HMS Lightning (G 55)
Destroyer of the L class
|Navy||The Royal Navy|
|Built by||Hawthorn Leslie & Co. (Hebburn-on-Tyne, U.K.)|
|Ordered||31 Mar 1938|
|Laid down||15 Nov 1938|
|Launched||22 Apr 1940|
|Commissioned||28 May 1941|
|Lost||12 Mar 1943|
|Loss position||37° 53'N, 9° 50'E|
On 12 March 1943 HMS Lightning (Cdr. Hugh Greaves Walters, DSC, RN) was torpedoed and sunk about 35 nautical miles north of Bizerte, Tunisia in position 37º53'N, 09º50'E by the German Moter Torpedo Boat (S-boat) S-55.
More information on HMS Lightning can be found on this website (offsite link).
Commands listed for HMS Lightning (G 55)
Please note that we're still working on this section.
|1||Cdr. Richard Graham Stewart, RN||25 Feb 1941||Dec 1941|
|2||Lt. Douglas Henry Reid Bromley, RN||Dec 1941||25 Jan 1942|
|3||Cdr. Hugh Greaves Walters, DSC, RN||25 Jan 1942||12 Mar 1943|
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Notable events involving Lightning include:
15 Jun 1941
HrMs O 14 (Lt.Cdr. G. Quint, RNN(R)) conducted A/S exercises at / off Scapa Flow with HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN), HMS Hambledon (Lt.Cdr. J.R. Barnes, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN) and HMIS Jumna (Cdr. W.R. Shewring, RIN). (1)
12 Jul 1941
Convoy WS 9C
This convoy was formed at sea and was initially made up of the British merchants/ troop transports Avila Star (14443 GRT, built 1927), City of Pretoria (8049 GRT, built 1937), Deucalion (7516 GRT, built 1930), Durham (10893 GRT, built 1934), Leinster (4302 GRT, built 1937), Melbourne Star (11076 GRT, built 1936), Pasteur (30447 GRT, built 1939), Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933) and Sydney Star (11095 GRT, built 1936).
They were escorted by the battleship HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN) (12-20 July), cruisers HMS Manchester (Capt. H. Drew, DSC, RN) (12-17 July), HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), (12-17 July), AA cruiser HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck (Cdr. E.J. van Holthe, RNN) (12-15 July), cruiser-minelayer HMS Manxman (Capt. R.K. Dickson, RN), (15-16 July), destroyers HMS Winchelsea (Lt.Cdr. W.A.F. Hawkins, OBE, DSC, RN) (12 July), HMS Vanoc (Lt.Cdr. J.G.W. Deneys, DSO, RN) (12-15 July), HMS Wanderer (Cdr. A.F.St.G. Orpen, RN) (12-15 July), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. K.F. Namiesniowski, ORP) (12-15 July), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN) (12-15 July), HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC and Bar, RN) (12-17 July), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN) (12-17 July), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN) (12-17 July), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN) (12-17 July), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN) (12-17 July), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN) (17-20 July), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN) (18-20 July), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) (17-20 July), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) (17-20 July), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) (17-20 July), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) (17-20 July), escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, RN) (18-20 July), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) (18-20 July), HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) (18-20 July) and sloop HMS Stork (Lt. G.T.S. Gray, DSC, RN) (12-13 July).
The merchant ships from the convoy departed either Avonmouth, Liverpool, the Clyde area and Belfast. The convoy was finally formed up at sea early on the 13th in position 55°40'N, 06°55'W.
The passage of the convoy was uneventful.
HMS Gurkha and ORP Garland left the convoy around 0330/15 reaching the limit of their endurance. HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck, HMS Vanoc and HMS Wanderer did the same around 1830/15. Around 2000/15 HMS Manxman joined the convoy, she parted company at 1900/16 and set course for Gibraltar. The merchant Avila Star had meanwhile left the convoy at 1000/16.
At 0700/17 the 8th Destroyer Flotilla was to join the convoy coming from Gibraltar but due to thick for no contact was made. At 1000/17 the Pasteur left the convoy for Gibraltar escorted by HMS Manchester, HMS Maori, HMS Lightning and HMAS Nestor. Shortly afterwards the fog lifted and the 8th Destroyer Flottilla was sighted and joined the convoy. At 1200/17 the Leinster also left the convoy for Gibraltar escorted by HMS Arethusa, HMS Cossack and HMS Sikh.
At 1800/18 HMS Firedrake joined the convoy coming from Gibraltar.
At 0700/18 HMS Avon Vale, HMS Eridge and HMS Farndale joined the Pasteur, HMS Manchester, HMS Lightning and HMAS Nestor. HMS Maori then left that group and joined the group that was made up of the Leinster, HMS Arethusa, HMS Cossack and HMS Sikh. HMS Manchester departed the ‘Pasteur group’ at 1000/19 to join the ‘Leinster group’ which she did at 1500/19.
The ‘Pasteur group’ arrived at Gibraltar shortly after noon on the 19th and around 0330/20 the ‘Leinster group’ arrived at Gibraltar. Troops aboard these ships then disembarked.
Around 0200/20, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Manxman, HMS Lightning, HMAS Nestor, HMS Avon Vale, HMS Eridge and HMS Farndale departed Gibraltar to rendez-vous with the now incoming convoy WS 9C. They joined the convoy shortly before noon, the six F-class destroyers of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla then left to refuel at Gibraltar.
For the continuation of the events see the event for 21 July 1941 on Operation Substance. (2)
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. (3)
30 Jul 1941
Ferrying of troops and supplies to Malta and diversery attack on Sardinia.
' Force X ', made up of the light cruisers HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) and HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), fast minelayer HMS Manxman (Capt. R.K. Dickson, RN) and escorted by the destroyers HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN) and HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN) departed Gibraltar on the 31 July 1941 carrying the troops and supplies that had been on the troopship Leinster and the light cruiser HMS Manchester which had not reached Malta during Operation Substance.
To cover ' Force X ', ' Force H ' departed Gibraltar on 30 July 1940 and it was made up of the battleship HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, now flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), battlecruiser HMS Renown (Rear-Admiral R.R. McGrigor, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN). They were also ordered to create a diversion for the operation.
An then these was also ' Force S ' which was made up of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941, master D.B.C. Ralph) escorted by the escort destroyer HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, RN). This force also departed Gibraltar on 30 July 1941.
At 1630/31, the destroyers HMS Cossack and HMS Maori were detached to bombard the harbours of Alghero and Port Conte on Sardinia and fire star shells for a night raid by aircraft from the aircraft carrier Ark Royal. Also the seaplane base at Porte Conte was to be attacked.
The destroyers at first proceeded as of making for the Straits of Bonifacio altering course after dark.
At 0130/1, HMS Maori parted company with HMS Cossack and proceeded toward Porte Conte while Cossack went towards Maddalena Island where she switched on her searchlight at 0220/1 to search the bay and the harbour. Cossack also fired starshell on various bearings from north to south-east and moved right into Alghero Roads. They harbour and roads were completely emptry and no targets could be found. One starshell started a fire in a building about 2 miles north of the town.
Meanwhile Maori had opened fire with starshell at 0210/1 in the entrance to Port Conte and steamed up the bay at 12 knots. The whole bay was illuminated and seen to be empty. Buildings on the hill to the east of the harbour were illuminated by searchlight and the Customs house and one other official looking building were demolished by gunfire at a range decreasing from 4000 to 2000 yards. A church between these two targets was not fired at. Maori detected a large number of sharp asdic contacts ahead and thinking they might be possibly caused by a line of mines, stopped engines and turned round.
At 0235/1, Cossack sighted a plane flying up the coast from the south and passing over Alghero. As there were no targets to be engaged and as he considered a sufficient diversion had been caused in the vicinity, Capt. Berthon ordered both destroyers to withdraw which they then did to the south-west. When clear of the 50 fathom line speed was increased to 32 knots and course was shaped to rejoin ' Force H ' after daylight.
At 0310/1, ' Force H ' alterered course together and HMS Ark Royal flew off 9 Swordfish from position 40°43'N, 06°35'E, for a bombing attack on Alghero airodrome. On completion of flying off the fleet withdrew on course 255° at 20 knots.
The aircraft, which were armed with four 250lb G.P. bombs, 40lb G.P. bombs and 20lb H.E. bombs abd flares were ordered to attack aircraft on the ground and the aerodrome buildings and hangars.
When they attacked two direct hits were observed on the equipment shop where a fire broke out. The eastern and western hangars and the living quarters were also hit and fired were caused in the two latter targets.
As soon as the flares illuminated the aerodrome considerable light AA fire was experienced but no aircraft was hit. No enemy aircraft were observed. A fire was burning in a two storey building just to the north of the town of Alghero which was probably that started by the starshell from HMS Cossack.
All aircraft returned to the carrier. Landing on began at 0621/1. As the third aircraft landed a 40lb G.P. bomb exploded which had probably hung up on the racks, exploded setting the aircraft on fire, blowing a hole in the deck and killing four officers and three ratings. One rating was wounded. The remaining aircraft now could not be landed before the remains of the burnt aircraft had been hauled aft and the flight deck was repaired. Also the arrestor gear was damaged by the explosion and had to be repaired. Repairs were completed at 0715/1 after the remaining six aircraft landed on. Course was continued to the westward and HMS Cossack and HMS Maori rejoined at 0800/1.
At 0812/1, an Italian aircraft was sighted but the fighters could not intercept as it hid in the low cloud.
Another aircraft was reported to the southward at 0852/1 but again the fighters failed to make contact. The aircraft was however believed to be a Spanish flying boat.
All aircraft were landed on by noon owing to low visibility and approaching heavy rain.
Attempts to refuel destroyers in the afternoon from Brown Ranger did not succeed owing to the weather and the tanker with its escort were ordered to proceed further to the south. HMS Cossack and HMS Maori went with them as they were the first that had to refuel. They were ordered to try to refuel during the night if possible ad make rendezvous with ' Force H ' at 0630/2.
At 1807/1, HMS Renown reported that her port bulge wa coming away and that she would require docking on arrival at Gibraltar and that high speed was undesirable except in an emergency.
Meanwhile ' Force X ' had proceeded to the eastward some 35 nautical miles from the African coast. They streamed paravanes at 0700/1 and then proceeded at 25 knots increasing to 26 knots at noon. At 2000/1 speed was increased to 28 knots which was Arethusa's best speed with paravanes streamed.
While ' Force X ' was passing south of Sardinia, ' Force H ' proceeded down the western side of the Balearics to make rendezvous with Brown Ranger the following morning.
At 0025/2, ' Force X ' intercepted an enemy report which might have emanated from a submarine sighting the force while it passed the Cani Rocks. Cape Bon was passed 1.5 nautical miles abeam to starboard at 0145/2.
At 0510/2 the light cruiser Hermione rammed and sank Italian submarine Tembien between Pantelleria and Linosa in position 36°21'N, 12°40'E. The light cruiser sustained only light damage. HMS Lightning was then briefly detached to search the area but soon rejoined having sighted nothing.
' Force X ' arrived safely at Malta at 0900/2.
Meanwhile ' Force H ', having passed to the westward of the Balearics during the night, made rendezvous with the Brown Ranger at 0630 some 40 nautical miles south-east of Ibiza. HMS Cossack and HMS Avon Vale had topped off with fuel ad HMS Maori who made an unsuccesful attempt before dark was completing with fuel as ' Force H ' approached.
There was a north-westerly wind force 4 and a slight south-west swell. Brown Ranger steamed to and fro south of te islands on courses either directly with or against the prevailing south-westerly swell whilst ' Force H ' cruised within visibility distance changing destroyers as necessary for fuelling. Problems with the gear on board the Brown Ranger caused some delays. All destroyers were however able to refuel and at 1900/2 Brown Ranger was ordered to return to Gibraltar now escorted by HMS Eridge.
While oiling was tanking place and A/S patrol was kept up over the area while a fighter patrol was kept ready on the deck of HMS Ark Royal.
At 1900/2, after the last destroyers had just completed fuelling, ' Force H ' altered course to 102° at 18 knots. Speed was increased to 20 knots at 2200/2 to rendezvous with ' Force X ' about 0830/3 in position 38°05'N, 07°28'E.
While ' Force H ' had been spending the day south of the Balearics, ' Force X ' was unloading troops and stores and fuelling at Malta. ' Force X ' sailed at 1600/2 augumented by the escort destroyer HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) who had completed repairs at Malta. The force proceeded at 24 knots, this being HMS Farndale's best speed. When north of Gozo, HMS Farndale reported that she could not maintain a higher speed than 18 knots. She was then ordered by HMS Hermione to return to Malta.
' Force X ' then increased speed to 26 knots and returned by the same route which they had followed successfully on the eastward passage through Tunisian territorial waters. Owing to loss of paravanes HMS Hermione was stationed astern of the line, which was led by HMS Arethusa.
At 2215/2, RDF indicated a low flying aircraft 20 miles to the southward and up moon. The aircraft came straight in, unseen, and passing about 1000 feet overhead, opened 8 miles to the northward and faded. It was though the aircraft had failed to sight the force but a little later it returned and appeared to circle ahead.
At 2225/2 when in position 36°28'N, 12°00'E, the aircraft approached at right angles on HMS Hermione'sHermione's stern. The aircraft was engaged by pom-pom and seen to jink just before dropping it's torpedo which missed well astern. The speed of ' Force X ' was evidently considerably underestimated. The aircraft which did not appear to be hit was held by RDF as far as Pantellaria before it faded. Twenty minutes later a shore station was heard apparently homing an aircraft but no enemy report was intercepted.
At 0027/3, ' Force X ' was turning to starboard to approach Kelibia a small darkeneded vesel was sighted at about 5000 yards on the port beam. Guns and searchlights were trained on but as the vessel drew into the path of the moon it was identified as a small schooner. The order was passed to 'revert to normal' but Hermione's pom-pom opened fire at about 4000 yards. HMS Manxman and HMS Arethusa both joining in. Cease fire was immediately ordered by W/T. No hits were observed.
' Force X ' proceeded without further incident to rendezvous with ' Force H '. A low layer of misty cloud and reduced visibility probably accounted for the abence of enemy air reconnaissance.
At 0612/3, HMS Ark Royal, flew off a reconnaissance of three aircraft along tracks 080°, 093° and 106° to a depth of 80 miles to locate ' Force X ' and any enemy forces that might be to the northward and between forces ' X ' and ' H '.
At 0640/3, HMS Foresight sighted a floating mine and sank it with small arms fire. HMS Foresight was then stationed 3 miles 160° from HMS Nelson to asist in homing in the reconnaissance aircraft.
The first fighter patrol was flown off at 0700/3. An hour later the reconnaissance aircraft returned reporting ' Force X ' bearing 117°, 33 nautical miles from HMS Nelson. No enemy forces had been sighted. HMS Foresight was then ordered to rejoin the destroyer screen.
at 0835/3, when ' Force H ' was 75 nautical miles west-north-west of Galita, ' Force X ' was sighted 6 nautical miles to the eastward.
' Force H ' altered course to 270° as ' Force X ' joined and the whole fleet withdrew to the westward at 20 knots. Visibility gradually improved.
At 0927/3, while the visibility was still low, an enemy aircraft was sighted and one section of fighters was sent to investigate. The enemy only entered the visibility circle to the north-west for a very short period before making off at high speed on a course of 250°. The fighters were not able to intercept the enemy.
At 1006/3, a shadower was detected by RDF and four fighters in the air were sent to intercept. The enemy was engaged by one of the Fulmars but was able to take cover in the clouds and disappeared to the north-east.
An emeny report was intercepted at 1045/3 indicating that this aircraft reported the position of the fleet at 1010/3. No further enemy aircraft were sighted.
Course was altered to 260° at 1515/3 and speed was reduced to 18 knots as by this time HMS Repulse's port bulge had started to fold back. At 1917/3 course was altered to 250°.
Low visibility probably persised in the vicinity of Cagliari during the forenoon and early afternoon may have been partly responsible for the enemy's lack of enterprise.
At 0400 when in position 37°22'N, 01°01'E, look-outs in HMS Avon Vale heard shouts and after investigating picked up an RAF sergeant pilot from a rubber dinghy. He was the sole survivor of a Wellington aircraft whichhad force landed on the night of 31 July when en-route from Gibraltar to Malta.
At daylight the fleetwas divided into three groups to facilitate berthing arrangements at Gibraltar. Group one comprising HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione, HMS Lightning, HMS Sikh, HMS Encounter and HMS Forester proceeded ahead at 27 knots and entered harbour at 2030/4.
Group two, comprising HMS Nelson, HMS Arethusa, HMS Manxman, HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight, HMS Foxhound and HMS Fury proceeded at 20 knots and entered harbour at 2230 hours.
And finally, Group three, comprising HMS Renown, HMS Cossack, HMS Maori, HMAS Nestor and HMS Avon Vale proceeded at 18 knots and entered harbour at midnight. (4)
8 Aug 1941
The battlecruiser HMS Renown (Rear-Admiral R.R. McGrigor, RN) and the troopship Pasteur (30447 GRT, built 1939) departed Gibraltar around 0130/8 for Rosyth and the Clyde respectively. They are escorted by the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN) and HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN).
At 2000/11, the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Impulsive (Lt.Cdr. W.S. Thomas, DSC, RN) and HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) departed Scapa Flow at 2000/11 to meet HMS Renown at 1700/12 in 55°45'N, 13°00'W and escort her to Rosyth.
Rendezvous was effected at 2115/17 and HMS Renown with these destroyers then parted company with the Pasteur which proceeded to the Clyde with HMS Cossack, HMS Maori, HMS Sikh and HMS Lightning.
HMS Renown, HMS Inglefield, HMS Impulsive and HMS Eclipse arrived at Rosyth at 1100/14.
19 Aug 1941
Evacuation of Spitsbergen and destruction of mining facilities.
Around 1530/19, the light cruisers HMS Nigeria (Capt. J.G.L. Dundas, RN), HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN) and the destroyers HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSO, RN) and HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) left Scapa Flow to make rendezvous off the Butt of Lewis with the aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. T.O. Bulteel, RN), destroyers HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN) and HMS Intrepid (Cdr. R.C. Gordon, DSO, RN) and the troopship Empress of Canada (21517 GRT, built 1922) which had departed the Clyde around 0200/19.
They made rendezvous around 2100/19, when HMS Argus with HMS Tartar, HMS Intrepid and HMS Escapade proceeded to Scapa Flow where they arrived at 0230/20. These ships took no part in the upcoming operation 'Gauntlet'.
The Empress of Canada, escorted by HMS Nigeria, HMS Aurora, HMS Anthony, HMS Antelope and HMS Icarus (also known as 'Force A' set course for Hvalfiord, Iceland where they arrived at 0730/21.
After fuelling they sailed for Spitsbergen at 2200/21.
The RFA tanker Oligargh (6897 GRT, built 1918) escorted by the trawlers HMS Elm (T/Lt. E.W.C. Dempster, RNVR), HMS Hazel (T/Lt. R. Thorne, RNVR), HMS Van Oost (Skr. A. Bruce, RNR) and the whaler HMS Sealyham (T/Lt. C.E. Jefferson, RNR) had already departed for the upcoming operation around 2330/18.
They arrived off Barentsburg, Spitsbergen around 0800/24. On board the Empress of Canada were Canadian troops, engeneers, sappers, etc., etc. These were landed to demolish the mining equipment and to burn stocks of coal already mined. The soviet workforce was embarked on the Empress of Canada as was some of the equipment they want to take with them. The Oligargh and her escorts also arrived on the 24th.
Around 1800/26, HMS Aurora joined the captured Norwegian merchant vessels (colliers, which had been in German service) Ingerto (3089 GRT, 1920), Munin (1285 GRT, built 1899), Nandi (1999 GRT, built 1920) and their escort the whaler HMS Sealyham which were bound for Reykjavik, Iceland. HMS Aurora left the convoy at 0400/27 and returned to Spitsbergen around 0845/27. HMS Sealyham and the colliers arrived in Iceland on 1 September 1941.
Around 2330/26, the Empress of Canada departed Barentsburg for Archangelsk escorted by HMS Nigeria, HMS Anthony, HMS Antelope and HMS Icarus. They arrived at Archangelsk around 1200/29. HMS Aurora remained behind at Spitsbergen.
The force departed Archangelsk to return to Spitsbergen around 1100/30. They arrived in the Isfiord around 2230/1. The Norwegians from Longyearbyen were then embarked on board the Empress of Canada as were the Canadian soldiers.
Empress of Canada, HMS Nigeria, HMS Aurora, HMS Anthony, HMS Antelope and HMS Icarus departed for the UK around 2200/3.
The RFA tanker Oligargh and the caputured icebreaker Isbjørn and the seal catchers Agnes, Polaris and Strømsnes Also departed Spitsbergen for Iceland [time of depature not known to us]. They were escorted by the trawlers HMS Elk, HMS Hazel and HMS Van Oost. On 10 September 1941 the Isbjørn, Agnes, Polaris and Strømsnes, escorted by HMS Elk arrived at Akureyi, Iceland. Later they went on to Reykjavik, arriving there on 14 September 1941. On the same day the Oligargh also arrived at Reykjavik escorted by HMS Hazel and HMS Van Oost.
Around 0001/5, HMS Kenya and HMS Aurora parted company to proceed on further operations but not before oiling from the Oligargh late in the morning / early in the afternoon of the same day.
Around 0715/6, the light cruiser HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN) departed Scapa Flow to join the Empress of Canada and her three escorting destroyers. HMS Penelope joined them around 1800/6.
Around 0615/7, HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN) joined company, having departed Scapa Flow around 2200/6, and HMS Antelope and HMS Anthony parted company and set course to proceed to Scapa Flow where they arrived around 1000/7.
Around 0630/7, HMS Penelope also parted company and set course to return to Scapa Flow arriving there around 1030/7.
Empress of Canada now continued on to the Clyde escorted by HMS Icarus and HMS Lightning. They arrived in the Clyde around 2300/7. (5)
29 Aug 1941
Around 1300 hours HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) departed Scapa Flow for Greenock. She was escorted by the destroyers HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Vivacious (Lt.Cdr. R. Alexander, RN) and the escort destroyer HMS Badsworth (Lt.Cdr. M.S. Townsend, DSC and Bar, OBE, RN).
Off Scapa Flow they were joined by HMS Sheffield (Capt. A.W. Clarke, RN) which also took passage to Greenock.
30 Aug 1941
Around 1000 hours, HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. A.W. Clarke, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Vivacious (Lt.Cdr. R. Alexander, RN) and HMS Badsworth (Lt.Cdr. M.S. Townsend, DSC and Bar, OBE, RN) arrived at Greenock.
9 Sep 1941
Around 0600/9, the new and uncompleted battleship Duke of York (Capt. C.H.J. Harcourt, CBE, RN) departed the Clyde for the Rosyth Dockyard for furthrer outfitting. She was escorted by the light cruiser HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN) and the destroyers HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSO, RN) and HMS Vivacious (Lt.Cdr. R. Alexander, RN).
HMS Penelope was detached around 1330/10 to proceed to Scapa Flow where she arrived around 2145/10.
Around 1600/10, when off the boom to the Firth of Forth, HMS Lightning and HMS Icarus were detached. HMS Lightning proceeded to Scapa Flow arriving there around 0530/11. She had been delayed as when she was on passage to Scapa Flow she collided with the fishing trawler
Duke of York and HMS Vivacious arrived at Rosyth around 1700/10. (6)
17 Sep 1941
Convoy WS 11X, Troop convoy from Liverpool / Clyde to Gibraltar.
On 16 September 1941 the ships Ajax (7797 GRT, built 1931), City of Lincoln (8039 GRT, built 1938) departed from Liverpool to make rendes-vous the following day off Orsay Island with the following ships that had departed the Clyde on the 17th; City of Calcutta (8063 GRT, built 1940), Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938), Clan Macdonald (9653 GRT, built 1939), Dunedin Star (11168 GRT, built 1936), Imperial Star (12427 GRT, built 1934), Rowallan Castle (7801 GRT, built 1939), HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) (Capt.(ret.) C.A.G. Hutchison, RN), HMS Princess Beatrix (4136 GRT, built 1939) (Cdr.(ret.) T.B. Brunton, RN), HMS Queen Emma (4136 GRT, built 1939) (Capt.(ret.) G.L.D. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Royal Scotsman (3288 GRT, built 1936) (T/Cdr. J.W. Peters, RNR), HMS Ulster Monarch (3791 GRT, built 1929) (T/Cdr. J. Wilson, RNR) and Leinster (4302 GRT, built 1937).
Most of the ships of this convoy were to form the convoy for operation Halberd from Gibraltar to Malta. The following ships made only the passage to Gibraltar with convoy WS 11X; HMS Princess Beatrix, HMS Queen Emma, HMS Royal Scotsman, HMS Ulster Monarch and Leinster.
Escort for this convoy was provided by; the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), the British light cruisers HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN) and HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), the British destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, DSO, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Oribi (Lt.Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, RN), HMS Havelock (Cdr. E.H. Thomas, DSC, RN), HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, DSC, RN), HMS Whitehall (Lt.Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN), HMS Witch (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Holmes, RN), HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSC, RN), the Polish destroyers ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. K.F. Namiesniowski, ORP) and the Dutch destroyer HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNethN).
In the evening of the 19th (2115 hours, B.S.T.) the destroyers HMS Havelock and HMS Harvester were detached from the convoy to escort the liner (troopship) Stratheden (23722 GRT, built 1937) all the way to Halifax. Until that moment the Stratheden had also been part of convoy WS 11X. The position in which these ships were detached was 50°57'N, 24°55'E.
On 21 September the convoy was joined by three destroyers coming from Gibraltar; HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN). These destroyers had sailed from Gibraltar on the 18th.
Also sailed from Gibraltar on the 18th was the British aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN) escorted by the British destroyers HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN) to provide cover for the convoy. Following this HMS Furious was then to proceed to Bermuda and finally to the US for a refit. The destroyers then made rendes-vous with the British battleship HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN) coming from a refit in the United States. They then provided cover for the convoy joining it around 1200/21. Shortly after Rodney had joined the convoy HMS Prince of Wales left the convoy for Gibraltar escorted by HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning and HMS Oribi. They arrived at Gibraltar to fuel late on the 23th. They departed Gibraltar around 0400/24 and rejoined the convoy west of Gibraltar around 1200/24. Before Prince of Wales rejoined the convoy HMS Rodney had departed the convoy and also headed for Gibraltar escorted by the destroyers ORP Piorun, ORP Garland and HrMs Isaac Sweers. Rodney and her escorting destroyers arrived at Gibraltar at 0900/24. In the evening of the 24th, HMS Nelson sailed westwards escorted by the same destroyers that had brought HMS Rodney in giving the German and Italian spies across the Bay in Spanish Algeciras the impression that HMS Rodney had just relieved HMS Nelson as flagship of Force H. This diversion seemed to have had the desired effect. During the night HMS Nelson and her escorting destroyers reversed course and passed the Straits of Gibraltar to the eastward unseen after dark.
On the 20th the British light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. A.W. Clarke, RN) and the British destroyer HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN) also departed Gibraltar to provide cover for the convoy.
On the 21th the cruisers HMS Kenya and HMS Euryalus departed the convoy for Gibraltar where they both arrived at 2300/22. After fuelling they departed before daylight on the 23th to rejoin the convoy to the west of Gibraltar.
On the 23th the British destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC, RN), HMS Heythrop (Lt.Cdr R.S. Stafford, RN) and HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) bolstered the escort in the approaches to Gibraltar joining the convoy around 0800/24. Also on the 24th light cruiser HMS Edinburgh (Capt. H.W. Faulkner, RN) departed Gibraltar a 1230 hours to join the convoy.
Also on the 24th two groups of destroyers arrived at Gibraltar to refuel. The destroyers HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Gurkha and HMS Lance arrived at 1600 hours. The destroyers HMS Legion, HMS Lively and HMS Zulu arrived at 1800 hours.
See 25 September 1941 'Convoy operation Halberd' for the continuation of the events..
25 Sep 1941
Operation Halberd Supply convoy to Malta.
Continuation of the events of 17 September 1941, convoy WS 11X.
Situation at 1800 hours on 24 September 1941.
At 1800/24 the situation was as follows; Convoy WS 11X was to the west of Gibraltar escorted at that moment by the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral A.T.B. Curteis, CB, RN), the British light cruisers HMS Edinburgh (Capt. H.W. Faulkner, RN), HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN, H.M. Burrough, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. A.W. Clarke, RN), the British destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, DSO, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Oribi (Lt.Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, RN), HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), the British escort destroyers HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) and HMS Heythrop (Lt.Cdr R.S. Stafford, RN).
At Gibraltar were the British battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN), the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), the British light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), the British destroyers HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN with Capt. D.(13) Capt. H.W. Williams, RN, on board), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), the Polish destroyers ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. K.F. Namiesniowski, ORP) and the Dutch destroyer HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNethN). Also at Gibraltar was the RFA oiler Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941) and the British corvette HMS Fleur de Lys (Lt.(Retd.) A. Collins, RNR).
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. (7)
1 Oct 1941
Around 2000 hours, HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), departed Gibraltar for Scapa Flow. She was escorted by the British destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Oribi (Lt.Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, RN) and HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN).
At 0800/4, HMS Lively was detached and returned to Gibraltar. (8)
20 Oct 1941
Around 1030 hours, HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN) departed Scapa Flow for Greenock. She is escorted by the destroyers HMS Bedouin (Cdr. B.G. Scurfield, OBE, RN) and HMS Punjabi (Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN).
HMS Bedouin and HMS Punjabi then returned to Scapa Flow. (9)
21 Oct 1941
Around 1100 hours, HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN) arrived at Greenock. About one hour earlier her escorting destroyers, HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN) and HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), had been detached. (9)
22 Oct 1941
Around 1500/22 HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN) departed Greenock for Gibraltar. She was escorted by the destroyer HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN). Off the Clyde, at 1945/22, they were joined by the destroyers HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, DSC, RN) and HMS Havelock (Cdr. E.H. Thomas, DSC, RN).
27 Oct 1941
Around 1430 hours HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN) and HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, DSC, RN) arrived at Gibraltar.
Upon arriving HMS Malaya collided with a moored tanker, the Norwegian Hoegh Hood (9351 GRT, built 1936). Damage was minor to HMS Malaya. (9)
2 Nov 1941
Late in the evening, HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN), departed Gibraltar for the U.K. She was escorted by HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, DSC, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNN). (10)
5 Nov 1941
At 0900 hours (zone -1), HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN) and her escorting destroyers HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Zulu(Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, DSC, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNN), made rendez-vous in approximate position 41°36'N, 19°54'W with HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN), HMS Athene (Cdr. R.W. Jones, RD, RNR) and their escorting destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, DSC, RN), HMS Havelock (Cdr. E.H. Thomas, DSC, RN) and HMS Highlander (Cdr. S. Boucher, RN).
HMS Rodney then continued on the the U.K. but with HMS Harvester, HMS Havelock and HMS Highlander as escorts.
HMS Argus and HMS Athene continued their passage to Gibraltar but now escorted by HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Gurkha, HMS Zulu and HrMs Isaac Sweers. (10)
7 Nov 1941
HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN), HMS Athene (Cdr. R.W. Jones, RD, RNR) and their escorting destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, DSC, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNN) arrive Gibraltar around 2300 hours (zone -1). (11)
10 Nov 1941
Operation Perpetual and the sinking of HMS Ark Royal
Transfer of Hurrican fighters (from aircraft carriers) and Blenheim bombers (from Gibraltar) to Malta.
10 November 1941.
At 0235 hours (zone -1) on 10 November 1941, Force H departed Gibraltar for operation Perpetual. Force H was made up of the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, KBE, DSO, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, CBE, RN), HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN) and the light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN). They were escorted by seven destroyers; HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, DSC, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNN).
At 0800 hours, HMS Argus flew off one aircraft for A/S patrol and a Catalina aircraft joined from Gibraltar at 0930 hours. The force passed to the north of Alboran Island. A French merchant vessel was sighted ahead at 1526 hours. She was north bound. During the afternoon AA firing exercises were carried out.
11 November 1941.
Force H continued to the eastward during the night. As the takeoff of the Blenheim bombers from Gibraltar was delayed due to unsuitable weather conditions it was decided that Force H would withdraw to the westward for a while, with the dual object of increasing the distance to the enemy air bases in Sardinia and to give the impression to possible enemy shadowers that the fly off of the Hurricanes had already taken place, and that Force H was already retiring.
At 0935 two aircraft were reported by RDF to the southward. Later the echo faded, but they were sighted flying very low over the Algerian coast. They were too far to be identified and were thought to be possibly French. However a report timed 0935 by an Italian reconnaissance aircraft was intercrypted shortly afterward and it became clear that the two aircraft were in fact Italian.
As hurricanes were range on Ark Royal’s flight deck, making it impossible for her to operate her own fighters. Argus had two Sea Hurricanes ranged, but the enemy aircraft disappeared before these could be launched.
Between 1835 and 1910 hours Vice-Admiral Somerville had a message transmitted that unless the Hurricanes could be flown off the following morning he intended to return to Gibraltar, as he did not consider it desirable to remain in this area without A/S air and fighter patrols.
At 2130 hours, Force H turned to the eastward again towards the flying off position.
12 November 1941.
Shortly after midnight a signal was received that it was intended that the carriers could launch their Hurricanes for Malta at 1000 hours.
At 0743 hours a signal was received that the firt group of Blenheim bombers was airborn at that they would be near the takeoff position of the Hurricanes shortly after 1000 hours.
Between this time and the completion of flying off of all the land Hurricanes, no fighters were available for the interception of enemy aircraft.
Two aircraft, presumed hostile, were detected by RDF to the north-eastward at 0907 hours, but they were not sighted. Later a report from an Italian reconnaissance aircraft time 0907 hours was intercripted, and this no doubt originated from one of these two aircraft.
At 1004 hours four Blenheim bombers were sighted and by 1021 hours 13 Hurricanes had been launched by Ark Royal and 6 by Argus. One of the Hurricanes that was to be launched from Ark Royal had troubles with the engine and was, after repairs, included in the second batch that was to be launched.
At 1048 hours, two more Blenheims were sighted, and within five minutes Ark Royal had flown off the first of the Hurricanes for her second batch. By 1112 hours all Hurricanes had been launched by the carriers and they made off with the Blenheims for Malta.
By 1130 hours all ships were back in position after the flying off operations and course was set to the west. From Ark Royal one Swordfish was flown off for A/S duties and four Fulmars for fighter patrol. These patrols were maintained until dusk.
At 1425 hours HMS Ark Royal reported an aircraft in sight low down to the southward. The four Fulmar fighters were vectored but a section of two Fulmars only sighted the enemy until on the return trip from the chase. One of the Fulmars was able to fire one good burst of gunfire from 300 yards before the enemy aircraft escaped into the clouds. Both wings of this Fulmar were damaged by enemy gunfire. Two sighting reports from this aircraft were intercepted.
Between 1500 and 1515 hours RDF reported that enemy aircraft were shadowing the fleet but by now weather had deteriorated and there was much low rain cloud. Although fighters were vectored no interceptions were made.
At 1625 hours hours Malta reported the arrival of 34 Hurricanes and 7 Blenheims. One Blenheim had returned to Gibraltar with engine trouble. Also a report on U-boat sightings in the Western Mediterranean was received.
Late in the evening speed had to be reduced in the bad weather to avoid weather damage to the escorting destroyers.
13 November 1941
At 0140 hours, weather had improved at bit and speed was increased by one knot to 17 knots but by 0500 hous weather had worsened even further then earlier and speed was reduced to 15 knots. This was only temporary though and at 0630 hours speed was increased to 17 knots and by 0800 hours (daylight) even to 19 knots.
An underwater explosion was observed by HMS Legion in her wake at 0413 hours. This was also heard be several of the other ships. Legion at that time was the starboard wing destroyer. This was thought to be a torpedo exploding at the end of its run.
This might well be correct as according to German sources the German submarine U-205, at 0506 hours (Berlin time), made a torpedo attack on a force of enemy warships but no hits were obtained.
At 0645 hours, Ark Royal flew of an AS patrol of six Swordfish for a dawn A/S patrol. They sighted nothing. They returned at 0850 hours. More A/S patrol were maintained throughout the day.
At 0817 hours a report was received that submarine were to be expected to be in the area. Course was now altered to approach Gibraltar directly from the east and not as was usually the case along the Spanish or Maroccan coast.
Later in the morning HMS Laforey and later HMS Lightning both reports A/S contacts and the fleet evaded these.
The fleet conducted exercises in the afternoon. HMS Laforey reported another A/S contact and the fleet once again made an emergency turn. The contact was however soon classified as ‘non sub’ and the main course was promptly resumed.
At 1541 hours, while in position 36°03’N, 04°40’W HMS Ark Royal was hit by a torpedo on the starboard side. Following this HMS Malaya immediately altered course to port and increased speed. HMS Legion and HMS Gurkha, the rear destroyers on the starboard wing at once turned outwards and started an A/S search to the north and east of the Ark Royal, the most probable area where the attacker must have been.
At this time HMS Ark Royal was still going ahead at considerable speed, listing to starboard and apparently under port wheel. A number of her aircraft were still circling overhead as she had been conducting aircraft operations when she was hit.
At 1549 hours, HMS Laforey and HMS Lightning were ordered to join HMS Ark Royal who appeared to be loosing speed. Signals were also made to require tugs to be sent out from Gibraltar and all available A/S craft to be sent out to patrol the area. HMS Hermione was ordered to stand by HMS Ark Royal The remaining three destroyers, HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu and HrMs Isaac Sweers were ordered to screen HMS Malaya.
By 1610 hours, HMS Ark Royal was laying stopped and listing heavily to starboard but she reported she had steam on her port engine. HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning and HMS Gurkha had closed her and were circling Ark Royal. HMS Legion was alongside Ark Royal. HMS Hermione was still closing. HMS Malaya and her three escorting destroyers were about 5 miles off and proceeding to Gibraltar at 18 knots as was HMS Argus who was some distance astern of her but catching up on Malaya. At 1615 hours Argus flew off two Swordfish aircraft for A/S patrol.
At 1710 hours, when 8 nautical miles eastwards of Europa Point, HMS Malaya was passed by units coming out of Gibraltar to assist. These were the destroyer HMS Wild Swan (Lt.Cdr. C.E.L. Sclater, RN), motor launches ML 121, ML 130, ML 132, ML 135, ML 170, ML 172, ML 176 and the tugs St. Omar and Thames. Shortly before the tug St. Day had also been sighted proceeding eastwards. Besides these ships the destroyer HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, RN) had also been ordered to proceed to the east.
HMS Malaya and HMS Argus entered harbour around 1820 hours and before she was berthed Vice-Admiral Somerville had transferred to HMS Sikh and went out again to proceed to HMS Ark Royal. Shortly before Sikh left the harbour the destroyer HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN) had also left the harbour to assist. Sikh, Zulu, Isaac Sweers and Wishart joined the patrol near Ark Royal for the night.
At 1900 hours, three corvettes departed Gibaltar to assist. These were; HMS Rhododendron (Lt. H.I. Davis, RNVR), HMS Marigold (T/Lt. J. Renwick, RNR), HMS Pentstemon (Lt.Cdr. J. Byron, RNR). This last corvette had a large 6” portable pump on board
The trawlers HMS St. Nectan (T/Lt.Cdr. H.B. Phillips, RNR) and HMS Lady Shirley (Lt.Cdr. A.H. Callaway, RANVR) had also been sailed around 1715 hours to patrol the area. They had not been very near to Ark Royal during the coming night.
Around 2040 hours the situation was as follows. Ark Royal was being towed by Thames and St. Day. The tow was proceeding at 2 knots. It was hoped that Ark Royal was able to raise steam shortly.
At 2224 hours, the Capt. (D) 19th Destroyer Flotilla on board Laforey reported that Ark Royal had her own steam and power and that flooding was apparently under contral and that no more tugs would be required until off the harbour. Shortly afterwards Vice-Admiral Somerville therefore ordered the three corvettes to establish A/S patrol astern of the Ark Royal and to close her only by daylight.
At 2355 hours, HMS Legion arrived at Gibraltar packed with crew of HMS Ark Royal which were not needed in the rescue effort. After landing these she proceeded back to sea.
14 November 1941
At 0221 hours, the Capt. (D) 19th Destroyer Flotilla reported that Ark Royal had lost steam (and power) and that a powerful pump would be required. Another signal at 0242 hours stated that another tug would be required. This indicated that the situation was deteriorating. Vice-Admiral Somerville therefore ordered HMS Sikh to close. HMS Pentstemon, the corvette with the portable pump on board, was also ordered to close. From Gibraltar the tug Rollicker was also sent out to assist.
On approaching HMS Laforey, which was alongside Ark Royal together with St. Day, signaled to Sikh that Vice-Admiral Somerville could better transfer to an ML which he did. At 0430 hours Vice-Admiral Somerville boarded Laforey to find she was on the point of casting off from HMS Ark Royal. Capt. Maund was also on board Laforey with the last of the steaming party. Ark Royal now had a list of 35° and was listing still further judging by the straining and parting of wires securing the ships alongside her. The situation was reported by signal to the Admiralty at 0446 hours.
After getting clear in HMS Laforey, Vice-Admiral Somerville, ordered St. Day to go ahead of Thames but at 0600 hours Thames reported that she had cast off the tow as Ark Royal was sinking. The carrier turned over at 0613 hours and remained bottom up for a few minutes after which she disappeared from sight. This was reported by signal to the Admiralty at 0623 hours.
Vice-Admiral Somerville then ordered the Capt. (D) 19th Destroyer Flotilla to take all destroyers in the area under his command and to commence an A/S sweep to the eastward. He was instructed to return to Gibraltar by dark. In the end HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Gurkha, HMS Legion and HMS Zulu returned to Gibraltar at 1535/14 followed about 15 minutes later by HMS Wild Swan.
Vice-Admiral Somerville himself returned to Gibraltar in HMS Sikh arriving at 0830 hours as did HrMs Isaac Sweers at 0900 hours. (4)
16 Nov 1941
Late in the evening of 16 November 1941, HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN) departed Gibraltar for the U.K. They were escorted by HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN), HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN), HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNN).
At dawn on 17 November 1941, Argus escorted the destroyers Laforey, Lightning, Legion and Isaac Sweers left the formation to return to Gibraltar where they arrived late in the evening of 19 November. The other three destroyers escorted the capital ships all the way to the U.K.
HMS Hermione remained with the formation longer, until midnight of the night of 18/19 November. She returned to Gibraltar shortly after noon on 21 November.
22 Nov 1941
HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNN) departed Gibraltar at 0900 hours for exercises.
During the night of 22/23 November they carried out an extensive A/S search to the east of Gibraltar about 18 nautical miles beyond Malaga.
The next day, around 0200 hours, HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) joined them for the exercises.
HMS Hermione returned to Gibraltar shortly before noon on the 23th. HMS Laforey returned at 1400/23, HMS Maori and HrMs Isaac Sweers returned at 1612/23. The last to returned were HMS Lightning and HMS Legion returned to the harbour of Gibraltar at 1745.
26 Nov 1941
HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNN) departed Gibraltar at 0430 hours for an A/S sweep to the west of Gibraltar. When leaving the harbour Isaac Sweers collided with a Catalina aircraft damaging the port wing of the aircraft seriously. The destroyer sustained no damage.
At 0949 hours three explosions were heard close astern of the destroyers in position 36°02'N, 07°00'W. At 1037 hours (Berlin time, which differed one hour from the time kept on board the destroyers) the German U-boat U-652 fired three torpedoes at a 'destroyer of the J-class' in grid CG 94. All missed. It therefore seems likely that U-652 attacked either Laforey or Lightning (they both had one funnel like the 'J-class') in this failed attack. The U-boat was hunted for about two hours but managed to get away undetected.
HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN) joined the other destroyers the next day having departed Gibraltar at 2215/26.
On 28 November Capt. Hutton was ordered to continue the A/S patrol with four destroyers sending one of his destroyers a day to Gibraltar to fuel.
On 30 November Capt. Hutton was ordered to split his force into pairs during daytime and concentrate the force during nighttime. (4)
8 Feb 1942
Force H made up of 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), destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) and the escort destroyer 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) departed Gibraltar for the Clyde.
13 Feb 1942
Force H made up of 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), destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) and the escort destroyer 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) arrived in the Clyde from Gibraltar.
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.
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. (12)
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. (13)
26 Feb 1942
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. (14)
6 Mar 1942
Operation Spotter II.
Transfer of Spitfire fighters to Malta.
Around 0400 hours 'Force H' departed Gibraltar for Operation Spotter II, a renewed attempt to fly off Spitfire fighters 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 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) and HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. J.D. Hayes, DSO, RN).
At 1018/7 the first flight of Spitfire fighters for Malta was launched from position 37°29'N, 03°18'E. All eight Spitfires from 'A' flight were airbone at 1032/7.
Meanwhile signals were intercepted that 'Force H' had been reported by German and Italian aircraft.
At 1146/7 the first aircraft of the second flight of Spitfires for Malta was launched. All seven aircraft from 'B' flight were airborne by 1157/7.
Course was then set to return to Gibraltar while it was till being shadowed by enemy aircraft.
In the evening a signal was received that all aircraft had arrived safely at Malta.
On the 8th various exercises were carried out.
At 1330/8 HMS Hermione was detached to act as a target for an exercise by the 9.2" shore battery of the Rock of Gibraltar.
At 1344/8 HMS Eagle, HMS Argus escorted by HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Anthony, HMS Blankney and HMS Croome were detached to conduct flying exercises. After HMS Hermione completed her exercise she joined this group.
At 1420/8 HMS Malaya entered the harbour and immediately proceeded into No.1 dock for periodical docking. She had been escorted by the remaining destroyers; HMS Active, HMS Wishart and HMS Whitehall. HMS Active and HMS Wishart then joined the carrier group while HMS Whitehall also entered the harbour for repairs to her condensors.
Between 1800/8 and 1840/8, HMS Eagle, HMS Argus and HMS Hermione entered the harbour. The destroyers remained out for night exercises upon completion of which they also returned to harbour. (14)
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. (15)
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. (15)
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.
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.
1 Aug 1942
HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN) picked up 39 survivors (and a dog) from the Norwegian tanker Tankexpress that was torpedoed and sunk on 25 July 1942 by German U-boat U-130 south of the Cape Verde Islands in position 10°05'N, 26°31'W.
10 Aug 1942
Convoy WS 21S, Operation Pedestal.
Convoy WS 21S and the concentration of the escort forces
Convoy WS 21S departed the Clyde on 2 August 1942. The convoy was made up of the following ships; American freighters; Almeria Lykes (7773 GRT, built 1940), Santa Elisa (8379 GRT, built 1941), British freighters; Brisbane Star (12791 GRT, built 1937), Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938), Deucalion (7516 GRT, built 1930), Dorset (10624 GRT, built 1934), Empire Hope (12688 GRT, built 1941), Glenorchy (8982 GRT, built 1939), Melbourne Star (11076 GRT, built 1936), Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933), Rochester Castle (7795 GRT, built 1937), Waimarama (12843 GRT, built 1938), Wairangi (12436 GRT, built 1935), and the American tanker; Ohio (9264 GRT, built 1940).
These ships were escorted by light cruisers HMS Nigeria (Capt. S.H. Paton, RN, flying the flag of the Rear-Admiral 10th C.S., Sir H.M. Burrough, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Kenya (Capt. A.S. Russell, RN) and the destroyers HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN), HMS Venomous (Cdr. H.W. Falcon-Stewart, RN), HMS Wolverine (Lt.Cdr. P.W. Gretton, OBE, DSC, RN), HMS Malcolm (A/Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN), HMS Amazon (Lt.Cdr.(Emgy) Lord Teynham, RN), HMS Derwent (Cdr. R.H. Wright, DSC, RN) and HMS Zetland (Lt. J.V. Wilkinson, RN).
A cover force made up of departed Scapa Flow on the same day. This force was made up of the battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN) and HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, DSO, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN), HMS Somali (Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN), HMS Tartar (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN), HMS Pathfinder (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Penn (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RN) and HMS Quentin (Lt.Cdr. A.H.P. Noble, DSC, RN). They were to rendez-vous with convoy WS 21S at sea on 3 August. HMS Penn was delayed by a defect and after topping off with fuel at Moville, Northern Ireland overtook the force and joined at sea.
The aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Rear Admiral A.L.St.G. Lyster, CB, CVO, DSO, RN) and the light cruiser HMS Sirius (Capt. P.W.B. Brooking, RN) meanwhile had already left Scapa Flow on 31 July 1941 to rendez-vous with the convoy. They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Intrepid (Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Campbell, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. R.A. Fell, RN). These ships were joined at sea on 1 August 1942 by the aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, RN), loaded with spare fighter aircraft for the operation, and her two escorts the destroyers HMS Buxton (Lt.Cdr. I.J. Tyson, RD, RNR) and HMS Sardonyx (Lt.Cdr. A.F.C. Gray, RNR). HMS Argus and her two escorting destroyers had departed the Clyde on 31 July. HMS Buxton later split off and proceeded towards Canada and HMS Sardonyx proceeded to Londonderry.
The last ships to take part in the operation to depart the U.K. (Clyde around midnight during the night of 4/5 August) were the aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. T.O. Bulteel, RN), loaded with Hurricane fighters for Malta, and her escorts, the light cruiser HMS Manchester (Capt. H. Drew, DSC, RN) and the Polish destroyer ORP Blyscawica (Lt.Cdr. L. Lichodziejewski, ORP). They were joined at sea, around dawn, by HMS Sardonyx coming from Londonderry. The destroyers parted company around midnight during the night of 5/6 August. They arrived at Londonderry on 7 August. HMS Furious and HMS Manchester then joined convoy WS 21S around midnight of the next night but HMS Manchester parted company shortly afterwards to proceed ahead of the convoy and fuel at Gibraltar.
On 1 August 1942 the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN), light cruiser HMS Phoebe (Capt. C.P. Frend, RN) and the destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN) and HMS Lookout (Lt.Cdr. A.G. Forman, DSC, RN) departed Freetown to proceed to a rendez-vous position off the Azores.
On 5 August 1942, the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. L.D. Mackintosh, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Charybdis (Capt. G.A.W. Voelcker, RN) and the the destroyers HMS Wrestler (Lt. R.W.B. Lacon, DSC, RN), HMS Westcott (Cdr. I.H. Bockett-Pugh, DSO, RN) and HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. T. Johnston, RN) departed Gibraltar also to the rendez-vous position off the Azores.
The convoy conducted maneuvering and AA exercises with the escorts between the Azores and Gibraltar during the period of 6 to 9 August. (Operation Berserk). Also dummy air attacks were carried out by aircraft from the carriers.
Passage of the Straits of Gibraltar and organization of escort forces.
The convoy then passed the Straits of Gibraltar during the night of 9/10 August 1942 in dense fog but despite this the convoy was detected by German and Italian spies and reported.
After passing the Straits of Gibraltar the convoy was organized as follows; The actual convoy was protected a large force of warships until the whole force would split up before entering the Sicilian narrows after which ‘Force X’ under command of Rear-Admiral Sir H.M. Burrough, CB, DSO, RN was to accompany the convoy to the approaches to Malta where they would be met by the Malta Minesweeping Flotilla, which was then to sweep the convoy into the harbour. Force X was made up of the following ships: Licht cruisers: HMS Nigeria (flagship), HMS Kenya,, HMS Manchester. AA cruiser: HMS Cairo (A/Capt. C.C. Hardy, DSO, RN). Destroyers: HMS Ashanti, HMS Fury, HMS Foresight, HMS Icarus, HMS Intrepid, HMS Pathfinder and HMS Penn. Escort destroyers: HMS Derwent, HMS Bicester (Lt.Cdr. S.W.F. Bennetts, RN), HMS Bramham (Lt. E.F. Baines, RN), HMS Ledbury (Lt.Cdr. R.P. Hill, RN) and HMS Wilton (Lt. A.P. Northey, RN). Also the rescue tug HMS Jaunty was to be part of this force.
After the escort was to be split up cover was provided by ‘Force Z’ under Vice-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN. This force was made up of the following ships: Battleships: HMS Nelson (flagship) and HMS Rodney. Aircraft carriers: HMS Victorious, HMS Indomitable and HMS Eagle. Light cruisers: HMS Phoebe, HMS Sirius and HMS Charybdis. Destroyers: HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Lookout, HMS Eskimo, HMS Somali, HMS Tartar, HMS Quentin, HMS Ithuriel (Lt.Cdr. D.H. Maitland-Makgill-Crichton, DSC, RN) HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair), HMS Wishart and HMS Vansittart. Escort destroyer: HMS Zetland. Also attached were the aircraft carrier HMS Furious (for Operation Bellows, the launching of Hurricane fighters for Malta. HMS Furious only carried four Albacore aircraft for A/S searches after the Hurricanes had been launched) and the ‘spare’ destroyers HMS Keppel (Cdr. J.E. Broome, RN), HMS Malcolm, HMS Venomous, HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, DSC, RN), HMS Westcott, HMS Wolverine, HMS Wrestler and HMS Amazon. These ‘spare’ destroyers were to take the place of destroyers in the screen ‘Force Z’ if needed, escort HMS Furious during her return passage to Gibraltar after she had completed Operation Bellows and / or strengthen the escort of ‘Force R’.
Then there was also ‘Force R’, the fuelling force. This force was made up of the following ships: Corvettes: HMS Jonquil (Lt.Cdr. R.E.H. Partington, RD, RNR), HMS Spiraea (Lt.Cdr. R.S. Miller, DSC, RNR), HMS Geranium (T/Lt. A. Foxall, RNR) and HMS Coltsfoot (T/Lt. the Hon. W.K. Rous, RNVR). Rescue tug: HMS Salvonia. RFA tankers: RFA Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941, Master D.B.C. Ralph) and RFA Dingledale (8145 GRT, built 1941, Master R.T. Duthie).
Before we give an account of the passage of the main convoy we will now first describe the operations taking place in the Eastern Mediterranean (Operations MG 3 and MG 4), the launching of the Hurricane fighters for Malta by HMS Furious (Operation Bellows) and the return convoy from Malta (Operation Ascendant) as well as on submarine operations / dispositions.
Diversion in the Eastern Mediterranean.
As part of the plan for Operation Pedestal the Mediterranean Fleet had to carry out a diversion in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean. Before we go to the operations in the Western Mediterranean we will first give an account of the events in the Eastern Mediterranean.
It was at this time not possible to sent any supplies from Egypt to Malta as all supplies and forces were much needed for the upcoming land battle at El Alamein it was agreed that ‘a dummy convoy’ would be sent towards Malta with the object of preventing the enemy to direct the full weight of their air and naval power towards the Western Mediterranean.
In the evening of 10 August 1942 a ‘convoy’ (MG 3) of three merchant ships departed Port Said escorted by three cruisers and ten destroyers. Next morning one more merchant ship departed Haifa escorted by two cruisers and five destroyers. The two forces joined that day (the 11th) and then turned back dispersing during the night. The Italian fleet however did not go to sea to attack ‘the bait’.
The forces taking part in this operation were: From Port Said: Merchant vessels City of Edinburgh (8036 GRT, built 1938), City of Lincoln (8039 GRT, built 1938) and City of Pretoria (8049 GRT, built 1937) escorted by the light cruisers HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), the AA cruiser HMS Coventry (Capt. R.J.R. Dendy, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. A.L. Poland, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. M.S. Townsend, OBE, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Pakenham (Capt. E.B.K. Stevens, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Paladin (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Dulverton(Lt.Cdr. W.N. Petch, OBE, RN), HMS Hurworth (Lt.Cdr. J.T.B. Birch, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN), HMS Hursley (Lt. W.J.P. Church, DSC, RN), HMS Beaufort (Lt.Cdr. S.O’G Roche, RN) and HMS Belvoir (Lt. J.F.D. Bush, DSC and Bar, RN).
From Haifa: Merchant vessel Ajax (7797 GRT, built 1931) escorted by the light cruisers HMS Cleopatra (Capt. G. Grantham, DSO, RN, flagship of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, KBE, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN), the destroyers HMS Sikh (Capt. St.J. A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. R.T. White, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Javelin (Cdr. G.E. Fardell, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Tetcott (Lt. H.R. Rycroft, RN) and HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. R.C. Egan, RN).
After dark on 11 August 1942 the force turned back and the City of Pretoria returned to Port Said escorted by HMS Eridge and HMS Hursley. The City of Edinburgh, escorted by HMS Beaufort and HMS Belvoir proceeded to Haifa. The City of Lincoln escorted by HMS Dulverton and HMS Hurworth proceeded to Beirut and finally the Ajax, escorted by HMS Tetcott and HMS Croome returned to Haifa. HMS Dido had to return to Port Said with hull defects. She was escorted by HMS Pakenham, HMS Paladin and HMS Jervis.
HMS Cleopatra, HMS Arethusa, HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu, HMS Javelin and HMS Kelvin then proceeded to carry out another diversion (Operation MG 4). They bombarded Rhodos harbour and the Alliotti Flour Mills during the night of 12/13 August but did little damage. On the way back HMS Javelin attacked a submarine contact in position 34°45’N, 31°04’E between 0654 and 0804 hours. She reported that there was no doubt that the submarine was sunk but no Axis submarines were operating in this area so the attack must have been bogus. This force returned to Haifa at 1900/13.
During operation Bellows, the aircraft carrier HMS Furious, started 37 Spitfire which were to proceed to Malta, when south of the Balearic Islands. The Admiralty had decided to carry out this operation at the same time as Operation Pedestal.
HMS Furious remained with the convoy until 1200/11. She then launched the Spitfires for Malta in 5 batches between 1230 and 1515 hours. During these flying off operations she acted independently with the destroyers HMS Lookout and HMS Lightning. After having launched the last batch of Spitfires she briefly re-joined to convoy until around 1700 hours when she split off and set course for Gibraltar escorted by the destroyers HMS Malcolm, HMS Wolverine and HMS Wrestler. These were joined shortly afterwards by HMS Keppel and HMS Venomous.
Around 0100/12, HMS Wolverine, rammed and sank the Italian submarine Dagabur which was trying to attack HMS Furious. Around 0200 hours, HMS Wolverine reported that she was stopped due to the damage she had sustained in the ramming. HMS Malcolm was detached to assist her.
At 1530/12, the destroyer HMS Vidette joined the screen. The force then entered Gibraltar Bay around 1930/12. The damaged HMS Wolverine arrived at Gibraltar at 1230/13 followed by HMS Malcolm around 1530/13.
On 10 August 1942 the empty transports Troilus (7648 GRT, built 1921) and Orari (10107 GRT, built 1931) departed Malta after dark for Gibraltar. They were escorted by the destroyer HMS Matchless (Lt.Cdr. J. Mowlam, RN) and the escort destroyer HMS Badsworth (Lt. G.T.S. Gray, DSC, RN). They first proceeded to the south of Lampedusa, then hugged the Tunisian coast as far as Galita Island. Near Cape Bon they encountered the Italian destroyer Lanzerotto Malocello that was laying a minefield. They had a brief gunfight but this was soon ended as both sides were thinking the enemy was Vichy-French. The remained of the passage to Gibraltar was uneventful and the convoy arrived at Gibraltar shortly before noon on 14 August 1942.
Submarine operations / dispositions. Eight submarines took part in the operation; these were HMS Utmost (Lt. A.W. Langridge, RN), HMS P 31 (Lt. J.B.de B. Kershaw, DSO, RN), HMS P 34 (Lt. P.R.H. Harrison, DSC, RN), HMS P 42 (Lt. A.C.G. Mars, RN), HMS P 44 (Lt. T.E. Barlow, RN), HMS P 46 (Lt. J.S. Stevens, DSC, RN), HMS P 211 (Cdr. B. Bryant, DSC, RN), HMS P 222 (Lt.Cdr. A.J. MacKenzie, RN). Two of these were to carry out normal dived patrol to the north of Sicily, one off Palermo, the other off Milazzo which is futher to the east. The other six submarines were given alternative patrol lines south of Pantelleria, one od which they were to take up at dawn on 13 August 1942, according to the movements of enemy surface ships that might threathen the convoy from the westward. When the convoy had passed the patrol line, which it should have done by that time, the submarines were to proceed on the surface parallel to the convoy as a screen and to dive away clear of the convoy at noon. It was expressly intended that they should be seen on the surface and reported by enemy aircraft in order to deter enemy warships from attacking the convoy.
Enemy warships did go to sea but as soon as it was clear that the enemy ships could not reach the convoy the sunmarines were ordered to dive and retire. These six sumarines had no contact with the enemy. One of the the two submarines off the north coast of Sicily, HMS P 42, managed to torpedo two Italian cruisers near Stromboli on the morning of 13 August 1942.
Now we return to the main convoy to Malta.
Passage eastwards after passing the Straits of Gibraltar.
10 and 11 August 1942.
After passing through the Straits of Gibraltar in the early hours of 10 August 1942, in dense fog, the convoy was first sighted by an Italian passenger aircraft, which sighted the convoy in the afternoon of the same day. German reconnaissance aircraft started shadowing the convoy from dawn on the 11th, and thereafter they or Italian aircraft kept the convoy under continuous observation, despite the effort of the fighters from the carriers to shoot them down or drive them off. At 1315 hours, HMS Eagle, was hit an sunk by torpedoes from the German submarine U-73 which had penetrated the destroyer screen. At that moment there were thirteen destroyers in the screen, the remainder was away from the main convoy, escorting HMS Furious during the flying off operations of the Hurricane fighters for Malta or oiling from and screening ‘Force R’ which was several miles away. Between 1430/10 and and 2030/11 no less then three cruisers and twenty-four destroyers fuelled from the two oilers of ‘Force R’.
At the time of the torpedoing of HMS Eagle the convoy was in four columns, zigzagging at 13 knots, with the heavy ships stationed close round it and a destroyer screen ahead. HMS Eagle was on the starboard quarter of the convoy. She was hit on her starboard side by four torpedoes which had dived through the destroyer screen and the convoy columns undetected and then torpedoed and sank the Eagle in position 38°05’N, 03°02’E (Another source gives 03°12’E but this might be a typo). The carrier sank quickly in about 8 minutes, 926 of her crew, including the Commanding Officer, were rescued by the destroyers HMS Laforey and HMS Lookout and the rescue tug HMS Jaunty. At the time of her sinking, HMS Eagle had four aircraft on patrol. These landed on the other carriers. All other aircraft were lost with the ship. The survivors picked up were later transferred to the destroyers HMS Keppel, HMS Malcolm and HMS Venomous that were to escort HMS Furious back to Gibraltar. The tug HMS Jaunty that had been involved in picking up survivors was never able to rejoin the convoy due to her slow speed.
Late in the afternoon air attacks were expected so Vice-Admiral Syfret ordered the destroyer to form an all-round screen. Indeed the air attacks started around sunset, 2045 hours. The last destroyers had just returned from oiling from ‘Force R’. The enemy aircraft that were attacking were 36 German bombers and torpedo aircraft, Ju 88’s and He 111’s, most of which attacked the convoy but a few attacked ‘Force R’ to the southward. The Junkers arrived first, diving down from 8000 feet to 2000 / 3000 feet to drop their bombs. They claimed to have hit an aircraft carrier and one of the merchant ships. Then the Heinkels attacked, they claimed to have torpedoed a cruiser but during the attacks no ship was hit. The British fighter cover was unable to attack / find the enemy in the failing light. Four enemy aircraft were claimed shot down by the ships AA fire but it appears only two JU 88’s were in fact shot down.
12 August 1942
At 0915/12 another wave of German aircraft attacked the convoy. Some twenty or more JU 88’s approached the convoy out of the sun ahead. They were intercepted by fighters about 25 miles from the convoy. About a dozen got through to the convoy, making high-level or shallow dive-bombing attacks individually but without any result. Eight German aircraft were claimed to be shot down by the fighters and two more by AA guns from the ships. The fighters meanwhile were also busy dealng with shadowers, three of which are claimed to have been shot down before the morning attack. Around this time destroyers were also busy with numerous submarine contact which were attacked by depth charges.
Around noon the enemy launched heavy air attacks from the Sardinian airfields. Seventy aircraft approached which were heavily escorted by fighters. They attacked in stages and employed new methods.
First ten Italian torpedo-bombers were each to drop some sort of circling torpedo or mine a few hundred yards ahead of the British force, while eight fighter bombers made dive-bombing and machine-gun attacks. The object at this stage was clearly to dislocate the formation of the force and to draw anti-aircraft fire, making the ships more vulnerable to a torpedo attack which soon followed with over forty aircraft. They attacked in two groups, one on either bow of the convoy. The next stage was a shallow dive-bombing attack by German aircraft, after which two Italian Reggiane 2001 fighters, each with a single heavy armour-piercing bomb were to dive bomb on one of the aircraft carriers, whilst yet another new form of attack was to be employed against the other carrier, but defects in the weapon prevented this attack from taking place.
The enemy attack went according to plan besides that the torpedo attack was only made half an our after the ‘mines’ were dropped instead of five minutes. British fighters met the minelaying aircraft, they shot down one of them as they approached. The remaining nine aircraft dropped their ‘mines’ at 1215 hours in the path of the force, which turned to avoid the danger. The mines were heard to explode several minutes later. Only three of the fighter-bombers of this stage of the attack appear to have reached as far the screen, but HMS Lightning had a narrow escape from their bombs.
The torpedo-aircraft appeared at 1245 hours. Their number were brought down a bit due to British fighters. The remaining aircraft, estimated at 25 to 30 machines, attacked from the port bow, port beam and starboard quarter. They dropped their torpedoes well outside the screen some 8000 yards from the merchant ships which they had been ordered to attack. The force turned 45° to port and then back to starboard to avoid the attack.
In the next stage, around 1318 hours, the German bombing attack, the enemy scored their one success. These aircraft were also intercepted on their way in but about a dozen of about twenty aircraft came through. They crossed the convoy from starboard to port and then dived to 3000 feet. They managed to damage the transport Deucalion which was leading the port wing column. More bombs fell close to several other ships.
Finally, at 1345 hours, the two Reggiane fighters approached HMS Victorious as if to land on. They looked like Hurricanes and HMS Victorious was at that time engaged in landing her own fighters. They managed to drop their bombs and one hit the flight deck amidships. Fortunately the bomb broke up without exploding. By the time HMS Victorious could open fire both fighters were out of range.
The Deucalion could no longer keep up with the convoy and was ordered to follow the inshore route along the Tunisian coast escorted by HMS Bramham. Two bombers found these ships late in the afternoon, but their bombs missed. At 1940 hours, however, near the Cani Rocks, two torpedo aircraft attacked and a torpedo hit the Deucalion. She caught fire and eventually blew up.
The convoy passed some 20 miles north of Galita Island and spent the afternoon avoiding enemy submarines which were known to be concentrated in these waters. There were innumerable reports of sightings and Asdic contacts and at least two submarines proved dangerous. At 1616 hours, HMS Pathfinder and HMS Zetland attacked one on the port bow of the convoy and hunted her until the convoy was out of reach. HMS Ithuriel, stationed on the quarter, then attacked, forced the enemy to surface and finally rammed her. She proved to be the Italian submarine Cobalto. Meanwhile HMS Tartar, on the starboard quarter, saw six torpedoes fired at close range at 1640 hours, and the next destroyer in the screen, HMS Lookout sighted a periscope. Together they attacked the submarine, continuing until it was no longer dangerous. There was no evidence this submarine was sunk.
At 1750 hours, HMS Ithuriel, which was on her way back to the convoy after sinking the Italian submarine Cobalto was attacked by a few dive-bombers, when still a dozen miles astern of the convoy. At this time the convoy came under attack by aircraft stationed on Sicily. This force numbered nearly 100 aircraft. Ju.87 dive-bombers as well as Ju.88’s and SM-79’s all with a strong escort of fighters. The enemy started attacking at 1835 hours, the bombers attacking from both ahead and astern which last was the direction of the sun. The torpedo aircraft came from ahead to attack on the starboard bow and beam of the convoy.
The Italian SM-79’s torpedo bombers dropped their torpedoes from ranges of about 3000 yards outside the destroyer screen, and once again the convoy turned away to avoid them. However the destroyer HMS Foresight was hit by a torpedo and disabled. The bombers chose HMS Indomitable as their main target. She was astern of HMS Rodney at the time on the port quarter of the convoy. Four Ju.88’s and eight Ju.87’s came suddenly out of the sun and dived steeply towards HMS Indomitable from astern. Some of the Ju.87 came down to 1000 feet and the carrier received three hits and her flight deck was put out of action. Her airborne fighters eventually had to land on HMS Victorious. HMS Rodney meanwhile had a narrow escape when a bomber attacked from ahead. One enemy aircraft was claimed to have been shot down by AA fire from the ships while the fighters claimed nine more although there were about twice as much enemy fighters in the air then British.
HMS Tartar took the damaged HMS Foresight in tow and proceeded westward for Gibraltar. Next day, as they were shadowed by enemy aircraft, and enemy submarines were known to be in the area, it was decided to scuttle the cripple before both ships might be lost. HMS Tartar then torpedoed HMS Foresight a few miles from Galita Island.
Passage through the narrows, 12-13 August 1942, and the loss off HMS Manchester.
These last air attacks took place about 20 nautical miles west of the Skerki Channel and at 1900 hours, when the attacks were clearly over, Vice-Admiral Syfret turned away with ‘Force Z’. It was now up to Rear-Admiral Burrough with ‘Force X’ to take the convoy to Malta.
At 2000 hours, when the convoy was changing it’s formation from four to two columns, the convoy was attacked by Italian submarines. The submarine Dessiè attacked a freighter with four torpedoes and claimed three hits. The sound of the torpedo hits was however not caused by her attack but by an attack by the Axum which hit three ships, HMS Nigeria, HMS Cairo and the tanker Ohio.
HMS Nigeria had to turn back to make for Gibraltar escorted by the escort destroyers HMS Derwent, HMS Wilton and HMS Bicester. Rear-Admiral Burrough transferred his flag to the destroyer HMS Ashanti. The stern of HMS Cairo had been blown off and she had to be sunk as she was beyond salvage with both engines also out of action. She was scuttled by HMS Pathfinder. The Ohio meanwhile managed to struggle on.
At this time the convoy was still trying to form up the the submarine attacks messed things up and right at thus time the convoy was once more attacked from the air in the growing dusk at 2030 hours. About 20 German aircraft, Ju-88’s made dive bombing and torpedo attacks, hitting the Empire Hope with a bomb and the Clan Ferguson and Brisbane Star with torpedoes. The first of these ships had to be sunk (by HMS Bramham, the second blew up but the last eventually reached Malta. Soon after this attack, at 2111 hours, HMS Kenya was torpedoed by the Italian submarine Alagi. She was able to evade three of the four torpedoes but was hit in the bow by the fouth. She was however able to remain with the convoy.
The situation was then as follows. HMS Kenya and HMS Manchester with two merchant ships, and with the minesweeping destroyers HMS Intrepid, HMS Icarus and HMS Fury sweeping ahead, had passed the Skerki Channel and were steering to pass Zembra Island on the way to Cape Bon. HMS Ashanti, with Rear-Admiral Burrough on board was fast overhauling these ships. The other two destroyers HMS Pathfinder, HMS Penn and the escort destroyer HMS Ledbury, were rounding up the remaining nine merchant ships. The escort destroyer HMS Bramham was also catching up after having escorted the single Deucalion until she sank.
On learing about the fate of HMS Nigeria and HMS Cairo, Vice-Admiral Syfret detached HMS Charybdis, HMS Eskimo and HMS Somali to reinforce Rear-Admiral Burrough. It would take these ships several hourse to catch up with the convoy.
The main body of the convoy passed Cape Bon around midnight. Fourty minutes later enemy Motor Torpedo Boats appeared and started to attack. Their first victim was HMS Manchester which was torpedoed at 0120/13 by the Italian MS 16 or MS 22. She had to be scuttled by her own crew. Many of her ships company landed in Tunisia and were interned by the Vichy-French but about 300 were picked up by destroyers (first by HMS Pathfinder, and later by HMS Eskimo and HMS Somali. These last two destoyers then set off towards Gibraltar.)
Four and possibly five of the merchant ships were also hit by the Motor Torpedo Boats. These were the Wairangi, Rochester Castle, Almeria Lykes, Santa Elisa and probably the Glenorchy. They were attacked between 0315 and 0430 hours about 15 nautical miles south-east of Kelibia whilst taking a short cut to overhaul the main body of the convoy. Four were lost, only the Rochester Castle survived and she managed to catch up with the main body of the convoy at 0530 hours. The Glenorchy was sunk by the Italian MS 31, the other four, of which the Rochester Castle survived as mentioned earlier, were hit by the German S 30 and S 36 as well as the Italian MAS 554 and MAS 557.
Shortly before 0530 hours HMS Charybdis, HMS Eskimo and HMS Somali had joined the main body of the convoy making the force now two cruisers and seven destroyers with the transports Rochester Castle, Waimarama and Melbourne Star. The damaged tanker Ohio was slowly catching up. With her was the escort destroyer HMS Ledbury. Astern of the main body was the Port Chalmers escorted by the destroyer HMS Penn and the escort destroyer HMS Bramham. The destroyers recued the crew of the Santa Elisa when the passed by the abandoned ship which was afterwards finished off by a German bomber. The Dorset was proceeding without escort and lastly the damaged Brisbane Star was still keeping close to the Tunisian coast independently, intending to steer towards Malta after nightfall.
At 0730 hours, Rear-Admiral Burrough, sent back HMS Tartar and HMS Somali to Kelibia to assist HMS Manchester and then go to Gibraltar. When they arrived they found out that the Manchester had been scuttled several hours earlier so they rescued those of her crew that had not reached the shore yet and then made off to Gibraltar as ordered. Besides crew of the Manchester they also picked up survivors from the Almeria Lykes and Wairangi.
The next encounter with the enemy was an air attack on the main body of the convoy at 0800 hours by German bombers. About 12 Ju.88’s made a shallow diving attack coming down from 6000 feet to 2000 feet to drop their bombs. Two dived on the Waimarama hitting her several times and she blew up immediately, one of the bombers was even destroyed in the explosion. HMS Ledbury saved some of her crew out of the blazing sea. At 0925 hours, when the Ohio, Port Chalmers and Dorset where with the main body again, a few Ju.87’s escorted by Italian fighters attacked. They dived down to 1500 to 1000 feet. HMS Kenya leading the port column, and the Ohio last ship but one in the starboard column, had narrow escapes. One of the enemy aircraft crashed on board the Ohio just after having released it’s bomb after being damaged by gunfire from the Ohio and HMS Ashanti. Another aircraft was claimed to have been shot down by fighters from Malta that had been patrolling overhead since daybreak.
Arrivals at Malta 13-15 August 1942.
At 1050 hours, about 20 bombers, mostly Ju.88’s with a few Ju.87’s, came in to attack. Target was the Ohio and she received four or five near misses and her engines were disabled. At the same time the Rochester Castle in the port column was near-missed and set on fire but she continued with the convoy. The Dorset which was astern of her was hit and stopped. The convoy went on leaving the Dorset behind with the Ohio and two destroyers.
At 1125 hours the last air attack on the main body took place. Five Italian SM.79’s attacked with torpedoes and almost hit the Port Chalmers as the torpedo got stuck in the paravane. Further attacks on the main body were held of by fighters from Malta. At 1430 hours, four minesweepers from Malta joined the main body of the convoy, these were HMS Speedy (Lt.Cdr. A.E. Doran, RN, with the group’s commander A/Cdr. H.J.A.S. Jerome, RN on board), HMS Hebe, HMS Rye and HMS Heyte. Also with them were seven Motor Launches; ML 121, ML 126, ML 134, ML 135, ML 168, ML 459 and ML 462. HMS Rye and two of the ML’s were sent towards the damaged Ohio which was ‘vital for Malta’, according to A/Cdr. Jerome.
At 1600 hours, Rear-Admiral Burrough, set course to the west with his two cruisers and with five destroyers. The Port Chalmers, Melbourne Star and Rochester Castle arrived in Grand Harbour around 1800 hours with the force of A/Cdr. Jerome. The Rochester Castle was by that time very low in the water, she had just made it into port on time.
Out were still the Ohio, Dorset and the Brisbane Star. The valuable Ohio had been helpless with HMS Penn and HMS Bramham. When HMS Rye arrived at 1730 hours, HMS Penn took the Ohio in tow. Meanwhile HMS Bramham was sent to the Dorset but soon afterwards German bombers came again and the ships were attacked repeatedly until dark. Both merchantman were hit around 1900 hours and the Dorset sank.
At daylight on the 14th HMS Ledbury arrived to help bringing the Ohio to Malta. HMS Speedy also soon arrived on the scene with two ML’s. The rest of his force he had sent to search for the Brisbane Star. At 1045 hours, enemy aircraft made their last attempt, causing the parting of the tow. Fighter from Malta shot down two of the attackers. The tow was passed again and the slow procession went on and in the morning of the 15th the vital tanker finally reached Malta.
The Brisbane Star had by then also arrived. She left the Tunisian coast at dusk on the 13th. Aircraft had attacked her unsuccessfully and one of the attackers was shot down by a Beaufighter escort that had been sent from Malta. She arrived at Malta in the afternoon of the 14th.
Italian surface ships to operate against the convoy ?
The convoy had experienced the violence of the enemy in every shape except that of an attack by large surface ships. Yet Italian cruisers and destroyers had been at sea to intercept and attack it. Two light cruiser had left Cagliari in the evening of 11 August 1942 and the heavy cruisers Gorizia and Bolzano from Messina, and a light cruiser from Naples had sailed on the morning of the 12th. That evening reconnaissance aircraft reported one heavy and two light cruisers with eight destroyers about 80 nautical miles to the north of the western tip of Sicily and steering south. It would have been possible for this force to meet the convoy at dawn on the 13th so the shadowing aircraft was therefore ordered in plain language to illuminate and attack. This apparently influenced the Italians as they had limited air cover and they turned back at 0130/13 when near Cape San Vito. At 0140 hours the aircraft reported that it had dropped its bombs but no hits had been obtained. Similar orders were signalled, in plain language, to relief shadowers and to report the position of the enemy force to the benefit of imaginary Liberator bombers in case the Italians would change their minds and turn back. They however held on to the eastward.
The submarine HMS P 42 sighted them around 0800/13 off Stromboli and attacked with four torpedoes claiming two hits. She had in fact hit the heavy cruiser Bolzano which was able to proceed northwards and the light cruiser Muzio Attendolo which managed to reach Messina with her bows blown off. The other cruisers went to Naples. Following the attack P 42 was heavily depth charged by the destroyers but managed to escape.
In fact the following Italian ships had been at sea; heavy cruisers Gorizia, Trieste, Bolzano, light cruisers Eugenio di Savoia Raimondo Montecuccoli, Muzio Attendolo. They were escorted by eleven destroyers; Ascari, Aviere, Camicia Nera, Corsaro, Fuceliere, Geniere, Legionaro, Vincenzo Gioberti, Alfredo Oriani, Grecale and Maestrale.
The return to Gibraltar.
The British ships returning to Gibraltar had better fortune. Having left the convoy off Malta in the afternoon of the 13th, they rounded Cape Bon around 0130/14 and from that point until past Zembra Island they successful ran the gauntled of E-boats laying in wait.
at 0450/14, near the Fratelli Rocks, a submarine fired torpedoes at HMS Ashanti from the surface. She was nearly rammed by HMS Kenya, which was next astern of the ‘flagship’ (Rear-Admiral Burrough was still in HMS Ashanti). The inevitable shadowers arrived soon after daylight to herald their air attacks that began at 0730 hours. They lasted until around 1315 hours. German bombers came in first with three attemps by a few Ju.88’s. This was followed by a more severe attack with about 30 bombers, Ju-88’s and Ju-87’s between 1030 and 1050 hours. An hour later 15 Savoia high-level bombers attacked followed until 1315 hours by torpedo-carrying Savoia’s. Around 20 aircraft attacking single or in pairs. Also aircraft are though to be laying mines ahead. Several ships were near missed, but no further damage was sustained. After these attacks the British were left alone and in the evening they joined ‘Force Z’.
Vice-Admiral Syfret had gone as far west as 01’E where he ordered the damaged carrier HMS Indomitable to proceed to Malta with HMS Rodney and a destroyer screen (which). He then turned back to the east to make rendez-vous with Rear-Admiral Burrough. They arrived at Gibraltar on the 15th.
A few hours before they arrived the damaged HMS Nigeria and her escort had also entered port, as had HMS Tartar, HMS Eskimo and HMS Somali. On her way back HMS Nigeria had been attacked by torpedo-bombers and a submarine but she had not been hit.
Out of the fourteen ships that had sailed only five arrived ‘safe’ at Malta. This was not a very high score also given the very heavy escort that had been provided also taken in mind that an aircraft carrier, a light cruiser, an AA cruiser an a destroyer had been lost and two heavy cruiser had been damaged. But the convoy had to meet very heavy air attacks by over 150 bombers and 80 torpedo aircraft, all in the space of two days. Also these aircraft were protected by fighter in much greater strength that the carriers and Malta could provide. And there were also the enemy submarines and E-boats.
The spirit in which to operation was carried out appears in Vice-Admiral Syfret’s report: ‘ Tribute has been paid to the personnel of His Majesty’s Ships, both the officers and men will desire to give first place to the conduct, courage, and determination of the masters, officers, and men of the merchant ships. The steadfast manner in which these ships pressed on their way to Malta through all attacks, answering every maneuvering order like a well trained fleet unit, was a most inspiring sight. Many of these fine men and their ships were lost. But the memory of their conduct will remain an inspiration to all who were privileged to sail with them. ‘ (18)
18 Jan 1943
The British destroyers HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN) and HMS Loyal (Lt.Cdr. H.E.F. Tweedie, RN) sink the German (former Norwegian) Favor (1323 GRT) south of Sardinia, Italy in position 38°40'N, 09°32'E.
4 Feb 1943
HMS Sirius (Capt. P.W.B. Brooking, RN), HMS Penelope (Capt. G.D. Belben, DSC, AM, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN) and HMS Loyal (Lt.Cdr. H.E.F. Tweedie, DSC, RN) departed Algiers for Bone where they arrived later the same day. (20)
13 Feb 1943
HMS Sirius (Capt. P.W.B. Brooking, RN), HMS Penelope (Capt. G.D. Belben, DSC, AM, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN) and HMS Loyal (Lt.Cdr. H.E.F. Tweedie, DSC, RN) departed Bone for Algiers where they arrived later the same day.
On the same day HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, CB, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral C.H.J. Harcourt, CBE, RN), HMS Dido (Capt. J. Terry, RN), HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, DSO, RN) and HMS Lookout (Lt.Cdr. A.G. Forman, DSC, RN) proceeded in the opposite direction.
Around noon, while en-route, these two forces conducted exercises for about 40 minutes. (21)
21 Feb 1943
HMS Ursula (Lt. A.R. Profit, DSC, RN) carried out A/S exercises off Algiers with the British destroyers HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN) and HMS Bicester (Lt.Cdr. S.W.F. Bennetts, RN). (22)
1 Mar 1943
In an enemy bombing raid on Bone, HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN) sustained some minor damage. One rating was killed instantly and another later died from his wounds. (23)
5 Mar 1943
Around 1815/5, ' Force Q ', made up of the light cruisers HMS Sirius (Capt. P.W.B. Brooking, RN), HMS Penelope (Capt. G.D. Belben, DSC, AM, RN) and the destroyers HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN) and HMS Loyal (Lt.Cdr. H.E.F. Tweedie, DSC, RN) departed Bone for a sweep to the eastward.
They returned to Bone around 0900/6 not having sighted the enemy. (24)
- File 2.12.03.6387 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands)
- ADM 53/114626 + ADM 53/114204 + ADM 199/1138
- ADM 53/114626 + ADM 234/335
- ADM 199/657
- ADM 53/113677 + ADM 53/113678 + ADM 53/114799 + ADM 53/114800 + ADM 53/114850 + ADM 199/396
- ADM 53/114850 + ADM 199/399
- ADM 199/831
- ADM 53/114892
- ADM 53/114607
- ADM 53/115032
- ADM 53/113623
- ADM 199/1211
- ADM 53/116212
- ADM 199/649
- ADM 53/116214
- ADM 234/331
- ADM 173/17663
- ADM 199/651 + ADM 234/353
- ADM 173/17441
- ADM 53/118336
- ADM 53/116987 + ADM 53/117372 + ADM 53/118336 + ADM 53/118552
- ADM 173/18379
- ADM 199/638
- ADM 53/118337 + ADM 53/118555
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.
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