 1941 the trawler HMS Loch Oskaig (Lt.Cdr. S. Darling, RANVR) had intercepted and captured the French merchant vessel Cap Cantin (3317 GRT, built 1933) off Cape Espichel, Portugal (just south of Lisbon). The Cape Cantin was en route from German occupied Bayonne to Marseilles. It was decided that the ship was to be taken to Gibraltar for inspection. The French master of the ship first refused to comply and as the French ship had also sent out an SOS it was feared that Vichy-French would try to re-capture the ship it was decided that ships from ' Force H ' would be sent to prevent this.

So at 0430/2, HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN) escorted by HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN (Capt. D.8)) , HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) departed Gibraltar and proceeded to the westward at 18 knots.

At 0750/2, HMS Loch Oskaig was ordered to report her position, course and speed. At 0900/2 she replied that her position was 36°29'N, 07°54'W , course 090°, speed 8 knots.

HMS Renown altered course to close and the trawler and the Vichy-French ship were sighted at noon. HMS Foresight was then detached to take over from the trawler which was then ordered to resume her patrol and HMS Foresight escorted the Frenchman to Gibraltar being covered to the south by HMS Renown and her four remaining escorting destroyers.

After reconnaissance had sighted no Vichy-French warships in the area it was decided to recall ' Force H ' to Gibraltar.

' Force H ' returned to harbour at 1950/2. HMS Forester and Cap Cantin entered harbour at 0030/3. (25)

5 May 1941

Operation Tiger, supply convoy from Gibraltar to Alexandria and reinforcements for the Mediterranean Fleet and Operation MD 4, supply convoy from Alexandria to Malta and taking up the reinforcements for the Mediterranean Fleet.


Timespan: 5 to 12 May 1941.

5 May 1941.

Western Mediterranean.

Part of Convoy WS 8A was approaching Gibraltar from the west. This part of convoy WS 8A was to proceed to Malta during operation ‘Tiger’.

It was made up of five transports; Clan Campbell (7255 GRT, built 1937), Clan Chattan (7262 GRT, built 1937), Clan Lamont (7250 GRT, built 1939), Empire Song (9228 GRT, built 1940) and New Zealand Star (10740 GRT, built 1935). During the passage from the U.K. it had been escorted by the battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN), light cruiser HMS Naiad (Capt. M.H.A. Kelsey, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.L.S. King, CB, MVO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, DSC, RN), HMS Havelock (Cdr. E.H. Thomas, DSC, RN) and HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN) (with the additional local escorts when still close to the U.K.)

Around 0700/5, HMS Repulse, HMS Harvester, HMS Havelock and HMS Hesperus were relieved from the escort by the battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth (Capt. C.B. Barry, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN) , HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) , HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN) and HMS Velox (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Roper, DSC, RN). The Repulse and the three H-class destroyers then proceeded to Gibraltar to refuel where they arrived shortly before 1800 hours. It had originally been intended to include Repulse in the upcoming operation but she was left at Gibraltar due to her inadequate anti-aircraft armament.

HMS Naiad had already arrived at Gibraltar around 0900/4, having been relieved shortly after noon on the 2nd of May by HMS Mauritius (Capt. W.D. Stephens, RN). Around the same time HMS Naiad arrived at Gibraltar the cruiser HMS Fiji (Capt. P.B.R.W. William-Powlett, RN) arrived, she had been part of the escort of convoy SL 72.

Shortly before 1000/5, the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruisers HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN), HMS Fiji and the destroyers HMS Kashmir (Cdr. H.A. King, RN), HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St. Clair-Ford, RN) and HMS Wrestler (Lt. E.L. Jones, DSC, RN). Kashmir and Kipling had departed a little earlier and carried out an A/S sweep in Gibraltar Bay first.

For the upcoming operation two groups were formed; The cover force which was formed on Renown was group I, the close escort, which was to remain with the transports was group II. When they arrived near the convoy at 1800/5 the group I was formed and was made up of Renown, Queen Elizabeth, Ark Royal, Sheffield, Fiji, Kashmir and Kipling. Group II remained with the convoy and was (for the moment) made up of Fearless, Foresight, Fortune, Velox and Wrestler. Group II and the convoy proceeded towards the Straits of Gibraltar at 13 knots while Group I proceeded to the south until 2130 hours when course was changed to 074°. At 1930 hours, Group I, had been joined by HMS Naiad. This cruiser had sailed from Gibraltar at 1300 hours.

Eastern Mediterranean.

Convoy MW 7B departed Alexandria for Malta this day. It was made up of the Norwegian tankers Hoegh Hood (9351 GRT, built 1936) and Svenor (7616 GRT, built 1931). These tankers were able to proceed at 10 knots. Escort was provided by the AA-cruisers HMS Carlisle (Capt. T.C. Hampton, RN), HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN), destroyers HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN), HMS HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.A. Marshall-A’Deane, DSO, DSC, RN) and HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN). Also part of the escort of this convoy was the corvette HMS Gloxinia (Lt.Cdr. A.J.C. Pomeroy, RNVR) which was to serve as minesweeper at Malta and the whaler HMS Swona which was to be outfitted as minesweeper (LL-sweep) at the Malta Dockyard.

6 May 1941.

Western Mediterranean.

The convoy with Group II passed through the Straits of Gibraltar between 0130 and 0330 hours followed by Group I between 0300 and 0430 hours. Although the moon did not set until 0314 hours the sky was completely overcast and visibility was low.

At 0330 hours, HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Harvester, HMS Havelock and HMS Hesperus departed Gibraltar followed at 0420 hours by HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN) which had completed her repairs and undocking shortly before.

By 0550 hours, Group I was about 32 miles to the east of Gibraltar with the convoy and Group II 10 miles to the north. At this time Faulknor, Forester and Fury joined Group I. At 0615 hours Queen Elizabeth with Kashmir and Kelvin was detached to join Group II, followed thirty minutes later by Naiad.

At 0625 hours, Gloucester joined Group I and speed was then increased to 24 knots to draw well ahead of the convoy. During the day Group I steered 060°. Group II was steering parallel to the Spanish coast at 13 knots. Velox and Wrestler were detached from Group II to arrive at Gibraltar after dark to avoid being sighted returning from the East.

At 1740 hours Renown, in position 37°05’N, 00°21’W sighted a French merchant ship most likely en-route to Oran. On sighting the British ships she immediately steered clear to the westward. Shorty afterwards Group I reduced speed to 17 knots as to not get too far ahead of Group II and the convoy.

By midnight Group I was about 150 nautical miles east-north-east of Group II.

Eastern Mediterranean.

The Mediterranean Fleet departed Alexandria in the forenoon, it was made up of the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, GCB, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.la T. Bisset, RN), light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN), destroyers (D.14) HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. St. J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, DSO, RN), HMS Kimberley (Lt.Cdr. J.S.M. Richardson, DSO, RN), HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Somerville, DSO, DSC, RN), (D.7) HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, RN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, RAN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.de W. Kitcat, RN), HMS Havock (Lt. G.R.G. Watkins, RN), HMS Hotspur (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC, RN) and HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN). The fast minesweeper HMS Abdiel (Capt. E. Pleydell-Bouverie, MVO, RN) and the naval transport HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) also sailed with the Fleet. HMS Abdiel was to lay a minefield off Lampedusa. HMS Breconshire had on board oil and petrol for Malta as well as oil to supply this to destroyers at sea. Abdiel took station in the destroyer screen while Breconshire took station in the battleship line. After sailing the fleet proceeded to the northwest. No aircraft were flown off by HMS Formidable due to a dust storm and very limited visibility.

After the Fleet sailed, convoy MW 7A departed Alexandria. It was made up of four transport vessels; Amerika (10218 GRT, built 1930), Settler (6202 GRT, built 1939), Talabot (6798 GRT, built 1936) and Thermopylae (6655 GRT, built 1930). These were able to proceed at 14 knots. Escort was provided by the light cruisers HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN), HMS Phoebe (Capt. G. Grantham, RN), AA-cruiser HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN) and the destroyers (D.2) HMS Ilex (Capt. H.St.L. Nicholson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Isis (Cdr. C.S.B. Swinley, DSC, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt. W.J. Munn, RN) and HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN).

One of the destroyers from the escort of convoy MW 7B, HMS Defender, that had sailed on the 5th had to return to Alexandria due to condenser problems.

7 May 1941.

Western Mediterranean.

At 0400 hours, Group II, which was approximately 30 nautical miles east of Cape Palos, altered course to the south for about two hours before turning eastwards for the run to Malta.

Group I meanwhile had altered course to the northward at 0130 hours to pass between Ibiza and Majorca in order to carry out a diversion to the north of the Baleares during the day should this appear desirable.

By 0715 hours there was no indication that Group I had been sighted, and as visibility varied from poor to moderate, course was altered to pass again between Ibiza and Majorca to reach a position well ahead of Group II so as to divert any attention of any enemy aircraft from Group II and the convoy.

At 1000 hours, when 33 nautical miles south-west of Malta, Group I encountered a small Spanish fishing vessel which was seen to proceed towards Palma de Majorca.

At noon, Group I altered course to 140°. At 1630 hours course was altered to 100° to keep about 40 nautical miles to the eastward of Group II. Group I streamed paravanes at 1800 hours.

At 1945 hours, two Sunderland flying boats flying east passed north of the force and did not identify themselves till challenged. At the same time smoke was sighted astern and shortly afterwards a fighter aircraft reported that it was the convoy at a distance of 26 nautical miles.

At 2100 hours, Group I altered course to the north-east until dark in order to mislead any hostile aircraft. The sky had been overcast all day but towards the evening the visibility improved considerably and the convoy was clearly visible to the southwestward making a great deal of smoke.

At 2225 hours, RD/F in Fiji detected a group of aircraft bearing 170°, range 30 miles. The bearing changed to 154° and the range opened to 40 miles until the echo faded at 2230 hours. Group I altered course to 080° at 2300 hours.

Eastern Mediterranean.

All forces continued on their way during the day without incident. Destroyers were being fuelled from Breconshire one at a time.

The submarine HMS Triumph reported three transports proceeding towards Benghazi. Accordingly HMS Ajax, HMS Havock, HMS Hotspur and HMS Imperial were detached to attack Benghazi during the night of 7/8 May.

The Vice-Admiral Malta reported that the harbour had been mined and that the destroyers based at Malta were therefore unable to leave the harbour and participate in the convoy operations.

8 May 1941.

Western Mediterranean.

Soon after midnight Group I had to alter course to avoid being sighted by a lighted merchant ship steering a course of 110°.

At 0535 hours, HMS Ark Royal launched three reconnaissance A.S.V. aircraft in position 38°06’N, 06°26’E to search to the eastward south of Sardinia. At 0700 hours a fourth aircraft was flown off to search to the west of Sardinia. These aircraft returned at 0800 hours and had nothing to report. They had covered 140 miles to the eastward and 50 miles to the westward. Group I then proceeded to join the convoy. The first fighter patrol was flown off by Ark Royal at 0830 hours.

By 1000 hours, Group I had joined the convoy, which was proceeding on a course of 085° at 14 knots. This was the Clan Campbell’s best speed. Renown and Ark Royal took station on the starboard side of the convoy in order to facilitate flying operations and at the same time provide AA protection for the convoy. Queen Elizabeth took station astern of Ark Royal to provide AA protection for this vulnerable ship. Gloucester and Fiji formed on the transport ships.

At 1115 hours an enemy signal was intercepted that our forces had been sighted at 0800 hours. Naiad detected an enemy aircraft approaching at 1133 hours and three minutes later a large float-plane emerged from the clouds ahead of the convoy. Naiad opened fire and the aircraft retreated into the clouds. Fighters were sent in pursuit but failed to intercept. At noon a full and accurate report was made by this float-plane on the composition of our forces.

The sky cleared to some extent at noon, it had been overcast all morning. Visibility continued to improve all day although considerable cloud prevailed until the evening.

At 1345 hours, eight aircraft were seen approaching very low, fine on the starboard bow. These were engaged as they approached, but the AA fire appeared to be not very well directed. Torpedoes were dropped from outside the destroyer screen, which was roughly 3000 yards ahead of the convoy and extended to starboard to cover Renown, Ark Royal and Queen Elizabeth. The four Fulmar fighters on patrol at this time were engaging CR. 42 fighters that had accompanied these torpedo aircraft.

Torpedoes were evidently aimed at Renown and Ark Royal but by very skilful handling by the Commanding Officers of these two ships all tracks were combed or avoided. Two torpedoes passed close to Renown. A third which was being successfully combed made a sudden alteration of 60° towards Renown and a hit forward seemed inevitable when the torpedo reached the end of it’s run and sank. Two torpedoes passed to port and two to starboard of Ark Royal.

Of the eight aircraft which attacked one was brought down during the approach, probably by AA fire from the destroyers. Two others were seen to fall from the sky during their retirement. The destroyers were disappointingly slow in opening fire on the approaching torpedo-bombers and a full barrage never developed. During the action between the Fulmar’s and the CR. 42’s one Fulmar was brought down and the crew of two was lost.

At 1400 hours a few bomb splashes were observed on the horizon to the northwestward.

At 1525 hours, two sections of Fulmar’s attacked and shot down in flames an S.79 shadower. On returning from this attack one Fulmar had to make a forced landing on the water about 9 nautical miles from the fleet. HMS Foresight closed the position and was able to pick up the crew of two. At this time the fleet was about 28 nautical miles north of Galita Island.

At 1600 hours, as the wind had backed from south of east to north of east. The starboard column; Renown, Ark Royal and Queen Elizabeth, was moved over to the port quarter of the convoy and the destroyer screen was readjusted accordingly. This allowed freedom of manoeuvre for flying operations and enabled the column to increase speed and snake the line whenever a bombing attack developed, in order to hamper the bombers and at the same time remain in a position to afford full AA support of the convoy.

The first high level bombing attack of the day developed at 1622 hours when three S.79’s approached from astern at about 5000 feet, i.e. just under the cloud level. One, diverted by AA fire, jettisoned his bombs and subsequently crashed astern of the Fleet. The other two dropped twelve bombs close ahead of Ark Royal and escaped into the clouds. It is probable that both of these were hit by the concentrated AA fire with which they were met. About 10 minutes later a single aircraft approached from astern and encountering heavy AA fire turned across the stern of the Fleet, dropping its bombs well clear.

At 1710 hours, another S.79 shadower was shot down in flames on the port quarter of the Fleet by a Fulmar fighter. Twenty minutes later five S.79’s attacked the fleet from south to north. Two broke formation under gunfire and the remainder delivered a poor attack, bombs falling near the destroyer screen. A similar attack by three S.79’s took place at 1800 hours, when bombs were again dropped near the destroyer screen.

The provision a adequate fighter protection for the Fleet was a difficult problem with the small numbers of fighters available. Aircraft returned to the carrier at various times with damage and failure of undercarriage, and every opportunity was taken, whenever the RD/F screen cleared to land on, refuel and rearm the Fulmars, sometimes singly and sometimes two or three at a time. There were occasions when no more then two fighters were in the air, but whenever an attack appeared to be impending every fighter that could be made serviceable was sent up.

At 1910 hours enemy aircraft were detected at a range of 70 miles approaching from Sicily. At this time only seven Fulmars remained serviceable of which only three were in the air. The other four were immediately flown off. The total number of hostile aircraft is uncertain, but the Fulmars sighted three separate formations of sixteen Ju.87’s, twelve Ju.87’s and six Me.110’s. One formation was seen from Renown for a short time at 1933 hours in a patch of clear sky. RD/F indicated several formations circling to the northwest of the Fleet for nearly one hour and several bomb splashes were seen well away to the northward and northwestward. During this period Fulmars intercepted the enemy and, although greatly outnumbered, fought several vigorous and gallant actions, resulting in the certain destruction of one Ju.87 and damage to several others, including at least one Me.110. These attacks disorganised the enemy and forced them to the northward with the result that they probably missed sighting the Fleet. They then entered thick cloud and it is possible that the groups became separated and all cohesion in the attack disappeared. Whatever the reason RD/F showed these groups retiring to the northward and no attack on the Fleet developed.

The Fleet reached the entrance to the Skerki Channel at 2015 hours. ‘Force B’ then turned westwards. It was made up of Renown, Ark Royal, Sheffield, Harvester, Havelock and Hesperus. Queen Elizabeth was ordered to join ‘Force F’.

The turn to the west was just being completed when ‘Force B’ was attacked at 2030 hours by three torpedo-bombers which came from right ahead. The destroyers were still manoeuvering to take up their screening positions and did not sight the enemy aircraft in time to put up a barrage of AA fire. This attack was pressed home by the enemy with great determination. All three aircraft were heavily engaged and two were seen to be hit. Renown combed the torpedo tracks, two passing close down the port side and one down the starboard side.

During this attack No. P (port) 3, 4.5” gun turret in Renown malfunctioned and fired two round into the back of No. P 2 gun turret. This resulted in five ratings killed, five seriously wounded of which one later died and one officer and twenty-five ratings wounded.

Speed was increased to 24 knots at 2038 hours and a westerly course was maintained throughout the night.

As a result of the day’s air attacks, seven enemy aircraft were destroyed, two probably destroyed and at least three, probably more, damaged. Of the seven destroyed AA fire accounted for four and feighters for three. No hits, either by bomb or torpedo were obtained on our ships, nor were there any casualties besides than caused by the accident in Renown. Two Fulmars were lost, the crew of one of them was saved.

Meanwhile the convoy continued eastwards escorted now by HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Naiad, HMS Gloucester, HMS Fiji, HMS Faulknor, HMS Fearless, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Fortune, HMS Fury, HMS Kashmir and HMS Kipling.

Eastern Mediterranean.

Visibility was still poor with patches of heavy rain. This helped the Fleet and convoy from being detected by the enemy and attacked by aircraft. On the other hand it resulted in the loss of two Albacore aircraft. One Fulmar was lost in combat with enemy aircraft.

HMS Ajax, HMS Havock, HMS Hotspur and HMS Imperial rejoined the Fleet at 1700 hours. Their attack on Benghazi had been successful although there was little shipping in the harbour two transports were intercepted after the bombardment. The largest blew up, and the other was ran aground and was left on fire after several explosions. These were the Italian Tenace (1142 GRT, built 1881) and Capitano A. Cecchi (2321 GRT, built 1933).

The Fleet remained with convoy MW 7A during the day and at dark moved to the southward. HMS Dido, HMS Phoebe, HMS Calcutta, HMS Carlisle and HMS Coventry were detached from their convoy’s to join the Tiger convoy coming from Gibraltar.

Both MW convoy’s made direct for Malta escorted by HMS Hotspur, HMS Havock and HMS Imperial. All other destroyers had been oiled from Breconshire during the past two days.

9 May 1941.

Western Mediterranean.

Further torpedo-bomber attacks were expected and a screen made up of Sheffield and the three destroyers was stationed ahead, astern and on either beam of Renown and Ark Royal at 5000 yards. The night was however uneventful and at 0800 hours speed was reduced to 20 knots and screening diagram no.4 was resumed by the escorts.

A shadower was detected, bearing 115°, range 12 nautical miles at 1027 hours. Two fighters were flown off but failed to intercept the enemy. An enemy sighting report was intercepted in Renown.

At 1100 hours a merchant vessel was sighted in position 37°54’N, 03°30’E about 8 nautical miles to the northward. At the same time Ark Royal reported that a periscope had been sighted about 4000 yards away. No further action was taken as detaching a single destroyer to search for the submarine was thought to be of little use and it was not thought wise to detach more then one destroyer as there were only three present.

At 1300 hours course was altered to 145° and speed reduced to 16 knots to conserve fuel in the destroyers.

At 1700 hours five search aircraft were flown off from position 37°27’N, 01°29’E to search between bearings 045° and 340° from Oran and south of parallel 38°45’N. Nothingwas sighted except for a merchant vessel. A Fulmar was also flown off to carry out a reconnaissance of Oran. This aircraft took photographs and reported the battlecruiser Dunkerque in her usual position at Mers-el-Kebir surrounded by nets, with lighters alongside and a pontoon gangway to the shore. One large and two small destroyers were sighted inside Oran harbour and probably six or seven submarines.

The six destroyers from the 8th Destroyer Flotilla which had taken part in getting the ‘Tiger’ convoy to as far as Malta sailed from there at 2000B/9 for their return passage to Gibraltar. HMS Foresight however had to return to Malta with an engine problem.

At 2200 hours ‘Force B’ altered course to the eastward as to be in a position to support the destroyers during their passage west at daylight the next day when they were passing south of Sardinia.

The Tiger convoy and it’s escort.

Shortly after midnight the transport Empire Song was mined and damaged. Initially she was able to remain with the convoy but around 0140 hours she was slowly sinking having also been on fire. The destroyers HMS Foresight and HMS Fortune were detached to stand by her. In the end Empire Song blew up during which Foresight was damaged.

The transport New Zealand Star was also damaged but she was able to remain with the convoy as her speed was not affected.

The convoy was attacked by torpedo-bombers early in the night but no damage was done by them. One torpedo passed very close to HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Around 0700 hours the Tiger convoy was joined by HMS Dido and HMS Phoebe. An hour later HMS Calcutta, HMS Carlisle and HMS Coventry also joined.

At 1515 hours the Tiger convoy made rendez-vous with the Mediterreanean Fleet about 50 nautical miles south of Malta.

Eastern Mediterranean.

Convoy’s MW 7A and MW 7B both arrived safely at Malta. Both were swept in by HMS Gloxinia who succeeded in exploding a number of mines. The 5th Destroyer Flotilla was then also able to leave the harbour and they joined the Mediterranean Fleet; these were HMS Kelly (Capt. L.F.A.V.N. Mountbatten, GCVO, DSO, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Allison, DSO, RN) , HMS Jackal (Lt.Cdr. R.McC.P. Jonas, DSC, RN) and HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN)

Also Breconshire arrived at Malta where she fuelled HMS Hotspur, HMS Havock and HMS Imperial.

As said above, at 1515 hours the Tiger convoy made rendez-vous with the Mediterreanean Fleet about 50 nautical miles south of Malta. HMS Queen Elizabeth then joined the battleship column. The Fleet then turned eastward but remained near the convoy for the remainder of the day. During the night he Fleet covered the convoy from a position to the north-eastward of it.

10 May 1941.

Western Mediterranean.

At 0700 hours, when in position 37°35’N, 03°02’E, course was altered to the westward at 15 knots. This being the most comfortable speed for the destroyers in the rising westerly gale.

At 1000 hours, the Capt. (D) 8th Destroyer Flotilla, reported he was in position 37°18’N, 08°45’E steering 275° at 28 knots. He also reported hat his ships were being shadowed by enemy aircraft. The enemy aircraft report was intercepted at 1025 hours. Course was then altered by ‘Force B’ to the eastward to reduce the distance between the two forces.

At 1100 hours, the Capt. (D) 8th Destroyer Flotilla, reported he was in position 37°22’N, 07°54’E, still steering 275° at 28 knots. The destroyers were still being shadowed.

At noon ‘Force B’ altered course to the westward. The wind was by then force 8 with a rising sea. Ten minutes later the enemy aircraft was again heard to report the position of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla and it’s course and speed.

At 1300 hours, the Capt. (D) 8th Destroyer Flotilla, reported he was in position 37°25’N, 07°01’E, steering 270° at 28 knots and that his ships were still being shadowed. At this time ‘Force B’ was 134 nautical miles to the westward and they could only maintain 13 knots in the sea without suffering damage. In view of the weather conditions and the fact that HMS Ark Royal had now only four serviceable fighters available it was not possible to afford the 8th Destroyer Flotilla any fighter protection without hazarding Ark Royal unduly. It was hoped that if an attack would develop the destroyers were able to avoid damage by high speed manoeuvring.

At 1430 hours a signal was received that the 8th Destroyer Flotilla was being bombed in position 37°25’N, 06°18’E and that HMS Fortune had been hit and her speed had been reduced to 8 knots. ‘Force B’ immediately altered course to the eastward and ran before the sea at 24 knots the maximum safe speed for the destroyers in the prevailing weather conditions.

An unidentified aircraft that had been detected by RD/F overtook the force at 1530 hours and was fired at by HMS Sheffield. The aircraft retired to the northward before resuming it’s easterly course. A reconnaissance of three aircraft was flown off at 1600 hours to cover the area to the northward and eastward of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla to maximum depth, in case enemy surface units were out in pursuit. These aircraft reported having sighted nothing on their return.

At 1750 hours a signal was received that the 8th Destroyer Flotilla had been subjected to another bombing attack but that no damage had been done. ‘Force B’ continued eastwards to provide close support in case of more air attacks.

At 1820 hours rendes-vous was made with the 8th Destroyer Flotilla and all ships proceeded westwards steering 280° at 12 knots. This was the best course and speed HMS Fortune could maintain. By this time this destroyer was down by the stern with seas breaking continually over her quarterdeck.

Five search aircraft were flown off by Ark Royal to search to maximum depth between 025° and 090°. Nothing was sighted except for one enemy aircraft. By 2030 hours all aircraft had returned.

As a speed of 12 knots subjected Fortune’s bulkhead to undue strain, HMS Fury was ordered to escort Fortune and proceed at 8 knots for the night. The remainder of the force zig-zagged, clear of these two destroyers, at higher speed.

It became also clear that Fortune had not received a direct hit but that five near misses had bent one shaft and caused flooding in several compartments aft, and minor flooding in the engine room.

Eastern Mediterranean.

The Battlefleet remained near the convoy for the entire day. Visibility improved throughout the day although conditions were still difficult for the enemy to attack from the air. One Ju.88 aircraft was shot down and another one was damaged. One Fulmar was lost when taking off from Formidable.

No enemy air attacks developed until dark when a number of aircraft, probably torpedo bombers, endeavoured to attack the convoy and battlefleet. A very heavy blind barrage of AA fire however kept them off and no torpedoes were seen.

At 1700 hours, Capt. D.5 in HMS Kelly was detached with the ships of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla (besides Kelly these were Kashmir, Kelvin, Kipling and Jackal) to bombard Benghazi before returning to Malta. The bombardment was carried out successfully. Following the bombardment they were dive bombed by German aircraft and all but Kipling were near missed. The Flotilla reached Malta p.m. on the 11th.

11 May 1941.

Western Mediterranean.

At 0532 hours, Vice-Admiral Somerville sent a signal to the Vice-Admiral commanding the North Atlantic station at Gibraltar reporting the position, course and speed of his forces. He also requested a tug to be sent for the assistance of HMS Fortune.

The wind eased considerably during the morning and at daylight Fortune and Fury were sighted about 4 nautical miles in advance of the Fleet and making good about 10 knots.

A reconnaissance of six aircraft were flown off at 0700 hours. These searched for a depth of about 140 miles between 030° and 085°. Visibility was reported as being 10 to 20 miles. Also a search was conducted for a depth of about 100 miles between 085° and 110° with a visibility of 3 to 5 miles. Only a few French merchant vessels were sighted.

Nothing happened during the day.

At 1700 hours a reconnaissance was flown of from position 36°54’N, 01°11’E to a depth of 180 nautical miles between north and east and to a depth of 90 nautical miles between north and 290°. The visibility was reported as being 10 to 15 nautical miles. Nothing was sighted.

The Fleet turned to the eastward for an hour before dark to take up a position well astern of Fortune and Fury during the night.

Eastern Mediterranean.

The Tiger convoy and the Fleet continued eastwards. Enemy aircraft were in the vicinity all day but no attacks developed. One Ju.88 was shot down and another one was damaged, one Fulmar was lost. At dark the cruisers were detached to proceed to Alexandria and the Fleet went on ahead of the convoy.

12 May 1941.

Western Mediterranean.

Just before daylight contact was made by the Fleet with Fortune and Fury. At dawn the tug HMS St. Day and four ML’s arrived from Gibraltar.

HMS Sheffield, HMS Harvester, HMS Hesperus and the four ML’s then remained with HMS Fortune and HMS Fury. Fortune was now able to make 12 knots.

HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal, screened by HMS Faulknor, HMS Fearless, HMS Forester, HMS Foresight and HMS Havelock, then proceeded ahead to conduct flying exercises east of Gibraltar before entering harbour.

A reconnaissance was flown off at 0800 hours to search to the east but nothing was sighted. On their return these aircraft made a practice attack on Renown and Ark Royal. More exercises were carried out during the day.

The Fleet arrived at Gibraltar at 1800 hours. Renown berthed in no.1 dock to enable her damaged 4.5” gun turret to be hoised out.

HMS Sheffield entered harbour at 2030 hours followed shortly afterwards by the damaged Fortune and her escorts.

Eastern Mediterranean.

The bulk of the Fleet arrived at Alexandria around 1000 hours. The convoy arrived later, around 1300 hours. Some ships had been detached from the fleet to arrive early, fuel and then depart again for escort duties. (26)

16 May 1941
Around 2000/16, HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN), HMS Wrestler (Lt. E.L. Jones, DSC, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) departed Gibraltar westwards for exercises.

They returned to Gibraltar between 1930 and 2045/17. (24)

18 May 1941

Chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck,
18 to 27 May 1941.

Part I.

Departure of the Bismarck from the Baltic.

At 2130B/18 the German battleship Bismarck and the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen departed Gotenhafen for an anti-shipping raid in the North Atlantic. The following morning they were joined off Cape Arkona by the German destroyers Z 16 / Friedrich Eckhold and Z 23. They then proceeded through the Great Belt. The four ships were joined by a third destroyer, Z 10 / Hans Lody shortly before midnight on 19 May.

First reports of Bismarck and British dispositions 20-21 May 1941.

On 20 May 1941 two large warships with a strong escort were seen at 1500 hours northward out of the Kattegat. This information originated from the Swedish cruiser Gotland which had passed the Germans off the Swedish coast in the morning. The Naval Attaché at Stockholm received the news at 2100/20 and forwarded it to the Admiralty. At 0900/21 the Bismarck and her consorts entered Kors Fjord, near Bergen, Norway and anchored in nearby fiords. A reconnaissance aircraft flying over Bergen at 1330/21 reported having seen two Hipper class heavy cruisers there. One of these ships was later identified on a photograph as being the Bismarck. This intelligence went out at once to the Home Fleet.

The ships of the Home Fleet were at this time widely dispersed on convoy duties, patrols, etc. Some of the units were ranging as far as Gibraltar and Freetown. The Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir John Tovey, was at Scapa Flow in his flagship, HMS King George V (Capt. W.R. Patterson, CVO, RN). With him were her newly commissioned sister ship HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), the battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, with Vice-Admiral L.E. Holland, CB, RN, onboard), the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, RN), the light cruisers HMS Galatea (Capt. E.W.B. Sim, RN), HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN), HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN) and the destroyers HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.B.N. Hicks, DSO, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSO, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN) and HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN). HMS Victorious was under orders to escort troop convoy WS 8B from the Clyde to the Middle East.

Rear-Admiral W.F. Wake-Walker (commanding the first Cruiser Squadron), with the heavy cruisers HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN) (flag) and HMS Suffolk (Capt. R.M. Ellis, RN) was on patrol in the Denmark Straight. The light cruisers HMS Manchester (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN) and HMS Birmingham (Capt. A.C.G. Madden, RN) were patrolling between Iceland and the Faeroes. The battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) was at the Clyde to escort troop convoy WS 8B.

Action taken by the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet

Admiral Tovey took the following action when he received the news the Bismarck had been spotted at Bergen. Vice-Admiral Holland with the Hood, Prince of Wales, Achates, Antelope, Anthony, Echo, Electra and Icarus was ordered to cover Rear Admiral Wake-Walker's cruisers in the Denmark Straight. His force departed Scapa Flow around 0100/22.

HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), which was taking the Vice-Admiral, Orkneys and Shetlands, to Reykjavik on a visit of inspection, was ordered to remain at Hvalfiord and placed at Rear-Admiral Wake-Walkers disposal. HMS Manchester and HMS Birmingham were ordered to top off with fuel at Skaalefiord and them to resume their patrol. The other ships that remained at Scapa Flow were brought to short notice for steam.

The Free French submarine FFS Minerve (Lt. P.M. Sonneville), which was on patrol off south-west Norway was ordered to proceed to position 61°53'N, 03°15'E and HMS P 31 (Lt. J.B.de B. Kershaw, RN) was ordered to proceed to position 62°08'N, 05°08'E which is to the west of Stadtlandet.

The sailing of HMS Repulse and HMS Victorious with troop convoy WS 8B was cancelled and the ships were placed at the disposal of Admiral Tovey.

A reconnaissance aircraft flying over Bergen reported that the German ships were gone. This information reached Admiral Tovey at 2000/22. HMS Suffolk which had been fuelling at Hvalfiord was ordered to rejoin HMS Norfolk in the Denmark Strait. HMS Arethusa was ordered to join HMS Manchester and HMS Birmingham to form a patrol line between Iceland and the Faeroes. Vice-Admiral Holland, on his way to Iceland was told to cover the patrols in Denmark Strait north of 62°N. Admiral Tovey would cover the patrols south of 62°N.

Commander-in-Chief leaves Scapa Flow on 22 May 1941

The King George V, with Admiral Tovey on board, departed Scapa Flow at 2245/22. With the King George V sailed, HMS Victorious, HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya, HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), HMS Windsor (Lt.Cdr. J.M.G. Waldegrave, DSC, RN), HMS Active, HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Intrepid (Cdr. R.C. Gordon, DSO, RN), HMS Punjabi, HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMAS Nestor. HMS Lance however had to return to Scapa Flow due to defects.

At A.M. 23 May they were joined off the Butt of Lewis by HMS Repulse escorted by HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMCS Assiniboine (A/Lt.Cdr. J.H. Stubbs, RCN) and HMCS Saguenay (Lt. P.E. Haddon, RCN) coming from the Clyde area which they departed on 22 May.

The Commander-in-Chief was 230 miles north-west of the Butt of Lewis in approximate position 60°20'N, 12°30'W when at 2032/23 a signal came in from HMS Norfolk that she had sighted the Bismarck in the Denmark Strait.

HMS Suffolk and HMS Norfolk made contact with the Bismarck in the Denmark Strait on 23 May 1941.

At 1922/23 HMS Suffolk sighted the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen in position 67°06'N, 24°50'W. They were proceeding to the south-west skirting the edge of the ice in Denmark Strait. HMS Suffolk immediately sent out an enemy report and made for the mist to the south-east. HMS Norfolk then commenced closing and sighted the enemy at 2030 hours. They were only some six nautical miles off and the Bismarck opened fire. HMS Norfolk immediately turned away, was not hit and also sent out an enemy report.

Although HMS Suffolk had sighted the enemy first and also sent the first contact report this was not received by the Commander-in-Chief. The enemy was 600 miles away to the north-westward.

Vice-Admiral Holland had picked up the signal from the Suffolk. He was at that moment about 300 nautical miles away. Course was changed to intercept and speed was increased by his force to 27 knots.

Dispositions, 23 May 1941.

At the Admiralty, when the Norfolk's signal came in, one of the first considerations was to safeguard the convoys at sea. At this time there were eleven crossing the North-Atlantic, six homeward and five outward bound. The most important convoy was troop convoy WS 8B of five ships which had left the Clyde the previous day for the Middle East. She was at this moment escorted by the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, MVO, RN), light cruiser (AA cruiser) HMS Cairo (A/Capt. I.R.H. Black, RN) and the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), HMCS Ottawa (Cdr. E.R. Mainguy, RCN), HMCS Restigouche (Lt.Cdr. H.N. Lay, RCN) and the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN). HMS Repulse was also intended to have sailed with this convoy but she had joined the Commander-in-Chief instead.

Force H was sailed around 0200/24 from Gibraltar to protect this important convoy on the passage southwards. Force H was made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt Sir R.R. McGrigor, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN).

HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk shadowing Bismarck 23 / 24 May 1941.

During the night of 23 / 24 May 1941 HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk hung on to the enemy, The Norfolk on their port quarter, Suffolk on their starboard quarter. All through the night they sent signals with updates on the position, course and speed of the enemy. At 0516 hours HMS Norfolk sighted smoke on her port bow and soon HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales came in sight.

HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales 23 / 24 May 1941.

At 2054/23 the four remaining escorting destroyers were ordered to follow at best speed in the heavy seas if they were unable to keep up with the capital ships which were proceeding at 27 knots. Two destroyers, HMS Antelope and HMS Anthony had been ordered to proceed to Iceland to refuel at 1400/23. The destroyers all managed to keep up for now and at 2318 hours they were ordered to form a screen ahead of both capital ships. At 0008/24 speed was reduced to 25 knots and course was altered to due north at 0017 hours. It was expected that contact with the enemy would be made at any time after 0140/24. It was just now that the cruisers lost contact with the enemy in a snowstorm and for some time no reports were coming in. At 0031 hours the Vice-Admiral signalled to the Prince of Wales that if the enemy was not in sight by 0210 hours he would probably alter course to 180° until the cruisers regained touch. He also signalled that he intended to engage the Bismarck with both capital ships and leave the Prinz Eugen to Norfolk and Suffolk.

The Prince of Wales' Walrus aircraft was ready for catapulting and it was intended to fly it off, but visibility deteriorated and in the end it was defuelled and stowed away at 0140 hours. A signal was then passed to the destroyers that when the capital ships would turn to the south they were to continue northwards searching for the enemy. Course was altered to 200° at 0203/24. As there was now little chance of engaging the enemy before daylight the crews were allowed to rest.

At 0247/24 HMS Suffolk regained touch with the enemy and by 0300 hours reports were coming in again. At 0353 hours HMS Hood increased speed to 28 knots and at 0400/24 the enemy was estimated to be 20 nautical miles to the north-west. By 0430 hours visibility had increased to 12 nautical miles. At 0440 hours orders were given to refuel the Walrus of HMS Prince of Wales but due to delays due to water in the fuel it was not ready when the action began and it was damaged by splinters and eventuelly jettisoned into the sea.

At 0535/24 hours a vessel was seen looming on the horizon to the north-west, it was the Bismarck. She was some 17 nautical miles away bearing 330°. Prinz Eugen was ahead of her but this was not immediately realised and as the silhoutte of the German ships was almost similar the leading ship was most likely thought to be the Bismarck on board HMS Hood.

Battle of the Denmark Strait, action with the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. Loss of HMS Hood.

At 0537/24 HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales were turned together 40° to starboard towards the enemy. At 0549 hours course was altered to 300° and the left hand ship was designated as the target. This was a mistake as this was the Prinz Eugen and not the Bismarck. This was changed to the Bismarck just before fire was opened at 0552 hours. At 0554 hours the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen also opened fire. In the meantime Prince of Wales had also opened fire at 0053 hours. Her first salvo was over. The sixth salvo was a straddle. The Norfolk and Suffolk were too far astern of the enemy to take part in the action.

At 0555 hours Hood and Prince of Wales turned two points to port. This opened up Prince of Wales' A arcs as her ninth salvo was fired.

Shortly before 0605 hours Hood signalled that another turn of two points to port had to be executed. Bismarck had just fired her fifth salvo when the Hood was rent in two by a huge explosion rising apparently between the after funnel and the mainmast. The fore part began to sink seperately, bows up, whilst the after part remained shrouded in a pall of smoke. Three or four minutes later, the Hood had vanished between the waves leaving a vast cloud of smoke drifting away to the leeward. She sank in position 63°20'N, 31°50'W (the wreck was found in 2001 in approximate position 63°22'N, 32°17'W, the exact position has not been released to the public.)

The Prince of Wales altered course to starboard to avoid the wreckage of the Hood. The Bismarck now shifted fire from her main and secondary armament to her. Range was now 18000 yards. Within a very short time she was hit by four 15" and three 6" shells. At 0602 hours a large projectile wrecked the bridge, killing or wounding most of the personnel and about the same time the ship was holed underwater aft. It was decided temporarily to discontinue the action and at 0613 hours HMS Prince of Wales turned away behind a smoke screen. The after turret continued to fire but it soon malfunctioned and was out of action until 0825 hours. When the Prince of Wales ceased firing the range was 14500 yards. She had fired 18 salvos from the main armament and five from the secondary. The Bismarck made no attempt to follow or continue the action. She had also not escaped unscatched and had sustained two severe hits.

Such was the end of the brief engagement. The loss by an unlucky hit of HMS Hood with Vice-Admiral Holland, Captain Kerr and almost her entire ships company was a grievous blow, but a great concentration of forces was gathering behind the Commander-in-Chief, and Admiral Somerville with Force H was speeding towards him from the south.

The chase

When the Hood blew up, HMS Norfolk was 15 nautical miles to the northward coming up at 28 knots. By 0630/24 she was approaching HMS Prince of Wales and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker, signalling his intention to keep in touch, told her to follow at best speed. The destroyers that had been with HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales were still to the northward. They were ordered to search for survivors but only HMS Electra found three. The Prince of Wales reported that she could do 27 knots and she was told to open out to 10 nautical miles on a bearing of 110° so that HMS Norfolk could fall back on her if she was attacked. Far off the Prinz Eugen could be seen working out to starboard of the Bismarck while the chase continued to the southward.

At 0757 hours, HMS Suffolk reported that the Bismarck had reduced speed and that she appeared to be damaged. Shortly afterwards a Sunderland that had taken off from Iceland reported that the Bismarck was leaving behind a broad track of oil. The Commander-in-Chief with HMS King George V was still a long way off, about 360 nautical miles to the eastward, and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker on the bridge of HMS Norfolk had to make an important decision, was he to renew the action with the help of the Prince of Wales or was he to make it his business to ensure that the enemy could be intercepted and brought to action by the Commander-in-Chief. A dominant consideration in the matter was the state of the Prince of Wales. Her bridge had been wrecked, she had 400 tons of water in her stern compartments and two of her guns were unserverable and she could go no more then 27 knots. She had only been commissioned recently and barely a week had passed since Captain Leach had reported her ready for service. Her turrets were of a new and an untried model, liable for 'teething' problems and evidently suffering from them, for at the end of the morning her salvoes were falling short and wide. It was doubted if she was a match for the Bismarck in her current state and it was on these grounds that Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker decided that he would confine himself to shadowing and that he would not attempt to force on an action. Soon after 1100/24 visibility decreased and the Bismarck was lost out of sight in mist and rain.

Measures taken by the Admiralty, 24 May 1941.

After the loss of HMS Hood the following measures were taken by the Admiralty. To watch for an attempt by the enemy to return to Germany, HMS Manchester, HMS Birmingham and HMS Arethusa had been ordered at 0120/24 to patrol off the north-east point of Iceland. They were told to proceed to this location with all despatch.

HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN), which with four destroyers was escorting the troopship Britannic (26943 GRT, built 1930) westward, was ordered at 1022/24 to steer west on a closing course and if the Britannic could not keep up she was to leave her with one of the destroyers. Rodney was about 550 nautical miles south-east of the Bismarck. At 1200/24 she left the Britannic in position 55°15'N, 22°25'W and left HMS Eskimo (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN) with her. Rodney then proceeded with HMS Somali (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN) and HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN) westwards on a closing course.

Two other capital ships were in the Atlantic; HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Read, RN) and HMS Revenge (Capt. E.R. Archer, RN). The Ramillies was escorting convoy HX 127 from Halifax and was some 900 nautical miles south of the Bismarck. She was ordered at 1144/24 to place herself to the westward of the enemy and leaving her convoy at 1212/24 in position 46°25'N, 35°24'W, she set course to the north. HMS Revenge was ordered to leave Halifax and close the enemy.

Light cruiser HMS Edinburgh (Capt. C.M. Blackman, DSO, RN) was patrolling in the Atlantic between 44°N and 46°N for German merchant shipping and was ordered at 1250/24 to close the enemy and take on relief shadower. At 1430/24 she reported her position as 44°17'N, 23°56'W and she was proceeding on course 320° at 25 knots.

Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker was ordered to continue shadowing even if he ran short of fuel so to bring the Commander-in-Chief into action.

The Bismack turns due south at 1320 hours on 24 May 1941.

In the low state of visibility, HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk had to be constantly on the alert against the enemy falling back and attacking them. At 1320/24 the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen altered course to the south and reduced speed. HMS Norfolk sighted them through the rain at a range of only 8 nautical miles. Norfolk had to quickly turn away under the cover of a smoke screen.

It was at 1530/24 when HMS Norfolk received a signal made by the Commander-in-Chief at 0800/24 from which it was estimated that the Commander-in-Chief would be near the enemy at 0100/25. This was later changed to 0900/25.

At 1545/24, Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker was asked by the Admiralty to answer four questions;
1) State the remaining percentage of the Bismarck's fighting efficiency.
2) What amout of ammunition had the Bismarck expended.
3) What are the reasons for the frequent alterations of course by the Bismarck.
4) What are your intentions as regards to the Prince of Wales' re-engaging the Bismarck.

The answers by Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker were as follows.
1) Uncertain but high.
2) About 100 rounds.
3) Unaccountable except as an effort to shake off HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk.
4) Consider it wisely for HMS Prince of Wales to not re-engage the Bismarck until other capital ships are in contact, unless interception failed. Doubtful if she has the speed to force an action.

The afternoon drew on towards evening. Still the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen held on to the south while the Norfolk, Suffolk and Prince of Wales were still keeping her in sight.

At 1711/24 in order to delay the enemy if possible, by attacking him from astern, the Prince of Wales was stationed ahead of the Norfolk. The enemy was not in sight from the Norfolk at that time, but the Suffolk was still in contact.

At 1841/24 the Bismarck opened fire on the Suffolk. Her salvoes fell short, but one or two shorts came near enough to cause some minor damage to her hull plating aft. HMS Suffolk replied with nine broadsides before turning away behind a smoke screen.

On seeing the Suffolk being attacked, HMS Norfolk turned towards and she and HMS Prince of Wales opened fire, the latter firing 12 salvoes. By 1856 hours the action was over. Two of the guns on the Prince of Wales malfuntioned again. After the action the cruisers started to zig-zag due to fear for German submarines.

British dispositions at 1800 hours on 24 May 1941.

From the Admiralty at 2025/24, there went out a signal summarising the situation at 1800/24. The position, course and speed of the Bismarck was given as 59°10'N, 36°00'W, 180°, 24 knots with HMS Norfolk, HMS Suffolk and HMS Prince of Wales still in touch. The Commander-in-Chiefs estimated position at 1800/24 was 58°N, 30°W, with HMS King George V and HMS Repulse. HMS Victorious was with the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya, HMS Neptune). They had parted company with the Commander-in-Chief at 1509/24. Heavy cruiser HMS London (Capt. R.M. Servaes, CBE, RN) was in position 42°45'N, 20°10'W and had been ordered to leave her convoy and close the enemy. HMS Ramillies was in estimated position 45°45'N, 35°40'W. She had been ordered to place herself to the west of the enemy. HMS Manchester, HMS Birmingham and HMS Arethusa were returning from their position off the north-east of Iceland to refuel. HMS Revenge had left Halifax and was closing convoy HX 128. HMS Edinburgh was in approximate position 45°15'N, 25°10'W. She had been ordered to close and take over stand by shadower.

Evening of 24 May 1941.

At 2031/24 HMS Norfolk received a signal sent by the Commander-in-Chief at 1455/24 stating that aircraft from HMS Victorious might make an attack at 2200/24 and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker now waited for an air attack which he expected at 2300 hours. By that time Bismarck had been lost from sight but at 2330/24 HMS Norfolk briefly sighted her at a distance of 13 nautical miles. At 2343/24 aircraft from HMS Victorious were seen approaching. They circled round HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Norfolk and the latter was able to direct them to the enemy. At 0009/25 heavy anti-aircraft gunfire was seen and the Bismarck was just visible as the aircraft attacked.

HMS Victorious and the 2nd Cruiser Squadron detached by the Commander-in-Chief.

At 1440/24 the Commander-in-Chief ordered the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya, HMS Hermione) and HMS Victorious to a position within 100 nautical miles from Bismarck and to launch a torpedo bombing attack and maintain contact as long as possible. The object of the torpedo bombing attack was to slow the enemy down. On board the Victorious were only 12 Swordfish torpedo bombers and 6 Fulmar fighters. Victorious was only recently commissioned and her crew was still rather green. She had on board a large consignment of crated Hurricane fighters for Malta which were to be delivered to Gibraltar.

At 2208/24 HMS Victorious commenced launching 9 Swordfish in position 58°58'N, 33°17'E. Two minutes later al were on their way to find the Bismarck. The Squadron was led by Lt.Cdr.(A) E. Esmonde, RN.

HMS Victorious aircraft attack the Bismarck.

When the Swordfish took off from HMS Victorious the Bismarck was estimated to be in position 57°09'N, 36°44'W and was steering 180°, speed 24 knots. At 2330/24 they sighted the Bismarck but contact was lost in the bad weater. Shortly afterwards the Swordfish sighted HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk. HMS Norfolk guided them to the enemy which was 14 nautical miles on her starboard bow. At 2350 hours a vessel was detected ahead and the squadron broke cloud to deliver an attack. To their surprise they found themselves over a United States Coastguard cutter. The Bismarck was 6 nautical miles to the southward and on sighting the aircraft opened up a heavy barrage fire. Lt.Cdr. Esmonde pressed home his attack, 8 of the Swordfish were able to attack, the other had lost contact in the clouds.

The 8 planes attacked with 18" torpedoes, fitted with Duplex pistols set for 31 feet. At midnight three Swordfish attacked simultaneously on the port beam. Three others made a longer approach low down attacking on the port bow a minute later. One took a longer course, attacking on the port quarter. One went round and attacked on the starboard bow a couple of minutes after midnight. At least one hit was claimed on the starboard side abreast the bridge. The Germans however state that no hit was scored but that the violent maneuvering of the ship to avoid the attack, together with the heavy firing by the Bismarck caused the leak in no.2 boiler room to open up. No.2 boiler room was already partially flooded and now had to be abandoned.

All Swordfish from the striking had returned to HMS Victorious by 0201/25. Two Fulmars launched at 2300/24 for shadowing failed to find their ship in the darkness due to the failure of Victorious' homing beacon. Their crews were in the end picked up from the chilly water.

HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk loose contact at 0306/25.

While the aircraft from HMS Victorious were making their attack, HMS Norfolk sighted a ship to the south-west and gave the order to open fire. HMS Prince of Wales was able to identify it in time as an American coast guard cutter, but in the movements prepartory to opening fire HMS Norfolk lost touch with the enemy for a time and it was not until 0116/25 that she suddenly sighted the Bismarck only 8 nautical miles away. There followed a brief exchange of fire. HMS Norfolk and HMS Prince of Wales turned to port to bring their guns to bear and the latter was ordered to engage. It was then 0130/25. The Prince of Wales fired two salvoes at 20000 yards by radar. The Bismarck answered with two salvoes which fell a long way short. The light was failing and the enemy was again lost to sight. HMS Suffolk, which had to most reliable RDF set was told to act independently so as to keep in touch.

Around 0306/25 the Suffolk lost touch with the Bismarck. At 0552/25 Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker asked if HMS Victorious could launch aircraft for a search at dawn.

Search measures, 25 May 1941.

With the disappearance of the Bismarck at 0306/25 the first phase of the pursuit ended. The Commander-in-Chief, in HMS King George V with HMS Repulse in company was then about 115 nautical miles to the south-east. At 0616/25, Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker signalled that it was most probable that Bismarck and Prinz Eugen made a 90° turn to the west or turned back and 'cut away' to the eastward astern of the cruisers. Suffolk was already searching to the south-west and Norfolk was waiting for daylight to do the same. Prince of Wales was ordered to join the King George V and Repulse.

Force H was still on a course to intercept the Bismarck while steaming on at 24 knots. The Rear-Admiral commanding the 2nd Cruiser Squadron in HMS Galatea had altered course at 0558/25 to 180° for the position where the enemy was last seen and the Victorious was getting 8 aircraft ready to fly off at 0730/25 for a search to the eastward. This plan however was altered on orders being recieved from the Commander-in-Chief to take the cruisers and Victorious and carry out a search to the north-west of the Bismarck's last reported position. Five Fulmars had already been up during the night, two of them had not returned to the ship. The search therefore had to be undertaken by Swordfish, the only aircraft available. At 0810/25, seven Swordfish were flown off from position 56°18'N, 36°28'W to search between 280° and 040° up to 100 nautical miles. The search was supplemented by Victorious herself as well as the cruisers from the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (Galatea, Aurora, Kenya and Hermione) which were spread some miles apart.

DF position of the Bismarck of 0852/25.

HMS King George V was still proceeding to the south-west when at 1030/25 the Commander-in-Chief recieved a signal from the Admiralty that the Bismarck's position had been obtained by DF (direction finding) and that it indicated that the Bismarck was on a course for the North Sea by the Faeroes-Iceland passage. To counter this move by the enemy the Commander-in-Chief turned round at 1047/25 and made for the Faeroes-Iceland passage at 27 knots. HMS Repulse was no longer in company with HMS King George V, she had been detached at 0906/25 for Newfoundland to refuel. Suffolk also turned to the eastward to search, her search to the south-west had been fruitless. The search by HMS Victorious, her aircraft and the 2nd Cruiser Squadron to the north-west also had no result. Six Swordfish were landed on by 1107/25, one failed to return. HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora and HMS Kenya now turned towards the DF position of the Bismarck to search in that direction. HMS Hermione had to be detached to Hvalfiord, Iceland to refuel as she was by now down to 40%. The other cruisers slowed down to 20 knots to economise their remaining fuel supply wich was also getting low. At this moment HMS King George V had about 60% remaining.

Events during 25 May 1941.

At 1100/25, HMS King George V, HMS Suffolk and HMS Prince of Wales were proceeding to the north-east in the direction of the enemy's DF signal. HMS Rodney was in position 52°34'N, 29°23'W some 280 nautical miles to the south-eastward on the route towards the Bay of Biscay. On receiving the Commander-in-Chiefs signal of 1047/25 she too proceeded to the north-east.

Meanwhile to Admiralty had come to the conclusion that the Bismarck most likely was making for Brest, France. This was signalled to the Commander-in-Chief at 1023/25 to proceed together with Force H and the 1st Cruiser Squadron on that assumption.

In the absence however of definite reports it was difficult to be certain of the position of the enemy. The DF bearings in the morning had not been very definite. At 1100/25, HMS Renown (Force H), was in position 41°30'N, 17°10'W was ordered to act on the assumption the enemy was making for Brest, France. She shaped course accordingly and prepared a comprehensive sheme of air search. At 1108/25, HMS Rodney, was told to act on the assumption that the enemy was making for the Bay of Biscay. At 1244/25 the Flag Officer Submarines ordered six submarines to take up intercepting positions about 120 nautical miles west of Brest. The submarines involved were HMS Sealion (Cdr. B. Bryant, DSC, RN), HMS Seawolf (Lt. P.L. Field, RN), HMS Sturgeon (Lt.Cdr. D. St. Clair-Ford, RN) from the 5th Submarine Flottilla at Portsmouth, HMS Pandora (Lt.Cdr. J.W. Linton, DSC, RN), which was on passage to the U.K. from the Mediterranean to refit, HMS Tigris (Lt.Cdr. H.F. Bone, DSO, DSC, RN), from the 3rd Submarine Flottilla at Holy Loch and HMS H 44 (Lt. W.N.R. Knox, DSC, RN), a training boat from the 7th Submarine Flotilla at Rothesay which happened to be at Holyhead. Seawolf, Sturgeon and Tigris were already on patrol in the Bay of Biscay, Sealion departed Portsmouth on the 25th as did H 44 but she sailed from Holyhead. Pandora was on passage to the U.K. to refit and was diverted.

At 1320/25 a good DF fix located an enemy unit within a 50 mile radius from position 55°15'N, 32°00'W. This was sent by the Admiralty to the Commander-in-Chief at 1419/25 and it was received at 1530/25. It was only in the evening that it was finally clear to all involved that Bismarck was indeed making for a French port. Air searches had failed to find her during the day. (27)

18 May 1941

Chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck,
18 to 27 May 1941.

Part II.

26 May 1941.

By now the question of fuel was becoming acute. For four days ships had been steaming at high speeds and the Commander-in-Chief was faced with the reality of fuel limits. HMS Repulse had already left for Newfoundland, HMS Prince of Wales had by now been sent to Iceland to refuel. HMS Victorious and HMS Suffolk had been forced to reduce speed to economise their fuel.

Coastal Command started air searches along the route towards the Bay of Biscay by long range Catalina flying boats. Lack of fuel was effecting the destroyer screens of the capital ships. There was no screen available for HMS Victorious. The 4th Destroyer Flotilla, escorting troop convoy WS 8B, was ordered at 0159/26 to join the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V and HMS Rodney as was HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN) which sailed from Londonderry. Leaving the convoy the 4th D.F. proceeded to the north-east. Force H in the meantime was also approaching the immediate area of operations. These forces were to play an important part in the final stages of the chase of the Bismarck.

Force H, 26 May 1941.

HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Sheffield were having a rough passage north in heavy seas, high wind, rain and mist. Their escorting destroyers had already turned back towards Gibraltar at 0900/25. At dawn on the 26th there was half a gale blowing from the north-west. At 0716/26 HMS Ark Royal launched a security patrol in position 48°26'N, 19°13'W to search to the north and to the west just in case the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had departed Brest to come to the aid of the Bismarck. At 0835/26 there followed an A/S patrol of ten Swordfish. All planes had returned by 0930. None had seen anything.

Bismarck sighted at 1030/26.

It was at 1030/26 that one of the long range Catalina's of the Coastal Command sighted the Bismarck in position 49°30'N, 21°55'W. It was received in HMS King George V at 1043 hours and in HMS Renown in 1038 hours. It placed the enemy well to the westward of the Renown. It was confirmed within the hour when two Swordfish from the Ark Royal which reported the Bismarck in position 49°19'N, 20°52'W some 25 miles east of the position given by the Catalina. The Commander-in-Chief was at that moment about 130 miles to the north of the Bismarck but it was soon clear that the Bismarck had too great a lead to permit her being overtaken unless her speed could be reduced. Nor was the question one merely of distance and speed. The Bismarck was approaching a friendly coast and could run her fuel tanks nearly dry and was sure of air protection, while the British ships would have a long journey back to base in the face of air and submarine attack. HMS Renown was ahead of the Bismarck but it was important that she did not engage the Bismarck unless the latter was already heavily engaged by the better armoured HMS King George V and HMS Rodney.

When the Catalina found the Bismarck at 1030 hours, the 4th Destroyer Flotilla was steering east to join the Commander-in-Chief. They seem to have crossed astern of the enemy's track about 0800/26. The Catalina's report reached Capt. Vian in HMS Cossack at 1054/26 and 'knowing that the Commander-in-Chief would order him to intercept the enemy' Capt. Vian altered course to the south-east.

First attack by aircraft from the Ark Royal.

At 1315/26 HMS Sheffield was detached to the southward with orders to close and shadow the enemy, who was estimated to be 40 nautical miles south-west of the Renown. The visual signal ordering this movement was not repeated to HMS Ark Royal, an omission which had serious consequenses for the aircraft that were to take off did not know that HMS Sheffield had parted company.

At 1450/26 HMS Ark Royal launched a striking force of 14 Swordfish aircraft with the orders to proceed to the south and attack the Bismarck with torpedoes. Weather and cloud conditions were bad and a radar contact was obtained on a ship some 20 nautical miles from the estimated position of the enemy that had been given to the leader shortly before takeoff. At 1550 hours they broke through the clouds and fired 11 torpedoes. Unfortunately the supposed enemy was HMS Sheffield which managed to avoid all torpedoes. The Bismarck at that time was some 15 nautical miles to the southward. The striking force then returned an all aircraft had landed on by 1720/26.

At 1740/26, HMS Sheffield, sighted the Bismarck in position 48°30'N, 17°20'W and took station about 10 nautical miles astern and commenced shadowing the enemy.

Ark Royal's second attack, 2047/26.

The first striking force on its way back sighted the 4th Destroyer Flotilla 20 nautical miles west of Force H. As soon as the aircraft from the first strike had landed they were refuelled and rearmed as fast as possible. Take off started at 1910/26, a total of 15 Swordfish were launched. Reports coming in from HMS Sheffield placed the Bismarck at 167°, 38 nautical miles from the Ark Royal. The striking force was ordered to contact HMS Sheffield who was told to use DF to guide them in.

At 1955/26 HMS Sheffield was sighted but soon lost in the bad weather conditions. She was found again at 2035 hours, she guided the Swordfish in and directed them by visual signal on the enemy bearing 110°, 12 nautical miles. The force took departure for the target in subflights in line astern at 2040/26.

At 2047/26 no.1 subflight of three Swordfish dived through the clouds and sighted the Bismarck 4 nautical miles off to the south-east. One Swordfish of no.3 subflight was with them. Approaching again just inside the cloud they made their final dive at 2053/26 on the port beam under a very intense and accurate fire from the enemy. They dropped four torpedoes of which one was seen to hit. No.2 subflight, made up of two Swordfish, lost touch with no.1 subflight in the clouds, climed to 9000 feet, then dived on a bearing obtained by radar and then attacked from the starboard beam, again under heavy and intense fire. They dropped two torpedoes for one possible hit. The third plane of this subflight had lost touch with the other two and had returned to HMS Sheffield to obtained another range and bearing to the enemy. It then flew ahead of the enemy and carried out a determined attack from his port bow under heavy fire and obtained a torpedo hit on the port side amidships.

Subflight no.4 followed subflight no.3 into the clouds but got iced up at 6600 feet. It then dived through the clouds and was joined by no.2 aircraft from subflight no.3. The Bismarck was then sighted engaging subflight no.2 to starboard. The four aircraft then went into the clouds and cicled the German battleships stern and then dived out of the clouds again and attack simultaneously from the port side firing four torpedoes. All however missed the Bismarck. They came under a very heavy and fierce fire from the enemy and one of the aircraft was heavily damaged, the pilot and air gunner being wounded.

The two aircraft of subflight no.5 lost contact with the other subflights and then with each other in the cloud. They climbed to 7000 feet where ice began to form. When coming out of the cloud at 1000 feet aircraft 4K sighted the Bismarck down wind, she then went back into the cloud under fire from the enemy. She saw a torpedo hit on the enemy's starboard side, reached a position on the starboard bow, withdrew to 5 miles, then came in just above the sea and just outside 1000 yards fired a torpedo which did not hit. The second plane of this flight lost his leader diving through the cloud, found himself on the starboard quarter and after two attempts to attack under heavy fire was forced to jettison his torpedo.

Of the two Swordfish of subflight no.6 one attacked the Bismarck on the starboard beam and dropped his torpedo at 2000 yards without success. The second plane lost the enemy, returned to the Sheffield for a new range and bearing and after searching at sea level attacked on the starboard beam but was driven off by intense fire. The attack was over by 2125/26. Thirteen torpedoes had been fired and it was thought two hits and one probable hit had been obtained. Two torpedoes were jettisoned. The severe nature and full effect of the damage done was at first not fully realised. Actually the Bismarck had received a deadly blow. The last of the shadowing aircraft to return had seen her make two complete circles. One torpedo had struck her on the port side amidships doing little damage but th other torpedo that hit was on the starboard quarter damaging her propellors, wrecking her steering gear and jambing her rudders, it was this torpedo hit that sealed her fate.

HMS Sheffield was still shadowing astern when at 2140/26 the Bismarck turned to port and fired six accurate salvoes of 15". None actually hit Sheffield but a near miss killed three men and seriously injured two. HMS Sheffield turned away and while doing so she sighted HMS Cossack and the other destroyers from the 4th DF approaching from the westward. She then gave them the approximate position of the Bismarck. At 2155/26, HMS Sheffield lost touch with the Bismarck. The destroyers continued to shadow and eventually attack. Meanwhile HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal shaped course for the southward to keep the road clear for the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V and for HMS Rodney. Also in the Ark Royal aircraft were being got ready for an attack on the Bismarck at dawn.

Bismarck, 26 May 1941.

The Bismarck could no longer steer after the torpedo hit aft. The steering motor room was flooded up to the main deck and the rudders were jambed. Divers went down to the steering room and managed to centre one rudder but the other remained immovable. She was by this time urgently in need of fuel. It was hoped by the Germans that while she was nearing the French coast strong forces of aircraft and submarines would come to her assistance.

At 2242/26, Bismarck sighted the British destroyers. A heavy fire was opened on them. Their appearence greatly complicated the situation. Before their arrival however, Admiral Lütjens seems to have made up his mind as one hour earlier he had signalled to Berlin 'ship out of control. We shall fight to the last shell. Long live the Führer.'

The fourth Destroyer Flotilla makes contact, 26 May 1941.

Just as the sun was setting, Captain Vian (D.4) in HMS Cossack with HMS Maori, HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu and the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun arrived on the scene.

Shortly after 1900/26 HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal were sighted to the northward. Ark Royal was just about to fly off the second striking force. The destroyers continued on the the south-east. At 2152/26 HMS Sheffield was sighted and from her Captain Vian obtained the approximate position of the enemy.

The destroyers were spread 2.5 nautical miles apart on a line bearing 250° - 070° in the order from north-east to south-west, Piorun, Maori, Cossack, Sikh, Zulu. During the latter stages of the approach speed was reduced and the flotilla manoeuvred so as to avoid making a high speed end-on contact.

At 2238/26, ORP Piorun on the port wing reported the Bismarck 9 nautical miles distant, bearing 145° and steering to the south-eastward.

Destroyers shadowing, late on 26 May 1941.

At the time the Piorun reported being in contact with the Bismarck the destroyers were steering 120°. All were at once ordered to take up shadowing positions. Four minutes later the Bismarck opened a heavy fire with her main and secondary armaments on the Piorun and Maori. Two attempts were made by these ships to work round to the northward of the enemy but they were silhouetted against the north-western horizon making them easy to spot. The Bismarck's fire was unpleasantly accurate, through neither destroyer was actually hit. The Commanding Officer of the Maori then decided to work round to the southward and altered course accordingly.

The Piorun closed the range and herself opened fire from 13500 yards but after firing three salvoes, she was straddled by a salvo which fell about 20 yards from the ships side. She then ceased fire and turned away to port while making smoke. During this engagement she lost touch with the other destroyers and later also with the Bismarck. She remained under fire for about one hour but was not hit. She worked round to the north-east of the Bismarck but eventually lost touch with her prey at 2355/26.

The other destroyers, meanwhile, had been working round to the southward of the enemy to take up shadowing positions to the eastward of him. Soon after the initial contact it was evident the the Bismarck's speed had been so seriously reduced that interception by the battlefleet was certain, provided that contact could be held. In these circumstances Captain Vian defined his object at firstly, to deliver the enemy to the Commander-in-Chief at the time he desired, and secondly, to sink or immoblise her with torpedoes during the night but not with to great a risk for the destroyers. Accordingly at 2248/26 as signal was made to all ordering them to shadow and this operation was carried out through the night, though torpedo attacks were carried out later under the cover of darkness.

As darkness came on, the weather deteriorated and heavy rain squalls became frequent. Visibility varied between 2.5 nautical miles and half a mile but the Bismarck, presumably using radar, frequently opened up accurate fire outside these ranges.

About half an hour after sunset, the destroyers were ordered at 2324/26 to take up stations prepartory to carrying out a synchronised torpedo attack. This was subsequently cancelled on account of the adverse weather conditions and they were ordered to attack independently as opportunity offered. At about 2300 hours the Bismarck altered course to the north-westward.

At this time HMS Zulu was in touch with her and kept her under observation from the southward. At 2342 hours the Bismarck opened fire on HMS Cossack, then about 4 miles to the south-south-west and shot away her aerials. The Cossack turned away under the cover of smoke, shortly afterwards resuming her course to the eastward.

A few minutes later, at 2350 hours, HMS Zulu came under heavy fire from the Bismarck's 15" guns. The first three salvoes straddled wounding an officer and two ratings. Drastic avoiding action was taken as a result of which Zulu lost touch. HMS Sikh, however, who had lost sight of the enemy half an hour previously, had observed her firing at HMS Cossack and now succeeded in shadowing from astern until 0020/27 when the enemy made a large alteration to port and commenced firing at her. HMS Sikh altered course to port, intending to fire torpedoes, but the view of the Torpedo Control Officer was obscured by shell splashes and Sikh then withdrew to the southward.

Destroyer night torpedo attacks, 26/27 May 1941.

HMS Zulu, after her escape at 2345/26, had steered to the northward and at 0030/27 fell in with HMS Cossack. Shortly afterwards she sighted ORP Piorun. On receipt of a signal from Captain Vian, timed 0040/27, to take any opporunity to fire torpedoes, HMS Zulu altered course to the westward,and at 0100/27 sighted the Bismarck steering 340°.

Positions of the destroyers was now as follows; to the north-eastward of the enemy, HMS Cossack was working round to the north and west. HMS Maori, since losing touch, had been making to the westward. She was now to the south-west of the Bismarck. HMS Sikh was some distance to the southward, not having received any information regarding the position of the Bismarck since 0025/27. HMS Zulu was astern of the enemy and in contact. Range was only 5000 yards. Bismarck finally spotted Zulu and at once opened fire with her main and secondary armament and straddled Zulu. She fired four torpedoes at 0121/27 but no hits were observed and they are believed to have missed ahead. Zulu then ran out to the northward in order to be clear of the other destroyers. Shortly afterwards they widnessed a successful attack by HMS Maori.

HMS Maori had seen the Bismarck opening fire on the Zulu at 0107/27. Maori then closed to 4000 yards on Bismarck's port quarter apparently undetected. When abeam of the enemy, who then appeared to be altering course to starboard Maori fired a star shell to see what he was about. Two minutes later, at 0137/27, two torpedoes were fired and course was altered towards the Bismarck with the intention of attacking again from her starboard bow once the enemy had steadied on her new course. Whilst Maori was turning a torpedo hit was observed on the enemy. A bright glow illuminated the waterline of the enemy battleship from stem to stern. Shortly afterwards there appeared between the bridge and the stem a glare that might have been a second hit. The enemy immediately opened up a very heavy fire with both main and secondairy armaments and quick firing guns. As the Maori was being straddled, she turned away, and increased to full speed. Shots continued to fall on both sides of the ship until the range had been opened up to 10000 yards. Maori was not actually hit. Meanwhile HMS Cossack had been creeping up from the north-eastward and at 0140/27, only three minutes after Maori had fired two torpedoes, Cossack launched three torpedoes from 6000 yards. Bismarck stood out plainly, silhoutted by the broadsides she was firing at the Maori. One torpedo was seen to hit. Flames blazed on the forecastle of the Bismarck after this hit but they were quickly extinguished. Probably as a consequence of the torpedo hits the Bismarck stopped dead in the water, this was reported by HMS Zulu at 0148/27. After about one hour the Bismarck got underway again. On receipt of this report, HMS Sikh, who was closing the scene of the action from the southward, made an attack. Four torpedoes were fired at 0218/27 at the stopped battleship. It is believed that one hit was obtained. After this attack Sikh remained in radar contact with the enemy until 0359/27 when contact was lost.

Around 0240/27 the Bismarck was underway again, proceeding very slowly to the north-westward. At 0335/27, HMS Cossack made another attack firing her last remaining torpedo from a range of 4000 yards. It missed. HMS Cossack then came under a heavy fire. She withdrew to the northward under the cover of smoke, altering to a westerly course shortly afterwards.

At 0400/27 all destroyers had lost touch with the enemy. HMS Cossack was then to the north-west and HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu and HMS Maori were between the south-west and south-east of the Bismarck. All destroyers now endeavoured to regain contact.

Touch with the enemy was not regained until shortly before 0600 hours. By that time ORP Piorun, which was running short of fuel, had been ordered to proceed to Plymouth.

Destroyers shadowing, morning twilight, 27 May 1941, final attack.

Touch was regained by HMS Maori at 0550/27 when she sighted the Bismarck zigzagging slowly on a base course of 340° at about 7 knots. Maori commenced shadowing until daylight. At 0625 hours, HMS Sikh was also in contact when the Bismarck emerged from a rain squal 7000 yards on her starboard bow. By then it was nearly full daylight but to the surprise of the crew of the Sikh she got away with it without being fired at.

Shortly before sunrise a final torpedo attack was carried out by HMS Maori, which fired two torpedoes at 0656/27 from 9000 yards. Both missed. The Bismarck opened fire and straddled Maori which escaped at 28 knots.

At daylight the destroyers were stationed in four sectors from which they were able to keep the enemy under continuous observation until the arrival of the Battle Fleet at 0845 hours.

Force H, 26/27 May 1941.

While the destroyers were shadowing the Bismarck, the pursuing forces were drawing steadily closer. To the north was the Commander-in-Chief with the King George V and the Rodney with the Norfolk closing on them. In the south HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) was coming up, while Force H was waiting for the dawn. When Captain Vian's destroyers got in touch at 2251/26 the Renown and Ark Royal were north-west of the enemy. It was not possible to attack with aircraft during the night but all preparations were made to attack at dawn with 12 Swordfish. Course was shaped to the northward and then to the west for a time and at 0115/27 Force H turned south. Shortly afterwards instructions were received from the Commander-in-Chief to keep not less then 20 miles to the southward of the Bismarck so as to leave a clear approach for the Battle Fleet. Force H accordingly continued to the southward during the night. Bursts of starshell and gunfire could be seen during the night while the destroyers attacked. At 0509/27 an aircraft was flown off from HMS Ark Royal to act as a spotter for HMS King George V but it failed to find the Bismarck in the bad weather. The striking of force of 12 Swordfish was ready but due to the bad weather to strike was cancelled.

At 0810/27, HMS Maori was sighted. She reported the Bismarck 11 miles to the north of her. The made the enemy 17 miles to the north of HMS Renown so course was shaped to the south-west. At 0915/27 heavy gunfire could be heard and the striking force was flown off. They found the Bismarck at 1016/27. By then the battle was almost over, her guns were silenced and she was on fire. They saw her sink. At 1115/27 they had all landed back on HMS Ark Royal. A German Heinkel aircraft dropped a couple of bombs near HMS Ark Royal when they were landing on.

HMS Norfolk, 26/27 May 1941.

When the Catalina report (1030/26) came in, HMS Norfolk altered course to the south-west and increased speed to 27 knots. At 2130/26 the Bismarck was still some 160 nautical miles to the southward and speed was increased to 30 knots. At 2228/26 the report on the torpedo hit by the aircraft from Ark Royal came in and the Norfolk turned to the southward, continuing to close the enemy. At 0753/27 Norfolk sighted the Bismarck. She did not open fire and was lost to sight after ten minutes. At 0821/27, HMS King George V, was sighted to the westward, 12 nautical miles away. The position of the enemy was passed to the Commander-in-Chief. The action opened at 0847/27 at which time HMS Norfolk was then some 10 nautical miles from the Commander-in-Chief and due north of the Bismarck. HMS Norfolk had seen the beginning and was now to see the end.

HMS Dorsetshire, 26/27 May 1941.

On 26 May 1941, HMS Dorsetshire, was with convoy SL 74 proceeding from Freetown to the U.K. When she received the sighting report from the Catalina at 1056/26 she was some 360 nautical miles to the south of the Bismarck. She then left the protection of the convoy to the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Bulolo (Capt.(Retd.) R.L. Hamer, RN) and set course for the northward to take up the possible task of shadowing. By 2343/26 it became clear from reports that the Bismarck was making no ground to the eastward and that at 0230/27 she appeared to be laying stopped. Due to the heavy seas HMS Dorsetshire was forced to reduce speed to 25 knots and later even to 20 knots. At 0833/27 a destroyer was sighted ahead at a range of 8 nautical miles, it was HMS Cossack which reported the enemy at a range of 6 nautical miles. At 0850/27 the flashes of the Bismarck's guns could be seen to the westward. HMS Dorsetshire arrived at the scene of the action in the nick of time.

HMS King George V and HMS Rodney, 26/27 May 1941.

During 26 May 1941 the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V had been making hard to the south-east at 25 knots. He had been joined by HMS Rodney at 1806/26. They were then some 90 nautical miles north of the Bismarck. Fuel was a matter of grave anxiety. At noon on the 26th, HMS King George V, had only 32% remaining and HMS Rodney reported that she had to return at 0800/27. Speed had to be reduced on this account to 22 knots at 1705/26. In these circumstances it was no longer possible to hope to intercept the enemy, and the Commander-in-Chief decided that unless the enemy's speed had been reduced by 2400/26, he must turn at that hour. The only hope lay in the Bismarck being slowed up by the Swordfish attacking from HMS Ark Royal. A report came in that the striking force had left. Then at 2132/26, HMS Sheffield, reported that the enemy was steering 340° followed by 000° four minutes later. These reports indicated that the Bismarck was not able to hold her course and that her steering gear must have been damaged. It might still be possible to intercept her.

The Commander-in-Chief turned to the south at once hoping to make contact from the eastward in the failing light. Due to the bad weather conditions and visibility the Commander-in-Chief decided to haul off the the eastward and northward and then work round to engage from the westward at dawn. He turned eastward at 2306/26. During the night reports from Captain Vian's destroyers came in confirming the northerly course of the Bismarck. At 0236/27 the Commander-in-Chief ordered Captain Vian that the destroyers were to fire star-shell every half hour, but frequent rain squalls prevented these from being seen and they tended to attrack the enemy's fire. The Bismarck was still a formidable opponent for at 0353/27 Captain Vian reported that during the last hour she had done 8 nautical miles and that she was still capable of heavy and accurate fire. The Commander-in-Chief decided not to make a dawn approach but to wait until daylight while approaching from the west taking advantage of wind, sea and light. At 0529/27 HMS Rodney reported sighting HMS Norfolk to the eastward by DF. It was light at 0600 hours. At 0820 hours HMS Norfolk was sighted on the port bow of HMS King George V. She signalled 'enemy 130°, 16 nautical miles'. At 0843/27 looming on the starboard bow there emerges out of a rain squall the dark grey blot of a large ship. 'Enemy in sight'.

Bismarck 26/27 May 1941.

The Bismarck after altering course to the north-west had been labouring along with a jambed rudder, steering an erratic course at 8 knots. During the night the attacking destroyers were met with heavy and accurate salvoes. Sixteen torpedoes were fired at her. Early in the morning a glare of star-shell burst over her, lighting her up. Three torpedoes followed from a destroyer on the port bow (HMS Maori) of which one hit on the port side amidships. Three minutes later three more came from the starboard side (these were fired by HMS Cossack) of which one hit on the starboard bow. The damage that was sustained from these torpedo hits is not known. The Bismarck lay stopped for over one hour. At 0140/27 a message was received that a large number of Junkers bombers were coming to her aid as were U-boats but the Bismarck was beyond their help besides that the aircraft did not find her. One U-boat (U-556, which was out of torpedoes) on its way back from the Atlantic joined her and was within sight during the night. Another (U-74) arrived at 0600/27 but had been damaged in a depth charge attack and could do nothing as well. In the Bismarck the crew was exhausted and men were falling asleep at their posts. It was under these conditions that at 0840/27 two British battleships were seen to approach from the westward.

Situation before the action, 27 May 1941.

A north-westerly gale was blowing when dawn broke with a good light and clear horizon to the north-eastward. Reports received during the night indicated that, despite reduced speed and damaged rudders, Bismarck's armament was functioning effectively. Given the weather conditions the Commander-in-Chief decided to approach on a west-north-westerly bearing and, if the enemy continued his northerly course, to deploy to the southward on opposite course at a range of about 15000 yards. Further action was to be dictated by events.

Between 0600 and 0700 hours a series of enemy reports from HMS Maori which was herself located by DF bearings. This enabled HMS King George V to plot her position relatively to the Bismarck which had apparently settled down on a course of 330° at 10 knots. At 0708/27, HMS Rodney, was ordered to keep station 010° from the flagship. HMS Norfolk came in sight to the eastward at 0820/27 and provided a visual link between the Commander-in-Chief and the enemy. After the line of approach had been adjusted by two alterations of course, the Bismarck was sighted at 0843/27 bearing 118°, range about 25000 yards. Both British battleships was then steering 110° almost directly towards the enemy in line abreast formation, 8 cables apart.

Commencement of action 0847/27.

HMS Rodney opened fire at 0847/27, her first salvo sending a column of water 150 feet into the air. HMS King George V opened fire one minute later. Bismarck opened fire at 0850 hours after turning to open up A arcs. The first German salvo was short. The third and fourth salvoes straddled and nearly hit, but the Rodney manoeuvered succesfully to avoid them and the nearest fell 20 yards short. At 0854/27, HMS Norfolk joined in, but the target was not clearly visible and she opened fire without obtaining a range.

Observers state that the German gunnery was accurate at first, but commenced to deteriorate after 8 to 10 salvoes. The first hit on the Bismarck was believed to be scored by the Rodney at 0854 hours with her third salvo. Both British battleships made small alterations of course away from the enemy shortly after opening fire, the King George V to increase her distance from the Rodney and the latter to open her A arcs. From then onwards they manoeuvered independently although HMS Rodney conformed to the Flagship's general movements. The Bismarck's secondary armament came into action during this phase. HMS Rodney opened fire with her secondary armament at 0858 hours.

Run to the southward.

HMS King George V deployed to the southward at 0859/27 when the Bismarck was 16000 yards distant. HMS Rodney, 2.5 nautical miles to the northward, followed suit a minute or two later. Cordite smoke was hanging badly with the following wind and spotting was most difficult. Considerable smoke interference was therefore experienced on the southerly course which was partly overcome by radar. The Bismarck had transferred her fire to the King George V shortly after the turn but except for an occasional splash the latter hardly knew that she was under fire. At 0902/27, HMS Rodney saw a 16” shell hit the Bismarck on the upper deck forward, apparently putting the forward turrets out of action. At 0904 hours, HMS Dorsetshire joined in the firing from the eastwards from a range of 20000 yards but observation of the target was difficult and she had to check fire from 0913 to 0920 hours. Between 0910 and 0915 hours the range in King George V was more or less steady at 12000 yards.

The fate of the Bismarck was decided during this phase of the action although she did not sink until later. Around 0912 hours, the Bismarck was hit on her forward control position. During the run to the south HMS Rodney fired six torpedoes from 11000 yards and HMS Norfolk four from 16000 yards. No hits were obtained. The King George V’s secondary battery came into action at 0905 hours but this increased the smoke interference and was accordingly ordered to cease fire after two or three minutes.

Run to the northward.

At 0916/27 the Bismarck’s bearing was drawing rapidly aft and HMS Rodney turned 16 points to close and head her off. The King George V followed a minute or so later and both ships re-opened fire at ranges from 8600 and 12000 yards respectively. The Bismarck shifted her target to the Rodney about this time. A near miss damaged the sluice of her starboard torpedo tube. Most of the enemy’s guns had however been silenced at this time. Only one turret from her main armament was firing at this time as was part of her secondary armament. A fire was blazing amidships and she had a heavy list to port. During the run to the north HMS Rodney obtained a very favourable position on the Bismarck’s bow from which she poured in a heavy fire from close range. She also fired two torpedoes from 7500 yards but no hits were obtained.

HMS King George V’s position, further to leeward, was less favourable. Her view was obscured by smoke and splashes surrounding the target and her radar had temporarily broken down. Mechanical failures in the 14” turrets constituted, however, a more serious handicap at this stage. ‘A’, ‘X’ and ‘Y’ turrets were out of action for 30, 7 and a unspecified short period, respectively. This resulted in reduction of firepower of 80% for 7 minutes and 40% for 23 minutes which might have had serious effects under less favourable conditions. There were also several defects of individual guns in addition to those effecting the turrets.

At 0925/27, HMS King George V, altered outwards to 150° and reduced speed to avoid getting too far ahead of the Bismarck. She closed in again at 1005 hours, fired several salvoes from a range of only 3000 yards and then resumed her northerly course. Meanwhile HMS Rodney was zigzagging across the Bismarck’s line of advance at a range of about 4000 yards firing her main and secondary armaments. She also fired four torpedoes, one of which is thought to have hit. By 1015 hours the Bismarck was no more than a wreck. All her guns were silenced, her mast had been blown away, she was a black ruin, pouring high into the air a great cloud of smoke and flame. Men were seen jumping overboard at this time and the Captain of the King George V later remarked had he known it he would have ceased fire.

End of the action.

The Commander-in-Chief was confident that the enemy could never get back to harbour, and as both battleships were running short of fuel and as further gunfire was unlikely to hasten the Bismarck’s end, the Commander-in-Chief signalled the King George V and Rodney to steer 027° at 1015/27 in order to break off the action and return to base. At 1036/27 the Commander-in-Chief ordered HMS Dorsetshire to use her torpedoes, if she had any, on the enemy. In the meantime HMS Norfolk had been closing the target but due to the movements of the King George V and Rodney, had not fired her torpedoes until 1010 hours when she fired four torpedoes from 4000 yards and two possible hits were reported. The Dorsetshire was then approaching a mile or so to the southward, and anticipating the Commander-in-Chief’s signal at 1025 hours fired two torpedoes from 3600 yards into the enemy’s starboard side. She then steamed round the Bismarck’s bow and at 1036 hours fired another torpedo but now into her port side from 2600 yards. This was the final blow, the Bismarck heeled over quickly to port and commenced to sink by the stern. The hull turned over keel up and disappeared beneath the waves at 1040/27.

The Dorsetshire then closed and signalled to one of HMS Ark Royal’s aircraft to carry out a close A/S patrol while she was to pick up survivors assisted by HMS Maori. After 110 men had been picked up by both ships from the water both ships got underway again as a submarine was suspected to be in the area.

Damage to the Bismarck.

Survivors have told the story of terrible damage inflicted on her. The fore turrets seem to have been knocked out at 0902 hours. The fore control position was knocked out around 0912 hours. The after control position followed about 0915 hours. The after turrets were at that moment still in action. Then the aftermost gun turret was disabled by a direct hit on the left gun which burst sending a flash right through the turret. ‘C’ turret was the last one in action.

One survivor stated that around 0930 hours a shell penetrated the turbine room and another one entered a boiler room. A hit in the after dressing station killed all the medical staff and wounded that were in there at that moment. The upper deck was crowded with killed and wounded men and the seas surging in washed them overboard. Conditions below were even more terrible. Hatches and doors were jammed by concussion and blocked with wreckage. The air was thick with smoke and even more smoke was coming in from great holes in the upper deck. By 1000 hours all heavy guns were out of action and 10 minutes later the all secondary guns were also silent.

Commander-in-Chief returns.

As HMS King George V and HMS Rodney turned northwards they were joined by HMS Cossack, HMS Sikh and HMS Zulu at by 1600/28 more detroyers had joined the screen (HMS Maori, HMS Jupiter, HMS Somali, HMS Eskimo, HMS Punjabi, HMAS Nestor, HMS Inglefield, HMS Lance, HMS Vanquisher (Cdr. N.V. Dickinson, DSC, RN), HMCS St. Clair (Lt.Cdr. D.C. Wallace, RCNR), HMCS Columbia (Lt.Cdr. (Retd.) S.W. Davis, RN) and HMS Ripley (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Agnew, RN). Heavy air attacks were expected that day, but only four enemy aircraft appeared, one of which bombed the screen while another one jettisoned her bombs on being attacked by a Blenheim fighter. The destroyers HMS Mashona and HMS Tartar, 100 nautical miles to the southward, were not so furtunate. They were attacked in position 52°58’N, 11°36’W at 0955/28 by German aircraft. HMS Mashona was hit and sank at noon with the loss of 1 officer and 45 men. The Commander-in-Chief reached Loch Ewe at 1230/29. Vice-Admiral Somerville with Force H was on his way back to Gibraltar. HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Sheffieldmad rendezvous at 0800/29 with the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN). At 1605/29, HMS Forester and HMS Fury were detached to hunt a submarine further to the west. Force H, minus the two destroyers that had been detached, arrived at Gibraltar around 2030/29.

End of ‘Operation Rheinübung’.

The Bismarck’s consort, heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, was not heard off until 4 June 1941 when aircraft reported her having arrived at Brest. After leaving the Bismarck at 1914/24, the Prinz Eugen’s primary need was to replenish her fuel stock. She set course for a rendez-vous with two tankers, the Spichern (9323 GRT, built 1935, former Norwegian Krossfonn) and the Esso Hamburg (9849 GRT, built 1939) which were position to the north-west of the Azores. All next day the German cruiser made her way southwards, and at 0906/26 , some 600 nautical miles west-north-west of the Azores she sighted the Spichern and refuelled. Two reconnaissance ships had also been ordered into this area, the Gonzenheim and the Kota Pinang. On the 28th Prinz Eugen fuelled from the Esso Hamburg. She then proceeded southwards to carry out cruiser warfare against independently routed ships in the area to the north and west of the Cape Verde Islands but an inspection of her engines the next day showed that an extensive overhaul was needed. Her Commanding Officer then decided to break off the action and course was set for Brest, France where she arrived at 2030/1 June.

A German reconnaissance ship, a supply vessel and two tankers were intercepted by Royal Navy warships and sunk by their own crew or sunk with gunfire. Also two tankers were captured. These were in chronological order; tanker Belchen (6367 GRT, built 1932, former Norwegian Sysla) by gunfire from HMS Kenya and HMS Aurora on 3 June 1941 in the Greenland area in approximate position 59°00'N, 47°00'W.
On 4 June the tanker Esso Hamburg by HMS London and HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN) in position 07°35'N, 31°25'W,
tanker Gedania (8966 GRT, built 1920) was captured in the North Atlantic in position 43°38'N, 28°15'W by naval auxiliary (Ocean Boarding Vessel) HMS Marsdale (Lt.Cdr. D.H.F. Armstrong, RNR), she was put into service with the MOWT as Empire Garden, reconnaissance vessel Gonzenheim (4000 GRT, built 1937, former Norwegian Kongsfjord) was scuttled by her own crew after being sighted by HMS Esperance Bay ((Capt.(ret) G.S. Holden, RN) and intercepted by HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN) and finally ordered to be boarded by HMS Neptune in position 43°29'N, 24°04'W. The next day (5 June) supply vessel Egerland (10040 GRT, built 1940) was intercepted by HMS London and HMS Brilliant in approximate position 07°00'N, 31°00'W. On 12 June, HMS Sheffield, intercepted tanker Friedrich Breme (10397 GRT, built 1936) in position 49°48'N, 22°20'W and finally on 15 June, HMS Dunedin (Capt. R.S. Lovatt, RN), captured the tanker Lothringen (10746 GRT, built 1940, former Dutch Papendrecht) in position 19°49'N, 38°30'W which had first been sighted by an aircraft from HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN). The Lothringen was sent to Bermuda and was put into service by the MOWT as Empire Salvage. (27)

5 Jun 1941

Operation Rocket.

Fighter aircraft to be flown off to Malta.

At 1030/5, the light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) departed Gibraltar to the eastwards to serve as target for the defences of Gibraltar.

Around 1200/5, the remainder of ' Force H ', made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN (Capt. D.8)), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) also departed Gibraltar and proceeded eastwards where they were joined by HMS Sheffield. During the afternoon some exercises were carried out while on passage eastwards.

The weather was fine and calm, with fair visibility. At 1742/5 an aircraft was detected by RDF, bearing 190°, distant 11 miles. Eight minutes later it was sighted bearing 180°, apparently shadowing ' Force H '. The aircraft was thought to be Vichy-French.

At 1810/5, a Catalina, which was carrying out an A/S patrol ahead of ' Force H ' sighted an object which might have been the conning tower of a submarine some 15 miles to the southward. She closed to investigate but saw nothing further. Whilst rejoining she was followed in by an unidentified aircraft which shadowed ' Force H ' from 1915 to 1945/5. This aircraft was aloso thought to be Vichy-French. At 2115/5 a lighted merchant vessel was passed on opposite courses.

At dawn on 6 June the weather was fair, with a calm sea, clear sky, fair visibility, and a north-easterly wind, force 2. A favourable weather report was received from Malta at 0640/6, which indicated a northwesterly wind from 10 to 27 miles an hour in the Malta area. Information was received at 0855/6 that the first pair of Blenheim aircraft detailed to lead the Hurricanes to Malta had left Gibraltar at 0715/6 and should arrive at the flying off position at 1015/6.

At 0900/6, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Sheffield, HMS Fearless and HMS Fury were detached to act independently to the southward of the other ships.

At 0930/6, the first Blenheims was detected by RDF bearing 255°, distant 22 miles from HMS Sheffield. Eight minutes later it commenced to circle HMS Ark Royal. This was half an our earlier then expected. HMS Ark Royal at once started up her Hurricanes and worked up to speed for flying off.

The first Hurricane took off at 0958/6 and the whole flight of twelve was airborne by 1004/6. As this flight took its departure at 1013/6, second Blenheim of the first pair arrived and circled HMS Furious which then flew off her first Hurricane at 1024 and the last of the first flight of ten at 1028/6 at which time the second pair of Blenheims was seen approaching. Four minutes later the first flight of HMS Furious took its departure.

Position where the aircraft were launched was approximately 37°25'N, 03°26'E.

At 1041/6, a Blenheim was one again circling each carrier. At 1049/6 the first Hurricane of Ark Royal's second flight took off, followed two minutes later by the first one of the second flight of HMS Furious. The twelfth and last from Ark Royal's second flight took off at 1054/6 and the tenth and last from Furious at 1055/6. At 1100/6 both these flights took their departure.

At 1108/6, the two remaining Blenheims (spare) arrived and one Hurricane from Ark Royal's second flight returned with engine trouble. The Blenheims were ordered to proceed to Malta while the Hurricane landed on HMS Furious. HMS Ark Royal meanwhile flew of a fighter patrol of two Fulmars.

Course was altered to 260° at 1130/6 and withdrawal to the eastward was made at 24 knots. Each carrier kept a section of fighters ranged.

At 1255/6 RDF detected an aircraft bearing 070° distant 31 miles. Touch was lost at 1303/6. Two minutes later this aircraft was seen bearing 120° and was thought to be a Vichy-French aircraft bound for Algiers.

The fighter patrol was landed on at 1330/6 and an A/S patrol was flown off. Another aircraft was detected by RDF at 1455/6, 18 miles to the south-eastward. Contact was lost after ten minutes. At 1715/6, HMS Ark Royal was ordered to prepare an A/S striking force of six aircraft to investigate the area around 37°08'N, 00°34'W where a Catalina reported having bombed an oil patch at 1525/6. These Swordfish were flown off at 1825/6 and were landed on again at 1950/6, having seen nothing.

A signal was received from Malta at 1852/6 stating that 43 Hurricanes and 8 Blenheims had arrived safely at Malta.

At 1930/6, the A/S patrol reported a Vichy-French merchant vessel bearing 245° distant 30 miles from HMS Renown steering 020° at 8 knots. No action was taken in regard to this ship.

At 2030/6, information was received that the Vichy-French battlecruiser Dunkerque had left Mers-el-Kebir. At 2100/6, one aircraft was then flown off to carry out a reconnaissance of the port by moonlight. This aircraft returned at 2230/6 reporting the the Dunkerque was still in her usual berth at Mers-el-Kebir. This information was passed on to the Admiralty and the Vice-Admiral Commanding North Atlantic Station.

Having passed to the southward of Alboran Island, course was altered to 275° at 0200/7 and HMS Ark Royal flew off ten Fulmars to land at Gibraltar to afford protection to the Fortress in case of bombing attack.

At 0730/7 an exercise was started with the shore defences at Gibraltar. ' Force H ' entered harbour at 0845/7. (28)

7 Jun 1941

At 2230/7, ' Force H ', made up of HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN (Capt. D.8)), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) departed Gibraltar to the westward to be clear of the harbour as Vichy-French reprisals (air attacks) were expected after the start of the Syrian campaign. The aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN) was also with ' Force H '. Also rendezvous was to be made with the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, RN) coming from the UK.

A speed of 17 knots was maintained, with the object of economising fuel in the destroyers and of ensuring efficient Asdic operating.

HMS Victorious was ordered to remain outside the submarine danger area and to pass through position 37°05'N, 13°48'W, at 0700/9 steering 155° making good 16 knots.

Two outer and one inner A/S patrols were flown off at dawn on the 8th and maintained throughout the day. During the day a westerly wind enabled HMS Ark Royal to carry out deck landing training from inside the screen and full advantage was taken of this.

At 1800/8, when in position 35°10'N, 11°08'W, a signal was received from a Catalina that she had unsuccessfully attacked a submarine at 1615/8 in position 35°50'N, 13°00'W. Two relief A/S patrols were being ranged at tis time and these were flown off to search for and attack this submarine if she surfaced after the Catalina's attack. At 1845/8 the Catalina, who returned to base after the attack, signalled that the submarine dived in position 36°02'N, 11°50'W. This latter position was based on a fix obtained at 1800/8, presumably from the land and was some 60 miles further eastward then initially reported. The A/S striking force landed on at 1925 having sighted northing. The submarine attacked was the Italian Velella. The bombs were close but caused no damage.

At 2030/8, ' HMS Force H ' entered a patch of very low visibility which lased for about an hour. Course was altered to 330° at 2200/8 when in position 35°00'N, 12°21'W to make rendzvous with HMS Victorious at dawn.

Throughout the day HMS Sheffield kept RDF watch, and fighters were kept at short notice in both HMS Furious and HMS Ark Royal in case Vichy-French aircraft should take offensive action. No aircraft were seen or detected.

At 0600/9 HMS Ark Royal flew off two outer and one inner A/S patrol with instructions to locate HMS Victorious. At 0630/9 one of these aircraft reported HMS Victorious to the northward and course was altered to close. HMS Victorous, screened by HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. R.L.S. Gaisford, RN), HMS Wild Swan (Lt.Cdr. C.E.L. Sclater, RN), HMS Wivern (Cdr. M.D.C. Meyrick, RN) and HMS Wrestler (Lt. E.L. Jones, DSC, RN) was sighted at 0650/9 and HMS Furious, HMS Sheffield and HMS Fury were detached to join her and form ' Group II '. The remaining ships of ' Force H ' formed ' Group I '.

HMS Victorious then transferred 5 Fulmars to HMS Ark Royal who flew off 6 Swordfish to ferry the Hurricane erecting personnel from HMS Furious to HMS Victorious.

HMS Wivern, who was short of fuel and had a leaking fuel tank was detached at 1030/9 to return to Gibraltar.

The transfer of 75 members of the Hurricane ercting party was completed by noon under somewhat unfavourable weather conditions. HMS Furious, escorted by HMS Sheffield, was detached to overtake and rendezvous with HMS Argus (Capt. T.O. Bulteel, RN) in position 47°00'N, 24°00'W, at 1200B/11. HMS Sheffield was ordered to part company from HMS Furious in latitude 45°N and patrol an area between that latitue and 44°N, and between longtitudes 23°W and 25°W, till dusk on the 14th with the object of intercepting enemy shipping. She was then to return to Gibraltar.

Around noon, HMS Vansittart, HMS Wild Swan and HMS Wrestler were detached to return to Gibraltar.

HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Victorious screened by the six 'F'-class destroyers, steered to the south-west at 16 knots, to keep clear of the submarine concentration to the eastward. At 1500/9, HMS Ark Royal flew off a reconnaissance of six aircraft from position 37°06'N, 15°06'W, to search from 130° through south to 310° to a depth of 80 miles to locate enemy shipping and submarines. These aircraft landed on at 1730/9 having sighted nothing.

At 0100/10, Admiralty's instructions were received that the next ferry trip of fighter aircraft to Malta was to be carried out as soon as possible. Course was therefore altered to 090° and speed increased to 20 knots and an hour later to 26 knots. Two out and one inner A/S patrols were flown off at dawn.

At 0750/10 one of the outer A/S patrols flying at 800 feet sighted a submarine breaking surface heading south-west about 1500 yards distant. The aircraft attacked and dropped a stick of 6 100lb. A/S bombs from a height of 150 feet. All bombs missed over and failed to explode, the low height being insufficient for aiming. The submarine was submerged by the time the bombs were released. This incident occurred in position 35°31'N, 14°12'W. On receipt of the W/T report from the aircraft the course of the Fleet was altered to clear. This was probably the Italian submarine Veniero which was operating in the area but did not report being attacked though although she did report sighting an aircraft at 0850/10 (Rome time) an also at 1050/10 (Rome time) during which he dived.

At 1000/10, information was received that ' Force H ' had been sighted at 0038 by an enemy submarine.

At 1610/10, four corvettes were sighted in position 35°50'N, 10°30'W, carrying out an A/S sweep in conjunction with five ML's who were working 30 miles to the southward.

' Force H ' arrived in Gibraltar Bay at 0330/11 and then entered harbour. (28)

13 Jun 1941

Operation Tracer.

Fighter aircraft to be flown off to Malta.

' Force H ', comprising HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN (Capt. D.8)), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN), sailed from Gibraltar at 1130/13, shaping course to the eastward on co course 075° at 21 knots. In the afternoon some exercises were carried out.

Before leaving harbour a favourable weather report was received from Vice-Admiral, Malta, indicating fair weather and westerly winds. A further report was received at 2030/13, indicating fair weather with a light south-easterly surfce wind but westerly above 5000 feet. As the weather forecast by HMS Renown indicated that easterly winds were anticipated in the vicinity of the flying off position, speed was increased to 23 knots at 1930/13 to allow the flying off position to be transferred to the eastward should this to be found necessary. Course 057° was shaped from 2000/13.

A weather report received from the Vice-Admiral Commanding, North Atlantic Station, at 0440/14 forcast thundery conditions and westerly winds in the vicinity of the Balearics and Sardinia with light variable winds along the North African coast. Vice-Admiral, Malta's report received at 0620/14 continued to forecast westerly winds in the vicinity of Malta. Vice-Admiral Somerville decided that it was not needed to proceed further to the east than had been planned and speed was accordingly reduced to 17 knots at 0620/14. At this time there was a light easterly wind and slight sea. The sky was completely overcast and the visibility moderate and variable.

HMS Ark Royal, screerned by three of the destroyers, was detached at 0900/14 to operate independently 5 miles to the southward of HMS Renown, HMS Victorious and the remaining destroyers. During the approach of the Hudsons, HMS Victorious obtained several rangs and bearings by RDF but these were inconsistent and very variable. It became evident during the operation that owing to the inexperience and possible defective apparatus the accuracy and reliability of Victorious' RDF fell far short of the standard of efficiency reached by HMS Sheffield.

The first three Hudsons left Gibraltar at 0652/14. They were detected by the RDF of HMS Victorious bearing 258°, range 80 miles at 0946/14. They were sighted at 1030/14. Course was then altered to 080° into the wind and speed was increased to 25 knots. The first Hurricane left HMS Victorious at 1045/14 followed two minutes later by the first one from HMS Ark Royal. The last one left each ship at 1050/14 and 1054/14 respectively taking final departure shortly afterwards (1056/14 and 1058/14). One of the Hurricanes from HMS Victorious left with its undercarriage down.

The second flight of Hudsons which left Gibraltar at 0723/14 was sighted at 1121/14. One Hurricane in HMS Victorious was defective and was not ranged. The first aircraft took off from HMS Victorious at 1131/14 and from HMS Ark Royal at 1133/14. The last aircraft of the second flight took off at 1134/14 and 1138/14 respectively. Both flights took their deparure at 1141/14. The two reserve Hudsons were ordered to return to Gibraltar.

The mean position for flying off was 38°56'N, 03°00'E appoximately 20 miles east of the position originally intended.

At 1140/14, course was altered to 220° HMS Ark Royal and her three escorting destroyers rejoined the other ships and speed was increased to 25 knots. HMS Ark Royal flew off a section of fighters and HMS Victorious and A/S patrol. Course was altered to 246° to pass north of Alboran Island. The fighters were landed on at 1815/14 and the A/S patrol at 2030/14.

Information was received from the Admiralty that ' Force H ' had been reported leaving Gibraltar, probably to supply aircraft to Malta. No enemy aircraft had so far been detected and no enemy reports were intercepted.

A signal was received from the Vice-Admiral, Malta, at 1542/14 that the first flight had arrived safely and the the second flight was in sight. No further information was received until 1742/14 when it was reported that a total of 35 Hurricanes and 3 Hudsons had arrived. Later this was amended to 43 Hurricanes and 4 Hudsons. One Hurricane was seen to make for the North African coast, one was seen to crash into the sea of Malta, the pilot being saved, and two which crashed on landing, the pilot of one being killed.

An A/S patrol was flown off at 0530/15, being relieved by a Catalina from Gibraltar at 0800/15. Four Fulmars were flown off to land at North Front. On approaching the Roch a range and inclination exercises was carried out for the benfit of the shore defences. Before entering harbour at 1030/15 both carriers ranges all available aircraft on deck with the object of suggesting to enemy observeers that no aircraft had been flown off. (28)

15 Jun 1941
At 1800/15, ' Force H ' departed Gibraltar to the eastward. ' Force H ' was made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN (Capt. D.8)), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN). The aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, RN) and the destroyer HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN) sailed with ' Force H '. These two ships were to return to the UK.

On departure from Gibraltar all available aircraft were ranged on deck in both carriers to mislead enemy observers. Course was shaped to the eastward at 18 knots.

At 2010/15, HMS Victorious transferred two Fulmars to HMS Ark Royal and flew off to North Front five Fulmars and one Hurricane. This was the Hurricane that had been unable to fly to Malta during operation Tracer. Some AA gunnery exercises were carried out during the evening.

Course was altered to the westward at 2050/15 and the force passed through the Straits under cover of darkness.

At 0200/16, Vice-Admiral Somerville was informed that two unidentified ships had been sighted by aircaft leaving Brest at 2100/15. Shortly afterwards he was instructed to act on the assumption that these were warships. Course was about to be altered to reach a favourable position for a reconnaissance when information was received that photographs had identified the two ships as merchant vessels.

Course was adjusted to pass 25 miles to the northward of convoy OG 64 in order to provide A/S protection for the convoy which was probably being shadowed by an enemy submarine. Visibility from 1000 feet was only 6 miles and reconnaissances flown off at 1420/16 from position 35°50'N, 09°36'W and at 1740/16 from position 35°57'N, 10°24'W both failed to locate the convoy.

During the day the wind was easterly involving a reversal of course for all flying operations. An A/S patrol of three aircraft was maintained from dawn till dusk and HMS Victorious tansferred six Swordfish to HMS Ark Royal.

At 1905/16, the escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, DSO, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) and HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) were sighted. They were on passage to Gibraltar.

Course was altered to 304° at 2230 for the rendezvous in position 49°00'N, 29°30'W.

Fog was encountered between 0400 and 0600/17 but cleared by sunrise when an A/S patrol of three aircraft was flown off. HMS Hesperus oiled from HMS Repulse during the forenoon taking 95 tons and thereby completing to full stowage. Whilst this was in progress HMS Faulknor obtained an A/S contact and attacked it but it was considered non-sub.

HMS Ark Royal flew off a reconnaissance of six aircraft from position 38°16'N, 15°32'W at 1130/17 to search to a depth of 70 miles from 215° through north to 035°. These aircraft sighted nothing more than a school of 13 whales. Visibility was reported as 8 miles.

The five 'F-class' destroyers were detached at 1140/16 in position 38°22'N, 15°22'W to return to Gibraltar.

A reconnassance of six aircraft took off at 1700/17 in position 39°20'N, 17°20'W and searched from 215° through north to 035° to a depth of 70 miles in visibility 17 miles. They sighted a Portugese ship who was circling round a large red buoy in position 40°30'N, 17°16'W at 1753/17.

Throughout the day there was a northerly wind force 3-4, and flying operations could be taken without large alterations fom the mean line of advance. All fighters and newly joined observers in HMS Ark Royal received training and 21 pilots made a total of 35 training flights.

At midnight speed was increased to 23.5 knots. The heavy ships were zig-zagging astern of HMS Hesperus who maintained a steady course at 22 knots.

At 0200/18, information was received that the latest intelligence of enemy submarines indicated the safest route for ' Force H ' lay through position 45°00'N, 18°00'W to 51°00'N, 20°00'W. Course was therefore altered to 025°.

At 0440 HMS Victorious reported reception of strong RDF transmissions from right ahead. Course was altered to 340° till daylight, when 035° was steered for the rendezvous. Subsequent investigation suggested that the transmissions heard by HMS Victorious was caused by the ASV gear in HMS Hesperus.

A very welcome signal was intercepted at 1130/18 stating that the five 'F-class' destroyers returning to Gibraltar had sunk a German submarine (this was U-138).

A reconnaissance of six aircraft was flown off at 0930/18 from position 43°31'N, 19°29'W. They returned at 1130/18 having searched to a depth of 65 miles from 305° trough north to 035°. The visibility had been around 17 miles. They had sighted nothing.

At 1510 the inner A/S patrol dropped depth charges on a coloured patch of water in position 45°15'N, 18°03'W. HMS Hesperus was ordered to investigate but no contact was obtained. On passing through the patch she fired a pattern of depth charges, mainly to provide an opportunity to exercise rapid reloading.

Throughout the day the wind was northerly, force 4. Some exercises were carried out throughout the day.

The evening reconnaissance was carried out by six Fulmars. They took off at 1735/18 in position 45°45'N, 18°15'W and searched to a depth of 65 miles from 257° through north to 077°. Visibility was reported as being 20 miles. They sighted nothing.

The final A/S patrol landed on at dusk just after midnight.

At 0710/19 six aircraft flew off in position 50°06'N, 19°47'W, to search from 257° through north to 077° wth instructions to inform Captain (D), 4th Destroyer Flotilla, of Renown's position, course and speed. The visibility from the air was only 8 miles and the reconnaissance flew to a depth of 75 miles. They sghte the destoyers of the 4th Destroyer Flottila and the corvettes Coreopsis and Fleur de Lys some 48 miles to the eastward returning to Gibraltar after escort duty with convoy SL 76.

HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC and Bar, RN, (Capt. D.8)) and HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN), joined at 0900/19 in position 50°04'N, 19°45'W. At 0937/19, HMS Victorious was detached for the UK, escorted by HMS Cossack, HMS Sikh and HMS Hesperus. HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal then turned to 155°, 24 knots, to return to Gibraltar.

The wind had now conveniently shifted to the south-south-west, force 4. Various flying practices were therefore carried out including close range aiming practice at fighters simulating dive bombing attacks.

At 1800/19, a reconnaissance of nine aircraft was flown off in position 47°52'N, 18°12'W, to search from 065° though south to 245° to a depth of 95 miles. Visibility was 35 miles decreasing to 10 miles to the southward. Nothing was sighted.

Speed was decreased to 23 knots at 2000/19 owing to boiler defects in HMS Renown. The last A/S patrol landed on at 2320/19.

At 0100/20, course was altered to south and the first A/S patrol flew off at 0655/20. The wind was north-north-west, force 3. A full flying training programme was carried out, which involved a loss of advance of some 50 miles during the day.

Six Fulmars flew off at 0915/20 in position 42°45'N, 16°46'W, so search from east through south to west to a depth of 115 miles. The visibility was 30 miles to the south-west but only 10 miles to the south and south-east. The reconnaissance only sighted a Spanish merchant vessel.

The evening reconnaissance of six Swordfish flew off at 1745/20 in position 40°14'N, 16°24'W, to carry out a similar search. The aircraft penetrated to a depth of 95 miles with visibility 20 miles. The only ship sighted was a Greek one, on Swiss charter.

Clocks were put back one hour at 1830/20 to zone -1. Course was altered at 1925/20 to 1925/20. The last A/S patrol was landed on at 2200/20.

An A/S and fighter patrol were flown off at daylight and maintained during the day, the latter in case German Focke Wulf aircraft should be sighted.

HMS Faulknor, HMS Fearless, HMS Forester, HMS Foxhound and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) joined at 0800/21 in position 36°05'N, 12°58'E. Course was then altered to 095° for Gibraltar. The wind was north-north-westerly, force 2, increasing to force 4 in the evening.

At 0930, 16 Swordfish aircraft armed with depth charges were flown off in position 36°02'N, 12°25'W, to carry out an A/S patrol sweep ahead of the fleet. Aircraft flew on tracks 8 miles apart to a depth of 115 miles but sighted nothing.

A similar sweep was flown of at 1630/21 with 14 Swordfish from position 35°57'N, 09°48'W, to a depth of 90 miles, but again nothing was sighted.

At 2005/21 speed was reduced to 18.5 knots to arrive at Gibraltar at daylight. The last A/S patrol was landed on at 2105/21.

HMS Renown enterned harbour at 0600/21 and HMS Ark Royal, screened by the five destroyers, proceeded to the eastward to carry out exercises. They entered harbour at 1000/21. (28)

24 Jun 1941
While approaching Gibraltar HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN), HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN) were joined by the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN). They all arrived at Gibraltar the next day. (29)

26 Jun 1941

Operation Railway (phase 1).

Fighter aircraft to be flown off to Malta.

Arpund 0400/26, the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN) departed Gibraltar to proceed to the eastwards.

On board HMS Ark Royal there were 12 erected and10 unerected Hurricanes. The latter were erected during the day, the operation being completed and and all aircraft satisfactorily tested before dusk.

Speed was increased to 22 knots at 0630/26 and course was altered to 060° at 1245/26. One Catalina provided A/S patrol ahead of the fleet during the day and a second carried out RDF exercises with HMS Hermione.

Weather forecasts fom the Vice-Admiral Commanding, North Atlantic and Vice-Admiral, Malta, indicated that wind would probably be light but would be easterly at the lower altitudes in the vicinity of Malta and that the visibility would be moderate but not good for part of the passage. In view of this, HMS Ark Royal reported at 1420/26 that it would be desirable but not essential, to move the flying off position 30 miles further to the eastward than planned. Vice-Admiral Somerville decided to do this and speed was accordingly increased to 24.5 knots from 1800 to 2200/28 and then reduced to 22.5 knots for the night. A signal was passed to the Catalina to inform 200 Group at Gibraltar of the change of rendezvous.

As far as is known the force was not sighted by hostile aircraft during the day. No enemy reports were intercepthed and the only suspicious RDF contact was at 1730/26, 85 miles north of Oran, when an aircraft was detected 15 miles to the southward, waiting. After ten minutes it faded from the srceen. The visibility was moderate with a calm se and low lying haze and it is quite possible this aircraft did not sight the force.

Information was received at 0220/27 that the first pair of Bleneims was airborne at 0140/27 and was expected at the rendezvous at 0520/27.

At 0300/27, the force ran into variable patchy fog which persisted till shortly before the flying off position was reached. At 0456, HMS Hermione reported two aircraft bearing 230°, 21 miles. HMS Ark Royal was instructed to D/F these aircraft in and searchlights and black smoke were used as additional airds. The first pair of Blenheims was sighted at 0516/27 when course was altered to 300° and speed increased to 25 knots for flying off.

The first Hurricane took off at 0526/27, the 11th at 0531/27, and the flight took departure at 0537/27. One of these Hurricanes left with undercarriage down.

Course was altered to 090° at 0532/27 and to 285° at 0558/27. The second pair of Blenheims made contact at 0608/27 and course was altered to 320° for flying off. The 12th Hurricane took off at 0619/27, the 22nd at 0623/27 and the flight took departure at 0627/27.

The mean flying off position for the two flights was 37°34'Nm 04°55'W.

As soon as the last Hurricane had flown off course was altered to 271° and the force withdrew at 25 knots. A fighter patrol and an A/S patrol was flown off and maintained throughout the day. Course was altered to 250° at 0900/27.

At 0950/27, a signal was received from Vice-Admiral, Malta that the first flight was in touch, an hour later the second formation was reported in sight.

Shortly afterwards, at 1115/27, Vice-Admiral, Malta reported that the first formation was incomplete, ad asked if any of the Hurricanes had retuned. W/T silence was broken to reply in the negative.

As no further information was received i again broke W/T silence at 1430/278 to request a report from Malta.

Meanwhile at 1215/27, when 56 miles north-north-west of Algiers, HMS Hermione detected an aircraft bearing 040°, 48 miles. It closed to 38 miles before fading on bearing 135°, 58 miles. This aircraft was probably bound for Algiers.

Information was eventually received from the Vice-Admiral, Malta, at 1510/27 that all aircraft had arrived safely at Malta, but that one had crashed on landing, the pilot being safe.

Six Swordfish carried out flying exercises in the afternoon. At 1630/27, HMS Hermione opened out on the port beam for a range and inclination exercise.

At 1700/27, HMS Ark Royal reported that a Fulmar which was due to land on, had failed to return and that W/T communication could not be established on M/F. Attempts to D/F on R.T. failed owing to limitations of ship-intalled H/F - D/F. In order to clear the radar screen fighter and A/S patrols were ordered to circle over the fleet. HMS Hermione then located the lost aircraft 55 miles to the southwardd. The aircaft was given a course to ster and landed on successfully at 1820. It was then ascertained that the beacon was out of adjustement and the W/T set ha a defective valve.

The last fighter patol landed on at 1900/27 and the A/S patrol at 2034/27. There was a low haze and the surface visibility never exceeded five miles.

A speed of 25 knots was maintained till 0300/28 when speed was reduced to 18 knots. Eight fighters and eight Swordfish were flown off at 0600/28 for exercises. One Swordfish crashed after dropping its torpedo but the crew was picked up by HMS Lance who was acting as picking up destroyer.

' Force H' entered harbour at 0930/28. (28)

28 Jun 1941

Operation Railway (phase 2).

Fighter aircraft to be flown off to Malta.

Around 1800/28 hours, ' Force A', made up of the aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) and the destroyers HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN) departed Gibraltar to the west. This was a diversion and they turned to the east after dark.

Around 0130/29, ' Force B ', made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN), and the escort destroyer HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, DSO, RN) departed at 0130/29th. HMS Wishart and HMS Avonvale were however soon detached to return to Gibraltar.

The two groups joined at 0700/29 in position 36°12'N, 03°33'W. Course was altered to 061° at 1105/29. Throughout the forenoon the weather was clear with maximum visibility but after noon visibility decreased considerably.

At 1240/29, in position 36°30'N, 01°40'W, HMS Foxhound, on the port side of the screen, investigated a contact. The force turned away and whilst doing so HMS Forester, on the starboard side of the screen, also investigated a contact and fired a pattern of depth charges. Neither these contacts was confirmed and it is probable that vlack fish were responsible, several of these being seen in the vicinity.

No suspicious RDF contacts were reported by HMS Hermione and it is improbable that ' Force H ' had been sighted.

Weather reports received from the Vice-Admiral Commanding, North Atlantic Station and Vice-Admiral, Malta, did not necessitate any alteration in the flying off position that had been arranged. Information was received at 0230/30 that the first formation of three Blenheims had left Gibraltar at 0220/30 and expected to arrive at the rendezvous at 0520/30.

Group II, consisting of HMS Furious, HMS Fearless, HMS Lance and HMS Legion, was detached at 0430/30 to take station 5 miles to the southward of Group I consisting of HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione and the remaining destroyers.

The first Blenheim was detected by HMS Hermione at 0515/30 bearing 247°, 54 miles. This aircraft was sighted at 0535/30 and Ark Royal's first flight of Hurricanes was started up.

The wind was light and sone delay ensued in finding the best course for flying off. The first Hurricane was flown off Ark Royal at 0557/30 and the 14th at 0604/30. The first flight took departure five minutes later.

The Blenheim detailed to lead the first flight from HMS Furious was sighted by that ship at 0605/30. Engines were at once warmed and flying off commenced. Almost immediately a large flash and cloud of black some was seen to rise from HMS Furious, who was now some 8 miles to the southward. Course was altered to close but 5 miles later the second flight of Blenheims was sighted and it became necessary for Group I to turn into the wind to fly off the remaining 12 Hurricanes from HMS Ark Royal.

The 15th Hurricane was flown off at 0633/30 ad the 25th at 0637/30, the formation taking departure at 0639/30.

The two flights from HMS Ark Royal were flown off from a mean position 38°43'N, 03°29'E. During the latter part of the operation a Vichy-French liner approached from the northward on a southerly course and probably observed the 2nd flight taking off and taking departure.

HMS Furious now reported flying completed, Groups I and II closed and withdrawal was made to the west-south-west at 25 knots. it was then ascertained that after the first Hurricane had taken off successfully from HMS Furious the second swerved when half way along the deck and hit the port navigating position. A long range tank was wrenched off and the aircraft crashed over the side. Burning petrol enveloped the port side of the bridge, the port navigating and signalling position and the look-out huts.

As the bridge was burning furiously the ship was turned out of the wind and the engines stopped. As soon as the fire was under control flying off was resumed and the fist flight was airborne by 0623/30. The formation of nine led by the Blenheim then proceeded to Malta.

Among the personnel in the positions which caught fire wee the Headquarters flying staf, all the RAF pilots of the second flight, the pilots of the Sea Hurricanes, communication ratings, submarine look-outs, port medical party and the port fire party.

HMS Fearless closed HMS Furious at once when the Hurricane crashed and picked up the pilot who as suffering from minor injuries, and also another pilot was had been seen to jump overboard in flames. This officer was severely burnt and later died on board HMS Fearless. Two officers and one rating died at once in Furious and by midnight the total casualty list was: 4 Naval Officers (FAA), 1 RAF Officer, 4 Naval ratings. Seriously injured were: 2 Naval Officers (1 FAA, both have since died), 3 RAF Officers, 7 Naval ratings (2 have since died), 4 RAF ratings (1 has since died). Also 1 Naval officer was injured as was 1 RAF rating.

As one of Furious' doctors was a casualty Ark Royal flew over two doctors to assist.

The seagoing efficiency of the ship is not affected except for the destruction of the communications to the port navigating position. The fighting efficiency is affected to the extent that various gun cummunication and control instruments are destroyed. The six Hurricanes of the second flight were not damaged but could not be flown off as all their pilots were casualties.

An A/S patrol was maintained all day and a fighter patrol of four aircraft till 1700/30.

At 1425/30 information was received that all the six Blenheims and 35 Hurricanes had arrived safely at Malta.

During the afternoon (flying) exercises were carried out. Before dark six Swordfish of 818 Squadron were transferred from HMS Ark Royal to HMS Furious.

At 0600/1 when off Europa Point HMS Furious flew off three Sea Hurricanes to North Point and then screened by HMS Faulknor and HMS Fearless proceeded into harbour. The remainder of the force turned back to the eastward for exercises. HMS Hermione was detached to act as target. Both destroyers that had escorted Furious into harbour also rejoined.

On completion of the exercises ' Force H ' arrived in harbour at 1030/1. (28)

12 Jul 1941

Convoy WS 9C

This convoy was formed at sea and was initially made up of the British merchants/ troop transports Avila Star (14443 GRT, built 1927), City of Pretoria (8049 GRT, built 1937), Deucalion (7516 GRT, built 1930), Durham (10893 GRT, built 1934), Leinster (4302 GRT, built 1937), Melbourne Star (11076 GRT, built 1936), Pasteur (30447 GRT, built 1939), Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933) and Sydney Star (11095 GRT, built 1936).

They were escorted by the battleship HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN) (12-20 July), cruisers HMS Manchester (Capt. H. Drew, DSC, RN) (12-17 July), HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), (12-17 July), AA cruiser HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck (Cdr. E.J. van Holthe, RNN) (12-15 July), cruiser-minelayer HMS Manxman (Capt. R.K. Dickson, RN), (15-16 July), destroyers HMS Winchelsea (Lt.Cdr. W.A.F. Hawkins, OBE, DSC, RN) (12 July), HMS Vanoc (Lt.Cdr. J.G.W. Deneys, DSO, RN) (12-15 July), HMS Wanderer (Cdr. A.F.St.G. Orpen, RN) (12-15 July), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. K.F. Namiesniowski, ORP) (12-15 July), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN) (12-15 July), HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC and Bar, RN) (12-17 July), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN) (12-17 July), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN) (12-17 July), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN) (12-17 July), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN) (12-17 July), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN) (17-20 July), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN) (18-20 July), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) (17-20 July), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) (17-20 July), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) (17-20 July), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) (17-20 July), escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, RN) (18-20 July), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) (18-20 July), HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) (18-20 July) and sloop HMS Stork (Lt. G.T.S. Gray, DSC, RN) (12-13 July).

The merchant ships from the convoy departed either Avonmouth, Liverpool, the Clyde area and Belfast. The convoy was finally formed up at sea early on the 13th in position 55°40'N, 06°55'W.

The passage of the convoy was uneventful.

HMS Gurkha and ORP Garland left the convoy around 0330/15 reaching the limit of their endurance. HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck, HMS Vanoc and HMS Wanderer did the same around 1830/15. Around 2000/15 HMS Manxman joined the convoy, she parted company at 1900/16 and set course for Gibraltar. The merchant Avila Star had meanwhile left the convoy at 1000/16.

At 0700/17 the 8th Destroyer Flotilla was to join the convoy coming from Gibraltar but due to thick for no contact was made. At 1000/17 the Pasteur left the convoy for Gibraltar escorted by HMS Manchester, HMS Maori, HMS Lightning and HMAS Nestor. Shortly afterwards the fog lifted and the 8th Destroyer Flottilla was sighted and joined the convoy. At 1200/17 the Leinster also left the convoy for Gibraltar escorted by HMS Arethusa, HMS Cossack and HMS Sikh.

At 1800/18 HMS Firedrake joined the convoy coming from Gibraltar.

At 0700/18 HMS Avon Vale, HMS Eridge and HMS Farndale joined the Pasteur, HMS Manchester, HMS Lightning and HMAS Nestor. HMS Maori then left that group and joined the group that was made up of the Leinster, HMS Arethusa, HMS Cossack and HMS Sikh. HMS Manchester departed the ‘Pasteur group’ at 1000/19 to join the ‘Leinster group’ which she did at 1500/19.

The ‘Pasteur group’ arrived at Gibraltar shortly after noon on the 19th and around 0330/20 the ‘Leinster group’ arrived at Gibraltar. Troops aboard these ships then disembarked.

Around 0200/20, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Manxman, HMS Lightning, HMAS Nestor, HMS Avon Vale, HMS Eridge and HMS Farndale departed Gibraltar to rendez-vous with the now incoming convoy WS 9C. They joined the convoy shortly before noon, the six F-class destroyers of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla then left to refuel at Gibraltar.

For the continuation of the events see the event for 21 July 1941 on Operation Substance. (30)

21 Jul 1941

Operation Substance, convoys to and from Malta

Passage through the Straits of Gibraltar of the eastbound convoy and sailing from Gibraltar of the remaining ships involved in the operation.

Around 0130/21 convoy WS 9C passed the Straits of Gibraltar. The convoy at that moment consisted of six merchant ships; City of Pretoria (8049 GRT, built 1937), Deucalion (7516 GRT, built 1930), Durham (10893 GRT, built 1934), Melbourne Star (11076 GRT, built 1936), Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933) and Sydney Star (11095 GRT, built 1936).

At the time they passed through the Straits they were escorted by HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN), HMS Edinburgh (Capt. H.W. Faulkner, RN), flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, RN), HMS Manxman (Capt. R.K. Dickson, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN), HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) and HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN).

HMS Manchester (Capt. H. Drew, DSC, RN), HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN) departed Gibraltar around 0200/21 escorting troopship Leinster (4302 GRT, built 1937) which was to join the convoy. However Leinster grounded while leaving Gibraltar and had to left behind. The small fleet tanker RFA Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941, master D.B.C. Ralph) left Gibraltar around the same time escorted by the destroyer HMS Beverley (Lt.Cdr. J. Grant, RN).

About one hour later, around 0300/21, HMS Renown (Rear-Admiral R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) departed Gibraltar to give convoy for the convoy during the passage to Malta.

At sea the forces were redistributed;
Force H, the cover force
HMS Renown, HMS Nelson, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione, HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Fury, HMS Lightning and HMS Duncan.

Force X, the close escort for the convoy
HMS Edinburgh, HMS Manchester, HMS Arethusa, HMS Manxman, HMS Cossack, HMS Maori, HMS Sikh, HMAS Nestor, HMS Fearless, HMS Firedrake, HMS Foxhound, HMS Avon Vale, HMS Eridge and HMS Farndale.

Plan for the operation

Force H was to cover the convoy until it reached the narrows between Sicily and Tunisia. Force X was to escort the convoy all the way to Malta. Ships of Force X also had troops for Malta on board that had been taken to Gibraltar by troopship Pasteur. On 23 July 1941, the day the eastbound convoy would reach ‘the narrows’ five empty transports and two tankers would depart Malta for Gibraltar (Convoy MG 1) The seven empty transports were;
Group 1 (speed 17 knots)
HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939),
Talabot (6798 GRT, built 1936),

Group 2 (speed 14 knots)
Thermopylae (6655 GRT, built 1930),
Amerika (10218 GRT, built 1930),

Group 3 (speed 12 knots)
Settler (6202 GRT, built 1939),
Tanker Svenor (7616 GRT, built 1931) and
Tanker Hoegh Hood (9351 GRT, built 1936)
These were escorted by the destroyer HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) which had been repairing and refitting at Malta.

Through intelligence it was known that the Italian Navy had five battleships operational (three of them at Taranto) and about ten cruisers divided between Taranto, Palermo and Messina. The Italian Air Force had about 50 torpedo planes and 150 bombers (30 of which were dive bombers) stationed in Sardinia and Sicily, roughly half of each type on both islands.

The Royal Air Force was able to be of more help than during the previous convoy trip from Gibraltar to Malta last January. Aircraft from Gibraltar conducted A/S patrols for the fleet during the first two days of the passage to the east. Also patrols were flown between Sardinia and the coast of Africa, while aircraft from Malta conducted reconnaissance between Sardinia and Sicily, besides watching the Italian ports. Malta would also provide fighter escort for Force X and the convoy after Force H would part with them and HMS Ark Royal could no longer provide fighter cover for them.

During the operation eight submarines (HMS Olympus (Lt.Cdr. H.G. Dymott, RN), HMS Unique (Lt. A.F. Collett, RN), HMS Upholder (Lt.Cdr. M.D. Wanklyn, DSO, RN), HMS Upright (Lt. J.S. Wraith, DSC, RN), HMS Urge (Lt. E.P. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Utmost (Lt.Cdr. R.D. Cayley, DSO, RN), HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) and HrMs O 21 (Lt.Cdr. J.F. van Dulm, RNN)) were on patrol to report and attack Italian warships that might be sailed to intercept the convoy.

The passage East, 22 July 1941

On 22 July the destroyers from Force X oiled from the Brown Ranger two at a time. A task that took about 10 hours. Having completed the oiling of the destroyers the Brown Ranger and her escort returned to Gibraltar. An Italian aircraft had reported Force H in the morning but the convoy and Force X, at that moment about 100 nautical miles to the south-westward, appeared not to have been sighed. At 2317/22 the Italian submarine Diaspro missed HMS Renown with torpedoes. HMAS Nestor sighted the torpedo tracks and was able to warn HMS Renown which was then able to avoid the torpedoes by doing an emergency turn to port.

The passage East and attacks by the Italian Air Force, 23 July 1941

Force H rejoined the convoy around 0800/23 as the British were now approaching the danger area. Shadowing aircraft had already reported the position of the fleet that morning and heavy air attacks soon followed.

The first came at 0945 hours, a well times combination of nine high level bombers and six or seven torpedo planes approaching from the north-east. HMS Ark Royal had eleven fighters up, which met the bombers about 20 miles from the fleet. They managed to down two of the nine bombers but unfortunately three Fulmars were shot down by the enemy. The other seven bombers came on working round the head of the screen of destroyers to attack the convoy from the starboard beam at a height of 10000 feet. Their bombs fell harmlessly amongst the leading ships as they altered course to avoid the attack. The torpedo planes however were more successful. They came from ahead out of the sun, flying low, and as the destroyers opened fire they divided into groups of two or three and to attack the convoy on both sides. Two aircraft attacked HMS Fearless, stationed ahead in the screen, dropping their torpedoes at ranges of 1500 and 800 yards from a height of 70 feet. The destroyer avoided the first torpedo, but was hit by the second, set on fire, and completely disabled. Other aircraft went to press on their attacks on the convoy itself. One of them, dropping its torpedo between two merchant vessels hit HMS Manchester as she was turning to regain her station after avoiding two torpedoes fired earlier. She reversed helm once more but to no avail. During the attacks three enemy torpedo bombers were shot down by AA fire from the ships.

HMS Manchester was badly damaged and could only use one engine out of four. At first she could steam only 8 knots. She was ordered to make for Gibraltar with HMS Avon Vale as escort. That evening, further to the westward, they were attacked again by three enemy torpedo planes but their AA gunfire kept the enemy at a distance. Both ships successfully reached Gibraltar on the 26th.

At 1010/23 five more bombers tried to attack the convoy crossing this time from north to south. Fighters from HMS Ark Royal forced them to drop their bombs from great height and mostly outside the screen.

At 1645/23 five more torpedo planes led by a seaplane came in from the northward. Three Fulmars caught them about 20 miles away. They managed to shoot down two planes and drove the remainder away.

Soon afterwards the fleet arrived off the entrance to the Skerki Channel. There HMS Hermione was transferred to Force X to take the place of HMS Manchester. Six destroyers were assigned to Force H and eight to Force X. At 1713 hours Vice-Admiral Somerville hauled round to the westward. HMS Ark Royal kept her Fulmars up until RAF Beaufighters had arrived from Malta to take over.

The convoy was attacked again around 1900/23. Four torpedo planes arrived from the eastward, flying low and and working round from ahead to the starboard side of the convoy. They approached in pairs in line abreast. They kept HMS Sikh (on the starboard bow of the screen) between them and their target until nearly the moment for attack, thereby hampering the AA fire from the other ships. They dropped their torpedoes from long range from a height of 50 feet and nearly hit HMS Hermione, sternmost ship in the starboard column. To avoid the attack each column of the convoy turned 90° outwards and all warships opened barrage fire from all guns that would bear. The barrage however fell short but it caused the Italians to drop their torpedoes early. Also one of the enemy was possibly shot down.

This attack scattered the convoy and it took some time to reform. At 1945/23 about seven bombers appeared from ahead at a height of about 14000 feet to attack the convoy from the port side. The convoy altered 40° to port together and the escort opened up a controlled fire with some hesitation as the Italian aircraft looked a lot like Beaufighters. The bombing was extremely accurate. Several bombs fell near HMS Edinburgh which was leading the port column, and a near miss abreast a boiler room disabled HMS Firedrake which had been sweeping ahead of the convoy. She could no longer steam so Rear-Admiral Syfret ordered her back to Gibraltar in tow of HMS Eridge. They had an anxious passage, being shadowed by aircraft continuously during daylight hours, but were not again attacked. On the 25th HMS Firedrake managed to lit one boiler so the tow was slipped. Both destroyers entered Gibraltar harbour on the 27th.

Soon after leaving the Skerki Channel in the evening of the 23th the convoy hauled up to the north-east towards the coast of Sicily. This was to lessen the danger of mines. The Italians did not shadow the convoy after the attack at 1945 hours and missed this alteration of course which they clearly did not expect. Around 2100 hours, as it was getting dark, enemy aircraft were seen searching along its old line of advance. During the evening the convoy sighted flares several times about 20 miles to the south.

Continued passage to the east and enemy attacks, 24 July 1941

Between 0250 and 0315 hours the convoy was however attacked by the Italian MAS boats MAS 532 and MAS 533. The managed to torpedo and damaged the Sydney Star. HMAS Nestor went alongside and took off almost 500 soldiers. Sydney Star was however able to continue her passage as staggler escorted initially by HMAS Nestor. Admiral Syfret however sent back HMS Hermione. At 1000/24 eight German dive bombers and two high level bombers attacked. Their bombs fell close the escorting ships. HMS Hermione shot down one dive bomber. The three ships arrived at Malta early in the afternoon.

The main body of the convoy meanwhile continued on its way unhindered after the attacks of the motor torpedo boats except for an attempt by three torpedo planes around 0700 hours. They dropped their torpedoes at a safe distance when fired on by the destroyers in the screen ahead. According to the orders Rear-Admiral Syfret was to leave the convoy now, if there was no threat from Italian surface forces, and go on to Malta with the cruisers and some of the destroyers. They were to land the passengers and stores, complete with fuel and return to Force H as soon as possible. The remaining destroyers were to accompany the transports to Malta. They too were to join Force H as soon as possible. Rear-Admiral Syfret felt easy about the surface danger as all Italian ships were reported in harbour the day before, but he was anxious about the threat to the convoy from the air. He decided to go ahead with the cruiser but leave all destroyers with the convoy so at 0745/24, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Arethusa and HMS Manxman left the convoy and pressed ahead at high speed to Malta where they arrived at noon the same day. The transports and the destroyers arrived about four hours later. They had been attacked only once by a torpedo plane since the cruisers separated.

Return passage of the warships of force X to make rendez-vous with Force H.

In the evening HMS Edinburgh, HMS Arethusa, HMS Hermione and HMS Manxman sailed together followed by five destroyers; HMS Cossack, HMS Maori, HMS Sikh, HMAS Nestor, HMS Foxhound, later the same evening. The destroyers overtook the cruisers in the morning of the 25th. The sixth destroyer, HMS Farndale, had to be left at Malta due to defects (condenser problems). All ships made rendez-vous with Force H to the north-west of Galita Island at 0800/25.

Movements of Force H after it parted from the convoy.

After parting with the convoy in the evening of the 23rd, Vice-Admiral Somerville had taken force H westward at 18 knots until the afternoon of the 24th going as far west as 03°30’E. He then turned back to meet Admiral Syfret, also sending from HMS Ark Royal six Swordfish aircraft which left her in position 37°42’N, 07°17’E at 1000/25. After their junction Forces H and X made the best of way towards Gibraltar. Fighter patrols of HMS Ark Royal shot down a shadowing aircraft soon after the fleet had shaped course to the westward, losing a Fulmar in doing so. However another aircraft had meanwhile reported the fleet.

High level bombers appeared from the east and torpedo bombers from the north at 1100 hours. HMS Ark Royal at that moment had four fighters in the air and sent up six more. They prevented the bombing attack shooting down three aircraft out of eight at a cost of two Fulmars, while the ships watched the enemy jettison their bombs 15 miles away. The torpedo attack came to nothing too for the enemy gave up the attempt and retired while still several miles from the fleet. Two days later, on the 27th, the fleet reached Gibraltar.

The movements of the seven empty ships coming from Malta.

Six of the transports / tankers left Malta for Gibraltar in the morning of the 23rd, escorted by HMS Encounter. The seventh ship, tanker Svenor grounded while leaving harbour and was held up for some hours. At dusk, when a few miles from Pantelleria, the six ships devided into pairs according to their speed. HMS Encounter initially escorted the middle pair but joined the leading ships in the evening of the 24th when past the Galita Bank.

Italian aircraft, both high level bombers and torpedo planes, attacked all these ships on the 24th to the southward of Sardinia. They made their first attempt on the second pair of transports and HMS Encounter. Four torpedo planes attacked at 1230/24 and four bombers at 1250/24. No ships were hit though the bombs fell close. Next came the turn for the leading pair, which were attacked further westwards by two bombers that came singly at 1330/24 and 1400/24. The second plane nearly hit HMS Breconshire. Finally when the third pair of ships reached about the same position in the evening they were attacked by torpedo planes and the Hoegh Hood was damaged but she managed to arrive at Gibraltar only a few hours after her consort on the 27th. The last ship, the one that had been delayed at Malta, arrived on the 28th. (31)

30 Jul 1941

Operation Style.

Ferrying of troops and supplies to Malta and diversery attack on Sardinia.

' Force X ', made up of the light cruisers HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) and HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), fast minelayer HMS Manxman (Capt. R.K. Dickson, RN) and escorted by the destroyers HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN) and HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN) departed Gibraltar on the 31 July 1941 carrying the troops and supplies that had been on the troopship Leinster and the light cruiser HMS Manchester which had not reached Malta during Operation Substance.

To cover ' Force X ', ' Force H ' departed Gibraltar on 30 July 1940 and it was made up of the battleship HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, now flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), battlecruiser HMS Renown (Rear-Admiral R.R. McGrigor, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN). They were also ordered to create a diversion for the operation.

An then these was also ' Force S ' which was made up of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941, master D.B.C. Ralph) escorted by the escort destroyer HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, RN). This force also departed Gibraltar on 30 July 1941.

At 1630/31, the destroyers HMS Cossack and HMS Maori were detached to bombard the harbours of Alghero and Port Conte on Sardinia and fire star shells for a night raid by aircraft from the aircraft carrier Ark Royal. Also the seaplane base at Porte Conte was to be attacked.

The destroyers at first proceeded as of making for the Straits of Bonifacio altering course after dark.

At 0130/1, HMS Maori parted company with HMS Cossack and proceeded toward Porte Conte while Cossack went towards Maddalena Island where she switched on her searchlight at 0220/1 to search the bay and the harbour. Cossack also fired starshell on various bearings from north to south-east and moved right into Alghero Roads. They harbour and roads were completely emptry and no targets could be found. One starshell started a fire in a building about 2 miles north of the town.

Meanwhile Maori had opened fire with starshell at 0210/1 in the entrance to Port Conte and steamed up the bay at 12 knots. The whole bay was illuminated and seen to be empty. Buildings on the hill to the east of the harbour were illuminated by searchlight and the Customs house and one other official looking building were demolished by gunfire at a range decreasing from 4000 to 2000 yards. A church between these two targets was not fired at. Maori detected a large number of sharp asdic contacts ahead and thinking they might be possibly caused by a line of mines, stopped engines and turned round.

At 0235/1, Cossack sighted a plane flying up the coast from the south and passing over Alghero. As there were no targets to be engaged and as he considered a sufficient diversion had been caused in the vicinity, Capt. Berthon ordered both destroyers to withdraw which they then did to the south-west. When clear of the 50 fathom line speed was increased to 32 knots and course was shaped to rejoin ' Force H ' after daylight.

At 0310/1, ' Force H ' alterered course together and HMS Ark Royal flew off 9 Swordfish from position 40°43'N, 06°35'E, for a bombing attack on Alghero airodrome. On completion of flying off the fleet withdrew on course 255° at 20 knots.

The aircraft, which were armed with four 250lb G.P. bombs, 40lb G.P. bombs and 20lb H.E. bombs abd flares were ordered to attack aircraft on the ground and the aerodrome buildings and hangars.

When they attacked two direct hits were observed on the equipment shop where a fire broke out. The eastern and western hangars and the living quarters were also hit and fired were caused in the two latter targets.

As soon as the flares illuminated the aerodrome considerable light AA fire was experienced but no aircraft was hit. No enemy aircraft were observed. A fire was burning in a two storey building just to the north of the town of Alghero which was probably that started by the starshell from HMS Cossack.

All aircraft returned to the carrier. Landing on began at 0621/1. As the third aircraft landed a 40lb G.P. bomb exploded which had probably hung up on the racks, exploded setting the aircraft on fire, blowing a hole in the deck and killing four officers and three ratings. One rating was wounded. The remaining aircraft now could not be landed before the remains of the burnt aircraft had been hauled aft and the flight deck was repaired. Also the arrestor gear was damaged by the explosion and had to be repaired. Repairs were completed at 0715/1 after the remaining six aircraft landed on. Course was continued to the westward and HMS Cossack and HMS Maori rejoined at 0800/1.

At 0812/1, an Italian aircraft was sighted but the fighters could not intercept as it hid in the low cloud.

Another aircraft was reported to the southward at 0852/1 but again the fighters failed to make contact. The aircraft was however believed to be a Spanish flying boat.

All aircraft were landed on by noon owing to low visibility and approaching heavy rain.

Attempts to refuel destroyers in the afternoon from Brown Ranger did not succeed owing to the weather and the tanker with its escort were ordered to proceed further to the south. HMS Cossack and HMS Maori went with them as they were the first that had to refuel. They were ordered to try to refuel during the night if possible ad make rendezvous with ' Force H ' at 0630/2.

At 1807/1, HMS Renown reported that her port bulge wa coming away and that she would require docking on arrival at Gibraltar and that high speed was undesirable except in an emergency.

Meanwhile ' Force X ' had proceeded to the eastward some 35 nautical miles from the African coast. They streamed paravanes at 0700/1 and then proceeded at 25 knots increasing to 26 knots at noon. At 2000/1 speed was increased to 28 knots which was Arethusa's best speed with paravanes streamed.

While ' Force X ' was passing south of Sardinia, ' Force H ' proceeded down the western side of the Balearics to make rendezvous with Brown Ranger the following morning.

At 0025/2, ' Force X ' intercepted an enemy report which might have emanated from a submarine sighting the force while it passed the Cani Rocks. Cape Bon was passed 1.5 nautical miles abeam to starboard at 0145/2.

At 0510/2 the light cruiser Hermione rammed and sank Italian submarine Tembien between Pantelleria and Linosa in position 36°21'N, 12°40'E. The light cruiser sustained only light damage. HMS Lightning was then briefly detached to search the area but soon rejoined having sighted nothing.

' Force X ' arrived safely at Malta at 0900/2.

Meanwhile ' Force H ', having passed to the westward of the Balearics during the night, made rendezvous with the Brown Ranger at 0630 some 40 nautical miles south-east of Ibiza. HMS Cossack and HMS Avon Vale had topped off with fuel ad HMS Maori who made an unsuccesful attempt before dark was completing with fuel as ' Force H ' approached.

There was a north-westerly wind force 4 and a slight south-west swell. Brown Ranger steamed to and fro south of te islands on courses either directly with or against the prevailing south-westerly swell whilst ' Force H ' cruised within visibility distance changing destroyers as necessary for fuelling. Problems with the gear on board the Brown Ranger caused some delays. All destroyers were however able to refuel and at 1900/2 Brown Ranger was ordered to return to Gibraltar now escorted by HMS Eridge.

While oiling was tanking place and A/S patrol was kept up over the area while a fighter patrol was kept ready on the deck of HMS Ark Royal.

At 1900/2, after the last destroyers had just completed fuelling, ' Force H ' altered course to 102° at 18 knots. Speed was increased to 20 knots at 2200/2 to rendezvous with ' Force X ' about 0830/3 in position 38°05'N, 07°28'E.

While ' Force H ' had been spending the day south of the Balearics, ' Force X ' was unloading troops and stores and fuelling at Malta. ' Force X ' sailed at 1600/2 augumented by the escort destroyer HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) who had completed repairs at Malta. The force proceeded at 24 knots, this being HMS Farndale's best speed. When north of Gozo, HMS Farndale reported that she could not maintain a higher speed than 18 knots. She was then ordered by HMS Hermione to return to Malta.

' Force X ' then increased speed to 26 knots and returned by the same route which they had followed successfully on the eastward passage through Tunisian territorial waters. Owing to loss of paravanes HMS Hermione was stationed astern of the line, which was led by HMS Arethusa.

At 2215/2, RDF indicated a low flying aircraft 20 miles to the southward and up moon. The aircraft came straight in, unseen, and passing about 1000 feet overhead, opened 8 miles to the northward and faded. It was though the aircraft had failed to sight the force but a little later it returned and appeared to circle ahead.

At 2225/2 when in position 36°28'N, 12°00'E, the aircraft approached at right angles on HMS Hermione'sHermione's stern. The aircraft was engaged by pom-pom and seen to jink just before dropping it's torpedo which missed well astern. The speed of ' Force X ' was evidently considerably underestimated. The aircraft which did not appear to be hit was held by RDF as far as Pantellaria before it faded. Twenty minutes later a shore station was heard apparently homing an aircraft but no enemy report was intercepted.

At 0027/3, ' Force X ' was turning to starboard to approach Kelibia a small darkeneded vesel was sighted at about 5000 yards on the port beam. Guns and searchlights were trained on but as the vessel drew into the path of the moon it was identified as a small schooner. The order was passed to 'revert to normal' but Hermione's pom-pom opened fire at about 4000 yards. HMS Manxman and HMS Arethusa both joining in. Cease fire was immediately ordered by W/T. No hits were observed.

' Force X ' proceeded without further incident to rendezvous with ' Force H '. A low layer of misty cloud and reduced visibility probably accounted for the abence of enemy air reconnaissance.

At 0612/3, HMS Ark Royal, flew off a reconnaissance of three aircraft along tracks 080°, 093° and 106° to a depth of 80 miles to locate ' Force X ' and any enemy forces that might be to the northward and between forces ' X ' and ' H '.

At 0640/3, HMS Foresight sighted a floating mine and sank it with small arms fire. HMS Foresight was then stationed 3 miles 160° from HMS Nelson to asist in homing in the reconnaissance aircraft.

The first fighter patrol was flown off at 0700/3. An hour later the reconnaissance aircraft returned reporting ' Force X ' bearing 117°, 33 nautical miles from HMS Nelson. No enemy forces had been sighted. HMS Foresight was then ordered to rejoin the destroyer screen.

at 0835/3, when ' Force H ' was 75 nautical miles west-north-west of Galita, ' Force X ' was sighted 6 nautical miles to the eastward.

' Force H ' altered course to 270° as ' Force X ' joined and the whole fleet withdrew to the westward at 20 knots. Visibility gradually improved.

At 0927/3, while the visibility was still low, an enemy aircraft was sighted and one section of fighters was sent to investigate. The enemy only entered the visibility circle to the north-west for a very short period before making off at high speed on a course of 250°. The fighters were not able to intercept the enemy.

At 1006/3, a shadower was detected by RDF and four fighters in the air were sent to intercept. The enemy was engaged by one of the Fulmars but was able to take cover in the clouds and disappeared to the north-east.

An emeny report was intercepted at 1045/3 indicating that this aircraft reported the position of the fleet at 1010/3. No further enemy aircraft were sighted.

Course was altered to 260° at 1515/3 and speed was reduced to 18 knots as by this time HMS Repulse's port bulge had started to fold back. At 1917/3 course was altered to 250°.

Low visibility probably persised in the vicinity of Cagliari during the forenoon and early afternoon may have been partly responsible for the enemy's lack of enterprise.

At 0400 when in position 37°22'N, 01°01'E, look-outs in HMS Avon Vale heard shouts and after investigating picked up an RAF sergeant pilot from a rubber dinghy. He was the sole survivor of a Wellington aircraft whichhad force landed on the night of 31 July when en-route from Gibraltar to Malta.

At daylight the fleetwas divided into three groups to facilitate berthing arrangements at Gibraltar. Group one comprising HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione, HMS Lightning, HMS Sikh, HMS Encounter and HMS Forester proceeded ahead at 27 knots and entered harbour at 2030/4.

Group two, comprising HMS Nelson, HMS Arethusa, HMS Manxman, HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight, HMS Foxhound and HMS Fury proceeded at 20 knots and entered harbour at 2230 hours.

And finally, Group three, comprising HMS Renown, HMS Cossack, HMS Maori, HMAS Nestor and HMS Avon Vale proceeded at 18 knots and entered harbour at midnight. (28)

14 Aug 1941
At 2230/14 the following ships departed Gibraltar for exercises; battleship HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) and the destroyers HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and HMS Vimy (Lt.Cdr. H.G.D. de Chair, RN).

At 0930/16, HMS Nelson and HMS Vimy returned to harbour. HMS Hermione returned at 1610/16.

HMS Ark Royal returned to harbour at 1130/17 after having completed flying training. The destroyers HMS Nestor, HMS Fury, HMS Forester, HMS Foresight and HMS Encounter which had been screening the carrier only returned at 1400/17 after having conducted torpedo firings. (28)

21 Aug 1941

Operation Mincemeat.

Air attacks on Sardinia and minelaying in the Gulf of Genoa.

At 2200/21, ' Force H ', departed Gibraltar and set course to the eastward. It was made up of the battleship HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, now flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN) and light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN).

The fast minelayer HMS Manxman (Capt. R.K. Dickson, RN) departed Gibraltar at 0210/22 and also set course to the eastward.

' Force H ' passed 9 miles south of Alboran Island at 0530/22 and shaped course 080° at 17 knots altering course to 065° at 1400/22 when 28 miles north of Oran.

An east-north-east wind persisted all day, rising to force 6 by 1800/22 after which it fell to a light breeze. The visibility throughout the day was approximately 10 miles from 1000 feet and there is no reason to suppose that the force was sighted by enemy aircraft.

Several exercises had been carried out during the day. At 2200/22, ' Force H ' was in position 37°00'N, 01°32'E, steering 070°.

At 0600/23, when ' Force H ' was in position 37°48'N, 04°07'E course was altered to 300° to avoid being too far to the eastward before dark.

The first RDF report was at 0810/23 when the fleet was 80 nautical miles north-north-east of Algiers. An aircraft was detected bearing 020°, 30 miles. It pased from east to west some 25 miles north of the fleet. A section of fighters was then flown off from HMS Ark Royal.

An aircraft was sighted by HMS Ark Royal at 0850/23 and the fighters were directed on. The shadower, a Cant 506B, was attacked nine times fom astern before all ammunition was expended. The rear gunner was put out of action and one wing was damaged, but the aircraft escaped. Whilst returning to the carrier the fighters reported a second enemy aircraft ten miles to the southward and a relief section of fighters was flown off at 0915/23 and made contact ten minutes later with another Cant 506B. Seven attacks were carried out before all ammunition was expended. Although some of these attacks were made from close range, the enemy escaped with his rear gunner out of action. It appears that the pilots and engines in these aircraft are now well armoured.

At 1230/23, ' Force H ' altered course to 055° when in position 38°23'N, 02°45'E. Speed was increased to 18.5 knots to reach the required position for flying off the night striking force.

During the afternoon there were various RDF reports but the aircraft were all considered to be civil machines bound to or from North Africa. At 1722/23 when in position 38°58'N, 04°17'E an aircraft was sighted low down bearing 300° passing from North to South. The fighters were vectored on and shortly afterwards reported they had shot down a Ju.52 with swastika markings on the tail.

Speed was increased to 19 knots at 2000/23 and forty minutes later course was altered to 047° to reach the flying off position about 80 miles west of Port Conte.

At 0250/24, ' Force H ' altered course to 115° into the wind and increased speed to 23 knots. Ten Swordfish were flown off from position 40°50'N, 06°59'E to attack the cork woods in the vicinity of Tempio. Immediately all aircraft had flown off course was altered to 235° and withdrawal was made at 20 knots.

Flying conditions were good and navigation was aided by a clear starlight night and a poor black out at Tempio. Woods to the west and south-east of the town were attacked with incendiaries and many large fires were started. A warehouse on the south-west outskirts of the town was also left well alight. It was unfortunate there was only a slight breeze in the target area or the conflagration might have been considerably assisted. Only light AA fire was encountered. All aircraft returned safely at 0615/24 and all were landed on at 0645/24.

At 0735/24 an unknown aircraft was detected by RDF bearing 170° 32 miles and the fighter patrol was sent in to intercept. On reaching a position 28 miles from the fleet the unknown aircraft turned away and faded from the screen. The fighters were recalled.

At 0920/24 two signals were intercepted from an aircraft from Malta reporting units of the Italian Fleet about 30 miles south of Cagliari at 0810/24 steering 240° at 15 knots. The total enemy force at this time was reported as two battleships, four cruisers and nineteen destroyers.

At 1251/24 a signal was intercepted from HMS Upholder (Lt.Cdr. M.D. Wanklyn, DSO, RN) reporting one battleship, two cruisers and six destroyers in position 38°30'N, 12°00'E, steering 215° at 25 knots at 1030/24. This brought the total strenght of the enemy up to three battleships, six cruisers and twenty-five destroyers.

It was clear that ' Force H ' alone could not engage this concentration, but it hoped it might prove possible to launch a torpedo-bomber attack at dusk, provided the enemy were sufficiently far to the westward to reduce to a reasonable extent the chances of the torpedo-bombers being intercepted by enemy shore-based fighters. ' Force H ' steered 235° until 1340/24, when ' Force H ' was 67 miles south-east of Palma when course was chenged to 170°.

Vice-Admiral Somerville however received no further information on the enemy and at 1420/24 he broke W/T silence to ask the Vice-Admiral Malta if he could shadow then enemy between 1600/24 and 2100/24, providing they were west of Cagliari. At 1520/24 when in position 38°28'N, 04°05'E, ' Force H ' altered course to 090°.

By 1600/24 there was still no information on the enemy's whereabouts. As it was thought possible that the enemy was within 40 to 50 miles of ' Force H ' if he had continued a westerly course at high speed, ' Force H ' turned to the westward flying off an air reconnaissance from position 38°25'N, 04°14'E to search to a depth of 110 miles.

At 1705/24 te RDF detected a hadower approaching from the eastward and the fighters were vectored on. Contact was made at 1720/24 and the shadower, although engaged until all ammunition was expended after sixteen attacks, escaped with his rear gunner silenced. Some fourty minutes later an enemy report was intercepted from an Italian aircraft.

The reconnaissance, which had sighted nothing, was landed on at 1945/24 when course was altered to 230° and speed reduced to 17 knots.

At 2012/24 a signal was received from the Vice-Admiral, Malta stating the air reconnaisance had sighted two battleships and fourteen destroyers in position 38°38'N, 09°31'E, steering 140°, speed 15 knots at 1655/24, and four cruisers and five destroyers in position 38°35'N, 09°25'E at 1700/24 steering 070° at 15 knots. The signal added that ethe enemy were not being shadowed. This report indicated that an attack on the enemy was not feasable and it was clearly his intention to refuse action except under close cover of his shore-based air forces.

At 2230/24, ' Force H ' altered course to pass between Ibiza and Majorca during the night.

At 0330/25, course was altered to 290° to steer for Valencia, where it was intended ' Force H ' should make a demonstration with a large number of aircraft in the air. Paravanes were streamed at 0645/25 before entering coastal waters.

At 0930/25, HMS Ark Royal started flying off aircraft and ' Force H ' steamed down the coast from Sugunto to Valencia seven miles off shore. Fourteen Fulmars and seventeen Swordfish circling overhead. During this demonstration a Spanish submarine surfaced about four miles on the port bow and displayed two large Spanish ensigns. Several small craft were passed at close quarters.

All aircraft were landed on by 1200/25 and the force proceeded to the southward at 17 knots. Various exercises were carried out during the afternoon and evening. One Swordfish, taking part in a navigation exercise, force landed due to oil-failure. HMS Hermione was despatched ahead at full speed and recovered the crw uninjured.

After dark a night-encounter exercise was carried out with HMS Hermione, star-shell and searchlights being used.

Various practices were carried out. Including an attack by aircraft during which nine torpedoes were dropped.

' Force H ' retuned to Gibraltar at 1430/26. (28)

2 Sep 1941
In the morning the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) and the destroyers HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN) departed Gibraltar for exercises. HMS Hermione returned at 1630/2 while HMS Ark Royal and the destroyers only returned at 1515/3. (28)

7 Sep 1941

Operation Status (phase 1).

Fighter aircraft to be flown off to Malta.

At 1700/7, HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) departed Gibraltar and proceeded to the west with a view of promoting the idea that no operation was intended and that the subequent movements of HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN) were connected with local exercises. HMS Hermione was instructed to return through the Straits after dark and rendezvous with HMS Ark Royal to to east and out of sight of Gibraltar and Ceuta after daylight.

After dark, HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN) was warped close up to HMS Ark Royal and 26 Hurricanes and 1 Swordfish were transferred by means of the ramp.

At 2300 hours Vice-Admiral Somerville embarked onboard HMS Ark Royal with certain members of his staff.

HMS Ark Royal slipped at 0540/8 but owing to a westerly wind of 18 miles an hour and HMS Furious occupying the berth immediately astern, the three tugs available experienced great difficulty in hauling off and the harbour entrance was not passed until 0705/8.

After flying off 1 Swordfish and 1 Fulmar to North Front course was shaped to the eastward with the destroyers HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN), HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) as A/S screen. One Catalina was patrolling overhead.

During the day all Hurricanes were W/T tested, engines run up and then ranged aft. The pilots were also given full instructions for the take off and passage to Malta.

So far as can be ascertained the force was not sighted during this day.

After leaving Gibraltar a moderate westerly wind was experienced until reaching the vicinity of Alboran Island when the wind fell to light airs and subsequently changed to moderate and at times freh north-easterly.

At dawn on the 9th, the weather was clear with some cloud and a light north-easterly wind.

The first pair of Blenheims were due at the rendezvous, 40 miles north-east of Algiers at 0620/9 (sunrise), whilst the second pair were due at 0635/9.

At 0550/9, Hermione's RDF reported aircraft bearing 250° distant 35 miles. At 0551/9 an aircraft of the first pair asked for a course. This was signalled and courses continued to be passed throughout the approach of this aircraft.

Owing to poor W/T conditions at this time and interference from a beam station at Algiers, communications were slow and unreliable.

At 0621/9, requists for courses were received from other aircraft. Owing to the conditions referred to above, the first pair of Blenheims appeared to have passes to west and north of ' Force H ' without sighting and continued on a north easterly course as the result of confusion arising in the identifying the various Blenheims that were in the vicinity and unreliable communications.

At 0628/9, a Blenheim was sighted and proved to be the standby aircraft of the second pair. This Blenheim failed to answer V/S signals and proceeded to a waiting position to the northward. It was subeqently acertained that the Aldis lamp of the aircraft had developed defects.

At 0637/9, a second Blenheim was sighted to the southward. This proved to be the leader of the second pair ad as it crossed ahead of Ark Royal the first Hurricanes took off. Before the Blenheim had completed two circuits of the ship, the first flight of 14 Hurricanes had taken off and when formed on the Blenheim was given the order to proceed to Malta. The Hurricanes and their Bleinheims arrived at Malta at 1115/9.

With the figures then available concerning the endurance of the Blenheims and the time occupied flying off owing to the light winds, Vice-Admiral Somerville did not consider it was advisable to retain the standby Blenheim until the second range of Hurricanes could be ranged up and flown off. This Blenheim wa therefore ordered to return to Gibraltar.

No contact either by RDF of W/T was obtained with the fouth Blenheim who returned to Gibraltar in due course.

The failure of the first pair of Blenheims to locate ' Force H ' is regrettable but was due to a considerable extent to the poor W/T conditions and the fact that these aircraft were not flying in company.

When it was clear that there could be no hope of either of the first pair of Blenheims making the rendezvous, the Force was turned to the west and proceeded at 19 knots.

A section of Fulmars was ranged on deck ahead of the remaining Hurricanes to deal with shadowers.

The RDF plot during the forenoon showed that a number of aircraft, possibly French, were in the vicinity and that in particular there were two shodowers waiting some 20 miles to the eastward.

In addition to these two shadowers, a Boston aircraft with French markings continued to circle the force just outside gun range. Two Fulmars were flown off to deal with the shadowers. One of the eastward shadowers was sighted for a few seconds by the Fulmars before disappearing in the clouds. The Fulmars were then vectored on the French Boston who waggled his wings when approached by the Fulmars but did not appear to be particularly disturbed by their presence.

As the Boston then made off to the north, the Fulmars were landed on at 1115/9 with the Hurricanes ranged before the barrier. Shortly after the Fulmars were landed on, the Boston again appeared for a few minutes and finally disappeared in the direction of Algiers.

At 2000/9, HMS Hermione was ordered to proceed at 26 knots and pas through the Straits during the dark hours returning to the eastward after daylight in ordered to maintain the impression that she had not proceeded to the east. From information subsequently available it does not appear that this rusa achieved its purpose.

HMS Ark Royal and the destroyers entered harbour at 0915/10. Vice-Admiral Somerville then returned to HMS Nelson. HMS Hermione had returned shortly before HMS Ark Royal. (28)

10 Sep 1941

Operation Status (phase 2).

Fighter aircraft to be flown off to Malta.

After her return to Gibraltar HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN) took over 14 Hurricanes from HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN).

At 1900/10, the aircraft carrier HMS Furious departed Gibraltar to the westward. She was being escorted by the destroyers HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN).

The remainder of ' Force H ', battleship HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, now flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) and the destroyers HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN), HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN) and HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN) sailed to the eastward at 2130/10. HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC, RN) was also to have sailed with them but was unable to do so due to defects.

At 0632/11, HMS Furious and her three escorting destroyers was sighted. She had passed through the Straits during the night. By 0700/11 when 30 miles north-east of Alboran Island all ships were formed on HMS Nelson and ' Force H ' was proceeding east at 17 knots.

HMS Hermione left the screen during the forenoon to act as target for a range and inclination exercise. It was also learnt from the Vice-Admiral North Atlantic Station that the departure of ' Force H ' had probably been reported to the enemy.

A Catalina was provided by 200 Group as A/S patrol throughout the day. This aircraft left the fleet at 2000/11. On it return flight to Gibraltar the Catalina experienced very bad weather conditions with frequent thunderstorm fromm Cape de Gata to Gibraltar.

During the night ' Force H ' proceeded eastward to reach approximate position 38°N, 04°E, at 0530/12 preparatory to flying off Hurricanes.

At 0530/12, HMS Furious screened by three destroyers proceeded 5 miles south of HMS Nelson. W/T communication with Gibraltar which commenced to be unreliable at midnight failed from 0100 to 0600 hours. No messages concerning the departure of the Blenheims an no weather forecast were received.

At 0625/12 a Catalina was sighted. This aircraft should have been 60 miles further eastward carrying out a reconnaissance as a precaution against interference by enemy surface forces.

The flying off position 38°N, 04°E was reached at 0530/12 but no Blenheims arrived and no information was available till 0730/12 when communication with Gibraltar was established and a message received which stated that these aircraft had been delayed 24 hours on account of weather. The signal giving this information was timed 0320/12 and the delay in its receiption was due to improvised arrangements whilst the main Gibraltar W/T transmitter was being shifted underground.

This postponement of the operation was disappointing as the weather conditions between ' Force H ' and Malta appeared to be ideal. It was subsequently learnt that the 24 hours delay was imposed as a result of the weather experienced by the Catalina referred to earlier.

At 0740/12 course was altered to the westward at 19 knots. Between 0900 and 0935 hours when in position 77 miles 017° from Algiers two unidentified aircraft were detected by RDF in the vicinity of the Fleet, and one float plane was sighted. Later an enemy report was intercepted timed 0930/12 which presumably originated from one of these aircraft. HMS Furious struck down her land Hurricanes and ranged three sea Hurricanes on deck to deal with any shadowers that offered a reasonable chance of interception.

A Catalina sent out from Gibraltar A/S patrol was detected by RDF at 0944/12 and sighted ten minutes later.

Speed was reduced to 17 knots at noon. At 1500/12 Vice-Admiral Somerville learnt that the force had been reported at 1010/12 as well as at 0930/12. There had been no indication of the presence of a shadowing aircraft at that time. Presumably the aircraft came in low below the RDF beam and was not sighted by lookouts. Again at 1655/12 an enemy report was intercepted without any sighting or RDF indication of shadowing aircraft.

A range and inclination exercise was carried out with HMS Hermione from 1700 to 1730 hours. At 1900/12 course was altered to 060°, speed 18 knots and a further alteration to 090° was made at 2200/12 to reach the flying off position at 0530/13.

A signal was received at 0450/13 stating that the first three Blenheims had left Gibraltar at 0310/13 and were expected to arrive over the fleet at 0635/13. Weather reports were favourable and inicated moderate westerly winds.

At 0410/13, when in position 38°04'N, 03°30'E, a merchant vesel northbound from Algiers passed about 4 miles from the fleet. HMS Furious screened by three destroyers was detached at 0550/13 to operate 5 miles to the southward of HMS Nelson.

The Catalina carrying out the dawn security patrol to the eastward of the fleet was detected by RF bearing 315° at 45 miles at 0547/13. A formation of friendly aircaft was detected at 0623/13 bearing 210°, 68 miles and closing. Courses to steer were passed to these aircraft by HMS Ark Royal and they were sighted at 0649/13.

The course for flying off was 050°. The extermely light wind rendered it necessary for Ark Royal to work up to 26 knots. Whilst in order to have sufficient deck space for taking off under these conditions HMS Furious was anly able to range a maximum of 7 Hurricanes instead of the required 10. This resulter in her flights being flown off in batches of 7 and 3. The figures for the first flight were as follows; HMS Furious, 1st off 0657/13, 10th off 0709/13, departure 0713/13. HMS Ark Royal, 1st off 0706/13, 14th off 0712/13, departure 0717/13 from position 38°04'N, 04°13'E.

The 3rd Hurricane to take off from HMS Furious crashed into the port bridge and was lost overboard together with its pilot (Sergeant W.R. Findlay, RCAF).

After the 7th aircraft took off there was a slight delay in ranging the remaining 3 of that flight due to the jambing of the fire curtains which had been lowered when the aircraft crashed.

At 0707/13 the second formation of 4 Blenheims was detected by RDF bearing 205°, 71 miles. These aircraft were sighted at 0730/13. Hurricanes were started up and flown off when ready, the figures being as follows; HMS Furious 11th off 0750/13, 20th off 0803/13, departure 0812/13. HMS Ark Royal 15th off 0745/13, 26th off 0750/13, departure 0755/13 from position 38°10'N, 04°20'E.

The homing of the Blenheims was greatly facilitated owing the flying in formation on this occasion. Hitherto objection has been raised to flying in formation on the grounds that this would entail some additional ependiture of fuel and that as the Blenheims have to fly at 5000 feet for maximum ful economy cloud condition might render formation flying impracticable.

Immeddiately on completion of flying off all ships formed on HMS Nelson and course was shaped to the westward at 20 knots. At 0826/13 HMS Ark Royal flew off an A/S patrol and one section of fighters. Before the fighters could take off HMS Hermione sighted an unidentified aircraft which faded from the RDF screen at a range of 16 miles at 0830/13. HMS Hermione again obtained a fleeting glimpse of an aircraft low down at 0910/13 but the fighters were unable to intecept. Later signals were recieved that the force had been reported at 0825 and 0843 hours.

It is clear that the enemy reconnaissance aircraft are taking full anti-RDF precautions. If the enemy aircraft do not attempt to gain height until out of RDF range they will enjoy a fair degree of immunity from fighter interception providing they restrict their obervation to a short sighting and then withdraw below the horizon.

At 1105/13 an unidentified aircraft was detected bearing 128° 33 miles. It closed to 23 miles and then opened on a bearing 160°. Fighters were directed but failed to make contact and were recalled at 35 miles.

News was recieved at 1130 and 1218 hours that the 1st and 2nd flights respectively had arrived at Malta. Confirmation that seven Blenheims and 45 Hurricanes had arrived was recieved at 1428/13. During the afternoon the fighter patrol was increased to give more pilots training. HMS Furious also exercised her Sea Hurricanes.

At 1615/13, HMS Hermione reported an aircraft in sight low down and later a signal was intercepted showing that this shadower had reported the force. Again lack of RDF results rendered fighter direction impossible.

The passage back to Gibraltar was uneventful and the 14th was devoted to various practices. One Fulmar crashed in the sea when attempting to land on buth both crewmembers were saved.

At 1310/14, HMS Nelson, HMS Furious, HMS Hermione with four destroyers (HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Lively and HMS Gurkha) proceeded ahead and entered harbour at 1630/14.

HMS Ark Royal and the remaining three destroyers (HMS Zulu, HMS Lance and HMS Legion) remained out for exercises upon completion of which no. 812 Squadron was landed on coming from North Front. They entered harbour at 1915/14. (28)

17 Sep 1941
In the morning, HMS Severn (Lt.Cdr. A.N.G. Campbell, RN), conducted A/S exercises off Gibraltar together with HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), and in the afternoon HMS Severn conducted A/S exercises off Gibraltar together with HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN). (32)

17 Sep 1941

Convoy WS 11X,
Troop convoy from Liverpool / Clyde to Gibraltar.

On 16 September 1941 the ships Ajax (7797 GRT, built 1931), City of Lincoln (8039 GRT, built 1938) departed from Liverpool to make rendes-vous the following day off Orsay Island with the following ships that had departed the Clyde on the 17th; City of Calcutta (8063 GRT, built 1940), Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938), Clan Macdonald (9653 GRT, built 1939), Dunedin Star (11168 GRT, built 1936), Imperial Star (12427 GRT, built 1934), Rowallan Castle (7801 GRT, built 1939), HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) (Capt.(ret.) C.A.G. Hutchison, RN), HMS Princess Beatrix (4136 GRT, built 1939) (Cdr.(ret.) T.B. Brunton, RN), HMS Queen Emma (4136 GRT, built 1939) (Capt.(ret.) G.L.D. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Royal Scotsman (3288 GRT, built 1936) (T/Cdr. J.W. Peters, RNR), HMS Ulster Monarch (3791 GRT, built 1929) (T/Cdr. J. Wilson, RNR) and Leinster (4302 GRT, built 1937).

Most of the ships of this convoy were to form the convoy for operation Halberd from Gibraltar to Malta. The following ships made only the passage to Gibraltar with convoy WS 11X; HMS Princess Beatrix, HMS Queen Emma, HMS Royal Scotsman, HMS Ulster Monarch and Leinster.

Escort for this convoy was provided by; the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), the British light cruisers HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN) and HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), the British destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, DSO, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Oribi (Lt.Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, RN), HMS Havelock (Cdr. E.H. Thomas, DSC, RN), HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, DSC, RN), HMS Whitehall (Lt.Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN), HMS Witch (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Holmes, RN), HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSC, RN), the Polish destroyers ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. K.F. Namiesniowski, ORP) and the Dutch destroyer HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNethN).

In the evening of the 19th (2115 hours, B.S.T.) the destroyers HMS Havelock and HMS Harvester were detached from the convoy to escort the liner (troopship) Stratheden (23722 GRT, built 1937) all the way to Halifax. Until that moment the Stratheden had also been part of convoy WS 11X. The position in which these ships were detached was 50°57'N, 24°55'E.

On 21 September the convoy was joined by three destroyers coming from Gibraltar; HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN). These destroyers had sailed from Gibraltar on the 18th.

Also sailed from Gibraltar on the 18th was the British aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN) escorted by the British destroyers HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN) to provide cover for the convoy. Following this HMS Furious was then to proceed to Bermuda and finally to the US for a refit. The destroyers then made rendes-vous with the British battleship HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN) coming from a refit in the United States. They then provided cover for the convoy joining it around 1200/21. Shortly after Rodney had joined the convoy HMS Prince of Wales left the convoy for Gibraltar escorted by HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning and HMS Oribi. They arrived at Gibraltar to fuel late on the 23th. They departed Gibraltar around 0400/24 and rejoined the convoy west of Gibraltar around 1200/24. Before Prince of Wales rejoined the convoy HMS Rodney had departed the convoy and also headed for Gibraltar escorted by the destroyers ORP Piorun, ORP Garland and HrMs Isaac Sweers. Rodney and her escorting destroyers arrived at Gibraltar at 0900/24. In the evening of the 24th, HMS Nelson sailed westwards escorted by the same destroyers that had brought HMS Rodney in giving the German and Italian spies across the Bay in Spanish Algeciras the impression that HMS Rodney had just relieved HMS Nelson as flagship of Force H. This diversion seemed to have had the desired effect. During the night HMS Nelson and her escorting destroyers reversed course and passed the Straits of Gibraltar to the eastward unseen after dark.

On the 20th the British light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. A.W. Clarke, RN) and the British destroyer HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN) also departed Gibraltar to provide cover for the convoy.

On the 21th the cruisers HMS Kenya and HMS Euryalus departed the convoy for Gibraltar where they both arrived at 2300/22. After fuelling they departed before daylight on the 23th to rejoin the convoy to the west of Gibraltar.

On the 23th the British destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC, RN), HMS Heythrop (Lt.Cdr R.S. Stafford, RN) and HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) bolstered the escort in the approaches to Gibraltar joining the convoy around 0800/24. Also on the 24th light cruiser HMS Edinburgh (Capt. H.W. Faulkner, RN) departed Gibraltar a 1230 hours to join the convoy.

Also on the 24th two groups of destroyers arrived at Gibraltar to refuel. The destroyers HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Gurkha and HMS Lance arrived at 1600 hours. The destroyers HMS Legion, HMS Lively and HMS Zulu arrived at 1800 hours.

See 25 September 1941 'Convoy operation Halberd' for the continuation of the events..

25 Sep 1941

Operation Halberd
Supply convoy to Malta.

Continuation of the events of 17 September 1941, convoy WS 11X.

Situation at 1800 hours on 24 September 1941.

At 1800/24 the situation was as follows;
Convoy WS 11X was to the west of Gibraltar escorted at that moment by the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral A.T.B. Curteis, CB, RN), the British light cruisers HMS Edinburgh (Capt. H.W. Faulkner, RN), HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN, H.M. Burrough, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. A.W. Clarke, RN), the British destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, DSO, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Oribi (Lt.Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, RN), HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), the British escort destroyers HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) and HMS Heythrop (Lt.Cdr R.S. Stafford, RN).

At Gibraltar were the British battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN), the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), the British light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), the British destroyers HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN with Capt. D.(13) Capt. H.W. Williams, RN, on board), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), the Polish destroyers ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. K.F. Namiesniowski, ORP) and the Dutch destroyer HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNethN). Also at Gibraltar was the RFA oiler Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941) and the British corvette HMS Fleur de Lys (Lt.(Retd.) A. Collins, RNR).

Approaching Gibraltar from the west were the British destroyers HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN) and HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN).

Movement of forces on the night of 24/25 September.

At 1815 hours, HMS Nelson departed Gibraltar and after passing farewell messages to HMS Rodney she proceeded westwards screened by HrMs Isaac Sweers, ORP Piorun and ORP Garland. These ships reversed course at 2130 hours and proceeded eastwards.

Shortly after HMS Nelson and her three escorting destroyers had departed Gibraltar harbour HMS Gurkha, HMS Zulu and HMS Lance, wich had been sent ahead to fuel aft Gibraltar, entered harbour.

At 2030/24 RFA Brown Ranger and her escort, corvette HMS Fleur de Lys departed Gibraltar to take up a position eastwards to fuel the destroyers that were to protect the Halberd convoy.

At 2300/24 HMS Rodney, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione escorted by HMS Duncan, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Lively, HMS Zulu, HMS Gurkha, HMS Legion and HMS Lance departed from Gibraltar eastwards to simulate a normal sortie by 'Force H' and to rendezvous with the convoy to the eastward of Gibraltar at 0800/25.

'Force Z', consisting of, HMS Princess Beatrix (4136 GRT, built 1939) (Cdr.(ret.) T.B. Brunton, RN), HMS Queen Emma (4136 GRT, built 1939) (Capt.(ret.) G.L.D. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Royal Scotsman (3288 GRT, built 1936) (T/Cdr. J.W. Peters, RNR) (whose ultimate destination was Freetown), HMS Ulster Monarch (3791 GRT, built 1929) (T/Cdr. J. Wilson, RNR) and Leinster (4302 GRT, built 1937) escorted by the British corvettes HMS Jonquil (Lt.Cdr. R.E.H. Partington, RD, RNR), HMS Spiraea (T/Lt. L.C. Head, RNVR) and HMS Azalea (Lt. G.C. Geddes, RNR) had been stationed behind the main convoy at dusk was ordered to proceed into Gibraltar Bay. It was hoped that the presence of these ships in the Bay would lay suspicion in the event of the convoy having been sighted and reported while passing through the Straits.

The remainder of convoy WS 11X, made up of transport ships Ajax (7797 GRT, built 1931), City of Calcutta (8063 GRT, built 1940), City of Lincoln (8039 GRT, built 1938), Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938), Clan Macdonald (9653 GRT, built 1939), Dunedin Star (11168 GRT, built 1936), Imperial Star (12427 GRT, built 1934), Rowallan Castle (7801 GRT, built 1939) and HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) (Capt.(ret.) C.A.G. Hutchison, RN), with the escort, organised in two groups one mile apart, and led by the Vice Admiral, 2nd in Command, Home Fleet in HMS Prince of Wales, and the Rear Admiral commanding 18th Cruiser Squadron in HMS Edinburgh respectively, passed south of Europa Point at 0130/25. This disposition was adopted to reduce the frontage of the convoy during its passage through the Straits.

At 0730/25 HMS Rodney, HMS Ark Royal and their screening destroyers were sighted from HMS Nelson at a range of about 10 nautical miles. Half an hour later the convoy and its escort was sighted.

The escorting force was now reorganised into two groups;
Group 1: HMS Nelson, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione, HMS Cossack, HMS Zulu, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Laforey and HMS Lightning.

Group 2: HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney, HMS Kenya, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Sheffield, HMS Euryalus, HMS Duncan, HMS Gurkha, HMS Legion, HMS Lance, HMS Lively, HMS Oribi, HrMs Iscaac Sweers, ORP Piorun, ORP Garland, HMS Fury, HMS Farndale and HMS Heytrop and the entire convoy.

Events of group 1 and group 2 during 25 September

At 1700/25 (time zone -2) HMS Duncan obtained an Asdic contact in position 36°36'N, 01°58'W and attacked with a pattern of four depth charges (more were intended but the starboard thrower failed to fire. Another depth charge attack was carried out by HMS Grukha at 1716 hours. She dropped a pattern of fourteen depth charges. HMS Duncan attacked again at 1750 hours with a second depth charge pattern. Both destroyers then proceeded to rejoin the screen at 1758 hours. Both ships sighted bubbles rising to the surface possibly from a damaged submarine.

Meanwhile on the 25th all destroyers of group 2 were fuelled by RFA Brown Ranger but not without delay as Brown Rangers speed was slower then anticipated and she was therefore further to the west then anticipated. This resulted in that not all destroyers were back in position at dusk. HMS Oribi was unable to find group 2 during the night and joined up with group 1 until daylight of the 26th when she rejoined group 1.

Events of group 1 and group 2 during 26 September

At 0932/26 lookouts on HMS Nelson spotted an Italian aircraft shadowing group 1 at a range of 10 miles. The aircraft was flying very low and had not been picked up by RDF. The fighters from HMS Ark Royal that were in the air failed to intercept this aircraft due to failure of the R/T equipment in the flight leaders aircraft. An enemy report from the aircraft was intercepted at 0935 hours. A re-broadcast of this signal by an Italian shore station was picked up 20 minutes later.

At 1300 hours Group 1 reversed course to close the distance to group 2 and HMS Hermione was stationed astern of HMS Ark Royal for RDF purposes and to give additional AA protection to the carrier.

At 1537 hours two aircraft were sighted low down to the eastward by HMS Zulu, HMS Nelson and HMS Hermione. These aircraft were at first thought to be Hudsons but turned out to be enemy when a signal they made was intercepted. By now it was too late to vector fighters towards them.

Movements of group 1 and group 2 and enemy air attacks during 27 September.

Around 0730/27 group 1 and 2 joined. HMS Ark Royal was now protected by HMS Euryalus (ahead) and HMS Hermione (astern) as close escort. Four Fulmar fighters were flown off at 0800 hours. This number was increased to ten at 1000 hours and twelve at 1100 hours and finally to sixteen at 1200 hours when it was though most likely air attacks might develop due to the fact the the forcehad been shadowed and reported by enemy aircraft from at least 0810 hours.

At 1255 hours RDF picked up enemy aircraft formations closing in on the convoy, one from the north and one from the east, both 30 miles distant. Position was 37°48'N, 08°50'E. Fighters were vertored towards these formations and one enemy aircraft was shot down at 1300 hours. Six enemy torpedo bombers approached from the port bow and beam of the convoy. Two were shot down at 1302 hours, most likely by AA fire from HMS Rodney and HMS Prince of Wales. An unknown number of torpedoes were dropped by the other aircraft. No hits were obtained but HMS Lance was narrowly missed by two of these torpedoes. HrMs Isaac Sweers was missed with one torpedo by 30 yards and HMS Rodney by one torpedo by 100 yards. One of the attacking aircraft was shot down by the destroyers while another torpedo bomber meanwhile was shot down by the Fulmars from the Ark Royal. Finally at 1310 hours a Fulmar was accidentaly shot down by HMS Prince of Wales. The first attack was was now over.

At 1327/27 RDF reported a group of aircraft splitting into two formations and approaching from the east. Destroyers on the starboard wing of the screen opened fire at 1329 hours when six or seven torpedo bombers (BR 20's) were seen approaching very low from the starboard bow and beam. Position was 37°49'N, 08°58'E.

Three of these aircraft pressed on through the barrage put up by the destroyers and made a most determined attack on HMS Nelson who was swinging to starboard to comb the tracks. On aircraft dropped its torpedo out 450 yards 20° on Nelson's starboard bow passing over the ship at a height of 200 feet. This aircraft was almost certainly shot down astern of HMS Nelson by HMS Sheffield and HMS Prince of Wales. The track of the torpedo was not seen until about 150 yards ahead of the ship and no avoiding action was possible and the torpedo hit HMS Nelson on the port bow 10 feet below the waterline. The speed of HMS Nelson was reduced to 18 knots.

The second aircraft of this formation missed HMS Nelson with its torpedo by about 100 yards while the third aircraft was claimed to have been shot down by HMS Laforey. It's W/T operator, the only one of the crew alive but wounded, was picked up by HMS Forester.

Three or four aircraft from this group attacked from the starboard quarted but without result.

One torpedo bomber was shot down by the Fulmars at 1336 hours. One of the Fulmars was now shot down by mistake by pompom fire from HMS Rodney but the crew was rescued by HMS Duncan.

At 1345 hours the third attack started. RDF reported a group coming in from the south-west. Ten or eleven S.79's split into two groups and were seen coming in low over the water and were taken under fire from the escorting ships on the starboard side of the convoy. Seven or eight of the attackers then retired to the south-west and disappeared but three others tried to work round the starboard bow of the convoy which then turned ay 60° to port. The three attackers were then driven off by gunfire from the destroyer screen and dropped their torpedoes at long range but one torpedo narrowly missed HMS Lightning. One of these aircraft was shot down by a Fulmar as it retired. Position of this attack was 37°50'N, 09°06'E.

At 1354 hours three of the aircraft that had initialy turned away returned from astern. Two of these retired again on being fired at but the third pressed on to attack HMS Ark Royal but it was shot down by AA fire from that ship and HMS Nelson before it had dropped it's torpedo.

At 1358 hours one aircraft, seen right ahead of HMS Nelson, dropped a torpedo outside the screen. HMS Cossack was able to avoid this torpedo by the HE of this torpedo being picked up by her Asdic set.

Attempt to intercept the Italian battlefleet

While the third air attack was still in progress at 1404 hours an emergency report was received from an aircraft operating from Malta that it had sighted two Italian battleships and eight destroyers in position 38°20'N, 10°40'E steering a course of 190° at 20 knots at 1340 hours. The position of HMS Nelson when this report was received was 37°46'N, 09°04'E so the enemy was only 70-75 miles away. At this time HMS Nelson, with it's gun armament unimpaired was thought to be capable of 18 knots or more. Admiral Somerville decided to proceed towards the enemy at best speed with HMS Nelson, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney and the destroyers HMS Duncan, HMS Gurkha, HMS Lance, HMS Lively, HrMs Isaac Sweers and ORP Garland, leaving HMS Kenya, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Sheffield and ten destroyers with the convoy. HMS Euryalus, HMS Hermione and the destoyers HMS Piorun and HMS Legion remained with the Ark Royal.

It was also decided to fly off two Swordfish aircraft from the Ark Royal to take over shadowing duties from the aircraft operating out of Malta and to arm and fly off air striking force as soon as possible.

Ark Royal launched the two Swordfish at 1448 hours. It was intended to have launched them earlier but the launch was delayed due to the main armamant of HMS Ark Royal being in action and the recovery of two Fulmar fighters which were short on fuel.

In the meantime, at 1425 hours, the aircraft that was in contact with the Italians now also reported four cruisers and eight destroyers 15 nautical miles west-south-west of the enemy battlefleet. They were steering the same course and speed.

Meanwhile, at 1417 hours, the battleships had been ordered to form on HMS Nelson who had increased speed and proceeded ahead of the convoy. However at 1433 hours it became necessary for HMS Nelson to reduce speed to avoid further flooding due to the damage sustained. The Vice Admiral, 2nd in Command, Home Fleet in HMS Prince of Wales was now ordered to proceed with his flagship, HMS Rodney, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Sheffield and six destroyers to close the enemy at best speed. HMS Nelson meanwhile took station astern of the convoy.

While these instructions were carried out a report was received that the enemy had reversed course to 360°. This was followed by a further report that the enemy was steering 060°. Also a report was received that the battleships were of the Littorio class and not Cavour's as was previously believed. It was now clear that the enemy tried to avoid contact. It was still hoped that a striking force from HMS Ark Royal would be able to inflict damage to the enemy and reduced his speed allowing our battleships to overtake him before dark.

At 1530 hours a Fulmar fighter which was short of fuel force landed on the water astern of the Ark Royal. The crew was picked up by ORP Piorun.

At 1540 hours, HMS Ark Royal launched her stiking force of twelve Swordfish and four Fulmars. These aircraft did not find the enemy force and all aircraft returned to HMS Ark Royal around 1900 hours.

Between 1620 and 1645 hours, Fulmars from the CAP drove off an air attack threatening from the port side of the convoy. Later a shadowing enemy aircraft was shot down by Fulmars.

At 1658 hours, the Vice Admiral, second in Command Home Fleet, was ordered to reverse course and rejoin the convoy which was done at 1851 hours. No further reports of the enemy had been received for almost two hours and even if the striking force from HMS Ark Royal was able to inflict damage on the enemy these could not be intercepted before dark.

Detachment of Force X and the convoy.

At 1855 hours, on reaching the Skerki Channel, the escort of the convoy was split up into two forces, Force A, made up of HMS Nelson, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Duncan, HMS Gurkha, HMS Legion, HMS Lively, HMS Lance, HMS Fury, HrMs Isaac Sweers, ORP Piorun and ORP Garland split off from the convoy while Force X, made up of HMS Kenya, HMS Edinburg, HMS Sheffield, HMS Hermione, HMS Euryalus, HMS Cossack, HMS Zulu, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Oribi, HMS Farndale and HMS Heythrop remained with the convoy.

Between 1915 and 1930 hours enemy aircraft twice approached the convoy but turned away after fire had been opened on them. They were probably CR.42 fighters.

Night T/B attack on Force X and the convoy and loss of the Imperial Star.

Between 2000 and 2040 hours four torpedo bomber attacks were made on the convoy and Force X from the port beam, two or three aircraft taking part in each attack. The first two attacks had no result for the Italians.

During the third attack the two rear ships in the port column of the convoy collided with each other, these were the Rowallan Castle and the City of Calcutta. No serious damage was sustained and both were able to proceed on their way.

During the fourth attack, at 2032 hours, in position 37°31'N, 10°46'E the Imperial Star was struck by a torpedo on her port side aft. HMS Oribi was also attacked and narrowly missed by a torpedo four minutes later. She was able to shoot down the aircraft that had dropped this torpedo with her pompom and oerlikons.

When the Imperial Star was torpedoed it is probable that the explosion blew away both propellers and her rudder. In addition no.6 hold and the after engine room were both flooded.

HMS Heythrop, the rear ship of the port screen, proceeded alongside, but did not attempt to take Imperial Star in tow as she did not consider she was a suitable vessel to do so.

About 2045 hours HMS Oribi was ordered by HMS Euryalus to go to the assistance of the Imperial Star. When Oribi closed Heythrop was already standing by, and while Heythtop took off the passengers of the Imperial Star, HMS Oribi proceeded alongside to receive a report of the damage. It was decided to attempt to tow her to Malta.

For two hours the most determined attemps were made by HMS Oribi to tow the Imperial Star to Malta and although a speed of 8 knots was obtained nothing could be done to prevent her steering in circles. At is thought that her damaged stern was now acting as rudder.

Eventually, at 0120/28, HMS Oribi found herself being dragged stern first by her tow sheering off and she was forced to slip the tow. Oribi went alongside to consult again and it was reluctantly decided that there was no other choice then to scuttle the ship. Three depth charges were placed lashed together abreast a bulkhead and these were fired by a safety fuse.

HMS Oribi cast off 0340/28 and the depth charges were fired eleven minutes later, starting a large fire aft. As this did not spread quickly, Oribi shelled Imperial Star with 4.7" S.A.P. shells. Oribi finally left her at 0452 hours. Imperial Star was by that time heavily on fire fore and aft and listing badly. Aircraft from Malta could not find the wreck of the Imperial Star so there is no doubt that she sank.

HMS Oribi then made off from the scene along the convoy route at 32 knots and came with them near Malta 1215/28 having passed unmolested within 7 nautical miles from the Sicilian coast in daylight.

Passage of the convoy and Force X through the narrows.

In the meantime the convoy and Force X had proceeded through the narrows along the south coast of Sicily.

In the meantime. at 2030/27, HMS Hermione had departed the convoy to carry out a bombardment of Pantellaria harbour. Having completed the bombardment HMS Hermione rejoined Force X at 0615/28. At daylight HMS Farndale and HMS Heythrop were detached to fuel at Malta.

Although several formations of enemy aircraft were detected between dawn and the arrival of the convoy at Malta, the excellent protection given by shore based fighters from Malta prevented any attack from developing.

At 0800/28 a report was received that no enemy surface forces were reported near the convoy. The cruisers HMS Kenya, HMS Sheffield, HMS Euryalus and HMS Hermione then proceeded ahead to Malta to fuel where they arrived at 1130 hours. The remainder of Force X and the entire convoy, with the exception of the Imperial Star, arrived later in the afternoon.

Movements of Force A during 28 September.

While Force X and the convoy continued on to Malta, Force A proceeded to the west at 14 knots, which was the best speed of HMS Nelson at that time.

At 0725/28 HMS Ark Royal flew off one A/S patrol and three fighters. At 0812 hours one enemy shadower was seen but it escaped into a cloud.

At 1025 hours HMS Nelson sighted a Cant. 506 aircraft very low down and fighters were vectored in. After a chase to the south-east this aircraft was shot down near Cape de Fer, Algeria.

Shadowers were again reported at 1640 hours and again one hour later but due to a failure of the R/T transmitter in Ark Royal it was not possible to vector fighters in time to intercept. An enemy report made by Italian aircraft was intercepted at 1720 hours.

At 1942/28 one of the destroyers of the screen, HMS Duncan, obtained an Asdic contact in position 37°30'N, 03°45'E. She carried out two depth charge attacks but with no apparent result. HMS Legion closed to co-operate but did not gain contact. Both ships left the area at 2012 hours to rejoin the screen.

At 2020 hours speed was reduced to 12 knots to reduce the strain on bulkheads and decks of HMS Nelson. At this time Nelson was about 8 feet down by the bows and it was estimated that 3500 tons of water had entered the ship.

At 2100/28, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Gurkha, HMS Lance, HMS Legion, HMS Lively, HMS Fury and HrMs Isaac Sweers were detached to proceed to the eastward and rendezvous with Force X. HMS Nelson, escorted by HMS Duncan, ORP Piorun and ORP Garland, continued on to Gibraltar.

At 0555/29, in position 37°30'N, 06°25'E, HMS Prince of Wales obtained an RDF surface echo ahead, and an emergency turn of 40° to port was carried out with all ships at 0609 hours. Three minutes after this turn HMS Gurkha sighted a torpedo track approaching. It was too late to alter course to avoid. A second torpedo track followed a few seconds later. Both torpedoes appeared to pass underneath the ship. HMS Gurkha then turned to port in the direction from which the torpedoes had approached and HrMs Isaac Sweers also joined to hunt the submarine. No A/S contacts were obtained and no depth charges were dropped. HMS Gurkha and HrMs Isaac Sweers rejoined the screen at 0700/29. The attacker was the Italian submarine Diaspro which managed to escape unharmed.

At 0810/29 HMS Gurkha obtained an A/S contact in position 37°26'N, 07°14'E. At 0815 hours a pattern of fourteen depth charges was dropped. Six minutes later a heavy underwater explosion was heard. At 0841 hours HMS Gurkha was ordered to rejoin screen and the hunt was abandoned.

Movements of Force X during 28/29 September on the return trip from Malta.

In the meantime the ships that are part of Force X had all fuelled at Malta and at 1500/28 the escort destroyers HMS Farndale and HMS Heythrop were sailed followed at 1615 hours by HMS Kenya, HMS Edinburgh and HMS Oribi. The remainder of Force X sailed at 1830 hours. HMS Farndale and HMS Heythrop joined Force A at 0835/29. The remainder of Force X joined Force A at 1030/29.

Movements of HMS Nelson and passage to Gibraltar.

In the meantime HMS Nelson and her three escorting destroyers were still proceeding to the west. They were joined by aircraft to provide additional A/S protection from 0730/29 onwards.

At 1110/29, ORP Piorun obtained a doubtful A/S contact and dropped one depth charge.

At 1909/29, HMS Duncan also obtained A/S contact and dropped one depth charge.

At 1945/29 the A/S screen was reinforced by the destroyer HMS Rockingham (Lt.Cdr. A.H.T. Johns, RN) coming from Gibraltar. Later in the evening four corvettes also joined for additional A/S protection of the damaged battleship, HMS Samphire (Lt.Cdr. F.T. Renny, DSC, RNR) joined at 2120/29, HMS Jonquil (Lt.Cdr. R.E.H. Partington, RD, RNR) at 2140/29, HMS Fleur de Lys at 2150/29 and finally HMS Arbutus (T/Lt. A.L.W. Warren, DSC, RNR) at 2340/29. Nelson's screen now consisted of four destroyers and four corvettes.

At 0130/30 HMS Samphire and HMS Arbutus obtained an A/S contact and dropped depth charges without result, the contact was probably non-sub.

At 1200/30 HMS Nelson entered Gibraltar Harbour.

Movements of Force A and Force X as of 1030 hours on 29 September.

Meanwhile after all ships of Force X had joined up with force A at 1030/29 course was shaped to the westward, keeping 40 nautical miles clear of the African coast.

At 1645/29, in position 37°26'N, 04°37'E, HMS Lively, sighted an object resembling a ship's lifeboat with mast at a range of 1000 yards. This was soon identified as the conning tower and periscope of a submarine momentarily breaking surface. Two torpedo tracks were sighted shortly afterwards. Lively immediately attacked with a pattern of fourteen depth charges at 1650 hours. HMS Legion, which was next to Lively in the destroyer screen, had already dropped a pattern of five depth charges about a minute and a half earlier. HMS Legion then joined up with HMS Lively to hunt this submarine.

At 1700 hours HMS Lively obtained a definate A/S contact and attacked with another pattern of fourteen depth charges five minutes later. After having dropped this pattern contact was regained at 1715 hours. Contact was however soon lost at and not regained. The hunt was abandoned at 1745 hours.

At 1930/29, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Kenya, HMS Sheffield, HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Oribi, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester and HMS Fury parted company with the rest of the force and proceeded ahead to arrive at Gibraltar p.m. 30 September 1941. They arrived at Gibraltar at 1800/30.

At 0928/30, in position 37°10'N, 00°56'E, HMS Gurkha, obtained Asdic contact wich was confirmed as a submarine. She immediately attacked and fired a pattern if fourteen depth charges at 0935 hours. A black circular buoy with electric cable attached to it came to the surface after this attack. At 0945 hours a loud underwater explosion was heard and felt and oil started to come to the surface. Gurkha was unable to gain contact on the submarine from now on. HMS Legion who was by now assisting Gurkha in the hunt obtained contact and attacked with a fourteen depth charge pattern at 0955 hours. A second fourteen depth charge pattern was fired at 1009 hours. During Legion's second attack wreckage and oil came to the surface. Among the wreckage picked up was an Italian dictionary, a mattess, a pillow, numerous pieces of wood, some with bright screws and a piece of human scalp attached to a piece of wood by a splinter of metal. The interiors of the dictionary, the mattress and the pillow were dry. There was now no doubt that an Italian submarine was sunk by HMS Gurkha and HMS Legion.

All ships in this force entered Gibraltar harbour between 0700 and 0900 hours on 1 October.

Convoy MG 2, passage of three merchant vessels from Malta to Gibraltar.

At noon on the 26th the first out of three empty transports, the Melbourne Star (11076 GRT, built 1936), departed Malta for Gibraltar. At 1030/27 the other two ships Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933) and City of Pretoria (8049 GRT, built 1937). These last two ships were escorted by the corvette HMS Gloxinia (Lt.Cdr. A.J.C. Pomeroy, RNVR) until 1930/27. After an uneventful passage the Melbourne Star arrived at Gibraltar at 0700/29. The Port Chalmers and City of Pretoria were spotted and reported by Italian aircraft at 1200/27, shortly after leaving Malta. No enemy surface craft were seen until 2320/27 when it was believed that an E-boat was sighted by the Port Chalmers which was following in the wake of the City of Pretoria. The Port Chalmers opened fire on the E-boats bow wave with it's 4" gun. The enemy then returned fire with a machine gun. After six rounds of 4" the enemy crossed the stern of the Port Chalmers and was not seen again. The City of Pretoria had not seen the enemy at all. The action had taken place about 15 nautical miles south-south-west of Pantelleria.

At 0535/28 the Commodore of the convoy ordered he Port Chalmers to part company. Port Chalmers then proceeded at full speed, wearing French colours.

At 0915/28 an Italian Cant. 506 seaplane approached from the direction of the French north African coast and circled the City of Pretoria. This aircraft then made off to the westward and gave the Port Chalmers the same attention. Both ships were wearing French colours and had taken care to keep all service personnel out of sight. Both ships were fully ready for action, but did not open fire as the aircraft took no offensive action.

At 1015/28 the City of Pretoria was circled several times by a large three-engine seaplane, with distinct French markings, which approached from the direction of Bizerta.

At 1145/28 the City of Pretoria sighted a twin-engined Italian seaplane stopped on the water, five nautical miles to the north. She lost sight of this aircraft at 1215 hours.

The Port Chalmers was circled by an Italian aircraft at 1555/28. The aircraft did not attack.

At 1725/28 the City of Pretoria was attacked by three Italian torpedo bombers. As the aircraft approached with obviously hostile intentions the British colours were hoised and fire was opened as soon as the leader came in range. By skilful handling all three torpedoes were avoided. A submarine periscope was then reported on the starboard quarter by two independent lookouts. Three smoke floats and a depth charge set to 150 feet were dropped and under the cover of the smoke the City of Pretoria turned away.

When the City of Pretoria was approaching Cape de Gata at 0200/30 an unidentified vessel, possibly a submarine, was seen to be following. Two or three rapid shots, followed by a dull explosion, were heard. City of Pretoria made smoke and dropped smoke floats and then made close in Almeira Bay, into territorial waters, thus shaking off her pursuer.

The Port Chalmers arrived at Gibraltar at 0900/30. City of Pretoria followed during the afternoon. (33)

16 Oct 1941

Operation Callboy.

Aircraft to be flown off to Malta and the transfer of ' Force K ' to Malta.

At 1100/16, ' Force H ' made up of the battleship HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) and the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) departed Gibraltar and proceeded eastwards.

Some exercises were carried out during the afternoon and early evening.

At 0640/17, two Swordfish were flown off from HMS Ark Royal for A/S patrol. These patrols were maintained throughout the day. A section of fighers was kept ranged until 0850/17 when they were flown off. During daylight always one section of fighters was kept in the air.

At 0710/17 the fleet made an emergeny turn after HMS Legion had obtained an A/S contact. The contact turned out to be non-sub.

Another non-sub contact was obtained by HMS Cossack about an hour later and again the fleet made an emergency turn. Two whales were sighted shortly afterwards which were the source of the A/S contact.

During the forenoon two more Fulmars were flown off for exercises (heightfinding and plotting). Also trials were carried out with the close range weapons in all ships.

At 1120/17 an unidentified aircraft was detected by RDF. It passed about 12 miles ahead of the fleet, steering a southerly course. It was not sighted.

Half an hour later HMS Ark Royal reported severe interference with fighter R/T from RDF transmissions. The interference proved to be coming from HMS Hermione and she was stationed further away from HMS Ark Royal.

At noon on the 17th ' Force H ' was in position 38°01'N, 02°26'E.

At 1350/17, a low flying Cant. 506 enemy aircraft was seen by HMS Ark Royal. This aircraft had not been picked up on RDF. One section of fighters was vectored towards it. The enemy was shot down after a chase of about 20 miles.

Around an hour later the fighters were vectored against an aircraft first detected by RDF and subsequently sighted to the north-west of the fleet. It proved to be a four-engined flying boat with French markings.

As ' Force H ' was ahead of time for arrival at the flying off position course was reversed at 1600/17 for one hour.

At 0130/18, course was altered to 050° for flying off. The destroyers took station in a circular screen around HMS Rodney and HMS Ark Royal. 11 Albacores and 2 Swordfish aircraft wee flown off between 0135 and 0145/18. One Albacore had been unable to take off due to a defect. On completion of flying off, the fleet formed up again and set course to 270°.

At 0547/18 the fleet had to make an emergency turn when HMS Forester reported a contact but it was soon reported to be non-sub and the fleet resumed its mean course.

At daylight, 0650/18, a fighter patrol of two Fulmars was flown off by HMS Ark Royal. Also two Swordfish for A/S patrol were flown off.

Fighters were vectored towards an aircraft reported by RDF as 25 miles ahead of the fleet at 0825/18 but they did not intercept. The aircraft which was on a northerly course was probably French on passage from Algiers to Merseilles.

A signal reporting the arrival at Malta of 11 Albacores was received at 0849/18. Later a further signal announced that one Swordfish had arrived. No news of the second Swordfish was recieved. No reason is known why this second Swordfish failed to arrive at Malta.

An aircraft was sighted from HMS Sikh south-west of the fleet at 0958/18. Fighters were vectored towards and they soon sighted an Italian BR.20. After a chase of 45 miles to the south-east the enemy was shot down about 10 miles from Cape Bengut.

Later another aircraft was detected by HMS Hermione. It was seen to be a Cant.506 but the fighters failed to intercept it.

At noon ' Force H ' was in position 37°20'N, 02°49'E. At 1400/18 course was altered to 245° to pass south of Alboran Island.

At 1450/18, HMS Hermione sighted a floating mine in position 37°25'N, 01°46'E but failed to sink it. She was then stationed ahead of the fleet for execises.

A/S and fighter patrol were withdrawn at 1825/18 and then landed on HMS Ark Royal.

At 2323/18, HMS Forester obtained an A/S contact which was thought to be a submarine. A pattern of five depth charges was dropped. The fleet turned 90° to starboard on the first report but when contact was not regained after the depth charge attack the fleet resumed the mean course.

The fleet altered course to 280° at 0645/19 and a few minutes later an A/S patrol of 2 Swordfish aircraft were flown off. This patrol was maintained until 1315/19 when it was reduced to one aircraft.

During the day an exercises programme was carried out. At 1000/19 ' Force K ' was sighted by HMS Hermione and also by the aircraft from HMS Ark Royal.

Ten Swordfish aircraft landed on HMS Ark Royal at 1120/19. They had come from North Front aerordrome.

The fleet entered Gibraltar Bay at 1619/19 and then entered harbour.

Meanwhile the cruisers of ' Force K ', HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN) and HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN) departed Gibraltar and joined up at 0800/19 some 40 miles from Europa Point with the destroyers HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN) which had been already out for exercises since 1715/18.

' Force K ' arrived at Malta umolested at 0915/21. (28)

12 Nov 1941

Convoy WS 12Z.

[Part from the U.K. to Freetown.]

This convoy departed Liverpool and the Clyde on 12 November 1941 and arrived at Freetown on 24 November 1941.

The convoy assembled at sea on 13 November 1941 near Oversay.

The convoy was made up of the following troopships / transports; Abbekerk (Dutch, 7906 GRT, built 1939), Adrastus (British, 7905 GRT, built 1923), Aorangi (British, 17491 GRT, built 1924), Arundel Castle (British, 19118 GRT, built 1921), Capetown Castle (British, 27002 GRT, built 1938), Deucalion (British, 7516 GRT, built 1930), Duchess of Bedford (British, 20123 GRT, built 1928), Empire Star (British, 13479 GRT, built 1935), Empress of Asia (British, 16909 GRT, built 1913), Empress of Japan (British, 26032 GRT, built 1930), Mataroa (British, 12390 GRT, built 1922), Monarch of Bermuda (British, 22424 GRT, built 1931), Narkunda (British, 16632 GRT, built 1920), Orduna (British, 15507 GRT, built 1914), Rimutaka (British, 16576 GRT, built 1923) and Sussex (British, 11062 GRT, built 1937).

Upon assembly off Oversay the convoy was escorted by the destroyers HMS Maori (Cdr R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Vanquisher (Cdr. N.V. Dickinson, DSC, RN), HMS Whitehall (Lt.Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN), HMS Witch (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Holmes, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Badsworth (Lt.Cdr. M.S. Townsend, DSC and Bar, OBE, RN) and HMS Exmoor (Lt.Cdr. L.StG. Rich, RN).

The battleship HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN) and destroyers HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) had departed the Clyde on the 12th to join the convoy. They were routed via Milford Haven where they were to fuel and then to the south of Ireland. On the 13th, the warships arrived at Milford Haven and departed later that day to join the convoy which they did in the early evening of the 16th in position 44°30'N, 23°30'W. The escort destroyers HMS Dulverton (Lt.Cdr. W.N. Petch, OBE, RN) and HMS Southwold (Cdr. C.T. Jellicoe, DSC, RN) also joined the convoy on the 16th.

Also on the 16th, HMS Vanquisher, HMS Whitehall, HMS Witch, HMS Badsworth and HMS Exmoor parted company with the convoy.

HMS Foresight, HMS Forester and HMS Fury parted company with the convoy while in position 34°05'N, 25°50'W. They were to refuel at sea from the oiler Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Dingledale (8145 GRT, built 1941) after which they were ordered to conduct a search for a reported suspected enemy merchant ship.

In the late afternoon of the 17th the destroyer HMS Maori was detached to Gibraltar while the escort destroyers HMS Dulverton and HMS Southwold parted company in the early evening to proceed to Ponta Delgada in the Azores to fuel there and then to rejoin the convoy.

In the morning of the 19th HMS Dulverton and HMS Southwold rejoined the convoy in position 34°05'N, 25°50'W. HMS Foresight, HMS Forester and HMS Fury then parted company with the convoy. They were to refuel at sea from the oiler Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Dingledale (8145 GRT, built 1941) after which they were ordered to conduct a search for a reported suspected enemy merchant ship.

Before dusk on 21 November the destroyers HMS Velox (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Roper, DSC, RN) and HMS Vimy (Lt.Cdr. H.G.D. de Chair, RN) joined the convoy. They came from Freetown.

In the moring of 22 November 1941 the corvette Clover (Lt.Cdr. F.A. Shaw, RNR) joined the convoy.

The convoy arrived safely at Freetown on 24 November 1941 escorted by HMS Royal Sovereign, HMS Velox, HMS Vimy, HMS Dulverton, HMS Southwold and HMS Clover. Before it arrived the convoy had been split into two sections so as not to arrive in harbour all at once.

12 Nov 1941
Around 1500 hours, HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN) escorted by HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) departed the Clyde for Milford Haven. (34)

13 Nov 1941
Around 1000 hours, HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) arrived at Milford Haven where they topped off their fuel tanks.

They departed around 1700 hours to join convoy WS 12Z at sea.

[See the event ' Convoy WS 12Z ' for 12 November 1942 for more information on this convoy.] (34)

20 Dec 1941
Around 1500/20, HMS Renown (Capt. C.S. Daniel, CBE, DSO, RN) departed Scapa Flow for Hvalfjord, Iceland. She is escorted by HMS Montrose (Lt.Cdr. W.J. Phipps, OBE, RN), HMS Worcester (Lt.Cdr. E.C. Coats, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. G.P. Huddart, RN).

At 1600/21, rendezvous was made with HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN) coming from Hvalfjord bound for Scapa Flow. escorted by HMS Verity (Cdr. R.H. Mills, RN), HMS Walker (Cdr. D.G.F.W. MacIntyre, DSO, RN) and HMS Witherington (Lt. R. Horncastle, RN). They had departed from Hvalfjord at 1230/20. Destroyers were then swapped.

HMS Renown, HMS Verity, HMS Walker and HMS Witherington arrived at Hvalfjord around 1330/22.

HMS Rodney, HMS Montrose, HMS Worcester and HMS Forester arrived at Scapa Flow around 1230/22. (35)

4 Apr 1942
HMS P 511 (Lt. M.F.R. Ainslie, DSC, RN) conducted A/S exercises at Scapa Flow with HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. G.P. Huddart, RN). (36)

8 Apr 1942

Convoy operation to and from northern Russia, convoy's PQ 14 and QP 10.

Convoy PQ 14 from Reykjavik to the Kola Inlet and convoy QP 10 from the Kola Inlet to Reykjavik.

Timespan: 8 April to 21 April 1942.

8 April 1942.

On this day convoy PQ 14 of 25 merchant vessels departed Reykjavik, Iceland for the Kola Inlet in northern Russia. The convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels. RFA Aldersdale (British, Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker, 8402 GRT, built 1937), Andre Marti (Russian, 2352 GRT, built 1918), Arcos (Russian, 2343 GRT, built 1918), Atheltemplar (British, tanker, 8992 GRT, built 1930), Botavon (British, 5848 GRT, built 1912), Briarwood (British, 4019 GRT, built 1930), British Corporal (British, 6972 GRT, built 1922), City of Joliet (American, 6167 GRT, built 1920), Dan-Y-Brin (British, 5117 GRT, built 1940), Empire Bard (British, 3114 GRT, built 1942), Empire Howard (British, 6985 GRT, built 1941), Exterminator (Panamanian, 6115 GRT, built 1924), Francis Scott Key (American, 7191 GRT, built 1941), Hegira (American, 7588 GRT, built 1919), Hopemount (British, 7434 GRT, built 1929), Ironclad (American, 5685 GRT, built 1919), Minotaur (American, 4554 GRT, built 1918), Mormacrio (American, 5940 GRT, built 1919), Pieter de Hoogh (Dutch, 7168 GRT, built 1941), Seattle Spirit (American, 5627 GRT, built 1919), Sukhona (Russian, 3124 GRT, built 1918), Trehata (British, 4817 GRT, built 1928), West Cheswald (American, 5711 GRT, built 1919), West Gotomska (American, 5728 GRT, built 1918) and Yaka (American, 5432 GRT, built 1920).

Close escort was initially (8 to 12 April) provided by the escort destroyer HMS Wilton (Lt. A.P. Northey, DSC, RN), the minesweepers HMS Hebe (Lt.Cdr. J.B.G. Temple, DSC, RN), HMS Speedy (Lt. J.G. Brookes, DSC, RN), the A/S trawlers HMS Lord Austin (T/Lt. O.B. Egjar, RNR), HMS Lord Middleton (T/Lt. R.H. Jameson, RNR), HMS Northern Wave (T/Lt. W.G. Pardoe-Matthews, RNR) and the A/P trawler Chiltern (Ch.Skr.(ret) P. Bevans, RNR).

9 April 1942.

A close cover force for convoy PQ 14 arrived at Seidisfiord, Iceland from Scapa Flow. It was made up of the light cruiser HMS Edinburgh (Capt. H.W. Faulkner, RN) and the destroyers HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, OBE, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. G.P. Huddart, RN).

10 April 1942.

The close cover force for convoy PQ 14 departed Seidisfiord on this day, as stated before it was made up ofthe light cruiser HMS Edinburgh and the destroyers HMS Foresight and HMS Forester.

Also the close escort for convoy PQ 14 departed Seidisfjord, it was made up of the destroyers HMS Bulldog (Cdr. M. Richmond, OBE, RN), HMS Beagle (Cdr. R.C. Medley, RN), HMS Amazon (Lt.Cdr. N.E.G. Roper, RN), HMS Beverley (Lt.Cdr. J. Grant, RN), the corvettes HMS Campanula (Lt.Cdr. W. Hine, RNR), HMS Oxlip (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) F.B. Collinson, RD, RNR), HMS Saxifage (T/A/Lt.Cdr. R.P. Chapman, RNR), HMS Snowflake (Lt. H.G. Chesterman, RNR) and the A/S trawler HMS Duncton (T/Lt. P.J.G. Christian, RNVR).

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

On this day convoy QP 10 of 16 merchant vessels departed the Kola Inlet in northern Russia for Reykjavik, Iceland. The convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels. Artigas (Panamanian, 5613 GRT, built 1920), Beaconstreet (British, 7467 GRT, built 1927), Belomorcanal (Russian, 2900 GRT, built 1936), Capulin (Panamanian, 4977 GRT, built 1920), Dnepprostroi (Russian, 4756 GRT, built 1919), El Coston (Panamanian, 7286 GRT, built 1924), El Occidente (Panamanian, 6008 GRT, built 1910), Empire Cowper (British, 7164 GRT, built 1941), Harpalion (British, 5486 GRT, built 1932), Kiev (Russian, 5823 GRT, built 1917), Mana (Honduras, 3283 GRT, built 1920), Navarino (British, 4841 GRT, built 1937), River Afton (British 5479 GRT, built 1935), Sevzaples (Russian, 3974 GRT, built 1932), Stone Street (Panamanian, 6131 GRT, built 1922) and Temple Arch (British, 5138 GRT, built 1940).

Close escort was provided by the British destroyers HMS Oribi (Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Punjabi (Lt.Cdr. J.M.G. Waldegrave, DSC, RN), HMS Marne (Lt.Cdr. H.N.A. Richardson, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Campbell, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. E. Mack, DSC, RN), minesweeper HMS Speedwell (Lt.Cdr. J.J. Youngs, OBE, RNR), A/S trawlers HMS Blackfly (T/Lt. A.P. Hughes, RNR) and HMS Paynter (Lt. R.H. Nossiter, RANVR). The escort was strengthened local escort was provided from departure until 12 April (to longtitude 30°'E) by the Russian destroyers Gremyashchiy, Sokrushitelny and the British minesweepers HMS Gossamer (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Crease, RN), HMS Harrier (Cdr. E.P. Hinton, DSO, RN) and HMS Hussar (Lt. R.C. Biggs, DSC, RN). Close cover for the convoy was provided by the light cruiser HMS Liverpool (Capt. W.R. Slayter, DSC, RN) which departed the Kola Inlet on the 11th.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Distant cover for both convoy's (PQ 14 and QP 10) was provided by ships from the Home Fleet; battleships HMS King George V (Capt. W.R. Patterson, CB, CVO, RN, flying the flag of flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.C. Tovey, KCB, KBE, DSO, RN, C-in-C Home Fleet), HMS Duke of York (Capt. C.H.J. Harcourt, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral A.T.B. Curteis, CB, RN, second in command Home Fleet), aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, CBE, RN), heavy cruiser HMS Kent (Capt. A.E.M.B. Cunninghame-Graham, RN), light cruiser HMS Nigeria (Capt. J.G.L. Dundas, CBE, RN) and the destroyers HMS Bedouin (Cdr. B.G. Scurfield, OBE, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN), HMS Somali (Capt. J.W.M. Eaton, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Matchless (Lt.Cdr. J. Mowlam, RN), HMS Onslow (Capt. H.T. Armstrong, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Offa (Lt.Cdr. R.A. Ewing, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.K. Scott-Moncrieff, RN), HMS Escapade (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Belvoir (Lt. J.F.D. Bush, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Ledbury (Lt.Cdr. R.P. Hill, RN), HMS Middleton (Lt.Cdr. D.C. Kinloch, RN) and HMS Wheatland (Lt. R.deL. Brooke, RN). These ships departed Scapa Flow on the 12th except for the destroyers Bedouin, Eskimo, Somali and Matchless which left Scapa Flow on the 11th to fuel at Skaalefiord and then to join the Home Fleet at sea.

Also the heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk (Capt. E.G.H. Bellars, RN) departed Scapa Flow to patrol in an area about 130 nautical miles south-west of Bear Island from where she could support either convoy during this part of their passages.

11 April 1942.

From the initial close escort of convoy PQ 14, HMS Wilton, HMS Hebe, HMS Speedy and two of the A/S trawlers were damaged by ice and their Asdic gear was out of action as the convoy encountered thick ice during 11 and 12 April.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Convoy QP 10 was attacked by German aircraft (Ju 88 from III./KG.30) in position 71°01'N, 36°00'E. During this attack the merchant vessel Empire Cowper (cargo; chrome ore & pitprops) was sunk with the loss of nine of her crew.

As stated above the light cruiser HMS Liverpool departed the Kola Inlet to provide close cover for convoy QP 10 and the destroyers HMS Bedouin, HMS Eskimo, HMS Punjabi and HMS Matchless departed Scapa Flow to fuel at Skaalefiord in the Faroe Islands.

12 April 1942.

All ships from the close cover and close escort force that had departed Seidisfiord on the 10th joined convoy PQ 14. HMS Wilton and one of the A/S trawlers left the convoy and proceeded to Seidisfiord where they arrived the next day. Also the RFA tanker Aldersdale left the convoy.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As stated above ships from the Home Fleet departed Scapa Flow on this day to provide cover for convoy's PQ 14 and QP 10. Later this day the destroyers that had departed Scapa Flow yesterday and that had fuelled at Skaalefiord in the Faroe Islands joined the fleet at sea after which the destroyers HMS Faulknor, HMS Escapade, HMS Onslow and HMS Offa left the fleet to also fuel at Skaalefiord.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Also around 1645 hours this day the German submarine U-435 reported being shelled by three destroyers. This was however most likely HMS Liverpoo which reported firing on a surfaced submarine at exactly this time.

13 April 1942.

HMS Speedy, which was damaged by ice, parted company with convoy PQ 14 and proceeded to Reykjavik.

HMS Hebe, which was also damaged by ice, also parted company with convoy PQ 14 and proceeded to Akureyri, providing escort for tanker Aldersdale for part of the way.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In the morning, HMS Faulknor, HMS Escapade, HMS Onslow and HMS Offa, rejoined the Home Fleet at sea after fuelling at Skaalefiord in the Faroe Islands. The four 'Hunt-class' destroyers then parted company with the Home Fleet and HMS Belvoir, HMS Ledbury and HMS Middleton proceeded to Scapa Flow while HMS Wheatland was to make rendez-vous with the RFA oiler Aldersdale and escort her to Seidisfiord, Iceland.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

German aircraft were heard homing U-boats on convoy QP 10 which resulted in two of them attacking the convoy shortly after midnight.

At 0059 hours the German submarine U-436 torpedoed and sank the Russian merchant Kiev (cargo; chrome ore and timber) which sank with the loss of six of her crew. The survivors were picked up by HMS Blackfly.

Then at 0129 hours the German submarine U-435 torpedoed and sank the Panamanian merchant El Occidente (cargo; chrome ore,but only as ballast). 20 of her crew crew lost their lives and 21 survivors were picked up by HMS Speedwell. Following this attack U-435 was depth charged by the destroyer HMS Oribi but she sustained no damage.

Then at 1127 hours, U-435 attacked a destroyer with one torpedo which missed. This apparently was HMS Eclipse which then counter attacked with depth charges which slightly damaged U-435.

At 1530 hours, U-435 came across the abandoned wreck of the British merchant vessel Harpalion. This ship had been heavily damaged by German Ju 88 aircraft and had been abanadoned. A reported scuttling attempt by the convoy escort must have failed. Three torpedoes were fired at the wreck of which the third torpedo struck aft. The vessel was seen to sink slowly by the stern after about 20 minutes.

14 April 1942. Convoy PQ 14 was now finally clear from the ice. Only nine merchant vessels were left that were able to continue the passage to north Russia. Six more stagglers were unaccounted for and eventually joined convoy QP 10 and returned to Iceland.

15 April 1942.

Convoy PQ 14 was detected by enemy aircraft and shadowed intermittently from then on. The enemy aircraft homed in U-boats on the convoy.

16 April 1942.

HMS Speedy and two A/S trawlers with nine merchant ships (stagglers) from convoy PQ 14 returned to Reykjavik.

HMS Hebe arrived at Akureyri from the escort of convoy PQ 14.

Also on this day the German submarine U-403 torpedoed and sank the ship of the convoy commodore of PQ 14, the British merchant Empire Howard in position 73°48'N, 21°50'E. Survivors from this ship were picked up by the A/S trawlers HMS Lord Middleton and Northern Wave.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Convoy QP 10 was again spotted by enemy and shadowed. HMS Kent left the Home Fleet and joined the close cover force for this convoy.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Also the escort destroyers HMS Ledbury, HMS Middleton, HMS Lamerton (Lt.Cdr. C.R. Purse, DSC, RN) and HMS Hursley (Lt. W.J.P. Church, DSC, RN) departed Scapa Flow to fuel at Skaalefiord before joining the Home Fleet at sea.

Four destroyers from the screen of the Home Fleet; HMS Faulknor, HMS Somali, HMS Bedouin and HMS Matchless also proceeded to Seidisfiord, Iceland to fuel.

17 April 1942.

What remained of convoy PQ 14 was joined by a eastern local escort made up of the Russian destroyers Gremyashchiy, Sokrushitelny and the British minesweepers Gossamer, Harrier, Hussar and HMS Niger (Cdr.(ret.) A.J. Cubison, DSC and Bar, RN).

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The destroyer HMS Eclipse from the close escort of convoy QP 10 left to fuel at Seidisfiord.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

HMS Norfolk left her patrol position to proceed to Hvalfiord, Iceland.

HMS Faulknor, HMS Somali, HMS Bedouin and HMS Matchless arrived at Seidisfiord to fuel. After doing so they left in the afternoon and rejoined the Home Fleet at sea later the same day.

Also HMS Ledbury, HMS Middleton, HMS Lamerton and HMS Hursley arrived at Skaalefiord where they fuelled and then departed to join the Home Fleet at sea.

18 April 1942.

HMS Eclipse arrived at Seidisfiord. After fuelling she departed for Scapa Flow in the afternoon.

HMS Ledbury, HMS Middleton, HMS Lamerton and HMS Hursley joined the Home Fleet at sea.

HMS Eskimo, HMS Offa and HMS Escapade then parted company with the Home Fleet to fuel at Skaalefiord where the arrived in the afternoon. After fuelling they departed for Scapa Flow later the same day.

The Home Fleet; battleships King George V, Duke of York, aircraft carrier HMS Victorious, light cruiser HMS Nigeria, destroyers HMS Punjabi, HMS Bedouin, HMS Matchless, HMS Faulknor, HMS Onslow and the escort destroyers HMS Middleton, HMS Ledbury, HMS Lamerton and HMS Hursley.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The two cruisers from the close cover force for convoy QP 10 left this convoy in position 67°43'N, 12°56'W. HMS Kent set course for Scapa Flow, HMS Liverpool for Seidisfiord, Iceland to fuel there.

19 April 1942.

HMS Eskimo, HMS Offa and HMS Escapade arrived at Scapa Flow.

HMS Liverpool arrived at Seidisfiord to fuel. After doing so she departed for Scapa Flow in the afternoon.

20 April 1942.

HMS Kent arrived at Scapa Flow.

21 April 1942.

What remained of convoy PQ 14 arrived at Murmansk.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

HMS Liverpool arrived at Scapa Flow.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Convoy QP 10, 11 ships and 6 ships from PQ 14, arrived at Reykjavik escorted by HMS Oribi, HMS Marne, HMS Punjabi and HMS Fury. (37)

12 May 1942

Attempted passage of the damaged light cruiser HMS Trinidad from northern Russia to Iceland.

Timespan: 12 May to 17 May 1942.

12 May 1942.

Shortly before midnight on this day a cruiser cover force departed Seidisfiord to provide cover during the passage of the damaged light cruiser HMS Trinidad (Capt. L.S. Saunders, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral S.S. Bonham-Carter, CVO, DSO, RN) from northern Russia to Iceland. After the passage to Iceland it had been intended to send Trinidad to the Philadelphia Navy Yard in the U.S.A. for full repairs. This cruiser cover force was made up of the heavy cruiser HMS Kent (Capt. A.E.M.B. Cunninghame-Graham, RN), light cruisers HMS Liverpool (Capt. W.R. Slayter, DSC, RN), HMS Nigeria (Capt. S.H. Paton, RN, flying the flag of the Rear-Admiral 10th C.S., Sir H.M. Burrough, CB, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Onslow (Capt. H.T. Armstrong, DSC and Bar, RN) HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Escapade (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN).

Earlier this day, in the early morning, HMS Norfolk (Capt. E.G.H. Bellars, RN) had departed Hvalfiord, Iceland to join the other cruisers at sea which she did shortly after midnight the following morning.

13 May 1942.

In the evening the damaged HMS Trinidad departed Murmansk for the U.S.A. via Hvalfiord, Iceland. She had a close escort made up of the destroyers HMS Somali (Capt. J.W.M. Eaton, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Matchless (Lt.Cdr. J. Mowlam, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, OBE, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. G.P. Huddart, RN).

14 May 1942.

Around 0730 hours, HMS Trinidad, was spotted by enemy aircraft. She was shadowed from then on and Soviet air support, that had been promised failed to show up. At 2200 hours she was attacked by JU 88's dive bombers. After about 25 attacks the force did not sustain serious damage although many ships had been near-missed. About ten torpedo aircraft then attacked at 2237 hours. Then at 2245 hours a lone Ju 88 attacked from the clouds and released a bomb from the height of 400 feet which hit HMS Trinidad right in the area where her previous damage had been starting a serious fire. She was able to avoid the torpedoes that had been fired at her by the torpedo bombers. Trinidad soon took on a 14 degree list to starboard but was still able to make 20 knots.

Shortly before midnight HMS Inglefield and HMS Escapade were detached by the cruiser cover force and set course to proceed to the Kola Inlet to reinforce the escort of the upcoming convoy QP 12.

15 May 1942. In the early morning however the fire in HMS Trinidad got out of control. In the end the ship had to be abandoned and was scuttled at 0120 hours by three torpedoes from HMS Matchless in position 73°35'N, 22°53'E.

Also in the early morning hours ships from the Home Fleet departed Scapa Flow to provide distant cover for HMS Trinidad during the later part of her passage. These ships were; battleship HMS Duke of York (Capt. C.H.J. Harcourt, CBE, RN, flying the flag of flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.C. Tovey, KCB, KBE, DSO, RN, C-in-C Home Fleet), aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, CBE, RN), heavy cruiser HMS London (Capt. R.M. Servaes, CBE, RN) destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.K. Scott-Moncrieff, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Campbell, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Marne (Lt.Cdr. H.N.A. Richardson, DSC, RN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. E. Mack, DSC, RN), HMS Oribi (Lt.Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, DSC, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Middleton (Lt.Cdr. D.C. Kinloch, RN) and HMS Lamerton (Lt.Cdr. C.R. Purse, DSC, RN) and HMS Wheatland (Lt. R.deL. Brooke, RN).

The US battleship USS Washington (Capt. H.H.J. Benson, USN, with Rear-Admiral R.C. Griffen, USN on board), heavy cruiser USS Tuscaloosa (Capt. L.P. Johnson, USN) and the destroyers USS Mayrant (Cdr. C.C. Hartman, USN), USS Rhind (Lt.Cdr. H.T. Read, USN), and USS Rowan (Lt.Cdr. B.R. Harrison, Jr., USN) departed Hvalfiord, Iceland to make rendez-vous at sea with the ships from the Home Fleet.

The cruiser cover force was attacked by German aircraft (about 25 Ju 88's) for over an hour in the early evening. Many near misses were obtained but none of the ships was hit. By this time the cruiser force had been joined by HMS Punjabi, HMS Matchless, HMS Foresight and HMS Forester.

16 May 1942.

HMS Inglefield and HMS Escapade arrived at the Kola Inlet.

Both the cruiser cover force as the battlefleet were sighted and reported by enemy aircraft on this day but no attacks followed.

HMS Somali, HMS Matchless, HMS Foresight and HMS Forester, which all had survivors from Trinidad on board, were detached by the cruiser cover force with orders to proceed to Seidisfiord, Iceland to fuel and then to proceed to the Clyde.

17 May 1942.

HMS Somali, HMS Matchless, HMS Foresight and HMS Forester all arrived at Seidisfiord to fuel. After doing so they departed for the Clyde A.M. HMS Forester which had some wounded survivors from Trinidad on board that required immediate surgery was later diverted to Scapa Flow where she arrived on the 18th. The other three destroyers arrived at the Clyde on the 19th.

The cruiser cover force; HMS Nigeria (flag), HMS Liverpool, HMS Kent, HMS Norfolk, HMS Onslow and HMS Icarus arrived at Hvalfiord early in the afternoon.

The battlefleet; HMS Duke of York (flag), USS Washington, HMS Victorious, HMS London, USS Tuscaloosa, Faulknor, HMS Fury, HMS Eclipse, HMS Marne, HMS Oribi, USS Mayrant, USS Rhind, USS Rowan, HMS Wheatland, HMS Blankney, HMS Middleton and HMS Lamerton also arrived at Hvalfiord around the same time. (37)

19 Oct 1942
HMS Renown (Capt. C.S. Daniel, CBE, DSO, RN) is undocked at Rosyth. Around 1730/19, HMS Renown departed the Firth of Forth for Scapa Flow. She is escorted by the destroyers HMS Onslow (Capt H.T. Armstrong, DSC, RN), HMS Tartar (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Burnett, DSC, RN).

They arrived at Scapa Flow around 0800/20. (38)

7 Jan 1943
HrMs O 15 (Lt. A.J. Schouwenaar, RNN) conducted A/S exercises at / off Scapa Flow with HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Burnett, DSC, RN) and HMS Easton (Lt. C.W. Malins, DSC, RN). (39)

10 Jul 1943
HMS H 34 (T/Lt. R.L. Willoughby, RNR) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle with HMS Hugh Walpole (T/Lt. J. Mackenzie, RNR), HMS Cape Portland (T/Lt. K.F. Rasmussen, RNR), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Burnett, DSC, RN), HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. T. Johnston, RN) and HMS Rother (Lt.Cdr. R.V.E. Case, DSC, RD, RNR). (40)

11 Jul 1943
HMS H 34 (T/Lt. R.L. Willoughby, RNR) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle with HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Burnett, DSC, RN), HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. T. Johnston, RN), HMS Hugh Walpole (T/Lt. J. Mackenzie, RNR), HMS Cape Portland (T/Lt. K.F. Rasmussen, RNR), HMS Saxifrage (T/Lt. J. Renwick, DSO, RNR) and HMS Rother (Lt.Cdr. R.V.E. Case, DSC, RD, RNR). (40)

18 Jul 1943
HMS P 511 (Lt. C.W. Taylor, RNR) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle together with HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Burnett, DSC, RN), HMS Rother (Lt.Cdr. R.V.E. Case, DSC, RD, RNR), HMS Egret (Lt. G.H. Cook, RN) and HMS Wear (Cdr. E. Wheeler, RD, RNR). (41)

9 Sep 1943
HMS H 33 (Lt. D.G. Kent, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle with HMCS Agassiz (T/Lt. E.M. More, RCNR), HMS Saladin (Lt. A.A. Diggens, DSC, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Burnett, DSC, RN) and ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. S. Biskupski). (42)

17 Oct 1943
HMS H 50 (Lt. J.C. Varley, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle with HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Burnett, DSC, RN) and HMCS Assiniboine (A/Lt.Cdr. R.P. Welland, DSC, RCN). (43)

18 Oct 1943
HMS H 50 (Lt. J.C. Varley, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle with HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Burnett, DSC, RN), HMCS Assiniboine (A/Lt.Cdr. R.P. Welland, DSC, RCN), HMS Kite (Lt.Cdr. W.F.R. Segrave, DSC, RN), HMS Woodcock (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) C. Gwinner, DSO, RN) and aircraft. (43)

7 Jan 1944
HMS H 44 (Lt. P.N. Joyce, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle with HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Burnett, DSC, RN) and aircraft. (44)

10 Mar 1944
German U-boat U-845 was sunk in the North Atlantic, in position 48°20'N, 20°33'W, by depth charges from the British destroyer HMS Forester, the Canadian destroyer HMCS St. Laurent, the Canadian corvette HMCS Owen Sound and the Canadian frigate HMCS Swansea.

20 Aug 1944
German U-boat U-413 was sunk in the English Channel south of Brighton, in position 50°21'N, 00°01'W, by depth charges from the British escort destroyer HMS Wensleydale (A/Lt.Cdr. W.P. Goodfellow, RNVR) and the British destroyers HMS Forester (Lt. D.C. Beatty, RN) and HMS Vidette (T/A/Lt.Cdr. G.S. Wooley, RNVR).

Media links


British destroyers & frigates

Norman Friedman


Destroyers of World War Two

Whitley, M. J.

Sources

  1. ADM 199/393
  2. ADM 199/367 + ADM 199/393
  3. ADM 173/16642
  4. ADM 53/113081
  5. ADM 53/112651
  6. ADM 199/376
  7. ADM 53/112665 + ADM 199/361
  8. ADM 186/797
  9. ADM 199/386 + ADM 199/391
  10. ADM 199/391
  11. ADM 234/318
  12. ADM 199/386 + ADM 199/387 + ADM 199/391
  13. ADM 199/392
  14. ADM 199/387 + ADM 199/392
  15. ADM 199/379
  16. ADM 53/112670
  17. ADM 234/325 + ADM 234/326
  18. ADM 199/414 + ADM 199/656 + ADM 223/679 + ADM 234/335
  19. ADM 199/1136
  20. ADM 53/114130
  21. ADM 53/114600
  22. ADM 53/114965 + ADM 199/656
  23. File 2.12.03.6422 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands)
  24. ADM 199/656
  25. ADM 199/656 + ADM 199/661
  26. ADM 199/414 + ADM 199/656
  27. ADM 234/322
  28. ADM 199/657
  29. ADM 53/114417 + ADM 199/657
  30. ADM 53/114626 + ADM 53/114204 + ADM 199/1138
  31. ADM 53/114626 + ADM 234/335
  32. ADM 173/16986
  33. ADM 199/831
  34. ADM 53/115044
  35. ADM 53/114974 + ADM 53/115033
  36. ADM 173/17493
  37. ADM 199/427 + ADM 234/369
  38. ADM 53/116528
  39. File 2.12.03.6397 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands)
  40. ADM 173/17796
  41. ADM 173/17926
  42. ADM 173/17786
  43. ADM 173/17833
  44. ADM 173/18512

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


Return to the Allied Warships section



As an Amazon Associate uboat.net earns a commission from qualifying purchases.