Allied Warships

HMS Duncan (D 99)

Destroyer of the D class


HMS Duncan during the Second World War

NavyThe Royal Navy
TypeDestroyer
ClassD 
PennantD 99 
ModFlotilla leader 
Built byPortsmouth D.Y. (Portsmouth, U.K.): Hawthorn Leslie & Co. (Hebburn-on-Tyne, U.K.) 
Ordered14 Feb 1931 
Laid down3 Sep 1931 
Launched7 Jul 1932 
Commissioned5 Apr 1933 
End service 
History

Sold to be broken up for scrap in September 1945 and srapped in November 1945.

 

Commands listed for HMS Duncan (D 99)

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

CommanderFromTo
James Abernethy McCoy, RN
1Capt. Geoffrey Robert Bensly Back, RN8 Jul 19392 Jan 1940
2Cdr. Jocelyn Stuart Cambridge Salter, RN2 Jan 194017 Feb 1940
3Capt. Antony Fane de Salis, RN17 Feb 194018 Feb 1940
4Lt.Cdr. (retired) Clive Gwinner, RN18 Feb 194012 Jul 1940
5Cdr. Arthur Dyke Beauchamp James, RN12 Jul 194013 Feb 1941
6Lt.Cdr. Arthur Nichol Rowell, RN13 Feb 194125 May 1942
7Capt. Hugh St. Lawrence Nicolson, DSO, RN25 May 194216 Dec 1942
8Lt. Bernard Morland Skinner, RN16 Dec 194210 Mar 1943
9Lt.Cdr. (retired) Clive Gwinner, DSO, RN10 Mar 19431 Apr 1943
10Cdr. Sir Peter William Gretton, DSO, DSC, OBE, RN12 Apr 1943Nov 1943

11Lt. Denis Guy Douglas Hall-Wright, RN10 Apr 1944mid 1945

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Notable events involving Duncan include:


10 Sep 1939
HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN) and HMS Dainty (Cdr. F.M. Walton, RN) departed Hong Kong for Singapore. (1)

13 Sep 1939
HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN) and HMS Dainty (Cdr. F.M. Walton, RN) arrived at Singapore from Hong Kong. (1)

14 Sep 1939
HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. F.M. Walton, RN) and HMS Daring (Cdr. S.A. Cooper, RN) departed Singapore for Colombo. (2)

17 Sep 1939
HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. F.M. Walton, RN) and HMS Daring (Cdr. S.A. Cooper, RN) arrived at Colombo from Singapore. (2)

19 Sep 1939
HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. F.M. Walton, RN) and HMS Daring (Cdr. S.A. Cooper, RN) departed Colombo for Aden. (2)

25 Sep 1939
HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. F.M. Walton, RN) and HMS Daring (Cdr. S.A. Cooper, RN) arrived at Aden from Colombo. (2)

26 Sep 1939
HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. F.M. Walton, RN) and HMS Daring (Cdr. S.A. Cooper, RN) departed Aden for Alexandria. (2)

30 Sep 1939
HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. F.M. Walton, RN) and HMS Daring (Cdr. S.A. Cooper, RN) arrived at Alexandria where they joined the Mediterranean Fleet. (2)

9 Oct 1939
The battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. V.A.C. Crutchley, VC, DSC, RN, flying the flag of A/Admiral A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. H.T.C. Walker, RN, flying the flag of Vice Admiral G. Layton, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Malaya (Capt. I.B.B. Tower, DSC, RN), the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious (Capt. G. D’Oyly-Hughes, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN), the light cruiser HMS Penelope (Capt. G.D. Yates, RN) and the destroyers HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), HMS Daring (Cdr. S.A. Cooper, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. F.M. Walton, RN), HMS Grafton (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN), HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN), HMS Gipsy (Lt.Cdr. N.J. Crossley, RN) and HMS Bulldog (Lt.Cdr. J.S.M. Richardson, RN) conducted exercises off Alexandria.

During the exercises HMS Malaya, HMS Glorious, HMS Daring and HMS Bulldog split off. They were to proceed to the Indian Ocean (Socotra area). They arrived at Port Said later the same day. (3)

10 Oct 1939
HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. F.M. Walton, RN) arrived at Port Said from exercises. (4)

11 Oct 1939

Convoy Blue 4.

This convoy departed Port Said on 11 October 1939 for Gibraltar where it arrived on 21 October 1939.

The convoy was made up of the following merchants; Arndale (British (RFA tanker), 8296 GRT, built 1937), Atreus (British, 6547 GRT, built 1911) (this ship parted company with the convoy off Malta), Auris (British (tanker), 8030 GRT, built 1935), British Commander (British (tanker), 6901 GRT, built 1922), British Consul (British (tanker), 6940 GRT, built 1924), British Endeavour (British (tanker), 4580 GRT, built 1927), British Fame (British (tanker), 8406 GRT, built 1936), British Governor (British (tanker), 6840 GRT, built 1926), British Reliance (British (tanker), 7000 GRT, built 1928), Cardium (British (tanker), 8236 GRT, built 1931), City of Baroda (British, 7129 GRT, built 1918), City of Birmingham (British, 5861 GRT, built 1923), City of Dundee (British, 5273 GRT, built 1921), City of Johannesburg (British, 5669 GRT, built 1920), City of Kobe (British, 4373 GRT, built 1924), Clan MacNaughton (British, 6087 GRT, built 1921), Destro (British, 3553 GRT, built 1921), El Aleto (British (tanker), 7203 GRT, built 1927), Frederick S. Fales (British (tanker), 10525 GRT, built 1939), Katha (British, 4357 GRT, built 1938), Linois (French, 7473 GRT, built 1907), Maihar (British, 7563 GRT, built 1917), Matiana (British, 9045 GRT, built 1922), Motrix (French (tanker), 6587 GRT, built 1922), Mulbera (British, 9100 GRT, built 1922), Neuralia (British, 9082 GRT, built 1912), Pegu (British, 8180 GRT, built 1921), Polo (British, 1950 GRT, built 1919), Sardinian Prince (British, 3491 GRT, built 1922), Tabaristan (British, 6251 GRT, built 1914) and Tascalusa (British (tanker), 6499 GRT, built 1913).

Two of these ships came from Alexandria (don’t know which) and joined on the 12th.

Off Malta the merchant vessel Egyptian (British, 2868 GRT, built 1920) joined the convoy.

A/S Escort was provided by the destroyers HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. F.M. Walton, RN) and the minesweeper HMS Sutton (Cdr.(Retd.) G.M. Temple, RN)

In the morning of the 16th HMS Duncan proceeded to Malta to fuel. She returned in the afternoon with the French destroyer Kersaint (Cdr. G.R.J. Rebuffel) after which HMS Dainty and HMS Sutton proceeded to Malta where they remained.

HMS Duncan and Kersaint were relieved on the 17th by HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN) and HMS Grafton (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN). They remained with the convoy until the 18th after which the convoy continued unescorted to Gibraltar.

11 Nov 1939
HMS Barham (Capt. H.T.C. Walker, RN) departed Alexandria for Malta. She was escorted by HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN) and HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN). (3)

13 Nov 1939
HMS Barham (Capt. H.T.C. Walker, RN), HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN) and HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN) arrived at Malta from Alexandria. (3)

17 Nov 1939
HMS Oswald (Lt.Cdr. G.M. Sladen, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Malta together with HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN). (5)

1 Dec 1939
HMS Barham (Capt. H.T.C. Walker, RN) departed Alexandria for Gibraltar. She was escorted by HMS Dainty (Cdr. F.M. Walton, RN) and HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN).

While off Malta at 1000/3 HMS Dainty and HMS Defender were relieved by HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN) and HMS Duchess (Lt.Cdr. R.C.M. White, RN). (3)

5 Dec 1939
HMS Barham (Capt. H.T.C. Walker, RN), HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN) and HMS Duchess (Lt.Cdr. R.C.M. White, RN) arrived at Gibraltar. (6)

6 Dec 1939
HMS Barham (Capt. H.T.C. Walker, RN), HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN) and HMS Duchess (Lt.Cdr. R.C.M. White, RN) departed Gibraltar for the Clyde. (6)

11 Dec 1939
HMS Barham (Capt. H.T.C. Walker, RN) and her two escorting destroyers, HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), HMS Duchess (Lt.Cdr. R.C.M. White, RN), are joined by three more detroyers; HMS Exmouth (Cdr. R.S. Benson, DSO, RN) and HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) joined around 1500 hours while HMS Echo (Cdr. S.H.K. Spurgeon, DSO, RAN) joined shortly after 1700 hours. (6)

12 Dec 1939
While passing through the North Channel and approaching the Clyde HMS Barham (Capt. H.T.C. Walker, RN) and HMS Duchess (Lt.Cdr. R.C.M. White, RN) collided at 0437 hours.

HMS Barham stopped and lowered her seaboats. Around 0450 hours the ready use depth charges on board HMS Duchess exploded and she sank.

Shortly before 0600 hours Barham continued to the Clyde escorted by HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN) and HMS Exmouth (Cdr. R.S. Benson, DSO, RN).

HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) and HMS Echo (Cdr. S.H.K. Spurgeon, DSO, RAN) remained behind to search for survivors. Only one officer and twenty-two ratings could be picked up from the water. Six officers and one hunderded and twenty-four ratings were lost.

HMS Barham arrived at the Clyde around noon. (6)

15 Feb 1940
HMS Diana (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN), HMS Brazen (Lt.Cdr. M. Culme-Seymour, RN) and HMS Boreas (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) arrive at Invergordon. They departed again later the same day escorting the destroyer HMS Duncan (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) that was being towed from Invergordon to Rosyth by the tugs St. Mellons and Norman.

16 Feb 1940
HMS Duncan (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), under tow by the tugs St. Mellons and Norman and their escorting destroyers; HMS Diana (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN), HMS Brazen (Lt.Cdr. M. Culme-Seymour, RN) and HMS Boreas (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) arrive at Rosyth from Invergordon.

15 Oct 1940

'Operation DHU', raid on enemy oil tanks and seaplane base in the Tromso area.

Timespan: 15 to 19 October 1940.

Around 1600 hours the battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN), heavy cruisers HMS Berwick (Capt. G.L. Warren, RN), HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN) and the destroyers HMS Matabele (Cdr. R.St.V. Sherbrooke, DSO, RN) and HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, DSO, RN) departed Scapa Flow for Operation DHU.

They were joined at sea by the destroyers HMS Somali (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. St. J.A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN) and HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN) which had been exercises off Scapa Flow.

On the 16th aircraft from HMS Furious attacked oil tanks, the seaplane base and shipping at Tromso.

At 1540/17 the destroyers HMS Duncan (Cdr. A.D.B. James, RN), HMS Douglas (Cdr.(Retd.) J.G. Crossley, RN) and HMS Isis (Cdr. C.S.B. Swinley, DSC, RN) departed Scapa Flow to join the task force.

A second series of attacks were cancelled onthe 18th due to due to low visibility and the ships set course to return to Scapa Flow.

Destroyers HMS Douglas and HMS Isis parted company and proceeded to Skaalefjord, Faroes to pick up the RFA (Royal Fleet Auxiliary) tanker Montenol (2646 GRT, built 1917) and escort her to Scapa Flow.

HMS Hood escorted by the destroyers HMS Somali, HMS Eskimo and HMS Mashona arrived in Pentland Firth and carried out full caliber firings before arriving at Scapa Flow at 1230/19th.

Aircraft carrier HMS Furious, heavy cruisers HMS Berwick and HMS Norfolk escorted by the destroyers HMS Duncan, HMS Matabele and HMS Punjabi arrived back at Scapa Flow at 1300/19.

The destroyers HMS Douglas and HMS Isis arrived back at Scapa Flow at 1100/20 escorting the RFA tanker Montenol.

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°.

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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°.

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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.

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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°.

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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.

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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. (7)

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. (8)

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. (9)

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. (9)

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. (10)

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. (11)

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). (9)

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. (9)

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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. (7)

25 Dec 1940

Operations by 'Force H' following the attack by the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper on convoy WS 5A.

Timespan 25 to 30 December 1941.

[For more info on convoy WS 5A on the first leg of her passage, it's composition, and the attack by the German cruiser Admiral Hipper see the event ' Convoy WS 5A and the attack by the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper ' for 18 December 1940 on for instance the page of HMS Berwick.]

25 December 1940.

At 1020/25 an enemy report of a pocket battleships (later corrected to an 8" cruiser), in position 43°59'N, 25°08'W, was received from HMS Berwick (Capt. G.L. Warren, RN). Vice-Admiral Somerville immediately ordered 'Force H' (less HMS Malaya) to come to one hour's notice for full speed. Twenty minutes later, instructions were received from the Admiralty for 'Force H' to raise steam with all despatch, and shortly afterwards for the force to proceed to sea.

Ships commenced to leave Gibraltar at 1315 hours and by 1430 hours; 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 Fortune (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (A/Capt. A.D.B. James, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN), were clear of the harbour and on a Westerly course.

Course was set to position 37°00'N, 16°00'W as this was considered to be the best position to either cover the convoy or assist in the hunt for the enemy. Vice-Admiral Somerville reported to the Admiralty that 'Force H' was proceeding to this position at high speed with eight destroyers, who would remain in company or follow, depending on the weather.

At 1500/25 a signal was received from the Admiralty ordering the convoy and escort to proceed to Gibraltar. At this time Vice-Admiral Somerville was not aware - nor apparently were the Admiralty - that the convoy had scattered. As there now appeared little chance to bringing the raider to action. Vice-Admiral Somerville decided to join the convoy and reported accordingly to the Admiralty. Weather conditions enabled the destroyers to remain in company at 27 knots.

An hour later a further signal was received from the Admiralty directing the convoy to pass through positions 41°00'N, 19°00'W and 37°00'N, 16°00'W. These instructions were only passed to HM Ships, all of whom, it was subsequently learnt, were out of touch with the scattered convoy.

In view of the low endurance of HMS Wishart, she was detached at 1845/25 with instructions to follow at economical speed and join the convoy during daylight on December, 27th in position 37°00'N, 16°00'W.

The first indication that the convoy had scattered was received at 2000/25 when HMS Dunedin (Capt. R.S. Lovatt, RN) reported that she had met the City of Canterbury who was proceeding to the convoy Commodore's Noon/26 rendez-vous.

Shortly after this reported a report was received from the corvette HMS Clematis confirming that the Commodore had ordered to convoy to scatter, it also stated that the troopship Empire Trooper was damaged, believed slightly.

At 2200/25, general instructions to all units were received from the Admiralty, still acting on the assumption that escort and convoy were in company. 'Force H' was directed to rendez-vous with HMS Berwick and escort the convoy until 'Force K' (aircraft carrier HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.La T. Bisset, RN) and heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN)) joined. 'Force K' was then to escort the main body of the convoy to Freetown, whilst 'Force H', with aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN) and light cruisers HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN) and HMS Dunedin escorted the 'Operation Excess' section to Gibraltar. The damaged heavy cruiser HMS Berwick was to proceed to the U.K. if fit for passage. It also directed that if needed the upcoming 'Operation Excess' could be postponed for 24 hours.

26 December 1940.

At 0200/26 a signal was received from the Admiralty stating that the convoy had scattered and that the ships were most likely proceeding to one of the following positions; the Commodore's noon/26 rendezvous; position 41°00'N, 19°00'W; or direct to Gibraltar. Vice-Admiral Somerville was ordered to take charge.

As he was unaware of the position of 'Force K' he ordered the Senior Officer 'Force K' to report his position, course, speed and intention. Later the aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN) was also ordered to report similarly. All units were informed of the position, course and speed of 'Force H'.

No further news had been received regarding the damaged troopship Empire Trooper. At 0801/26, Vice-Admiral Somerville, ordered the armed merchant cruiser HMS Derbyshire (Capt.(Retd.) E.A.B. Stanley, DSO, MVO, RN) to proceed to her assistance.

At 1100/26, the situation was still obscure. No reply had been received from 'Force K' and HMS Furious. HMS Bonaventure had just reported that she was proceeding to the assistance of the corvette HMS Cyclamen (Lt. H.N. Lawson, RNR). Ships of the convoy were apparently scattered over a wide area, each making for one of three different positions. Visibility to the westward was apparently very low. Vice-Admiral Somerville therefore requested the Admiralty to broadcast instructions on commercial wave to ships of the convoy to proceed to position 37°00'N, 16°00'W. He also informed the Admiralty that it was his intention to have HMS Derbyshire to take over from HMS Bonaventure to enable Bonaventure to proceed to Gibraltar for 'Operation Excess'.

'Force K' and HMS Furious reported between 1200 and 1300/26. 'Force K' was intending to collect the convoy at the Commodor's noon/26 rendez-vous and escort them to 37°00'N, 16°00'W. HMS Furious reported that she was in company with HMS Argus so as to reach position 37°00'N, 16°00'W at 1300/27. Also it was reported that she needed to refuel at Gibraltar before she could proceed to Freetown.

A reconnaissance of nine aircraft was flow off by HMS Ark Royal at 1300 hours in position 38°23'N, 15°45'W but nothing was sighted by these aircraft.

A report from HMS Bonaventure was received at 1630/26. She had intercepted the German merchant ship Baden (8204 GRT, built 1922) in position 44°00'N, 25°07'W. The German ship could not be boarded in the foul weather and the Germans had also set it on fire. HMS Bonaventure sank the German ship with a torpedo. She also stated that she had not yet sighted the Empire Trooper.

The situation at 1700/26 was as follows; the approximate position of all H.M. Ships in the area was known (except for the corvettes). HMS Cyclamen, with her W/T out of action, was believed to be standing by the Empire Trooper, and it appeared probable that the three remaining corvettes (HMS Jonquil (Lt.Cdr. R.E.H. Partington, RNR), HMS Clematis (Cdr. Y.M. Cleeves, DSO, DSC, RD, RNR) and HMS Geranium (T/Lt. A. Foxall, RNR)) had proceeded to Ponta Delgada to fuel. Only one merchant ship had been located. The City of Canterbury, in company with HMS Dunedin. Whilst the situation of the Empire Trooper caused some anxiety priority was given to assist in rounding up and covering the remainder of the convoy which might be making for position 37°00'N, 16°00'W.

At 1720/26, all units were instructed to act as follows; 'Force H' was to maintain position between the northern and southern appoaches to position 37°00'N, 16°00'W. 'Force K' was to continue to search for ships passing through position 39°08'N, 21°38'W. HMS Furious was to arrive in position 37°00'N, 16°00'W at 1400/27, searching to the north and east for ships proceeding direct to Gibraltar. HMS Berwick was to search to the north and west of position 37°00'N, 16°00'W, during the forenoon of December, 27th. She was to make rendez-vous with 'Force H' at 1400/27. HMS Dunedin was also to make rendez-vous with 'Force H' at 1400/27. All ships were directed to report at 2200/26 and 1200/27 the number of merchant ships in company.

The 2200 reports received indicated that only three merchant ships had been located, two by 'Force K' and one by HMS Dunedin. Both HMS Norfolk and HMS Dunedin reported to be getting low on fuel. At the same time HMS Berwick reported to the Admiralty that she had to proceed to Gibraltar to make good underwater damage, to free 'X' turret and to fuel.

27 December 1940.

At 0145/27 the Admiralty informed Vice-Admiral Somerville that further steps were required to locate the Empire Trooper who had 2500 troops on board. In view of the existing fuel situation and the necessity for providing air reconnaissance to locate the damaged ship and as there were no further indications of the precense of the enemy cruiser Vice-Admiral Somerville decided to proceed with HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal to locate the Empire Trooper, whose last known position was some 600 nautical miles to the north-west. This nescessitated dropping the screening destroyers. Vice-Admiral Somerville therefore informed the Admiralty accordingly and directed 'Force K' to take charge of operations in connection to the convoy. At the same time Vice-Admiral Somerville instructed HMS Derbyshire to report her position, course and speed, and ordered HMS Clematis to report the position of the corvettes and to provide any further information regarding the condition of the Empire Trooper.

HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal proceeded at 22 knots, later increasing to 24 knots, to the north-westward, with the intention of locating the Empire Trooper by air after daylight the following morning.

At 0800/27, Vice-Admiral Somerville ordered HMS Cyclamen, if still in touch with the Empire Trooper, to report her position, course and speed and also requested the Admiralty to order the Empire Trooper herself to report her position.

Two hours later, HMS Clematis reported that she had sighted the Empire Trooper through the mist half an hour after the latter had been hit in No.1 hold. The transport was then steaming 13 knots and damage was not believed to be serious. Owning to low visibility the other corvettes had not been located. Shortly after this HMS Derbyshire reported her position, course and speed at 1000/27 and added that visibility was half a mile.

In view of the low visibility prevailing, which would preelude air reconnaissance, and of the encourageing report from HMS Clematis of Empire Trooper's condition, it appeared to Vice-Admiral Somerville doubtful wheter the presence of HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal would serve any useful purpose. Whilst so far to the northward they were unable to afford any protection to the remaining ships of the convoy, whose escorts in some cases were running short of fuel. Furtherm to remain in this position would inevitably result in delay in carrying out the upcoming 'Operation Excess'. Vice-Admiral Somerville there proposed to the Admiralty that HMS Derbyshire should remain in the vicinity of the Empire Trooper's last reported position and that HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal should return to Gibraltar, covering the convoy.

Pending the Admiralty reply to this signal, HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal proceeded to a suitable position to carry out a dawn reconnaissance with aircraft to locate the Empire Trooper should this be required whilst at the same time enabling Renown and Ark Royal to return to Gibraltar at high speed in time to carry out 'Operation Excess'.

Reports received from all units indicated that a total of four merchant ships had been located by 1200/27. The Senior Officer 'Force K', at this time ordered HMS Furious, HMS Argus, HMS Dunedin and the five transports which were to participate in 'Operation Excess', when collected, to proceed to Gibraltar with the nescessary destroyers. HMS Berwick, HMS Sheffield and the remaining destroyers to remain at the rendez-vous position until 'Force K' arrived there.

The Admiralty reply to Vice-Admiral Somerville's proposal was received at 1500/27 and directed the Vice-Admiral to remain in the area with HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal until the situation regarding the Empire Trooper had been cleared up or as long as endurance of the screen allowed.

As Vice-Admiral Somerville had previously reported that HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal had proceeded unscreened at 0200/27, he was uncerain how to interpret this signal. He assumed that it was intended that he should rejoin his destroyers in the vicinity of 37°00'N, 16°00'W and this was reported to the Admiralty accordingly.

At 1700/27 a report was intercepted from HMS Cyclamen that she was standing by the Empire Trooper who had been holed in No.1 and No.4 hatches and whose situation was serious. Her position at 0800/27 was given as 41°00'N, 22°09'W, course 138°, speed 4 knots. Shortly afterwards a report in Merchant Navy Code was intercepted from the Empire Trooper, in which she suggested that assistance should be sent to disembark the troops if necessary. The position given by the Empire Trooper differed considerably from that reported by HMS Cyclamen, whilst first class D/F bearing obtained at this time was also at variance with both positions. From all the evidence available it appeared that the Empire Trooper was in approximate position 40°40'N, 21°16'W at 1730/27.

in view of these less satisfactory reports, Vice-Admiral Somerville at once ordered HMS Bonaventure to proceed to the Empire Trooper estimated position. As it appeared possible that transfer of troops at sea might be necessary, the Vice-Admiral ordered HMS Sheffield to detach the two destroyers with the most fuel remaining to proceed at 16 knots towards the Empire Trooper. It was doubtful wheter these had enough endurance to return to Gibraltar, but in emergency they could proceed to the Azores if refuelling at sea was impracticable. In the meantime HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal proceeded westwards to reach the most favourable position for flying off a dawn reconnaissance should weather conditions enable this to be done.

At 2030/27, Admiralty instructions were received for Empire Trooper to steer for Ponta Delgada as soon as weather permitted. Twenty-five minutes later a signal from the Admiralty was received the the light cruiser HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN), who had previously had been ordered to join convoy SL 59, was ordered to join the Empire Trooper instead.

At 2300/27 Admiralty instructions to all concerned regarding the Empire Trooper were received. HMS Kenya, HMS Berwick, HMS Cyclamen, HMS Clematis, HMS Jonquil and HMS Geranium were ordered to join the Empire Trooper and escort her to Punta Delgada. If it was found that HMS Berwick could remain with the Empire Trooper, HMS Bonaventure was to be released for 'Operation Excess' as soon as HMS Berwick relieved her, otherwise HMS Bonaventure was to remain with the Empire Trooper.

HMS Berwick reported she expected to join the Empire Trooper by 1700/28. As Bonaventure's shortage of fuel would prelude her joining the Empire Trooper before the latter had been joined by HMS Berwick, Vice-Admiral Somerville ordered HMS Bonaventure to proceed to Gibraltar.

At midnight, Vice-Admiral Somerville received a signal from 'Force K' containing proposals for the future movements of the convoy and escort.

28 December 1940.

A report was received from HMS Cyclamen at 0330/28 giving the position of the Empire Trooper at 2000/27 as 40°12'N, 21°13'W, speed 6 knots. The damaged ship had thus made good some 250 nautical miles since being attacked. As it now appeared that sufficient ships would be available to stand by her and in view of the critical fuel situation in the two destroyer that had been ordered to join her (these were HMS Duncan and HMS Hero) they were ordered to proceed to Gibraltar.

The fore end of HMS Renown's starboard bulge, which had started to tear away some time previously, now became more serious, rendering it inadvisable for the ship to exceed 20 knots. As weather conditions still precluded flying, and as HMS Kenya, HMS Berwick, HMS Derbyshire and the four corvettes were all in the vicinity of or approaching the Empire Trooper, it dit not appear that any useful purpose would be served by HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal remaining unscreened in submarine infested waters and risking further damage to Renown's bulge.

The Admiralty was then informed that HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal were returning to Gibraltar. Also a signal was sent to prepare No.1 dock at Gibraltar for HMS Renown with all despatch.

As the docking of HMS Renown would involve some delay in 'Operation Excess', Vice-Admiral Somerville informed the Admiralty and the Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean, that the earliest possible D.1 for would be January, 1st, and that even this date was dependent on it being possible for Renown to be made seaworthy within 24 hours of docking.

By 1500/28 the weather had improved sufficiently for an A/S patrol to be flown off. This was maintained till dusk.

During the afternoon further damage was caused to the bulge. By this time about 30 feet of the top strake had been town away and a large number of rivets were leaking. Shores and cofferdams were placed.

In order to provide a screen for HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal, Vice-Admiral Somerville ordered HMS Duncan and HMS Hero, now on passage to Gibraltar, to rendez-vous with the capital ships at 1000/29, and also the Admiral Commanding, North Atlantic Station was asked to sail additional destroyers if pacticable. HMS Faulknor, HMS Firedrake, HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN) and HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN) were sailed from Gibraltar to rendez-vous with the capital ships at 1100/29.

Air reconnaissance sighted nothing of interest during the day. At dusk couse was altered to pass north of convoy HG 49 which had left Gibraltar at 1800/28 and speed was reduced to 18 knots to increase the efficiency of the Asdic operating.

29 December 1940.

HMS Faulknor, HMS Firedrake, HMS Hasty and HMS Jaguar indeed joined 'Force H' at 1100/29.

30 December 1940.

HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Faulknor, HMS Firedrake, HMS Duncan, HMS Hasty, HMS Hero and HMS Jaguar arrived at Gibraltar at 0830 hours when HMS Renown immediately entered No.1 Dock. (9)

31 Dec 1940

Operation Ration

Interception of a Vichy-French convoy off Oran.

This operation was carried out with the object of ‘preventing the Vichy-French of making a hole in the blockade’.

At 1845 hours (zone -1) on 31 December 1940, five destroyers departed Gibraltar, these were HMS Duncan (A/Capt. A.D.B. James, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN) and HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN). They were to intercept a Vichy-French convoy that had passed the Straits of Gibraltar.

At noon on 1 January 1941, while about half way between Gibraltar and Oran, in position 35°33'N, 03°04'W, they intercepted the Vichy-French convoy K 5 that had departed Casablanca on 30 December 1940 for Oran. This convoy was made up of the passenger/cargo ship Chantilly (9986 GRT, built 1923), Tanker Octane (2034 GRT, built 1939), and the merchant vessels Suroit (554 GRT, built 1938) and Sally Maersk (Danish, 3252 GRT, built 1923). They were escorted by the A/S trawler La Touilonnaise (425 GRT, built 1934, former British Hampshire).

All merchant ships were seized and taken to Gibraltar while their escort was allowed to proceed to Oran. There were however problems during the seizure of the Chantilly. Causing HMS Jaguar firing a burst of machine gun fire in the water close to the ship. However two passengers were killed and four were wounded, presumably from ricochets.

To support the destroyers, the light cruiser HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN) had departed Gibraltar for this purpose shortly before noon on 1 January 1941. All ships had entered Gibraltar by the 3rd. (12)

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. (13)

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.

16 Jan 1941
HMS Ursula (Lt. A.J. Mackenzie, RN) departed Gibraltar for her 14th war patrol (1st in the Mediterranean). She was ordered to patrol in the Gulf of Genoa and to proceed to Malta afterwards.

En route to the Gulf of Genoa she had to make her presence known off the Spanish coast.

Before proceeding on patrol A/S exercises were carried out with the British destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Duncan (A/Capt. A.D.B. James, RN). After the A/S exercises were completed two practice attacks were made on HMS Faulknor. (14)

31 Jan 1941

Operations Picket and Result.

Operations against the Lake Omodeo Dam in central Sardinia (Picket) and the bombardment of Genoa (Result).

31 January 1941.

'Force H' departed Gibraltar for these operations. It was diverted into four groups, these were;

Group 1 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), battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) and the light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN).

Group 2 was made up of the destroyers 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 Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Jersey (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Burnell-Nugent, DSC, RN).

Group 3 was made up of the 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) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN).

And finally Group 4 was made up of the RFA tanker Orangeleaf (5927 GRT, built 1917) escorted by the auxiliary A/S trawlers HMS Arctic Ranger (Cdr.(Retd.) J.H. Young, RN) and HMS Haarlem (T/Lt. L.B. Merrick, RNR).

On leaving harbour HMS Ark Royal flew off one aircraft for A/S patrol. This patrol was maintained throughout the day.

At 1930/31, group 2 (six destroyers) were detached in position 36°25'N, 03°24'W and were ordered to proceed at economical speed to a position to the north of the Balearics where they were to rendez-vous with the remainder of the force (minus the tanker group) during the forenoon of 2 February.

1 February 1941.

At 0845/1, when in position 37°05'N, 00°32'E, groups 1 and 3 altered course to the north-east.

From 1130/1 onwards a section of fighters from HMS Ark Royal was maintained overhead until dusk.

At 1500/1 course was altered to 084°.

By 1810/1 all aircraft had returned to HMS Ark Royal.

At 1900/1, HMS Malaya escorted by HMS Encounter and HMS Jupiter were detached and ordered to rendez-vous with the remainder of 'Force H' at 0900/2 in position 40°55'N, 06°30'E. This was to economize fuel in HMS Malaya to enable to her to retreat after the bombardment of Genoa at a higher speed.

At 1910/1, HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Sheffield, HMS Duncan and HMS Isis, altered course to 062° and increased speed to 24 knots to arrive in the flying off position for Operation Picket.

2 February 1941.

At 0555/2, eight Swordfish were flown off from HMS Ark Royal in position 40°07'N, 06°54'E. They were armed with torpedoes to attack the dam.

At 0730/2, two more Swordfish were flown off to locate HMS Malaya and her two escorting destroyers and direct her to a rendez-vous position of 40°34'N, 06°38'E at 1000/2.

The first of seven Swordfish that returned from the raid on the dam landed on at 0830/2. The last aircraft landed on at 0848/2. One Swordfish failed to return.

The two Swordfish that had located HMS Malaya returned at 0900/2.

The striking force had encountered rain and hail showers over the land and severe icing conditions in a cloud level of 5000 feet. Ground defences were unduly alart and after the first five miles over the land, fire was encountered from Bofors and light automatic guns apparently posted along the roads leading to Tirso. throughout the final approach fire was heavy, becoming intense in the vicinity of the dam.

One aircaft becoming lost in the cloud, never located the target and finally returned to HMS Ark Royal with his torpedo. The remaining seven aircraft made individual approaches and all except one came under heavy fire. As a result of intense opposition and icing conditions in the clouds, two aircraft jettisoned their torpedoes. Of the remaining five, one was shot down, one made a high drop, nose down, two dropped approximately correctly, and one was able to take good, steady aim. No explosions were observed. The last pilot, after his attack, flew over the dam at a height of 60 feet, machine gunning the defences. He observed no damage on the south face of the dam. It is thought that if the torpedoes failed to reach the dam their run may have been stopped by a bank of silt. Information was later received from an Italian broadcast that the crew of the Swordfish that had been shot down had been taken prisoner.

The wind was by now force 6, with a rising sea, and HMS Duncan reported damage to the gun shield of 'A' gun. Visibility was moderate but improving.

At 1005/2 course was altered to 290° and eight minutes later HMS Malaya and her two escorting destroyers were sighted.

By 1115/2 HMS Malaya, HMS Encounter and HMS Jupiter had rejoined. At noon HMS Ark Royal reported that flying conditions were becoming hazardous so the A/S patrol was abandoned. Only a section of Fulmar fighters were maintained in the air as conditions were unsuitable for Skua's. At times HMS Ark Royal was dipping her flight deck into the sea. Speed had also to be reduced to 15 knots as this was the maximum speed the destroyers could proceed without sustaining damage.

At 1530/2 HMS Malaya requisted permission to turn down wind to make repairs as her cable lockers were flooding beyond the capacity of the pumps. Course was altered and speed was reduced to 10 knots at 1540/2. The original course and 15 knots speed were resumed at 1635/2.

Four Swordfish aircraft, which had been flown off to locate the six detached destroyers reported them as bearing 285°, distance 40 nautical miles at 1615/2. Course was altered to 000° at 1730/2 to ensure contact was made before dark and one hour later the destroyers joined the screen.

The northwesterly gale which had persisted all day had prevented 'Force H' from making the nesecssary ground to the west and north. Throughout the day various destroyers had reported damage at a speed of 15 knots and by the time the rendezvous with the six detached destroyers had been effected, Vice-Admiral Somerville was left with the choice of abanadoning operastion Result or making good a speed of 20 knots thoughout the night. This latter would have been impossible with the destroyers in company and problematical without them. Consideration was given to only attack Genoa with aircraft from HMS Ark Royal but in the end it was decided to abandon the operation.

3 February 1941.

At 0400/3 course was altered to 210°. The wind was still force 6, with a short sea. HMS Fearless reported at 0530/3 tht she was beginning to bump badly and speed was reduced to 13 knots.

HMS Ark Royal flew off three Swordfish at 0745/3 to seach for shipping between Cape Tortosa and Alicante up to fifty miles from the coast. A similar search was carried out in the afternoon between Cape San Antonio and Cape Palos. It was the intention to detach destroyers to close and investigate all ships reported by the aircraft but the only ship located was already in the approaches to Valencia and therefore could not be intercepted in time before it reached that port.

During the forenoon exercises were carried out during which HMS Jersey was serving as 'target'.

Course was altered to south at 1335/3 and speed was increased to 18 knots. The wind had veered to north-north-west and was still force 6. The wind eased a little towards the end of the afternoon but then increased to force 8 by 1700/3.

At 1715/3, dive bombing exercises were carried out on the fleet by four Skua's. After the first attack one aircraft force-landed in the sea on the starboard beam of the Fleet close to the destroyer screen. The crew was picked up by HMS Jupiter. The aircraft then sank.

All flying was completed by 1815/3. After dark course was reversed for twenty minutes in preparation for a night encounter exercises with HMS Jersey and HMS Jupiter which had been detached from the screen at dusk. These two destroyers, attacking from leeward, were sighted at long range. Evasion, counter-attack, star-shell and searchlights were exercised and the practice was completed by 2038/3.

4 February 1941.

A speed of 17 knots was maintained during the night and at 0100/4 course was altered to the westward. The wind remained a steady force 6 from the north-north-west.

At 0630/4, HMS Ark Royal screened by three of the destroyers hauled out of the line and they proceeded independently for flying off Swordfish aircraft for a dawn light torpedo attack on the Fleet. This attack was well delivered.

At 0800/4 speed was increased to 18 knots and HMS Sheffield took station eleven miles on the starboard beam to act as a target for gunnery exercises by HMS Renown and HMS Malaya. On completion HMS Sheffield then carried out an exercise with the leading destroyer of the screen. Finally HMS Fearless and HMS Foresight then carried out an exercise on HMS Sheffield.

By noon the sea had moderated and the wind had dropped to force 5. During the afternoon destroyers of the screen carried out exercises.

The ships of 'Force H' entered harbour at Gibraltar between 1715 and 2000 hours. (12)

6 Feb 1941

Operation Grog.

Bombardment of Genoa.

6 February 1941.

'Force H' departed Gibraltar for this operation. It was diverted into three groups, these were;

Group 1 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), battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) and the light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN).

Group 2 was made up of the destroyers 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 Foxhound (Lt.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 HMS Jersey (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Burnell-Nugent, DSC, RN).

Group 3 was made up of the destroyers HMS Duncan (A/Capt. A.D.B. James, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Isis (Cdr. C.S.B. Swinley, DSC, RN) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN).

Group 2 departed Gibraltar between 1200 and 1400 hours in pairs of two. They proceeded eastwards as to be on patrol or exerising. When out of sight from land they continued on to the eastwards at economical speed to rendez-vous with groups 1 and 3 later on.

Groups 1 and 3 were clear of the harbour by 1700 hours. They then proceeded westwards as to cover convoy HG 53 which was forming up in the Strait of Gibraltar at this time.

The force was cut up into small sections and one by one they passed the Strait of Gibraltar to the eastward.

7 February 1941.

At 0300/7 all ships of groups 1 and 3 had joined company again and continued their passage eastwards.

An A/S patrol was flown off by HMS Ark Royal at 0730/7 and maintained throughout the day. Visibility was good with wind force 3 from the west. Six Skua's were flown off at 0835/7 to carry out dummy dive bombing attacks on the Fleet. Opportunity was taken to exercises all forms of AA armament.

By 1100/7 the wind had dropped to light westerly airs and there was a slight haze over the horizon which limited visibility to 10/15 miles throughout the day.

At 1155/7, in position 36°37'N, 01°21'W, HMS Firedrake investigated a contact and fired two depth charges. This contact was most likely non-sub.

All flying was completed by 1815/7. No radar contacts had been obtained all day and it seems probable that the fleet was not detected.

At 1930/7 course was altered to 035° in order to pass between Ibiza and Majorca during the dark hours.

8 February 1941.

Course was altered to 340° at 0100/8 and to 035° at 0500/8 for the passage west of the Balearics. An A/S air patrol was flown off at 0730/8 and a fighter patrol at 0930/8. These were maintained throughout the day. The six destroyers of group 2 joined at 0830/8.

During the day six aircraft were sighted but none are thought to have been enemy, almost all could be identified as being French.

During the day, a Skua and a Fulmar crashed on the deck of HMS Ark Royal when landing but no one was injured. All flying was completed by 1800 hours and ten minutes later course was altered to 090° and speed to 18 knots. At 1900/8 speed was increased to 21 knots.

At 2330/8 course was altered to the final approach course towards Genoa.

9 February 1941.

At 0400/9 HMS Ark Royal parted company escorted by HMS Duncan, HMS Encounter and HMS Isis so as the carrier could act independently to carry out air attacks on Leghorn and La Spezia.

At 0505/9, when in position 43°19'N, 08°41'E, HMS Ark Royal flew off a striking force of 14 Swordfish, followed by four Swordfish carrying magnetic mines and later by three standby spotting aircraft with an escorting section of fighters.

At 0719/9 a section of Fulmars was flown off to patrol over HMS Ark Royal.

Meanwhile the bombardment force continued on towards Genoa. At 0635/9 some unidentifiable mountain tops were just visible above the haze, silhouetted against the sky to the north-east of Rapallo, but it was not until 0649 hours that the headland of Porto Fino could be identified. It was soon seen that the Fleet was almost exactly in the position they wanted to be in.

Between 0630 and 0707 hours, HMS Sheffield and HMS Malaya catapulted their aircraft for spotting duties. HMS Renown also launched her spotting aircraft [time is not noted in the report.]

Course was altered to 290° at 0655/9 and speed was reduced to 18 knots. 13 minutes later course was altered to 270° and at 0713 back to 290°.

At 0711/9 Renown's spotting aircraft reported that no battleships were present. By 0714 hours, when fire was opened, nothing could be seen of Genoa from the ships, so the firing was carried out under direction of the spotting aircraft.

The observers in the spotting aircraft were able to indentify their targets with the greatest ease as they had been trained by using a model that had been constructed by a Commissioned Gunner of HMS Renown.

The opening salvoes from HMS Renown fell as anicipated south of Malo Principe and were quickly spotted onto the Ansaldo Works, marshalling Yards and factories on both banks of the Torrente Polcevera. Numerous explosions and considerable fires were obsevered in this area. Target was then shifted to the vicinity of the commercial basin where a big fire was caused and a merchant ship was hit. A salvo in the vicinity of the power station caused a perticularly violent explosion and an oil tank was observed to be on fire. The smoke from this and various warehouses prevented the spotting of several salvoes but a little later rounds were observed to fall in the area west of Ponte Daglio Asscreto and Ponte Caracciolo. The last salvoes fired in this area fell on the latter causing an explosion followed by a considerable fire. Target was again shifted, and the electrical works appeared to recieve a direct hit. Fire was moved up the left bank of the Torrente Polcevera and having crossed it salvoes were spotted directly on to Ansaldo Works, but smoke by then rendered observation difficult. The secondary armament engaged the area along the water front.

HMS Malaya engaged the dry docks a d targets in their vicinity throughout. Big explosions were observed in the docks and among warehouses. Several salvoes could not be spotted owing to smoke, but the last four were seen to fall among houses just north-east of the docks.

Sheffield's opening salvoes were placed short in the sea and were readily spotted. Having found range, rapid salvoes were ordered and fire was directed at the industrial installations on the left bank at the mouth of the Torrente Polcevera. Many fires and two big explosions were caused in this area. Later, as smoke was obscuring the area, fire was shifted to a tanker under way off the port and although three salvoes straddled no actual hits were observed.

The only opposition encountered by the bombarding ships was from a shore battery mounting about two 6" guns, and by the spotting aircraft from long and close range AA weapons. In both cases the fire was quite inefficient. During the bombardment two of the destroyers were ordered to make smoke to hamper gun fire from the shore battery.

The following ammunition was expended; HMS Renown 125 rounds of 15" HE and 400 rounds of 4.5" HE, HMS Malaya 148 rounds of 15" CPC and HMS Sheffield 782 rounds of 6" HE.

Whilst the main force was approaching Genoa, HMS Ark Royal's striking force of fourteen Swordfish each armed with four 250lbs. G.P. bombs and sixteen incendiaries had proceeded to attack the Azienda Oil Refinery at Leghorn. Eleven aircraft dropped their bombs on the refinery but no clear estimate could be formed of the amount of damage inflicted except that one definite explosion was observed. Surprise was evidently achieved as only one or two HA guns opened fire when the attack started. About six minutes later however, the HA fire became severe.

Two of the striking force, having mistaken their landfall, attacked alternative targets, one attacks Pisa aerodrome and the other Pisa railway junction.

One of the aircraft that attacked the refinery failed to return.

Three of the minelaying Swordfishmade a gliding approach over the town of Spezzia, two laying in the western entrance of the harbour and one in the eastern entrance. The fourth aircraft approached from the opposite direction and laid in the western entrance. There was only a partial black out of the town. Short range AA weapons of the Bofors type engaged the aircraft during their final approach and these was also some AA fire from guns round the town, but these appeared to be firing blind into the air.

Balloon barrages were noticed at Leghorn over the town and west of the Azienda Refinery along the coast and also at Genoa by the Torrente Polcevera.

By 0848 all spotting, minelaying and striking force aircraft had landed on (with the exception of the one reported missing) and HMS Ark Royal proceeded to rendez-vous with the rest of 'Force H' in position 43°48'N, 08°50'E at 0900/9. By 0919/9 the whole force was steering 180° at 22 knots.

It was evident that both the ship and air bombardment had effected complete surprise, and that no precautions had been taken by the enemy to guard against an invasion into the Gulf by 'Force H'.

Throughout the day six fighters were kept patrolling over the Fleet. At 0934/9 two aircraft were detected by RD/F bearing 060° waiting at 27 miles. Ten minutes later a Cant. flying boat was sighted low down to the north-north-east. The aircraft withdrew before the fighters could get in touch. The other aircraft also withdrew on a bearing 070°. The visibility at this time was six miles at 3000 feet and 15 miles at 15000 feet. After this the RD/F sreen remained clear until 1047 hours when a raid was detected at 40 miles closing from 070°. This turned out to be a shadower, a Cant. 506B, which was located and shot down by fighters to the north of the fleet. Course was altered to 200° at 0955/9 and to 244° at 1035/9.

At 1120/9 a raid was detected at 30 miles closing on a bearing of 350°. This raid consisted of two aircraft which appeared to be Fiat BR.20 bombers. Four bombs were dropped well astern of HMS Ark Royal and the aircraft then retired to the northward. Fighters were unable to make contact with the enemy who were at about 12000 feet.

A convoy of seven merchant vessels was encountered at noon in position 43°07'N, 08°08'E, steering 090° and HMS Foresight was detached to investigate. The convoy consisted of six French and one Turkish merchant vessels outward bound and was allowed to proceed.

A formation of aircraft was detected at 1210/9 on a bearing of 160° but it dit not close and eventually faded.

At 1300/9 the weather became very favourable to a succesful withdrawal, the visibility having decreased and the sky overcast with low cloud. A shadower was detected at 1325/9 astern of the fleet. it was located by the fighters and proved to be a Cant. Z.1007B, it was shot down at 1355/9.

Several formations were detected by RD/F to the eastward at 1412/9 but they did not close to less than about 30 miles and finally faded. At 1500/9 the fighters chased a shadower but lost him in the clouds.

Between 1615 and 1700 hours several raids were again detected to the eastward but none materialised. Thereafter the RD/F screen remained clear until 'Force H' arrived at Gibraltar.

Two aircraft were launched at 1651/9 to search for the destroyers HMS Firedrake and HMS Jupiter which had been detached to carry out a W/T diversion east of Minorca at 2345/8 to cover the approach of the force to Genoa.

Course 232°, speed 17 knots was maintained during the night.

10 February 1941.

At 0740/10 HMS Ark Royal flew off two A/S patrols and five Swordfish to carry out a search for shipping in the area between lines joining Cape San Sebastian to Minorca and Cape San Antonio to Ibiza. Five French ships and the Spanish ships were reported.

Only one ship was within range and the Spanish ship Maria (347 GRT, built 1907) was boarded (by HMS Foresight). She was bound from Barcelona to Cartagena with a general cargo and was therefore allowed to proceed.

HMS Firedrake and HMS Jupiter rejoined at 0915/10. At 1300/10 course was altered to 184°. In the afternoon four aircraft searched an area 50 miles from territorial waters between Valencia and Cartagena but only a French merchant vessel was sighted steering northwards very close to the Spanish territorial waters.

Course was altered to 222° at 1804/10 and a few minutes later HMS Ark Royal was detached with three destroyers to act independently for the remainder of the passage to Gibraltar in order to facilitate training flights. HMS Fearless and HMS Fury were detached at dusk in order to shadow the Fleet from the port quarter and to deliver a dummy attack at dawn.

11 February 1941.

Course was altered to the westward at 0230/11. At 0735/11 HMS Fearless and HMS Fury carried out an attack from the port bow, ships in the line and on the screen were using searchlights.

It had been intended to exercise dive bombing on the fleet and smoke burst target practice for destroyers but low cloud prevented this. At 1100/11 six Swordfish aircraft carried out light torpedo attacks and nine Swordfish runner attacks on the fleet. HMS Fearless and HMS Fury were again detached but now to pick up torpedoes.

On approaching the Rock a range and inclination exercise was carried out for the benefit of the shore defences, destroyers were screening the heavy ships with smoke.

'Force H' entered the harbour between 1430 and 1615 hours. (12)

23 Feb 1941
Around 1930 hours (zone -1), the battleship HMS Resolution (Capt. A.R. Halfhide, CBE, RN), departed Gibraltar for Portsmouth. She was escorted by the destroyers HMS Jersey (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Burnell-Nugent, DSC, RN) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.T. Thew, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) and HMS Velox (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Roper, DSC, RN). (15)

27 Feb 1941
Shortly after 1100 hours (zone -1), the battleship HMS Resolution (Capt. A.R. Halfhide, CBE, RN) and her destroyer escort of HMS Jersey (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Burnell-Nugent, DSC, RN) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.T. Thew, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) and HMS Velox (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Roper, DSC, RN) made rendez-vous in approximate position 42°45'N, 16°50'W with three relief destroyers coming from Plymouth. These were HMS Kashmir (Cdr. H.A. King, RN), HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St. Clair-Ford, RN) and HMS Jackal (Cdr. C.L. Firth, MVO, RN). HMS Duncan and HMS Velox were then detached. (15)

6 Mar 1941
At 0830/6, HMS Renown (Capt R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) and HMS Velox (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Roper, DSC, RN) proceeded to sea for exercises off Gibraltar.

They were joined at sea at 1330/6 by HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) and HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN).

They remained at sea during the night for night encounter exercises.

More exercises followed on the morning of the 7th.

At ships returned to Gibraltar at 1315/7. (16)

10 Mar 1941
The battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) and aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN) departed Gibraltar for Freetown. They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) and HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN).

HMS Repulse, HMS Furious, HMS Duncan and HMS Foxhound arrived at Freetown on the 16th.

23 Mar 1941

Convoy SL 69.

This convoy departed Freetown on 23 March 1941 and arrived at Liverpool on 18 April 1941.

On departure from Freetown this convoy was made up of the following ships; Agioi Victores (Greek, 4344 GRT, built 1918), Alberte le Borgne (British, 3921 GRT, built 1914), Anna (Greek, 5173 GRT, built 1919), Aurillac (British, 4733 GRT, built 1921), Baron Napier (British, 3559 GRT, built 1930), Baronesa (British, 8663 GRT, built 1918), British Justice (British (tanker), 6932 GRT, built 1928), Bulysses (British, 7519 GRT, built 1927), Christine Marie (British, 3895 GRT, built 1919), City of Bath (British, 5079 GRT, built 1926), City of Wellington (British, 5732 GRT, built 1925), Clan Maquarrie (British, 6471 GRT, built 1913), Corilla (Dutch (tanker), 8096 GRT, built 1939), Dago II (British, 1993 GRT, built 1917), Daru (British, 3854 GRT, built 1927), Dornoch (British, 5186 GRT, built 1939), Empire Advocate (British, 5787 GRT, built 1913), Floristan (British, 5478 GRT, built 1928), Glenaffric (British, 7782 GRT, built 1920), Glenbeg (British, 9461 GRT, built 1922), Harpalycus (British, 5629 GRT, built 1935), Hopecastle (British, 5178 GRT, built 1937), L.A. Christensen (Norwegian, 4362 GRT, built 1925), Lekhaven (Dutch, 4802 GRT, built 1921), Madras City (British, 5080 GRT, built 1940), Marton (British, 4969 GRT, built 1933), Mobeka (Belgian, 6111 GRT, built 1937), Mountpark (British, 4648 GRT, built 1938), Narkunda (British, 16632 GRT, built 1920), Nijkerk (Dutch, 5843 GRT, built 1915), Palembang (Dutch, 7070 GRT, built 1921), Pantelis (Greek, 3845 GRT, built 1911), Pontfield (British (tanker), 8319 GRT, built 1940), Roumanie (Belgian, 3658 GRT, built 1906), Salland (Dutch, 6447 GRT, built 1920), San Francisco (Swedish, 4933 GRT, built 1915), Sangara (British, 4174 GRT, built 1939), Sarthe (British, 5271 GRT, built 1920), Selvistan (British, 5136 GRT, built 1924), St. Usk (British, 5472 GRT, built 1909), Swedru (British, 5379 GRT, built 1937) and Tekoa (British, 8695 GRT, built 1922).

On departure from Freetown the convoy was escorted by the light cruiser HMS Mauritius (Capt. W.D. Stephens, RN), armed merchant cruiser HMS Arawa (A/Capt. G.R. Deverell, RN), sloop Commandant Domine and the corvettes HMS Clematis (Cdr. Y.M. Cleeves, DSC, RD, RNR) and HMS Cyclamen (Lt. H.N. Lawson, RNR).

In the morning of March 25, HMS Mauritius is ordered to proceed to position 07°24'N, 24°35'W and investigate a raider report.

At 1359/25, the battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) was ordered to complete with fuel and then depart Freetown to overtake the convoy to join the escort. HMS Repulse arrived near the convoy around 1700/27 and then started to provide 'distant' cover.

At 1941/25, the aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN and the destroyers HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) and HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) were ordered to leave Freetown at 0700/26 and to overtake and join the convoy as well. This order was cancelled at 0301/26 but at 1121/26 the ships were ordered to sail as soon as possible to overtake the convoy wich they did around 2300/27 after which the destroyers returned to Freetown.

On 26 March 1941 the convoy was joined by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Bulolo (Capt.(Retd.) R.L. Hamer, RN). She remained with the convoy until March, 29th as did the corvettes HMS Clematis and HMS Cyclamen.

On 29 March, HMS Repulse, HMS Furious, HMS Duncan, HMS Foxhound parted company with the convoy escorting the troopship Narkunda to Gibraltar where they arrived on 3 April.

HMS Mauritius had been ordered to rejoin the convoy when Repulse would leave it. She remained with the convoy until 5 April 1941 when she was relieved by the light cruiser HMS Edinburgh (Capt. C.M. Blackman, DSO, RN).

On 14 April HMS Edinburgh and HMS Arawa parted company with the convoy when the destroyers HMS Roxborough (Lt. V.A. Wight-Boycott, OBE, RN), HMS Sherwood (Lt.Cdr. S.W.F. Bennetts, RN), sloop HMS Weston (Cdr.(Retd.) J.G. Sutton, RN), and the corvettes HMS Clarkia (Lt.Cdr. F.J.G. Jones, RNR) and HMS Gladiolus (Lt.Cdr. H.M.C. Sanders, DSC, RNR) joined. The next day the two more destroyers; HMS Saladin (Lt.Cdr. L.J. Dover, RN) and HMS Salisbury (Lt.Cdr. H.M.R. Crichton, RN) also joined.

The convoy arrived at Liverpool on 16 April 1941.

26 Apr 1941

Convoy WS 8A

This convoy departed the Clyde on 26 April 1941 for various ports in the Far East and Mediterranean (see below).

The convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels and troop transports; Abbekerk (Dutch, 7889 GRT, built 1939), Aronda (British, 8328 GRT, built 1941), Clan Campbell (British, 7255 GRT, built 1937), Clan Chattan (British, 7262 GRT, built 1937), Clan Lamont (British, 7250 GRT, built 1939), Dominion Monarch (British, 27155 GRT, built 1939), Empire Song (British, 9228 GRT, built 1940), Empress of Asia (British, 16909 GRT, built 1913), Empress of Russia (British, 16810 GRT, built 1913), Highland Chieftain (British, 14135 GRT, built 1929), New Zealand Star (British, 12436 GRT, built 1935), Reina del Pacifico (British, 17702 GRT, built 1931), Sobieski (Polish, 11030 GRT, built 1939) and Strathaird (British, 22281 GRT, built 1932).

The armed merchant cruiser HMS Pretoria Castle (A/Capt.(Retd.) A.V. Hemming, RN) also took passage in the convoy.

On departure from the Clyde the convoy was 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), HMS Hurricane (Lt.Cdr. H.C. Simms, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMS Beagle, (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, DSO and Bar, RN), HMCS Ottawa (Cdr. E.R. Mainguy, RCN), HMCS Restigouche (Cdr. H.N. Lay, OBE, RN), HMCS Saguenay (Lt. P.E. Haddon, RCN), ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski) and the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN).

In the morning of the 29th HMS Beagle and HMS Eridge were detached to join the escort of convoy SL 71.

Shortly afterwards HMS Hurricane was detached to search for the survivors of the liner City of Nagpur that had been torpedoed and sunk earlier that day.

On 30 April, at 0400 hours, HMCS Ottawa, HMCS Restigouche, HMCS Saguaenay, HMS Legion and ORP Piorun parted company.

On 2 May the light cruiser HMS Mauritius (Capt. W.D. Stephens, RN) joined shortly after noon. HMS Naiad was then detached and proceeded to Gibraltar where she arrived around 0900/4.

Earlier that morning HMS Repulse, HMS Harvester, HMS Havelock and HMS Hesperus had parted company with the convoy taking the transports Clan Campbell, Clan Chattan, Clan Lamont, Empire Song and New Zealand Star with them to Gibraltar.

The remainder of the convoy continued southwards. On 5 May the destroyers HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN) joined followed on 6 May by two more destroyers; HMS Boreas (Lt.Cdr. D.H. Maitland-Makgill Crichton, DSC, RN) and HMS Hurricane (Lt.Cdr. H.C. Simms, RN). The convoy arrived at Freetown on 9 May.

The convoy departed Freetown on 14 May having been joined by the Imperial Star (British, 12427 GRT, built 1934). The Highland Chieftain was unable to depart on the 14th. She sailed one day later to overtake the convoy. She was being escorted by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Cicilia (Capt.(Retd.) V.B. Cardwell, OBE, RN).

On leaving Freetown A/S protection was given by the destroyers Highlander, HMS Duncan, HMS Boreas and HMS Wishart until 16 May.

HMS Mauritius was relieved by HMS Hawkins (Capt. H.P.K. Oram, RN) on 24 May.

The convoy arrived at Durban on 27 May minus the Empress of Asia, Imperial Star and Strathaird that had been detached to Capetown on the 24th. The Strathaird departed Capetown on the 25th to rejoin the convoy off Durban.

The remainder of the convoy arrived at Durban on 27 May escorted by HMS Hawkins.

On 31 May the Abbekerk, Aronda, Empress of Russia, Sobieski and Strathaird departed Durban escorted by HMS Hawkins. They arrived at Aden on 10 June after which the troopships / transports proceeded to Suez independently.

22 May 1941

Convoy WS 8B

Convoy from the Clyde to Aden where it was dissolved.
Departure date: 22 May 1941.
Arrival date: 4 July 1941.

The following merchant ships (mostly troopships) were part of this convoy;
British:
Abosso (11330 GRT, built 1935), Almanzora (15551 GRT, built 1914), Duchess of Richmond (20022 GRT, built 1928), Georgic (27759 GRT, built 1932), Martand (7967 GRT, built 1925), Orduna (15507 GRT, built 1914).

Dutch
Christian Huygens (16287 GRT, built 1927).

The aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. T.O. Bulteel, RN) was also part of the convoy. She was to proceed to Gibraltar to deliver replacement aircraft. She detached from the convoy on 27 May 1941. In the morning of 28 May 1941, she was joined by the destroyers HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) and HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) which escorted her to Gibraltar.

Escort was initially provided by the following warships;
Heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, MVO, RN), light (AA) cruiser HMS Cairo (A/Capt. I.R.H. Black, RN), 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).

On 26 May 1941, all escorts were detached except HMS Exeter.

On 2 June 1941, while approaching Freetown, the destroyers HMS Boreas (Lt.Cdr. D.H. Maitland-Makgill Crichton, DSC, RN) and HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) joined the convoy. The next day the corvette HMS Marguerite (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Blundell, RNR) also joined.

The convoy arrived at Freetown on 4 June 1941.

The convoy, less Abosso and Christiaan Huygens, departed Freetown on 6 June. It was escorted by the Exeter and had a local escort of the destroyers HMS Duncan, HMS Boreas and HMS Highlander (Cdr. S. Boucher, RN). The destroyers were detached on 8 June.

The convoy arrived at Durban, South Africa on 20 June 1941.

The convoy departed Durban for Aden on 23 June. The Dutch Nieuw Zeeland (11069 GRT, built 1928) had joined the convoy at Durban. Escort was still provided by HMS Exeter.

The convoy was dissolved off Aden on 4 July 1941 and the ships proceeded to their destination independently.

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. (17)

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. (18)

19 Oct 1941
HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) picks up four survivors from the British tanker Inverlee that was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-204 30 nautical miles 240° from Cape Spartel, Morocco.

HMS Duncan also picks up one survivor from the British merchant Baron Kelvin that was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-206 in the Strait of Gibraltar 14 nautical miles bearing 100° from Tarifa Point in approximate position 35°57'N, 05°54'W.

28 Oct 1941
Italian submarine Guglielmo Marconi (CdC Livio Piomarta) was sunk by depth charges from the British destroyer HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) while operating against the convoy HG-75 in the North Atlantic about 300 nautical miles north-east of the Azores in position 41°57'N, 21°56'W. (19)

16 Feb 1942

Convoy WS 16.

This convoy departed the Clyde on 16 February 1942 and arrived at Freetown on 1 March 1942.

The convoy was made up of the troopships / transports; Awatea (British, 13482 GRT, built 1936), Bergensfjord (British, 11015 GRT, built 1913), Brisbane Star (British, 12791 GRT, built 1937), City of Edinburgh (British, 8036 GRT, built 1938), City of Lincoln (British, 8039 GRT, built 1938), Cuba (British, 11420 GRT, built 1923), Delftdijk (British, 10220 GRT, built 1929), Denbighshire (British, 8983 GRT, built 1938), Duchess of Richmond (British, 20022 GRT, built 1928), Duchess of York (British, 20021 GRT, built 1929), Empire Pride (British, 9248 GRT, built 1941), Monarch of Bermuda (British, 22424 GRT, built 1931), Mooltan (British, 20952 GRT, built 1923), Nea Hellas (British, 16991 GRT, built 1922), Ormonde (British, 14982 GRT, built 1917), Port Jackson (British, 9687 GRT, built 1937), Potaro (British, 5410 GRT, built 1940), Sibajak (Dutch, 12226 GRT, built 1927), Strathaird (British, 22281 GRT, built 1932), Stratheden (British, 23722 GRT, built 1937), Volendam (Dutch, 15434 GRT, built 1922) and Worcestershire (British, 11402 GRT, built 1931).

The Straithaid was unable to sail with the convoy and joined at sea on 21 February 1942.

On departure from the Clyde the convoy was escorted by the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.LaT. Bisset, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, KBE, DSO, RN), HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Panther (Lt.Cdr. R.W. Jocelyn, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Verity (Cdr. R.H. Mills, RN), HMS Walker (Cdr. D.G.F.W. MacIntyre, DSO, RN), HMS Witherington (Lt. R. Horncastle, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSC, RN) and HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. J.D. Hayes, DSO, RN).

Between 1300/18 and 1500/18 the transports City of Edinburgh, City of Lincoln and Potaro reported that their cargo had shifted. The Potaro was able to continue but was ordered to proceed to Freetown independently. The other two ships had to return to the U.K.

At 0920/20 the destroyer HMS Anthony left the convoy to proceed to the Azores with condensor trouble.

At 1800/20 HMS Panther was detached to fuel at the Azores and then rejoin the convoy.

At 1300/21 the light cruiser HMS Newcastle (Capt. P.B.R.W. William-Powlett, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) and destroyer HMS Paladin (Cdr. A.D. Pugsley, RN) joined the convoy. They had the troopship Strathaird with them.

At 0800/21 HMS Croome was detached to Gibraltar.

At 1530/21 HMS Malaya, HMS Eagle, HMS Hermione, HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Duncan, HMS Active and HMS Blankney were detached to Gibraltar.

At 1600/21 HMS Paladin was detached to the Azores to refuel after which she was to rejoin the convoy.

At 1800/21 HMS Firedrake was detached. She was to return to the U.K independently.

At 1800/22 HMS Verity, HMS Walker and HMS Witherington were detached to the Azores where they were to fuel after which they were to proceed to Halifax.

At 1600/23 HMS Paladin rejoined the convoy. HMS Panther had sailed from the Azores before her but apparently she was unable to find the convoy. Eventually she joined in the evening.

At 0905/26 the destroyers HMS Boreas (Lt.Cdr. E.L. Jones, DSC, RN), HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. A.G. Poe, RN) and HMS Wild Swan (Lt.Cdr. C.E.L. Sclater, RN) joined the convoy coming from Bathurst.

The convoy arrived safely at Freetown in the morning of 1 March 1942 escorted by HMS Formidable, HMS Newcastle, HMS Paladin, HMS Panther, HMS Boreas, HMS Brilliant and HMS Wild Swan. (20)

23 Feb 1942
HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSC, RN) arrived at Gibraltar from convoy escort duty. (21)

26 Feb 1942

Operation Spotter.

Transfer of Spitfire fighters to Malta.

Around 1830/26 the aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), destroyers HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Whitehall (Lt.Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSC, RN) and HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. J.D. Hayes, DSO, RN) departed Gibraltar westwards. They were to turn eastwards during the night but this move was made as a diversion to 'fool' the enemy spies in Spain that HMS Argus had been relieved at Gibraltar by HMS Eagle which had arrived there on 23 February 1942.

Around 0330/27 the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN).

Around 0630/27 the two groups joined to the east of Gibraltar and then continued on eastwards.

Around 2100/27 course was reversed to return to Gibraltar. The operation had to be abandoned due to problems with the long range fuel tanks of the Spitfire fighters in HMS Eagle that were to be flow off to Malta.

'Force H' returned to Gibraltar in the evening of the 28th. (22)

17 Mar 1942
HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN) and HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) conducted exercises off Gibraltar. They were escorted by (at least) HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) and HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN). (23)

20 Mar 1942

Operation Picket.

Transfer of Spitfire fighters to Malta.

Around 0200 hours 'Force H' departed Gibraltar for Operation Picket, in which they were to launch Spitfire fighters for passage to Malta.

'Force H' was made up of the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN), HMS Whitehall (Lt.Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSC, RN), HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. J.D. Hayes, DSO, RN) and HMS Exmoor (Lt.Cdr. L.StG. Rich, RN).

At 0320/20, while passing Europa Point, they were joined by the destroyer HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN).

At 1440/20, when 'Force H' was in position 36°33'N, 01°26'W, underwater explosions were felt by the majority of the ships. At the time these were thought to have originated by aircraft dropping depth charges but later investigations showed that these were most likely torpedoes exploding. [This was indeed the case as the Italian submarine Mocenigo at that time had made an attack on HMS Argus.]

At 0814/21 the first Spitfire of 'A' flight was flown off and the whole flight of aircraft was in the air by 0838/21 where they joined two Blenheim bombers coming from Gibraltar.

After 'A' flight had been launched the aircraft for 'B' flight were brought up to the flight deck. However it became apparent that no more escorting Blenheims would come from Gibraltar and the lauch of this flight had to be cancelled and 'Force H' set course to the westward with the intention to lauch 'B' flight the next day.

In the afternoon a signal was received that all aircraft of 'A' flight had arrived safely at Malta. Meanwhile throughout the afternoon 'Force H' had been shadowed by enemy aircaft which the fighter patrol were unable to intercept.

At 1530/21, HMS Whitehall was detached due to fuel shortage and ordered to proceed to Gibraltar independently.

The next moring, at 0715/22 it apparent that the weather at Malta was unsuitable and the remainder of the operation was cancelled and 'Force H' set course to return to Gibraltar.

In the morning the fleet was still shadowed by an enemy aircraft.

'Force H' arrived at Gibraltar around 0800/23. HMS Hermione had been detached and arrived a little earlier. (22)

27 Mar 1942

Operation Picket II.

Transfer of Spitfire fighters to Malta.

Around 1600/27 'Force H' departed Gibraltar for Operation Picket II, in which they were to launch Spitfire fighters for passage to Malta.

'Force H' was made up of the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSC, RN), HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. J.D. Hayes, DSO, RN) and HMS Exmoor (Lt.Cdr. L.StG. Rich, RN).

In the afternoon of March 28th German reconnaissance aircraft were sighted so the force must have been detected.

Between 0720/29 and 0728/29 HMS Eagle launched seven Spitfires for Malta.

'Force H' then set course to return to Gibraltar.

'Force H' returned to Gibraltar early in the afternoon of 30 March 1942.

[We have so far been unable to find a report for this operation.]

1 Apr 1942
The battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) departed Gibraltar for Freetown. (24)

6 Apr 1942
HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) arrived at Freetown. (24)

9 Apr 1942

Convoy WS 17A.

This convoy departed Freetown on 9 April 1942 and arrived at Durban on 22 April 1942.

This convoy was made up of the following troopships / transports; Bhutan (British, 6104 GRT, built 1929), Domion Monarch (British, 27155 GRT, built 1939), Duchess of Atholl (British, 20119 GRT, built 1928), Karanja (British, 9891 GRT, built 1931), Keren (British, 9890 GRT, built 1930), Oronsay (British, 20043 GRT, built 1925), Port Wyndham (British, 11005 GRT, built 1935), Rembrandt (British, 5559 GRT, built 1941), Sobieski (Polish, 11030 GRT, built 1939), Winchester Castle (British, 20012 GRT, built 1930) and Windsor Castle (British, 19141 GRT, built 1922).

On departure from Freetown the convoy was escorted by the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Pakenham (Capt. E.B.K. Stevens, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Lookout (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Javelin (Cdr. G.E. Fardell, RN), HMS Inconstant (Lt.Cdr. W.S. Clouston, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN).

At 1800/12, the Dominion Monarch was detached. She proceeded to Capetown independently arriving there on 19 April.

At 1600/13, HMS Pakenham, HMS Duncan, HMS Active and HMS Anthony were detached to fuel at St.Helena from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Abbeydale.

At 0615/14, HMS Laforey and HMS Javelin were detached to fuel at St.Helena from the Abbeydale.

At 1515/14, HMS Pakenham, HMS Duncan, HMS Active and HMS Anthony rejoined the convoy. HMS Hermione, HMS Lightning, HMS Lookout and HMS Inconstant were then detached to fuel at St.Helena from the Abbeydale.

At 1825/15, HMS Laforey and HMS Javelin rejoined the convoy.

At 1100/16, HMS Hermione, HMS Lightning, HMS Lookout and HMS Inconstant rejoined the convoy.

At 1000/18, HMS Hermione discovered missing plating near her bow. She was to be docked to repair this damage.

At 0700/19, HMS Illustrious, HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Lookout and HMS Duncan were detached to Capetown where they arrived later the same day.

At 1000/19, HMS Devonshire (Capt. R.D. Oliver, DSC, RN) took over the escort of the convoy. HMS Malaya, HMS Pakenham, HMS Javelin, HMS Inconstant, HMS Active and HMS Anthony were then detached to Capetown where they arrived later the same day. The flag of Rear-Admiral Syfret was then transferred from HMS Malaya to HMS Illustrious.

At 0815/20, HMS Hermione arrived at Simonstown. She was then docked for repairs to her bow.

The convoy arrived at Durban on 22 April 1942 still escorted by HMS Devonshire.

28 Apr 1942

Operation Ironclad, the landing on Madagascar.

The main body of the assault forces sailed from South Africa in two convoys, these were;

Convoy Y, Slow convoy.

This convoy departed Durban on 25 April 1942.

This convoy was made up of the following troopships / transports; Empire Kingsley (British, 6996 GRT, built 1941), Mahout (British, 7921 GRT, built 1925), Martand (British, 7967 GRT, built 1925), Nairnbank (British, 5155 GRT, built 1925), Thalatta (Norwegian, 5671 GRT, built 1922) as well as the landing ship HMS Bachaquero (A/Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) A.W. McMullan, RNR) and the RFA tankers Derwentdale (8398 GRT, built 1941), Easedale (8032 GRT, built 1942).

On departure from Durban the convoy was escorted by the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire (Capt. R.D. Oliver, CBE, DSC, RN), destroyers HMS Duncan ( Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), corvettes HMS Auricula (fitted for mineweeping) (Lt.Cdr. S.L.B. Maybury, RN), HMS Freesia (T/Lt. R.A. Cherry, RNR), HMS Fritillary (Lt.Cdr. W.H. Barker, RD, RNR), HMS Jasmine (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) C.D.B. Coventry, RNR), HMS Nigella (fitted for minesweeping) (T/Lt. L.J. Simpson, RNR), HMS Thyme (Lt. H. Roach, RNR) and the minesweepers HMS Cromarty (Lt.Cdr. C.G. Palmer, DSC, RNZNVR), HMS Cromer (Cdr. R.H. Stephenson, DSC, RN), HMS Poole (Lt. W.L.G. Dutton, RNR) and HMS Romney (Cdr.(Retd.) R.H.V. Sivewright, RN).

The transport City of Hong Kong (British, 9678 GRT, built 1924) had been delayed and sailed on 26 April 1942 escorted by the corvettes HMS Cyclamen (Lt. A.G. Scott, RNR) and HMS Genista (Lt.Cdr. R.M. Pattinson, DSC, RNR).

Convoy Z, Fast convoy.

This convoy departed Durban on 28 April 1942.

This convoy was made up of the following troopships / transports; Duchess of Atholl (British, 20119 GRT, built 1928), Franconia (British, 20175 GRT, built 1923), HMS Karanja (British, 9891 GRT, built 1931), HMS Keren (British, 9890 GRT, built 1930), Oronsay (British, 20043 GRT, built 1925), HMS Royal Ulsterman (British, 3244 GRT, built 1936), Sobieski (Polish, 11030 GRT, built 1939) and Winchester Castle (British, 19141 GRT, built 1922).

Upon departure from Durban the convoy was escorted by the battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Pakenham (Capt. E.B.K. Stevens, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Lookout (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Javelin (Cdr. G.E. Fardell, RN) and HMS Inconstant (Lt.Cdr. W.S. Clouston, RN).

The convoys met around noon on 3 May. Earlier that day the aircaft carrier HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Paladin (Cdr. A.D. Pugsley, RN) and HMS Panther (Lt.Cdr. R.W. Jocelyn, RN) had joined the 'Z' convoy.

Both convoys had a good passage so far thanks also to the favourable weather conditions. From the 'Y' convoy all escorts had been able to fuel from the RFA tanker Easedale. Also HMS Hermione and the destroyers from the 'Z'-convoy were now able to fuel.

By dusk on 3 May the fast convoy had closed to within about 4 miles from the slow convoy and it maintained this position until the final approach on the following afternoon.

At noon on the 4th of May, the flagship was some 95 mils west of Courrier Bay and at 1430/4, Group I, made of of HMS Ramillies, HMS Indomitable, HMS Illustrious, HMS Hermione and seven destroyers parted company with the convoys and steered for the covering position near Cape Amber. At 1500/4 the signal was made to proceed in execution with the orders and Groups II to V formed up for the final approach.

The composition of these groups was as follows;
II; HMS Laforey, one corvette, two minesweeping corvettes and the four minesweepers.

III; HMS Devonshire, Winchester Castle, HMS Royal Ulsterman and one destroyer.

IV; HMS Keren, HMS Karanja Sobieski, Derwentdale, HMS Bachaquero and three corvettes.

V; HMS Pakenham, two corvettes, 10 transports, store ships and auxliaries.

Final approach.

Capt. Oliver of HMS Devonshire was the senior officer. It was his task of bringing the convoy of 34 ships safely to its anchorage. It had 88 miles to go, most of it in the dark.

At 1800/4, HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning and HMS Anthony were detached to make landfall of Nosi Amambo, and proceeded to the south-east. At 1950/4 a suspicious vessel was reported and the division was about to attack with torpeoes at 2021/4 when it was seen to be a distant island (sic !). Twenty minutes later shallow sounding raised doubts as to their position, but at 2100/4 a white light was seen on Noi Anambo and at 2122 the moon rose silhouetting a tower on the island. Half an hour later the first buoy was laid (ZA) and course was shaped for Nosi Fati shoal, which was found without difficulty, both land and beakers showing up well in the moonlight.

At 2310/4 No.1 main channel buoy was laid and HMS Lightning anchored off it. At 2340/4, she swithched on the prearranged lights (green, white, red) to seaward. HMS Anthony then went to inform the convoy that these buoy were in place, and the Laforey went on laying the remainder in the 15-mile channel to Nosi Hara.

This was an easy task, as the channel between Nosi Hari and Nosi Anjombavola could be seen clearly in the moonlight, and after dropping the last buoy, she turned back at 0003/5. The convoy could be seen just entering the channel. Its ships were clearly visible to the naked eye. HMS Laforey then stood to the westward. At 0026/5, HMS Laforey reported ' Channel OK, no corss set ' to the Devonshire and Keren, then turning, took station astern of the minesweepers.

HMS Devonshire, meanwhile, with group IV and V astern, had been groping her way in. It was quite dark at 184/4, but star sights showed that the north-easterly set allowed for had in effect been running the other way during the afternoon carrying her some 5 miles to the south-westward of her intended position. She altered coursev without signal at 1900/4 to correct this and her screen not immediately observing the alteration, got a long way out of station. At 2100/4 the high land on Cape Sebastian was sighted, and a reasonably good fix was obtained by visual bearing and RDF range. More land was sighted after moonrise, and at 2150/4 the jaged peak of Windsor Castle was identified 40 miles away and an accurate fix placed the Devonshire 298°, 18 miles from position ZB. Course was altered to 118° at 2200/4 and speed was reduced to 8.5 knots.

At 2312/4 another good fix showed that she had been set 2.5 miles to the northward, placing her 360°, 6 miles from position ZB, and course was altered to 138° at 2318/4. Twenty minutes later the lights displayed by HMS Lightning were sighted so navigation was no longer difficult. At 2342/4 HMS Anthony passed close alongside and reported there was no set though the outer dan buoy had drifted to the south-westward. Course was altered to follow the minesweepers which could be seen clearly ahead and HMS Lightning was passed 6 cables abeam to starboard at 0008/5. This showed that HMS Devonshire had passed position ZB 33 minutes ahead of time. The right hand edge of Nosi Hara selected as a leading mark was clearly visible, bearing 114°, but it was not easy to follow the passage as several of the dan buoys had broken adrift and it wa difficult to ee which minesweepers were sweeping. Actually their work had come to a sudden halt. Owing to the out dan buoy being to the south-west of it intended position, the mineweepers had gone too close to Nosi Fati shoal and all four had parted their sweepers. Nothing was known of this at the time, and it was supposed that the channel was being swept according to plan, though in fact it was not being swept at all. Fortunately no mines had been laid so far to seaward.

At 0130/5, the ships in group III passed between Nosi Hari and Nosi Anjombavola. Before them lay Ambararata Bay. At 0154/5 the Winchester Castle came noiselessly to an anchor, the Royal Ulsterman and HMS Lightning standing by to the north-eastward of her. The troops were all drawn up and her assault craft were lowered and manned. HMS Devonshire anchored some 3.5 cables to the eastward of Nosi Hara, ready to open fire on the enemy's batteries under Windsor Castle. She lay invisible against the background of the island. Through unlit and tortuous channels studded with rocks and shoals the ships had been brought safely to their anchorage. Silently, Groups IV and V entered and took up their berths, anchoring some 10 minutes earlier than planned.

Assault landing, 5 May 1942.

While the assault craft were being manned, HMS Romney and HMS Cromarty accurately and steadfastly led by HMS Freesia commened to sweep the 8-mile channel from the Winchester Castle's berth to position JJ. They were closely followed by HMS Laforey leading the Winchester Castle's flotilla with HMS Lightning and HMS Royal Ulsterman some distance astern. During this passage about 17 mines were cut. At 0300/5 one detonated in the Romney's sweep, but no sign of life came from the French garrison ashore. A quarter of an hour later another mine exploded. All waited for the expected fusillade, but to their surprise the quiet of the summer night remained undisturbed. The garrison was evidently sleeping soundly, and at 0330/5 the dispersal point (JJ) was reached and the flotilla moved off towards the 'Red' beaches, while HMS Royal Ulsterman silently anchored and commenced landing her cobles. Meanwhile the flotillas from the Keren and Karanja had left at 0253/5 and 0319/5 for the 'Green' and 'White' beaches respectively.

The navigation of the landing craft was as good as that of their parent ships. All made accurate landings and the assault was carried out exactly as planned. Despite the explosions of the mines, complete surprise was achieved, and all three beaches and No.7 battery were carried without loss. 'Blue' beach was then assaulted. Here opposition was experienced, but it was overcome by troops which had landed at 'White' beach, who crossed the peninsula and took the defenders in the rear.

Simultaneously with these landings, HMS Hermione was carrying out her diversion on the east coast, consisting of a demonstration with delay action smoke floats, rockets, and the firing of star shell to burst over the beach at the head of Ambodi Vahibe Bay. She then established a patrol of the entrance to Diego Saurez Bay which she maintained for the rest of the day without incident, except for a short engagement (0643 to 0655/5) with No.1 coast defence batterey, Oranjiia, which she outranged at 18000 yards.

Half an hour after the initial landing, air attacks by the FAA developed on the Vichy-French shipping in Diego Saurez harbour and on Antsirane aerodrome. The former, carried out by 18 Swordfish from HMS Illustrious armed with torpedoes, bombs and depth charges, proved very effective. The armed merchant cruiser Bougainville was hit by a torpedo, the submarine Beveziers was sunk by depth charges and the sloop D'Entrecasteaux, another submarine and AA batteries were narrowly missed by bombs. Fighter protection was provided by 8 Martlets, which demonstrated ovr the town during the attack. One Swordfish was shot down during the attack.

At the same time six Albacores from HMS Indomitable carried out a low level bombing attack on Antsirane airport. Here, again, the surprise was complete and the hangars, which were full of aircraft, were left burning. This was followed by an attack with incendiary bullets by eight sea Hurricanes.

After these main air attacks, three Swordfish dropped dummy parachutists in a valley 6 mines west-south-west of Ambodi Vahibe Bay, to strengthen the effect of the diversion by HMS Hermione. Fighter patrols were then established over the town, beaches and transports, and an A/S patol off the entrance to Diego Saurez harbour.

At 0545/5 the ' success ' signal from No.7 battery was received and Keren, Karanja, Sobieski, Winchester Castle and Bachaquero proceeded to shift to the main anchorage off Ambararata Bay. The three former were still loading their second flight of landing craft but Winchester Castle and Bachaquero at once got under way. By that time it was broad daylight and they were seen by HMS Devonshire advancing up the swept channel. Just at that moment Capt. Oliver received a signal from HMS Romney that she had exploded two mines just north of the anchorage. Capt. Oliver therefore ordered the two ships to stop and the ordered to move was then cancelled until the new anchorage was swept.

By 0620/5, about 2000 troops had been landed but the turn round for the landing craft was very long. Reports of a successful advance and the capture of prisoners began to come in.

At 0750/5, group IV, followed by the remainder of the convoy, shifted berth to the main anchoragem which by that time had been swept by HMS Cromer, HMS Poole, HMS Auricula and HMS Nigella. No mines had been found in the actual anchorage, but about a mile to the north-west, HMS Cromer and HMS Auricula cut seven in quick succession and cut six more and detonated one in the same position shortly afterwards.

Conditions in the anchorage by this time were far from pleasant. The south-easterly wind had increased to force 8 and was raising a heavy sea. Ships were dropping second anchors and the handling and loading of landing craft was difficult but non the less disembarkation continued at full speed.

Sweeping was still continuing in the vicinity of position HH, when at 1138/5, HMS Auricula struck a mine and broke her back. As she had no casualties and was in no immediate danger of sinking, she remained where she was, anchored by her sweep. By this time the minesweepers had swept up no less than 35 mines but half of them were now out of action with defects to their gear. As it was imperative to have sufficient minesweepers with the fleet to proceed into Diego Saurez after its capture it was decided to cease further minesweeping for the moment.

Landing continued throughout the day. Two or three machine-gun attacks were made on the beaches by enemy fighter aircraft, but FAA patrols provided effective protection and, thanks to the initial blow to the aerodrome no attacks were made on the transports.

At 1354/5, an enemy post on Windsor Castle, becoming a nuisance was engaged by HMS Laforey. Shortly afterwards a white flag and signals of surrender were observed and fire was ceased. However, on advancing, the British troop wee bombed by the French with hand granades.

Considerable difficulty was experienced in finding a suitable beach for the Bachaquero but a spot close to 'Red' beach was eventually found. She had to approach it through the minefield but was swept in by HMS Cromarty who cut two mines adrift, and she landed her cargo in 14 minutes.

At sunset landing operations were suspended till sunrise, in order to avoid damage to the landing craft. Before dark destroyers and corvettes took up their stations as A/S patrols of the entrances to the harbour, and orders were given to abandon HMS Auricula for the night.

Operations of Group I, 4 to 6 May 1942.

Meanwhile, outside the harbour the night had passed without incident. Group I, made up of HMS Ramillies, HMS Indomitable, HMS Illustrious, HMS Hermione, HMS Paladin, HMS Panther, HMS Lookout, HMS Javelin, HMS Inconstant, HMS Duncan and HMS Active, after the assault landing force parted company (4th May), had continued to the north-eastwar, HMS Hermione being detached at 1700/4 to the east coast to carry out her diversion next morning. The remainder patrolled up and down in the vicinity of position 'AA' till 2200/4, when course was shaped towards Nosi Fati and towards midnight the ships in Group V could be seen bearing 070°, distant 11 miles, steering for position 'ZC'. At 0015/5, land loomed up ahead and it was clear that the force was further to the south-eastward than had been aniticipated, course was altered the the north-east under the stern of the convoy at 0020/5.

Shortly before 0300/5, HMS Anthony was sighted. She reported that the channel had been buoyed without difficulty, that at 0015/15 Winchester Castle was approaching position 'ZC' with the remainder of the ships closed up, and that conditions for landing were very good.

The time had come for the carriers to get to work, and at 0300/5 they, with HMS Paladin, HMS Panther, HMS Javelin and HMS Inconstant were detached to operate independently under Rear-Admiral Boyd, some 35 miles were of Cape Amber, while HMS Ramilles with HMS Lookout, HMS Duncan and HMS Active kept within visual supporting distance.

THe carrier had barely moved off when the first news was received by the Admiral from the ships inshore. It was a signal time 0318/5 from HMS Laforey reporting that mines had been cut near position 'JJ'. A long pause then followed. About 0440/5 star shell was seen, which were taken to be from HMS Hermione.

At 0540/5 another signal came in from HMS Laforey reported no sign of oppostion on the shore. Further signals from her reported No.7 battery captured with negligible opposition, native troops surrendering, and the advance continuing. No.8 battery could not be found and was apparently non-existent, and the situation was under complete control. Later it was reported that mines were delaying the move to the main anchorage.

Signals were also received from HMS Hermione and the carriers, reporting the progress of their activities. At 0836/5, HMS Illustrious reported that there were no submarines remaining in Diego Saurez harbour and all ships were then warned that most likely two of them would be at sea in the area.

At 0719/5, a reply on the ultimatum was received from the French stain that they would defend to the last.

By 0720/5, the Combined Commander-in-Chief felt that the assault had made a very good start. Troops were advancing, prisoners taken, HMS Hermione diversion had proceeded satisfacorily, air attacks had been successful both on the aerodrome and on ship. On the debit side it was clear that unswept mines in Courrier Bay were causing delays in disembarkation, and the rejection of the ultimatum showed that opposition might be expected to stiffen.

During the forenoon, though news was somewhat scanty it seemed that the disembarkation was proceeding steadily, and the assault was advancing to their objectives it was evident that resistance was increasing. Rear-Admiral Boyd, confirmed that there were no submarines in harbour and that a sloop was seen undeway. She was later attacked by Swordfish aircraft from HMS Illustrious. She was hit forward and was beached but she remained in action.

At noon on the 5th, Major-General Sturges, who was on board HMS Ramillies expressed a wish to disembark, so the flagship shaped course for position 'ZB'. At 1420/5 the General and hi staff were transferred to HMS Anthony for passage ashore. The information on board HMS Ramillies at that time was that Headquarter, No.5 Commando was east of Andrakaka village and that they were advancing with very little resistance.

HMS Ramillies then proceeded towards a position some 88 miles to the westward of Cape Amber, being joined by the carriers at sunset. A message was received that the attack on the Antsirane position was held up but that a fresh assault would be made at daylight. Air support was asked for and this was arranged.

During the night of 5/6 May 1942, Group I cruiser in the vicinity of position 12°S up to 100 miles from Cape Amber. At 0148/6, a situation report timed 2200/5 was received. It stated that the advance of troops had been delayed but that new attacks had been planned for the following day.

On receipt of this signal, HMS Devonshire was ordered to join HMS Hermione to the eastward of Diego Saurez to give supporting fire to upcoming assaults.

At 0400/6, the carriers and their escort were detached to carry out flying operations, and the bombing of enemy positions south of Antsirane started at 0500/6, followed up by machine-gun attacks by Martlets at 0530/6. A bombing attack was also launched on the aerodrome at first light. Enemy Potez 63 bombers were engaged over the town by fighters from HMS Illustrious, which shot down two for certain, and probably a third. Fighters from HMS Indomitable attacked the sloop D'Entrecasteaux, which was firing on out troops. The sloop was set on fire.

As it was uncertain when entry into the harbour of Diego Saurez would be possible, Rear-Admiral Syfret decided to refuel HMS Ramillies and her destroyer screen after detaching the carriers. The destroyers were then to swap places with the ones escorting the carriers so that these could also refuel. They accordingly proceeded to Ambararata Baym anchoring near position ZD at 0722/6. Twenty minutes later HMS Auricula broke in two and sank, while attempts were being made by HMS Freesia to tow her to shallow water. No life was lost.

The general situation at 0900/6 was as follows; HMS Devonshire and HMS Hermione were concentrated east of Diego Saurez, and the minesweepers HMS Cromer, HMS Cromarty, HMS Romney, HMS Nigella had also proceeded to this area. No report had been received of the progress of the land assault on Antsirane. At 0600/6, HMS Lightning had bombarded an enemy machine-gun nest which had been re-estalished on Windsor Castle. HMS Pakenham also fired a few rounds on this target. HMS Laforey from position 'JJ' was just opening fire on the D'Entrecasteaux, which had extinguished the fire caused by the air attack and was still flying her battle ensign.

At 1009/6, HMS Laforey reported the sloop again on fire with ammunition exploding. She then joined HMS Lightning near 'Red' beach and with her bombarded a position south of Antsirane.

During the forenoon, 6th May, no information was forthcoming as to the progress of the assault, and it was not until 1250/6 that the Admiral learnt that it had failed. Of the situation as it appeared that afternoon the Admiral says: At about 1400/6 the General arrived on board. He was hot, begrimed and unhappy. Things were not going well, he said. French resistance was heavier then expected and they appeared to be well organized and equipped.

The Admiral offered the General " any and all assistance " the fleet could give. The enemy's position was outside the range of the Ramillies and cruisers guns, but aircraft bombing was promised. Then came a suggestion which had a substantial effect. The General asked if it would be possible to put 20 or 30 seamen ashore on the Antsirane Peninsula to create a diversion in the enemy's rear. It was decided to try to land 50 marines there from a destroyer. Assistance might be forthcoming from No.5 Commano which was in control of Andrakaka Peninsula, but this would depend on their finding boats to cross Port Nievre.

At was then 1430/6and the party had to be collected, a destroyer told off and a passage of 100 miles to be accomplished. The Admiral recommended that the hour for the attack should be put off till 2030 hours. HMS Anthony was called alongside and instructions were given to her Commanding Officer, Lt.Cdr. Hodges and to Captain Price, Royal Marines who was to lead the landing party. The General then left the flagship in order to organise the night attack by the 17th Brigade. The 50 marines were embarked in HMS Anthony by 1530/6, one hour ater the decision to make the ettempt - and at 1545/6 she cast off. The Admiral then proceeded to sea in HMS Ramillies, keeping within 45 miles of position 'ZB' in order to facilitate wireless communication with the Army.

The impression left on Rear-Admiral Syfret after the General's visit was that the intended quick capture of Diego Saurez was a 90 per cent failure. The night attack, planned in a hurry, to be carried out by tired troops against very strong positions, had only a small chance of success. Prolonged operations, which we so much wished to avoil, was the unpleasant alternative. The Anthony' chance of success the Rear-Admiral assessed at about 50 per cent though his advisers thought only 15 per cent. They thought that the Royal Marines would not survive the night. The next few hours were not going to be happy ones they thought.

Meanwhile the landing on the beaches had continued throughout the day. By 1700/6, 10000 men were ashore.

The capture of Antsirane, 6 May 1942.

After leaving Ambararata Bay at high speed, HMS Anthony ran into a heavy sea. Most of the marines were sick - a sorry start for the task before them.

Cape Amber was abeam at 1805/6, course was altered to 170° a quarter of an hour later and speed was reduced to 13 knots. Thanks to echo sounding and RDF little difficulty was experienced in making the entrance to Diego Saurez Harbour, and speed was increased to 22 knots at 2001/6 when 1 mile from the entrance. The ship was apparently unobserved till she was through Oranjia Pass and half a mile to the westward, when fire was opened by Nos. 2, 4 and 5 batteries and later by No. 1 battery. About 25 rounds were fired. HMS Anthony replied briskly with her after 4.7" guns (the two foremost would not bear), the port pom-pom and Oerlikon, and the enemy ceased fire at 2018/6, when course was altered to 212° short of Nosi Langor.

It had been intended to go alongside the deep water quay, port side to, where it was hoped men from No.5 Commando would be waiting ti help berth the ship. They had failed, however, to find any boats to bring them across from Andrakaka, and in the darkness the jetty was overshot. HMS Anthony turned round and an attempt was made to go alongside starboard side to, but a strong off-shore wind prevented this so with supreme skill Lt.Cdr. Hodges held his stern against the jetty long enough for Captain Price to get his men ashore. Snipers were firing from the jetty and the wooded slopes from the eastward, but a constant stream of bright tracer from pom-pom, Oerlikon, Lewis and Bren guns evidently disconcerted them, and by the time the Marines disembarked the majority had ceased fire. HMS Anthony, having done her part, left at high speed. The barreries at Oronjia opened fire on her, but she was not hit, though some of the rounds fell rather close. She replied with rapid salvos from the whole gun armament. No.1 battery continued to fire till she was about 3 miles from the harbour entrance, when course was shaped to the northward to return to Ambararata Bay.

Meanwhile, Captain Price and his Marines - left entirely to their own devices, with no means of retreat - were groping their way south through the dockyard. In spite of fires still burning after the raids by FAA aircraft, it was very dark and they missed the turning to the eastward by which they had meant to enter the town. Progress was delayd by having to spread to avoid heavy casualties from rifle and machine-gun fire. For some time a high wall on their left forced them to parallel the town, but eventually they found a gap in it and Captain Price led them over a very high bank. It was a rough scramble which brought them to a wall and through a stiff wire fence into the compund of the artillery General's house. Captain Price occupied it with No.1 platoon while Lieutenant Powell, with the other platoon formed another strong point a few hundred yards down the road. Attempts to advertise the diversion by fires had little success as the houses seemed to be under construction and had nothing in them to burn.

Lieutenant Powell soon reached what proved to be the naval depot. A feeble fire was opened on his party, they replied with hand grenades, on which the defenders, headed by the Commandant of the barracks, proceeded to surrender. Lieutenant Powell had barely accepted the surrender when the drummer sounded off a call and was immediately 'overwhelmed' for his treachery by a posse of marines. The Commandant then explained that the call was the 'cease fire'. Apologies were made and accepted.

In the barracks were found three British Army officers with 50 other ranks, three FAA personnel, and a British agent who was awaiting execution next morning. Two or three thousand rifles and some heavy machine-guns were found in the artillery headquarters.

to Captain Price's astonishment crowds then appeared who wished to surrender, both from the naval headquarters as from the artillery depot. Rifle and machine-gun fire was opened on his party periodically from the right flank but this caused no appreciable inconvenience.

Meanwhile, the attack from the south by the 17th and 29th Brigades had commenced at 2030/6. The General had finally decided to use both brigades. Firing as sporadic until the success signal from the town showed that the Marines had landed. Then the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers and the 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers pressed home their attac and by 0300/7, Brigadier Festing was able to report that he was in complete possession of the town and its defences, and had received the personal surrender of the naval and military commanders and staffs. Rear-Admiral Syfret was of opinion that, on hearing the firing in the town, the men in the trenches made for the town to look after their homes and belongings, thus simplifying the task of our troops. Be that as it may, the town was in British hands that night, a result largely due to the success of the hazardous enterprise launched suddenly at the enemy's back door, and to the splendid leadership of both Captain Price and Lieutenant Powell as well as the fine qualities displayed by the whole landing party.

By 0800/7, the work of sorting out the prisoners was in full swing.

Occupation of Diego Saurez, 7 May 1942.

Whilst affairs in Antsirane were taking this happy turn, Rear-Admiral Syfret was cruising to the south-west of a line 300° from Nosi Fati, while the aircraft carrier to the north-eastward were carrying out flying operations in support of the night attack. The first indication or a possible success reached the Admiral at 2129/6, a signal from HMS Anthony reporting that she had accomplished her task successfully.

No news from the Army came in until 0103/7, when a requist came in for ship and air support at 0900/7 for an attack on Oronjia Peninsula by the 29th Brigade. From this it was clear that the night attack had succeeded. HMS Ramillies then shaped course to join HMS Devonshire and HMS Hermione to the eastward of te Oronjia Peninsula, in readiness to bombard.

During the night these were two submarine alarms. At 2345/6, HMS Genista reported a contact, 285°, 4 miles from Nosi Hara, She attacked with a pattern of 10 depth-charges before losing it at 0111/7. A search by HMS Pakenham, HMS Laforey and corvettes failed to regain contact.

At early dawn, 0504/7, a Swordfish from HMS Illustrious sighted a submarine, which proved to be the Le Heros, on the surface off Voailava Point, the northern entrance to Courrier Bay and immediately sank her with depth charges. 6 Officers and 44 ratings were picked up by HMS Pakenham and HMS Jasmine three hours later some 4 miles west of the position of the attack.

Meanwhile HMS Ramillies had joined HMS Devonshire and HMS Hermione at 0625/7. The squadron formed line ahead in the order Ramillies, Devonshire and Hermione. They were screened by HMS Paladin, HMS Panther, HMS Lightning and HMS Active. They were ready to open fire at 0900/7.

Then a message came in from the Army stating that the reorganisation of units in Antsirande had necessitated a revised plan, and the 17th Brigade would commence the attack on Oranjia Peninsula at noon/7. Bombardment was requisted as soon as possible after 1000/7, unless and ultimatum to surrender was accepted by the French. Orders were therefore given to open fire at 1030/7m but at 1003/7 came a signal that the chances of surrender seemed good and requesting a further postponement of action. The Admiral, however, was averse to keeping the Fleet steaming up and down in dangerous waters, and decided to commence a 15 minute bombardment ' to encourage the enemy to surrender'.

At 1040/7, fire was opened accordingly from a range of 20000 to 21000 yards, in order to keep outside the maximum range (18000 yards) of the 6.6" guns of No.1 battery, which was engaged by HMS Ramillies and HMS Lightning. Spotting aircraft failed to arrive and firing was carried out under very difficult condition, against targets seen only as the crests of a gently sloping ridge of hills, but despite this hanicap out of 23 15" shells fired, six fell in the immediate vicinity of the battery and quarters.

Great difficulty was experienced in spotting te fall of HMS Lightning's shot at this long range, and she fired only a few rounds. HMS Hermione fired half a dozen rounds at a battery which she had reported the previous day, but it was in thickly wooded country, and she was unable to identify it with certainty. HMS Devonshire did not fire at all, partly owing to the interpretation placed on signals received from the Army, and partly on accoint of the Admiral's instructions to conserve ammunition during the preliminary bombardment. Ten minutes after fire was opened, a message that Oronjia Peninsula had surrendered was reeived, and the bombardment ceased.

This ended the fighting. By 1620/7 the four minesweepers which had been standing by since the day before had swept the channel and harbour. At 1700/7, HMS Ramillies, HMS Hermione, HMS Paladin and HMS Lightning, entered Diego Saurez harbour. A bare 60 hours had elapsed since the initial landing in Courrier Bay.

The slow convoy had already sailed from Ambararata Bay at 1600/7 and the fast convoy followed the next morning. Both anchoring in Baie des Francais in the afternoon of the 8th. Rear-Admiral Boyd in HMS Indomitable also arrived on the morning of the 8th. When 7 miles to the eastward of Oranjia Pass she was attacked by a submarine - subsequently identified as the Monge - whose torpedo passed 50 yards ahead of the ship. HMS Active, joined later by HMS Panther, carried out two counter-attacks, which the wreckage and oil brought ti the surface proved to have been successful.

HMS Illustrious and HMS Devonshire remained at sea for a further 24 hours to provide fighter and A/S protection till 0800/9 when the joined the remainer of the force in Diego Saurez Bay.

(25)

3 Jun 1942
HMS Ramillies (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN) departed departed Diego Saurez for Durban. She is escorted by HMS Duncan (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN), HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. G.I.M. Balfour, RN) and HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN). (26)

9 Jun 1942
HMS Ramillies (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan ( Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN), HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. G.I.M. Balfour, RN) and HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) arrived at Durban. (26)

22 Jun 1942
During 22/23 June 1942, HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), HMS Frobisher (Capt. J.F.W. Mudford, RN), HMS Caledon (A/Capt. H.J. Haynes, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN) and HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), conducted exercises off Kilindini. (27)

25 Jun 1942
During 25/26 June 1942, HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), HMS Frobisher (Capt. J.F.W. Mudford, RN), HMS Caledon (A/Capt. H.J. Haynes, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN) and HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), conducted exercises off Kilindini. (27)

4 Aug 1942

Convoy RT 1.

Departed Capetown on 4 August 1942 and arrived at Freetown on 13 August 1942.

This convoy was made up of the troopships Monarch of Bermuda (British, 22424 GRT, built 1931) and Empress of Russia (British, 16810 GRT, built 1913)

They were escorted by the battleships HMS Malaya (Capt. J.W.A. Waller, RN), HMS Queen Elizabeth (A/Capt. R. Gotto, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Duncan (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN) and HMS Hotspur (Lt. P. Bekenn, RN).

At 2045/6, HMS Duncan and HMS Hotspur parted company and set course to Simonstown.

At 1135/9, the destroyer HMS Boreas (Lt.Cdr. E.L. Jones, DSC, RN) joined the convoy coming from Freetown.

At 0945/11, the destroyer HMS Vimy (Lt.Cdr. H.G.D. de Chair, RN) joined the convoy coming from Freetown.

The convoy arrived at Freetown in the afternoon of the 13th. (28)

1 Sep 1942
HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN) departed Kilindini for Durban. She is escorted by the destroyer HMS Duncan (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN). (29)

6 Sep 1942
HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN) and HMS Duncan (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN) arrived at Durban. (29)

17 Sep 1942
HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, DSO, RN) departed Durban for Capetown. (29)

20 Sep 1942
HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, DSO, RN) arrived at Capetown. (29)

21 Sep 1942
HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, DSO, RN) departed Capetown for Freetown via St. Helena. (29)

27 Sep 1942
HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, DSO, RN) made a short stop at St. Helena. Both ships were fuelled and they departed for Freetown later the same day. (29)

3 Oct 1942
HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, DSO, RN) arrived at Freetown. (30)

7 Oct 1942
HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, DSO, RN) departed Freetown to Bermuda. (30)

17 Oct 1942
HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, DSO, RN) arrived at Bermuda. (30)

18 Oct 1942
HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, DSO, RN) departed Bermuda for Philadelphia. (30)

20 Oct 1942
HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN) arrived at Philadelphia. She had been escorted to there by HMS Duncan (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, DSO, RN) which then continued on to New York where they arrived the following day. (30)

27 Mar 1943
HrMs O 10 (Lt.Cdr. Baron D.T. Mackay, RNN) participated in A/S exercises off Tobermory together with HMS Trent (T/A/Lt.Cdr. J.G. Rankin, DSC, RNR), HMS Lancer (A/Skr.Lt. A. Robinson, DSC, RNR), HMS Wild Goose (Cdr. D.E.G. Wemyss, RN) and HMS Duncan (Cdr. Sir P.W Gretton, DSO, DSC, OBE, RN). (31)

28 Mar 1943
HrMs O 10 (Lt.Cdr. Baron D.T. Mackay, RNN) participated in A/S exercises off Tobermory together with HMS Wild Goose (Cdr. D.E.G. Wemyss, RN), HMS Duncan (Cdr. Sir P.W Gretton, DSO, DSC, OBE, RN) and HMS Lady Sharazad. (31)

3 Apr 1943
HMS P 511 (Lt. J.S. Launders, RN) conducted A/S exercises off the Isle of Mull together with HMS Duncan (Cdr. Sir P.W Gretton, DSO and Bar, DSC, OBE, RN) and HMS Kite (Lt.Cdr. W.F.R. Segrave, RN). (32)

6 May 1943
HMS Tay was part of convoy ONS-5 escort. Her Commander, Robert Sherwood, RNR, was given (from Cdr. Gretton, in destroyer HMS Duncan) the duty of Senior Officer Escort of the convoy, on May 3rd. Three days later, the corvette HMS Snowflake found U-125 just 100 meters away, badly damaged. The submarine's crew scuttled the boat, and another corvette, HMS Sunflower, turned up. When they were about to rescue the Germans, a regrettable order came from Sherwood: "Not approved to pick up survivors". So both corvettes made off, letting the entire crew of the submarine to perish in the cold waters.

21 Jul 1943
HMS P 511 (Lt. C.W. Taylor, RNR) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle together with HMS Snowflake (Lt. H.G. Chesterman, DSC, RNR), HMS Loosestrife (Lt. H.A. Stonehouse, DSC, RNR), HMS Shikari (Lt.Cdr. D.A. Rayner, DSC, VRD, RNVR), HMS Scimitar (Lt.Cdr. C.G. Cuthbertson, DSC, RNR or Lt. G.C. Potter, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Cdr. Sir P.W Gretton, DSO and Bar, DSC, OBE, RN) and HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. T. Johnston, RN). (33)

21 Jul 1943
HMS H 34 (Lt. B. Charles, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle with HMS Duncan (Cdr. Sir P.W Gretton, DSO and Bar, DSC, OBE, RN), HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. T. Johnston, RN), HMS Snowflake (Lt. H.G. Chesterman, DSC, RNR), HMS Loosestrife (Lt. H.A. Stonehouse, DSC, RNR) and HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. R. Hart, DSC, RN). (34)

27 Jul 1943
HMS H 34 (Lt. B. Charles, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle with USS Broome (Lt. C.S. Arthur, Jr., USN), HMS Duncan (Cdr. Sir P.W Gretton, DSO and Bar, DSC, OBE, RN) and HMS Sunflower (A/Lt.Cdr. J. Plomer, RCNVR). (34)

2 Sep 1943
HMS H 33 (T/Lt. C.P. Thode, RNZNVR) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle with HMS Sunflower (A/Lt.Cdr. J. Plomer, DSC, RCNVR), HMS Loosestrife (Lt. H.A. Stonehouse, DSC, RNR) and HMS Duncan (Cdr. P.W. Gretton, OBE, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN). (35)

23 Oct 1943
German U-boat U-274 was sunk in the North Atlantic south-west of Iceland in position 57°14'N, 27°50'W, by depth charges from the British destroyers HMS Duncan (Cdr. P.W. Gretton, OBE, DSO, DSC, RN) and HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. R. Hart, DSC and Bar, RN), and by depth charges from a British Liberator aircraft (Sqdn. 224/Z).

29 Oct 1943
German U-boat U-282 was sunk south-east of Greenland, in position 55°28'N, 31°57'W, by depth charges from the British destroyers HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. R. Hart, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Duncan (Cdr. P.W. Gretton, OBE, DSO, DSC, RN) and the British corvette HMS Sunflower (A/Lt.Cdr. J. Plomer, DSC, RCNVR).

26 May 1944
HMS Una (Lt. C.A.J. Nicholl, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Tobermory with HMS Stork (Cdr.(Retd.) G.W.E. Castens, DSO, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt. D.G.D. Hall-Wright, RN) and HMCS Orangeville (Lt. F.R. Pike, RCNVR). (36)

27 May 1944
HMS Una (Lt. C.A.J. Nicholl, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Tobermory with HMS Loch Killin (Lt.Cdr. S. Darling, RANVR), HMS Duncan (Lt. D.G.D. Hall-Wright, RN) and HMCS Orangeville (Lt. F.R. Pike, RCNVR). (36)

30 May 1944
HMS Una (Lt. C.A.J. Nicholl, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Tobermory with HMS Loch Killin (Lt.Cdr. S. Darling, RANVR) and HMS Duncan (Lt. D.G.D. Hall-Wright, RN). (36)

31 May 1944
HMS Una (Lt. C.A.J. Nicholl, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Tobermory with HMS Duncan (Lt. D.G.D. Hall-Wright, RN) and HMS Halladale (Lt.Cdr. J.E. Woolfenden, RD, RNR). (36)

1 Jun 1944
HMS Una (Lt. C.A.J. Nicholl, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Tobermory with HMS Duncan (Lt. D.G.D. Hall-Wright, RN) and HMS Halladale (Lt.Cdr. J.E. Woolfenden, RD, RNR). (37)

22 Nov 1944
HMS Vulpine (T/Lt. P.S. Thirsk, DSC, RNR) conducted special A/S trials off Holyhead with HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. D.G.D. Hall-Wright, RN). (38)

29 Dec 1944
HMS Stubborn (Lt. A.G. Davies, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Campbeltown with HMS Havelock (Cdr. J.P.de W. Kitcat, RN) and HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. D.G.D. Hall-Wright, RN). (39)

19 Apr 1945
HMS Amphion (Cdr. R.H. Dewhurst, DSO and 2 Bars, RN) departed Holy Loch for Scapa Flow. She was escorted by HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. D.G.D. Hall-Wright, RN). (40)

Media links


British destroyers & frigates

Norman Friedman


Destroyers of World War Two

Whitley, M. J.

Sources

  1. ADM 53/108194
  2. ADM 53/108211
  3. ADM 199/389
  4. ADM 53/108195
  5. ADM 173/15863
  6. ADM 53/107659
  7. ADM 199/387 + ADM 199/392
  8. ADM 199/379
  9. ADM 199/392
  10. ADM 53/112670
  11. ADM 234/325 + ADM 234/326
  12. ADM 199/656
  13. ADM 199/414 + ADM 199/656 + ADM 223/679 + ADM 234/335
  14. ADM 199/1819
  15. ADM 53/114985
  16. ADM 53/114965 + ADM 199/656
  17. ADM 53/114626 + ADM 234/335
  18. ADM 199/831
  19. http://uboat.net/forums/read.php?3,92769
  20. ADM 199/1211
  21. ADM 53/116212
  22. ADM 199/649
  23. ADM 53/116213 + ADM 53/116061
  24. ADM 53/116214
  25. ADM 234/331
  26. ADM 199/429
  27. ADM 53/116607
  28. ADM 199/653
  29. ADM 53/116609
  30. ADM 53/116610
  31. File 2.12.03.6382 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands)
  32. ADM 173/17923
  33. ADM 173/17926
  34. ADM 173/17796
  35. ADM 173/17786
  36. ADM 173/19192
  37. ADM 173/19193
  38. ADM 173/19460
  39. ADM 173/18860
  40. ADM 173/19463

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


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