Allied Warships

HMAS Perth (D 29)

Light cruiser of the Perth class

NavyThe Royal Australian Navy
TypeLight cruiser
PennantD 29 
Built byPortsmouth Dockyard (Portsmouth, U.K.) 
Ordered1 Dec 1932 
Laid down22 Jun 1933 
Launched27 Jul 1934 
Commissioned29 Jun 1939 
Lost1 Mar 1942 
Loss position6° 00'S, 106° 00'E

HMAS Perth was a Modified Leander originally built for the Royal Navy as HMS Amphion.

HMAS Perth (Capt. Hector Macdonald Laws Waller, DSO and Bar, RAN) was sunk in Sunda Strait, off western Java in position 06º00'S, 106º00'E by torpedoes and 8" gunfire of Japanese cruiser force.

On board the HMAS Perth when it was sunk was 4 canteen staff, 6 Royal Austrailan AF personeel, and 676 crew. Only 334 men survived, 105 of which died in captivity.

In October 1936 HMS Amphion joined the Africa Station and was based at Simonstown as the flagship. She entered the Selborne dry dock for the first time on the 6th, being floated out again on the 15th, she was dry docked twice again before her deployment at the Cape was completed. 12 April 1938 was her final docking at the Cape Station.

In October 1938 HMS Amphion arrived at Portsmouth to pay off and commence refitting. After this refit HMS Amphion was transferred to the Royal Australian Navy and commissioned as HMAS Perth on 29 June 1939.

In August, HMAS Perth visited New York for the World Fair, intending to sail for Australia afterwards however, on the outbreak of war Perth was ordered to the West Indies Station to protect the oil installations there.

On 31 March 1940, HMAS Perth was based at Garden Island where a short refit was carried out, she was then employed in the escorting of troop convoys bound for the Middle East. From June until November 1940, she was Flagship, Australia Squadron. In December, after escorting convoy US-7 to Suez, Perth proceeded to Alexandria where she joined the 7th Cruiser Squadron, however shortly after her arrival, she was damaged by near bomb misses in Malta.

In May 1941, HMAS Perth was involved in the battle for Crete, being once again damaged by near misses, and on the 22nd she was hit by a bomb causing damage to one of her boiler rooms which resulted in her being suspended from operations for some months, for repairs to be carried out. In July, she participated in the operations against Vichy French Syria, and on the 15th, she was relieved by her sister ship HMAS Hobart, enabling her to return to Australia. August 12th, she went into the Cockatoo yard for a long overdue refit.

On 22 November 1941, her refit was completed, and Perth was tasked to participate in the Java theatre. On 14 February 1942, she left Australia, and on the 26th, Perth arrived in Soerabaya to join the ABDA Force (American, British, Dutch and Australian) and to become part of the Eastern Striking Force. Three days previously, General Wavell had received orders to leave Java and set up head-quarters elsewhere. He was convinced further defence of Java was futile, and on the 27th Admiral Helfrich reluctantly gave permission for the cruisers HMS Dragon, HMS Danae and HMAS Hobart, and their two accompanying destroyers to withdraw from the area.

This left the Dutch Admiral Doorman with his own flag-ship HrMs De Ruyter supported by the cruisers HrMs Java, USS Houston, HMS Exeter and HMAS Perth. He had four American, two Dutch and three British destroyers at his disposal. Reconnaissance had reported a large heavily escorted convoy headed south towards Sourabaia. The Striking Force was to intercept it and destroy it. As the fleet was getting underway De Ruyter collided with a tug and water barge sinking both of them, this caused some delay and affected the spirits of the men, it was dark when the force finally cleared the channel and the minefields off Soerabaya Strait. American bombers had attacked a convoy near Barwean Island, but Doorman received no inkling of this until four hours later, and then the fleet altered course to intercept. Perth remained closed up at action stations the whole night. By morning her radar revealed aircraft prowling above the cloud layer, and later a single aircraft dropped a stick of bombs between the cruisers and destroyers, and they were shadowed continually. That afternoon at 1600 the destroyer HMS Electra made an enemy report back to the ABDA Forces, she reported two modern cruisers, one four funnelled cruiser and destroyers, These turned out to be the 8-inch cruisers Haguro and Nachi and a Jintsu class cruiser, accompanied by a destroyer flotilla, Sixteen minutes later the Japanese heavy cruisers opened fire on Exeter and Houston. Perth opened fire on the enemy destroyers, she was soon scoring hits, and her second salvo hit a destroyer, which then disappeared into a smoke screen, the Japanese were by now scoring hits on the American and Dutch cruisers. Perth now came under intense fire from one of the heavy cruisers, and the fall of shot was seldom more than a cables length away. At 1714, Exeter was hit in the boiler room and could only achieve 15 knots, Perth immediately made smoke to screen the stricken cruiser, until the destroyers took over. The Allied line was thrown into considerable confusion as De Ruyter circled, presumably to protect Exeter. The lack of tactics became most obvious. The captains of individual ships were continually left guessing at the Admirals intentions. Signals were made in plain language by hand lamp or radio. The Japanese made a destroyer attack to finish off Exeter, Perth then engaged a cruiser supporting the attack and drove her back into the smoke for cover and also succeeded in driving the destroyers back. Exeter was now ordered back to Soerabaya with the Dutch destroyer HrMs Witte de With who had damaged her stern with her own depth charges as a result of torpedo tracks and a submarine she had sighted. Darkness was drawing on, Houston reported to Perth that all 8-inch ammunition of her number one and two turrets were expended, all she had left was the remaining ammunition in the damaged number three turret. This had to be transferred from aft to forward, an arduous and slow task with projectiles weighing some 250 pounds each. By now no enemy ships were in sight, his strength was still unknown because of continuos air-surveillance they could play hide and seek over the horizon. At 1927 the Japanese attacked again, and unfortunately the destroyer HMS Jupiter blew up, not through enemy action but ironically from a Dutch mine laid that afternoon, headquarters had failed to inform the fleet. HrMs Java was hit and seriously damaged, she lay stopped, heavily hit and on fire, then within minutes HrMs De Ruyter just ahead of Perth went up in an appalling explosion of flame. Perth only narrowly avoided disastrous collision by the swift action of Captain Waller. Now of the 14 ships that had steamed out of Soerabaya only 2 remained in a condition to fight, they broke off the engagement and steamed for Tandjong Priok.

On the 28th, in the afternoon Perth in company with Houston tied up alongside the deserted quay where the Perth managed to take on only 300 tons of oil fuel as operations were being made by army sappers to blow up the harbour installations prior to the advancing Japanese army. The 2 cruisers then received their orders from Admiral Helfrich to proceed to Tjilatjap, where he was planning to assemble the remaining Allied Forces. Shortly after 1900, the 2 cruisers slipped and started out travelling at moderate speed to conserve fuel. At 2300 a vessel was sighted 5 miles ahead, close to St Nicolas Point, it turned out to be a Japanese destroyer, and before long she was joined by heavy Japanese units. Houston was hit first and caught fire around the bridge and shortly after this all her main armament ammunition was expended, eventually her 5 inch secondary armament was down to firing star shell at the enemy, not long after this torpedoes slammed into her hull and she slowly heeled over, 87 torpedoes were loosed at the 2 Allied cruisers in that hour, and one struck the Perth between the forward engine room and boiler room. All the personnel in these compartments were killed including the Chief Engineer. The damage control office and crew were all wiped out. The second torpedo hit the ship in the forward magazine, the magazine was empty but the explosion jammed the hatches of the 4 inch magazine trapping the men within. Order to abandon ship was given and a third torpedo slammed into her stern. shells were now falling all around the survivors in the water, killing many of them. Perth was still underway and was swinging in a smooth wide turn to starboard, then a salvo of shell hit the base of the director tower killing the Captain. After the fourth torpedo hit, the starboard list came off her and she heeled slightly to port. Then with the way still on, her bows gently dipped to the surface. Three of the shafts were now broken, but the forth was still turning, “she went down as if steaming over the horizon”, was the comments made by the survivors.

Former nameHMS Amphion

Commands listed for HMAS Perth (D 29)

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1Capt. Harold Bruce Farncomb, RAN29 Jun 19396 Jun 1940
2Capt. Philip Weyland Bowyer-Smith, RN6 Jun 19401 Sep 1941
3A/Cdr. Charles Rupert Reid, RAN1 Sep 194123 Oct 1941
4Capt. Hector Macdonald Laws Waller, DSO, RAN24 Oct 19411 Mar 1942 (+)

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Notable events involving Perth include:

4 Oct 1939

Convoy KJ 3

Convoy from Kingston, Jamaica to the U.K.
Departure date: 4 October 1939.
Arrival date: 28 October 1939.

The following merchant ships were part of this convoy;
tanker Acavus (8010 GRT, built 1935), cargo ship Amakura (1987 GRT, built 1924), tanker Appalachee (8826 GRT, built 1930), tanker Athelbeach (6568 GRT, built 1931), tanker British General (6989 GRT, built 1922), tanker Calgarolite (11941 GRT, built 1929), tanker Canadolite (11309 GRT, built 1926), tanker Caprella (8230 GRT, built 1931), cargo ship Chauncer (5792 GRT, built 1929), tanker Conus (8132 GRT, built 1931), tanker Drupa (8102 GRT, built 1939), cargo ship East Wales (4358 GRT, built 1925), tanker Erodona (6207 GRT, built 1937), cargo ship Fresno City (4955 GRT, built 1929), cargo ship Gryfevale (4434 GRT, built 1929), cargo ship Iddesleigh (5205 GRT, built 1927), cargo ship Imperial Valley (4573 GRT, built 1924), tanker Iroquois (8937 GRT, built 1907), tanker Laristan (6401 GRT, built 1927), tanker Luminetta (6159 GRT, built 1927), tanker Montrolite (11309 GRT, built 1926), tanker Pellicula (6254 GRT, built 1936), cargo ship Redgate (4323 GRT, built 1929), cargo ship Ridley (4993 GRT, built 1937), cargo ship Royal Crown (4367 GRT, built 1927), Sacramento Valley (4573 GRT, built 1924), tanker San Arcadio (7419 GRT, built 1935), tanker San Demetrio (8073 GRT, built 1938), tanker San Eliseo (8042 GRT, built 1939), tanker San Emiliano (8071 GRT, built 1939), tanker San Roberto (5890 GRT, built 1922), tanker Schluylkill (8965 GRT, built 1928), cargo ship Sheaf Holme (4814 GRT, built 1929), cargo ship Somme (5265 GRT, built 1919), tanker Sovac (6724 GRT, built 1938), cargo ship Star of Alexandria (4329 GRT, built 1928), tanker Telena (7406 GRT, built 1927), cargo ship Uffington Court (4976 GRT, built 1929), cargo ship Umberleigh (4950 GRT, built 1927).

tanker Champagne (9946 GRT, built 1938), tanker Frimaire (9242 GRT, built 1930), cargo ship (6419 GRT, built 1920), tanker Roussillon (9967 GRT, built 1936).

Escort was provided by the following warships;
4 October to 7 October 1939 by the licht cruiser HMS Orion (Capt. H.R.G. Kinahan, RN).

4 October to 15 October 1939 by the light cruiser HMAS Perth (Capt. H.B. Farncomb, RAN).

8 October to 15 October 1939 by the heavy cruiser HMS Berwick (Capt. I.M. Palmer, DSC, RN).

15 October to 26 October 1939 by the light cruiser HMS Effingham (Capt. J.M. Howson, RN).

22 October to 24 October 1939 by the light cruisers HMS Glasgow (Capt. F.H. Pegram, RN) and HMS Newcastle (Capt. J. Figgins, RN).

On 23 October and 24 October 1939 by a French force made up of the battleship Dunkerque (Capt. M.J.M. Seguin), light cruisers Georges Leygues (Capt. R.L. Perot), Montcalm (Capt. P.J. Ronarc’h), large destroyers Le Malin (Cdr. G.E. Graziani), Le Triomphant (Cdr. M.M.P.L. Pothuau) and L'Indomptable (Capt. P.T.J. Barnaud).

From 24 October to 28 October 1939 by the destroyers HMS Verity (Lt.Cdr. A.R.M. Black, RN) and HMS Wolverine (Cdr. R.C. Gordon, RN).

From 25 October to 28 October 1939 by the destroyers HMS Versatile (Cdr.(Retd.) T.A. Hussey, RN) and HMS Volunteer (Lt.Cdr. H. Gartside-Tippinge, RN).

From 25 October to 26 October 1939 by the destroyers HMS Glowworm (Lt.Cdr. G.B. Roope, RN RN) and HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, RN).

6 Jan 1941

Operations Excess and Operation M.C. 4.

Convoy operations in the Mediterranean.

Timespan; 6 January to 18 January 1941.

The principal object of this operation was the passage of a convoy of four ships (five were intended, see below) from Gibraltar to Malta and Piraeus (Operation Excess). One of these was to unload her stores at Malta, the other three had supplies on board for the Greek army.

Three subsidiary convoys (Operation M.C. 4) were to be run between Malta and Egypt. These consisted of two fast ships from Malta to Alexandria (convoy M.E. 5½), two fast ships from Alexandria to Malta (convoy M.W. 5½) and six slow ships from Malta to Port Said and Alexandria (convoy M.E. 6).

Composition of the convoys and their escort.

The ‘Excess convoy from Gibraltar’ was made up of one ship that was to proceed with stores to Malta. This was the Essex (11063 GRT, built 1936). The three other ships were to proceed with stores to Piraeus, these were the Clan Cumming (7264 GRT, built 1938), Clan Macdonald (9653 GRT, built 1939) and Empire Song (9228 GRT, built 1940). It had the light cruiser HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN) and the destroyers HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN) and HMS Duncan (A/Capt. A.D.B. James, RN) as close escort (‘Force F’). A fifth merchant ship was to have been part of this convoy and was to have proceeded to Malta with stores and troops. However this ship, the Northern Prince (10917 GRT, built 1929) grounded at Gibraltar and was not able to join the convoy. The about four-hundred troops now boarded HMS Bonaventure for passage to Malta.

The most dangerous part of the ‘Excess convoy’ would be the part between Sardinia and Malta. For a stretch of about 400 nautical miles ships were exposed to enemy air attack from bases in Sardinia and Sicily less then 150 nautical miles away from the convoy’s track. Also submarines and surface torpedo craft were a constant menace. An attack by large enemy surface forces was thought less likely although this was potentially more dangerous.

’Convoy M.W.5 ½ from Alexandria to Malta’ made the passage westwards at the same time as the Mediterranean fleet moved westwards (see below). This convoy was made up of HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) and Clan Macauley (10492 GRT, built 1936). These ships were escorted by HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN), HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN) and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN).

’Convoy’s M.E. 5½ and M.E. 6’ that sailed from Malta to Egypt will be dealth with later on.

Cover forces for these convoy’s

At Gibraltar there was ‘Force H’ which had the following ships available for the operation.
Battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN and flagship of Vice-Admiral J.F. Sommerville, RN, KCB, DSO, RN), battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN).

’Force H’ was to provide cover for the ‘Excess convoy’ from Gibraltar to the Sicilian narrows.

South-south-west of Sardina ‘Force H’ was to be reinforced by ‘Force B’ which came from the eastern Mediterranean and was made up of the light cruisers HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E. de F. Renouf, CVO, RN), HMS Southampton (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN) and the destroyer HMS Ilex (Capt. H.St.L. Nicholson, DSO and Bar, RN). The destroyer HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN) had also been part of 'Force B' during the passage from Alexandria to Malta but remained there for a quick docking. After this docking she departed Malta around noon on the 10th to join 'Force A'.

Further cover was to be provided by ‘Force A’, this was the Mediterranean fleet based at Alexandria. This force was made up of the following warships.
Battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Thyrwhitt, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall-A’Deane, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC, RN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, RN) and HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, DSO, RN).

During the passage of the ‘Excess convoy’ three submarines were stationed off Sardinia. HMS Pandora off the east coast and HMS Triumph and HMS Upholder were stationed to the south of Sardinia.

Chronology of events

The actual ‘Excess convoy’ and it’s escort (Force F) departed Gibraltar before dark in the evening of January 6th. Course was set to the west as if to proceed into the Atlantic. This was done to deceive enemy spies based in Spain. They turned back in the night after moonset and passes Europa Point well before daylight next morning. At dawn the next morning HMS Bonaventure parted company with the convoy to make rendez-vous with ‘Force H’ which departed Gibraltar around that time. All that day the ‘Excess convoy’ followed the Spanish coast so as if to make for a Spanish port. During the night of 7/8 January the convoy crossed over towards the coast of North-Africa and steered eastwards towards the Sicilian narrows while keeping about 30 nautical miles from the shore of North Africa. ‘Force H’ overtook the convoy during the night and was now stationed to the north-east of it to shield it from Italian air attack. If Italian naval units were reported the plan was that he would join the convoy.

In the morning of the 8th, HMS Bonaventure rejoined the actual ‘Excess convoy’. Late in the afternoon of the 8th HMS Malaya escorted by HMS Firedrake and HMS Jaguar parted company with ‘Force H’ and joined the ‘Excess convoy’ very early in the evening.

At dawn on the 9th ‘Force H’ was ahead of the convoy. At 0500/9, while in position 37°45’N, 07°15’E, HMS Ark Royal flew off five Swordfish aircraft for Malta which was still some 350 nautical miles away. All of which arrived safely. ‘Force H’ then turned back and joined the ‘Excess convoy’ at 0900/9 about 120 nautical miles south-west of Sardinia. HMS Ark Royal meanwhile had launched several aircraft, one of her reconnaissance aircraft reported at 0918 hours that it had sighted two enemy cruisers and two destroyers but this soon turned out to be Rear-Admiral Renouf’s ‘Force B’ which was to join the Excess convoy for the passage through the Sicilian narrows. They joined the convoy about one hour later.

’Force B’ had departed Alexandria in the morning of the 6th with troop for Malta on board. They had arrived at Malta in the morning of the 8th and after disembarking the troops (25 officers and 484 other ranks of the Army and RAF) sailed early in the afternoon. At 0900/9 ‘Force B’ was sighted by an Italian reconnaissance aircraft. This aircraft soon made off when being fired at. One hour later another Italian reconnaissance aircraft was however sighted. It was engaged by the fighter patrol from HMS Ark Royal but managed to escape. At 1320 hours, while in position 37°38’N, 08°31’E, Italian bombers arrived on the scene and made their attack on the convoy.

The convoy of the four merchant ships was steaming in two columns in line ahead, 1500 yards apart. HMS Gloucester and HMS Malaya were leading the columns while HMS Bonaventure and HMS Southampton were the sternmost ships. The seven destroyers were placed as a screen ahead of the convoy. ‘Force H’, with HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Sheffield and their five escorting destroyers were on the convoy’s port quarter, operating in close support. The mean line of advance was 088° and the ships were zigzagging at 14 knots.

The enemy consisted of ten Savoia bombers. HMS Sheffield detected them on her radar about 43 nautical miles off, this was the maximum range of her radar equipment. They were fine on the starboard bow and came into sight fourteen minutes later, flying down the starboard side of the convoy out of range of the AA guns at a eight of about 11000 feet. At 1346 hours, when they were broad on the bow, they started their attack. They came in from 145°, which was the bearing of the sun. All the ships opened up a very heavy fire and the enemy was diverted of their course. Eight of the aircraft were seen to drop bombs, some of which fell close to HMS Gloucester and HMS Malaya but no damage was caused. The other two bombers were seen to turn away during their approach. Both were shot down by a Fulmar fighter from HMS Ark Royal. Three men from their crews were picked up from the water. Another bombers is thought to have been shot down by HMS Bonaventure. The other seven are thought to have got away.

Nothing more happened during the afternoon of the 9th. Reconnaissance showed that the Italian fleet was not at sea so at dusk, while in position 37°42’N, 09°53’E, some 30 nautical miles west of the Sicilian narrows and north of Bizerta, Tunisia, ‘Force H’ parted company with the ‘Excess convoy’ and set course to return to Gibraltar. Rear-Admiral Renouf in HMS Gloucester meanwhile continued eastwards with the convoy with his three cruisers and five destroyers of forces ‘B’ and ‘F’.

They had a quiet night, passing Pantelleria after moonset. They remained in deep water to reduce the danger of mines. Next morning, at dawn on the 10th at 0720 hours, they encountered two Italian torpedo boats in position 36°30’N, 12°10’E. HMS Jaguar, the port wing destroyer in the screen, and HMS Bonaventure, stationed astern of the convoy columns, sighted the enemy at the same time. Initially thinking they might be destroyers from the Mediterranean Fleet, which the convoy was due to meet. British ships reported the contact by signal to Rear-Admiral Renouf. HMS Bonaventure challenged the ‘strangers’ and fired a star shell and then turned to engage the enemy working up to full speed. Rear-Admiral Renouf meanwhile turned away with the bulk of the convoy. HMS Southampton, HMS Jaguar and HMS Hereward hauled out from their stations on the engaged side of the convoy and made for the enemy. HMS Bonaventure meanwhile was engaging the right-hand ship of the pair. When the other three ships arrived on the scene Bonaventure shifted her fire to the other enemy ship which came towards her at full speed to attack. The enemy fired her torpedoes which HMS Bonaventure avoided. The four British ships now quickly stopped the enemy but she did not sink. In the end HMS Hereward torpedoed the damaged Italian torpedo boat some 40 minutes later. The other Italian torpedo-boat meanwhile had disappeared. [The Italian ships were the torpedo-boats Vega, which was sunk, and the Circe. HMS Boneventure had sustained some superficial damage from splinters during the action.

Enemy air attacks during 10 January.

At 0800/10, Admiral Cunningham arrived on the scene with ‘Force A’ before the fight was finished. ‘Force A’ turned to the south-east in the wake of the ‘Excess convoy around 0830 hours. While doing so, the destroyer HMS Gallant hit a mine and had her bow blown off. [This was a mine from the Italian minefield ‘7 AN’]. HMS Mohawk took the stricken destroyer in tow towards Malta escorted by HMS Bonaventure and HMS Griffin. They were later joined by HMS Gloucester and HMS Southampton. While HMS Mohawk was passing the towline two Italian torpedo planes attacked but they had to drop their torpedoes from long range and they missed. Between 1130 and 1800 hours, as the tow crept along at five or six knots, with their escort zig-zagging at 20 knots, they were attacked or threatened by aircraft ten times. Nearly all German high level bombers, which came in ones, twos or threes. The enemy dropped bombs in five out of the ten attempts but no hits were obtained. At 1300 hours German dive bombers arrived an obtained a near miss on HMS Southampton causing some minor damage.

At 0500/11, when about 15 nautical miles from Malta, all was going well and Rear-Admiral Renouf made off with for Suda Bay, Crete with HMS Gloucester, HMS Southampton and HMS Diamond. This last ship had joined the evening before. HMS Gallant, still being towed by HMS Mohawk and escorted by HMS Bonaventure and HMS Griffin arrived at Malta in the forenoon. At Malta, HMS Bonaventure disembarked the soldiers she had on board. [HMS Gallant was further damaged by bombs while at Malta and was eventually found to be beyond economical repair and was cannibalized for spares.]

Meanwhile, Admiral Cunningham in ‘Force A’ had a similar experience on a larger scale. He had sailed from Alexandria on the 7th and enemy aircraft spotted his force already on the same day. During the afternoon of the 10th heavy dive bombing attacks were pressed home by the emeny with skill and determination. The main target was HMS Illustrious. Had the enemy attacked the convoy itself the four transports would most likely all have been sunk, instead the Ilustrious was disabled and she would be out of action of many months.

At noon on the 10th the transports were steering south-eastward, zigzagging at 14 to 15 knots with an escort of three destroyers. At 1320 hours, HMS Calcutta joined them. HMS Warspite, HMS Illustrious and HMS Valiant were steaming in line ahead on the convoy’s starboard quarter, course 110° and zigzagging at 17 to 18 knots. These ships were screened by seven destroyers. The weather was clear, with high cloud.

The fleet was in position 35°59’N, 13°13’E some 55 nautical miles west of Malta when the battle began with an air attack by two Savoia torpedo planes which were detected six nautical miles away on the starboard beam at 1220 hours. They came in at a steady level, 150 feet above the water and dropped their torpedoes about 2500 yards from the battleships. They were sighted a minute before firing and the ships received them with a barrage from long- and short-range guns, altering course to avoid the torpedoes, which passed astern of the rearmost ship HMS Valiant. Five Fulmar fighters from the Illustrious had been patrolling above the fleet. One had returned before the attack being damaged while assisting to destroy a shadower some time before the attack. The other four aircraft chased the torpedo aircraft all the way to Linosa Island, which was about 20 miles to the westward. They claimed to have damaged both the enemy machines.

Directly after this attack, while the ships were reforming the line, a strong force of aircraft were reported at 1235 hours, coming from the northward some 30 miles away. The Fulmars, of course, were then a long way off, flying low and with little ammunition remaining. Actually two were even out of ammunition. They were ordered to return and the Illustrious sent up four fresh fighters as well as reliefs for the anti-submarine patrol. This meant a turn of 100° to starboard into the wind to fly off these aircraft. The enemy aircraft came into sight in the middle of this operation which lasted about four minutes. All the ships opened fire. The fleet had just got back to the proper course, 110°, and the Admiral had made the signal to assume loose formation, when the new attack began. The enemy had assembled astern of their target ‘in two very loose and flexible formations’ at a height of 12000 feet.

They were Junkers dive bombers, perhaps as many as 36, of which 18 to 24 attacked HMS Illustrious at 1240 hours, while a dozen attacked the battleships and the destroyer screen. They came down in flights of three on different bearings astern and on either beam, to release their bombs at heights from 1500 to 800 feet, ‘a very severe and brilliantly executed dive-bombing attack’ says Captain Boyd of the Illustrious. The ships altered course continually, and beginning with long-range controlled fire during the approach, shifted to barrage fire as the enemy dived for attack. The ships shot down at least three machines, while the eight Fulmar fighters that were up shot down five more, at the coast of one British machine. Even the two Fulmars that were out of ammo made dummy attacks and forced two Germans to turn away. But, as Captain Boyd pointed out ‘ at least twelve fighters in the air would have been required to make any impression on the enemy, and double that number to keep them off’.

HMS Illustrious was seriously damaged. She was hit six times, mostly with armour-piercing bombs of 1100 pounds. They wrecked the flight deck, destroyed nine aircraft on board and put half the 4.5” guns out of action, and did other damage, besides setting the ship on fire fore and aft and killing and wounding many of the ship’s company (13 officers and 113 ratings killed and 7 officers and 84 ratings injured) . The Warspite too, narrowly escaped serious injury, but got away with a split hawsepipe and a damaged anchor.

As HMS Illustrious was now useless as a carrier and likely to become a drag on the fleet Captain Boyd decided to make for Malta. The Commander-in-Chief gave her two destroyers as escort, one from his own screen and one from the convoy’s (these were HMS Hasty and HMS Jaguar) and she parted company accordingly. She had continual trouble with her steering gear, which at last broke down altogether, so that she had to steer with the engines, making only 17 to 18 knots. Her aircraft that were in the air also proceeded to Malta.

A third attack came at 1330 hours. By this time HMS Illustrious was 10 nautical miles north-eastward of the battleships which, due to the manoeuvres during the previous attack, were nearly as far away from the transports. The enemy came in again with high level bombers. Seven machines attacked the Illustrious and seven more the battleships. They were received with heavy AA fire. All the bombs they dropped fell wide. HMS Calcutta claimed to have destroyed one of the attackers.

More serious in it’s results was a second dive-bombing attack upon HMS Illustrious at 1610 hours. There were 15 JU-87’s Stuka’s escorted by 5 fighters. Actually 9 of the Stuka’s dropped their bombs, the other 6 were kept at bay due to heavy AA fire from the Illustrious, Hasty and Jaguar. One bomb hit and two near misses on the Illustrious were obtained by the enemy for the loss of one of their aircraft which was shot down by the Illustrious and the Jaguar. A few minutes later the 6 Stuka’s that had been driven off attacked the battleships but they again retired after fire was opened on them.

At 1715 hours, 17 more Stuka’s attacked the battleships. Again they were received with heavy AA fire. The enemy dropped their bombs from a greater height and non of them hit although splinters from a near miss killed a rating on board HMS Valiant and a bombs fell very near HMS Janus but it did not explode. The ships may have destroyed one aircraft with their AA fire. Three of the Fulmars from the Illustrious came from Malta and destroyed three of the attackers.

This turned out to be the end of the ordeal for the ‘Excess Convoy’ and its supporting ships of war, but not for HMS Illustrious which had one more encounter with the enemy before she reached Malta. At about 1920 hours, a little more then an hour after sunset and in moonlight, some aircraft approached from seaward when she was only five nautical miles from the entrance to Grand Harbour, Malta. She had received warning from Malta that enemy aircraft were about and she sighted two – probably torpedo planes. Illustrious, Hasty and Jaguar fired a blind barrage on which the enemy disappeared. Directly afterwards HMS Hasty obtained an Asdic contact and attacked it with depth charges, but whether it was a submarine remains uncertain. HMS Illustrious finally entered harbour at 2100 hours accompanied by HMS Jaguar which had passengers to land.

Movements of the actual ‘Excess Convoy’.

In the meantime, after the mild attack at 1340/10, the convoy went on its way unhindered. Its movements then became involved in those of the Malta to Egypt convoys, which were to sail under cover of the main operation with the special support of Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell’s ‘Force D’ which was made up of the cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN) and HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN). The first of these convoys, the two ships of M.W. 5½ (see above), had left Alexandria for Malta on 7 January, some hours after Admiral Cunningham sailed westwards with ‘Force A’ to meet the ‘Excess Convoy’. Both ships of this convoy reached Malta without adventure in the morning of the 10th escorted by HMS Calcutta, HMS Diamond and HMS Defender. On arrival HMS Calcutta joined the six slow ships which made up convoy M.E. 6 which was bound for Port Said and Alexandria. The ships in this convoy were the; Devis (6054 GRT, built 1938), Hoegh Hood (tanker, Norwegian, 9351 GRT, built 1936), Pontfield (tanker, 8290 GRT, built 1940), Rodi (3220 GRT, built 1928, former Italian), Trocas (tanker, 7406 GRT, built 1927) and Volo (1587 GRT, built 1938). They were escorted by four corvettes; HMS Peony (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) M.B. Sherwood, DSO, RN), HMS Salvia (Lt.Cdr. J.I. Miller, DSO, RN, RNR), HMS Hyacinth (T/Lt. F.C. Hopkins, RNR), HMS Gloxinia (Lt.Cdr. A.J.C. Pomeroy, RNVR). At the end of the searched channel this convoy was joined by ‘Force D’. HMS Calcutta was then ordered to join the ‘Excess Convoy’ and arrived in time to defend it from the Italian bombers as already described.

The last convoy, M.E. 5½, two fast ships (the Lanarkshire (8167 GRT, built 1940) and Waiwera (12435 GRT, built 1934)) bound for Alexandria, also left Malta in the morning of the 10th under escort of HMS Diamond. They were to join the ‘Excess Convoy’ until they were to turn to the south to clear Crete and then proceed to Alexandria. The ‘Excess Convoy’ would then proceed to Piraeus, Greece. The two convoys met that afternoon. The transport Essex then left and proceeded to Malta escorted by HMS Hero. After the Essex was safely inside Grand Harbour, HMS Hero joined the fleet.

Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell stayed with convoy M.E. 6 until dark on the 10th. As ‘Force A’ was somewhat behind due to the air attacks and Admiral Cunningham ordered Vice Admiral Pridham-Whippell to position HMS Orion and HMAS Perth to the north of the convoy to be in a good position in case of an attack by Italian surface forces. ‘Force A’ made good ground during the night and was some 25 nautical miles north of the convoy by daylight on the 11th at which time Orion and Perth joined ‘Force A’. Their forces stayed within a few miles of the convoy until the afternoon when they turned back to help HMS Gloucester, HMS Southampton which had come under air attack (see below). In the evening the ships destined for Alexandria left the convoy, while HMS Calcutta went ahead to Suda Bay to fuel there. The three ships and their destroyer escort continued on to Piraeus where they arrived safely next morning, at 1000 on the 12th.

HMS Ajax and HMS York had been ordered to join convoy M.E. 6. HMS Ajax however was ordered to proceed to Suda Bay soon after she had joined the convoy. In the morning of the 11th therefore, Rear-Admiral Renouf in HMS Gloucester and with HMS Southampton and HMS Diamond in company, was ordered to overtake the convoy and support it. They were at that moment steering for Suda Bay having left the disabled Gallant off Malta some hours before. Rear-Admiral Renouf altered course accordingly and made 24 knots against the convoys 9 to 10 knots. He also send up a Walrus aircraft to find the convoy.

The sinking of HMS Southampton.

At 1522 hours, when his ships were some 30 nautical miles astern of the convoy, and in position 34°56’N, 18°19’E, they were suddenly attacked by a dozen German Ju-87 ‘Stuka’ dive-bombers. Fortune was against them. The attack came as an entire surprise and according to Captain Rowley of the Gloucester the ‘aircraft were not sighted until the whistle of the first bomb was heard’. Six machines attacked each cruiser, diving steeply from the direction of the sun, releasing a 550-lb bomb each, at heights of around 1500 to 800 feet. The ships opened fire with 4” AA guns and smaller AA guns. They also increased speed and altered course to avoid the attack but two bombs, perhaps three hit HMS Southampton causing disastrous damage. Another hit and some near misses did some damage to HMS Gloucester, most important damage was to her DCT (director control tower). Half-an-hour later seven high-level bombers attacked but they were detected in time and taken under fire as a result of which all bombs fell wide. During the attack the Walrus from HMS Gloucester returned and ditched alongside HMS Diamond which took off the crew and then scuttled the aircraft.

Rear-Admiral Renouf immediately reported the damage to his cruisers to Admiral Cunningham who went to their aid. He send Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell ahead with the Orion, Perth, Jervis and Janus. From Malta HMS Griffin and HMS Mohawk were sent. Before they arrived however, Rear-Admiral Renouf reported that the Southampton must be abandoned and that he would sink her. HMS Gloucester took on board 33 officers and 678 ratings of which 4 officers and 58 ratings were wounded while HMS Diamond took on board 16 wounded ratings. Upon this signal the battleships turned east again. HMS Southampton had cought fire badly upon being hit. For a time the ships company fought the fire successfully and kept the ship in action and under control but in the end the fire got out of control. Also it was found that some magazines could not be flooded. In the end the crew had to give it up and was taken off. A torpedo was fired into her by HMS Gloucester but it did not sink her. Soon afterwards Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell arrived on the scene and his flagship, HMS Orion then scuttled her with three more torpedoes (four were fired).

Further proceedings of the convoys and the fleet.

Next morning, the 12th, HMS Orion, HMS Perth, HMS Gloucester, HMS Jervis and HMS Janus joined Admiral Cunningham’s Force off the west end of Crete meeting there also A/Rear-Admiral Rawlings (‘Force X’) in HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of A/Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN) and with HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, CBE, RN), HMS Ajax and their destroyer screen made up of HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN), HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN), HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhodes, RAN), HMAS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, DSO, RAN) and HMS Wryneck (Lt.Cdr. R.H.D. Lane, RN). These ships were to have begun a series of attacks on the Italian shipping routes but the disabling of HMS Illustrious put an end to that part of the plan so Admiral Cunningham took HMS Warspite, HMS Valiant, HMS Gloucester and the destroyers HMS Jervis, HMS Janus, HMS Greyhound, HMS Diamond, HMS Defender, HMS Hero and HMAS Voyager straight to Alexandria where they arrived in the early morning hours of the 13th.

HMS Barham, HMS Eagle, HMS York, HMS Orion, HMS Ajax, HMAS Perth, HMAS Stuart, HMAS Vampire, HMAS Vendetta, HMS Wryneck, HMS Griffin and HMS Mohawk then proceeded to Suda Bay to fuel where they arrived around 1900/12.

After fuelling at Suda Bay, Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell took HMS Orion, HMAS Perth to Piraeus where they arrived at 0230/13. There they took some troops from the ‘Excess Convoy’ on board and departed for Malta at 0600/13, a task the Southampton was to have done. They arrived at Malta around 0830/14. After unloading HMS Orion departed for Alexandria later the same day together with HMS Bonaventure and HMS Jaguar. They arrived at Alexandria in the morning of the 16th. HMAS Perth remained at Malta due to defects.

Meanwhile the six ships of convoy M.E. 6 arrived safely at their destinations on 13 January.

HMS Barham, HMS Eagle, HMS Ajax, HMAS Stuart, HMS Juno, HMS Hereward, HMS Hasty and HMS Dainty departed Suda Bay for operations south-west of Crete early in the morning of the 13th. The destroyers HMS Ilex, HMS Wryneck, HMAS Vampire and HMAS Vendetta also departed Suda Bay to conduct a sweep in the Kythera Channel. They joined ‘Force X’ around noon but Vampire and Vendetta were soon detached to investigate explosions which turned out to be underwater volcano activity. Meanwhile Ilex and Wryneck were also detached for a sweep towards Stampalia.

’Force X’ returned to Suda Bay in the afternoon of the 15th and departed from there on the 16th for Alexandria where they arrived on the 18th.

Not a single of the 14 merchant ships in the convoys was lost but the fleet paid a heavy price for this loosing a light cruiser and a valuable aircraft carrier out of action for many months. As there were now German aircraft based in Italy future operations for the supply of Malta would be extremely difficult and dangerous. (1)

22 Jan 1941

Operation MBD 2 (also called operation Inspection).

Extraction of the damaged HMS Illustrious from Malta.

Timespan; 22 January to 25 January 1941.

Having arrived at Malta in the evening of January 10th, HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN) underwent temporary repairs there. However the enemy soon noticed this and commenced a series of heavy air attacks with the object of destroying the crippled carrier. It soon became obvious that the Illustrious had to leave Malta as soon as possible.

While at Malta HMS Illustrious was damaged further in these air attacks. She was hit again on the 16th but this caused no serious damage. On the 17th she was hit again on the quarterdeck but again this caused no serious damage. On the 19th she was hit yet again and now more serious damage was caused causing the operation to move her to be delayed. At 1927/20 Vice-Admiral Malta reported that HMS Illustrious would be ready to sail after noon on the 23rd at a speed of about 20 knots.

Departure of HMS Illustrious from Malta.

At 1930/23 HMS Illustrious departed Malta escorted by HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Thyrwhitt, RN) and HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall-A’Deane, DSO, DSC, RN). During the night of 23/24 January the Illustrious made better speed then anticipated (about 24 knots).

A cover force, ‘Force B’, made up of HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, RN), HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN), HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), HMS Ilex (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN) and HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), which had departed Suda Bay around dawn on the 23rd, failed to make contact with her.

However in the forenoon ‘Force C’ made up of HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of A/Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hereward (Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, RN) and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN), which had departed Alexandria around noon on the 22nd, joined her.

HMS Illustrious was detected by enemy aircraft twice but no air attacks on her developed. ‘Force B’ however came under heavy air attack. Torpedo bombing, high-level bombing and dive-bombing attacks were carried out. HMS Hero became detached due to a breakdown in her steering gear and was singled out for a specially heavy attack. There were many near misses no ship was actually hit, although HMS Ajax sustained some minor damage from a near miss. At least one enemy aircraft was shot down by AA gunfire.

All forces involved arrived at Alexandria on the 25th. (2)

1 Feb 1941

Operation MC 7.

Diversion in the eastern Mediterranean during operations by Force H in the western Mediterranean.

1 February 1941.

The light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN) and the destroyers HMS Ilex (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN) and HMS Hereward (Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN) departed Alexandria at 0300/1. The destroyers were detached shortly after leaving harbour to proceed to the north-eastward to sweep the waters around Rhodes during the night of ½ February. They were to be at Suda bay at 0700/2.

The cruisers were to proceed through the Kaso Strait around 2200/1. They then were to proceed to Suda Bay where they were to make rendez-vous with the destroyers.

At 0800/1 the Mediterranean Fleet departed Alexandria. The Fleet was made up of the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of A/Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral A.L.St.G. Lyster, CB, CVO, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Thyrwhitt, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr .P.A. Cartwright, RN), HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN), HMS Wryneck (Lt.Cdr. R.H.D. Lane, RN), HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhodes, RAN) and HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN).

At 2200/1 the light cruisers HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN) and the destroyer HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN) departed Suda Bay to join the Mediterranean Fleet at sea.

2 February 1941.

At 0645/2 Italian reconnaissance aircraft sighted the Fleet. At 0800 hours the Fleet was in position 34.25’N, 23.49’E. At this time HMS Ajax, HMAS Perth and HMS Jaguar joined the Fleet. HMS Wryneck was detached to return to Alexandria. She was ordered to proceed along the western desert coast in order to reinforce the inshore squadron during her passage.

At 1500/2, HMS Defender parted company and proceeded to Malta where she was to refit. She also had RAF personnel on board for Malta. She arrived at Malta at 0800/3.

The destroyer HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN) left Malta at 1900/2 to join the Fleet at 1100/3.

HMS Orion, HMS Bonaventure, HMS Ilex, HMS Hero and HMS Hereward joined the Fleet at 1545. No enemy had been encountered during their operations. HMS Bonaventure was detached shortly afterwards on account of her shortage of ammunition. She arrived back atAlexandria around 1300/3.

At 1800 hours, HMS Orion, HMS Ajax, HMAS Perth, HMS Ilex and HMS Hereward were detached to cover the movements of HMS Defender and HMS Decoy (see above) during the night. They later turned around to rejoin the fleet by 0900/3.

The Fleet continued to proceed to the north-west until 0100/3, then turned west but at 0300/3 turned to the east.

3 February 1941.

At 0800/3 a signal was received from Force H that ‘ Operation Picket ‘ had been completed but that ‘ Operation Result ‘ had been abandoned due the the severe weather conditions. As ‘ Operation MC 7 ‘’s main purpose was a diversion for these operations Admiral Cunningham decided to return to Alexandria.

Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell’s force rejoined the fleet at 0900 hours. At 0930 hours, HMS Ajax and HMAS Perth were detached for duty in the Aegean and to cover convoy’s. The destroyers HMAS Vampire and HMAS Vendetta were detached with orders to fuel1 at Suda Bay and then to join the escort of convoy AS 14 coming from the Aegean towards Alexandria / Port Said.

HMS Decoy, coming from Malta, joined the fleet at 1130 hours.

4 February 1941.

The Mediterranean Fleet returned to Alexandria around 1830 hours. Practice attacks by aircraft from HMS Eagle had been made on the fleet during the day. (2)

23 Feb 1941

Operation Abstention.

Landing on and capture of the Italian island of Castelelorizo.

The destroyers HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN) and HMS Hereward (Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN) embarked 200 Commandos at Suda Bay and then sailed for Castelorizo in the afternoon of 23 February 1941.

Later the same day the light cruisers HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E. de F. Renouf, CVO, RN) and HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN) departed Suda Bay to provide cover for this operation.

The submarine HMS Parthian (Cdr. M.G. Rimington, DSO, RN) was also involved in this operation. During 18 and 19 February 1941 she had carried out submarine periscope reconnaissance of the island and during the actual landings she was to act as beacon.

a part (24 men) of the garrison for Castelorizo of Royal Marines which had to be landed after the commandos had taken the island was embarked on the river gunboat HMS Ladybird (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) J.F. Blackburn, RN). This vessel departed from Famagusta, Cyprus at 2330/23.

Before dawn on the 25th the destroyers landed the Commandos which then successfully captured the island after the small Italian garrison surrendered. HMS Ladybird also managed to land the Marines in daylight. During an Italian air raid HMS Ladybird was hit while in the harour. The commanding officer of the Commandos stated that he did not require the Marines so these were re-embarked on HMS Ladybird which then left for Cyprus.

The main garrison of Royal Marines was embarked in the armed boarding vessel HMS Rosauria. Her sailing to Castelorizo was cancelled due to the enemy’s air raids on the harbour. She was to sail at night but this gave trouble due to her slow speed. She was to be escorted by the two destroyers but by now these were low on fuel.

In the end all ships involved in the operation were ordered at 0230/26 to proceed to Alexandria where the destroyers were to fuel and then take over the Royal Marines from Rosaria and land them at Castelorizo. The Commandos in the meantime had to held the island.

HMS Gloucester, HMS Bonaventure and HMS Decoy arrived at Alexandria at 2000/26. HMS Rosauria and HMS Hereward arrived at 0400/27. HMS Ladybird was ordered to remain at Famagusta, Cyprus. When HMS Gloucester arrived at Alexandria Rear-Admiral Renouf reported sick and command of the operation was transferred to Captain Everton of HMS Bonaventure.

The garrison from the Rosauria was then transferred to the destroyers HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN) and HMS Decoy.

The Italians however meanwhile did not wait and counter attacked. Over 300 troops were embarked at Rhodos by the torpedo boats Lupo and Lince. They were supported by the destroyers Francesco Crispi, Quintino Sella and the motor torpedo boats MAS 541 and MAS 546.

When HMS Ladybird left Castelorizo for Famagusta the commandos were left without support and means to communicate. So when the Italians attacked they were on their own.

At 0700/27, HMS Decoy with half the garrison, and HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN) departed Alexandria for Castelorizo. They were followed around 0830 hours by HMS Bonaventure, HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN), HMS Hero (with the other half of the garrison) and HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN). HMS Decoy and HMS Hero were to land the garrison at Castelorizo and take off the commandos.

When the force arrived off Castelorizo a small party was landed and found out about the Italian counter attack. It was then concluded that without more naval and air support the situation would be hopeless. The bulk of the exhausted commandos were then embarked and the whole force then set course for Suda Bay.

While covering the withdrawal of the commandos HMS Jaguar sighted a unknown ship in the harbour (this was the Italian destroyer Francesco Crispi). Jaguar fired five torpedoes into the harbour entrance. Four explosions were heard but the enemy ship was not hit. Shortly afterwards Jaguar sighted two torpedo tracks passing astern. Jaguar then opened fire on the enemy destroyer and claimed two hits. After the searchlight of Jaguar had broken down starshell was fired by her with some delay but in the meantime she had lost contact with the enemy.

The whole force then proceeded towards Suda Bay but at 1000/28, HMAS Perth, HMS Hasty and HMS Jaguar were detached. HMS Bonaventure then escorted HMS Dainty and HMS Hero south of Crete towards Suda Bay but parted company with them at 1500/28 and Bonaventure then set course for Alexandra where she arrived at 0715 hours on March 1st. Decoy and Hero continued on to Suda Bay where the commandos were landed in the afternoon of March 1st. They then also proceeded to Alexandria still with the intended garrison for Castelorizo on board. They arrived at Alexandria at 0630 hours on 2 March 1941. (2)

19 Mar 1941

Operation MC 9.

Convoy MW 6 to Malta.

19 March 1941.

On 19 March 1941 three merchant vessels departed from Haifa to Malta. One more merchant vessel departed from Alexandria.

The merchant vessels that departed from Haifa were the City of Manchester (8917 GRT, built 1935), Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938) and Perthshire (10496 GRT, built 1936). They were escorted by HMS Hotspur (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC, RN) and HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN).

The merchant vessel that departed from Alexandria was the City of Lincoln (8039 GRT, built 1938). She was escorted by HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall-A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN).

20 March 1941.

Around 0430/20, HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN) departed Alexandria to joined the convoy which was known as ‘Force C’.

Around 0700/20, ‘Force A’ which was made up of the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of A/Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.La T. Bisset, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral A.L.St.G. Lyster, CB, CVO, DSO, RN) departed Alexandria to cover this convoy. These capital ships were escorted by the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Thyrwhitt, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Ilex (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Havock (Lt. G.R.G. Watkins, RN) and HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN).

21 March 1941.

Around 0700/21, ‘Force B’ which was made up of the cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN) and HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN) departed Suda Bay to join ‘Force A’ at sea. Before they did so HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN) joined ‘Force B’ around noon. She came from Piraeus. The destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN) and HMS Hereward (Lt. W.J. Munn, RN) were also in company. HMS Hasty, like HMS Gloucester came from Pireaus. These ships joined up with ‘Force A’ around 1600/21.

When ‘Force A’ and ‘Force B’ joined up, HMS Havock was detached to the convoy (‘Force C’). Also on this day ‘Force C’ was reinforced by the AA-cruisers HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN), HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN), HMS Carlisle (Capt. T.C. Hampton, RN) which had been on convoy escort duty in the Aegean.

During the night of 21/22 March 1941, ‘Force A’ remained about 20 nautical miles north of ‘Force C’ with ‘Force B’ a further 20 nautical miles to the north-west.

22 March 1941.

At 0740 hours ‘Force B’ rejoined ‘Force A’ and remained close to the convoy all day. None of the forces was detected by enemy air reconnaissance all day.

One Fulmar fighter from HMS Formidable crashed into the sea around 1115 hours. The crew was rescued by HMS Gloucester.

At 2000 hours, when in position 35°08’N, 16°42’E, ‘Force A’ parted company. They set course for Alexandria after covering ‘Force B’ during the night. ‘Force B’, reinforced with HMS Nubian and HMS Mohawk from ‘Force A’, covered ‘Force C’ to the northward during the night.

HMS Coventry and HMS Carlisle left the convoy (‘Force C’) at 2030 hours and proceeded to Alexandria. The remainder of the convoy took the direct route to Malta at the maximum speed of the merchant ships.

At 1945 hours, HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN), which had been refitting at Malta, left that place to join ‘Force A’.

23 March 1941.

At 0800 hours, ‘Force A’ was in position 35°16’N, 19°32’E where it was rejoined by ‘Force B’. HMS Defender, coming from Malta, joined shortly afterwards. Course was continued towards Alexandria during the day.

The convoy (‘Force C’) arrived at Malta safely but were bombed in the harbour. HMS Bonaventure and HMS Griffin were slightly damaged by near misses. The City of Lincoln was hit on the bridge and the Perthshire took a hit in No.1 hold.

The cruisers and destroyers of ‘Force C’ departed Malta at 1930/23.

At 1900/23, ‘Force B’ had been detached to cover the passage east of ‘Force C’. ‘Force B’ was strengthened by HMS Ilex and HMS Hasty while HMS Herewardwas detached from ‘Force A’ to strengthen the escort of convoy AN 22.

24 March 1941.

At 0800 hours, ‘Force A’ was in position 32°27’N, 25°45’E and continued direct to Alexandria where it arrived around 2230/24.

The cruisers and destroyers of ‘Force C’ joined ‘Force B’ around 0730 hours. HMS Coventry and HMS Hereward joined the escort of convoy AN 22. HMS Carlisle arrived at Alexandria in the afternoon.

HMS Calcutta, HMS Ilex and HMS Hasty proceeded to Port Said.

Cover was provided for convoy AN 22 from west of the Kithera Channel.

HMS Bonaventure, HMS Griffin, HMS Greyhound, HMS Hasty and HMS Hotspur proceeded to Alexandria where they arrived the next day.

Part of ’Force B’ then patrolled the Aegean while the other part went to Suda Bay. (2)

28 Mar 1941

Battle of Cape Matapan.

Timespan: 26 to 30 March 1941.

26 March 1941.

The Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto departed Naples escorted by the destroyers Alpino, Bersagliere, Fuciliere and Granatiere from the 13th Destroyer Division.

The Italian heavy cruisers Fiume, Zara and Pola from the 1st Cruiser Division departed Taranto escorted by the destroyers Vittorio Alfieri, Giosuè Carducci Alfredo Oriani and Vincenzo Gioberti from the 9th Destroyer Division.

The Italian light cruisers Luigi di Savoia Duca Delgi Abruzzi and Giuseppe Garibaldi from the 8th Cruiser Division departed Brindisi escorted by the destroyers Nicoloso Da Recco and Emanuele Pessagno from the 16th Destroyer Division.

27 March 1941.

The Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto and her escorting destroyers passed the Straits of Messina after which they were joined by the heavy cruisers Trieste, Trento and Bolzano (3rd Cruiser Division) and their escorting destroyers from the 12th Destroyer Division; Ascari, Carabiniere and Corazziere which sailed from Messina.

The 1st and 8th Cruiser Divisions were to proceed to the Aegean to search for British/Greek convoy’s while the Veneto and the 3rd Cruiser Division were to proceed towards Gavdos Island to take up a cover position. Late in the evening however the 1st and 8th Cruiser Divisions were ordered to join the Veneto and 3rd Cruiser Division.

However in the meantime the British were aware of the Italian fleet movements and shortly after noon this day the 3rd Cruiser Division had been sighted and reported by a Sunderland aircraft.

In response Admiral Cunningham departed Alexandria at 1900 hours with the Mediterranean Fleet which was made up of the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of A/Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.La T. Bisset, RN, flying the flag of A/Rear-Admiral D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN), HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN / other sources give Lt. L.R.P. Lawford, RN in command), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall-A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN), HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN), HMS Havock (Lt. G.R.G. Watkins, RN) and HMS Hotspur (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC, RN).

The fleet steered a course of 300° at 20 knots.

Six hours before, at 1300/27, Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell, had departed Pireaus with the light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN), HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN) and the destroyers HMS Hereward (Lt. W.J. Munn, RN) and HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades, RAN). They were to patrol in the Aegean to provide cover for convoy’s but when the Italian warships were known to be at sea they were ordered to make rendez-vous at 0630/28 south of crete with the Mediterranean Fleet in position 34°20’N, 24°10’E, 30 nautical miles south of Gavdos Island, south of Crete.

28 March 1941 and onwards.

At 0430 hours, the Fleet was in position 32°22’N, 27°12’E steering 310° at 16 knots. They were a little over 200 nautical miles from the rendez-vous position with the cruiser force.

At 0555 hours, HMS Formidable, launched A/S and fighter aircraft. They were to search an area between Crete and Cyrenaica as far west as longitude 23°E. An air search from Maleme, in Crete, had started earlier. Four torpedo bombers (armed indeed with torpedoes) took off at 0445 hours to search to the west of Crete. One however developed engine trouble and ha to jettison her torpedo and return. The other sighted nothing of the enemy and returned at 0845 hours.

At 0630 hours, the cruiser force was proceeding to the south-east at 18 knots. They sighted an Italian aircraft of a type that was used as catapult aircraft by Italian surface ships. So this indicated that these must be in the area.

At 0630 hours, the cruiser force was joined by two more destroyers. These were HMS Ilex (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN) and HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN) which came from Suda Bay. The cruiser force then set course to 200°.

At 0720 hours, the enemy was first sighted by aircraft ‘5 B’ from HMS Formidable. At 0722 hours this aircraft amplified her report ‘four cruisers and four destroyers’ were reported in position 34°22’N, 24°57’E. They were steering 230°.

The next report came from aircraft ‘5 F’ from HMS Formidable at 0739 hours which announced four cruisers and six destroyers in position 34°05’N, 24°26’E steering 200°.

As the force reported at 0720 hours was identical in composition as the British cruiser force and only 35 miles north of this force it was thought that the aircraft had sighted our own ships.

The report of the force reported at 0739 hours was still being studied by Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell when HMS Orion sighted smoke astern at 0745 hours bearing 010°. One minute later the enemy ships were sighted and identified.

Commencement of the action.

At 0752 hours the cruiser force altered course to 140° and increased speed to 23 knots. Shorty afterwards the ships astern were seen to be three cruisers and some destroyers and speed was increased to 28 knots. As the enemy was suspected to be 8” cruisers of the Zara-class which outgunned our cruisers and were also faster it was decided to try to draw them towards out battleships which were about 90 nautical miles to the eastward.

At 0812 hours the enemy opened fire from 25000 yards. It were however not Zara-class heavy cruisers but it were Trieste, Trento and Bolzano. Enemy salvoes however fell short. Enemy fire concentrated on HMS Gloucester which commenced zig-zagging to avoid being hit.

At 0829 hours HMS Gloucester opened fire on the enemy from 23500 yards. The salvoes fell short but caused the enemy to alter course away and draw outside the British gun range. The Italians continued firing although all their salvoes were falling short. Both forces continued speeding to the south-east when at 0854 hours the aspect of affairs was suddenly changed when aircraft ‘5 F’ from HMS Formidable reported enemy battleships in position 34°00’N, 24°16’E steering course 210° at 20 knots. Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell had been in that position less then one hour before and thought the position to be incorrect but enemy battleships must be nearby non the less.

One minute later the enemy cruisers ceased fire and turned away to the north-east. They had been ordered to break off the engagement as the Italian C-in-C feared that his cruisers were drawn to far into waters controlled by British aircraft. Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell decided to follow the enemy and altered course accordingly. At 0936 hours he reported that the enemy was still in sight bearing 320°, range 16 nautical miles, speed 28 knots. During this phase of the action HMAS Vendetta developed engine trouble and was detached to Alexandria.

Movements of the Mediterranean Fleet.

When Admiral Cunningham received Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell’s contact report at 0827 hours the Fleet increased speed to 22 knots and altered course to 310°. Twenty minutes later HMS Valiant was ordered to proceed at her utmost speed and join Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell’s cruiser force. HMS Mohawk and HMS Nubian were ordered to join her.

At 0833 hours HMS Formidable was ordered to ready a torpedo bomber striking force. Also the aircraft at Maleme, Crete were ordered to attack the enemy cruisers.

Aircraft reports then came in regarding another enemy force further to the northward, though their presence was by no means certain. Aircraft reports continued to come in but the situation was very unclear. It was therefore decided to hold back the torpedo bomber striking force of HMS Formidable until the situation had cleared.

Striking force of HMS Formidable finally takes off.

At 0939 hours the C-in-C finally orders HMS Formidable to lauch her torpedo bomber strike force to attack the enemy and relieve the pressure on the cruiser force.

At 0956 hours Formidable therefore launches six Albacore torpedo aircraft and two Fulmar fighters as escort. Also a Swordfish was launched for observation duty.

Meanwhile the cruiser force was still in pursuit of the enemy cruisers. They were barely visible from the director of HMS Orion when at 1058 hours the enemy motive for breaking off the action and turning to the north-west became evident when HMS Orion sighted an enemy battleship bearing 002°. The battleship quickly opened fire and Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell at once altered course to the southward in order to disengage. Also speed was increased to 30 knots which all cruisers fortunately could make despite some machinery problems in HMS Gloucester. For ten minutes the enemy battleship concentrated her fire on HMS Orion which suffered some minor damage from a near miss. Smoke was made and the cruiser force then became invisible to the enemy except for HMS Gloucester. Fire was then shifted to this ship and she was repeatedly straddled until HMS Hasty was able to cover her in smoke. Meanwhile the Italian 8” cruisers that had been encountered first tried to cut off the retreat of our cruisers but fortunately right at this moment the air striking force from HMS Formidable intervened.

The air attack on the Vittorio Veneto.

While flying at 9000 feet the air striking force from HMS Formidable sighted the Vittorio Veneto at 1058 hours. Her salvoes were seen to straddle our cruisers. The planes proceeded to manoeuvre to reach a position off her starboard bow on the opposite site of the battleships destroyer escort.

They attacked at 1127 hours, in two waves, each plane being able to act independently. The enemy destroyers began to move over to starboard when our planes commenced their dive and the battleship altered course more then 180° to starboard when the first wave was at 1000 feet. Two aircraft (‘4 A’ and ‘4 F’) were already committed to the attack released their torpedoes on the starboard side. The third aircraft (‘4 C’) attacked from fine on the starboard bow.

The second sub-flight (aircraft ‘5 A’, ‘4 P’ and ‘4 K’) was able to take advantage of Vittorio Veneto’s turn and dropped their torpedoes from good positions on the battleships port bow. Although the striking force reported a possible hit all torpedoes passed clear astern of the target.

The enemy battleship then broke off the action with our cruiser force and retired on a north-westerly course at 25 knots. This was fortunate for the cruiser force but the C-in-C was not at all happy because this lessened his chance to bring his battleships into action against the enemy battleship.

At 1230 hours, Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell made contact with the Fleet.

Attack by FAA aircraft from Maleme on the Italian 3rd Cruiser Division.

The aircraft from Maleme also took part in this phase of the action. Three Swordfish had been flow off at 1050 hours. Flying at 9000 feet they sighted enemy cruisers in position 34°22’N, 23°02’E at 1200 hours. The enemy force was steering 300° at 28 to 30 knots. The aircraft then attacked out of the sun. Their target was the rear cruiser, Bolzano. The two leading aircraft dropped their torpedoes from the port bow and beam. The third aircraft came in too high, turned to port and then dropped it’s torpedo on the bow of the target. The enemy cruiser took avoiding action and all torpedoes missed. AA fire was opened but none of the aircraft was damaged.

Movements of the battlefleet 1100 – 1305 hours.

At 0918 hours, the C-in-C ordered HMS Valiant, HMS Mohawk and HMS Nubian to rejoin him. This was done after it was heard by the C-in-C that the Italian cruisers had broken off the action with the British cruiser force.

At 1112 hours, the C-in-C asked Rear-Admiral Boyd on board HMS Formidable when a second air strike force could be ready. The reply was ‘in about half an hour’. At 1153 hours, HMS Formidable reported this second strike force to be ready for takeoff. They were however told to wait for a moment.

At 1225 hours the battleships were ordered to launch spotter aircraft as action might be near. Shortly afterwards the C-in-C realised that the speed of the enemy battleship had to be reduced if his battleships were to see action against it. Meanwhile the cruiser force had been retiring towards the battlefleet and at 1228 hours HMS Orion had been sighted by HMS Jervis from the destroyer screen.

At 1305 hours, the cruiser force was ordered to proceed ahead of the battlefleet on a bearing of 290° at maximum visual signalling distance. They remained near the battlefleet until 1644 hours when they were ordered to press on and gain touch with the retreating enemy.

The Formidable’s second strike force awaits orders.

The first air strike force returned to HMS Formidable between 1200 and 1215 hours after attacking the Vittorio Veneto. This necessitated the second air strike force to be flown off in order to have the first one to land on. The two operations were completed by 1244 hours and HMS Formidable set course to rejoin the battlefleet she had to split off from during flight operations.

The second striking force consisted of three Albacore’s and two Swordfish accompanied by two Fulmar’s. After flying of it was ordered to wait overhead until the battlefleet engaged the enemy which was hoped to be around 1330 hours.

Whilst proceeding to rejoin the battleships, HMS Formidable was attacked by two Italian S-79 torpedo bombers but the torpedo tracks could be easily combed and both torpedoes missed astern. At 1400 hours Formidable was back in position and the Fleet was still proceeding westwards in pursuit of the enemy.

Vittorio Veneto

As touch with the enemy had been lost due to lack of shadowing aircraft three Albacores from the first strike group were launched again at 1400 hours to search for the enemy. One of them (aircraft ‘4 F’) sighted the Vittorio Veneto at 1459 hours in position 34°45’N, 22°14’E. The report was received at 1515 hours. This aircraft was able to remain in touch with the enemy until being relieved at 1920 hours.

The second striking force sighted the enemy battleship at 1510 hours. The squadron leader worked into the sun and succeeded in getting down to 5000 feet unobserved. The leading destroyer on the battleships bow then opened fire but turned away when shot up by the fighter escort. As the three Albacores (‘5 F’, ‘5 G’ and ‘5 H’) attacked on the Vittorio Veneto’s port bow she turned 180° to starboard and splashes were seen on her port bow and amidships. The two Swordfish (‘4 B’ and ‘5 K’) had worked round ‘up sun’ to attack separately. But as the Vittorio Veneto in turning presented her starboard side clear of the screen they decided to attack together diving from 8000 feet. By that time the enemy battleship was doing only 14 knots thus providing an easy shot. A large splash was seen on her starboard quarter and another on her starboard side. In fact only one hit was obtained which caused a reduction in the battleships speed.

Activities from R.A.F. bombers from Greece.

During the afternoon of the 28th R.A.F. bombers from Greece made a series of attacks on the enemy. When an enemy report was received from an R.A.F. Sunderland ay 1235/28 six Blenheim aircraft from 84 Squadron were ordered to take off from Menidi airfield (some 20 miles north of Athens) and attack the contact. These aircraft made an attack at 1420 hours. The target appears to have been the Vittorio Veneto but no hits were obtained.

Then at 1520 hours four more Blenheims from 84 Squadron attacked the Italian 3rd Cruiser Division. Two hits were claimed on a cruiser with 250 lb. bombs and two more on another cruiser with 500 lb. bombs. Unfortunately these were only near misses on the Trento and Bolzano.

Between 1515 and 1645 hours, several attacks were made by a total of 11 Blenheims on the Italian 1st and 8th Cruiser Divisions and near misses were obtained on the Zara and Garibaldi.

The pursuit, 1330 to 1810 hours.

At 1600 hours, the C-in-C ordered HMS Formidable to make strong as possible torpedo bomber attack on the damaged battleship.

At 1618 hours, the destroyers were organized into divisions for a possible night attack.

At 1644 hours, the cruiser force was ordered to press on to gain touch with the damaged battleship. They made off at 30 knots.

Shortly afterwards HMS Mohawk and HMS Nubian were ordered to proceed ahead of the battlefleet as a visual link between the battleships and the cruisers.

When evening was beginning to fall at 1720 hours, the destroyers were organized for night attack.

At 1810 hours, the C-in-C signalled that if the cruisers were to gain touch most of the destroyers would be sent to join them for a night torpedo attack on the damaged battleship. The situation was however not very clear due to lack of enemy reports.

At 1831 hours, the observer aircraft from HMS Warspite, which had been catapulted at 1745 hours, made a report that the damaged Vittorio Veneto was in company with three cruisers and seven destroyers and about 50 nautical miles bearing 292°, speed 12 knots, from the C-in-C’s position.

The British battleships then formed in line ahead and were doing 20 knots. Shortly afterwards the observer aircraft from Warspite reported that enemy forces were concentrating and at 1912 the aircraft reported that the enemy forces had formed five columns.

Situation at 1915 hours on 28 March 1941.

The sun had set at 1840 hours. By 1915 hours it appeared that the damaged enemy battleship was about 45 nautical miles to the westward steering 290° at 15 knots. Another cruiser force had joined the enemy fleet which was formed in five columns. The battleship was apparently in the centre with four destroyers screening ahead and two astern. On her port side were thee 8” cruisers and outside of them were three destroyers. On her starboard side were also three 8” cruisers with what appeared to be two 6” cruisers but were in fact destroyers. Both the 6” cruisers had by that time gone on to the westward.

Third torpedo attack on the Vittorio Veneto by aircraft from HMS Formidable and Maleme.

It was 1925 hours when aircraft from HMS Formidable made their third and last attack. They had flown off at 1735 hours when Formidable was in position 34°42’N, 22°44’E. Composition of this third strike force was; six Albacore’s and two Swordfish aircraft.

The sun was sinking when the force sighted the enemy and took up a waiting position astern and well out of range at low height. It was joined by two aircraft (Swordfish) from Maleme. These had sighted the enemy at 1810 hours when they were 25 miles off. On closing them they identified the enemy as four ships screened by six destroyers steering 320° at about 14 knots. At 1835 hours they saw the strike force from Formidable coming up from the eastward and took station in its rear.

Dusk had fallen at 1925 hours when the aircraft swept in to attack. During the approach the enemy was steering 230°. On closing the enemy put up barrage fire. The aircraft were forced to turn away to starboard and lost their formation after which they had to attack independently from very different angles.

Most of the pilots reported to have fired their torpedoes at the Vittorio Veneto but it was extremely difficult to observe anything with precision. Several observers of the attacking aircraft however reported a hit on a cruiser. Indeed a torpedo hit the Pola during this attack. Most likely it was fired by aircraft ‘5 A’ which dropped it’s torpedo at 1945 hours and Pola was hit one minute later. Following the attack the aircraft from Formidable proceeded to Suda Bay. Aircraft ‘5 A’ was out of petrol and had to made a forced landing on the water near destroyer HMS Juno, which then picked up the crew.

Also the two aircraft from Maleme attacked independently. They both dropped their torpedoes but obtained no hits. Both aircraft then returned to Maleme although one was damaged by enemy AA fire.

The attack by the aircraft had important results. The Pola was hit on the starboard side between the engine and the boiler room, causing her main engines to stop and putting out of action all her electric power and with it all her turrets. The attack was observed by a shadowing aircraft from HMS Formidable which had relieved the aircraft from HMS Warspite. At 1950 hours the aircraft reported that the enemy force had divided, the major portion going off on a course of 220° while the ‘battleship’ (which was in fact the Pola) remained stopped with smoke rising from her. This report however was never received which was just as well as the reported course of 220° was incorrect (300° was correct).

Movements of the British Fleet, 1920 to 2040 hours.

By 1920 hours the C-in-C was aware of the position and formation of the enemy fleet and knew that Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell’s cruiser force was in touch with it. The report of the dusk air attack was received at 2008 hours. It mentioned only probable hits. It was in light of this information that the C-in-C had to decide if it would be justified to take the fleet closer to the enemy.

At 2040 hours he decided that the destroyers were to attack. Capt. Mack with his eight destroyers then drew ahead making 28 knots with the intention of passing up the starboard side of the Vittorio Veneto and then attack from ahead.

The cruiser force.

Meanwhile the cruiser force had been pressing on at 30 knots to the westward to get in touch and at 1832 hours had seen the aircraft from HMS Formidable going up to attack the enemy.

At 1907 the Vice-Admiral ordered his ships to spread on a line of 20° apart, seven nautical miles apart. They were still opening out when at 1914 hours three or four enemy ships were sighted on the starboard bow. The Vice-Admiral then decided to keep his ships concentrated and they reformed in line ahead.

By 1930 hours the air attack had begun an was clearly visible on the horizon bearing 303°, distance about 15 nautical miles. Two minutes later the cruisers altered course to 320°. At 1949 hours speed was reduced to 20 knots in order to ‘reduce bow waves’. The last stage of the air attack was at that moment still in progress. Searchlights and gunfire was visible bearing 278°. At 195 hours course was changed to 290° to close the enemy. Visibility to the westward was then about four nautical miles and no ships were in sight.

At 2014 hours, HMS Orion altered course to 310°. A minute later a vessel was plotted and followed for 18 minutes. It became clear that the contact was either stopped or moving very slowly. At 2017 hours, the force had reduced speed to 15 knots. At 2029 hours HMS Ajax reported an enemy vessel in position 35°16’N, 21°04’E. This was 275°, 5 nautical miles from Ajax. The enemy was stationary.

Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell then decided to lead clear of this ship to the northward and try to regain touch with the retreating enemy. Accordingly at 2033 hours, the cruiser force turned to 60° and at 2036 hours to 110°. At 2040 hours the stationary Italian ship was reported to the C-in-C. It was thought the destroyers would be ordered to deal with this ship. At 2048 hours, course was altered to 310° and at 2115 hours to 300°. Speed was increased to 20 knots at 2119 hours.

The cruisers had been proceeding for some time on this course and the Vice-Admiral considered spreading them again when he realised that Capt. Mack and his destroyers might have gone further west and would almost certainly encounter his cruisers. At 2155 hours HMS Ajax reported three unknown vessels being picked up by radar 5 nautical miles to the southward. Though rather far to the westward these were thought to be some of our own destroyers. The Vice-Admiral then decided to keep concentrated and steer more to the northward as to keep clear of them. According at 2204 hours course was altered to 340°.

At 2229 hours, gun flashes from the battlefleet were seen astern bearing 150° to 160°. Then at 2243 hours, a red light was sighted by HMS Orion and HMS Gloucester bearing 320° on the port bow. The general alarm was made and the cruisers formed single line ahead. Course was altered to 000° at 2255 hours.

At 2314 hours a heavy explosion bearing 150° to 160° lit up the horizon to the southward. Shortly afterwards the Vice-Admiral received a signal from the C-in-C of 2312 hours ordering all forces not in action at that moment to withdraw to the north. At 2332 hours course was altered to 60°. Then at 0018/29 HMS Gloucester sighted an object to the south-west but lost it out of sight at 0030 hours. No other ship sighted this ‘object’. Nothing more was seen until 0635/29 when the smoke of the battlefleet was sighted to the eastward.

The destroyer striking force 2037 to 0200 hours.

After leaving the battlefleet at 2043 hours, the eight destroyers; 14th Destroyer Flotilla: HMS Jervis, HMS Janus, HMS Mohawk, HMS Nubian and the 2nd Destroyer Flottilla: HMS Ilex, HMS Hasty, HMS Hereward, HMS Hotspur, drew ahead on course 300° while making 28 knots. The 14th Destroyer Flotilla was in line ahead with the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla six cables on it’s starboard beam. It was Capt. Mack’s (who was in overall command) intention to pass up the starboard side of the damaged battleship outside visible range and then attack from ahead.

Capt. Mack did not receive the 2029 signal from HMS Ajax nor the 2040 signal from HMS Orion. It was very unfortunate that the destroyers proceeded northwards as did the cruisers leaving the south flank open for the enemy to escape.

Around 2200 hours, he received Ajax’s 2155 report of the three unknown ships. They were thought to be three miles ahead but due to a navigational error were in fact about ten miles on his port bow. As the destroyers proceeded westwards on course 285° the gunflashes of the battleships were seen at 2230 hours. Ten minutes later HMS Hardy sighted a red light bearing 010°. This was evidently the same red light that was seen to the north-westward by HMS Orion and HMS Gloucester.

The destroyers continued to proceed westwards on course 285° until 2320 hours when a signal came from the C-in-C to forces not engaging enemy ships at that moment to retire to the north-east. Capt. Mack did so and quickly sent a signal if this included his forces. He was told ‘after your attack’. This reply was received at 2337 hours and the destroyers then turned westwards again proceeding on course 270° for 20 minutes.

At midnight it was thought that the destroyers had drawn sufficiently ahead course was altered to 200° and speed reduced to 20 knots. Then at 0030 hours, just as Capt. Mack thought to have reached a position just ahead of the enemy, a signal was received from HMS Havock, which was with the disabled Italian cruisers about 50 miles further to the east, that she was in touch with a Littorio-class battleship and that she had expended all her torpedoes. Course was then altered to 110° and speed increased to 28 knots. A full hour passed before a signal was received from Havock that the contact was an Italian 8” cruiser and not a battleship.

In these circumstances Capt. Mack decided it was best to continue on to the east and at 0200 hours the destroyers sighted searchlights ahead and, steaming through a number of survivors, arrived on the scene of the battlefleet’s action and they then sighted the Italian cruiser Zara.

The British battlefleet. Night action 2213 to 2312 hours.

At 2043 hours, when the destroyer striking force proceeded on its quest, the battlefleet was left with a screen of only four destroyers; HMAS Stuart, HMS Havock, HMS Greyhound and HMS Griffin.

At 2111 hours, Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell’s report of a ‘stopped ship’ came in. The C-in-C at once turned to 280° and made for the reported position at 20 knots. The Warspite, Valiant, Formidable and Barham were in single line ahead at three cables distance. HMAS Stuart and HMS Havock were stationed one mile off to starboard and HMS Greyhound and HMS Griffin to port. Visibility was about 2.5 miles.

Nearly an hour had passed when at 2203 hours HMS Valiant’s radar detected a ‘stopped ship’ on the port bow bearing 244°, range 8 to 9 nautical miles. At 2213 hours course was altered to 240°, towards the ‘stopped ship’. At 2220 hours, the ‘stopped ship’ was reported 191°, range 4.5 nautical miles. The destroyers on the port side were ordered to move over to the starboard side but the order had hardly been given when HMAS Stuart sighted a ship 4 miles off, fine on the starboard bow bearing 250° and gave the night alarm. This however had not reached the C-in-C when two minutes later the massive outlines of ships were seen by the Chief of Staff and the C-in-C himself looming through the night. Two large cruisers could be made out on the starboard bow with a smaller vessel ahead of them.

These cruisers were the Zara and Fiume which had turned back to help the disabled Pola. They were in single line with a destroyer ahead and three destroyers astern. They were steering approximately 130° and were some 4000 yards from HMS Warspite. Almost at the same time HMS Greyhound which was drawing ahead opened her searchlight, its beam fell right across the water, most valuably illuminating a cruiser without revealing the position of our battleships.

HMS Formidable, being of no use in a gun battle hauled out of line to starboard. HMS Warspite then opened fire followed seven seconds later by HMS Valiant. A salvo of 15” shells crashed into Fiume. Her after turret was blown overboard, she started to list heavily to starboard and burst into a sea of flames. She was driven out of the line and apparently sank about 30 minutes later. Fire was then shifted to the Zara which was now illuminated by searchlights.

Just before the enemy cruisers were sighted HMS Barham, in the rear of the line, had sighted the disabled Pola on the port quarter making identification signals and had trained her turrets on her. When the Greyhound’s searchlight shone out, the Barham trained forward at once, opening fire on the leading ship which was the destroyer Vittorio Alfieri but was at that moment thought to be a 6” cruiser. A brilliant orange flash shot up under the bridge and bursts were seen along the whole length of the ship which turned to starboard and made off to the westward making smoke. The Barham then shifed fire to the Zara which was soon being heavily hit. A big explosion forward hurled one of her turrets overboard. The action lasted barely five minutes, shell after shell crashing into the helpless Italian ships which were caught unprepared with their gun turrets trained forward and aft.

At 2231 hours the remaining Italian destroyer turned towards the British battleships and one of them was seen to fire torpedoes. To avoid them the battlefleet made an emergency turn of 90° to starboard. The Warspire’s 6” guns then shifted fire to a destroyer that was illuminated by a searchlight but having difficulty in finding the target after the turn had been completed fired only one salvo at it which was fortunate as the target turned out to be HMS Havock.

By now the Italian cruisers were completely crippled and burning. At 2238 hours the C-in-C ordered the destroyers to finish them off.

The destroyers that were escorting the battlefleet, 2240 to 0140 hours.

As the battlefleet turned north after their action the Stuart was about to attack the enemy cruisers when three enemy destroyers were sighted steering to the westward. HMS Greyhound and HMS Griffin went off in pursuit while HMAS Stuart and HMS Havock proceeded south in search of the enemy cruisers. It was then 2240 hours. A minute later came the signal from the C-in-C to finish off the enemy bearing 165° and both destroyers proceeded on this mission.

at 2259 hours a burning and apparently stationary Italian cruiser could be seen about two nautical miles to the southward with what appeared to be another large cruiser circling slowly around her. HMAS Stuart then fired her whole outfit of eight torpedoes against this pair of cruisers and observed a ‘dim explosion’ low down on the ‘non burning’ one. HMS Havock did not fire torpedoes for the moment, being unable to make out a suitable target. It was then 2301 hours. HMAS Stuart then opened fire on the burning ship and then went after the other and found her at 2305 hours, about 1.5 miles off, with a heavy list and stopped. Fire was opened and two salvoes caused a big explosion and fires. She was seen to be of the Zara-class. A ship then suddenly loomed up on the port bow passing very close and Stuart had to turn to port to avoid collision. This was seen to be a Grecale class destroyer, apparently undamaged. Stuart then fired two salvoes at her. Havock which was following up Stuart lost touch with her but did sighted the Italian destroyer. She fired four torpedoes at it, one of which hit.

HMAS Stuart then sighted what was thought to be another cruiser but this could not have been the case, probably it was an enemy destroyer. She followed this ship to the south-west. HMS Havock meanwhile continued to engage the Italian destroyer for about 20 minutes until this ship had her decks awash and was blazing from fore to aft. This destroyer blew up and sank around 2330 hours.

HMS Havock still had half her torpedoes left. She sighted a cruiser which was heavily on fire and about to blow up. It was decided not to engage this cruiser as another one was sighted with a single fire abreast the bridge. Havock fired her remaining torpedoes at this ship but all missed. Havock then turned to the north and made off at high speed towards the cruiser that was heavily burning, fired star shell and then a few more salvoes in her. The star shell illuminated a large ship thought to be a battleship (this was in fact the disabled Pola) laying stopped. It was then 2345 hours. Havock then opened fire on this ship while retiring to the north-east. A signal was then sent reporting this ‘battleship’.

This was the signal received by Capt. Mack which then returned eastwards with his eight destroyers (D. 2 and D.14). At 0005 hours the Commanding Officer of the Havock realised his mistake and a signal was sent at 0030 stating that the reported ‘battleship’ was in fact a heavy (8”) cruiser. This signal was received by Capt. Mack at 0134 hours who decided (as stated earlier) to continue on to the eastward.

Meanwhile HMS Greyhound and HMS Griffin had been pursuing the enemy destroyers. The Greyhound, after her opportune searchlight display, sighted three destroyers in the rear of the Italian cruisers making off to the westward and gave chase together with Griffin. Fire was opened and hits were observed, but the enemy, lost in the smoke, turned southwards, was lost in the smoke around 2320 hours. Just then the C-in-C’s sigbal to retired to the north came in and both destroyers than proceeded accordingly until 0050 hours when HMS Havock’s signal was received, then then turned southwards.

At 0140 hours HMS Greyhound encountered the Pola, laying stopped on an even keel with ensigns flying and guns trained fore and aft. It was then that a challenge was seen and Capt. Mack and his destroyers arrived at the scene.

Captain D.14, the sinking of the Zara and Pola.

Capt. Mack in HMS Jervis had sighted searchlights ahead, and, steaming through a number of survivors, sighted what turned out to be the Zara, with a few small fires burning on the upper deck. As he passed her he fired four torpedoes, two of which appeared to hit and she blew up and sank. It was then 0240 hours. He ordered his destroyers to pick up survivors but not to lower their boats. Nine survivors were picked up by HMS Jervis.

Then at 0250 hours a red and white recognition signal was observed from the direction of the Pola which was about two miles away. The rescue of survivors was then stopped and the destroyers moved off in that direction. As they were closing they were met by HMS Havock which reported that the enemy cruiser seemed to be on an even keel with a large number of her crew on the forecastle and in the water around her. HMS Jervis then passed close to the Italian cruiser. No visible damage could be seen except for a small fire on the tarboard side abreast her after turret. He ordered his destroyers to pick up survivors from the water while HMS Jervis went alongside. To take of the rest of the ships company. They seemed thoroughly demoralised, many half drunk. The upper deck was an mess. The Jervis was alongside for about a quarter of an hour. At 0322 hours she had embarked 22 officers (including the ships Commanding Officer), 26 petty officers and 202 ratings. HMS Jervis then casted off and fired a torpedo into the stricken cruiser. As she appeared to settle very slowly Capt. Mack ordered HMS Nubian to fire another torpedo into her which completed the destruction of the Pola. At 0403 hours she blew up and sank.

Capt. Mack then reformed his flotilla’s in single line ahead, with the 2nd Flotilla on his starboard beam. Course was set to 055° at 20 knots to rejoin the C-in-C. Rendezvous was made at 0648/29.

Proceedings of the Battle Fleet, 2330 – 0800 hours.

At 2330/28, the Battle Fleet, leaving the Italian cruisers on fire and out of action, proceeded on a course of 070°, reducing speed to 18 knots. At 0006/29, the C-in-C signalled his course and speed and the position of a rendezvous at 0700/29. Light cruiser HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN) which had left Alexandria at 1300/28 together with the destroyers HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN) and HMAS Waterhen (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RN) were ordered to stay east of the C-in-C until 0430 hours. As were the destroyers HMS Juno (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN) and HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN) which had sailed from Piraeus, Greece in the morning of the 28th and made for the Kithera Channel.

At 0430 hours, HMS Formidable flew off three aircraft for a morning search between 160° and 305° while another was sent to the south-east for 30 miles and then to proceed to Maleme with orders for the aircraft that had landed there after their air strike the day before.

Between 0600 and 0700 hours all units of the Fleet joined the Flag. None had any damage or casualties to report except for one Swordfish aircraft that was missing. The searching aircraft returned at 0830 hours. They reported having sighted only a number of rafts and survivors. At 0800 hours the Fleet was in position 35°43’N, 21°40’E and course was now set to search the scene of the action. Between 0950 and 1100 hours many boats and rafts were seen and destroyers picked up a number of survivors, a work that was interrupted by the appearance of German aircraft. The total number of survivors picked up by the British ships had now risen to 55 officers and 850 men. Further to that Greek destroyers picked up 110 survivors on the 29th.

The return to Alexandria.

While the Fleet was on the way back to Alexandria a continuous air patrol was maintained by HMS Formidable for the remainder of the voyage. Fighters dealt effectively with a dive bombing attack made by 12 Ju.88’s at 1530/29 which was directed mainly against Formidable. No damage was caused although she was shaken by two near misses. One Ju.88 was shot down, another one was damaged and four had been forced to jettison their bombs early. At 0834/30 an S.79 that was shadowing the fleet was shot down by Fulmar fighters.

The Fleet arrived at Alexandria around 1730/30. A submarine was reported while the Fleet was entering the harbour. Destroyers cleared the area by dropping depth charges but all ships arrived in harbour safely. (3)

18 Apr 1941

Operations MD 2 and MD 3, convoy movements to and from Malta and bombardment of Tripoli.

Timespan 18 to 23 April 1941.

18 April 1941.

Around 0700 hours (zone -3) the Mediterranean Fleet departed Alexandria for these operations. The Fleet was made up of the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of A/Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Formidable (Capt. T. Bisset, RN, flying the flag of A/Rear-Admiral D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Phoebe (Capt. G. Grantham, RN), AA cruiser HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Juno (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN), HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Sommerville, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Kimberley (Lt.Cdr. J.S.M. Richardson, DSO, RN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN), HMS Havock (Lt. G.R.G. Watkins, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt. W.J. Munn, RN) and HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN). Destroyer HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN) joined later at sea having overtaken the fleet after being delayed on leaving Alexandria as she fouled her mooring buoy. The Fleet was to proceed to Suda Bay where the destroyers would be refuelled. Also HMS Warspite was to land salvage equipment there that was to be used in the attempt to salvage the heavily damaged heavy cruiser HMS York. Initially the Fleet set course to pass through the Kithera Channel but this was later changed to pass through the Kaso Strait.

At dusk the British transport HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) departed Alexandria for Malta. She was loaded with petrol and ammunition. She was escorted by the light cruiser HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN), and the destroyer HMS Hotspur (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN),. They were to make rendes-vous with the Fleet south-west of Kithera at daybreak on the 20th.

19 April 1941.

The Battlefleet passed through the Kaso Strait during the night and arrived at Suda Bay around noon to refuel the destroyers and disembark the salvage gear embarked in Warspite.

In the morning the light cruiser HMS Phoebe and the AA-cruiser HMS Calcutta were detached from the Fleet to join a convoy coming from Pireaus. They remained with the convoy until after dark and then proceeded to join the convoy of empty freighters that was to be sailed from Malta (see below).

The Fleet sailed around 1530 hours and set course to pass through the Kithera Channel and then set course to the south-west. Enemy reconnaissance aircraft reported the Fleet leaving the harbour.

At dark a convoy of empty merchant vessels (Convoy ME 7) departed Malta for Alexandria. It was made up of four merchant vessels; City of Lincoln (8039 GRT, built 1938), City of Manchester (8917 GRT, built 1935), Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938) and Perthshire (10496 GRT, built 1936). Escort was provided by four destroyers; HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN). This last destroyer had just completed a refit a Malta.

20 April 1941.

At 0800 hours, the Battlefleet made rendes-vous with the force of the Vice-Admiral light forces; the light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, RN), HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN) and the destroyers HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN) and HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN). Rendez-vous was also made with HMS Breconshire, HMAS Perth and HMS Hotspur. Breconshire joined the battleship line. The cruisers formed round the Battlefleet and the destroyers joined the screen. Course was westwards to meet convoy ME 7.

Convoy ME 7 was met around noon and HMS Jervis and HMS Janus joined the Battlefleet. The convoy then continued on to Alexandria escorted by HMS Phoebe, HMS Calcutta, HMS Nubian and HMS Diamond.

The Fleet was not attacked by aircraft despite being sighted by enemy aircraft in the forenoon.

At dark several of the destroyers streamed their T.S.D.S. (minesweeping gear) and the Vice-Admiral Light Forces was detached in HMS Orion with HMS Formidable, HMS Ajax, HMAS Perth, and the destroyers HMS Griffin, HMS Kingston and HMS Kimberley for independent flying operations. Also HMS Breconshire was detached for Malta escorted by HMS Encounter.

21 April 1941.

Between 0500 and 0545 hours, the Battlefleet bombarded Tripoli at ranges from 11000 to 14000 yards. HMS Warspite, HMS Barham, HMS Valiant and HMS Gloucester were in line ahead with destroyers screening, these were; HMS Jervis, HMS Jaguar, HMS Janus, HMS Juno, HMS Hasty, HMS Havock, HMS Hereward, HMS Hero and HMS Hotspur.

The submarine HMS Truant (Lt.Cdr. H.A.V. Haggard, RN) served as navigational beacon during the approach and aircraft from HMS Formidable provided illumination of the target area by dropping flares. The night was clear but dust and smoke made it difficult to see the results of the bombardment. The spotting aircraft later reported much damage in the harbour area including to fuel tanks. Also five ships were thought to have been sunk. A coast defence battery opened fire after 25 (sic !) minutes but without result.

[According to Italian sources the following damage was inflicted;
The torpedo-boat Partenope was damaged by shells of medium calibre. The bridge was hit and her commander, Capitano di Corvetta Guglielmo Durantini was hit in the head by a shell and killed instantly. The ship was temporarily disabled. In all two were killed and five slightly wounded.
It is not clear if the destroyer Geniere was also hit (Supermarina does not list her as damaged) but she had three of her crew killed, thirteen wounded (they may have been ashore at the time). Unfortunately, the report of Geniere could not be found in her file.
The torpedo-boat Pleiadi had one wounded (again he might have been wounded ashore as no mention of damage to the warship in her file).
The transports Assiria (2705 GRT, built 1928) and Marocchino (1524 GRT, built 1920, one wounded) were sunk in shallow water, the Custom (Guardi di Finanza) motor boat Cicconetti (61 tons) was also sunk (all three had not returned to service when the British occupied Tripoli in 1943). The transport Sabbia (5788 GRT, built 1926) was damaged.
We currently do not have any data on civilian casualties but the Italians mentioned that several of the enemy 381mm shells failed to explode. The Tripoli 190mm coastal battery fired 88 rounds and claimed an enemy vessel probably hit but this was not the case.]

On completion of the bombardment the fleet withdrew at maximum speed to the north-east and at daylight made contact with the Vice-Admiral Light Forces ships. Air attacks were expected on the Fleet but none followed.

At dark the cruisers were detached to make a sweep to the north of the Fleet and HMS Jervis and HMS Janus were detached to Malta.

22 April 1941.

Convoy ME 7 safely arrived at Alexandria at 0700 hours this day.

At daylight the cruisers rejoined the Fleet which then continued eastwards without any attacks on it or any other delay. Enemy shadowers reported the Fleet throughout the day and at 1800 hours an attack by three Ju-88’s was developing but Fulmars from HMS Formidable intercepted them and shot down two of them.

Around noon HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, DSO, RN) joined the Fleet coming from Alexandria and HMS Griffin then parted company and proceeded to Suda Bay for fueling and then escort duty in the Aegean.

At 1600 hours HMS Gloucester was detached to Malta where she arrived on April 24th and HMAS Perth to join HMS Phoebe in the Aegean. Having arrived at Alexandria with convoy ME 7, Phoebe and Calcutta departed Alexandria in the afternoon to join a convoy towards the Aegean.

23 April 1941.

The Fleet arrived at Alexandria without further incident at 1030 hours. (2)

25 Feb 1942
At 1500 hours, HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, MVO, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO and Bar, RAN), HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN) departed Batavia for Surabaya where they were to join Dutch Rear-Admiral Doorman's Eastern Striking Force.

HMAS Hobart (Capt. H.L. Howden, CBE, RAN) was also ordered to sail with these ships but she had not completed fuelling yet as the oiler RFA War Sirdar (5542 GRT, built 1920, (master) Cdr. M.W. Westlake, RNR) had been damaged in a Japanese air attack. (4)

26 Feb 1942
At 0330 hours, HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, MVO, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO and Bar, RAN), HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN) arrive at Surabaya from Batavia where they joined Dutch Rear-Admiral Doorman's Eastern Striking Force. (4)

27 Feb 1942

Battle of the Java Sea.

Prelude to the battle.

Japan had opened the war in the Far East on 7 December 1941 with their surprise attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbour. At the same time they launched attacks on the Philippines and Malaya. These attacks were followed by attacks on the Dutch East Indies.

By the end of December 1941 the Americans decided to abandon the Philippines as a naval base and on 30 January 1942, Singapore Dockyard was closed down by the British. This was followed by the British Army retiring from the Malayan penisula towards that base.

On 3 February 1942, Surabaya and Malang on the main Dutch Island of Java were bombed for the first time. By mid-February the Japanese had conquered British and Dutch Borneo and the Dutch islands of Celebes, Ceram and Ambon. These conquests gave them sea and air control over the Makassar Strait and the Molucca Passage.

The Allies soon realised that the forces at their disposal were not able to stop the Japanese advance. The only thing they could do was to delay the Japanese advance as long as possible.

Singapore and it’s naval base fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. That very day the Japanese landed on Sumatra and they soon also controlled the Karimata Channel and Gaspar Strait. Later they also had more or less the control over the important Sunda Strait, the main entry channel to the Java Sea.

On 25 February 1942 the Japanese captured Bali Island, to the east of Java and this gave them also control over the eastern exits of the Java Sea to the Indian Ocean. On this day also reports were received of massive Japanese shipping movements in the Celebes Sea with the apparent objective to invade Java. Also on the 25th the Japanese landed on Bawean Island, just 85 miles north of Surabaya.

Formation of the Combined Striking Force.

Given the reports of the Japanese shipping movements and their expected arrival off Java on 27 February, the Dutch Vice-Admiral Helfrich ordered that the Eastern Striking Force at Surabaya was to be reinforced by all available cruisers and destroyers that were then at Tandjong Priok (Batavia).

At that moment the Eastern Striking Force was made up of the Dutch light cruisers HrMs De Ruyter (Cdr. E.E.B. Lacomblé, RNN and flagship of Rear-Admiral K.W.F.M. Doorman, RNN) and HrMs Java (Capt. P.B.M van Straelen, RNN), the Dutch destroyers HrMs Witte de With (Lt.Cdr. P. Schotel, RNN), HrMs Kortenaer (Lt.Cdr. A. Kroese, RNN) and the US destroyers USS John D. Edwards (Lt.Cdr. H.E. Eccles, USN), USS Parrott (Lt.Cdr. J.N. Hughes, USN) and USS Pillsbury (Lt.Cdr. H.C. Pound, USN). The force had been reinforced on the 24th by the US heavy cruiser USS Houston (Capt. A.H. Rooks, USN) and the US destroyers USS Paul Jones (Lt.Cdr. J.J. Hourihan, USN), USS Alden (Lt.Cdr. L.E. Coley, USN), USS John D. Ford (Lt.Cdr. J.E. Cooper, USN) and USS Pope (Lt.Cdr. W.C. Blinn, USN) which came from Tjilatjap on Java’s south coast.

The following ships arrived at Surabaya from Tandjong Priok (Batavia) on the 26th. The British heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, MVO, RN), the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO and Bar, RAN) and the British destroyers HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN). From this date the Eastern Striking Force was now called the Combined Striking Force.

Formation of the Western Striking Force.

Some ships remained in Batavia and these were formed into the Western Striking Force which comprised the Australian light cruiser HMAS Hobart (Capt. H.L. Howden, CBE, RAN), the British light cruisers HMS Dragon (Capt. R.J. Shaw, MBE, RN) and HMS Danae (Capt. F.J. Butler, MBE, RN) as well as the British destroyers HMS Scout (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) H. Lambton, RN) and HMS Tenedos (Lt. R. Dyer, RN).

HMAS Hobart had been originally intended to join the Combined Striking Force but her fuelling was delayed owning to the tanker being damaged in an air attack and she was unable to sail with HMS Exeter and the destroyers in time and was left behind.

Orders for the Combined Stiking Force

Late in the afternoon of the 26th, Rear-Admiral Doorman, was in the operations room of the naval base at Surabaya when a signal was received from Vice-Admiral Helfrich which reported 30 enemy transports in position 04°50’S, 114°20’E, this was about 18 miles north-east of Surabaya. Enemy course was 245°, speed 10 knots. Two cruisers and four destroyers were reported to be escorting these transports. The Combined Striking Force was ordered to proceed to sea to attack the enemy after dark.

Rear-Admiral Doorman then considered to possible routes to make contact with the enemy convoy;
1) By a sweep east, along the north coast of Madura, followed by a sweep west, as far as Toeban.
2) By a sweep north, to the west of Bawean, continuing north-east wards towards the Arends Islands.

Later in the afternoon of February 26th, Rear-Admiral Doorman, called a conference of all his commanding officers, where the following decisions were taken;
1) The Combined Striking Force was to prevent, at all costs, a Japanese landing on Java or Madura.
2) The Japanese transports were to be attacked, preferably by night.
3) After the attack the Combined Trask Force was to proceed to Tandjong Priok (Batavia).
4) A formation for the night was ordered as follows; A screen of British and Dutch destroyers ahead, the five cruisers in line and four US destroyers in rear.

Also a plan for a night attack was made;
1) The British and Dutch destroyers were to carry out a torpedo attack as soon as the enemy was sighted and were to follow up their torpedo attack by an attempt to run straight into the enemy convoy and to cause as much damage as possible. The cruisers were to remain out of the convoy and were to fire on it. Finally the US destroyers were then to also make a torpedo attack.
2) If contact was made near the coast, special precautions were to be taken because Dutch mines had been laid off the north coast of Madura and also in the Toeban bight. After an attack in coastal waters the Allied ships therefore had to turn north.
3) After a possible night action the formation would be broken up and it was not considered possible to make definite plans for any subsequent action.

Departure from Surabaya.

The Combined Striking Force put to sea from Surabaya at 1830 hours. It had been decided to make a sweep to the east along the coast of Madura as far as the Sapoedi Strait and if the enemy were not sighted to sweep west and search the bight of Toeban. The Force sailed throught the western channel towards the Java Sea. The ships of the force were disposed in line ahead as follows;
1) Two Dutch destroyers, HrMs Witte de With and HrMs Kortenaer. This last ship had a speed limitation of 25 knots, due to one boiler being out of service.
2) Three British destroyers HMS Electra, HMS Encounter and HMS Jupiter.
3) The five Allied cruisers, HrMS de Ruyter, HMS Exeter, USS Houston, HMAS Perth and HrMs Java.
4) Four US destroyers, USS John D. Edwards, USS Alden, USS John D. Ford and USS Paul Jones.

Around the time the Combined Task Force sailed from Surabaya, US Army bombers found and attacked the enemy convoy in position 05°30’S, 113°00’E, which is about 25 miles north-east of Bawean Island. No report was however made to Rear-Admiral Doorman until nearly four hours later. And four hours after that another report was sent regarding this convoy. It is not known if Rear-Admiral Doorman actually received these reports.

At about 2200/26 the whole Combined Strike Force was clear of the Dutch minefields in the approaches to Surabaya and after proceeding 8 nautical miles to the north course was changed to the east, They were now in night formation and proceeding at 20 knots. They continued eastward as planned towards Sapoedi Strait as planned which they reached shortly after 0100/27. Rear-Admiral Doorman then altered course to 284° and maintained a westerly course throughout the remainder of the night.

Japanese air attack on the Combined Task Force.

At dawn on 27 February 1942, the Combined Task Force, was approximately 10 nautical miles north-west of Surabaya. They had not sighted the enemy during the night so day formation was assumed.

At 0700 hours, HMS Exeter, reported RDF contact on a group of aircraft in a south-westerly direction. Rear-Admiral Doorman hoped they were Allied aircraft but around 0800 hours he had to report to the ships in his force that the promised fighter cover would not be forthcoming. At 0855/27 aircraft were heard overhead and shortly afterwards three 100-lb bombs fell close to HMS Jupiter. Five minutes later a stick of four bombs fell about three cables on her starboard quarter. All these bombs were tumbling and at least three failed to explode. USS Houston opened fire on these aircraft which retreated behind clouds. From this time on, enemy aircraft continued to shadow the Allied force but they remained out of range.

Rear-Admiral Doorman reported this incident to Vice-Admiral Helfrich, and at 0930 hours he altered course from 270° to 115°. At 1000 hours, Vice-Admiral Helfrich signaled that Rear-Admiral Doorman had to proceed eastwards to search for and attack the enemy to which Rear-Admiral Doorman replied at 1200 hours with ‘proceeding eastwards after search from Sapoedi to Rembang. Success of action depends absolutely on receiving good reconnaissance information in time which last night failed me. Destroyers will have to refuel tomorrow.’

A Japanese force located.

At 1400/27 the Allied force was proceeding towards the Westervaarwater (northern entrance to Surabaya). The force passed through the swept channel in the minefields in the following order; the Dutch destroyers, the British destroyers, the US destroyers and then the cruisers. At 1427 hours the force was entering the harbour when Rear-Admiral Doorman received the following important information from Vice-Admiral Helfrich.
1) At 1340/27 (GH), Twenty ships with an unkown number of destroyers were in position 04.45’S, 112.15’E (approx. 65 miles north-west of Bawean), course 180°.
2) At 1345/27 (GH), one cruiser was reported in position 04°40’S, 111°07’E (approx.. 135 miles north-west of Bawean), course 220°.
3) At 1350/27 (GH), two cruisers, six destroyers and twenty-five transports were reported 20 miles west of Bawean, course south. Of this force one cruiser and four destroyers proceeded south at full speed The transports, one cruiser and two destroyers stayed behind.

The combined striking force proceeded to intercept.

Rear-Admiral Doorman immediately proceeded back to sea again with the intention to intercept the enemy force that was reported 20 miles west of Bawean. After leaving the minefield the British destroyers were ordered to proceed at full speed. The Dutch destroyers were on the port quarter of the cruiser line. The US destroyers were astern. Course was set to 315°, speed 20 knots but this was later increased to 25 knots, the maximum speed of HrMs Kortenaer.

At 1529 hours enemy aircraft appeared, they dropped a few bombs at random. USS Houston fired on the planes. Meanwhile the Allied force scrattered. By 1550 hours the force had reformed and was again on course 315°, speed was now 24 knots.

At 1600 hours, Rear-Admiral Doorman asked for fighter protection but the commander Air Defence Surabaya did not comply because he needed his eight remaining Brewster Buffalo fighters to protect the four dive-bombers in a projected dive-bombing attack on the Japanese transports.

Contact with the enemy.

Shortly after 1600/27, three float planes were sighted to the northward. Some minutes later smoke was sighted, bearing 358°. At 1612 hours, in approximate position 06°28’S, 112°26’E. The Combined Striking Force was still on course 315°. The first report, which came from HMS Electra was ‘one cruiser, unknown number of large destroyers, bearing 330°, speed 18 knots, enemy course 220°. At 1614 hours the Allied fleet, then about 30 miles north-west of Surabaya, increased speed to 26 knots and HMAS Perth reported seeing a cruiser on the starboard bow. At 1616 hours, HMS Exeter reported a cruiser and four destroyers bearing 330°, range 14 nautical miles.

At 1616 hours, the Japanese heavy cruisers Nachi and Haguro opened fire from 30000 yards. Their main targets were HMS Exeter and USS Houston. Around the same time the Japanese light cruiser Naka opened fire on the British destroyer HMS Electra which was immediately straddled. Later salvoes fell astern, short and over. She was not hit. HMS Electra and HMS Jupiter fired ranging salvoes at the western (leading) enemy force at a maximum range of 15700 yards but all fell short.

The Allied force was still on course 315° and closing the enemy when HrMs De Ruyter altered course 20° to port (to 295°) to bring the starboard broadsides to bear. This brought the Allied fleet on an almost parallel course with the enemy heavy cruisers. The Allied cruisers were still in line ahead with HMS Electra and HMS Jupiter bearing 280°, four nautical miles from HrMs De Ruyter. The US destroyers were astern of the cruiser line and the two Dutch destroyers were about two nautical miles to port of the cruiser line. The position of HMS Encounter at that moment is not mentioned in any of the reports but she appeared to have been ahead of the Dutch destoyers and abeam of HMAS Perth.

HMS Exeter opened fire at 1617 hours followed by USS Houston one minute later. Range was 26000 to 28000 yards. This range was maintained for some time so the enemy was only under fire from the two heavy cruisers in the Allied cruiser line. Shortly after the action commenced the US destroyers took station about 3000 yards on the disengaged side of HrMs Java and maintained this relative position throughout most of the action. Enemy salvoes almost continuously straddled HrMs De Ruyter and HMS Exeter. All the time three float planes were spotting for the enemy.

First Japanese torpedo attack, 1633 to 1652 hours.

At about 1625 hours, the rear enemy destroyer flotilla appeared from the Allied line to prepare to attack. HMAS Perth opened fire on the right-hand destroyer (this was the Asagumo. She was hit by the second salvo just before she launched torpedoes. Her steering was affected and she was able to fire only three torpedoes.

The first enemy torpedo attack was a coordinated attack made by the two heavy cruisers, two flotilla leaders (light cruiser) and the six destroyers from the 4th destroyer flotilla. As the attack was developing, the Allied fleet, at 1629 hours, altered course from 295° to 248°, speed 25 knots and at 1631 hours, HrMs De Ruyter was hit in the auxiliary motor room on the starboard side by an 8” shell. A petrol fire was started but it was quickly extinguished. One of the crew was killed and six were wounded.

The enemy account of the torpedo attack is as follows; About 18 minutes after starting the gun engagement, the Naka followed by the Jintsu fired torpedoes. The 9th and 2nd destroyer flotilla’s then fired in succession. About 40 minutes after the start of the engagement the Haguro fired torpedoes. The Nachi also intended to fire torpedoes but due to a failure in drill did not do so. In 19 minutes, 43 torpedoes were fired at the Allied ships but none hit.

The Japanese 4th destroyer flotilla made smoke immediately following after the torpedo attack, and after the Perth’s second salvo hit, retired behind the smoke, which also concealed the enemy heavy cruisers from view. The Perth fired several follow up salvoes into the smoke screen which became so dense that the Japanese temporarily lost sight of the Allied fleet. The Electra and Jupiter had by this time closed the US destroyers and took op a position abeam the cruiser line on the disengaged side.

At 1635 hours, HrMs De Ruyter led in again towards the enemy on course 267°. Also about this time the rear enemy heavy cruiser, the Haguro was hit, apparently in the boiler room, as she emitted billowing clouds of black smoke, though continuing to fire her guns.

As the enemy smoke screen cleared, a Japanese destroyer was seen to be on fire. This may have been the Minegumo. By then the Nachi was firing at HMS Exeter and the Haguro at the and HMAS Perth.

Allied air attack

Around 1645 hours, splashes of heavy bombs were seen near the enemy ships, though no hits were observed. The Nachi and Haguro were still in line ahead about half a mile apart at a range of over 26000 yards. At this range they could only be engaged by the two Allied heavy cruisers. At this time the Haguro was seen to be on fire.

Second Japanese torpedo attack, 1700 to 1714 hours.

Shortly after 1700 hours, the Japanese delivered a second torpedo attack. It was made by the two heavy cruisers, the flotilla leader (light cruiser) Jintsu and six of the eight destroyers from the 2nd destroyer flotilla.

Between 1700 and 1706 hours, the enemy heavy cruisers commenced, unobserved by the Allied ships, a second torpedo attack. At 1707 hours, the foremost enemy destroyer flotilla, the 2nd, led by the Jintsu was seen to launch a long range torpedo attack and the Allied cruisers turned away to avoid the torpedoes and no torpedoes hit.

HMS Exeter hit by enemy gunfire

The Allied cruisers had ceased firing at 1707 hours, when they had turned away to avoid the torpedoes. The enemy was still firing but his shots fell short but at 1708 hours HMS Exeter was hit by an 8” shell from the Nachi and her speed rapidly decreased. She turned away to port, hauling out of the line and the cruisers astern of her turned with her. HrMs De Ruyter continued on her course for a short time but then turned to port as well. The Dutch and US destroyers also turned to port thus taking up a position ahead of the cruisers. The new mean course of the fleet then was about 180°.

As a result of this manoeuvre the Allied fleet was in disorder. At 1714 hours, HMS Exeter came to a stop and signaled that she had been hit in the boiler rooms.

HrMs Kortenaer torpedoed.

By this time the torpedoes that had been fired during the second Japanese torpedo attack reached the area the Allied ships were in and at 1715 hours, the Dutch destroyer HrMs Kortenaer was hit and blew up in approximate position 06°25’S, 112°08’E. She was hit amidships on the starboard side and broke in two. The forepart remained afloat for about five minutes but the stern part sank immediately. Five hours later HMS Encounter came across survivors and picked up 113 of them from the water and took them to Surabaya following the battle.

Also at 1715 hours, a torpedo track passed closely by HMS Jupiter and a moment later one was seen to pass astern of HMS Exeter. The US destroyers John D. Ford and John D. Edwards both had to use helm to avoid torpedoes.

HMS Exeter ordered to Surabaya.

Shortly after having come to a halt, HMS Exeter was underway again but her speed was limited to 15 knots. Rear-Admiral Doorman ordered her to proceed to Surabaya at 1740 hours and ordered the sole remaining Dutch destroyer HrMs Witte de With to escort her to there. HMAS Perth had also closed the Exeter and covered her with smoke from her funnel and smoke floats. She soon however rejoined the cruiser line when Rear-Admiral Doorman signaled ‘All ships follow me’.

The Allied fleet reforms.

At 1720 hours, in accordance with the above mentioned signal, and under cover of smoke which the US destroyers had started to lay, the De Ruyter proceeded on a course to the south-east. Altering almost immediately to north-east, at 1725 hours, the De Ruyter led the Allied cruisers between the enemy and the Exeter presumably to cover the latter and draw the enemy’s fire, for that in effect was the result of the manoeuvre. About this time an air attack developed and bombs fell 1000 yards to port of the US destroyers and two more sticks of bombs were dropped near them a few minutes later. No damage was caused by these air attacks. The Allied cruisers then proceeded on a course to the east.

British destroyers attack the enemy, 1725 hours and subsequent sinking of HMS Electra.

It was just about 1725 hours when Rear-Admiral Doorman signaled ‘British destroyers counter-attack’, whereupon Cdr. May, RN in the Electra ordered the Jupiter and the Encounter to follow. Circumstances were not favourable, for the smoke was very thick, and visibility over the battle area was not more then half a mile. Moreover, as the British destroyers were too far apart to make a divisional attack they attacked independently. The Encounter attacked through a clearing in the smoke. It is not known if she fired torpedoes or not. The Jupiter found no suitable target for torpedoes and therefore remained in the vicinity of HMS Exeter. She was able to drive off two enemy destroyers with gunfire near her which had come out of the smoke screen with the intention of making a torpedo attack on the Exeter. When the Encounter retired from her attack she was ordered to take up a position astern of HMS Jupiter and both destroyers remained near the Exeter as a covering force. The Dutch destroyer HrMs Witte de With was also near the damaged Exeter, she exchanged gunfire with an enemy destroyer around 1745 hours at a range of 9300 yards. The enemy replied and both ships fired around eight or nine rounds. The enemy was thought to have been hit twice. The Witte de With was hit once but the only damage sustained was that it destroyed her aerial. HMS Exeter and HrMs Witte de With arrived off the Surabaya defensive minefields at 2000/27.

Meanwhile HMS Electra had attacked through the smoke astern of the Exeter. As she cleared the smoke a formation of three enemy destroyers from the 4th Destroyer Flotilla was sighted on an opposite course entering the smoke at a range of 6000 yards. HMS Electra immediately engaged them and claimed hits with four salvoes on the leading ship. She did not fire torpedoes. As the three enemy destroyers disappeared into the smoke a shell hit the Electra Two of these enemy destroyers went on through the smoke to attack the Exeter with torpedoes and must have been the ships driven off later by HMS Jupiter. The third destroyer returned to engage the Electra which had been hit on the port side in No.2 boiler room. This hit brought the Electra to a stop. When the enemy destroyer came put of the smoke she was immediately engaged b all 4.7” guns in local control as communication with the bridge was dead. The enemy hit the Electra with it’s second salvo silencing the Electra’s guns one by one and causing a fire forward and a list to port. With only ‘Y’ gun still firing the order was given to abandon ship. The enemy continued to fire and closed so that he could use his machine guns. The Electra listed heavily to port and started to settle by the bows. She then turned over and started to sink slowly until about only 6 feet of her quarter deck was out of the water. She finally sank completely around 1800 hours. At 0315/28, 54 survivors were picked up out of the water by the US submarine S 38. One of these survivors subsequently died aboard the submarine.

Allied fleet reformed and a third Japanese torpedo attack.

By 1745/27 the Allied cruisers, less HMS Exeter, had reformed in single line ahead in the order HrMs De Ruyter, HMAS Perth, USS Houston and HrMs Java and had emerged from the smoke screen on an opposite course to the Nachi and Haguro which were about 19500 yards distant.

Also in sight, having emerged from the north-west out of the smoke, on approximately a parallel course, was the Naka leading five destroyers from the 4th Destroyer Flotilla. At 1750 hours the retiring HMS Exeter fired a salvo at the Naka. At 1752 hours the five enemy destroyers were seen to move in for a torpedo attack. HMAS Perth opened fire on them as they came into view in gaps -through the smoke. They returned the gunfire and then retired through the smoke. They had fired 24 torpedoes but all missed the Allied ships.

Around this time Rear-Admiral Doorman signaled to Vice-Admiral Helfrich that HrMs Kortenaer had been sunk and that HMS Exeter was damaged and ordered to return to Surabaya under escort by HrMs Witte de With. That the fight with the Japanese was ongoing and that his position was 06°15’S, 112°17’E.

US destroyers attack.

About 1758 hours, when the Allied fleet was on course 190°, Rear-Admiral Doorman ordered the four US destroyers to counter-attack but almost immediately this ordered was cancelled and ordered the US destroyers to make smoke. While the US destroyers were doing so Rear-Admiral Doorman altered course to 090° and then signaled to the US destroyers ‘cover my retirement’. When they received this order the four US destroyers were between the Allied cruiser line and the enemy. It was getting dark and visibility was now 15 nautical miles. Commander Binford, the commander of the 58th Destroyer Division decided that the most effective way to do so was a torpedo attack. Thereupon the US destroyers altered course to starboard, in order to break clear of the smoke that they had just laid. The enemy heavy cruisers were about 20000 yards away to the north-west on a westerly course. The US destroyers closed the range to about 14000 yards and then fired their starboard torpedoes at 1814 hours. The destroyers then turned around and fired their port torpedoes five minutes later. The enemy heavy cruisers were seen to turn to the north shortly afterwards.

At 1831 hours Rear-Admiral Doorman signaled to the US destroyers ‘follow me’. The US destroyers then turned under the cover of smoke, crossed under the stern of the Allied cruiser column and took up a position on its disengaged quarter on a course between east and north-east. Commander Binford then reported to Rear-Admiral Doorman that all his destroyers torpedoes had been fired.

Around 1815 hours gunfire between the Allied cruisers and the Japanese heavy cruisers was again exchanged. It was around this time that a hit was observed on the Haguro. Shortly afterwards the enemy heavy cruisers were seen to retire westwards. This information was signaled to Vice-Admiral Helfrich. Rear-Admiral Doorman also requested information about the position of the enemy convoy of transports.

The enemy was now no longer in sight and Rear-Admiral Doorman led his force to the north-east presumably to work round the enemy escort and find the enemy convoy of transports. Speed was set to 22 knots.

By 1856 hours, the Allied fleet was on course 290° altering gradually to the north. It was a bright moonlight night.

Night action, 1927 hours.

After dark, the enemy force was augumented by two other heavy cruisers, the Mogami and Mikuma. Also the light cruiser Natori leading three destroyers of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla. The Naka and the 4th Destroyer Flotilla appears the have retired from the battle area.

At 1927 hours the Allies sighted four ships on the port beam. These were the light cruiser Jintsu and three destroyers of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla. About the same time an enemy aircraft dropped a flare on the disengaged side of the Allied ships. Both British destroyers (HMS Jupiter and HMS Encounter) were now ahead of the cruiser line.

Fourth Japanese torpedo attack, 1936 hours.

Shortly afterwards the Japanese launched yet another torpedo attack. At 1933 hours, HMAS Perth opened fire on them with her main armament. He then fired starshell but these fell short. USS Houston also opened fire. At 1936 hours a row of explosions was seen on one of the enemy’s ships which were thought to be torpedoes being launched and HMAS Perth turned away to evade and the other ships followed. Japanese records confirmed that at this time the Jintsu indeed fired torpedoes and that the turn by HMAS Perth most likely saved Allied ships from being hit.

The Allied cruiser then again formed up in line ahead and were lead on various course by HrMs De Ruyter to intercept the enemy. Around 1945 hours the course of the Allied fleet was 170°.

Night action, 2000 hours.

The Allied cruisers continued on course 170° and at 2000 hours, Rear-Admiral Doorman, evidently unaware that HMS Electra had been sunk signalled to her, HMS Jupiter and HMS Encounter, ‘Report your position, course and speed’. At 2023 hours, what appeared to be four enemy destroyers were observed on the port bow attempting a torpedo attack and the Allied cruisers altered course to port. At 2043 hours it was again thought that destroyers had delivered another torpedo attack, this time from starboard and course was altered to 175°. Neither time torpedoes or their tracks were observed and Japanese records does not mention torpedoes being fired by destroyers around this time. Around 2100 hours the Allied ships turned west to a course of about 280°.

Shortly after 2100 hours, the US destroyer, now out of torpedoes and with fuel getting low retired towards Surabaya. They were off Surabaya when they received a signal from Admiral Doorman that they were to proceed to Batavia to fuel and receive orders where to obtain new torpedoes. Course was then set for Batavia. Off Surbaya they had ben joined by the USS Pope which had been repairing there. However it was soon decided that it would be impossible to proceed to Batavia and the five destroyers entered Sourabaya instead.

After the departure of the US destroyers the remaining ships of the Allied fleet proceeded westwards along the north coast of Java. They were in single column in the order HMS Encounter, HrMs De Ruyter, HMAS Perth, USS Houston, HrMs Java and HMS Jupiter.

HMS Jupiter sunk, 2125 hours.

At 2125 hours HMS Jupiter is reported to have been torpedoed in position 06°45.2’S, 112°05.5’E. She stopped immediately and sank in 8 fathoms of water at 0130/28 approximately in the position she was hit. The explosion killed twelve ratings and wounded seven of whom two subsequently died. Five officers and seventy-eight rating managed to land on the coast of Java. The ships Commanding Officer, one other officer and ninety-five ratings were captured by the Japanese. Four officers and sixty-six ratings were missing.

It is now known that HMS Jupiter was not hit by a torpedo but hit a mine of a Dutch minefield.

After the Jupiter had been mined the fleet proceeded more or less northwards. They were shadowed by enemy aircraft which dropped flares every time the Allied ships went on a new course.

Around this time the sole remaining destroyer, HMS Encounter lost contact with the Allied cruisers. She later, around 2330 hours, picked up 113 survivors from the water from the Dutch destroyer HrMs Kortenaer that had been torpedoed earlier in the battle. HMS Encounter then proceeded towards the west to make for Batavia but this was soon changed for Surabaya.

Fifth Japanese torpedo attack, 2245 hours.

Contact was now made again with the Japanese heavy cruisers Nachi and Haguro. These ships had not been seen after 1830 hours but the Japanese were apparently well aware of the position of the Allied ships and had been laying an ambush. Fire was now opened from both sides. Unknown to the Allies the Japanese had already launched their deadly torpedoes against the Allied cruiser line. The De Ruyter was hit by an enemy shell on the quarter deck and turned away. HMAS Perth followed as her Commanding Officer thought that the flagship was turning away to avoid torpedoes that she might have sighted. While the Allied cruiser line was halfway through the turn, at 2250 hours, the whole after part of HrMs Java, the last cruiser in the line, was seen the blew up and she stopped, heavily on fire. Shortly afterwards HrMs De Ruyter also blew up with an appalling explosion and settled aft, also heavily on fire. The two Dutch light cruisers had been torpedoed by the Japanese 5th Cruiser Division. HMAS Perth just managed to avoid the heavily damaged De Ruyter. USS Houston hauled out to starboard. The crew of the De Ruyter was seen to assemble forwards as the after part of the ship, as far as the catapult was a mass of flames. Ammunition began to explode and the ship had to be abandoned and she sank in a few minutes. The position in which the Dutch cruisers were hit was approximately 06°11’S, 112°08’E.

HMAS Perth now took the USS Houston under her orders and both cruisers now turned for Batavia, some 300 nautical miles distant, at high speed. Both cruisers were running low on ammunition. The Perth reported the sinking of both Dutch cruisers by W/T. From Surabaya the Dutch sent out the hospital ship Op ten Noord to sea to search for survivors. The Japanese however soon intercepted this ship and captured her.

After the battle.

HMAS Perth and USS Houston arrived at Batavia at 1400/28 and quickly commenced fuelling. They left at 2120 hours to try to escape through the Sunda Strait. The Dutch destroyer HrMs Evertsen was ordered to sail with them but was not ready in time and sailed about two hours later. Around midnight the Evertsen reported a sea battle going on in the Sunda Strait. Shortly afterwards she reported that she herself had been intercepted by the Japanese as well and that she had beached herself off the south coast of Sumatra.

The sea battle reported by the Evertsen was between the Perth and the Houston that had come across a Japanese landing force that were landing troops on the coast of Java in the Sunda Straits. The Allied cruisers had no chance against the Japanese forces and were soon sunk after being hit by multiple torpedoes each.

In the evening of 28 February 1942, the damaged British heavy cruiser HMS Exeter and two destroyers, the British HMS Encounter and the American USS Pope departed Surabaya to try to escape to Colombo through the Sunda Strait. After they cleared harbour they proceeded to the east along the coast of Madura for about 20 miles and then they proceeded northwards passing to the east of Bawean Island. They were then to steer north-east before making a run for the Sunda Strait. Soon after leaving Surabaya though the ships were discovered by a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft. At about 1000 hours on March 1st, HMS Exeter reported that three enemy heavy cruisers were approaching her. In fact four of them were closing her to finish her off. After about 1,5 hours the Exeter had been hit many times. She was then finished off by a torpedo from the Japanese destroyer Inazuma. HMS Encounter was also sunk by gunfire while USS Pope was brought to a stop by damage received from aircraft bomb near misses.

The only ships that had participated in the Battle of the Java Sea that managed to escape were the four US destroyer. The USS John D. Edwards, USS John D. Ford, USS Alden and USS Paul Jones left Surabaya in the late afternoon of the 28th. They went out through Madura Strait and the proceeded to the Indian Ocean though the Bali Strait. They encountered and were engaged by patrolling Japanese destroyers but managed to escape. They arrived safely at Fremantle, Australia in the afternoon of March 4th.

Two Dutch destroyers at Surabaya, HrMs Witte de With and HrMs Banckert were damaged and unable to escape. Both were scuttled by their crews.

Japanese ships involved in the battle..

In late February 1942 the Japanese set in motion movements to land troops on the island of Java, the main island of the Dutch colony of the Dutch East Indies. two landing forces went to sea, the Western invasion force and the eastern invasion force.

The western invasion force was made up of 56 transports. These ships were escorted by the 5th Japanese Destroyer Flotilla. This was made up of the light cruiser Natori (Flotilla leader) and the destroyers Asakaze, Harukaze, Hatakaze, Matsukaze (5th Destroyer Division), Satsuki, Minazuki, Fumizuki, Nagatsuki (22th Destroyer Division) and the 3th Japanese Destroyer Flotilla which was made up of the Japanese light cruiser Sendai (Flotilla leader) and the destroyers Fubuki, Hatsuyuki and Shirayuki (11th Destroyer Division), Murakumo and Shirakumo (12th Destroyer Division). Furter ships that were part of the escort force were the light cruiser Yura, the minelayer Shirataka, mineweepers W-1, W-2, W-3 and W-4 and several submarine chasers.

Cover for the western invasion force was provided by the 7th Cruiser Squadron (Rear Admiral Kurita) which was made up of the heavy cruisers Kumano, Mikuma, Mogami, Suzuya and the destroyers Isonami, Shikinami and Uranami (19th Destroyer Division). Air cover was provided by the aircraft carrier Ryujo, seaplane tender Chiyoda, auxiliary seaplane tender Kamikawa Maru and the destroyers Amagiri, Asagiri and Yugiri (20th Destroyer Division).

The eastern invasion force was made up of 41 transports. These ships were escorted by the 4th Japanese Desroyer Flotilla. This was made up of the light cruiser Naka (Flotilla leader) and the destroyers Asagumo, Minegumo, Natsugumo (9th Destroyer Division), Murasame, Harusame, Samidare, Yudachi (2nd Destroyer Division) and the Umikaze. The light cruiser Jintsu (Flotilla leader), destroyers Yukikaze, Tokitsukaze, Amatsukaze and Hatsukaze (16th Destroyer Division). Further ships that were part of the escort force were the light cruiser Kinu, minelayer Wakataka, minesweepers W 15 and W 16, submarine chasers Ch-4, Ch-5, Ch-6, Ch-16, Ch-17 and Ch-18.

Cover for the eastern invasion force was provided by the 5th Cruiser Squadron (Rear Admiral Takagi) with the heavy cruisers Nachi and Haguro and the destroyers Sazanami, Ushio, Kawakaze and Yamakaze. The 16th Cruiser Squadron with the heavy cruisers Ashigara and Myoko and the destroyers Akebono and Inazuma. Air cover was provided by land based aircraft and the seaplane tender Mizuho and the auxiliary seaplane tender Sanyo Maru.

South of Java operated the Japanese 1st Carrier fleet that had left Kendari (Celebes) and proceeded south through Stait Sape. This force consisted of the aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, Soryu, battlecruisers Kongo, Haruna, Hiei, Kirishima, heavy cruisers Chikuma, Tone, Atago, Maya, Takao, light cruiser Abukuma, destroyers Tanikaze, Isokaze, Hamakaze, Urakaze (17th Destroyer Division), Shiranuhi, Kasumi, Airake, Yugure (18th Destroyer Division), Arashi, Hayashio and Nowaki (4th Destroyer Division). (5)


  1. ADM 199/414 + ADM 199/656 + ADM 223/679 + ADM 234/335
  2. ADM 199/414
  3. ADM 186/795 + ADM 199/414
  4. ADM 199/1185 + ADM 234/346
  5. ADM 234/346

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

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