HMS Renown (72)
Battlecruiser of the Renown class
|Navy||The Royal Navy|
|Built by||Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. (Govan, Scotland)|
|Ordered||29 Dec 1914|
|Laid down||25 Jan 1915|
|Launched||4 Mar 1916|
|Commissioned||20 Sep 1916|
HMS Renown served with the Grand Fleet in the North Sea during the remaining two years of World War I. In 1920-21, following a refit, she carried the Prince of Wales on a voyage to Australia and America. During 1923-26, she was extensively refitted to increase her protection against gunfire and torpedoes. After a decade of further service, Renown was again reconstructed, greatly changing her appearance and giving her a modern anti-aircraft gun battery, much enhanced aircraft-handling facilities and up-to-date gunfire controls. This work was completed in September 1939, just after the outbreak of the Second World War. Renown's high speed made her a valuable asset during World War II. In late 1939, she was sent to the South Atlantic to search for the German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee. She covered minelaying operations along the Norwegian coast in early April 1940 and, on the 9th of that month, engaged the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, damaging the latter.
Later in 1940 and into 1941, she operated with Force H, based at Gibraltar to provide strategic presence in both the Atlantic and Mediterranean. While with Force H, she participated in a bombardment of Genoa, Italy, in February 1941. After Home Fleet service in 1942-43, Renown was sent to join the Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean. Operating from Ceylon in 1944-45, she helped contain the Japanese in the East Indies. HMS Renown had brief post-war service in British waters and was sold for scrapping in March 1948. Sold to Metal Industries 19 March 1948 and scrapped at Faslane later in 1948.
Commands listed for HMS Renown (72)
Please note that we're still working on this section.
|1||Capt. Sir Charles Edward Barrington Simeon, RN||15 May 1939||23 Jan 1941|
|2||Capt. Sir Rhoderick Robert McGrigor, RN||23 Jan 1941||26 Aug 1941|
|3||Capt. Charles Saumarez Daniel, DSO, RN||26 Aug 1941||2 Jan 1943|
|4||Capt. William Edward Parry, RN||2 Jan 1943||8 Dec 1943|
|5||Capt. Basil Charles Barrington Brooke, RN||8 Dec 1943||4 Jan 1946|
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Notable events involving Renown include:
8 Sep 1939
The battlecruisers HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN), light cruisers HMS Belfast (Capt. G.A. Scott, DSC, RN), HMS Edinburgh (Capt. F.C. Bradley, RN) and the destroyers HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) sailed from Scapa Flow to patrol between Iceland and the Faroes as cover for the cruisers of the Northern Patrol. The destroyer HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN) joined the force at sea later on the 8th.
12 Sep 1939
The battlecruisers HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN) and the destroyers HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN) returned to Scapa Flow.
The light cruisers HMS Belfast (Capt. G.A. Scott, DSC, RN) and HMS Edinburgh (Capt. F.C. Bradley, RN) had in the meantime been detached for patrol duties. They refuelled at Sullom Voe on 15 September and then continued their patrol. They only returned to Scapa Flow on 20 September.
25 Sep 1939
At 0510/25 a radio message was received from the submarine HMS Spearfish (Lt. J.H. Eaden, RN) that she had been badly damaged by enemy warships and that she was unable to dive and was proceeding along the Danish coast try to make it back to the U.K.
Around 0730 hours the light cruisers HMS Southampton (Capt. F.W.H. Jeans, CVO, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral G.F.B. Edward-Collins, CB, KCVO, RN) and HMS Glasgow (Capt. F.H. Pegram, RN) departed Rosyth and joined destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, RN) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. D.B. Wyburd, RN) near May Island shortly after 0900 hours. They were to operate off the Norwegian coast at 60°N to closely cover the retreat of the damaged submarine. with the destroyers HMS Somali (Capt. R.S.G. Nicholson, DSC, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. St. J.A. Micklethwait, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. P.V. McLaughlin, RN) and HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN) which were already on patrol in that area.
The light cruisers HMS Aurora (Capt. G.B. Middleton, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral R.H.C. Hallifax, RN) and HMS Sheffield (Capt. E. de F. Renouf, CVO, RN) which were already patrolling at sea were ordered to proceed well into the approaches of the Skagerrak with the destroyers HMS Fame (Cdr. P.N. Walter, RN), and HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN) which had been on the Fare Island patrol. These ships were to try to make contact with HMS Spearfish.
To provide more distant cover for the whole operation the battlecruisers HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN), heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.G.B. Wilson, DSO, RN), light cruisers HMS Newcastle (Capt. J. Figgins, RN), HMS Edinburgh (Capt. F.C. Bradley, RN) and the destroyers (Capt. A.G.B. Wilson, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. C.S. Daniel, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, RN) and HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. P.H. Hadow, RN) departed Scapa Flow.
Also from Scapa Flow sailed yet another cover force made up of the battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN, flying the flag of Admiral J.M. Forbes, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Rodney (Capt. E.N. Syfret, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. A.J. Power, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells, CB, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Tartar (Capt. G.H. Warner, DSC, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, RN) and HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN).
Around 0100/26 the destroyers HMS Somali and HMS Eskimo made contact with HMS Spearfish which was then safely escorted to Rosyth despite German air attacks during which HMS Ark Royal was near missed and HMS Hood struck by a bomb which did not explode.
All ships were back in port on 27 September minus HMS Norfolk which was detached earlier to join the Northern Patrol.
1 Oct 1939
1 October 1939, an enemy raider reported in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean. The chase of the German ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Graf Spee
Movements of the German ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Graf Spee 21 August 1939 – 13 December 1939.
Before the Second World War had started, on 21 August 1939, the German ‘pocked battleship’ Admiral Graf Spee departed Wilhelmshaven bound for the South Atlantic. On 1 September the Admiral Graf Spee was off the Canary Islands where she made rendes-vous with the supply ship Altmark and supplies were transferred.
On 11 September another rendes-vous was made with the Altmark in the South Atlantic. The Admiral Graf Spee had launched her Arado floatplane to scout in the area as supplies were transferred. The aircraft spotted the British heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland (Capt. W.H.G. Fallowfield, RN). The German ships then immediately parted company and cleared the area at high speed. Two days later, on the 13th, the ships again met and fueling was completed. The Admiral Graf Spee was still under orders to remain unseen.
On 20 September 1939 the Admiral Graf Spee and Altmark met again to fuel. On the 26th the Admiral Graf Spee was ordered to start raiding the British trade lanes. She then proceeded towards the Pernambuco area.
On 30 September 1939 the Admiral Graf Spee found her first victim, the British merchant vessel Clement (5050 GRT, built 1934) that was en-route from New York, U.S.A. to Bahia, Brasil. She then sank the ship in position 09°05’S, 34°05’W. The Admiral Graf Spee then proceeded eastwards and found three more victims between 5 and 10 October. On the 5th she captured the British merchant Newton Beech (4644 GRT, built 1925) in position 09°35’S, 06°30’W. This ship was en-route from Capetown to the U.K. via Freetown. On the 7th she sank the British merchant Ashlea (4222 GRT, built 1929) in position 09°52’S, 03°28’W. This ship was en-route from Durban to Falmouth. The crew of the Ashlea was transferred to the Newton Beech. The next day both crew were transferred to the Admiral Graf Spee and the Newton Beech was scuttled. On 10 October the Admiral Graf Spee captured the British merchant Huntsman (8196 GRT, built 1921) in position 08°30’S, 05°15’W. This ship was en-route from Calcutta to the U.K. On 15 October 1939 the Admiral Graf Spee met the Altmark again to receive supplies and fuel. On the 17th the crew of the Huntsman was transferred to the Altmark and the ship was scuttled in approximate position 16°S, 17°W. The next day the crews of the Newton Beech and Ashlea were also transferred to the Altmark and the German ships then parted company.
On 22 October 1939, the Admiral Graf Spee sank her next victim, the British merchant Trevanion (5299 GRT, built 1937) which was en-route from Port Pirie (Australia) to Swansea. This ship was sunk in position 19°40’S, 04°02’E. On 28 October 1939, near Tristan da Cunha, the Admiral Graf Spee once more refuelled from the Altmark. The Admiral Graf Spee then set course for the Indian Ocean.
On 15 November 1939 she sank the small British tanker Africa Shell (706 GRT, built 1939) in position 24°45’S, 35°00’E. This ship was in ballast and en-route from Quelimane (Portugese East Africa now called Mozambique) to Lourenco Marques (now Maputo, also in Portugese East Africa / Mozambique). Next day the Admiral Graf Spee stopped the Dutch merchant Mapia (7188 GRT, built 1923) but had to let her go as she was a neutral ship. The Admiral Graf Spee then set course to return to the South Atlantic where she met once more with the Altmark on 27 November 1939 and the next day she fuelled from her about 300 miles from Tristan da Cunha.
On 2 December 1939, the Admiral Graf Spee sank her largest victim, the British merchant Doric Star (10086 GRT, built 1921),in position 19°15’S, 05°05’E. This ship was en-route from Auckland, New Zealand to the U.K. The next morning the Admiral Graf Spee sank the British merchant Tairoa (7983 GRT, built 1920) in position 19°40’S, 04°02’E. This ship was en-route from Brisbane, Australia to London. On 6 December 1939 the Admiral Graf Spee refuelled once more from the Altmark. She then set course to the River Plate area where the British merchant traffic was the thickest. She was to sink more ships there and disrupt British shipping movements in that area before returning to Germany.
On 7 December 1939 the Admiral Graf Spee sank what was to be her last victim, the British merchant Streonshalh (3895 GRT, built 1928) in position 25°01’S, 27°50’W. This ship was en-route from Montevideo to Freetown and then onwards to the U.K.
Then in the morning of 13 December 1939, her smoke was sighted by three cruisers from the South America Division. More on this in the article ‘The Battle of the River Plate, 13 December 1939’.
British Dispositions in the South Atlantic / South America area
Shortly before the outbreak of the war the South America Division of the America and West Indies Station was transferred to the newly formed South Atlantic Station. The South America Division at that moment consisted of the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. F.S. Bell, RN, flying the flag of Commodore H.H. Harwood, OBE, RN) and the light cruiser HMS Ajax (Capt. C.H.L. Woodhouse, RN). In late August 1939 HMS Exeter was at Devonport with her crew on foreign leave when she was recalled to South American waters. On 25 August 1939 she sailed from Devonport. HMS Exeter arrived at Freetown on 1 September 1939. Commodore Harwood then met the Commander-in-Chief South Atlantic Station, Vice-Admiral G. D’Oyly Lyon, CB, RN. Later the same day HMS Exeter sailed for Rio de Janeiro.
Meanwhile four destroyers from the 4th Destroyer Division, Mediterranean Fleet, the HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, RN), HMS Havock (Lt.Cdr. R.E. Courage, RN), HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN) and HMS Hunter (Lt.Cdr. L. de Villiers, RN) had left Gibraltar on 31 August 1939 for Freetown.
HMS Ajax was already on station off the coast of South America. Shortly after noon on 3 September she intercepted the German merchant vessel Olinda (4576 GRT, built 1927) in position 34°58’S, 53°32’W. This ship was en-route from Montivideo to Germany. As HMS Ajax had no prize crew available the ship was sunk by gunfire a few hours later. In the afternoon of the next day, the 4th, HMS Ajax intercepted another German ship, the Carl Fritzen (6594 GRT, built 1920) in position 33°22’S, 48°50’W. This ship was en-route from Rotterdam to Buenos Aires. This ship was also sunk with gunfire.
On 5 September two of the destroyers from the 4th Destroyer Division, HMS Hotspur and HMS Havock departed Freetown to join the South America Division. They were ordered to examine Trinidade Island on the way. On 8 September 1939 the heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland (Capt. W.H.G. Fallowfield, RN) departed Freetown to join the South America Division as well. This cruiser came from the Home Fleet and had arrived at Freetown on the 7th.
On 7 September 1939, HMS Exeter entered Rio de Janeiro where Commodore Harwood had a meeting with the Brazilian Secretary-General of Foreign Affairs and H.M. Ambassadors to Brazil and Argentine. HMS Exeter departed Rio de Janeiro the next day. Later that day Commodore Harwood was informed by the Admiralty that the German merchant ships General Artigas (11343 GRT, built 1923), Gloria (5896 GRT, built 1917) and Monte Pascoal (13870 GRT, built 1931) were assembling off the Patagonian coast. He decided to move both HMS Exeter and HMS Ajax south, and ordered the Ajax to meet him at 0800/9. They actually made rendezvous at 0700 hours. The Commodore considered it possible that the German merchant ships might embark German reservists and raid the Falkland Islands therefore he decided to sent HMS Ajax there. HMS Exeter proceeded to the Plate area to cover that important area.
On the evening of the 10th, Commodore Harwood was informed that the transportation of German reservists by the three German merchant ships was very unlikely but as it appeared probable that the German ships were converting themselves into armed raiders the Commodore decided to start short distance convoys from the Santos-Rio and Plate areas. He therefore ordered HMS Cumberland to refuel at Rio de Janeiro on her arrival there and to organize and run ‘out’ convoys in that area with HMS Havock as A/S escort. The convoys were to leave at dawn and be protected against submarines and surface raiders until dusk. The ships were then to be dispersed so that they would be far apart by dawn the next day. At the same time the Commodore ordered HMS Hotspur to join him in the Plate area after refuelling at Rio de Janeiro, so that similar convoys could be started from Montevideo. If one of the German ‘pocket battleships’ was to arrive of South America, HMS Cumberland was to abandon the convoy sheme and join HMS Exeter in the Plate area. Also on the 10th, Commodore Harwood was informed by the Admiralty that the German merchant Montevideo (6075 GRT, built 1936) was leaving Rio Grande do Sul for Florianopolis but decided not to intercept her as this would divert HMS Exeter 500 nautical miles from the Plate area.
On the night of 12 September 1939 the Commodore was informed by the British Naval Attaché, Buenos Aires, that a concentration of German reservists was taking place in southern Argentina with the Falklands as a possible objective. He therefore ordered HMS Ajax to remain in the Falklands till the situation cleared, and the Commodore then proceeded south of the Plate area to be closer to the Falklands himself and yet remain in easy reach of the Plate area. During the next few days HMS Exeter intercepted several British and neutral vessels.
In view of a report that the German merchant vessels Porto Alegré (6105 GRT, built 1936) and Monte Olivia (13750 GRT, built 1925) were leaving Santos on 15 September 1939 Commodore Harwood decided to start the short distance convoys from Montevideo as soon as possible. HMS Cumberland had meanwhile arranged a twelve-hour convoy system from Santos. Ships from Rio de Janeiro for Freetown would sail at dawn on odd numbered days, and ships for the south on even numbered days with HMS Havock as anti-submarine escort and HMS Cumberland in distant support. HMS Cumberland left Rio de Janeiro on 16 September and during the next eight days sighted 15 British and neutral ships while on patrol.
On 17 September 1939, HMS Hotspur joined HMS Exeter in the Plate area. HMS Exeter then made a visit to Montevideo and resumed her patrol off the Plate area on the 20th. Fuelling was done from the oiler RFA Olwen (6470 GRT, built 1917, Master B. Tunnard) in the mouth of the River Plate. Soon after leaving Montevideo on 20 September Commodore Harwood learned from the British Naval Attaché, Buenos Aires, that the local German authorities were endeavoring to inform German ships at sea that the British merchant Lafonia (1872 GRT, built 1911) was on her way to the Falklands with British reservists for the Falkland Islands defence force. It was also reported that on 17 September an unknown warship had passed Punta Arenas eastwards. In view of these reports and of other pointing out that German merchant ships in southern waters were being outfitted as armed raiders the Commodore ordered HMS Hotsput to escort the Laofona to Port Stanley. As the volume of trade in the Plate area was greater than in the Rio de Janeiro – Santos area, HMS Havock was ordered to proceed southwards to the Plate area.
The first local convoy outward from Montevideo sailed on 22 September 1939. It consisted of the British merchant ships Sussex (11062 GRT, built 1937), Roxby (4252 GRT, built 1923), El Ciervo (5841 GRT, built 1923) in addition to the earlier mentioned Lafonia, and was escorted by HMS Hotspur. HMS Exeter met this convoy during the forenoon and covered it throughout the day. At dusk the merchant ships were dispersed on prearranged courses while HMS Exeter remained within supporting distance and HMS Hotspur escorted the Lafonia to Port Stanley.
On 24 September 1939, Vice-Admiral Lyon (C-in-C, South Atlantic) and Commodore Harwood learned from the Naval Attaché, Buenos Aires, that ‘according to a reliable source’ arrangements had been made for a number of German ships and a submarine to meet near Ascension on 28 September 1939. HMS Cumberland was ordered to proceed there and HMS Ajax was ordered to leave the Falklands and take up her place in the Rio de Janeiro area. HMS Neptune (Capt. J.A.V. Morse, DSO, RN) was also ordered to proceed to the area off Ascension with the destroyers HMS Hyperion and HMS Hunter which departed Freetown on the 25th. No German ships were however encountered off Ascension and all ships then proceeded to Freetown where they arrived on 2 October 1939 with HMS Cumberland low on fuel.
While HMS Cumberland left the station to search for the German ships, HMS Exeter and HMS Ajax were sweeping of the Plate and Rio de Janeiro – Santos area respectively. On 27 September 1939, HMS Havock escorted a convoy made up of the British merchants Miguel de Larrinaga (5231 GRT, built 1924), Pilar de Larringa (7352 GRT, built 1918) and Sarthe (5271 GRT, built 1920) out of the Plate area. The next day another convoy, made up of the British merchants Adellen (7984 GRT, built 1930), Cressdene (4270 GRT, built 1936), Holmbury (4566 GRT, built 1925), Lord Byron (4118 GRT, built 1934), Ramillies (4553 GRT, built 1927) and Waynegate (4260 GRT, built 1931) left the Plate area escorted by HMS Havock and with cover from HMS Exeter.
At daylight on 29 September 1939 HMS Ajax was off Rio de Janeiro ready to escort ships sailing northward. She sighted none until the early afternoon when she met the Almeda Star (12848 GRT, built 1926) and a few hours later the tanker San Ubaldo (5999 GRT, built 1921). That night several neutral steamers were sighted off Rio de Janeiro and the next day the British La Pampa (4149 GRT, built 1938) was met and escorted during daylight on her way to Santos. So far on the work of the South American Division during September 1939. The ships assigned to Commodore Harwood had been busy patrolling and escorting ships near the focal areas.
A surface raider reported, 1 October 1939.
When a report that the British merchant Clement had been sunk on 30 September 1939 by a surface raider off Pernambuco was received by the Admiralty in the afternoon of October 1st, the C-in-C, South Atlantic was informed that he should retain the 4th Destroyer Division and that his command would be reinforced by the cruisers HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.G.B. Wilson, DSO, RN), HMS Capetown (Capt. T.H. Back, RN), HMS Effingham (Capt. J.M. Howson, RN), HMS Emerald (Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN) and HMS Enterprise (Capt. H.J. Egerton, RN). Also the battleships HMS Resolution (Capt. C.H. Knox-Little, RN), HMS Revenge (Capt. E.R. Archer, RN) and the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (Capt. F.E.P. Hutton, RN) were to proceed to either Jamaica or Freetown. These dispositions however never materialised being superseded on 5 October 1939 by a more general policy (the institution of hunting groups) which cancelled them.
The institution of hunting groups, 5 October 1939.
On 5 October 1939 the Admiralty formed five hunting groups in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean of sufficient strength to destroy any ‘pocket battleship’ or Hipper-class cruiser. These were; Force F; area: North America and West Indies. HMS Berwick (Capt. I.M. Palmer, DSC, RN), HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), Force G; area: S.E. coast of South America. HMS Cumberland, HMS Exeter Force H; area: Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. HMS Sussex (Capt. A.R. Hammick, RN), HMS Shropshire (Capt. A.W.LaT. Bisset, RN), Force I; area: Ceylon. HMS Cornwall (Capt. C.F. Hamill, RN), HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.S.C. Martin, RN), HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN), Force K; area: Pernambuco, Brazil. HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. A.J. Power, RN), Force L; area: Brest, France. Dunkerque (Capt. J.L. Nagadelle, replaced by Capt. M.J.M. Seguin on 16 October), Bearn (Capt. M.M.A. Lafargue, replaced by Capt. Y.E. Aubert on 7 October), Georges Leygues (Capt. R.L. Perot), Gloire (Capt. F.H.R. de Belot), Montcalm (Capt. P.J. Ronarc’h), Force M; area: Dakar, Senegal. Dupleix (Capt. L.L.M. Hameury), Foch (Capt. J. Mathieu), and Force N; area: West Indies. Strasbourg (Capt. J.F.E. Bouxin), HMS Hermes.
The institution of the hunting groups were not the only measures taken. The battleships HMS Resolution, HMS Revenge and the light cruisers HMS Emerald and HMS Enterprise were ordered to proceed to Halifax, Nova Scotia to escort homeward bound convoys. Light cruiser HMS Effingham was to join them later. The battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, DSO, RN) left Gibraltar on 5 October for the same duty but was recalled the next day when the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. I.B.B. Tower, DSC, RN) and the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious (Capt. G. D’Oyly-Hughes, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN) were ordered to leave the Mediterranean and proceed to the Indian Ocean where they formed an addition hunting group, Force J which was to operate in the Socotra area off the entrance to the Gulf of Aden.
Now back to the South Atlantic, on 9 October 1939 the C-in-C, South Atlantic had informed the Admiralty and Commodore Harwood that he intended to co-ordinate the movements of ‘Force G’, ‘Force H’ and ‘Force K’. As this would entail long periods of wireless silence in ‘Force G’ he proposed that Commodore Harwood should transfer his flag to HMS Ajax, leaving Capt. Fallowfield of HMS Cumberland in command of Force G. The Admiralty approved of this. Commodore Harwood stated that it was his intention to transfer his flag from HMS Exeter to HMS Ajax in the River Plate area on 27 October. He also stated that the endurance of HMS Exeter was only half the endurance of HMS Cumberland and that this would prove problematic when they were to operate together and he proposed that the Exeter would be relieved by another 10000 ton cruiser but for the moment no suitable cruiser was available to relieve her.
On 12 October 1939 the first of the hunting forces arrived on their station when HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal reached Freetown that morning coming from the U.K. They were soon followed by three more destroyers of the H-class coming from the Mediterranean; HMS Hardy (Capt. B.A. Warburton-Lee, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN) and HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, RN). On 13 October 1939 the cruisers HMS Sussex and HMS Shropshire arrived at Simonstown from the Mediterranean and one day later HMS Hermes arrived at Dakar from Plymouth.
The South America Division during the first half of October 1939.
When the news of an enemy raider in the South Atlantic reached the C-in-C at Freetown on 1 October 1939 he immediately suspended sailings from Pernambuco and Natal and he ordered HMS Havock and HMS Hotspur to escort British ships clear of the area. But next morning he cancelled these dispositions and ordered Commodore Harwood to concentrate HMS Exeter, HMS Ajax and the two destroyers off Rio de Janeiro. By this time, however, the raider was far away from the South American coast. On 3 October 1939 the Commodore signalled the C-in-C that he intened to concentrate the Exeter and Ajax off Rio and have the Hotspur to cover the Rio – Santos area and keep the Havock off the Plate but upon receiving the orders from the C-in-C to concentrate he ordered to destroyers to join the cruisers after fuelling but not later then 0800 hours on 4 October. Reports that the enemy raider was not a ‘pocket battleship’ however kept coming in and the Commodore decided that he could not leave the heavy traffic in the Plate area without some form of protection and he ordered HMS Havock to return there but when a report coming in from Bahia, Brazil confirmed that the Clement had been sunk by the ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Scheer the Commodore once more ordered HMS Havock to join him. In the end HMS Ajax joined HMS Exeter at 1700/3, HMS Hotspur at 0500/4 and finally HMS Havock at 1300/4.
The Commodore was also informed by the Admiralty that the New Zealand cruiser HMNZS Achilles (Capt. W.E. Parry, RN) would join his station coming from the west coast of South America. HMS Cumberland left Freetown at 1900/3 to join the Commodore in the Rio de Janeiro area as well.
Commodore Harwood’s policy against enemy raiders and a new raider report coming on on 5 October 1939.
Commodore Harwood had decided to keep his forces concentrated and as no new raider reports had come in to patrol the Rio de Janeiro area in accordance with the C-in-C, South Atlantic’s order. If he met a ‘pocket battleship’ he intended to shadow it until dusk. He would then close and attack in the dark hours. If, on the other hand, he made contact at night, his destroyers would at once close the enemy’s beam and attack her with torpedoes.
On 5 October 1939, the British merchant Martand (7967 GRT, built 1939) informed HMS Cumberland that a German armed raider had attacked an unknown ship, this unknown ship was in fact the Newton Beech that was attacked about 900 nautical miles away. This information was not acted upon by the Commanding Officer of the Cumberland. The Captain of the Cumberland assumed the raider report would have been intercepted by other ships and passed on to the C-in-C, South Atlantic. He considered it was important to keep radio silence and decided against breaking it. The Admiralty however later was of the opinion that the report should have been passed on to the Commander-in-Chief.
By 5 October 1939, the Exeter, Ajax, Havock and Hotspur were concentrated in the Rio de Janeiro area ready to engage the raider if she came south from the Pernambuco area. HMNZS Achilles was on her way round Cape Horn.
When HMS Ajax visited Rio de Janeiro on 7 October 1939, Commodore Harwood directed her to suggest to the Consular Shipping Advisers there, and at Santos, that, owning to the small volume of shipping leaving these ports, the local convoy systems, which had been instituted on 22 September against armed merchant raiders, should be suspended, and Allied merchant ships be routed independently.
The Commodore intended to meet HMS Cumberland at 1700/8, but at 1600/7 he received a message from the Consular Shipping Adviser at Rio de Janeiro in which he desired an escort for a 13 knot convoy that was to sail at 0430/8 and that had received much local publicity. The Commodore thought that this publicity might draw the enemy raider to the area and he therefore took his entire force back towards Rio de Janeiro and sent HMS Hotspur ahead to make contact with the convoy, while keeping his other ships in support. The convoy consisted of the British merchants Highland Chieftain (14131 GRT, built 1929), Nariva (8723 GRT, built 1920) and the French merchant Alsina (8404 GRT, built 1922).
Meanwhile the Commodore had directed HMS Cumberland to meet him at dawn on October 9th. When the convoy was dispersed at 1800/8 the Exeter and Ajax steered to meet her while the Havock was detached to fuel at Rio de Janeiro. At 2200/8 HMS Ajax was detached. HMS Cumberland made rendezvous with HMS Exeter at 0500/9. They were ordered by the C-in-C, South Atlantic to make a sweep northwards but this could not be carried out as HMS Exeter was short of fuel. The Commodore therefore decided to make a sweep southwards towards the Plate area where HMS Exeter could refuel. He also decided to keep HMS Hotspur with the two cruisers as long as possible.
On 12 October 1939, Rio Grande do Sul reported that the German merchant Rio Grande (6062 GRT, built 1939) was about to sail. The Commodore at once ordered HMS Cumberland to proceed there and intercept. She arrived off Rio Grande do Sul at 1600/13 but on finding it all quiet in the harbour she shaped course for the Plate area at nightfall. Meanwhile the Commodore had ordered HMS Hotspur to fuel at Montevideo when HMS Havock left that port early on the 14th.
about this time RFA Olwen informed the Commodore the the German merchant Bahia Laura (8611 GRT, built 1918) was leaving Montevideo at 1000 next morning and might protest if HMS Havock sailed the same day. Instead, therefore, of entering Montevideo HMS Hotspur at once fueled from the Olwen and then remained out on patrol. The Bahia Laura however, showed no signs of leaving and at 0800/14, HMS Havock put to sea. At 1200 hours HMS Hotspur entered Montevideo. Later that day HMS Exeter and HMS Cumberland fueled from the Olwen in San Borombon Bay at the southern entrance to the Plate estuary. At 1430 hours they were joined by HMS Havock. Commodore Harwood then ordered her to patrol off Montevideo to watch the Bahia Laura. When HMS Exeter finished fueling she immediately put to sea. HMS Cumberland rejoined him next morning at 0700 hours. HMS Havock was then ordered to join the cruisers. On 16 October the commodore learned that the Bahia Laura had sailed at 1015 hours the previous day. By the time the signal reached him the German ship was far out at sea well past his patrol line. But as the whole area was enveloped in dense fog the Commodore decided against trying to catch her.
The South America Division during the second half of October 1939.
Meanwhile Commodore Harwood had informed the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic on 13 October that as HMS Exeter required certain minor repairs he proposed to proceed to the Falklands on the17th and then return to the Plate area on the 27th. The Commander-in-Chief replied that he preferred that HMS Exeter would stay in the Plate area till the Commodore would transfer his Broad Pendant to HMS Ajax on the 27th. As HMNZS Achilles was due in the Plate area on this day also, she and HMS Cumberland could then operate as ‘Force G’ during the Exeter’s absence. This would mean that there would be no cruiser in the Rio de Janeiro area until HMS Exeter would return from her repairs at the Falklands. The Commodore therefore ordered HMS Havock to sail on 21 October for a four day patrol in the Rio – Santos Area, where HMS Hotspur, which could remain at sea until 2 November, would relieve her. From that date until the relief of HMNZS Achilles there would be no warship in this area. The Commodore therefore asked the Commander-in-Chief to allow ‘Force G’ to operate in that area from 2 to 10 November. When HMS Hotspur joined the Exeter and Cumberland from Montevideo on 17 October the Commodore ordered her to patrol off Rio Grande do Sul to intercept the German ships Rio Grande and Montevideo if they would come out, and sent HMS Havock to patrol inshore with orders to anchor the night clear of the shipping route.
This proved to be the last duty of these two destroyers with the South America Division. On 20 October the Admiralty ordered their transfer to the West Indies. Three days later the Commodore sent them into Buenos Aires to refuel, and as the distance to Trinidad, 4000 miles, was at the limit of their endurance, also obtained permission to refuel them at Pernambuco. They both left Buenos Aires on the 25th and, bidding the Commodore farewell, proceeded northwards. They sailed from Pernambuco on 1 November but on the 3rd HMS Havock was diverted to Freetown with engine trouble. The two remaining destroyers of the 4th Division, HMS Hyperion and HMS Hunter, had left Freetown with convoy SL 6 on 23 October. Off Daker their escort duty was taken over by the French light cruiser Duguay-Trouin (Capt. J.M.C. Trolley de Prevaux). The destroyers then fueled at Dakar on the 27th and sailed for Trinidad early on the 28th.
Meanwhile HMS Cumberland had entered Montevideo at 0800/26. At 0900/26 HMNZS Achilles joined HMS Exeter in the Plate area and after fueling from RFA Olwen sailed to meet HMS Cumberland off Lobos the next day and then patrol with her as ‘Force G’ in the Rio – Santos area. The Olwen was now nearly out of fuel and filled up HMS Ajax ,which had arrived from the Rio area on the 26th, with her remaining fuel minus 500 tons for her passage to Trinidad. In the morning of 27 October, Commodore Harwood transferred his Broad Pendant to HMS Ajax and HMS Exeter then parted company to proceed to the Falklands for repairs.
Meanwhile the newly formed ‘Force H’ and ‘Force K’ were busy on the other side of the South Atlantic. ‘Force H’, made up of HMS Sussex and HMS Shropshire had reached the Cape on 13 October. As HMS Cumberland had not passed on the report of the Martland, no news on the raider had reached the Admiralty or the Commander-in-Chief since October 1st. On 14 October ‘Force H’ sailed to search for her along the Cape – Freetown route as far as the latitude of St. Helena. That day ’Force K’ (HMS Ark Royal and HMS Renown) left Freetown with HMS Neptune, HMS Hardy, HMS Hero (Cdr. C.F. Tower, MVO, RN) and HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN) to search westwards towards St. Paul Rocks, the direction of their sweep being determined by the complete lack of any further raider information.
Finally a raider report on 22 October 1939, Sweeps by ‘Force H’ and ‘Force K’.
The three weeks old ‘mystery’ of the raiders whereabouts was partially solved on 22 October when the British merchant vessel Llanstephan Castle (11293 GRT, built 1914) intercepted a message from an unknown ship ‘Gunned in 16°S, 04°03’E’ at 1400 G.M.T. There was however no immediate confirmation of her report and the Commander-in-Chief ordered ‘Force H’ to sail after dark on the 27th to sail for the latitude of St. Helena. At noon on 31 October this Force was in 15°S, 02°51’E, the north-eastern limit of it’s patrol, when a Walrus aircraft failed to return to HMS Sussex from a reconnaissance flight. It was never found, though the two cruisers spend over three days searching for it. Being short of fuel they then returned to the Cape by the same route they had used outwards.
Sweep by ‘Force K’, 28 October – 6 November 1939.
To cover the northern end of the route from St. Helena onward, HMS Neptune and the destroyers HMS Hardy, HMS Hasty, HMS Hero and HMS Hereward had left Freetown on 28 October. HMS Neptune was to sweep independently from position 03°20’S, 01°10’W and then through 14°30’S, 16°50’W back to Freetown. On 30 October a report from Dakar stated that the German merchant Togo (5042 GRT, built 1938) had left the Congo on 26 October, that the German merchant Pionier (3254 GRT, built 1934) had sailed from Fernando Po (now called Bioko Island) on 28 October and that five German ships had left Lobito (Angola) the same day. When the Vice-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers, received this information her detached HMS Hardy and HMS Hasty to sweep north-westward for the Pioneer, while ‘Force K’ and the remaining two destroyers searched for her to the south-westward. Both searches were unsuccessful. Meanwhile a message from Lobito had stated that the five German ships that were stated to have left the harbour were still there. On 5 November the German merchant vessel Uhenfels (7603 GRT, built 1931), that had left Laurenco Marques (now called Maputo, Mozambique) on 16 October was sighted by an aircraft from HMS Ark Royal. Only energetic action from HMS Hereward saved her from being scuttled in position 06°02’N, 17°25’W. She was brought into Freetown on 7 November by HMS Herward, a few hours behind ‘Force K’.
’Force H’ and ‘Force G’, first half of November 1939.
The first half of November was relatively quiet on both sides of the South Atlantic At the start of the month ‘Force H’ and ‘Force K’ were still on the shipping lane between Sierra Leone and the Cape. On 3 November 1939 the Admiralty informed the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic that all German capital ships and cruisers were apparently in home waters. It appeared therefore that the pocket battleship, which was still thought to be the Admiral Scheer, had returned home and that the raider reported by the Llangstephan Castle on 22 October was nothing but an armed merchantman. Here was a good opportunity for resting the hunting groups and on 4 November the Admiralty issued orders that ‘Force G’ and ‘Force H’ should exchange areas. This exchange would not only give ‘Force G’ an opportunity of resting and refitting at the Cape, but would also provide Commodore Harwood with the hunting group of long endurance that he desired.
The Commander-in-Chief had planned that ‘Force H’ which had returned to the Cape on 7 November would then sweep towards Durban, arriving there on 16 November. However on the 11th they were ordered to sail for patrol in the Atlantic and on the evening of the 17th, while west of St. Helena, exchange patrol areas with ‘Force G’. The exchange of areas however did not take place as ‘Force G’ was delayed due to HMS Exeter being damaged while casting off from the oiler in heavy seas. Before the exchange now could take place it was cancelled.
South America Division, first half of November 1939.
After hoisting Commodore Harwood’s Broad on 27 October the HMS Ajax had swept the Plate focal area. When the Commodore received the signal of the Commander-in-Chief on the 5th regarding the changeover over patrol areas between ‘Force G’ and ‘Force H’, he ordered HMS Cumberland to proceed to the Plate at 20 knots to refuel. About this time a message reached him from Buenos Aires that the Argentinian Foreign Minister had drawn attention to cases of fueling in the Plate by HMS Exeter and HMS Ajax. Although the Argentinian Government had no apparent intention of raising the issue he decided to cut down the fuellings in the inshore waters of the Plate as much as possible. He therefore cancelled the fuelling of HMS Exeter, due to take place on 7 November from the oiler RFA Olynthus (6888 GRT, built 1918, Master L.N. Hill), which had relieved RFA Olwen. He ordered HMS Cumberland to fuel at Buenos Aires on 9 November. HMS Exeter which had arrived at the Falklands on 31 October for repairs, sailed again on 4 November to meet up with HMS Cumberland off the Plate on 10 November, but the Commodore ordered her to enter Mar del Plata for a 24-hour visit on the 9th. As this gave her some time at hand, he ordered her to cover the Plate while HMS Ajax visited Buenos Aires from 6 to 8 November during which the Commodore discussed the question of fuelling his ships in the River Plate Estuary with the Argentine naval authorities. During his visit to Buenos Aires, the Commodore discussed the matter of fuelling his ships of English Bank with the Argentinian Minister of Marine and his Chief of Naval Staff they both suggested that he should use San Borombon Bay which was most acceptable. He had in fact been using it for some time.
When HMS Ajax left Buenos Aires on 8 November she patrolled the Plate area. HMS Exeter arrived at Mar del Plata the next day but fuel could not be obtained there. She was ordered to fuel from RFA Olynthus in San Borombon Bay on the 10th and then meet up with HMS Cumberland off Lobos Island at 0600/11. On the 10th HMS Ajax also fueled from RFA Olynthus as did HMS Exeter after her while HMS Ajax was at anchor close by. However weather quickly deteriorated and the Olynthus was forced to cast off, damaging the Exeter in doing so. Besides that she was still 600 tons short of fuel. As she could not reach the Cape without a full supply the sailing of ‘Force G’ to exchange areas with ‘Force H’ was delayed. The Exeter finally finished fuelling on the 13th and sailed with HMS Cumberland for Simonstown. Before the exchange of areas could be effected, however, a raider was reported in the Indian Ocean and the order was cancelled.
Another raider report, 16 November 1939.
On 16 November 1939 the Naval Officer-in-Charge, Simonstown, reported that the small British tanker Africa Shell ( GRT, built ) had been sunk off Lourenco Marques the previous day by a raider identified as a pocket battleship. After the usual conflicting reports from eye-widnesses during the next few days, however, it was doubtful how many raiders there were or whether they were pocket battleships or heavy cruisers.
The presence of an enemy heavy ship in the Mozambique Channel called for new dispositions. When the raider report reached the Admiralty on 17 November they immediately cancelled the exchange of areas between ‘Force G’ an ‘Force H’. ‘Force H’ was ordered to return to the Cape and ‘Force G’ was ordered to return to the east coast of South America. They also ordered the dispatch of ‘Force K’ towards the Cape with instructions to go on to Diego Saurez in Madagascar. That morning a report reached the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic that the German merchant vessels Windhuk (16662 GRT, built 1937) and Adolph Woermann (8577 GRT, built 1922) had left Lobito. He at once ordered ‘Force H’, which was at that moment west of St. Helena in the approximate latitute of Lobito to spend three days searching for them.
Next day, 18 November 1939, ‘Force K’ left Freetown together with HMS Neptune, HMS Hardy, HMS Hero and HMS Hostile to sweep west of St. Helena through position 16°30’S, 10°W and thence on to Diego Saurez. The destroyers parted company at 2300/18 to search for the German ships. On 20 November 1939, the Commander-in-Chief ordered ‘Force H’ to return to the Cape of nothing of the German merchant vessels had been sighted. HMS Sussex and HMS Shropshire did so on 23 November.
The Adolph Woermann had not escaped. Early on 21 November 1939, the British merchant Waimarama (12843 GRT, built 1938) reported her in position 12°24’S, 03°31’W. At 1127/21, ‘Force K’ (HMS Ark Royal and HMS Renown) was in position 05°55’S, 12°26’W, altered course to close, and HMS Neptune, which was still with them, went ahead at high speed. Shortly after 0800/22 she made contact with the Adolf Woermann in position 10°37’S, 05°11’W and went alongside. Despite efforts to save her the German vessel was scuttled and when HMS Neptune returned to Freetown on 25 November 1939 she had 162 German survivors on board.
’Force H’ and ‘Force K’, second half of November 1939.
As the search for the Adolf Woermann had taken ‘Force K’ nearly 200 miles to the eastward, the Vice-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers decided to proceed to the Cape by the route east of St. Helena to save fuel. In hindsight this might have saved Altmark for being intercepted as she was waiting for the Admiral Graf Spee in the area ‘Force K’ would have otherwise passed through. On 23 November 1939, the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic, ordered ‘Force H’ to sail from the Cape the next day and patrol the ‘diverse routes’ as far as 33°E until 28 November.
At the northern end of the South Atlantic station HMS Neptune, HMS Hardy, HMS Hero, HMS Hostile, HMS Hasty and the submarine HMS Clyde (Cdr. W.E. Banks, RN) had established a patrol between 22 and 25 November 1939 to intercept escaping German merchant ships or raiders. No ships were however sighted and they were recalled to Freetown on 30 November.
In the meantime the Admiralty had ordered, ‘Force H’ and ‘Force K’ to conducted a combined patrol on the meridian of 20°E. The two forces met early on 1 December. The plan, according to the Commander-in-Chief, appeared to be a good one in theory but was found unsuitable in practice that on account of local weather conditions. These permitted flying off aircraft from HMS Ark Royal only once in five or six days, so that the patrol could not be extended far enough to the south to intercept a raider bent on evasion. In fact, only once, on 2 December weather was suitable for flying off aircraft.
South America Division, second half of November 1939.
After HMS Cumberland and HMS Exeter (‘Force G’) had sailed from San Borombon Bay for Simonstown on 13 November 1939, HMS Ajax patrolled the Plate area and escorted the French Massilia ( GRT, built ) that was bound for Europe from Buenos Aeres with French reservists. After parting from the Massilia she closed Rio Grande do Sul and ascertained that the German merchant vessels Rio Grande and Montevideo were still there. For the next two days she patrolled the normal peace time shipping routes.
When the Admiralty cancelled the exchange of ereas between ‘Force G’ and ‘Force H’ on 17 November, Commodore Harwood sent ‘Force G’ to cover Rio de Janeiro. He ordered HMNZS Achilles to fuel off the Olynthus in the Plate area on 22 November and then relieve ‘Force G’ in the Rio area as HMS Exeter would need to refuel in the Plate area again on 26 November. HMS Cumberland was to remain with the Exeter to keep ‘Force G’ together so she could refuel from the Olynthus as well. They were then to patrol the Plate area so that HMS Ajax could visit the Falklands.
On 18 November the Commodore was informed that the German merchant Ussukuma ( GRT, built ) might sail from Bahia Blanca for Montevideo at any time. He at once ordered the Olynthus to watch for her between Manos and Cape San Antonio and took the Ajax south to the same vicinity.
On 22 November 1939 HMNZS Achilles heard the German merchant Lahn (8498 GRT, built 1927) calling Cerrito by wireless, and when HMS Ajax arrived half an hour later a search was carried out. It was insuccessful for both cruisers but both the Lahn and another German merchant the Tacoma (8268 GRT, built 1930) reached Montevideo safely during the forenoon.
HMS Ajax and HMNZS Achilles then both fuelled from the Olynthus at San Borombon Bay during the next afternoon. The Achilles the sailed for the Rio de Janeiro area. She had orders to move up to Pernambuco and show herself off Cabadello and Bahia as a number of German ships in Pernambuco were reported ready to sail to Cabadello to load cotton for Germany. She was to return at once to the Rio area if any raiders were reported in the South Atlantic.
HMS Ajax left the Plate area on 25 November 1939 and sent up a seaplane to reconnoitre Bahia Blanca. The Ussukuma showed no signs of sailing so HMS Ajax proceeded to the Falklands, arriving there on the 27th. By this time HMS Cumberland and HMS Exeter were in urgent need of refits after long periods at sea, and Commodore Harwood ordered the Exeter to proceed to the Falklands forthwith. She arrived at Port Stanley on 29 November 1939 and her defects were immediately taken in hand as far as local resources permitted.
8 December 1939 was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Battle of the Falklands, and thinking the enemy might attempt to avenge the defeat, the Commodore ordered HMS Cumberland to patrol off the Falklands as of 7 December for two days after which she too was to enter Port Stanley for rest and refit.
French Forces at Dakar in November 1939.
During November them most important event at Dakar, where the French were maintaining a number of more or less regular patrols, was the reorganisation of ‘Force X’. On 1 November 1939 the large destroyer L’Audacieux (Cdr. L.M. Clatin) sailed from Dakar to the westward to 26°W and thence south-west to search for the German merchant Togo. She returned to Dakar on 4 November having sighted nothing. That day the French light cruiser Duguay-Trouin sailed to sweep round the Cape Verde Islands and then on to St. Paul Rocks. She returned to Dakar on 10 November. The old ‘Force X’, the Strasbourg (Capt. J.F.E. Bouxin), Algerie (Capt. L.H.M. Nouvel de la Fleche) and Dupleix (Capt. L.L.M. Hameury) sailed on 7 November to sweep west of the Cape Verde Islands. It returned to Dakar on 13 November 1939. Meanwhile French submarines based at Casablanca were maintaining a continuous patrol round the Canary Islands between 25°N and 30°N.
On 18 November a new ‘Force X’ was formed, now made up of the Dupleix and her sister ship Foch (Capt. J. Mathieu) and the British aircraft carrier HMS Hermes. On 21 November the Strasbourg, Algerie and the destroyers Le Terrible (Cdr. A.E.R. Bonneau) and Le Fantasque (Capt. P.A.B. Still) left Dakar to return to France. The next day the new ‘Force X’ sailed with the destroyers Milan (Cdr. M.A.H. Favier) and Cassard (Cdr. R.A.A. Braxmeyer) to cruiser towards 08°N, 30°W. That day L’Audacieux departed Dakar with a convoy for Casablanca.
On 25 November, the Duguay-Trouin sailed to patrol the parallel of 19°N, between 25° and 30°W. Two days later the British submarine HMS Severn (Lt.Cdr. B.W. Taylor, RN) docked at Dakar. On the 30th the Dupleix and Foch returned from patrol being followed the next day by HMS Hermes and her escorts Milan and Cassard.
Dispositions of South Atlantic Forces at the beginning of December 1939.
At the beginning of December 1939, HMS Ark Royal, still flying the flag of Vice-Admiral Aircraft Carriers, and HMS Renown (‘Force K’), were patrolling the meridian of 20°E, south of the Cape together with HMS Sussex and HMS Shropshire (‘Force H’) to intercept the raider reported in the Mozambique Channel on 15 November 1939.
In the north the light cruiser HMS Neptune with the destroyers HMS Hardy, HMS Hero, HMS Hostile and HMS Hasty and the submarine HMS Clyde were returning to Freetown after patrolling between there and Cape San Roque for escaping German merchant ships or raiders. The French cruiers Dupleix and Foch and the British carrier HMS Hermes (‘Force X’) and their two escorting destroyers Milan and Cassard were approaching Dakar. The French cruiser Duguay-Trouin was patrolling the parallel of 19°N, between 25° and 30°W. The British submarine Severn was refitting at Dakar. Across the South Atlantic, Commodore Harwood, in HMS Ajax was at Port Stanley as was HMS Exeter. HMS Cumberland was patrolling of the Plate area and HMNZS Achilles was off Rio de Janeiro.
Forces ‘H’ and ‘K’, 1 – 13 December 1939.
No further reports have been received of the raider which had sunk the Africa Shell off Laurenco Marques on 15 November and it seemed clear that she had either gone further into the Indian Ocean or doubled back into the South Atlantic by going well south of the Cape. On 2 December 1939 the Admiralty ordered ‘Force K’ and ‘Force H’ to their patrol line south of the Cape after refueling, and the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic at once ordered them to proceed for the Cape ports to fuel. That day a reconnaissance aircraft of the South African Air Force reported a suspicious ship south of Cape Point at noon. HMS Sussex intercepted her but her crew set her on fire. She proved to be the German merchant Watussi (9521 GRT, built 1928). She was eventually be HMS Renown. Her survivors were taken on board HMS Sussex and were landed at Simonstown.
No news of the missing raider had been coming in since 16 November but then the mistery shrouding her whereabouts was again partially solved. At 1530/2 a raidar signal ‘R.R.R., 19°15’S, 05°05’E, gunned battleship) reached the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic. It came from the British merchant Doric Star. As this signal placed the raider in the South Atlantic he immediately ordered to abandon the patrol south of the Cape and ordered ‘Force H’ to cover the trade routes between the Cape and the latitude of St. Helena at 20 knots on completion of fuelling. As it was too late for ‘Force K’ to reach the Freetown-Pernambuco area in time to intercept the rainder if she was to proceed to the North Atlantic he proposed the Admiralty that ‘Force K’, after fuelling should sweep direct from the Cape to position 20°S, 15°W. This was changed at the request of the Vice-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers to place his force in a more central position for proceeding to Freetown, to the Falklands or to Rio de Janeiro. At 1030/3 a report reached the Commander-in-Chief that the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer had been in 21°20’S, 03°10’E at 0500 hours, clearly indicating that the raider was moving westwards, clear of the Cape-Sierra Leone trade route. ‘Force H’ left Simonstown at 1700 that afternoon and ‘Force K’ sailed from Capetown at 0915/4.
The Commander-in-Chief estimated that if the enemy was proceeding northwards to the North Atlantic she would cross the Freetown-Pernambuco line between 9 and 10 December. He therefore arranged that ‘Force X’ should take HMS Neptune and her destroyers under her orders and patrol the parallel of 3°N between 31° and 38°W from 10 to 13 December. ‘Force K’ would meet HMS Neptune and the destroyers on the 14th and then return with them to Freetown to refuel. The destroyers of the 3rd Division of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla (HMS Hardy, HMS Hostile and HMS Hero) left Freetown on 6 December with the oiler RFA Cherryleaf (5896 GRT, built 1917). They had orders to meet the Dupleix, Foch, HMS Hermes and their escorting destroyers Milan and Cassard and HMS Neptune in position 03°N, 31°W on 10 December. On 7 December ‘Force X’ left Dakar for the rendez-vous. That day the submarine HMS Clyde left Freetown to patrol between 03°N, 23°W and 03°N, 28°W and thence to 05°15’N, 23°W between 9 (PM) and 13 (AM) December.
On the evening of 8 December 1939 the German merchant ship Adolf Leonhardt (2989 GRT, built 1925) sailed from Lobito for South America. ‘Force H’ which was by then between St. Helena and the west coast of Africa, was at once ordered to intercept her. The Walrus from HMS Shropshire made contact at 0952 hours next morning and alighted alongside in position 13°S, 11°44’E. At 1250 hours HMS Shropshire arrived at that position but the German ship was scuttled by her crew and could not be saved. ‘Force H’ then returned to the Cape to refuel where they arrived on 14 December.
At 0800/11 the submarine HMS Severn left Freetown for Port Stanley. She was to protect the whaling industry in South Georgio and was to intercept hostile raiders or supply ships. The cruiser HMS Dorsetshire, which arrived at Simonstown from Colombo on the 9th to finally relieve HMS Exeter in the South America Division left Simonstown on 13 December for Port Stanley. She was to call at Tristan da Cunha on the way. On that day, 13 December 1939, was fought the action between the British South America Division and the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee, known as the Battle of the River Plate.
The South America Division, 1 to 13 December 1939.
At the beginning of December 1939, HMS Ajax and HMS Exeter were at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. HMS Cumberland was off the River Plate and HMNZS Achilles was patrolling the Rio de Janeiro area. On 2 December HMS Ajax left Port Stanley for the Plate area. That evening the Commodore learned that the Doric Star had been sunk by a raider to the south-east of St. Helena. Two days later the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic informed him that HMS Dorsetshire would arrive at Port Stanley on 23 December to relieve HMS Exeter which was then to proceed to Simonstown for a much needed refit.
Early on 5 December the British Naval Attaché at Buenos Aires reported that the German merchant Ussukuma had left Bahia Blanca at 1900 hours the previous evening. The Commodore immediately ordered HMS Cumberland which was on the way south to the Falkland Islands to search for her. Meanwhile HMS Ajax turned south and closed the Argentinian coast in case the Ussukuma, which was known to be short of fuel, should attempt to reach Montevideo inside territorial waters. At 1910/5, HMS Ajax sighted her smoke to the north-north-east but the Germans managed to scuttle their ship and despite the efforts to save her she sank during the night. At 0615/6, HMS Cumberland came up and embarked the German survivors and made off for the Falklands. HMS Ajax then refuelled at San Borombon Bay from the Olynthus.
About the same time the Brazilian authorities asked that HMNZS Achilles should not refuel in any Brazilian port at an interval less then three months. The Commodore, therefore, ordered her to return south and refuel at Montevideo on 8 December. HMNZS Achilles then joined HMS Ajax at 1000/10 in position 35°11’S, 51°13’W, 230 miles west of English Bank. At 0600/12 they were joined by HMS Exeter in position 36°54’S, 53°39’W.
Ever since the beginning of the war Commodore Harwood’s cruisers had worked off the east coast of South America either single or in pairs. The concentration of these three cruisers off the River Plate on 12 December 1939 was, however, no mere matter of chance.
Concentration of British Force in the River Plate area, 12 December 1939.
When a pocket battleship was located in position 19°15’S, 05°05’E on 2 December by the sinking of the Doris Star, her position was over 3000 miles from any of the South America focal areas. The Commodore however recognised that her next objective might be the valuable shipping off the east coast of South America. He estimated that at a cruising speed of 15 knots the enemy could reach the Rio area on 12 December the Plate area on 13 December and the Falklands on 14 December. As the Plate area was by far the most important of these three focal areas he decided to concentrate all his available ships off the Plate on 12 December.
The three cruisers then proceeded together towards position 32°N, 47°W. That evening the Commodore informed the Captains of his cruisers that it was intention that if they met a pocket battleship to attack immediately, by day or by night. By they they would act as two units, the light cruisers were to operate together and HMS Exeter was to operate diverged to permit flank marking. By night the ships were to remain in company in open order.
At 0614/13 HMS Ajax sighted smoke bearing 324° in position 34°28’S, 49°05’W and Commodore Harwood then ordered HMS Exeter to investigate it.
2 Dec 1939
The German passenger ship Watussi (9552 GRT) is intercepted in the South Atlantic about 50 nautical miles south of Cape Agulhas, South-Africa by the British battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN) and the British heavy cruiser HMS Sussex (Capt A.R. Hammick, RN). However, before the German ship can be captured she is scuttled by her own crew.
Following the Graf Spee scuttling in December 1939 HMS Sussex returned to the UK, took part in the Norwegian Campaign then went to Glasgow for a refit.
9 Jan 1940
HMS Ark Royal (Capt. A.J. Power, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. J.A.V. Morse, DSO, RN), HMS Hardy (Capt. B.A. Warburton-Lee, RN), HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, RN) and HMS Dainty (Cdr. F.M. Walton, RN) were joined by HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN) and HMS Hero (Cdr. C.F. Tower, MVO, RN).
HMS Hardy, HMS Hostile and HMS Dainty then parted company and set course for Freetown. (2)
24 Jan 1940
HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. A.J. Power, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. F.M. Walton, RN) and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN) departed Freetown to proceed to a rendez-vous position in which they were to join the damaged heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. F.S. Bell, CB, RN) and take over the escort from HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and HMS Shropshire (Capt. A.W.la T. Bisset, RN). (2)
29 Jan 1940
Around noon HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and HMS Shropshire (Capt. A.W.la T. Bisset, RN) turned over the damaged heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. F.S. Bell, CB, RN) to ships of 'Force K'; HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. A.J. Power, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. F.M. Walton, RN) and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN) in approximate position 17°21'S, 24°56'W.
HMS Dorstershire and HMS Shropshire then proceeded on patrol in the South Atlantic still in company with each other. (3)
3 Feb 1940
HMS Exeter (Capt. F.S. Bell, CB, RN), and her escorts, HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. A.J. Power, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. F.M. Walton, RN) and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN) arrive at Freetown. (4)
6 Feb 1940
HMS Exeter (Capt. F.S. Bell, CB, RN), and her escorts, HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. A.J. Power, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN) and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN) departed Freetown for Plymouth.
HMS Ark Royal and the destroyers parted company around 1800/9. Ark Royal was to proceed direct to the U.K. while the destroyers were to arrive at Dakar at 0900 (GMT) on the 11th.
Around dawn at 13 February 1940, HMS Renown and HMS Exeter were joined by HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN).
Around 0900/14 four more destroyers joined, HMS Hearty (Lt.Cdr. D.G.F.W. MacIntyre, RN), HMS Ardent (Lt.Cdr. J.F. Barker, RN), HMS Wren (Cdr. H.T. Armstrong, RN) and HMS Wolverine (Cdr. R.H. Craske, RN). (4)
19 Mar 1940
Ships from the Home Fleet departed Scapa Flow in the afternoon in two groups to cover operations.
These groups were; Battleships HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN) and HMS Warspite (Capt. V.A.C. Crutchley, VC, DSC, RN). These were escorted by the destroyers HMS Hardy (Capt. B.A. Warburton-Lee, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. C.F. Tower, MVO, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN), HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, RN), HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, RN), HMS Hunter (Lt.Cdr. L. de Villiers, RN), HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN).
Battlecruisers HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN) and HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN). These were escorted by the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Delight (Cdr. M. Fogg-Elliot, RN), HMS Diana (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN) and HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, RN).
27 Mar 1940
The two groups of the Home Fleet that had been covering operations returned to Scapa Flow around 1100 hours. These were;
Battleships HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN) and HMS Warspite (Capt. V.A.C. Crutchley, VC, DSC, RN). Escorted by the destroyers HMS Hardy (Capt. B.A. Warburton-Lee, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN), HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, RN), HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, RN), HMS Hunter (Lt.Cdr. L. de Villiers, RN), HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN).
Battlecruisers HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN) and HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN). Escorted by the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Delight (Cdr. M. Fogg-Elliot, RN), HMS Diana (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN) and HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, RN).
16 Apr 1940
Bombardment of the Sola airfield off Stavanger.
Timespan: 16 to 18 April 1940.
The heavy cruiser HMS Suffolk (Capt. J.W. Durnford, RN) and the destroyers HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN) and HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St. Clair-Ford, RN) departed Scapa Flow around 1700/16 for this operation.
Early on the 17th this force contacted the submarine HMS Seal (Lt.Cdr. R.P. Lonsdale, RN) which was to act as a beacon to home in the ships.
Between 0513 and 0602 hours, HMS Suffolk bombarded the airfield. Following this she and the destroyers were ordered to proceeded northwards to intercept a reported group of enemy destroyers, the result was that their air cover that was provided during their retirement did not sight the ships which then came under heavy air attack from the German Luftwaffe for about seven hours from 0825 hours onwards.
The result was that HMS Suffolk was heavily damaged. She suffered 32 dead and 41 wounded. HMS Kipling was also damaged by two near misses.
Air cover finally arrived at 1415 hours but even then the Germans continued to attack.
The battlecruisers HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN), the AA cruiser HMS Cairo and the destroyers HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fury (Cdr. E.W.B. Sim, RN), HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN), HMS Javelin (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Kimberley (Lt.Cdr. J.S.M. Richardson, RN), ORP Blyscawica (Lt.Cdr. S.M. Nahorski, ORP) and ORP Grom (Lt.Cdr. S. Hryniewiecki) rushed towards to give support. The destroyer HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN) joined later.
HMS Suffolk limped towards Scapa Flow where she arrived with a heavy list at 0545/18. She arrived at Scapa Flow escorted by HMS Renown, HMS Forester, HMS Fury, HMS Hereward, HMS Hyperion, HMS Janus, HMS Juno, HMS Kimberley and HMS Kipling (also damaged). Upon arrival HMS Suffolk was beached to prevent her from sinking.
5 Jun 1940
At 2130/5 the battlecruisers HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. E.J. Spooner, DSO, RN), heavy cruiser HMS Sussex (Capt. A.R. Hammick, RN), light cruiser HMS Newcastle (Capt. J. Figgins, RN) and the destroyers HMS Maori (Cdr. H.T. Armstrong, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. J.S. Crawford, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN) and HMS Kelvin (Lt.Cdr. J.L. Machin, RN) departed Scapa Flow after two unidentified warships were spotted in position 64°45'N, 00°24'W proceeding towards the Iceland - Faroes passage.
Around 0200/8 the force was split up; HMS Renown escortedby HMS Zulu and HMS Kipling were ordered to return to Scapa Flow where they arrived at 0500/9.
HMS Repulse, HMS Sussex, HMS Newcastle, HMS Maori, HMS Forester and HMS Foxhound remained on patrol.
Around 1030/9, they were ordered to proceed eastwards to join up with other warships and to provide cover for convoys of ships that had been involved in evacuating the Narvik/Hartadt/Tromso area.
Around 1345/9, HMS Maori, HMS Forester and HMS Foxhound parted company.
At 0100/10, HMS Maori, HMS Forester and HMS Foxhound arrived at Sullom Voe to fuel. They departed again at 0800 hours to rejoin but HMS Foxhound had to return soon after with defects.
At 0900/10, HMS Repulse and the cruisers joined up with the 'HMS Valiant' group that was escorting the evacuation convoys. (5)
9 Jun 1940
At 0900 hours, HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN) escorted by HMS Zulu (Cdr. J.S. Crawford, RN) and HMS Kelvin (Lt.Cdr. J.L. Machin, RN), arrived at Scapa Flow. (5)
9 Jun 1940
At 1245 hours, the battleship HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN, flying the flag of Admiral of the Fleet C.M. Forbes, KCB, DSO, RN), battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN) escorted by the destroyers destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, RN), HMS Electra (Lt.Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN), HMS Escort (Lt.Cdr. J. Bostock, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. J.S. Crawford, RN) and HMS Kelvin (Lt.Cdr. J.L. Machin, RN) departed Scapa Flow to provide cover for convoys coming down from Norway and to search for the reported German capital ships. A sixth destroyer, HMS Amazon (Lt.Cdr. N.E.G. Roper, RN), which had been en-route from the Clyde to Scapa Flow, apparently joined at sea.
At 1345/10, HMS Amazon was detached to fuel at Sullom Voe.
On June, 10th the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) was ordered to join this force which she did at 1525/10. She had the destroyers HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN) and HMS Highlander (Cdr. W.A. Dallmeyer, RN) with her.
At 1925/10, HMS Mashona was detached to join the destroyer HMS Campbell (Lt.Cdr. R.M. Aubrey, RN) and escort this destroyer, which had to proceed at the most economical speed due to fuel shortage, to Sullom Voe where they arrived at 0745/12.
At 1020/11, HMS Ashanti and HMS Highlander were detached to Scapa Flow. They were ordered to proceed through positions 64'N, 05'W and 61'N, 05'W.
The destroyers HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, RN), and HMS Amazon departed Sullom Voe at 2230/11th to join the Home Fleet at sea which they did at 0830/12. [HMS Amazon did not join the Home Fleet so either she did not sail or returned.] At 2100/12, the destroyer HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) sailed from Scapa Flow to make rendez-vous with the Home Fleet in position 63'N, 04'W at 1300/13. The destroyers HMS Mashona, HMS Campbell and HMS Veteran (Cdr. J.E. Broome, RN) departed Sullom Voe at 0400/13 to do the same. They joined the Home Fleet at 1725/14 with the exception of HMS Campbell which joined HMS Ark Royal's screen at 2230/13.
Between 0007 and 0015/13, HMS Ark Royal flew off fifteen Skuas to attack German warships at Trondheim. Seven of them returned around 0330 hours, eight had been lost.
Around 0430/13, HMS Electra collided with HMS Antelope in thick fog which the Fleet had just entered. HMS Inglefiel stood by HMS Antelope while HMS Zulu took HMS Electra in tow. All set course for Scapa Flow.
At 0600/13, HMS Ark Royal was detached to proceed to Scapa Flow escorted by HMS Escort and HMS Kelvin. HMS Campbell joined them at 2230/13. They arrived at Scapa Flow wit at 1545/14.
At 1130/13, the destroyers HMS Tartar (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. H.T. Armstrong, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, DSO, RN) and HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN) departed Scapa Flow to make rendez-vous with the Home Fleet in position 65'N, 04'W. They joined at 0840/14.
At 0950/14, HMS Escapade was detached from the screen of the Home Fleet to join HMS Electra that was being towed by HMS Zulu..
At 0100/15, HMS Forester and HMS Veteran were detatched from the Home Fleet to proceed to the Faroes for escort duty.
At 0330/15, HMS Antelope, escorted by HMS Inglefield arrived at Scapa Flow.
At 1715/15, HMS Rodney, HMS Renown, HMS Tartar, HMS Mashona, HMS Maori, HMS Bedouin, HMS Ashanti and HMS Fearless arrived at Scapa Flow.
At 1430/16, HMS Electra, in tow of the tug HMS Brigand and escorted by HMS Zulu and HMS Escapade arrived at Scapa Flow. (5)
21 Jun 1940
Heavy cruiser HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), light cruisers HMS Manchester (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and HMS Birmingham (Capt. A.C.G. Madden, RN) departed Rosyth escorted by the destroyer HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN) to rendez-vous with the heavy cruiser HMS Sussex (Capt. R.V. Symonds-Tayler, DSC, RN) and light cruiser HMS Newcastle (Capt. J. Figgins, RN) at sea and then to join the battlecruisers HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. Sir W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. J.S. Crawford, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. H.T. Armstrong, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Escort (Lt.Cdr. J. Bostock, RN) and HMS Diana (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN) which had departed Scapa Flow at 1220/21.
The German battlecruiser Scharnhorst had been sighted leaving Trondheim southwards escorted by four destroyers and four torpedo-boats. The Germans however retreated inside the fjords and the British ships were recalled. (6)
28 Aug 1940
Operation Menace, the attack on Dakar, 23-24 September 1940.
Part I, initial movements of the Allied naval forces
The actual attack on Dakar took place on 23 and 24 September 1940 but preparations off course started earlier.
28 August 1940.
The battleship HMS Barham (Capt G.C. Cooke, RN) departed Scapa Flow for Gibraltar. She was escorted by HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) and HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN). They were joined at sea by HMS Echo (Cdr. S.H.K. Spurgeon, DSO, RAN) which sailed later.
29 August 1940.
The transports Anadyr (British, 5321 GRT, built 1930), Casamance (French, 5817 GRT, built 1921), Fort Lamy (British, 5242 GRT, built 1919), Nevada (French, 5693 GRT, built 1918) and the tanker Ocean Coast (British, 1173 GRT, built 1935) split off in position 54’N, 18’W from convoy OB 204 (which had departed from the British east coast on 26/27 August) to proceed to Dakar. When they split off their escort towards Dakar were the Free French sloop Savorgnan de Brazza and the Free French A/S trawler President Houduce.
31 August 1940.
On this day three groups of ships departed from British ports.
From Scapa Flow the following ships sailed; troopships Ettrick (British, 11279 GRT, built 1938), Kenya (British, 9890 GRT, built 1938) and Sobieski (Polish, 11030 GRT, built 1939). These were escorted by the light cruiser HMS Fiji (Capt. W.G. Benn, RN) and the destroyers HMS Ambuscade (Lt.Cdr. R.A. Fell, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, DSO, RN), HMS Volunteer (Lt.Cdr. N. Lanyon, RN) and HMS Wanderer.
From Liverpool the following ships sailed; troopships Karanja (British, 9891 GRT, built 1931), Pennland (Dutch, 16082 GRT, built 1922) and Westernland (Dutch, 16313 GRT, built 1918) and the transport Belgravian (British, 3136 GRT, built 1937). These were escorted by the destroyers HMS Mackay (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN), HMS Vanoc (Lt.Cdr. J.G.W. Deneys, RN) and the corvette HMS Erica (Lt.Cdr. W.C. Riley, RNR).
From the Clyde the following warships sailed; HMS Devonshire (Capt. J.M. Mansfield, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.H.D. Cunningham, CB, MVO, RN, the Commander of the upcoming operation), the destroyer HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, RN) and the French sloops (minesweepers) Commandant Dominé and Commandant Duboc.
All these ships were expected to arrive at Freetown on 13 September where they would be joined by ships coming from Gibraltar and ships that were based at Freetown.
1 September 1940.
The outward passage was initially uneventful and Vice-Admiral Cunningham’s group joined up with the group that came from Liverpool at 0600/1 (zone -1). But that evening misfortune occurred when HMS Fiji was torpedoed by the German submarine U-32 when about 40 nautical miles north-northeast of Rockall in position 58°10’N, 12°55’W. She then returned to the Clyde. Her convoy then continued on escorted by the four destroyers until they met Vice-Admiral Cunningham’s force at 0900/2. The convoy was now known as ‘Convoy MP’. The place of HMS Fiji in the operation was subsequently taken over by the Australian heavy cruiser HMAS Australia (Capt. R.S. Stewart, RN).
2 September 1940.
HMS Barham (Capt G.C. Cooke, RN), HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Echo (Cdr. S.H.K. Spurgeon, DSO, RAN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) and HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN) arrived at Gibraltar from Scapa Flow.
The destroyer escort for the MP convoy parted company at 1400/2 and was ordered to join HMS Revenge (Capt. E.R. Archer, RN) which was escorting Canadian troop convoy TC 7 to the Clyde.
Passage of the MP convoy southwards was relatively uneventful except for some submarine alarms and also some engine defects during which speed had to be reduced a bit.
6 September 1940.
HMS Barham (Capt G.C. Cooke, RN), HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Echo (Cdr. S.H.K. Spurgeon, DSO, RAN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) and HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN) departed Gibraltar for Freetown in the evening but now accompanied by ships from Force H; the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), battleship HMS Resolution (Capt. O. Bevir, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN).
After passing between Madeira and the Canary Islands on the 8th this force, which constituted the major part of the warships involved in the upcoming operation, turned south at 0900/9. By 0800/11 the force was in position 20°18’N, 19°54’W about 1000 nautical miles south of Casablanca.
Vice-Admiral Cunningham in HMS Devonshire was then in position 16°50’N, 22°00’W, about 240 nautical miles to the south-west ward of the main force. He had just sighted the MS convoy (the five transports), escorted by Savorgnan de Brazza, some 300 nautical miles north-west of Dakar. Vice-Admiral Cunningham ordered the convoy Commodore to take the convoy into Freetown.
A signal was then received that Vichy-French warships had passed the Straits of Gibraltar and had turned south. Three light cruisers and three large destroyers were reported to have made up this force. It was not known where they were bound for but possibly Casablanca. Their appearance seriously affected the whole operation.
The Vichy-French cruiser force.
At 1850 hours on 9 September 1940, H.M. Consul General, Tangier, had informed Admiral Sir Dudley North, Flag Officer commanding North Atlantic, and repeated to the Foreign Office, that a French Squadron in the Mediterranean might try to pass through the Strait of Gibraltar within the next 72 hours. This report received confirmation the next day when the French Admiralty requested the British Naval Attaché, Madrid, to advise the Naval authorities at Gibraltar of the departure from Toulon on the 9th of three light cruisers of the Georges Leygues class and three large destroyers of the Fantasque class. They would pass through the Straits of Gibraltar on the morning of the 11th, no mention was made of their destination. This information reached the Admiralty at 2350/10 and Admiral North at 0008/11.
The Government policy with regards to Vichy warships at that time had been defined in a signal sent to all Commanders-in-Chief and Flag Officers commanding shortly after the attack on the battleship Richelieu at Dakar in July. This message, after stressing the importance of terminating the state of tension then existing between the French navy and ourselves, stated that His Majesty’s Government had decided to take no further action in regard to French ships in French colonial and North African ports, and went on to say ‘ We shall, of course, however, reserve the right to take action in regard to French warships proceeding to enemy controlled ports.’ Recent intelligence had indicated that it was highly improbable that any warships would make for the German occupied Biscay ports, and a Admiral North had not been informed of the Dakar project, he saw no reason to take any steps to interfere with the movements of the French warships.
Early on September 11th, the destroyers HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, DSO, RN) , HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN) and HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN),which were hunting a reported submarine to the eastward of the Strait of Gibraltar. At 0445 they sighted six French warships steaming fast to the westward and reported them. At 0617/11, Admiral North informed the Admiralty that the lights of six ships, probably warships, steering west at high speed, had been reported by HMS Hotspur at 0515 hours in position 36°03'N, 04°14'W (60 miles east of Gibraltar) and that he had ordered the destroyers to take no further action. At 0711 hours he added that he intended to keep in touch with this force by air and that he would report probable destination.
Meanwhile, Vice-Admiral Somerville, commanding Force H, on receiving the signal from HMS Hotspur had brought HMS Renown (Capt C.E.B. Simeon, RN) and the only destroyer available, HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN), to one hour’s notice for full speed. He did not put to sea because he too, believed the Government’s policy was to avoid interference with French warships as stated in the signal of 12 July.
The French squadron passed Gibraltar to the westward shortly after 0830/11 having given it’s composition in reply to the demand as the light cruisers Georges Leygues, Gloire, Montcalm and the destroyers Le Malin, Le Fantasque and L’Audacieux. This information reached the Admiralty at 1043/11 in a signal sent by Admiral North at 0917/11.
No further action was taken during the forenoon and the situation at noon was that the French Squadron was in position 35°00'N, 06°40'W (about 75 nautical miles south-south-west of Gibraltar) steering 213° at 20 knots. They were being observed by reconnaissance aircraft from RAF 200 Sq. based at Gibraltar. The Admiralty and Air Ministery were being kept informed.
Here was a complication that might well effect the Dakar operation should Dakar be the destination of the French Squadron. It does not seem to have been viewed in this light at the Admiralty, until the 1st Sea Lord himself, who was attending a meeting in the Cabinet Offices that forenoon, telephoned orders for HMS Renown and all available destroyers to raise steam for full speed. A signal to this end was then sent to Admiral Somerville at 1239/11. This was over twelve hours after the original message from Madrid had reached the Admiralty.
Movements of Force H, 11 to 14 September 1940.
The noon position and their course indicated Casablanca as the most probable destination of the French Squadron and at 1347/11 the Admiralty ordered Admiral Somerville to sea to intercept them. Further instructions followed at 1429 hours. These was no objection with them going to Casablanca but they could not be allowed to proceed to Dakar. Shortly after 1600 hours aircraft reported that the French Squadron had entered Casablanca.
Admiral Somerville left Gibraltar at 1630 hours in the Renown escorted by the destroyers HMS Griffin, HMS Velox (Cdr.(Retd.) J.C. Colvill, RN) and HMS Vidette. At 2006 hours he was ordered by the Admiralty to establish a patrol to intercept the French Squadron if they sailed southwards from Casablanca. In the early morning hours of the 12th at 0235 hours, HMS Vidette, encountered a four-funneled French destroyer in position 33°55'N, 08°31'W (west-north-west of Casablanca). She sighted a darkened ship some 6 miles on her port bow. She challenged but got no reply. A searchlight was turned on and revealed a four-funneled French destroyer. Vidette then fired two salvoes and the French destroyer, ignoring a signal to stop, then retired at high speed behind a smoke screen. Shortly afterwards Vidette was recalled from her patrol and ordered to rejoin Renown.
The French squadron was still at Casablanca at 0923/12 according to an aircraft report. At 0934 hours, Admiral Somerville turned north to meet three more destroyers coming from Gibraltar. These were; HMS Hotspur, HMS Encounter and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN). These were met at 1300 hours, in position 33°05'N, 09°40'W. They then turned to the south-west again. HMS Hotspur was stationed to patrol closer inshore.
At 0405/13, HMS Renown sighted three darkened ships in position 31°25'N, 11°30'W. These were thought to be the three Fantasque class destroyers. They were steaming north at 20 knots and were allowed to proceed. Admiral Somerville continued his patrol but fuel began to become an issue. The weather was to rough for the destroyers to fill up at sea and two of them will have to be detached that evening to refuel. This would much reduce the chance to intercept the French Squadron and Admiral Somerville informed the Admiralty of this. Adding tat he considered a patrol should be established off Dakar. His signal crossed one from the Admiralty stating that according to French sources the Squadron would remain only shortly at Casablanca before proceeding to Dakar.
This forecast proved correct. At 1530/13 aircraft reported that the light cruisers were no longer at Casablanca. Due to his fuel situation Admiral Somerville signalled that he would leave his patrol area for Gibraltar at 2000 hours that evening. But at 1916 hours the Admiralty ordered him to steer for Dakar at 18 knots. This was being done but Vidette and Velox were detached to Gibraltar to fuel.
At 2335/19 the Admiralty cancelled the order so at 0121/14, Renown and the four remaining destroyers set course to return to Gibraltar which they reached at 2000/14.
Patrol of Dakar by Vice-Admiral Cunningham’s forces.
To return to Vice-Admiral Cunningham. He knew that the French Squadron had left the Mediterranean at 1542/11 and that Vice-Admiral Somerville had been ordered to intercept them. Within a couple of hours he learnt that the French Squadron had entered Casablanca. The next forenoon (0947/12) he was informed that Vice-Admiral Somerville had been ordered to establish a patrol and to prevent them from proceeding to the south.
Vice-Admiral Cunningham’s forces were then approaching Freetown. At 1145/12, an aircraft from HMS Ark Royal approached HMS Devonshire to report that the Ark Royal would be in position 13°59'N, 20°08'W at 1300 hours and expected to arrive at Freetown with HMS Barham, HMS Resolution and ten destroyers at 0700/14. The next morning, 13 September, at 0820 hours an aircraft again closed HMS Devonshire. An order was then passed that four destroyers were to be detached to join HMS Devonshire and the convoy before dark. At 1008 hours HMS Devonshire left the convoy to close Ark Royal’s force, sighing it an hour later 20 nautical miles to the north-north-east. Devonshire remained in visual touch until 1700 hours when course was set to return to the convoy taking the destroyers HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester and HMS Fury with him.
Shortly after 1800/13, Vice-Admiral Cunningham was informed that the French cruisers had left Casablanca and that Vice-Admiral Somerville in the Renown had been ordered to proceed to the Dakar area.
Shortly after midnight 13th/14th, a signal came in from the Admiralty ordering Vice-Admiral Cunningham to establish a patrol immediately to prevent the French cruisers from reaching Dakar, employing every available ship. The same orders went to the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic. HMS Cumberland (Capt. G.H.E. Russell, RN), which had departed Freetown for the U.K. at 2000/13 was placed under Vice-Admiral Cunninham’s orders and HMS Cornwall (Capt. C.F. Hammill, RN), on her way from Simonstown to Freetown, was ordered to increase speed.
The original operation was now swallowed up in the task of intercepting the French ships. Time had become a factor of the utmost importance and without waiting for daylight, Vice-Admiral Cunningham and General Irwin, went over to see General de Gaulle on board the Westernland at 0120/14, who immediately roused Capitaine Thierry d’Argenlieu and armed him with a letter forbidding any French warship to proceed to Dakar. Within twenty minutes they were on their way back to the Dorsetshire with Capt. D’Argenlieu and the following measures were taken;
HMAS Australia which was coming from the Clyde to take the place of HMS Fiji was ordered to close HMS Devonshire, which would be steering for Dakar, then 400 nautical miles distant.
The Ark Royal was ordered to sent her six remaining destroyers; HMS Inglefield, HMS Greyhoud, HMS Fortune, HMS Echo, HMS Eclipse and HMS Escapade to Freetown to fuel and herself proceed with despatch to position 16’N, 17°40’W.
HMS Barham and HMS Resolution and the other four destroyers; HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester and HMS Fury, were to fuel at Freetown and leave for the Dakar area as soon as fuelling had been completed.
Convoy’s MP and MS were to proceed to Freetown with their French escorts.
HMS Devonshire meanwhile had altered course to the northward for Dakar at 0230/14, speed 18 knots. It was not possible to transfer General Irwin and his staff and the General thus found himself speeding northward with the orders for the landing while his troops went on to Freetown. HMAS Australia joined HMS Devonshire at 0300 hours and half an hour later the cruisers had worked up to 27 knots. HMS Cumberland and HMS Ark Royal were approaching from the south.
At 1000/14, HMS Devonshire and HMAS Australia were 200 nautical miles south of Dakar in position 11°23’N, 17°42’W, with HMS Cumberland and HMS Ark Royal respectively 45 and 100 miles astern of them. Aircraft from Ark Royal carried out reconnaissance ahead of Devonshire and Australia from this time onwards. Also flights over Dakar were carried out. That afternoon a large amount of shipping was reported in the harbour and also a submarine was sighted on the surface at 1533 in position 260°, Cape Manuel, 10 nautical miles, steering 260°. It could not be seen if the French cruisers had arrived at Dakar.
At 1900/14 the Devonshire and Australia, reduced to 17 knots on reaching the latitude of Dakar and then turned back to join Cumberland. She was met at 1940 hours and then the cruisers turned northward once more. They established a patrol line at 2320 hours, 4 miles apart, courses 270°-090°, between the meridians 17°30’W and 18°00W in latitude 16°00’N.
But they were too late. Just before midnight 14/15 September a message was received from the Admiralty that a Vichy report had announced that the cruisers had arrived safely at Dakar. The Vichy cruisers actually had arrived at Dakar at 1600/14.
Dawn air reconnaissance on the 15th failed to spot the cruisers at Dakar and by this time the three heavy cruisers were running low on fuel and at 1001 hours Vice-Admiral Cunningham sent a signal to the Admiralty to ask if he should withdraw to Freetown to refuel and prepare for operation ‘Menace’, leaving HMS Cumberland to patrol off Dakar, or to report the patrol about 0001/17 and accept indefinite delay of operation ‘Menace’. He recommended the first alternative.
At 1027 hours, however, the Ark Royal signalled that the cruisers had been located at Dakar. All ships then set course for Freetown to refuel except HMS Cumberland which was left to patrol off Dakar. The next day, the 16th, she met the Vichy French merchant vessel Poitiers (4185 GRT, built 1921) 100 miles south of Dakar and fired a salvo across her bows. Her crew then set her on fire and abandoned her. She was then sunk by gunfire from the cruiser.
Cancellation of Operation ‘Menace’.
By the evening of 15 September, Vice-Admiral Cunningham’s forces were all making once again for Freetown. A destroyer had been sent on ahead with the operation orders and two staff officers. The escape of the French cruisers, however, called for a drastic re-consideration of the original plan.
In London the War Cabinet met at 1000/16 to consider the new situation. The Prime Minister pointed out that in his view the operation had to be cancelled and at 1346/16, Vice-Admiral Cunningham received a signal that the landing of troops at Dakar in ‘Operation Menace’ was impracticable. It was proposed that General de Gaulle’s force should land at Duala with the object of consolidating his influence in the Cameroons, Equatorial Africa and the Chads. The British portion of the force was to remain at Freetown. Unless de Gaulle had any strong objection, this plan had to be put into operation forthwith.
Vice-Admiral Cunningham and General Irwin were reluctant to take this view. They replied at 1642 hours suggesting that if HMS Cornwall and HMS Cumberland would be added to their force they should be enough to deal with the French cruisers. The answer came at 2245 hours; they were left a liberty to consider the whole situation and discuss it with de Gaulle, whom they informed of the new proposal.
HMS Devonshire arrived at Freetown at 0630/17. The Vice-Admiral and the General proceeded to consult with General de Gaulle. The latter was much perturbed at the possible cancellation of the original plan and that very morning he sent a telegram to the Prime Minister desiring ‘to insist’ that the plan should be carried out and emphasising the vital importance to the Allies of gaining control of the basis in French Africa. He now urged on the Force Commanders that if the unopposed landing failed the Free French troops should attempt a landing at Rufisque. They decided to support this proposal and shortly after midnight they forwarded their recommendations to the Admiralty for consideration. The reply from H.M. Government came at 1159/18; ‘ We cannot judge relative advantages of alternative schemes from here. We give you full authority to go ahead and do what you think is best, in order to give effect to the original purpose of the expedition. Keep us informed.’
With a free hand such as is seldom enjoyed in these days of rapid communication by the leaders of an overseas expedition in unbroken touch with their Government, the Joint Commanders decided to proceed with ‘Menace’ on 22 September.
The French cruisers again, 19 to 26 September 1940.
The naval and military staffs were working hard at preparations for the landing when the next day, 19 September, French cruiser appeared again on the scene. HMAS Australia, which had left Freetown the day before to relieve HMS Cumberland on patrol, at 1019/19 in position 10°23’N, 16°54’W, north-west of Freetown, sighted the three La Galissonniere class cruisers 14 nautical miles off steering south-east. Once more the naval forces had to raise steam with all despatch. HMAS Australia and HMS Cumberland were already had on the trial. General de Gaulle again arranged for Captain Thierry d’Angenlieu to carry a message requisting the French cruisers to return to Casablanca.
General Irwin and his staff, with Admiral Cunningham’s Chief Staff Officer, Capt. P.N. Walter, were transferred to the troopship Karanja, and at 1400 hours HMS Devonshire left Freetown at 27 knots with the destroyers HMS Inglefield, HMS Greyhound and HMS Escapade. It was hoped to sight the French cruisers before dark. HMS Barham with HMS Fortune and HMS Fury made for a position to the south-east of the French. HMS Ark Royal, which had engine trouble to repair first, was to follow at 0500/20. A message came from the Admiralty that the French cruisers were not to return to Dakar.
The French cruisers turned back to the north-west and increased speed to 29 knots. Torrential rain was falling, hiding everything from view, but HMAS Australia and HMS Cumberland were able to keep in touch and at 1830/19 HMAS Australia managed to pass directions not to return to Dakar. She was then in position 09°02’N, 15°14’W, just keeping in touch while doing 31 knots. Then the French cruiser Gloire broke down and separated from the other two cruisers. The British then lost touch with these two cruisers. HMS Devonshire meanwhile was steaming to a position to cut off the way to Conakri in French Guinea. HMS Cumberland then regained touch with the two French cruisers (Georges Leygues (flag) and Montcalm) who were speeding north while HMAS Australia picked up the Gloire which was steering eastwards at reduced speed. Night had fallen when HMS Devonshire with HMS Inglefield still in company showed up. HMS Inglefield took Captain d’Argenlieu on board of the Gloire. The French captain refused to accede to his representations, but when Vice-Admiral Cunningham intervened he agreed to proceed to Casablanca. HMAS Australia escorted her until 21 September, leaving her then, on Admiralty instructions, to proceed unescorted.
HMS Cumberland meanwhile managed to keep in touch with the other two cruisers. Her attempts at parley failed, but the French signalled that ‘under no circumstances shall my cruisers pass under German control’. HMS Cumberland followed them all the way to Dakar but was unable to prevent them from entering, which they did at 0550/20.
Meanwhile, on 18 September, far away to the southward, a fourth French cruiser had been sighted escorting a naval tanker. This was the Primaguet escorting the Tarn. HMS Cornwall had departed Freetown on 16 September to meet HMS Delhi (Capt. A.S. Russell, RN) and HMS Dragon (Capt. R.W. Shaw, MBE, RN) off Cape Formosa (south Nigeria). They swept towards Fernando Po [now called Bioko] to intercept any French forces bound for the Cameroons with instructions to direct them back to Casablanca. On 17 September at 2000 hours information came that a French warship and an oiler had been in position 07°25’N, 14°40’W at 1500/15. The Cornwall proceeded to search and on the 18th her aircraft picked up the cruiser Primaguet and oiler Tarn 35 nautical miles ahead. The Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic ordered her to be shadowed.
Her lights were sighted at 2142/18 but disappeared at 0425/19. When dawn broke the horizon was clear. She was picked up again at 1009/19. A boarding party from HMS Delhi went on board. The Captain, after making a formal protest, asked to be allowed to remain stopped until 1700/19 after which she proceeded, first westward, then northward, being shadowed by HMS Cornwall and HMS Delhi until 1830/21 when HMS Delhi had to proceed to Freetown to refuel. HMS Cornwall shadowed her alone untul the 23rd when she was rejoined by HMS Delhi. For two days they followed her close, still steaming north. On the 25th Primaguet fuelled from the Tarn. They were then off the Cape Verde Island. The next day the Admiralty approved the cruisers to return to Freetown. The Primaguet gave a promise that she would proceed to Casablanca with the Tarn where they indeed arrived in due course. The British cruisers then turned south. They had kept the Primaguet and Tarn in sight for five days. Thus two out of the four cruisers in the area had been diverted to Casablanca without the use of force. (7)
29 Aug 1940
Passage of reinforcements for the Mediterranean Fleet from Gibraltar to Alexandria, subsequent operations by the fleet as well as the passage of convoys MF 2 from Alexandria to Malta and AS 3 from Piraeus to Port Said.
29 August 1940.
At 2045 convoy MF 2, made up of the transports Cornwall (10603 GRT, built 1920), Volo (1587 GRT, built 1938) and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Plumleaf (5916 GRT, built 1917) departed Alexandria for Malta. These ships were escorted by the destroyers (‘Force J’) HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN) and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN).
30 August 1940.
At 0445 hours the main battlefleet (‘Force I’) departed Alexandria and was made up of the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of A/Admiral A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Malaya (Capt. Sir A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN), light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN) and HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, CB, RAN). Escort was provided by the destroyers HMS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN), HMS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, RAN), HMAS Vampire (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN), HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades, RAN), HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, RN), HMS Defender (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN) and ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. A. Doroszkowski, ORP).
Shortly afterwards the heavy cruiser HMS Kent (Capt. D. Young-Jamieson, RN), light cruisers HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN), HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN) and the destroyers Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN) and HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN) also departed Alexandria. These ships were also part of ‘Force I’.
From Gibraltar the following forces went to sea, they departed around 0845 hours.
’Force B’ which was made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt C.E.B. Simeon, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN). Escort was provided by the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN) , HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN).
At the same time ‘Force F’ departed, this force was the reinforcement for the Mediterranean Fleet and was made up of the battleship HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, DSC, RN), light (AA) cruisers HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN), HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN). They were escorted by HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN) and HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H Layman, DSO, RN).
A third ‘force’, called ‘Force W’ also departed at the same time, it was made up of the destroyers HMS Velox (Cdr.(Retd.) J.C. Colvill, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN). These destroyers were to split off from the other forces off the Baliaric Islands and proceed northwards and transmit false messages deceiving the Italians into thinking that ‘Force H’ from Gibraltar was proceeding towards the Genoa area.
31 August 1940.
During the day HMS Eagle flew off A/S and fighter patrols.
At 0845 hours HMS Kent, HMS Liverpool, HMS Gloucester and their escort of HMS Hyperion, HMS Hasty and HMS Ilex were sighted by enemy aircraft. They made rendez-vous with the bulk of the Mediterranean Fleet later the same day which was then also sighted by enemy aircraft.
Shortly after noon convoy MF 2 was bombed by enemy aircraft in position 35°14’N, 23°11’E.
At 1420 hours two Gladiators were flown off by HMS Eagle. When these returned at 1530 hours they reported that they had shot down an Italian aircraft but another shadowing aircraft was heard to be making reports.
At 1554 hours HMS Kent, HMS Liverpool and HMS Gloucester were detached to give AA protection to the convoy. They were ordered to rejoin the fleet at 2000 hours.
At 1635 hours an aircraft reported that the transport Cornwall had been hit aft by a bomb and that she was on fire. It was also reported that the fire was under control and that Cornwall was still proceeding with the convoy.
At 1815 hours HMS Decoy was detached to join the three cruisers.
Also at 1815 hours, an aircraft from HMS Eagle reported sighting an enemy force of two battleship, seven cruisers and eight destroyers in position 37°18’N, 18°52’E. Which was about 140 nautical miles from Warspite at that moment. This position was later corrected to 37°02’N, 19°04’E. It was therefore decided to remain close to the convoy during the night.
At 1930 hours the three cruisers were sighted and between 1950 and 2020 hours all aircraft returned to HMS Eagle.
At 2057 hours, HMS Jervis reported that at 2015 hours the convoy was in position 35°24’N, 21°50’E, course 260°, speed 9.5 knots. It was also reported that Cornwall her steering gear had been wrecked and that she was steering on her main engines.
Later that evening more sighting reports of enemy warships were received coming from two submarines.
At 0815 hours, HMS Ark Royal launched six search aircraft. Fighter patrol was also maintained overhead
At 1240 hours, a section of Skua’s on fighter patrol were ordered to intercept an Italian shadower that had been detected by RD/F. They managed to intercept the enemy at 1248 hours and shoot it down in flames.
At 1630 hour another Italian shadower was shot down by the fighter patrol.
At 2150 hours, in position 39°30’N, 04°01’E, ‘Force W’ comprising HMS Velox and HMS Wishart, was detached for the W/T diversion. They were to proceed to the north-east and during the passage they were to transmit a series of messages by W/T in approximate position 41°00’N, 04°30’E. This part of the operation was called ‘Operation Squawk’.
1 September 1940.
At 0630 hours, HMS Eagle launched nine aircraft to conduct a search between 310° and 140° to a depth of 100 miles. These aircraft sighted nothing.
At 1035 hours, four more aircraft were flown off to search between 180° and 210° to a depth of 60 miles.
At noon ‘Force I’, the main battlefleet, was in position 34°48’N, 18°59’E.
At 1300 hours, HMS Eagle flew off four more aircraft to search between 235° and 315° to a depth of 60 miles. This search was maintained for the remainder of the day. Aircraft being flown off at 1545 and 1745 hours. The last patrol returned at 2015 hours. No enemy forces had been sighted.
At 1330 hours an enemy reconnaissance aircraft was sighted over the fleet.
At 1400 hours, HMS Orion and HMAS Sydney were detached to make rendez-vous in position 34°42’N, 16°20’E with the destroyer HMS Wryneck (Lt.Cdr. R.H.D. Lane, RN) which had been refitting and rearming at Malta and had recently recommissioned for service. They were then to make rendez-vous with ‘Force J’. The convoy was sighted at 1530 hours.
A flying boat operating from Malta reported enemy warships, a force made up of two battleships, ten cruisers and a large number of destroyers was sighted in position 38°52’N, 18°16’E at 1600 hours. They were steering towards Taranto. These forces were shadowed until 1857 hours when it was absolutely clear that the enemy was returning to their bases.
During the night the fleet would remain near the convoy with the cruiser force to the north and the battleforce to the south of the convoy.
Plumleaf and Volo, escorted by HMS Dainty and HMS Diamond were ordered to proceed to Malta at maximum speed while HMS Jervis and HMS Juno remained behind with the damaged Cornwall.
From the main battleforce HMAS Stuart, HMAS Vendetta, HMAS Vampire and HMS Defender were detached to Malta at 2000 hours where they were to refuel.
Meanwhile in the western Mediterranean at 0325 hours a strike force was launched by HMS Ark Royal, 155 miles, 264° from Cagliari to raid Elmas aerodrome. After flying off the fleet altered course to the flying on position which was 120 miles, 226° from Cagliari.
The striking force consisted of nine Swordfish each armed with four 250lb G.P. bombs and 8 250lb incendiary bombs. Parachute flares were also carried by each plane. Weather conditions were good.
At 0600 hours the aircraft attacked the aerodrome after establishing its position by dropping flares. Bombs were released from 3000 feet and hits were observed on the barracks, aerodrome buildings and aircraft dispersed round the aerodrome. Several fires were seen to start.
All aircraft returned safely, landing on around 0800 hours. On the way back they had attacked an enemy submarine with machine gun fire in position 38°20’N, 07°20’E. The submarine fired a yellow flare and then dived. HMS Greyhound and HMS Hotspur were then detached to hunt the submarine but they did not made contact with the enemy. The submarine involved was the Italian Diaspro. She was first machine gunned and reported the attacking aircraft as a Sunderland (sic). She then dived. Five explosions were then heard of which one was close enough to shake the submarine.
After landing on the striking force course was altered to the south-westward to give the Italians the impression that having bombed Cagliari the force had achieved its object and was withdrawing. But as there apparently there were no Italian aircraft shadowing the force at this moment this seems to have failed.
At 1030 hours course was altered to 080°. From this time onwards fighter patrols, each of six aircraft, were maintained over the force throughout the day.
At 1630 hours HMS Illustrious flew off seven aircraft to conduct a search to the eastward until maximum range.
At 1730 hours RD/F reported an aircraft approaching the force from ahead. Intercepted Italian reports indicted that the force was being shadowed. Both carriers then vectored fighters. They did not sight enemy aircraft but a section of Fulmars from HMS Illustrious attacked a British Hudson in error.
At 2200 hours, when in position 38°06’N, 10°51’E, HMS Valiant, HMS Illustrious, HMS Coventry, HMS Calcutta, HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk, HMS Janus, HMS Hero, HMS Gallant, HMS Griffin, HMS Greyhound and HMS Hotspur parted company and proceeded to the south-eastward.
The remainder of the ships proceeded to the northwards for 15 minutes and then altered course to the west and increased speed to 24 knots to reach a suitable spot for a second air strike on Cagliari.
2 September 1940.
At 0700 hours A/S patrols were flown off by HMS Eagle and the mean line of advance was changed to 320° for the rendez-vous position with ‘Force F’. At 0800 hours the fleet was in position 35°25’N, 13°48’E.
At 0900 hours HMS Valiant and HMS Illustrious were sighted right ahead. With them were HMS Orion, HMAS Sydney, HMS Wryneck, HMS Gallant, HMS Greyhound, HMS Griffin and HMS Hotspur. HMS Coventry, HMS Calcutta, HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk, HMS Janus and HMS Juno had been detached to Malta to refuel.
At 0930 hours, HMAS Vampire and HMAS Vendetta rejoined from Malta and HMS Hereward and HMS Ilex were now detached to refuel at Malta.
At 0940 hours, when the fleet was in position 35°40’N, 13°43’E, and steaming on a course of 140°, the fleet was formed as follows; HMS Warspite, HMS Illustrious, HMS Malaya, HMS Eagle, HMS Valiant. HMS Orion and HMAS Sydney were stationed 12 cables 20° on either bow. The destroyers were in Sreening Diagram No. 6A.
A standing patrol of four Fulmars from HMS Illustrious was maintained over the fleet at 12000 feet. A/S patrols were provided by Illustrious and Eagle if required.
At 1010 hours, HMS Valiant was detached to Malta with an escort of the destroyers HMS Hyperion, HMS Hasty, HMS Decoy and HMS Wryneck.
At 0930 hours an enemy aircraft reported three cruisers and at 1030 hours, Rear-Admiral Cruiser Squadron 3 with HMS Kent, HMS Liverpool and HMS Gloucester, reported that they were being shadowed in position 35°29’N, 14°40’E. Three Fulmars for A/S protection were then flown off.
At 1050 hours an enemy aircraft was heard to report a large naval force. An Italian reconnaissance aircraft was shot down shortly afterwards and nothing more was heard from this aircraft after this.
At 1130 hours the Vice-Admiral Malta reported that the convoy had arrived there safely.
At noon the fleet was in position 35°29’N, 14°25’E steering 100°. The fleet remained about 35 nautical miles south of Malta during the afternoon.
At 1425 hours HMS Janus was detached to Malta with correspondence and to refuel.
At 1504 hours, HMS Coventry, HMS Janus, HMS Juno, HMS Nubian and HMS Mohawk, joined the fleet.
At 1600 hours, the fleet was in position 35°14’N, 14°21’E. At this time a bombing attack took place. Eight bombs fell astern of HMS Eagle.
At 1645 hours, HMS Hereward and HMS Ilex rejoined the fleet.
At 1657 hours, HMS Malaya, HMS Eagle, HMS Coventry, HMS Janus, HMS Juno, HMS Dainty, HMS Diamond, HMAS Vampire, HMAS Vendetta (‘Force E’) and HMS Kent, HMS Liverpool, HMS Gloucester, HMS Nubian and HMS Mohawk (‘Force A’) were detached.
At 1730 hours, HMS Gallant and HMS Ilex reported a submarine contact and attacked with depth charges. The fleet made an emergency alteration of course.
At 1856 hours, HMS Voyager was detached to Malta and at 1900 hours HMS Calcutta, HMS Hasty, HMS Hero, HMS Decoy and HMS Wryneck rejoined.
Between 1900 and 1910 hours, two bombing attacks were made on the fleet. During these attacks several Italian aircraft were shot down.
At 1945 hours, when in position 35°20’N, 14°07’E, the fleet altered course to 040° to close the Malta swept channel as HMS Valiant was expected to rejoin the fleet at this time. Valiant was , however, delayed until 2030 hours owing to an air raid on Malta and course was altered to 140° at 15 knots at 2100 hours in position 35°38’N, 14°26’E. In the meantime the last aircraft had returned at 2045 hours.
At 2200 hours, HMS Gallant, HMS Greyhound, HMS Griffin, HMS Hotspur and ORP Garland detached to Malta to refuel and then they were to proceed to Gibraltar.
At 2330 hours, HMS Valiant, screened by HMAS Stuart, HMS Hyperion, HMS Imperial and HMS Janus, was 10 nautical miles 270° from HMS Warspite. Course was altered to 090° and speed was increased to 18 knots at this time.
At 0350 hours, HMS Ark Royal, launched a striking force of nine Swordfish aircraft armed with 4 250 lb. G.P. bombs and 20 lb. Cooper of 25 lb. incendiary bombs, in addition to parachute flares. Weather conditions were however not very good.
On reaching the vicinity of their objectives, the aerodrome and the power station, the aircraft encountered a layer of cloud at 5000 feet and another layer at 4000 feet. The valleys appeared to be filled with mist or fog and low clouds. Parachute flares were dropped at intervals for a period of about 45 minutes in the hope of identifying the targets, but without success.
Four aircraft then attacked searchlights, putting one of them out of action. Two attacked, what was thought to be, a flare path which turned out to be a field two miles to the north-west of the aerodrome, The three remaining aircraft jettisoned their bombs into the sea.
During the attack the aircraft encountered heavy AA barrage fire. This fire was continued until the aircraft were over 17 miles from the aerodrome. It was apparent that the AA defence had been increased since the last attack. Searchlights were few and ineffective and appeared to have no form of control.
By 0800 hours all aircraft had returned and the fleet was in position 37°48’N, 06°11’E and the fleet proceeded at 26 knots to the westward to get out of range of the expected enemy air attack. These however did not develop as apparently the fleet was not shadowed by the enemy.
3 September 1940.
At 0130 hours, HMS Valiant took station astern of the line and HMAS Stuart, HMS Hyperion, HMS Imperial and HMS Janus joined the screen.
At 0640 hours, A/S patrols were flown off, two aircraft were searching up to a depth of 60 nautical miles.
At 0700 hours, HMS Defender rejoined. She had been delayed at Malta with a defective Asdic dome and had been docked there. Repairs however could not be made as there were no spare parts available at Malta.
At 0800 hours, the Commander-in-Chief, with ‘Force I’ was in position 35°27’N, 19°10’E, steering for the Kithera Channel and ‘Force A’ was in position 35°16’N, 20°58’E steering for the south of Crete. HMS Kent, HMS Liverpool, HMS Gloucester, HMS Nubian and HMS Mohawk had been detached at dawn and were proceeding direct to make rendez-vous with convoy AS 3 in position 37°10’N, 23°15’E (off the Gulf of Athens) at 1800/3.
Convoy AS 3 was made up of the following merchant vessels Cavallo (British, 2269 GRT , built 1922), Destro (British, 3553 GRT , built 1920), Ann Stathatos (Greek, 5685 GRT , built 1918) and Hydroussa (Greek, 2038 GRT , built 1922).
At 2200 hours, HMAS Stuart stopped with a burst steam pipe and was instructed to join convoy AS 3 after repairs.
At 2230 hours, HMS Ilex and HMS Decoy were detached for a dawn bombardment of Scarpanto.
Meanwhile in the western Mediterranean nothing of further interest occured with the fleet and the force arrived at Gibraltar around 1100 hours.
At 1645 hours, HMS Gallant, HMS Griffin, HMS Greyhound, HMS Hotspur and ORP Garland departed Malta for Gibraltar. They first made an A/S sweep to the south and west of Malta before continuing on their passage.
4 September 1940.
At 0345 hours, in position 35°44’N, 25°56’E, eight Swordfish aircraft were flow off from HMS Illustrious to attack Calatos aerodrome (Rhodos). Twelve aircraft were initially intended to carry out this attack but due to a crash on deck the remainder could not be launched. Twelve aircraft were flown off by HMS Eagle to attack Maritsa aerodrome (also on Rhodos).
At 0400 hours, HMS Calcutta parted company to join convoy AS 3.
At 0505 hours, HMS Orion and HMAS Sydney were in position 35°09’N, 26°55’E. HMAS Sydney then proceeded to bombard Makryalo aerodrome and HMS Orion to bombard Pegadia Bay.
At 0625 hours, a Swordfish aircraft from HMS Illustrious crashed while taking off, two of the crew were rescued by HMS Imperial but the observer did not survive the crash.
Between 0730 and 0740 hours the striking forces returned to HMS Illustrious and HMS Eagle. The aircraft from Illustrious reported that at 0555 hours two of them had attacked barracks and ammunition dumps at south-east of Callato. The other six Swordfish attacked Callato and a number of aircraft parked on the north edge of the field were probably destroyed. The aircraft from Eagle reported two main hangers hit at Maritsa as well as a petrol dump, barrack blocks and workshops set on fire. The aircraft from Eagle encountered fighters and our of them failed to return.
At 0800 hours, the Commander-in-Chief with his force was in position 35°00’N, 26°54’E, steering 150°. At 0820 hours, large volumes of smoke were seen over the horizon in the direction of Rhodes.
At 1055 hours, HMS Orion, HMAS Sydney, HMS Ilex and HMS Decoy rejoined. Orion reported that no military targets could be identified at Pegadia and what might have been the military barracks had a considerable village behind it. She had fired only a few rounds. Sydney reported that the eastern part of the landing ground at Makriyalo was plasetered. Only one small building was seen and it was destroyed. Two Motor Torpedo Boats which came out were engaged by Ilex and were reported sunk. Sydney’s aircraft reported that three more were present and that two retired and the third one was damaged.
Between 1110 and 1158 hours, three bombing attacks were made on the fleet. Three aircraft dropped six bombs just astern of HMS Warspite. Another aircraft dropped a stick of six bombs near the destroyer screen. Another aircraft dropped a stick of bombs near HMS Ilex.
At 1145 hours, an A/S patrol aircraft dropped a bomb on a suspected submarine some two nautical miles from Warspite. HMS Imperial obtained a faint contact and attacked but without result.
At noon, the Commander-in-Chief, in HMS Warspite was with HMS Valiant, HMS Illustrious, HMS Hyperion, HMS Hero, HMS Hasty, HMS Hereward, HMS Imperial, HMS Janus and HMS Defender in position 34°42’N, 27°35’E. HMS Malaya, HMS Eagle, HMS Juno, HMS Dainty, HMS Diamond, HMAS Vampire, HMAS Vendetta and HMS Wryneck were 40 nautical miles to the southward proceeding independently to Alexandria where they arrived at 2100 hours on this day.
Meanwhile in the western Mediterreanean, between 1225 and 1430 hours, HMS Gallant, HMS Griffin, HMS Greyhound, HMS Hotspur and ORP Garland were attacked by high level bombers without result.Garland had leaks in two boilers was towed from 1715 to 1845 hours by Griffin until she was able to proceed after repairs on one boiler.
5 September 1940.
At 0610 hours, HMS Hereward investigated a contact and the fleet made an emergency turn. Shortly afterwards, at 0700 hours, the swept channel was reached and the fleet entered Alexandria harbour without further incident.
HMS Kent, HMS Liverpool, HMS Gloucester were ordered to remain with convoy AS 3 until after dark and then to proceed to Alexandria where they arrived early the next day.
HMS Gallant, HMS Griffin, HMS Greyhound, HMS Hotspur and ORP Garland arrived at Gibraltar at 2020 hours.
6 September 1940.
HMS Nubian and HMS Mohawk remained with convoy AS 3 until relieved at 0600/6 by HMS Hereward and HMS Imperial. They arrived at Alexandria in the afternoon.
Already before noon HMS Coventry, HMS Calcutta and HMAS Stuart had arrived at Alexandria.
Convoy AS 3, now escorted by HMS Hereward and HMS Imperial arrived at Port Said in the afternoon as well. (8)
31 Oct 1940
The destroyer HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN), which was on patrol to the east of Gibraltar sighted five Vichy-French destroyers (Bordelais, Brestois, L'Alcyon, Simoun and Tempête) proceeding westwards to pass the Strait of Gibraltar possibly bound for Casablanca.
The battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt C.E.B. Simeon, RN), battleship HMS Barham (Capt G.C. Cooke, RN) and the destroyers HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN) and HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN) departed Gibraltar to intercept. They returned to Gibraltar the next day.
5 Nov 1940
Hunt for the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer after the attack on convoy HX 84.
Timespan: 5 October to 23 October 1940.
In response to the attack on convoy HX 84 by the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer the Admiralty acted quickly.
The battlecruisers HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN), light cruisers HMS Naiad (Capt. M.H.A. Kelsey, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.L.S. King, CB, MVO, RN), HMS Phoebe (Capt. G. Grantham, RN), HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.J. Egerton, RN) and the destroyers HMS Somali (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. St. J.A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN), HMS Matabele (Cdr. R.St.V. Sherbrooke, DSO, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, DSO, RN) and HMS Electra (Lt.Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN) departed Scapa Flow at 2330/5 to proceed to the last reported position of the German pocket battleship 52°50'N, 32°15'W at 2003/5.
At 1050/6 the force split up; HMS Hood, HMS Naiad, HMS Phoebe, HMS Somali, HMS Eskimo and HMS Punjabi proceeded to patrol off the Bay of Biscay to cover the approaches to Brest and Lorient.
HMS Repulse, HMS Bonaventure, HMS Mashona, HMS Matabele and HMS Electra towards the Admiral Scheer's last known position.
At 0700/6 the battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN, flying the flag of Admiral of the Fleet C.M. Forbes, GCB, DSO, RN) and HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN), light cruiser HMS Southampton (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN) and the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. H.T. Armstrong, RN), HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN), HMS Douglas (Cdr.(Retd.) J.G. Crossley, RN), HMS Keppel (Lt. R.J. Hanson, RN) and HMS Vimy (Lt.Cdr. D.J.B. Jewitt, RN) departed Scapa Flow to cover the patrols in the Iceland-Faroes Channel.
Shortly before midnight during the night of 6/7 November HMS Rodney was detached to escort to escort convoy HX 83 and once this convoy was safe, HX 85 from Halifax.
Three armed merchant cruisers, which were on patrol were recalled to port on the 8th. These were HMS Chitral (Capt.(Retd.) G. Hamilton, RN), which was to the northwest of Iceland and HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, RAN) and HMS Worcestershire (A/Capt. J. Creswell, RN), which were to the south of Iceland. The light cruiser HMS Southampton was ordered to take over the place of HMS Chitral. She split off from HMS Nelson at 1600/8. HMS Worcestershire joined HMS Nelson and her escorting destroyers around 1500/9.
There were also the destroyers HMS Churchill (Cdr.(Retd.) G.R. Cousins, RN), HMS Lewes (Lt.Cdr. J.N.K. Knight, RN), HMS Lincoln (Cdr. A.M. Sheffield, RN) and HMS Ludlow (Cdr. G.B. Sayer, RN). They were en-route to the U.K. and had departed Halifax on 31 October and refuelled at St. Johns on 3 November. After receiving distress signals from ships in convoy HX 84 they rushed to the reported location. The only thing they found was an empty lifeboat. They then continued their Atlantic crossing and arrived at Londonderry on 9 November.
The destroyer HMS Stanley (A/Lt.Cdr. R.B. Stannard, VC, RNR) had departed Halifax on 1 November and St. Johns on 5 November. Now she and the Canadian destroyer HMCS St.Francis (Lt.Cdr. H.F. Pullen, RCN) escorted convoy HX 85, which had been recalled, back to Nova Scotia.
On 8 November, after machinery defects had been repaired, the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia (Capt. R.S. Stewart, RN) departed the Clyde to protect convoys.
The battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt C.E.B. Simeon, RN) and the destroyers HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN) departed Gibraltar at 0500/6 to provide cover for convoys HG 46 and SL 53.
At 1225/6, off Cape St Vincent, the submarine HMS Utmost (Lt. J.H. Eaden, DSC, RN) was identified as enemy by HMS Encounter which then rammed the submarine which was en-route to Gibraltar. HMS Encounter was escorted to Gibraltar by HMS Forester. They arrived at 0800/7.
On 11 November, HMAS Australia relieved Renown from covering convoy HG 46 and Renown arrived back at Gibraltar on the 12th.
Aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Despatch (Capt. C.E. Douglas-Pennant, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Verity (Cdr. R.H. Mills, RN), HMS Vesper (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN) and HMS Windsor (Lt.Cdr. G.P. Huddart, RN) departed the Clyde on 7 November for Gibraltar and were also ordered to keep a look out for the German pocket battleship. The destroyers were later detached; HMS Windsor around 0100/9 and HMS Verity and HMS Vesper around 0600/9. HMS Despatch was detached at 1000/13 and proceeded to Gibraltar where she arrived at the next day. Shortly before HMS Despatch was detached the destroyers HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN) and HMS Wrestler (Lt. E.L. Jones, DSC, RN) had joined followed later in the day by HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN). HMS Argus, HMS Vidette, HMS Wishart and HMS Wrestler arrived at Gibraltar very late on the 14th.
Battlecruiser HMS Repulse escorted by the destroyers HMS Matabele and HMS Electra arrived at Scapa Flow for refuelling around 1100/11.
Light cruiser HMS Bonaventure and destroyer HMS Mashona arrived at Scapa Flow around 1130/11 for refuelling.
Battlecruiser HMS Hood, light cruisers HMS Naiad, HMS Phoebe and the destroyers HMS Somali, HMS Eskimo and HMS Punjabi returned to Scapa Flow around 1400/11 for refuelling. HMS Eskimo had suffered weather damage to her asdic dome and had some forecastle deck plates buckled. She was docked for repairs in the floating drydock at Scapa Flow from 13 to 16 November.
After fuelling HMS Bonaventure departed Scapa Flow at 2300/11 to continue to search for survivors from convoy HX 84. Armed merchant cruiser HMS Chitral was also back at sea to search for survivors. She had departed from Reykjavik, Iceland around 2330/10.
HMS Bonaventure returned to Scapa Flow on the 19th with weather damage.
The armed merchant cruiser HMS Letitia (A/Capt. E.H. Longsdon, RN) departed the Clyde around 1300/11 for the Northern Patrol.
HMS Repulse, HMS Naiad departed Scapa Flow around 1330/12 for patrol and also to provide cover for ships of the Northern Patrol. They were escorted by the destoyers HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN), HMS Mashona, HMS Matabele and HMS Punjabi.
HMS Naiad parted company on the 13th to proceed to Jan Mayen Island where a German weather / wireless station in Jameson Bay was to be raided.
HMS Repulse returned to Scapa Flow at 0015/19 being escorted by the destroyers HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN), HMS Mashona and HMS Matabele. They had provided cover for HMS Naiad during her raid on Jan Mayen Island.
Battleship HMS Rodney arrived at Scapa Flow around 1500/23rd. She had been joined at dawn the previous day by the destroyers HMS Beagle, HMS Brilliant, HMS Bulldog and HMS Electra. (9)
6 Nov 1940
At 1225 hours, in position 36°08'N, 08°45'W, HMS Utmost (Lt. J.H. Eaden, DSC, RN) was rammed by the British destroyer HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN). Encounter was part of the destroyer screen for the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt C.E.B. Simeon, RN). Both Utmost and Encounter were damaged. They were escorted to Gibraltar by HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN).
25 Nov 1940
Operation Collar and the resulting Battle of Cape Spartivento.
See also the event for 23 November 1940 called ‘Operation MB 9’ for the events in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Departure of the convoy from Gibraltar / passage through the Straits of Gibraltar and plan of the operation.
During the night of 24/25 November 1940 the three merchants / troop transports, Clan Forbes (7529 GRT, built 1938), Clan Fraser (7529 GRT, built 1939) and New Zealand Star (10740 GRT, built 1935), passed the Straits of Gibraltar. To the eastward of Gibraltar they were joined by the four corvettes (HMS Peony (Lt.Cdr. (rtd.) M.B. Sherwood, DSO, RN), (HMS Salvia (Lt.Cdr. J.I. Miller, DSO, RD, RNR), HMS Gloxinia (Lt.Cdr. A.J.C. Pomeroy, RNVR) and HMS Hyacinth (T/Lt. F.C. Hopkins, RNR) that were part of Force ‘F’, which was the close support force of the convoy. The other ships of Force ‘F’ were the light cruisers HMS Manchester (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN) and HMS Southampton (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN) and the destroyer HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H Layman, DSO, RN), which was in a damaged state and was to proceed to Malta for full repairs. These last three ships sailed at 0800/25. The cruisers had each about 700 RAF and other military personnel onboard that were to be transported to Alexandria.
The cover force for this convoy, force ‘B’ also left Gibraltar at 0800/25. This force was made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, RN), the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), the light cruisers HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and HMS Despatch (Capt. Cyril Eustace Douglas-Pennant, DSC, RN). They were escorted by destroyers from the 8th and 13th Destroyer Flotillas; HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN, Capt. D.8), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Duncan (Capt. A.D.B. James, RN, Capt. D.13), HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN), HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St.J. Morgan, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Allison, DSO, RN) and HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN).
Force ‘F’ and the merchant ship New Zealand Star were to proceed to Alexandria except for HMS Hotspur which was to detach to Malta as mentioned earlier as well as the other two merchant ships. Force ‘B’ was to cover Force ‘F’ and the merchant ships during the passage of the Western Mediterranean. To the south of Sardinia these forces were to be joined around noon on 27 November 1940 by Force ‘D’ which came from the Eastern Mediterranean and was made up of the battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Reid, RN), the heavy cruiser HMS Berwick (Capt. G.L. Warren, RN), the light cruiser HMS Newcastle (Capt. E.A. Aylmer, DSC, RN) and the AA cruiser HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN), HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN), HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSC, RN) and HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN). All forces were then to proceed towards the Sicilian narrows for a position between Sicily and Cape Bon which was to be reached at dusk. After dark Force ’F’, reinforced by HMS Coventry and the destroyers from Force ‘D’ were then to proceed through the narrows to the Eastern Mediterranean where they would be met the next day by ships of the Mediterranean Fleet. Force ‘B’ with HMS Ramillies, HMS Berwick and HMS Newcastle from Force ‘D’ were then to return to Gibraltar.
Disposition of British forces at 0800 hours, 27 November 1940.
At 0800/27, about half an hour before sunrise, the situation was as follows. Vice-Admiral Somerville in HMS Renown, with HMS Ark Royal, HMS Sheffield and four destroyers were in position 37°48’N, 07°24’E (about 95 nautical miles south-west of Cape Spartivento, Sardinia) steering 083° at 16 knots.
Some 25 nautical miles to the south-west of him, the Vice-Admiral 18th cruiser squadron in HMS Manchester, with HMS Southampton, HMS Despatch and five destroyers were in company with the convoy in position 37°37’N, 06°54’E. The four corvettes had been unable to keep up with the convoy and were about 10 nautical miles to the westward of it. The visibility was excellent, the wind south-easterly, force 3 to 4 and the sea was calm.
At this time HMS Ark Royal flew off a section of fighters, one A/S patrol, one meteorological machine and seven reconnaissance aircraft. Vice-Admiral Somerville continued on his easterly course to concentrate with Force ‘D’ which was approaching from the Skerki Bank. At 0900 hours he changed course to the south-west to join the convoy to provide additional AA defence for the convoy for expected air attacks from Sardinian aerodromes.
Reconnaissance aircraft report enemy forces at sea.
Shortly before the course change, at 0852/27 one of Ark Royal’s aicraft sighted a group of enemy warships about 25 nautical miles to the southward of Cape Spartivento and while closing to investigate at 0906 hours sent an alarm report of four cruisers and six destroyers, which, however was not received by any ship of the British forces. On sighting the convoy at 0920 hours, HMS Renown maneuvered to pass astern of it and take station to the southward and up sun, in the probable direction of any air attack. At 0956 hours, while still on the port quarter of the convoy, Vice-Admiral Somerville received from HMS Ark Royal an aircraft report timed 0920/27, of five cruisers and five destroyers some 65 nautical miles to the north-eastward of him.
Steam was at once ordered for full speed and screens of two destroyers each were arranged for both HMS Ark Royal and the merchant ships. Further reports from aircraft, confirmed by HMS Ark Royal, established by 1015/27 the presence of enemy battleships and cruisers and HMS Renown altered course to 075° to join HMS Ramillies increasing speed as rapidly as possible to 28 knots.
Measures to safeguard the convoy and to join Force ‘D’.
At 1035/27 the plot showed enemy forces to the north-east but their composition and relative position were still in doubt. In these circumstances Vice-Admiral Somerville decided that the convoy should continue to its destination steering a south-easterly course (120°) in order to keep clear of any action which might develop. It was given an escort of two cruisers, HMS Despatch and HMS Coventry and the destroyers HMS Duncan and HMS Wishart. The remaining two cruisers and three destroyers of Force ‘F’ were ordered to join Force ‘B’ which steered to make contact with Force ‘D’ which was approaching from the east and then to attack the enemy together. HMS Ark Royal was ordered to prepare and fly off a torpedo bomber striking force. She was to act independently escorted by HMS Kelvin and HMS Jaguar and under cover from the battlefleet.
At 1058/27 a Sunderland flying boat closed HMS Renown and reported Force ‘D’ bearing 070°, range 34 nautical miles. As the junction of the two forces seemed to be assured, the speed was reduced to 24 knots, in order to maintain a position between the convoy and the enemy force which estimated position was bearing 025°, range 50 nautical miles. The Sunderland flying boat was ordered to shadow and report its composition.
The cruisers HMS Manchester, HMS Southampton and HMS Sheffield had meanwhile concentrated with the destroyers in the van, bearing 5 nautical miles from HMS Renown in the direction of the enemy.
Reports from the reconnaissance aircraft of HMS Ark Royal contained a number of discrepancies which made it impossible to obtain a clear picture of the situation. Two groups of cruisers had been reported, as well as two battleships. It seemed certain that five or six cruisers were present, but the number of battleships remained in doubt. But whatever the composition of the enemy force in order to get the convoy through Vice-Admiral Somerville wanted to attack as soon as possible. At 1115/27 the enemy was reported to be changing course to the eastward.
All this time Force ‘D’ had been coming westwards and at 1128/27 they were sighted from HMS Renown bearing 073°, range about 24 nautical miles. The aircraft reports now indicated that the enemy force was made up of two battleships, six or more cruisers and a considerable number of destroyers. The action seemed likely to develop into a chase, and HMS Ramillies was therefore ordered to steer 045°, so as not to lose ground due to her slow speed. Vice-Admiral Holland was put in command of all the cruisers in the van and HMS Berwick and HMS Newcastle from Force ‘D’ were ordered to join him. It was shortly after this that HMS Ark Royal flew off her first torpedo bombers striking force.
The approach on the enemy.
At 1134 hours, Vice-Admiral Somerville increased to 28 knots and at 1140 hours altered course to 050° to close the enemy. The position of the British forces was now as follows. Fine on the port bow of HMS Renown were HMS Manchester, HMS Southampton and HMS Sheffield in single line ahead. HMS Berwick and HMS Newcastle was coming from the eastward to join them. Two miles astern HMS Faulknor (Capt. D 8) was gradually collecting the other ships of his Flotilla and HMS Encounter some of which had been screening the convoy. The five destroyers of Force ‘D’ were proceeding westwards to join and were eventually stationed bearing 270°, 3 nautical miles from her.
Ten nautical miles fine on the starboard bow of HMS Renown, HMS Ramillies was altering to a parallel course. HMS Ark Royal had dropped some distance astern. She was carrying out flying operations between the main force and the convoy, which was now about 22 nautical miles west-south-west of HMS Renown.
At 1154 hours, the Sunderland aircraft returned and reported six cruisers and eight destroyers bearing 330°, range 30 nautical miles from HMS Renown. Her report unfortunately did not give course and speed of the enemy and she disappeared from sight before these could be obtained. It appeared now that one of the enemy forces was further to the west than previously thought and might be in a position to outflank the main force and attack HMS Ark Royal and the convoy. Course was therefore altered to the north in order to avoid getting to far to the eastward.
Vice-Admiral Somerville’s appreciation of the situation at noon, 27 November 1940.
The prospects of bringing the enemy into action seemed favourable. The composition of the enemy force was still not definitely established but there did not appear to be more than two battleships with them. The British had effected their concentration of which the enemy seemed to be unaware, since no shadowing aircraft had been sighted or detected by RD/F. The speed of the enemy was reported as being 14 to 18 knots. The sun was immediately behind the British forces, giving them the advantage of light and if the nearest reported position of the enemy was correct there seemed every possibility of bringing off a simultaneous surface and torpedo bombers attack, providing that the enemy did not retire immediately at high speed. Vice-Admiral Somerville’s intentions were; To drive off the enemy from any position from which he could attack the convoy and to except some risk to the convoy providing there was a reasonable prospect of sinking one or more of the enemy battleships. To achieve the second of them he considered that the speed of the enemy would have to be reduced to 20 knots or less by torpedo bombers attacks and that the enemy battleships could be attacked by HMS Renown and HMS Ramillies in concert.
Contact with the enemy.
At 1207/27, HMS Renown developed a hot bearing on one shaft which limited her speed to 27.5 knots. At the same time puffs of smoke were observed on the horizon bearing 006°, and the cruisers of the van sighted masts between 006° and 346°. At 1213 hours a signal came in from HMS Ark Royal reporting the composition of the enemy as two battleships, six cruisers accompanied by destroyers. The British cruisers in the van by this time had formed a line of bearing 075° to 255° in the sequence from west to east, HMS Sheffield, HMS Southampton, HMS Newcastle, HMS Manchester, HMS Berwick.
The nine destroyers were stationed five miles bearing 040° from HMS Renown in order to be placed favourably to counter-attack any destroyers attempting a torpedo attack on HMS Renown or HMS Ramillies.
The situation as seen by the cruisers immediately before the action commenced was as follows. Between the bearings of 340° to 350° three enemy cruisers and some destroyers were visible at a range of about 11 nautical miles. These were steering a northerly course. This force will be referred to as ‘the Western Group’. A second group of cruisers, also accompanied by destroyers, which will be referred to as the ‘Eastern Group’ bore between 003° and 013°. This group was further away and steering approximately 100°.
At 1220/27 the enemy cruisers in the ‘Western Group’ opened fire, and the British advanced forces immediately replied. The enemy’s first salvo fell close to HMS Manchester. As soon as fire was opened by the British cruisers, the Italians made smoke and retired on courses varying between north-west and north-east. Behind their smoke screen they seemed to be making large and frequent alterations of course.
At 1224 hours HMS Renown opened fire at the right hand ship in the ‘Western Group’ which was identified as a Zara-class heavy cruiser. Range was 26500 yards. After six salvoes, the target was lost in smoke. HMS Ramillies also fired two salvoes at maximum elevation to test the range but both fell short. She then dropped astern in the wake of HMS Renown and tried to follow at her best speed, 20.7 knots, throughout the action.
Just before opening fire HMS Renown had sighted two ships which were not making smoke, bearing 020° at extreme visibility. These were thought at first to be the Italian battleships but later turned out to be cruisers of the ‘Eastern Group’. On losing her first target HMS Renown altered course to starboard to close these supposed battleships and to bring the cruisers of the ‘Western Group’ broader on the bow. She had hardly done so when the centre ship of the latter group appeared momentarily through the smoke and was given two salvoes. Again course was altered to open ‘A’ arcs on the left hand ship, at which eight salvoes were fired before she too disappeared in the smoke at 1245 hours. At this moment two large ships steering westward emerged from the smoke cloud but before fire was opened these ships were identified as French liners.
The enemy by this time was on the run and had passed outside the range of our capital ships although at 1311 hours, HMS Renown fired two ranging salvoes at two ships of the ‘Eastern Group’ but both fell short. Meanwhile the British cruisers had been hotly engaged at ranges varying between 23000 and 16000 yards. Many straddles were obtained, but smoke rendered spotting and observation very difficult.
HMS Manchester, HMS Sheffield and HMS Newcastle all opened fire on the right-hand ship of the ‘Western Group’. HMS Berwick engaged the left-hand ship of the same group and HMS Southampton engaged the left-hand ship of the ‘Eastern Group’. HMS Manchester and HMS Sheffield continued to fire at the same ship for about 20 minutes (until 1236 and 1240 hours respectively) but HMS Newcastle shifted target to the ship already engaged by HMS Berwick after 18 salvoes. HMS Southampton, after 5 salvoes shifted target to a destroyer which was seen to be hit. At least one other destroyer is believed to have been hit during this phase and two hits by a large caliber shell on a cruiser were observed by HMS Faulknor at 1227 and HMS Newcastle at 1233 hours.
The enemy’s fire was accurate during the initial stages but when fully engaged it deteriorated rapidly and the spread became ragged. Their rate of fire was described as extremely slow. The only casualties on the British side occurred in HMS Berwick when at 1222 hours she received a hit from an 8” shell which put ‘Y’ turret out of action. HMS Manchester was straddled several times but despite being under continuous fire from 1221 to 1300 hours escaped unscatched. Her passengers were quite excited about having been in a sea battle.
At 1245 hours the cruisers altered course to 090° to prevent the enemy from working round ahead to attack the convoy. This brought the relative beating of the ‘Eastern Group’ to Red 40° and HMS Manchester once more engaged the left-hand ship. Five minutes later a further alteration of course to the southward was made to counter what appeared to be an attempt by the enemy to ‘cross the T’ of the cruisers. The enemy however at once resumed their north-easterly course and Vice-Admiral Holland led back to 070° at 1256 hours and 030° at 1258 hours. The rear ship of the enemy line was heavily on fire aft and she appeared to loose speed. But at 1259 hours picked up again and drew away with her consorts.
At 1301 hours the masts of a fresh enemy unit steering to the south-west were seen at extreme visibility right ahead of HMS Manchester. It bore 045° and two minutes later two battleships were identified in it. Their presence was quickly corroborated by large splashes which commenced to fall near HMS Manchester and HMS Berwick and these ships were reported to Vice-Admiral Somerville. The end on approach resulted in the range decreasing very rapidly and at 1305 hours Vice-Admiral Holland turned to cruisers to 120° with the dual purpose of working round the flank of the battleships and closing the gap to HMS Renown. The enemy battleships were not prepared to close and altered course to the north-eastward, presumably to join their 8” cruisers. Vice-Admiral Holland therefore altered course to 090° at 1308 hours and shortly afterwards to 050°. The enemy were by now rapidly running out of range and ten minutes later the action came to an end.
First attack by the torpedo bombers from HMS Ark Royal
Meanwhile a torpedo bomber striking force consisting of 11 Swordfish of no. 810 Squadron had been flown off from HMS Ark Royal at 1130 hours with orders to attack the Italian battleships. At 1216 hours they sighted two battleships and altered course as to approach them from the direction of the sun. The ships were identified as one Littorio-class and one Cavour-class. They were screened by seven destroyers. Enemy course was easterly at a speed of 18 knots. The leading battleship (Littorio-class) was selected as the target and all torpedoes were dropped inside the destroyer screen at ranges of 700 to 800 yards. One hit was observed abaft the after funnel and another explosion was seen just astern of the target. Yet another explosion was seen ahead of the Cavour-class. No other hits were seen. All aircraft returned safely to HMS Ark Royal.
Vice-Admiral Somerville’s Appreciation at 1315/27.
At 1315/27 firing had practically ceased owning to the enemy drawing out of range. The heavy smoke made by the Italians during the chase had prevented accurate fire, and so far as was known, no serious damage was inflicted on them. The torpedo bomber striking force from HMS Ark Royal had attacked but no report had been received yet but it seemed evident that the speed of the enemy had not been materially reduced.
The British forces were meanwhile rapidly closing the enemy coast. The main object of the whole operation was the safe passage of the convoy. The main enemy units had been driven off far enough that they could no longer interfere with it. It was also important to provide additional AA protection to the convoy against enemy air attack at dusk and in order to reach the convoy in time to do this course had to be set for it before 1400 hours so it was decided to break off the chase.
The chase broken off and further attacks by aircraft from HMS Ark Royal.
Around 1345/27, a damaged enemy cruiser was reported, Vice-Admiral Somerville considered sending HMS Berwick and HMS Newcastle north to finish this ship off. As these two cruisers also needed a cover/support force this idea was quickly abandoned. HMS Ark Royal was ordered to attack this cruiser with aircraft. A second torpedo bomber squadron was about to take off and Skua dive bombers were also being armed. Capt. Holland of the Ark Royal intended to attack the battleships again with the torpedo bombers and sent out the dive bombers to attack the damaged cruiser.
The torpedo bomber force of 9 Swordfish was flown off at 1415 hours. The Squadron Leader was given the enemy battleships as his objective, but with the full liberty to change it to his discretion, as he alone would be in a position to judge the possibility or otherwise achieving a successful attack.
The aircraft sighted three cruisers escorted by four destroyers about 12 nautical miles off the south-east coast of Sardinia, steering to the eastward at high speed. Some 8 nautical miles ahead of these cruisers were the two battleships escorted by about ten destroyers. There was a total absence of cloud cover, and it was considered essential to attack from the direction of the sun, if any degree of surprise were to be achieved. As any attempt, however, to gain such a position with regard to the battleships would inevitably have led to the striking force being sighted by the cruisers it was decided to attack the latter.
The attack was carried out at 1520/27 and was not sighted by the enemy until very late, only two salvoes being fired against the aircraft before the first torpedo was dropped. As the first aircraft reached the dropping position, the cruisers turned together to starboard causing several of the following Swordfish who had already committed to their drop to miss their targets. One hit was claimed on the rear cruiser and a possible one on the leading cruiser. Two Swordfish were hit by shrapnel from enemy AA fire but air aircraft returned safely to HMS Ark Royal.
A striking force of 7 Skua’s had meanwhile been flown off at 1500 hours. They failed to locate the reported damaged cruiser but reported to have carried out an attack on three light cruisers steering north of the south-west corner of Sardinia. Two near misses may have caused some damage to the rear ship. On the way back to HMS Ark Royal they encountered and shot down an Italian RO 43 reconnaissance aircraft from the battleship Vittorio Venoto.
Enemy air attacks on British Forces.
While these British flying operations were taking place Vice-Admiral Somerville had been steering to the southward in accordance with his decision to close the convoy. HMS Ark Royal had lost sight of HMS Renown to the north-eastward about 1250 hours, but since the receipt of the signal ordering the retirement of the British forces, Captain Holland had been making good a course of 090°, so far as his flying operations permitted, in order to rejoin the Flag. The first RD/F indications of the presence of enemy aircraft were received in HMS Renown at 1407 hours. Shortly afterwards bomb splashes were seen on the horizon when the Italian aircraft were attacked by Fulmars from the Ark Royal and several machines jettisoned their bombs. Ten enemy aircraft were then seen to be coming in and they eventually dropped their bombs well clear of the heavy ships but close to the screening destroyers.
Two further attacks were made around 1645/27 when two groups of five aircraft each concentrated on HMS Ark Royal, which by that time was in company with the Fleet, but owning to flying operations, not actually in the line. Apart from a few bombs being jettisoned again as a result of the interception by the Fulmar fighters, the high level bombing performed from a height of 13000 feet was most accurate. Some 30 bombs fell near HMS Ark Royal, two at least within 10 yards, and she was completely obscured by splashes.
About 1,5 minutes after this attack a stick of bombs dropped by four Caproni bombers, which had not been seen during the previous attack, missed HMS Ark Royal by a very narrow margin. HMS Ark Royal fortunately suffered no damage.
The British ships sighted the convoy at 1700/27 and proceeded to join it for passage to the Sicilian narrows.
The Battle of Cape Spartivento from the Italian side
At noon on 26 November 1940 the Italian had received reports that British forces had left Gibraltar and Alexandria the day before. The Italians then went to sea from Naples and Messina in three forces;
Battleships Vittorio Veneto and Giulio Cesare, escorted by the 13th Destroyer Flotilla made up of the Granatiere, Fuciliere,
From Messina. Heavy cruisers from the 3rd Cruiser Division Trieste, Trento and Bolzano and the 12th Destroyer Flotilla made up of the Lanciere, Ascari, Carabiniere and Libeccio. This last destroyer had temporarily replaced the Carabinieri.
These forces were to intercept the British forces coming from Gibraltar.
From Trapani, Sicily, torpedo-boats from the 10th Torpedo-boat Flotilla, Vega, Sagittario, Alcione and Sirio, were ordered to patrol in the Sicily narrows to scout for possible British forces proceeding westwards from the Eastern Meditarranean. Sirio actually made an unobserved torpedo attack shortly after midnight (during the night of 26/27 November) on a group of seven enemy warships (Force ‘D’).
By 1015/27 the Italian forces were in the Sardinia-Sicily Channel. The only information available to the Italian Commander-in-Chief (Admiral Campioni in the Vittorio Veneto) up to that moment was that Force H had left Gibraltar westwards on the 25th and on the same day a force had also left Alexandria westwards. He assumed correctly that the force attacked by the torpedo-boat Sirio was en-route to rendez-vous with Force H.
Then at 1015 hours he received an aircraft report (from an aircraft catapulted by the heavy cruiser Bolzano) that at 0945/27 it had sighted a group of enemy warships comprising one battleship, two light cruisers and four destroyers 20 nautical miles north of Cape de Fer. Enemy course was 090°. These were also seven warships, the same number as reported by torpedo-boat Sirio the night before but these were too far to the West to be the same ships.
Then at 1144 hours he received another aircraft report (from an aircraft catapulted by the heavy cruiser Gorizia) that confirmed the position given at 1015 hours. It did not report the two cruisers however but by that time these had split from HMS Renown and had gone ahead.
Acting on the report of the aircraft of the Bolzano the Italian Admiral turned to course 135° at 1128/27. Both divisions of cruisers also turned round. He then thought to be making for an encounter with HMS Renown and two cruisers supported by a few destroyers. The 1144/27 report from the aircraft of the Gorizia confirmed him in this belief. The Italian admiral was unaware of the fact that by that time Force ‘D’ had already joined with the other British forces. He was also unaware that HMS Ark Royal was present although he was aware of the fact that she had left Gibraltar westwards with the other ships two days before.
The Italian admiral was very careful, after the attack on Taranto only two battleships were operational and he could not afford any further reduction in strength of the capital ships. He therefore decided that his forces were not to come in action but before he could sent out a signal regarding this his cruiser were already in action with the British. They were ordered to break off the action and retire at high speed.
The Italians were then attacked by aircraft from the Ark Royal but despite the claim by the British for hits none were actually obtained. The Italians claimed to have shot down two aircraft but this also was not the case.
At 1235/27, the destroyer Lanciere was hit by a 6” shell in the after engine room. This shell is thought to have been originated from HMS Southampton. She continued at 23 knots on her forward engines but at 1240 hours another shell struck her amidships on the port side, penetrating a petrol tank. Then a third shell struck her on the starboard side without exploding and without penetrating the hull. Around 1300 hours she came to a stop with no water in her boilers, and asked for a tow. Ater about one hour her boilers were relit (seawater being used to feed them) and her forward engines were restarted. At 1440 hours, the Ascari took her in tow and both made for Cagliari at 7 knots. The 3rd Cruiser Division was ordered to protect the retreat of these destroyers.
A force of 10 bombers and 5 fighters had taken off at 1330 hours. These were driven off but the Fulmars from HMS Ark Royal. Almost two hours later, at 1520 hours a second force of 20 bombers took off. It were these aircraft that attacked and almost hit HMS Ark Royal.
Convoy operations in the Eastern Mediterranean and the subsequent movements of the ‘Collar’ convoy.
Before and during operation Collar there were also convoy movements in the Eastern Mediterranean going on. [See also the event for 23 November 1940 called ‘Operation MB 9’ for the events in the Eastern Mediterranean.]
After passing through the Sicilian narrows the Clan Forbes and Clan Fraser went to Malta escorted by HMS Hotspur and HMS Decoy. Both destroyers were to repair and refit at Malta. The New Zealand Star proceeded to Suda Bay escorted by HMS Defender and HMS Hereward and covered part of the way by HMS Manchester and HMS Southampton. (10)
15 Dec 1940
Operations MC 2, MC 3 and HIDE
Convoy operations in the Mediterranean (MC 2), raid by the Mediterranean fleet into the Straits of Otranto (MC 3) and the passage of two transports from Malta, HMS Malaya and five destroyers to Gibraltar (HIDE).
15 December 1940.
The Port Said section of convoy MW 5B departed today. It was made up of the transports Volo (1587 GRT, built 1938), Rodi (3220 GRT, built 1928, former Italian), tanker Pontfield (8290 GRT, built 1940) and transport Ulster Prince (3791 GRT, built 1930). They were escorted by the corvette HMS Peony (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) M.B. Sherwood, RN).
Also on this day HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN) departed Alexandria for Suda Bay and Piraeus.
16 December 1940.
The Alexandria section of convoy MW 5B departed today. It was made up of the transport Devis (6054 GRT, built 1938) and the tanker Hoegh Hood (9351 GRT, built 1936, Norwegian). The submarine HMS Parthian (Lt.Cdr. M.G. Rimington, DSO, RN) also took passage in this convoy to Malta. Escort for this convoy was provided by HMS Havock (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC, RN). This convoy sailed before noon. The corvettes HMS Salvia (Lt.Cdr. J.I. Miller, DSO, RD, RNR) and HMS Hyacinth (T/Lt. F.C. Hopkins, RNR) joined the convoy at sea coming from Suda Bay.
Another convoy for Malta also departed today, MW 5A, this convoy was made up of the faster transports Waiwera (12435 GRT, built 1934), Lanarkshire (8167 GRT, built 1940). Close escort for this convoy was made up of the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN) and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN). This convoy sailed in the afternoon.
Cover for these convoys was provided by ships from the Mediterranean fleet which for this sortie was made up of the battleships HMS Waspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral A.L.St.G. Lyster, CB, CVO, DSO, RN), heavy cruiser HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E. de F. Renouf, CVO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Thyrwhitt, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall-A’Deane, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, DSO, RN), HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN) and HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC and Bar, RN) . This cover force sailed from Alexandria around 0100 hours.
At 0745 hours, HMS York, HMS Gloucester, HMS Dainty and HMS Greyhound were detached to fuel at Suda Bay.
At noon the Commander-in-Chief in HMS Warspite was in position 33°36’N, 28°14’E. Course was set for the Kaso Strait which was reached at midnight.
Also on this day HMS Orion arrived at Piraeus. HMS Ajax and HMAS Sydney then departed that port for Suda Bay.
17 December 1940.
At 0400 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°50’N, 25°56’E. Between 0345 and 0430 hours ten aircraft were flown off by HMS Illustrious to attack Stampalia and Rhodes. Results of these attacks were difficult to observe but several fires were seen to have been started at Stampalia. The weather over Rhodes was bad and only one aircraft was able to locate the target there.
At 0500 hours HMS York, HMS Gloucester, HMS Dainty and HMS Greyhound arrived at Suda Bay where they immediately started to fuel. They departed again at 0700 hours joined by the destroyer HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC, RN). The 3rd Cruiser Squadron was to patrol off the Kithera Channel and the destroyers were to carry out an A/S patrol off the bay when the fleet was to fuel at Suda Bay.
At 0600 hours, HMS Orion arrived at Suda Bay from Piraeus. She sailed at 130 hours to join HMS Ajax and HMAS Sydney which were patrolling to the west of Crete and had departed Suda Bay at 0300 hours today.
At 0800 hours, the Alexandria and Port Said sections of convoy MW 5B made rendez-vous in position 33°40’N, 27°10’E. Owning to the slow speed of the Hoegh Hood she was detached escorted by HMS Havock.
At 0830 hours, the fleet entered Suda Bay and the destroyers were fuelled.
At 1130 hours, the Rear-Admiral Aircraft Carriers proceeded independently with HMS Illustrious, HMS Valiant, HMS Jervis, HMS Janus, HMS Juno and HMS Mohawk. They were to make rendez-vous with the remainder of the fleet on the 18th but until then had to act independently.
At 1415 hours, the remainder of the fleet also departed. Course was set for the Anti-Kithera Channel which was passed at 1830 hours.
At 1600 hours, the destroyer HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, RN) departed Malta to join the Commander-in-Chief.
The 3rd Cruiser Squadron (York and Gloucester) and the 7th Cruiser Squadron (Orion, Ajax and Sydney) carried out a sweep to the north-west during the night.
At midnight the Commander-in-Chief was in position 34°42’N, 21°45’E.
18 December 1940.
At 0900 hours, the 3rd and 7th Cruiser Squadrons rejoined the Commander-in-Chief in position 36°45’N, 20°28’E. Also HMS Griffin joined from Malta.
At 0930 hours, the Rear-Admiral Aircraft Carriers, also joined.
During the afternoon the weather deteriorated, with high winds and bad visibility, and it appeared unlikely that the proposed bombardment of Valona could take place and that air operations were certainly out of the question.
It was however decided to proceed with the sweep into the Adriatic.
At 1600 hours therefore, a striking force made up of HMS Orion, HMS Ajax, HMAS Sydney, HMS Jervis, HMS Juno and HMS Mohawk was detached. They were ordered to cross latitude 40°25’N at 2330 hours.
At 1800 hours the air striking force, made up of HMS Illustrious, HMS York, HMS Gloucester, HMS Dainty, HMS Greyhound, HMS Gallant and HMS Griffin was also detached. They were to be in position 39°00’N, 20°00’E by 2200 hours.
At 2000 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 39°19’N, 19°20’E.
19 December 1940.
At 0001 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 40°15’N, 19°05’E and at that time the weather had undergone great improvement with good visibility.
It was therefore decided to go ahead with the bombardment. Course was altered to 120° at 0030 hours to close Valona. At 0110 hours, course was altered to a firing course of 140°. HMS Hasty and HMS Hereward swept ahead of HMS Warspite with T.S.D.S. (Two Speed Destroyer Sweep) but no mines were encountered.
At 0113 hours, fire was opened and ceased seven minutes later. About 100 round having been fired. The results of the firing could not be observed.
Between 0130 and 0200 hours, enemy starshell and searchlights were seen in the neighbourhood of Saseno but the bombardment appeared to be a complete surprise to the enemy.
Couse was altered to 210° at 0130 and to 170° and 0230 hours.
In the meantime the striking force had swept up to the line Bari – Durazzo but sighted nothing.
At 0800 hours, the Vice-Admiral light forces (in HMS Orion and his force rejoined the Commander-in-Chief in position 38°33’N, 19°32’E.
One hour later, the Rear-Admiral Aircraft Carriers (in HMS Illustrious and his force also rejoined the Commander-in-Chief. Course was then altered to 220°.
At noon, when in position 34°42’N, 18°44’E, the cuisers HMS Orion, HMS Ajax, HMAS Sydney, HMS Gloucester and HMS York as well as the destroyers HMS Dainty, HMS Gallant, HMS Greyhound, HMS Griffin and HMS Hasty were detached to cover the convoy’s.
At 1400 hours, one aircraft was flown off by HMS Illustrious to carry correspondence to Malta.
There were no further incidents during the day and course was altered to 180° at 1400 hours, to 240° at 2000 hours.
At midnight the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°40’N, 16°37’E.
20 December 1940.
At 0300 hours, course was altered to 270°.
Early in the morning, convoy MW 5A and her escort of HMS Malaya, HMS Defender, HMS Diamond and now also HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN) and HMS Wryneck (Lt.Cdr. R.H.D. Lane, RN) arrived at Malta. After fuelling the destroyers left Malta to join the Commander-in-Chief which they did around 0800 hours.
After these destroyers joined the Commander-in-Chief, HMS Hyperion, HMS Hero, HMS Hereward and HMS Ilex were then detached to fuel.
Meanwhile, at 0630 hours, the destroyers HMS Dainty, HMS Gallant, HMS Greyhound, HMS Griffin and HMS Hasty arrived at Malta to refuel. They had been detached by the Vice-Admiral light forces (in HMS Orion). After fuelling these five destroyers joined the Commander-in-Chief at 1000 hours.
At noon the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°40’N, 14°10’E. HMS Warspite escorted by HMS Jervis, HMS Janus and HMS Juno then proceeded into Grand Harbour, Malta.
At 1205 hours, the first part of convoy MW 5B arrived at Malta, the other part arrived a little over an hour later except for the Hoegh Hood and her escort HMS Havock.
At 1250 hours, HMS Malaya, escorted by HMS Hyperion, HMS Hereward and HMS Ilex departed Malta to join HMS Illustrious and HMS Valiant and the remaining destroyers at sea.
At 1450 hours, convoy ME 5A sailed from Malta for the east. It was made up of the transports Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938), Clan Macaulay (10492 GRT, built 1936), Memnon (7506 GRT, built 1931) and HMS Beconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939). They were escorted by the AA cruiser HMS Calcutta and the corvettes HMS Peony, HMS Salvia and HMS Hyacinth. The destroyer HMS Wryneck also joined.
Meanwhile in the western Mediterranean ‘Force H’ was to sail from Gibraltar today to provide cover for convoy MG 1 (see below) and HMS Malaya during their passage to Gibraltar.
At 0930 hours, five destroyers; HMS Duncan (A/Capt. A.D.B. James, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St.J. Morgan, RN), HMS Isis (Cdr. C.S.B. Swinley, DSC, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN) departed Gibraltar eastward. This was done so they could sweep ahead of the fleet and that they could also economise fuel in a proportion of the destroyers so the be able to conduct another A/S sweep ahead of ‘Force H’ later in the Skerki Channel.
The remainder of ‘Force H’; battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), departed Gibraltar westwards at 18 knots at 1800 hours. It was then still daylight. At 1930 hours, when it was completely dark, they reversed course to pass Gibraltar eastwards and also increased speed to 23 knots.
21 December 1940.
At 0700 hours, Hoegh Hood and HMS Havock arrived at Malta.
At 0845 hours, the Vice-Admiral Light Forces which was escorting convoy ME 5, detached HMAS Sydney to Suda Bay where she was to pick up her damaged Walrus aircraft following which Sydney was to proceed to Malta for a short refit.
At 1000 hours, HMS Hyperion, HMS Hero, HMS Hereward and HMS Ilex put into Malta.
At noon, convoy MG 1 departed Malta for Gibraltar, it was made up of transports Clan Forbes (7529 GRT, built 1938) and Clan Fraser (7529 GRT, built 1939) escorted by HMS Hyperion, HMS Hasty, HMS Hero, HMS Hereward and HMS Ilex. At sea HMS Malaya also joined.
Also at noon, HMS Jervis, HMS Janus and HMS Juno departed Malta to proceed ahead of convoy MG 1 on an A/S sweep to the north-west of Pantelleria.
At 1300 hours, a reconnaissance aircraft from HMS Illustrious sighted an enemy convoy. This convoy was then attacked by nine Swordfish fitted with torpedoes. They managed to sink two Italian transports in position 34°39’N, 10°48’E. These were the Norge (6511 GRT, built 1907) and Peuceta (1926 GRT, built 1902).
As dawn broke the five destroyers that had sailed earlier were sighted by ‘Force H’ and then joined the fleet. Speed was reduced to 18 knots. A/S patrol aircraft were launched by Ark Royal and a section of fighters was kept at the ready but the RD/F (radar) screens remained clear.
At 1800 hours, four destroyers; HMS Duncan, HMS Encounter, HMS Isis and HMS Jaguar went ahead at 26 knots to make the A/S sweep referred to earlier. ‘Force H’ meanwhile increased speed to 20 knots and at 1930 hours to 22.5 knots.
22 December 1940.
At 0240 hours, HMS Malaya reported that HMS Hyperion had been mined in positon 37°04’N, 11°31’E. HMS Ilex was detached to pick up survivors which she did. She then proceeded to Malta to land them there.
HMS Dainty and HMS Greyhound were detached by the Rear-Admiral Aircraft Carriers to Malta to escort HMS Warspite which was due to return to rejoin the fleet at sea. She departed Malta at 0700 hours escorted by these two destroyers as well as HMS Havock. They rejoined the fleet shortly after 1100 hours in position 35°38’N, 14°06’E
Earlier that morning HMS Illustrious had launched a total of fifteen Swordfish aircraft, in two waves, at 0515 and 0615 hours, to attack Tripoli. Fires were seen to have been started and a warehouse was seen to blew up. All aircraft returned safely.
At 0900 hours, convoy MG 1 and her escort made rendez-vous with ‘Force H’ near Galita Island and continued on the west.
At noon, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°34’N, 14°15’E. Course was then set for the eastward.
At 1415 hours, an air search was flown off to search between the Sicilian coast and 070°. This search sighted nothing except a hospital ship.
At 1715 hours, HMS Dainty, HMS Greyhound and HMS Ilex departed Malta to joined the Commander-in-Chief around 0900 hours the next day.
The fleet proceeded to the eastward without incident. Course being altered to 070° at 1800 hours and to 100° at 2030 hours.
At midnight the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°17’N, 17°56’E.
The moon rose at 0135 hours and visibility was high. Therefore a torpedo bomber striking force was made ready on board HMS Ark Royal as of 0200 hours.
At 0400 hours, a signal was received from HMS Malaya, that one of the destroyers in her screen, HMS Hyperion, had been mined in position 37°04’N, 11°34’E.
At 0834 hours, a signal was received that HMS Hyperion had sunk and that HMS Ilex had the survivors on board and was proceeding to Malta leaving three destroyers with HMS Malaya.
Shortly before dawn eight aircraft were flown off by HMS Ark Royal but these sighted no enemy ships. Two enemy aircraft were sighted, one by a Swordfish aircraft and one by HMS Jaguar. HMS Duncan and HMS Isis rejoined with ‘Force H’. HMS Encounter and HMS Jaguar had been detached to join HMS Malaya which made rendez-vous with ‘Force H’ at 0940 hours. They then proceeded westwards at 15 knots.
Ark Royal launched a feighter patrol at 1020 hours and this was maintained throughout the day.
At 1245 hours another air search was flown off but again they sighted no enemy ships.
Shortly afterwards, when ‘Force H’ was in position 37°49’N, 08°33’E an aircraft was detected by RD/F and Ark Royal reported that her Skua patrol had driven off an Italian aircraft.
The remainder of the day was uneventful except for sighting a Vichy-French convoy which was not molested.
23 December 1940.
At 0745 hours, an air search was flown off to search a sector between 290° and 270°.
At 0800 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 35°02’N, 20°35’E. Course was 095°.
At 1315 hours, HMS Dainty, HMS Greyhound and HMS Ilex joined the fleet. They had been delayed due to a defect to the steering gear of HMS Greyhound.
At 1400 hours, HMS Defender and HMS Griffin were detached for convoy escort duty with convoy AS 9. They arrived at Suda Bay later this day.
There were no further incidents during the day.
The Vice-Admiral Light Forces in HMS Orion arrived at Alexandia today with HMS Ajax and convoy ME 5. The third cruiser squadron (HMS Gloucester and HMS York) had been detached earlier for Piraeus where they arrived on this day.
HMAS Sydney arrived at Malta for a shot refit.
Meanwhile in the western Mediterranean all was quiet as well. Air patrol was kept up throughout the day but they saw no action. Some destroyers carried out exercises.
At 1700 hours, the force was split into two groups; HMS Renown, HMS Malaya and HMS Ark Royal went ahead with a screen on nine destroyers (HMS Faulknor, HMS Firedrake, HMS Forester, HMS Fortune, HMS Foxhound, HMS Fury, HMS Hasty, HMS Hero and HMS Hereward) and set course for Gibraltar at 18 knots. The merchant vessels proceeded at 13 knots escorted by HMS Sheffield and five destroyers (HMS Duncan, HMS Encounter, HMS Isis, HMS Jaguar and HMS Wishart).
24 December 1940.
At 0001 hours, the Commander-in-Chief was in position 33°34’N, 25°27’E steering 120°.
There were no incidents during the day and Alexandria was reached around 1500 hours.
’Force H’ and convoy MG 1 and it’s escort all arrived at Gibraltar today. At 0730 hours, HMS Renown and three destroyers (HMS Faulknor, HMS Forester and HMS Foxhound had increased speed to 24 knots to exercises with the defences of Gibraltar. All ships of the ‘fast group’ had entered Gibraltar by 1230 hours. The ‘slow group’ entered Gibraltar around 1500 hours. (11)
25 Dec 1940
Operations by 'Force H' following the attack by the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper on convoy WS 5A.
Timespan 25 to 30 December 1941.
[For more info on convoy WS 5A on the first leg of her passage, it's composition, and the attack by the German cruiser Admiral Hipper see the event ' Convoy WS 5A and the attack by the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper ' for 18 December 1940 on for instance the page of HMS Berwick.]
25 December 1940.
At 1020/25 an enemy report of a pocket battleships (later corrected to an 8" cruiser), in position 43°59'N, 25°08'W, was received from HMS Berwick (Capt. G.L. Warren, RN). Vice-Admiral Somerville immediately ordered 'Force H' (less HMS Malaya) to come to one hour's notice for full speed. Twenty minutes later, instructions were received from the Admiralty for 'Force H' to raise steam with all despatch, and shortly afterwards for the force to proceed to sea.
Ships commenced to leave Gibraltar at 1315 hours and by 1430 hours; battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (A/Capt. A.D.B. James, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN), were clear of the harbour and on a Westerly course.
Course was set to position 37°00'N, 16°00'W as this was considered to be the best position to either cover the convoy or assist in the hunt for the enemy. Vice-Admiral Somerville reported to the Admiralty that 'Force H' was proceeding to this position at high speed with eight destroyers, who would remain in company or follow, depending on the weather.
At 1500/25 a signal was received from the Admiralty ordering the convoy and escort to proceed to Gibraltar. At this time Vice-Admiral Somerville was not aware - nor apparently were the Admiralty - that the convoy had scattered. As there now appeared little chance to bringing the raider to action. Vice-Admiral Somerville decided to join the convoy and reported accordingly to the Admiralty. Weather conditions enabled the destroyers to remain in company at 27 knots.
An hour later a further signal was received from the Admiralty directing the convoy to pass through positions 41°00'N, 19°00'W and 37°00'N, 16°00'W. These instructions were only passed to HM Ships, all of whom, it was subsequently learnt, were out of touch with the scattered convoy.
In view of the low endurance of HMS Wishart, she was detached at 1845/25 with instructions to follow at economical speed and join the convoy during daylight on December, 27th in position 37°00'N, 16°00'W.
The first indication that the convoy had scattered was received at 2000/25 when HMS Dunedin (Capt. R.S. Lovatt, RN) reported that she had met the City of Canterbury who was proceeding to the convoy Commodore's Noon/26 rendez-vous.
Shortly after this reported a report was received from the corvette HMS Clematis confirming that the Commodore had ordered to convoy to scatter, it also stated that the troopship Empire Trooper was damaged, believed slightly.
At 2200/25, general instructions to all units were received from the Admiralty, still acting on the assumption that escort and convoy were in company. 'Force H' was directed to rendez-vous with HMS Berwick and escort the convoy until 'Force K' (aircraft carrier HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.La T. Bisset, RN) and heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN)) joined. 'Force K' was then to escort the main body of the convoy to Freetown, whilst 'Force H', with aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN) and light cruisers HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN) and HMS Dunedin escorted the 'Operation Excess' section to Gibraltar. The damaged heavy cruiser HMS Berwick was to proceed to the U.K. if fit for passage. It also directed that if needed the upcoming 'Operation Excess' could be postponed for 24 hours.
26 December 1940.
At 0200/26 a signal was received from the Admiralty stating that the convoy had scattered and that the ships were most likely proceeding to one of the following positions; the Commodore's noon/26 rendezvous; position 41°00'N, 19°00'W; or direct to Gibraltar. Vice-Admiral Somerville was ordered to take charge.
As he was unaware of the position of 'Force K' he ordered the Senior Officer 'Force K' to report his position, course, speed and intention. Later the aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN) was also ordered to report similarly. All units were informed of the position, course and speed of 'Force H'.
No further news had been received regarding the damaged troopship Empire Trooper. At 0801/26, Vice-Admiral Somerville, ordered the armed merchant cruiser HMS Derbyshire (Capt.(Retd.) E.A.B. Stanley, DSO, MVO, RN) to proceed to her assistance.
At 1100/26, the situation was still obscure. No reply had been received from 'Force K' and HMS Furious. HMS Bonaventure had just reported that she was proceeding to the assistance of the corvette HMS Cyclamen (Lt. H.N. Lawson, RNR). Ships of the convoy were apparently scattered over a wide area, each making for one of three different positions. Visibility to the westward was apparently very low. Vice-Admiral Somerville therefore requested the Admiralty to broadcast instructions on commercial wave to ships of the convoy to proceed to position 37°00'N, 16°00'W. He also informed the Admiralty that it was his intention to have HMS Derbyshire to take over from HMS Bonaventure to enable Bonaventure to proceed to Gibraltar for 'Operation Excess'.
'Force K' and HMS Furious reported between 1200 and 1300/26. 'Force K' was intending to collect the convoy at the Commodor's noon/26 rendez-vous and escort them to 37°00'N, 16°00'W. HMS Furious reported that she was in company with HMS Argus so as to reach position 37°00'N, 16°00'W at 1300/27. Also it was reported that she needed to refuel at Gibraltar before she could proceed to Freetown.
A reconnaissance of nine aircraft was flow off by HMS Ark Royal at 1300 hours in position 38°23'N, 15°45'W but nothing was sighted by these aircraft.
A report from HMS Bonaventure was received at 1630/26. She had intercepted the German merchant ship Baden (8204 GRT, built 1922) in position 44°00'N, 25°07'W. The German ship could not be boarded in the foul weather and the Germans had also set it on fire. HMS Bonaventure sank the German ship with a torpedo. She also stated that she had not yet sighted the Empire Trooper.
The situation at 1700/26 was as follows; the approximate position of all H.M. Ships in the area was known (except for the corvettes). HMS Cyclamen, with her W/T out of action, was believed to be standing by the Empire Trooper, and it appeared probable that the three remaining corvettes (HMS Jonquil (Lt.Cdr. R.E.H. Partington, RNR), HMS Clematis (Cdr. Y.M. Cleeves, DSO, DSC, RD, RNR) and HMS Geranium (T/Lt. A. Foxall, RNR)) had proceeded to Ponta Delgada to fuel. Only one merchant ship had been located. The City of Canterbury, in company with HMS Dunedin. Whilst the situation of the Empire Trooper caused some anxiety priority was given to assist in rounding up and covering the remainder of the convoy which might be making for position 37°00'N, 16°00'W.
At 1720/26, all units were instructed to act as follows; 'Force H' was to maintain position between the northern and southern appoaches to position 37°00'N, 16°00'W. 'Force K' was to continue to search for ships passing through position 39°08'N, 21°38'W. HMS Furious was to arrive in position 37°00'N, 16°00'W at 1400/27, searching to the north and east for ships proceeding direct to Gibraltar. HMS Berwick was to search to the north and west of position 37°00'N, 16°00'W, during the forenoon of December, 27th. She was to make rendez-vous with 'Force H' at 1400/27. HMS Dunedin was also to make rendez-vous with 'Force H' at 1400/27. All ships were directed to report at 2200/26 and 1200/27 the number of merchant ships in company.
The 2200 reports received indicated that only three merchant ships had been located, two by 'Force K' and one by HMS Dunedin. Both HMS Norfolk and HMS Dunedin reported to be getting low on fuel. At the same time HMS Berwick reported to the Admiralty that she had to proceed to Gibraltar to make good underwater damage, to free 'X' turret and to fuel.
27 December 1940.
At 0145/27 the Admiralty informed Vice-Admiral Somerville that further steps were required to locate the Empire Trooper who had 2500 troops on board. In view of the existing fuel situation and the necessity for providing air reconnaissance to locate the damaged ship and as there were no further indications of the precense of the enemy cruiser Vice-Admiral Somerville decided to proceed with HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal to locate the Empire Trooper, whose last known position was some 600 nautical miles to the north-west. This nescessitated dropping the screening destroyers. Vice-Admiral Somerville therefore informed the Admiralty accordingly and directed 'Force K' to take charge of operations in connection to the convoy. At the same time Vice-Admiral Somerville instructed HMS Derbyshire to report her position, course and speed, and ordered HMS Clematis to report the position of the corvettes and to provide any further information regarding the condition of the Empire Trooper.
HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal proceeded at 22 knots, later increasing to 24 knots, to the north-westward, with the intention of locating the Empire Trooper by air after daylight the following morning.
At 0800/27, Vice-Admiral Somerville ordered HMS Cyclamen, if still in touch with the Empire Trooper, to report her position, course and speed and also requested the Admiralty to order the Empire Trooper herself to report her position.
Two hours later, HMS Clematis reported that she had sighted the Empire Trooper through the mist half an hour after the latter had been hit in No.1 hold. The transport was then steaming 13 knots and damage was not believed to be serious. Owning to low visibility the other corvettes had not been located. Shortly after this HMS Derbyshire reported her position, course and speed at 1000/27 and added that visibility was half a mile.
In view of the low visibility prevailing, which would preelude air reconnaissance, and of the encourageing report from HMS Clematis of Empire Trooper's condition, it appeared to Vice-Admiral Somerville doubtful wheter the presence of HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal would serve any useful purpose. Whilst so far to the northward they were unable to afford any protection to the remaining ships of the convoy, whose escorts in some cases were running short of fuel. Furtherm to remain in this position would inevitably result in delay in carrying out the upcoming 'Operation Excess'. Vice-Admiral Somerville there proposed to the Admiralty that HMS Derbyshire should remain in the vicinity of the Empire Trooper's last reported position and that HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal should return to Gibraltar, covering the convoy.
Pending the Admiralty reply to this signal, HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal proceeded to a suitable position to carry out a dawn reconnaissance with aircraft to locate the Empire Trooper should this be required whilst at the same time enabling Renown and Ark Royal to return to Gibraltar at high speed in time to carry out 'Operation Excess'.
Reports received from all units indicated that a total of four merchant ships had been located by 1200/27. The Senior Officer 'Force K', at this time ordered HMS Furious, HMS Argus, HMS Dunedin and the five transports which were to participate in 'Operation Excess', when collected, to proceed to Gibraltar with the nescessary destroyers. HMS Berwick, HMS Sheffield and the remaining destroyers to remain at the rendez-vous position until 'Force K' arrived there.
The Admiralty reply to Vice-Admiral Somerville's proposal was received at 1500/27 and directed the Vice-Admiral to remain in the area with HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal until the situation regarding the Empire Trooper had been cleared up or as long as endurance of the screen allowed.
As Vice-Admiral Somerville had previously reported that HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal had proceeded unscreened at 0200/27, he was uncerain how to interpret this signal. He assumed that it was intended that he should rejoin his destroyers in the vicinity of 37°00'N, 16°00'W and this was reported to the Admiralty accordingly.
At 1700/27 a report was intercepted from HMS Cyclamen that she was standing by the Empire Trooper who had been holed in No.1 and No.4 hatches and whose situation was serious. Her position at 0800/27 was given as 41°00'N, 22°09'W, course 138°, speed 4 knots. Shortly afterwards a report in Merchant Navy Code was intercepted from the Empire Trooper, in which she suggested that assistance should be sent to disembark the troops if necessary. The position given by the Empire Trooper differed considerably from that reported by HMS Cyclamen, whilst first class D/F bearing obtained at this time was also at variance with both positions. From all the evidence available it appeared that the Empire Trooper was in approximate position 40°40'N, 21°16'W at 1730/27.
in view of these less satisfactory reports, Vice-Admiral Somerville at once ordered HMS Bonaventure to proceed to the Empire Trooper estimated position. As it appeared possible that transfer of troops at sea might be necessary, the Vice-Admiral ordered HMS Sheffield to detach the two destroyers with the most fuel remaining to proceed at 16 knots towards the Empire Trooper. It was doubtful wheter these had enough endurance to return to Gibraltar, but in emergency they could proceed to the Azores if refuelling at sea was impracticable. In the meantime HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal proceeded westwards to reach the most favourable position for flying off a dawn reconnaissance should weather conditions enable this to be done.
At 2030/27, Admiralty instructions were received for Empire Trooper to steer for Ponta Delgada as soon as weather permitted. Twenty-five minutes later a signal from the Admiralty was received the the light cruiser HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN), who had previously had been ordered to join convoy SL 59, was ordered to join the Empire Trooper instead.
At 2300/27 Admiralty instructions to all concerned regarding the Empire Trooper were received. HMS Kenya, HMS Berwick, HMS Cyclamen, HMS Clematis, HMS Jonquil and HMS Geranium were ordered to join the Empire Trooper and escort her to Punta Delgada. If it was found that HMS Berwick could remain with the Empire Trooper, HMS Bonaventure was to be released for 'Operation Excess' as soon as HMS Berwick relieved her, otherwise HMS Bonaventure was to remain with the Empire Trooper.
HMS Berwick reported she expected to join the Empire Trooper by 1700/28. As Bonaventure's shortage of fuel would prelude her joining the Empire Trooper before the latter had been joined by HMS Berwick, Vice-Admiral Somerville ordered HMS Bonaventure to proceed to Gibraltar.
At midnight, Vice-Admiral Somerville received a signal from 'Force K' containing proposals for the future movements of the convoy and escort.
28 December 1940.
A report was received from HMS Cyclamen at 0330/28 giving the position of the Empire Trooper at 2000/27 as 40°12'N, 21°13'W, speed 6 knots. The damaged ship had thus made good some 250 nautical miles since being attacked. As it now appeared that sufficient ships would be available to stand by her and in view of the critical fuel situation in the two destroyer that had been ordered to join her (these were HMS Duncan and HMS Hero) they were ordered to proceed to Gibraltar.
The fore end of HMS Renown's starboard bulge, which had started to tear away some time previously, now became more serious, rendering it inadvisable for the ship to exceed 20 knots. As weather conditions still precluded flying, and as HMS Kenya, HMS Berwick, HMS Derbyshire and the four corvettes were all in the vicinity of or approaching the Empire Trooper, it dit not appear that any useful purpose would be served by HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal remaining unscreened in submarine infested waters and risking further damage to Renown's bulge.
The Admiralty was then informed that HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal were returning to Gibraltar. Also a signal was sent to prepare No.1 dock at Gibraltar for HMS Renown with all despatch.
As the docking of HMS Renown would involve some delay in 'Operation Excess', Vice-Admiral Somerville informed the Admiralty and the Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean, that the earliest possible D.1 for would be January, 1st, and that even this date was dependent on it being possible for Renown to be made seaworthy within 24 hours of docking.
By 1500/28 the weather had improved sufficiently for an A/S patrol to be flown off. This was maintained till dusk.
During the afternoon further damage was caused to the bulge. By this time about 30 feet of the top strake had been town away and a large number of rivets were leaking. Shores and cofferdams were placed.
In order to provide a screen for HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal, Vice-Admiral Somerville ordered HMS Duncan and HMS Hero, now on passage to Gibraltar, to rendez-vous with the capital ships at 1000/29, and also the Admiral Commanding, North Atlantic Station was asked to sail additional destroyers if pacticable. HMS Faulknor, HMS Firedrake, HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN) and HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN) were sailed from Gibraltar to rendez-vous with the capital ships at 1100/29.
Air reconnaissance sighted nothing of interest during the day. At dusk couse was altered to pass north of convoy HG 49 which had left Gibraltar at 1800/28 and speed was reduced to 18 knots to increase the efficiency of the Asdic operating.
29 December 1940.
HMS Faulknor, HMS Firedrake, HMS Hasty and HMS Jaguar indeed joined 'Force H' at 1100/29.
30 December 1940.
HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Faulknor, HMS Firedrake, HMS Duncan, HMS Hasty, HMS Hero and HMS Jaguar arrived at Gibraltar at 0830 hours when HMS Renown immediately entered No.1 Dock. (12)
31 Jan 1941
Operations Picket and Result.
Operations against the Lake Omodeo Dam in central Sardinia (Picket) and the bombardment of Genoa (Result).
31 January 1941.
'Force H' departed Gibraltar for these operations. It was diverted into four groups, these were;
Group 1 was made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, RN), battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) and the light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN).
Group 2 was made up of the destroyers HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Jersey (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Burnell-Nugent, DSC, RN).
Group 3 was made up of the destroyers HMS Duncan (A/Capt. A.D.B. James, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St.J. Morgan, RN), HMS Isis (Cdr. C.S.B. Swinley, DSC, RN) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN).
And finally Group 4 was made up of the RFA tanker Orangeleaf (5927 GRT, built 1917) escorted by the auxiliary A/S trawlers HMS Arctic Ranger (Cdr.(Retd.) J.H. Young, RN) and HMS Haarlem (T/Lt. L.B. Merrick, RNR).
On leaving harbour HMS Ark Royal flew off one aircraft for A/S patrol. This patrol was maintained throughout the day.
At 1930/31, group 2 (six destroyers) were detached in position 36°25'N, 03°24'W and were ordered to proceed at economical speed to a position to the north of the Balearics where they were to rendez-vous with the remainder of the force (minus the tanker group) during the forenoon of 2 February.
1 February 1941.
At 0845/1, when in position 37°05'N, 00°32'E, groups 1 and 3 altered course to the north-east.
From 1130/1 onwards a section of fighters from HMS Ark Royal was maintained overhead until dusk.
At 1500/1 course was altered to 084°.
By 1810/1 all aircraft had returned to HMS Ark Royal.
At 1900/1, HMS Malaya escorted by HMS Encounter and HMS Jupiter were detached and ordered to rendez-vous with the remainder of 'Force H' at 0900/2 in position 40°55'N, 06°30'E. This was to economize fuel in HMS Malaya to enable to her to retreat after the bombardment of Genoa at a higher speed.
At 1910/1, HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Sheffield, HMS Duncan and HMS Isis, altered course to 062° and increased speed to 24 knots to arrive in the flying off position for Operation Picket.
2 February 1941.
At 0555/2, eight Swordfish were flown off from HMS Ark Royal in position 40°07'N, 06°54'E. They were armed with torpedoes to attack the dam.
At 0730/2, two more Swordfish were flown off to locate HMS Malaya and her two escorting destroyers and direct her to a rendez-vous position of 40°34'N, 06°38'E at 1000/2.
The first of seven Swordfish that returned from the raid on the dam landed on at 0830/2. The last aircraft landed on at 0848/2. One Swordfish failed to return.
The two Swordfish that had located HMS Malaya returned at 0900/2.
The striking force had encountered rain and hail showers over the land and severe icing conditions in a cloud level of 5000 feet. Ground defences were unduly alart and after the first five miles over the land, fire was encountered from Bofors and light automatic guns apparently posted along the roads leading to Tirso. throughout the final approach fire was heavy, becoming intense in the vicinity of the dam.
One aircaft becoming lost in the cloud, never located the target and finally returned to HMS Ark Royal with his torpedo. The remaining seven aircraft made individual approaches and all except one came under heavy fire. As a result of intense opposition and icing conditions in the clouds, two aircraft jettisoned their torpedoes. Of the remaining five, one was shot down, one made a high drop, nose down, two dropped approximately correctly, and one was able to take good, steady aim. No explosions were observed. The last pilot, after his attack, flew over the dam at a height of 60 feet, machine gunning the defences. He observed no damage on the south face of the dam. It is thought that if the torpedoes failed to reach the dam their run may have been stopped by a bank of silt. Information was later received from an Italian broadcast that the crew of the Swordfish that had been shot down had been taken prisoner.
The wind was by now force 6, with a rising sea, and HMS Duncan reported damage to the gun shield of 'A' gun. Visibility was moderate but improving.
At 1005/2 course was altered to 290° and eight minutes later HMS Malaya and her two escorting destroyers were sighted.
By 1115/2 HMS Malaya, HMS Encounter and HMS Jupiter had rejoined. At noon HMS Ark Royal reported that flying conditions were becoming hazardous so the A/S patrol was abandoned. Only a section of Fulmar fighters were maintained in the air as conditions were unsuitable for Skua's. At times HMS Ark Royal was dipping her flight deck into the sea. Speed had also to be reduced to 15 knots as this was the maximum speed the destroyers could proceed without sustaining damage.
At 1530/2 HMS Malaya requisted permission to turn down wind to make repairs as her cable lockers were flooding beyond the capacity of the pumps. Course was altered and speed was reduced to 10 knots at 1540/2. The original course and 15 knots speed were resumed at 1635/2.
Four Swordfish aircraft, which had been flown off to locate the six detached destroyers reported them as bearing 285°, distance 40 nautical miles at 1615/2. Course was altered to 000° at 1730/2 to ensure contact was made before dark and one hour later the destroyers joined the screen.
The northwesterly gale which had persisted all day had prevented 'Force H' from making the nesecssary ground to the west and north. Throughout the day various destroyers had reported damage at a speed of 15 knots and by the time the rendezvous with the six detached destroyers had been effected, Vice-Admiral Somerville was left with the choice of abanadoning operastion Result or making good a speed of 20 knots thoughout the night. This latter would have been impossible with the destroyers in company and problematical without them. Consideration was given to only attack Genoa with aircraft from HMS Ark Royal but in the end it was decided to abandon the operation.
3 February 1941.
At 0400/3 course was altered to 210°. The wind was still force 6, with a short sea. HMS Fearless reported at 0530/3 tht she was beginning to bump badly and speed was reduced to 13 knots.
HMS Ark Royal flew off three Swordfish at 0745/3 to seach for shipping between Cape Tortosa and Alicante up to fifty miles from the coast. A similar search was carried out in the afternoon between Cape San Antonio and Cape Palos. It was the intention to detach destroyers to close and investigate all ships reported by the aircraft but the only ship located was already in the approaches to Valencia and therefore could not be intercepted in time before it reached that port.
During the forenoon exercises were carried out during which HMS Jersey was serving as 'target'.
Course was altered to south at 1335/3 and speed was increased to 18 knots. The wind had veered to north-north-west and was still force 6. The wind eased a little towards the end of the afternoon but then increased to force 8 by 1700/3.
At 1715/3, dive bombing exercises were carried out on the fleet by four Skua's. After the first attack one aircraft force-landed in the sea on the starboard beam of the Fleet close to the destroyer screen. The crew was picked up by HMS Jupiter. The aircraft then sank.
All flying was completed by 1815/3. After dark course was reversed for twenty minutes in preparation for a night encounter exercises with HMS Jersey and HMS Jupiter which had been detached from the screen at dusk. These two destroyers, attacking from leeward, were sighted at long range. Evasion, counter-attack, star-shell and searchlights were exercised and the practice was completed by 2038/3.
4 February 1941.
A speed of 17 knots was maintained during the night and at 0100/4 course was altered to the westward. The wind remained a steady force 6 from the north-north-west.
At 0630/4, HMS Ark Royal screened by three of the destroyers hauled out of the line and they proceeded independently for flying off Swordfish aircraft for a dawn light torpedo attack on the Fleet. This attack was well delivered.
At 0800/4 speed was increased to 18 knots and HMS Sheffield took station eleven miles on the starboard beam to act as a target for gunnery exercises by HMS Renown and HMS Malaya. On completion HMS Sheffield then carried out an exercise with the leading destroyer of the screen. Finally HMS Fearless and HMS Foresight then carried out an exercise on HMS Sheffield.
By noon the sea had moderated and the wind had dropped to force 5. During the afternoon destroyers of the screen carried out exercises.
The ships of 'Force H' entered harbour at Gibraltar between 1715 and 2000 hours. (13)
6 Feb 1941
Bombardment of Genoa.
6 February 1941.
'Force H' departed Gibraltar for this operation. It was diverted into three groups, these were;
Group 1 was made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, RN), battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) and the light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN).
Group 2 was made up of the destroyers HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St.J. Morgan, RN) and HMS Jersey (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Burnell-Nugent, DSC, RN).
Group 3 was made up of the destroyers HMS Duncan (A/Capt. A.D.B. James, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Isis (Cdr. C.S.B. Swinley, DSC, RN) and HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN).
Group 2 departed Gibraltar between 1200 and 1400 hours in pairs of two. They proceeded eastwards as to be on patrol or exerising. When out of sight from land they continued on to the eastwards at economical speed to rendez-vous with groups 1 and 3 later on.
Groups 1 and 3 were clear of the harbour by 1700 hours. They then proceeded westwards as to cover convoy HG 53 which was forming up in the Strait of Gibraltar at this time.
The force was cut up into small sections and one by one they passed the Strait of Gibraltar to the eastward.
7 February 1941.
At 0300/7 all ships of groups 1 and 3 had joined company again and continued their passage eastwards.
An A/S patrol was flown off by HMS Ark Royal at 0730/7 and maintained throughout the day. Visibility was good with wind force 3 from the west. Six Skua's were flown off at 0835/7 to carry out dummy dive bombing attacks on the Fleet. Opportunity was taken to exercises all forms of AA armament.
By 1100/7 the wind had dropped to light westerly airs and there was a slight haze over the horizon which limited visibility to 10/15 miles throughout the day.
At 1155/7, in position 36°37'N, 01°21'W, HMS Firedrake investigated a contact and fired two depth charges. This contact was most likely non-sub.
All flying was completed by 1815/7. No radar contacts had been obtained all day and it seems probable that the fleet was not detected.
At 1930/7 course was altered to 035° in order to pass between Ibiza and Majorca during the dark hours.
8 February 1941.
Course was altered to 340° at 0100/8 and to 035° at 0500/8 for the passage west of the Balearics. An A/S air patrol was flown off at 0730/8 and a fighter patrol at 0930/8. These were maintained throughout the day. The six destroyers of group 2 joined at 0830/8.
During the day six aircraft were sighted but none are thought to have been enemy, almost all could be identified as being French.
During the day, a Skua and a Fulmar crashed on the deck of HMS Ark Royal when landing but no one was injured. All flying was completed by 1800 hours and ten minutes later course was altered to 090° and speed to 18 knots. At 1900/8 speed was increased to 21 knots.
At 2330/8 course was altered to the final approach course towards Genoa.
9 February 1941.
At 0400/9 HMS Ark Royal parted company escorted by HMS Duncan, HMS Encounter and HMS Isis so as the carrier could act independently to carry out air attacks on Leghorn and La Spezia.
At 0505/9, when in position 43°19'N, 08°41'E, HMS Ark Royal flew off a striking force of 14 Swordfish, followed by four Swordfish carrying magnetic mines and later by three standby spotting aircraft with an escorting section of fighters.
At 0719/9 a section of Fulmars was flown off to patrol over HMS Ark Royal.
Meanwhile the bombardment force continued on towards Genoa. At 0635/9 some unidentifiable mountain tops were just visible above the haze, silhouetted against the sky to the north-east of Rapallo, but it was not until 0649 hours that the headland of Porto Fino could be identified. It was soon seen that the Fleet was almost exactly in the position they wanted to be in.
Between 0630 and 0707 hours, HMS Sheffield and HMS Malaya catapulted their aircraft for spotting duties. HMS Renown also launched her spotting aircraft [time is not noted in the report.]
Course was altered to 290° at 0655/9 and speed was reduced to 18 knots. 13 minutes later course was altered to 270° and at 0713 back to 290°.
At 0711/9 Renown's spotting aircraft reported that no battleships were present. By 0714 hours, when fire was opened, nothing could be seen of Genoa from the ships, so the firing was carried out under direction of the spotting aircraft.
The observers in the spotting aircraft were able to indentify their targets with the greatest ease as they had been trained by using a model that had been constructed by a Commissioned Gunner of HMS Renown.
The opening salvoes from HMS Renown fell as anicipated south of Malo Principe and were quickly spotted onto the Ansaldo Works, marshalling Yards and factories on both banks of the Torrente Polcevera. Numerous explosions and considerable fires were obsevered in this area. Target was then shifted to the vicinity of the commercial basin where a big fire was caused and a merchant ship was hit. A salvo in the vicinity of the power station caused a perticularly violent explosion and an oil tank was observed to be on fire. The smoke from this and various warehouses prevented the spotting of several salvoes but a little later rounds were observed to fall in the area west of Ponte Daglio Asscreto and Ponte Caracciolo. The last salvoes fired in this area fell on the latter causing an explosion followed by a considerable fire. Target was again shifted, and the electrical works appeared to recieve a direct hit. Fire was moved up the left bank of the Torrente Polcevera and having crossed it salvoes were spotted directly on to Ansaldo Works, but smoke by then rendered observation difficult. The secondary armament engaged the area along the water front.
HMS Malaya engaged the dry docks a d targets in their vicinity throughout. Big explosions were observed in the docks and among warehouses. Several salvoes could not be spotted owing to smoke, but the last four were seen to fall among houses just north-east of the docks.
Sheffield's opening salvoes were placed short in the sea and were readily spotted. Having found range, rapid salvoes were ordered and fire was directed at the industrial installations on the left bank at the mouth of the Torrente Polcevera. Many fires and two big explosions were caused in this area. Later, as smoke was obscuring the area, fire was shifted to a tanker under way off the port and although three salvoes straddled no actual hits were observed.
The only opposition encountered by the bombarding ships was from a shore battery mounting about two 6" guns, and by the spotting aircraft from long and close range AA weapons. In both cases the fire was quite inefficient. During the bombardment two of the destroyers were ordered to make smoke to hamper gun fire from the shore battery.
The following ammunition was expended; HMS Renown 125 rounds of 15" HE and 400 rounds of 4.5" HE, HMS Malaya 148 rounds of 15" CPC and HMS Sheffield 782 rounds of 6" HE.
Whilst the main force was approaching Genoa, HMS Ark Royal's striking force of fourteen Swordfish each armed with four 250lbs. G.P. bombs and sixteen incendiaries had proceeded to attack the Azienda Oil Refinery at Leghorn. Eleven aircraft dropped their bombs on the refinery but no clear estimate could be formed of the amount of damage inflicted except that one definite explosion was observed. Surprise was evidently achieved as only one or two HA guns opened fire when the attack started. About six minutes later however, the HA fire became severe.
Two of the striking force, having mistaken their landfall, attacked alternative targets, one attacks Pisa aerodrome and the other Pisa railway junction.
One of the aircraft that attacked the refinery failed to return.
Three of the minelaying Swordfishmade a gliding approach over the town of Spezzia, two laying in the western entrance of the harbour and one in the eastern entrance. The fourth aircraft approached from the opposite direction and laid in the western entrance. There was only a partial black out of the town. Short range AA weapons of the Bofors type engaged the aircraft during their final approach and these was also some AA fire from guns round the town, but these appeared to be firing blind into the air.
Balloon barrages were noticed at Leghorn over the town and west of the Azienda Refinery along the coast and also at Genoa by the Torrente Polcevera.
By 0848 all spotting, minelaying and striking force aircraft had landed on (with the exception of the one reported missing) and HMS Ark Royal proceeded to rendez-vous with the rest of 'Force H' in position 43°48'N, 08°50'E at 0900/9. By 0919/9 the whole force was steering 180° at 22 knots.
It was evident that both the ship and air bombardment had effected complete surprise, and that no precautions had been taken by the enemy to guard against an invasion into the Gulf by 'Force H'.
Throughout the day six fighters were kept patrolling over the Fleet. At 0934/9 two aircraft were detected by RD/F bearing 060° waiting at 27 miles. Ten minutes later a Cant. flying boat was sighted low down to the north-north-east. The aircraft withdrew before the fighters could get in touch. The other aircraft also withdrew on a bearing 070°. The visibility at this time was six miles at 3000 feet and 15 miles at 15000 feet. After this the RD/F sreen remained clear until 1047 hours when a raid was detected at 40 miles closing from 070°. This turned out to be a shadower, a Cant. 506B, which was located and shot down by fighters to the north of the fleet. Course was altered to 200° at 0955/9 and to 244° at 1035/9.
At 1120/9 a raid was detected at 30 miles closing on a bearing of 350°. This raid consisted of two aircraft which appeared to be Fiat BR.20 bombers. Four bombs were dropped well astern of HMS Ark Royal and the aircraft then retired to the northward. Fighters were unable to make contact with the enemy who were at about 12000 feet.
A convoy of seven merchant vessels was encountered at noon in position 43°07'N, 08°08'E, steering 090° and HMS Foresight was detached to investigate. The convoy consisted of six French and one Turkish merchant vessels outward bound and was allowed to proceed.
A formation of aircraft was detected at 1210/9 on a bearing of 160° but it dit not close and eventually faded.
At 1300/9 the weather became very favourable to a succesful withdrawal, the visibility having decreased and the sky overcast with low cloud. A shadower was detected at 1325/9 astern of the fleet. it was located by the fighters and proved to be a Cant. Z.1007B, it was shot down at 1355/9.
Several formations were detected by RD/F to the eastward at 1412/9 but they did not close to less than about 30 miles and finally faded. At 1500/9 the fighters chased a shadower but lost him in the clouds.
Between 1615 and 1700 hours several raids were again detected to the eastward but none materialised. Thereafter the RD/F screen remained clear until 'Force H' arrived at Gibraltar.
Two aircraft were launched at 1651/9 to search for the destroyers HMS Firedrake and HMS Jupiter which had been detached to carry out a W/T diversion east of Minorca at 2345/8 to cover the approach of the force to Genoa.
Course 232°, speed 17 knots was maintained during the night.
10 February 1941.
At 0740/10 HMS Ark Royal flew off two A/S patrols and five Swordfish to carry out a search for shipping in the area between lines joining Cape San Sebastian to Minorca and Cape San Antonio to Ibiza. Five French ships and the Spanish ships were reported.
Only one ship was within range and the Spanish ship Maria (347 GRT, built 1907) was boarded (by HMS Foresight). She was bound from Barcelona to Cartagena with a general cargo and was therefore allowed to proceed.
HMS Firedrake and HMS Jupiter rejoined at 0915/10. At 1300/10 course was altered to 184°. In the afternoon four aircraft searched an area 50 miles from territorial waters between Valencia and Cartagena but only a French merchant vessel was sighted steering northwards very close to the Spanish territorial waters.
Course was altered to 222° at 1804/10 and a few minutes later HMS Ark Royal was detached with three destroyers to act independently for the remainder of the passage to Gibraltar in order to facilitate training flights. HMS Fearless and HMS Fury were detached at dusk in order to shadow the Fleet from the port quarter and to deliver a dummy attack at dawn.
11 February 1941.
Course was altered to the westward at 0230/11. At 0735/11 HMS Fearless and HMS Fury carried out an attack from the port bow, ships in the line and on the screen were using searchlights.
It had been intended to exercise dive bombing on the fleet and smoke burst target practice for destroyers but low cloud prevented this. At 1100/11 six Swordfish aircraft carried out light torpedo attacks and nine Swordfish runner attacks on the fleet. HMS Fearless and HMS Fury were again detached but now to pick up torpedoes.
On approaching the Rock a range and inclination exercise was carried out for the benefit of the shore defences, destroyers were screening the heavy ships with smoke.
'Force H' entered the harbour between 1430 and 1615 hours. (13)
9 Feb 1941
Convoy WS 6A.
This convoy departed U.K. waters on 9 February 1941 and arrived at Freetown on 1 March 1941.
The convoy was formed at in position from three sections of troopships / transports coming from Avonmouth, Liverpool and the Clyde.
The convoy was made up of the following troopships / transports; Almanzora (British, 15551 GRT, built 1914), Ascanius (British, 10048 GRT, built 1910), Bellerophon (British, 9019 GRT, built 1906), Bergensfjord (Norwegian, 11015 GRT, built 1913), Burdwan (British, 6069 GRT, built 1928), Cape Horn (British, 5643 GRT, built 1929), City of Athens (British, 6558 GRT, built 1923), City of Corinth (British, 5318 GRT, built 1918), City of Hankow (British, 7360 GRT, built 1915), City of Pittsburg (British, 7377 GRT, built 1922), Consuelo (British, 4847 GRT, built 1937), Dalesman (British, 6343 GRT, built 1940), Highland Brigade (British, 14134 GRT, built 1929), Kina II (British, 9823 GRT, built 1939), Leopoldville (Belgian, 11509 GRT, built 1929), Llandaff Castle (British, 10799 GRT, built 1926), Llangibby Castle (British, 11951 GRT, built 1929), Logician (British, 5993 GRT, built 1928), Masheer (British, 7911 GRT, built 1925), Manchester Citizen (British, 5343 GRT, built 1925), Mataroa (British, 12390 GRT, built 1922), Nova Scotia (British, 6796 GRT, built 1926), Opawa (British, 10354 GRT, built 1931), Port Alma (British, 8400 GRT, built 1928), Rangitata (British, 16737 GRT, built 1929), Ruahine (British, 10832 GRT, built 1909), Salween (British, 7063 GRT, built 1937), Scythia (British, 19761 GRT, built 1920) and Thysville (Belgian, 8351 GRT, built 1922).
Escort was initially provided by the light cruisers HMS Birmingham (Capt. A.C.G. Madden, RN), HMS Phoebe (Capt. G. Grantham, RN), armed merchant cruiser HMS Cathay (A/Capt.(Retd.) C.M. Merewether, RN), destroyers HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, RN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, RAN), HMCS Ottawa (Cdr. E.R. Mainguy, RCN), HMCS Restigouche (Cdr. H.N. Lay, OBE, RN), HMCS St. Laurent (Lt. H.S. Rayner, RCN), HMCS Skeena (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Hibbard, RCN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. K.F. Namiesniowski, ORP), HMS Keppel (?), HMS Broadwater (Lt.Cdr. C.L.de H. Bell, RD, RNR) and the escort destroyers HMS Atherstone (Lt.Cdr. R.F. Jenks, RN) and HMS Cottesmore (Lt.Cdr. J.C.A. Ingram, RN).
Information on this convoy is difficult to find but it appears that most of the A/S escort parted company with the convoy in the early evening of 12 February (according to the logbook of HMS Birmingham) and then proceeded as follows; HMAS Napier and HMAS Nizam to Scapa Flow passing north of Rockall, HMS Keppel, HMS Atherstone and HMS Cottesmore to Londonderry, HMCS Ottawa, HMS Restigouche, HMCS St. Laurent and HMCS Skeena through area 52°N to 53°N, 23°W to 20°W and then to Greenock through position 55°N, 15°W, HMS Legion, HMS Broadwater, ORP Piorun and ORP Garland through position 57°N, 19°W and then to Greenock while passing north of Rockall. All groups were to conduct A/S sweeps on their way back.
Shortly before noon on the 15th the battleship HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN) joined the convoy.
Shortly after Rodney joined HMS Phoebe parted company with the convoy to fuel at Gibraltar.
HMS Rodney remained with the convoy until 1700/16. She then set course to join convoy HX 108.
The battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, RN) and aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) joined the convoy at 1000/17. They remained with the convoy until 1030/21 when they were relieved by HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN).
HMS Phoebe rejoined the convoy shortly before noon on 23 February 1941.
At 2030/25 the armed yacht HMS Surprise (Capt.(Retd.) E.C. Stubbs, RN) also joined.
Around 0900/27 the sloop HMS Milford (Cdr.(Retd.) the Hon. V.M. Wyndham-Quin, RN) and the destroyers HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN) joined the escort of the convoy.
On February 28th, HMS Malaya parted company with the convoy to proceed to Freetown taking the destroyers HMS Faulknor and HMS Forester with her. Also on this day the destroyers HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and HMS Isis (Cdr. C.S.B. Swinley, DSC, RN) joined the escort of the convoy.
1 Mar 1941
Convoy SL 67.
This convoy departed Freetown on 1 March 1941 and arrived at Liverpool on 26 March 1941.
This convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels; Alphard (Dutch, 5483 GRT, built 1937), Anadyr (British, 5321 GRT, built 1930), Ashworth (British, 5227 GRT, built 1920), Banffshire (British, 6479 GRT, built 1912), Baron Belhaven (British, 6591 GRT, built 1925), Baron Cawdor (British, 3638 GRT, built 1935), Beaconstreet (Detached to Gibraltar on 11 March) (British, 7467 GRT, built 1927), Bolton Castle (British, 5203 GRT, built 1939), British Captain (British (tanker), 6968 GRT, built 1923), British Diligence (British (tanker), 8408 GRT, built 1937), British Hope (Detached to Gibraltar on 11 March) (British (tanker), 6951 GRT, built 1928), British Integrity (British (tankr), 8412 GRT, built 1927), British Security (British (tanker), 8470 GRT, built 1937), Celtic Monarch (British, 5824 GRT, built 1929), City of Cairo (British, 8034 GRT, built 1915), City of Dunkirk (British, 5861 GRT, built 1912), City of Kimberley (British, 6169 GRT, built 1925), City of Nagpur (British, 10146 GRT, built 1922), City of Rangoon (British, 6635 GRT, built 1914), Clan Macbean (British, 5000 GRT, built 1918), Copeland (British (rescue vessel), 1526 GRT, built 1923), Deebank (British, 5060 GRT, built 1929), Defender (British, 8258 GRT, built 1915), Dunkwa (British, 4752 GRT, built 1927), Friesland (Dutch, 2662 GRT, built 1930), Godfrey B. Holt (British, 3585 GRT, built 1929), Guido (British, 3921 GRT, built 1920), Harmodius (British, 5229 GRT, built 1919), Harpefjell (Norwegian, 1333 GRT, built 1939), Helder (Dutch, 3629 GRT, built 1920), Henrik Ibsen (British, 4671 GRT, built 1906), Hindpool (British, 4897 GRT, built 1928), Inneroy (Norwegian (tanker), 8260 GRT, built 1936), King Edwin (British, 4536 GRT, built 1927), Lahore (British, 5304 GRT, built 1920), Llangollen (British, 5056 GRT, built 1928), Martaban (British, 4161 GRT, built 1934), Mendoza (British, 8233 GRT, built 1919), Nagina (British, 6551 GRT, built 1921), Nardana (British, 7974 GRT, built 1919), Nebraska (British, 8261 GRT, built 1920), Ogmore Castle (British, 2481 GRT, built 1919), Peisander (British, 6225 GRT, built 1925), Queen Anne (British, 4937 GRT, built 1937), Recorder (British, 2276 GRT, built 1902), Roxane (British (tanker), 7813 GRT, built 1929), Sansu (British, 5446 GRT, built 1939), Sire (British, 5664 GRT, built 1938), Solfonn (Norwegian (tanker), 9925 GRT, built 1939), Taxiarchis (Greek, 4221 GRT, built 1913), Tielbank (British, 5084 GRT, built 1937), Tunisia (British, 4337 GRT, built 1927), Turkistan (British, 6935 GRT, built 1939), Umberleigh (British, 4950 GRT, built 1927), Urbino (British, 5198 GRT, built 1918), Winsum (Dutch, 3224 GRT, built 1921) and Zamalek (British (rescue vessel), 1567 GRT, built 1921).
On departure from Freetown the convoy was escorted by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Cicilia (Capt.(Retd.) V.B. Cardwell, OBE, RN), corvette HMS Asphodel (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) K.W. Stewart, RN) and the auxiliary A/S trawlers HMS Kelt (T/Lt. W.T. Hodson, RNVR), HMS Spaniard (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Webster, RNR) and HMS Turcoman (Skr. A.G. Day, RNR).
At 1700/3 the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) joined the escort of the convoy.
At 1800/4 the three A/S trawlers parted company with the convoy.
In the early morning hours of 8 March 1941 the convoy was attacked by the German submarines U-105 and U-124. Five ships of the convoy were sunk, these were the Harmodius, Hindpool, Lahore, Tielbank and Nardana.
At 1330/8 HMS Forester, which was well to the west of the convoy, briefly sighted the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau steaming towards the convoy. The German ships were also sighted around the same time by HMS Malaya's Swordfish aircraft. Following the report of the sighting HMS Malaya and HMS Faulknor left the convoy to join HMS Forester to put themselves between the convoy and the enemy.
At 1645/8 hours HMS Malaya and the Scharnhorst sighted each other and the German battlecruisers turned away being chased briefly by HMS Malaya and the destroyers. As Malaya's speed was much lower contact was soon lost and the battleship and the destroyers then returned to the convoy. At 1900 hours they rejoined the convoy
In the afteroon of March, 10th, the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, RN) and aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) joined the escort of the convoy. HMS Malaya then parted company with the convoy and set course for Gibraltar.
At 1730/11, HMS Asphodel parted company with the convoy with the tankers Beaconstreet and British Hope which she then escorted to Gibraltar.
At 1000/13, HMS Faulknor and HMS Foresight parted company with the convoy and set course for Gibraltar.
At 1000/19, HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN) joined the convoy to take over the escort. At 1600/19, HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Cilicia parted company with the convoy.
On 21 March the escort of the convoy was reinforced with the destroyers HMS Havelock (Cdr. E.H. Thomas, DSC, RN), HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN), HMS Hurricane (Lt.Cdr. H.C. Simms, RN), HMS Veteran (Cdr. W.T. Couchman, OBE, RN), HMS Verity (Cdr. R.H. Mills, RN), HMS Wolsey (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Campbell, RN), HMS Salisbury (Lt.Cdr. H.M.R. Crichton, RN), HNoMS Mansfield (Cdr. F. Ulstrup, RNorN), the corvettes HMS Arbutus (T/Lt. A.L.W. Warren, RNR), HMS Camellia (Lt.Cdr. A.E. Willmott, RNR) and the catapult ship HMS Pegasus (Capt.(Retd.) P.G. Wodehouse, RN). HMS Kenya parted company with the convoy in the afternoon.
HMS Havelock and HMS Verity parted company with the convoy on 24 March as did HMS Veteran on the 25th.
21 Mar 1941
HMS Kelly (Capt. L.F.A.V.N. Mountbatten, GCVO, DSO, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Allison, DSO, RN) and HMS Jackal (Lt.Cdr. R.McC.P. Jonas, DSC, RN) departed Plymouth at 1350 hours to proceed to position 40'N, 15'W (west of Portugal) to make rendez-vous with Force H ( HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) ).
At 2049 hours the destroyers were however ordered to try to intercept the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau which had been spotted making for Brest, France after their operations in the Atlantic. (15)
6 Apr 1941
At 0300 'Force H' departed Gibraltar to patrol off the Bay of Biscay to prevent the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau from leaving Brest and proceed into the Atlantic.
'Force H' was made up of the following ships; HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruisers HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN), HMS Fiji (Capt. P.B.R.W. William-Powlett, RN), destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN (Capt. D.8)), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN) and HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN).
'Force H' was ordered to proceed to position 41°00'N, 16°30'W at 20 knots. (13)
24 Apr 1941
Operations Dunlop and Salient.
Transfer of fighter aircraft to Malta and reinforcements for the Mediterranean Fleet.
Timespan: 24 to 28 April 1941.
24 April 1941.
At 2200/25, ‘Force S’, made up of the light cruiser HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN, Senior Officer), fast minelayer HMS Abdiel (Capt. Hon. E. Pleydell-Bouverie, MVO, RN), destroyers HMS Kelly (Capt. L.F.A.V.N. Mountbatten, GCVO, DSO, RN), HMS Kashmir (Cdr. H.A. King, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Allison, DSO, RN), HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St. Clair-Ford, RN), HMS Jackal (Lt.Cdr. R.McC.P. Jonas, DSC, RN) and HMS Jersey (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Burnell-Nugent, DSC, RN) departed Gibraltar westwards but they soon turned eastwards again to pass Gibraltar eastwards after dark. The ships also had on board stores for Malta. Most of these on HMS Dido and HMS Abdiel.
They were followed one hour later, at 2300/25, by ‘Force H’. They departed Gibraltar and immediately turned eastwards. ‘Force H’ for this occasion was made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN).
25 April 1941.
On 26 April 1941 both forces proceeded to the east independently. At 2050 hours ‘Force H’ altered course and increased speed to reach the flying off position for the Hurricanes for Malta. They were to reach approximate position 37°40’N, 06°10’E at dawn the next day.
At 2120 hours a signal was received from Malta reporting that the weather was unsuitable and that the flying off had to be postponed for 24 hours. Speed was then reduced and at 2300 hours ‘Force H’ altered course to the westwards for an area to the south-west of Ibiza.
26 April 1941.
In the morning weather reports came in from Malta which were favourable. ‘Force H’ then altered course to 220° and at 1100 hours course was altered to the north-east. The object was to remain unsighted throughout the day. This was successful due to the poor visibility. Two more favourable weather reports came from Malta throughout the day.
In the evening a signal was received from HMS Dido stating that ‘Force S’ had also postponed their passage to Malta by 24 hours.
At 2100 hours ‘Force H’ was in position 38°35’N, 02°14’E. They then altered course to 106° and increased speed to 24 knots to again reach the flying off position for the Hurricanes at dawn.
27 April 1941.
Two more favourable weather reports were received during the early hours of the night. Weather in ‘Force H’ position was however not so good and at 0445 hours, in position 37°40’N, 05°55’E the destroyers had to be detached as they had difficulty keeping up with the other ships in the rising sea.
Flying off started at 0515 hours and was completed at 0613 hours. A total of 23 Hurricanes were flown off in two batches of eight and one of seven. These were all led by a Fulmar. On completion of flying off the Hurricanes an A/S patrol was launched as well as some Fulmars for fighter protection while the ships retired to the northwest on course 300° at 27 knots.
Though visibility was poor, a lone Heinkel appeared from the clouds over HMS Renown at 0850 hours and fire was opened on it. The enemy aircraft then made off the north-east with some of the Fulmars chasing it. The enemy was able to get back in the clouds before the Fulmars could overtake it. This aircraft reported the position, course and speed of the formation.
At 1000 hours a new section of Fulmars was flown off to relieve the others and at 1036 hours a signal was received from Malta that all the Hurricanes and their escorting Fulmars had landed safely.
At noon the destroyers rejoined and formed an A/S screen. Speed was reduced to 18 knots. ‘Force H’ remained in a position to support ‘Force S’ if needed. Aircraft for A/S and fighter protection were flown off during the day.
By 2000 hours all aircraft had returned to HMS Ark Royal and course was set to return to Gibraltar.
28 April 1941.
At dawn nine Swordfish were flown off for a practice attack on ‘Force H’. However one of the Swordfish hit the bridge of HMS Ark Royal and crashed into the sea. HMS Sheffield was able to pick up two of the three crew members. There was now sign of the air gunner and he was missing, presumed killed in the crash.
More air exercises were carried out during the day.
At 1130 hours, HMS Sheffield was detached to proceed to Gibraltar for a docking.
All ships of ‘Force H’ arrived at Gibraltar later on the day.
The ships of ‘Force S’ arrived safely at Malta on the 28th. (13)
5 May 1941
Operation Tiger, supply convoy from Gibraltar to Alexandria and reinforcements for the Mediterranean Fleet and Operation MD 4, supply convoy from Alexandria to Malta and taking up the reinforcements for the Mediterranean Fleet.
Timespan: 5 to 12 May 1941.
5 May 1941.
Part of Convoy WS 8A was approaching Gibraltar from the west. This part of convoy WS 8A was to proceed to Malta during operation ‘Tiger’.
It was made up of five transports; Clan Campbell (7255 GRT, built 1937), Clan Chattan (7262 GRT, built 1937), Clan Lamont (7250 GRT, built 1939), Empire Song (9228 GRT, built 1940) and New Zealand Star (10740 GRT, built 1935). During the passage from the U.K. it had been escorted by the battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN), light cruiser HMS Naiad (Capt. M.H.A. Kelsey, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.L.S. King, CB, MVO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, DSC, RN), HMS Havelock (Cdr. E.H. Thomas, DSC, RN) and HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN) (with the additional local escorts when still close to the U.K.)
Around 0700/5, HMS Repulse, HMS Harvester, HMS Havelock and HMS Hesperus were relieved from the escort by the battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth (Capt. C.B. Barry, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN) , HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) , HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN) and HMS Velox (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Roper, DSC, RN). The Repulse and the three H-class destroyers then proceeded to Gibraltar to refuel where they arrived shortly before 1800 hours. It had originally been intended to include Repulse in the upcoming operation but she was left at Gibraltar due to her inadequate anti-aircraft armament.
HMS Naiad had already arrived at Gibraltar around 0900/4, having been relieved shortly after noon on the 2nd of May by HMS Mauritius (Capt. W.D. Stephens, RN). Around the same time HMS Naiad arrived at Gibraltar the cruiser HMS Fiji (Capt. P.B.R.W. William-Powlett, RN) arrived, she had been part of the escort of convoy SL 72.
Shortly before 1000/5, the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruisers HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN), HMS Fiji and the destroyers HMS Kashmir (Cdr. H.A. King, RN), HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St. Clair-Ford, RN) and HMS Wrestler (Lt. E.L. Jones, DSC, RN). Kashmir and Kipling had departed a little earlier and carried out an A/S sweep in Gibraltar Bay first.
For the upcoming operation two groups were formed; The cover force which was formed on Renown was group I, the close escort, which was to remain with the transports was group II. When they arrived near the convoy at 1800/5 the group I was formed and was made up of Renown, Queen Elizabeth, Ark Royal, Sheffield, Fiji, Kashmir and Kipling. Group II remained with the convoy and was (for the moment) made up of Fearless, Foresight, Fortune, Velox and Wrestler. Group II and the convoy proceeded towards the Straits of Gibraltar at 13 knots while Group I proceeded to the south until 2130 hours when course was changed to 074°. At 1930 hours, Group I, had been joined by HMS Naiad. This cruiser had sailed from Gibraltar at 1300 hours.
Convoy MW 7B departed Alexandria for Malta this day. It was made up of the Norwegian tankers Hoegh Hood (9351 GRT, built 1936) and Svenor (7616 GRT, built 1931). These tankers were able to proceed at 10 knots. Escort was provided by the AA-cruisers HMS Carlisle (Capt. T.C. Hampton, RN), HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN), destroyers HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN), HMS HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.A. Marshall-A’Deane, DSO, DSC, RN) and HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN). Also part of the escort of this convoy was the corvette HMS Gloxinia (Lt.Cdr. A.J.C. Pomeroy, RNVR) which was to serve as minesweeper at Malta and the whaler HMS Swona which was to be outfitted as minesweeper (LL-sweep) at the Malta Dockyard.
6 May 1941.
The convoy with Group II passed through the Straits of Gibraltar between 0130 and 0330 hours followed by Group I between 0300 and 0430 hours. Although the moon did not set until 0314 hours the sky was completely overcast and visibility was low.
At 0330 hours, HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Harvester, HMS Havelock and HMS Hesperus departed Gibraltar followed at 0420 hours by HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN) which had completed her repairs and undocking shortly before.
By 0550 hours, Group I was about 32 miles to the east of Gibraltar with the convoy and Group II 10 miles to the north. At this time Faulknor, Forester and Fury joined Group I. At 0615 hours Queen Elizabeth with Kashmir and Kelvin was detached to join Group II, followed thirty minutes later by Naiad.
At 0625 hours, Gloucester joined Group I and speed was then increased to 24 knots to draw well ahead of the convoy. During the day Group I steered 060°. Group II was steering parallel to the Spanish coast at 13 knots. Velox and Wrestler were detached from Group II to arrive at Gibraltar after dark to avoid being sighted returning from the East.
At 1740 hours Renown, in position 37°05’N, 00°21’W sighted a French merchant ship most likely en-route to Oran. On sighting the British ships she immediately steered clear to the westward. Shorty afterwards Group I reduced speed to 17 knots as to not get too far ahead of Group II and the convoy.
By midnight Group I was about 150 nautical miles east-north-east of Group II.
The Mediterranean Fleet departed Alexandria in the forenoon, it was made up of the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, GCB, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.la T. Bisset, RN), light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN), destroyers (D.14) HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. St. J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, DSO, RN), HMS Kimberley (Lt.Cdr. J.S.M. Richardson, DSO, RN), HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Somerville, DSO, DSC, RN), (D.7) HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, RN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, RAN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.de W. Kitcat, RN), HMS Havock (Lt. G.R.G. Watkins, RN), HMS Hotspur (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC, RN) and HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN). The fast minesweeper HMS Abdiel (Capt. E. Pleydell-Bouverie, MVO, RN) and the naval transport HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) also sailed with the Fleet. HMS Abdiel was to lay a minefield off Lampedusa. HMS Breconshire had on board oil and petrol for Malta as well as oil to supply this to destroyers at sea. Abdiel took station in the destroyer screen while Breconshire took station in the battleship line. After sailing the fleet proceeded to the northwest. No aircraft were flown off by HMS Formidable due to a dust storm and very limited visibility.
After the Fleet sailed, convoy MW 7A departed Alexandria. It was made up of four transport vessels; Amerika (10218 GRT, built 1930), Settler (6202 GRT, built 1939), Talabot (6798 GRT, built 1936) and Thermopylae (6655 GRT, built 1930). These were able to proceed at 14 knots. Escort was provided by the light cruisers HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN), HMS Phoebe (Capt. G. Grantham, RN), AA-cruiser HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN) and the destroyers (D.2) HMS Ilex (Capt. H.St.L. Nicholson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Isis (Cdr. C.S.B. Swinley, DSC, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt. W.J. Munn, RN) and HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN).
One of the destroyers from the escort of convoy MW 7B, HMS Defender, that had sailed on the 5th had to return to Alexandria due to condenser problems.
7 May 1941.
At 0400 hours, Group II, which was approximately 30 nautical miles east of Cape Palos, altered course to the south for about two hours before turning eastwards for the run to Malta.
Group I meanwhile had altered course to the northward at 0130 hours to pass between Ibiza and Majorca in order to carry out a diversion to the north of the Baleares during the day should this appear desirable.
By 0715 hours there was no indication that Group I had been sighted, and as visibility varied from poor to moderate, course was altered to pass again between Ibiza and Majorca to reach a position well ahead of Group II so as to divert any attention of any enemy aircraft from Group II and the convoy.
At 1000 hours, when 33 nautical miles south-west of Malta, Group I encountered a small Spanish fishing vessel which was seen to proceed towards Palma de Majorca.
At noon, Group I altered course to 140°. At 1630 hours course was altered to 100° to keep about 40 nautical miles to the eastward of Group II. Group I streamed paravanes at 1800 hours.
At 1945 hours, two Sunderland flying boats flying east passed north of the force and did not identify themselves till challenged. At the same time smoke was sighted astern and shortly afterwards a fighter aircraft reported that it was the convoy at a distance of 26 nautical miles.
At 2100 hours, Group I altered course to the north-east until dark in order to mislead any hostile aircraft. The sky had been overcast all day but towards the evening the visibility improved considerably and the convoy was clearly visible to the southwestward making a great deal of smoke.
At 2225 hours, RD/F in Fiji detected a group of aircraft bearing 170°, range 30 miles. The bearing changed to 154° and the range opened to 40 miles until the echo faded at 2230 hours. Group I altered course to 080° at 2300 hours.
All forces continued on their way during the day without incident. Destroyers were being fuelled from Breconshire one at a time.
The submarine HMS Triumph reported three transports proceeding towards Benghazi. Accordingly HMS Ajax, HMS Havock, HMS Hotspur and HMS Imperial were detached to attack Benghazi during the night of 7/8 May.
The Vice-Admiral Malta reported that the harbour had been mined and that the destroyers based at Malta were therefore unable to leave the harbour and participate in the convoy operations.
8 May 1941.
Soon after midnight Group I had to alter course to avoid being sighted by a lighted merchant ship steering a course of 110°.
At 0535 hours, HMS Ark Royal launched three reconnaissance A.S.V. aircraft in position 38°06’N, 06°26’E to search to the eastward south of Sardinia. At 0700 hours a fourth aircraft was flown off to search to the west of Sardinia. These aircraft returned at 0800 hours and had nothing to report. They had covered 140 miles to the eastward and 50 miles to the westward. Group I then proceeded to join the convoy. The first fighter patrol was flown off by Ark Royal at 0830 hours.
By 1000 hours, Group I had joined the convoy, which was proceeding on a course of 085° at 14 knots. This was the Clan Campbell’s best speed. Renown and Ark Royal took station on the starboard side of the convoy in order to facilitate flying operations and at the same time provide AA protection for the convoy. Queen Elizabeth took station astern of Ark Royal to provide AA protection for this vulnerable ship. Gloucester and Fiji formed on the transport ships.
At 1115 hours an enemy signal was intercepted that our forces had been sighted at 0800 hours. Naiad detected an enemy aircraft approaching at 1133 hours and three minutes later a large float-plane emerged from the clouds ahead of the convoy. Naiad opened fire and the aircraft retreated into the clouds. Fighters were sent in pursuit but failed to intercept. At noon a full and accurate report was made by this float-plane on the composition of our forces.
The sky cleared to some extent at noon, it had been overcast all morning. Visibility continued to improve all day although considerable cloud prevailed until the evening.
At 1345 hours, eight aircraft were seen approaching very low, fine on the starboard bow. These were engaged as they approached, but the AA fire appeared to be not very well directed. Torpedoes were dropped from outside the destroyer screen, which was roughly 3000 yards ahead of the convoy and extended to starboard to cover Renown, Ark Royal and Queen Elizabeth. The four Fulmar fighters on patrol at this time were engaging CR. 42 fighters that had accompanied these torpedo aircraft.
Torpedoes were evidently aimed at Renown and Ark Royal but by very skilful handling by the Commanding Officers of these two ships all tracks were combed or avoided. Two torpedoes passed close to Renown. A third which was being successfully combed made a sudden alteration of 60° towards Renown and a hit forward seemed inevitable when the torpedo reached the end of it’s run and sank. Two torpedoes passed to port and two to starboard of Ark Royal.
Of the eight aircraft which attacked one was brought down during the approach, probably by AA fire from the destroyers. Two others were seen to fall from the sky during their retirement. The destroyers were disappointingly slow in opening fire on the approaching torpedo-bombers and a full barrage never developed. During the action between the Fulmar’s and the CR. 42’s one Fulmar was brought down and the crew of two was lost.
At 1400 hours a few bomb splashes were observed on the horizon to the northwestward.
At 1525 hours, two sections of Fulmar’s attacked and shot down in flames an S.79 shadower. On returning from this attack one Fulmar had to make a forced landing on the water about 9 nautical miles from the fleet. HMS Foresight closed the position and was able to pick up the crew of two. At this time the fleet was about 28 nautical miles north of Galita Island.
At 1600 hours, as the wind had backed from south of east to north of east. The starboard column; Renown, Ark Royal and Queen Elizabeth, was moved over to the port quarter of the convoy and the destroyer screen was readjusted accordingly. This allowed freedom of manoeuvre for flying operations and enabled the column to increase speed and snake the line whenever a bombing attack developed, in order to hamper the bombers and at the same time remain in a position to afford full AA support of the convoy.
The first high level bombing attack of the day developed at 1622 hours when three S.79’s approached from astern at about 5000 feet, i.e. just under the cloud level. One, diverted by AA fire, jettisoned his bombs and subsequently crashed astern of the Fleet. The other two dropped twelve bombs close ahead of Ark Royal and escaped into the clouds. It is probable that both of these were hit by the concentrated AA fire with which they were met. About 10 minutes later a single aircraft approached from astern and encountering heavy AA fire turned across the stern of the Fleet, dropping its bombs well clear.
At 1710 hours, another S.79 shadower was shot down in flames on the port quarter of the Fleet by a Fulmar fighter. Twenty minutes later five S.79’s attacked the fleet from south to north. Two broke formation under gunfire and the remainder delivered a poor attack, bombs falling near the destroyer screen. A similar attack by three S.79’s took place at 1800 hours, when bombs were again dropped near the destroyer screen.
The provision a adequate fighter protection for the Fleet was a difficult problem with the small numbers of fighters available. Aircraft returned to the carrier at various times with damage and failure of undercarriage, and every opportunity was taken, whenever the RD/F screen cleared to land on, refuel and rearm the Fulmars, sometimes singly and sometimes two or three at a time. There were occasions when no more then two fighters were in the air, but whenever an attack appeared to be impending every fighter that could be made serviceable was sent up.
At 1910 hours enemy aircraft were detected at a range of 70 miles approaching from Sicily. At this time only seven Fulmars remained serviceable of which only three were in the air. The other four were immediately flown off. The total number of hostile aircraft is uncertain, but the Fulmars sighted three separate formations of sixteen Ju.87’s, twelve Ju.87’s and six Me.110’s. One formation was seen from Renown for a short time at 1933 hours in a patch of clear sky. RD/F indicated several formations circling to the northwest of the Fleet for nearly one hour and several bomb splashes were seen well away to the northward and northwestward. During this period Fulmars intercepted the enemy and, although greatly outnumbered, fought several vigorous and gallant actions, resulting in the certain destruction of one Ju.87 and damage to several others, including at least one Me.110. These attacks disorganised the enemy and forced them to the northward with the result that they probably missed sighting the Fleet. They then entered thick cloud and it is possible that the groups became separated and all cohesion in the attack disappeared. Whatever the reason RD/F showed these groups retiring to the northward and no attack on the Fleet developed.
The Fleet reached the entrance to the Skerki Channel at 2015 hours. ‘Force B’ then turned westwards. It was made up of Renown/i>, Ark Royal, Sheffield, Harvester, Havelock and Hesperus. Queen Elizabeth was ordered to join ‘Force F’.
The turn to the west was just being completed when ‘Force B’ was attacked at 2030 hours by three torpedo-bombers which came from right ahead. The destroyers were still manoeuvering to take up their screening positions and did not sight the enemy aircraft in time to put up a barrage of AA fire. This attack was pressed home by the enemy with great determination. All three aircraft were heavily engaged and two were seen to be hit. Renown combed the torpedo tracks, two passing close down the port side and one down the starboard side.
During this attack No. P (port) 3, 4.5” gun turret in Renown malfunctioned and fired two round into the back of No. P 2 gun turret. This resulted in five ratings killed, five seriously wounded of which one later died and one officer and twenty-five ratings wounded.
Speed was increased to 24 knots at 2038 hours and a westerly course was maintained throughout the night.
As a result of the day’s air attacks, seven enemy aircraft were destroyed, two probably destroyed and at least three, probably more, damaged. Of the seven destroyed AA fire accounted for four and feighters for three. No hits, either by bomb or torpedo were obtained on our ships, nor were there any casualties besides than caused by the accident in Renown. Two Fulmars were lost, the crew of one of them was saved.
Meanwhile the convoy continued eastwards escorted now by HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Naiad, HMS Gloucester, HMS Fiji, HMS Faulknor, HMS Fearless, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Fortune, HMS Fury, HMS Kashmir and HMS Kipling.
Visibility was still poor with patches of heavy rain. This helped the Fleet and convoy from being detected by the enemy and attacked by aircraft. On the other hand it resulted in the loss of two Albacore aircraft. One Fulmar was lost in combat with enemy aircraft.
HMS Ajax, HMS Havock, HMS Hotspur and HMS Imperial rejoined the Fleet at 1700 hours. Their attack on Benghazi had been successful although there was little shipping in the harbour two transports were intercepted after the bombardment. The largest blew up, and the other was ran aground and was left on fire after several explosions. These were the Italian Tenace (1142 GRT, built 1881) and Capitano A. Cecchi (2321 GRT, built 1933).
The Fleet remained with convoy MW 7A during the day and at dark moved to the southward. HMS Dido, HMS Phoebe, HMS Calcutta, HMS Carlisle and HMS Coventry were detached from their convoy’s to join the Tiger convoy coming from Gibraltar.
Both MW convoy’s made direct for Malta escorted by HMS Hotspur, HMS Havock and HMS Imperial. All other destroyers had been oiled from Breconshire during the past two days.
9 May 1941.
Further torpedo-bomber attacks were expected and a screen made up of Sheffield and the three destroyers was stationed ahead, astern and on either beam of Renown and Ark Royal at 5000 yards. The night was however uneventful and at 0800 hours speed was reduced to 20 knots and screening diagram no.4 was resumed by the escorts.
A shadower was detected, bearing 115°, range 12 nautical miles at 1027 hours. Two fighters were flown off but failed to intercept the enemy. An enemy sighting report was intercepted in Renown.
At 1100 hours a merchant vessel was sighted in position 37°54’N, 03°30’E about 8 nautical miles to the northward. At the same time Ark Royal reported that a periscope had been sighted about 4000 yards away. No further action was taken as detaching a single destroyer to search for the submarine was thought to be of little use and it was not thought wise to detach more then one destroyer as there were only three present.
At 1300 hours course was altered to 145° and speed reduced to 16 knots to conserve fuel in the destroyers.
At 1700 hours five search aircraft were flown off from position 37°27’N, 01°29’E to search between bearings 045° and 340° from Oran and south of parallel 38°45’N. Nothingwas sighted except for a merchant vessel. A Fulmar was also flown off to carry out a reconnaissance of Oran. This aircraft took photographs and reported the battlecruiser Dunkerque in her usual position at Mers-el-Kebir surrounded by nets, with lighters alongside and a pontoon gangway to the shore. One large and two small destroyers were sighted inside Oran harbour and probably six or seven submarines.
The six destroyers from the 8th Destroyer Flotilla which had taken part in getting the ‘Tiger’ convoy to as far as Malta sailed from there at 2000B/9 for their return passage to Gibraltar. HMS Foresight however had to return to Malta with an engine problem.
At 2200 hours ‘Force B’ altered course to the eastward as to be in a position to support the destroyers during their passage west at daylight the next day when they were passing south of Sardinia.
The Tiger convoy and it’s escort.
Shortly after midnight the transport Empire Song was mined and damaged. Initially she was able to remain with the convoy but around 0140 hours she was slowly sinking having also been on fire. The destroyers HMS Foresight and HMS Fortune were detached to stand by her. In the end Empire Song blew up during which Foresight was damaged.
The transport New Zealand Star was also damaged but she was able to remain with the convoy as her speed was not affected.
The convoy was attacked by torpedo-bombers early in the night but no damage was done by them. One torpedo passed very close to HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Around 0700 hours the Tiger convoy was joined by HMS Dido and HMS Phoebe. An hour later HMS Calcutta, HMS Carlisle and HMS Coventry also joined.
At 1515 hours the Tiger convoy made rendez-vous with the Mediterreanean Fleet about 50 nautical miles south of Malta.
Convoy’s MW 7A and MW 7B both arrived safely at Malta. Both were swept in by HMS Gloxinia who succeeded in exploding a number of mines. The 5th Destroyer Flotilla was then also able to leave the harbour and they joined the Mediterranean Fleet; these were HMS Kelly (Capt. L.F.A.V.N. Mountbatten, GCVO, DSO, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Allison, DSO, RN) , HMS Jackal (Lt.Cdr. R.McC.P. Jonas, DSC, RN) and HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN)
Also Breconshire arrived at Malta where she fuelled HMS Hotspur, HMS Havock and HMS Imperial.
As said above, at 1515 hours the Tiger convoy made rendez-vous with the Mediterreanean Fleet about 50 nautical miles south of Malta. HMS Queen Elizabeth then joined the battleship column. The Fleet then turned eastward but remained near the convoy for the remainder of the day. During the night he Fleet covered the convoy from a position to the north-eastward of it.
10 May 1941.
At 0700 hours, when in position 37°35’N, 03°02’E, course was altered to the westward at 15 knots. This being the most comfortable speed for the destroyers in the rising westerly gale.
At 1000 hours, the Capt. (D) 8th Destroyer Flotilla, reported he was in position 37°18’N, 08°45’E steering 275° at 28 knots. He also reported hat his ships were being shadowed by enemy aircraft. The enemy aircraft report was intercepted at 1025 hours. Course was then altered by ‘Force B’ to the eastward to reduce the distance between the two forces.
At 1100 hours, the Capt. (D) 8th Destroyer Flotilla, reported he was in position 37°22’N, 07°54’E, still steering 275° at 28 knots. The destroyers were still being shadowed.
At noon ‘Force B’ altered course to the westward. The wind was by then force 8 with a rising sea. Ten minutes later the enemy aircraft was again heard to report the position of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla and it’s course and speed.
At 1300 hours, the Capt. (D) 8th Destroyer Flotilla, reported he was in position 37°25’N, 07°01’E, steering 270° at 28 knots and that his ships were still being shadowed. At this time ‘Force B’ was 134 nautical miles to the westward and they could only maintain 13 knots in the sea without suffering damage. In view of the weather conditions and the fact that HMS Ark Royal had now only four serviceable fighters available it was not possible to afford the 8th Destroyer Flotilla any fighter protection without hazarding Ark Royal unduly. It was hoped that if an attack would develop the destroyers were able to avoid damage by high speed manoeuvring.
At 1430 hours a signal was received that the 8th Destroyer Flotilla was being bombed in position 37°25’N, 06°18’E and that HMS Fortune had been hit and her speed had been reduced to 8 knots. ‘Force B’ immediately altered course to the eastward and ran before the sea at 24 knots the maximum safe speed for the destroyers in the prevailing weather conditions.
An unidentified aircraft that had been detected by RD/F overtook the force at 1530 hours and was fired at by HMS Sheffield. The aircraft retired to the northward before resuming it’s easterly course. A reconnaissance of three aircraft was flown off at 1600 hours to cover the area to the northward and eastward of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla to maximum depth, in case enemy surface units were out in pursuit. These aircraft reported having sighted nothing on their return.
At 1750 hours a signal was received that the 8th Destroyer Flotilla had been subjected to another bombing attack but that no damage had been done. ‘Force B’ continued eastwards to provide close support in case of more air attacks.
At 1820 hours rendes-vous was made with the 8th Destroyer Flotilla and all ships proceeded westwards steering 280° at 12 knots. This was the best course and speed HMS Fortune could maintain. By this time this destroyer was down by the stern with seas breaking continually over her quarterdeck.
Five search aircraft were flown off by Ark Royal to search to maximum depth between 025° and 090°. Nothing was sighted except for one enemy aircraft. By 2030 hours all aircraft had returned.
As a speed of 12 knots subjected Fortune’s bulkhead to undue strain, HMS Fury was ordered to escort Fortune and proceed at 8 knots for the night. The remainder of the force zig-zagged, clear of these two destroyers, at higher speed.
It became also clear that Fortune had not received a direct hit but that five near misses had bent one shaft and caused flooding in several compartments aft, and minor flooding in the engine room.
The Battlefleet remained near the convoy for the entire day. Visibility improved throughout the day although conditions were still difficult for the enemy to attack from the air. One Ju.88 aircraft was shot down and another one was damaged. One Fulmar was lost when taking off from Formidable.
No enemy air attacks developed until dark when a number of aircraft, probably torpedo bombers, endeavoured to attack the convoy and battlefleet. A very heavy blind barrage of AA fire however kept them off and no torpedoes were seen.
At 1700 hours, Capt. D.5 in HMS Kelly was detached with the ships of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla (besides Kelly these were Kashmir, Kelvin, Kipling and Jackal) to bombard Benghazi before returning to Malta. The bombardment was carried out successfully. Following the bombardment they were dive bombed by German aircraft and all but Kipling were near missed. The Flotilla reached Malta p.m. on the 11th.
11 May 1941.
At 0532 hours, Vice-Admiral Somerville sent a signal to the Vice-Admiral commanding the North Atlantic station at Gibraltar reporting the position, course and speed of his forces. He also requested a tug to be sent for the assistance of HMS Fortune.
The wind eased considerably during the morning and at daylight Fortune and Fury were sighted about 4 nautical miles in advance of the Fleet and making good about 10 knots.
A reconnaissance of six aircraft were flown off at 0700 hours. These searched for a depth of about 140 miles between 030° and 085°. Visibility was reported as being 10 to 20 miles. Also a search was conducted for a depth of about 100 miles between 085° and 110° with a visibility of 3 to 5 miles. Only a few French merchant vessels were sighted.
Nothing happened during the day.
At 1700 hours a reconnaissance was flown of from position 36°54’N, 01°11’E to a depth of 180 nautical miles between north and east and to a depth of 90 nautical miles between north and 290°. The visibility was reported as being 10 to 15 nautical miles. Nothing was sighted.
The Fleet turned to the eastward for an hour before dark to take up a position well astern of Fortune and Fury during the night.
The Tiger convoy and the Fleet continued eastwards. Enemy aircraft were in the vicinity all day but no attacks developed. One Ju.88 was shot down and another one was damaged, one Fulmar was lost. At dark the cruisers were detached to proceed to Alexandria and the Fleet went on ahead of the convoy.
12 May 1941.
Just before daylight contact was made by the Fleet with Fortune and Fury. At dawn the tug HMS St. Day and four ML’s arrived from Gibraltar.
HMS Sheffield, HMS Harvester, HMS Hesperus and the four ML’s then remained with HMS Fortune and HMS Fury. Fortune was now able to make 12 knots.
HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal, screened by HMS Faulknor, HMS Fearless, HMS Forester, HMS Foresight and HMS Havelock, then proceeded ahead to conduct flying exercises east of Gibraltar before entering harbour.
A reconnaissance was flown off at 0800 hours to search to the east but nothing was sighted. On their return these aircraft made a practice attack on Renown and Ark Royal. More exercises were carried out during the day.
The Fleet arrived at Gibraltar at 1800 hours. Renown berthed in no.1 dock to enable her damaged 4.5” gun turret to be hoised out.
HMS Sheffield entered harbour at 2030 hours followed shortly afterwards by the damaged Fortune and her escorts.
The bulk of the Fleet arrived at Alexandria around 1000 hours. The convoy arrived later, around 1300 hours. Some ships had been detached from the fleet to arrive early, fuel and then depart again for escort duties. (16)
18 May 1941
Chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, 18 to 27 May 1941.
Departure of the Bismarck from the Baltic.
At 2130B/18 the German battleship Bismarck and the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen departed Gotenhafen for an anti-shipping raid in the North Atlantic. The following morning they were joined off Cape Arkona by the German destroyers Z 16 / Friedrich Eckhold and Z 23. They then proceeded through the Great Belt. The four ships were joined by a third destroyer, Z 10 / Hans Lody shortly before midnight on 19 May.
First reports of Bismarck and British dispositions 20-21 May 1941.
On 20 May 1941 two large warships with a strong escort were seen at 1500 hours northward out of the Kattegat. This information originated from the Swedish cruiser Gotland which had passed the Germans off the Swedish coast in the morning. The Naval Attaché at Stockholm received the news at 2100/20 and forwarded it to the Admiralty. At 0900/21 the Bismarck and her consorts entered Kors Fjord, near Bergen, Norway and anchored in nearby fiords. A reconnaissance aircraft flying over Bergen at 1330/21 reported having seen two Hipper class heavy cruisers there. One of these ships was later identified on a photograph as being the Bismarck. This intelligence went out at once to the Home Fleet.
The ships of the Home Fleet were at this time widely dispersed on convoy duties, patrols, etc. Some of the units were ranging as far as Gibraltar and Freetown. The Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir John Tovey, was at Scapa Flow in his flagship, HMS King George V (Capt. W.R. Patterson, CVO, RN). With him were her newly commissioned sister ship HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), the battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, with Vice-Admiral L.E. Holland, CB, RN, onboard), the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, RN), the light cruisers HMS Galatea (Capt. E.W.B. Sim, RN), HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN), HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN) and the destroyers HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.B.N. Hicks, DSO, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSO, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN) and HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN). HMS Victorious was under orders to escort troop convoy WS 8B from the Clyde to the Middle East.
Rear-Admiral W.F. Wake-Walker (commanding the first Cruiser Squadron), with the heavy cruisers HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN) (flag) and HMS Suffolk (Capt. R.M. Ellis, RN) was on patrol in the Denmark Straight. The light cruisers HMS Manchester (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN) and HMS Birmingham (Capt. A.C.G. Madden, RN) were patrolling between Iceland and the Faeroes. The battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) was at the Clyde to escort troop convoy WS 8B.
Action taken by the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet
Admiral Tovey took the following action when he received the news the Bismarck had been spotted at Bergen. Vice-Admiral Holland with the Hood, Prince of Wales, Achates, Antelope, Anthony, Echo, Electra and Icarus was ordered to cover Rear Admiral Wake-Walker's cruisers in the Denmark Straight. His force departed Scapa Flow around 0100/22.
HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), which was taking the Vice-Admiral, Orkneys and Shetlands, to Reykjavik on a visit of inspection, was ordered to remain at Hvalfiord and placed at Rear-Admiral Wake-Walkers disposal. HMS Manchester and HMS Birmingham were ordered to top off with fuel at Skaalefiord and them to resume their patrol. The other ships that remained at Scapa Flow were brought to short notice for steam.
The Free French submarine FFS Minerve (Lt. P.M. Sonneville), which was on patrol off south-west Norway was ordered to proceed to position 61°53'N, 03°15'E and HMS P 31 (Lt. J.B.de B. Kershaw, RN) was ordered to proceed to position 62°08'N, 05°08'E which is to the west of Stadtlandet.
The sailing of HMS Repulse and HMS Victorious with troop convoy WS 8B was cancelled and the ships were placed at the disposal of Admiral Tovey.
A reconnaissance aircraft flying over Bergen reported that the German ships were gone. This information reached Admiral Tovey at 2000/22. HMS Suffolk which had been fuelling at Hvalfiord was ordered to rejoin HMS Norfolk in the Denmark Strait. HMS Arethusa was ordered to join HMS Manchester and HMS Birmingham to form a patrol line between Iceland and the Faeroes. Vice-Admiral Holland, on his way to Iceland was told to cover the patrols in Denmark Strait north of 62°N. Admiral Tovey would cover the patrols south of 62°N.
Commander-in-Chief leaves Scapa Flow on 22 May 1941
The King George V, with Admiral Tovey on board, departed Scapa Flow at 2245/22. With the King George V sailed, HMS Victorious, HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya, HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), HMS Windsor (Lt.Cdr. J.M.G. Waldegrave, DSC, RN), HMS Active, HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Intrepid (Cdr. R.C. Gordon, DSO, RN), HMS Punjabi, HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMAS Nestor. HMS Lance however had to return to Scapa Flow due to defects.
At A.M. 23 May they were joined off the Butt of Lewis by HMS Repulse escorted by HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMCS Assiniboine (A/Lt.Cdr. J.H. Stubbs, RCN) and HMCS Saguenay (Lt. P.E. Haddon, RCN) coming from the Clyde area.
The Commander-in-Chief was 230 miles north-west of the Butt of Lewis in approximate position 60°20'N, 12°30'W when at 2032/23 a signal came in from HMS Norfolk that she had sighted the Bismarck in the Denmark Strait.
HMS Suffolk and HMS Norfolk made contact with the Bismarck in the Denmark Strait on 23 May 1941.
At 1922/23 HMS Suffolk sighted the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen in position 67°06'N, 24°50'W. They were proceeding to the south-west skirting the edge of the ice in Denmark Strait. HMS Suffolk immediately sent out an enemy report and made for the mist to the south-east. HMS Norfolk then commenced closing and sighted the enemy at 2030 hours. They were only some six nautical miles off and the Bismarck opened fire. HMS Norfolk immediately turned away, was not hit and also sent out an enemy report.
Although HMS Suffolk had sighted the enemy first and also sent the first contact report this was not received by the Commander-in-Chief. The enemy was 600 miles away to the north-westward.
Vice-Admiral Holland had picked up the signal from the Suffolk. He was at that moment about 300 nautical miles away. Course was changed to intercept and speed was increased by his force to 27 knots.
Dispositions, 23 May 1941.
At the Admiralty, when the Norfolk's signal came in, one of the first considerations was to safeguard the convoys at sea. At this time there were eleven crossing the North-Atlantic, six homeward and five outward bound. The most important convoy was troop convoy WS 8B of five ships which had left the Clyde the previous day for the Middle East. She was at this moment escorted by the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, MVO, RN), light cruiser (AA cruiser) HMS Cairo (A/Capt. I.R.H. Black, RN) and the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), HMCS Ottawa (Cdr. E.R. Mainguy, RCN), HMCS Restigouche (Lt.Cdr. H.N. Lay, RCN) and the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN). HMS Repulse was also intended to have sailed with this convoy but she had joined the Commander-in-Chief instead.
Force H was sailed around 0200/24 from Gibraltar to protect this important convoy on the passage southwards. Force H was made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt Sir R.R. McGrigor, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN).
HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk shadowing Bismarck 23 / 24 May 1941.
During the night of 23 / 24 May 1941 HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk hung on to the enemy, The Norfolk on their port quarter, Suffolk on their starboard quarter. All through the night they sent signals with updates on the position, course and speed of the enemy. At 0516 hours HMS Norfolk sighted smoke on her port bow and soon HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales came in sight.
HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales 23 / 24 May 1941.
At 2054/23 the four remaining escorting destroyers were ordered to follow at best speed in the heavy seas if they were unable to keep up with the capital ships which were proceeding at 27 knots. Two destroyers, HMS Antelope and HMS Anthony had been ordered to proceed to Iceland to refuel at 1400/23. The destroyers all managed to keep up for now and at 2318 hours they were ordered to form a screen ahead of both capital ships. At 0008/24 speed was reduced to 25 knots and course was altered to due north at 0017 hours. It was expected that contact with the enemy would be made at any time after 0140/24. It was just now that the cruisers lost contact with the enemy in a snowstorm and for some time no reports were coming in. At 0031 hours the Vice-Admiral signalled to the Prince of Wales that if the enemy was not in sight by 0210 hours he would probably alter course to 180° until the cruisers regained touch. He also signalled that he intended to engage the Bismarck with both capital ships and leave the Prinz Eugen to Norfolk and Suffolk.
The Prince of Wales' Walrus aircraft was ready for catapulting and it was intended to fly it off, but visibility deteriorated and in the end it was defuelled and stowed away at 0140 hours. A signal was then passed to the destroyers that when the capital ships would turn to the south they were to continue northwards searching for the enemy. Course was altered to 200° at 0203/24. As there was now little chance of engaging the enemy before daylight the crews were allowed to rest.
At 0247/24 HMS Suffolk regained touch with the enemy and by 0300 hours reports were coming in again. At 0353 hours HMS Hood increased speed to 28 knots and at 0400/24 the enemy was estimated to be 20 nautical miles to the north-west. By 0430 hours visibility had increased to 12 nautical miles. At 0440 hours orders were given to refuel the Walrus of HMS Prince of Wales but due to delays due to water in the fuel it was not ready when the action began and it was damaged by splinters and eventuelly jettisoned into the sea.
At 0535/24 hours a vessel was seen looming on the horizon to the north-west, it was the Bismarck. She was some 17 nautical miles away bearing 330°. Prinz Eugen was ahead of her but this was not immediately realised and as the silhoutte of the German ships was almost similar the leading ship was most likely thought to be the Bismarck on board HMS Hood.
Battle of the Denmark Strait, action with the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. Loss of HMS Hood.
At 0537/24 HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales were turned together 40° to starboard towards the enemy. At 0549 hours course was altered to 300° and the left hand ship was designated as the target. This was a mistake as this was the Prinz Eugen and not the Bismarck. This was changed to the Bismarck just before fire was opened at 0552 hours. At 0554 hours the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen also opened fire. In the meantime Prince of Wales had also opened fire at 0053 hours. Her first salvo was over. The sixth salvo was a straddle. The Norfolk and Suffolk were too far astern of the enemy to take part in the action.
At 0555 hours Hood and Prince of Wales turned two points to port. This opened up Prince of Wales' A arcs as her ninth salvo was fired.
Shortly before 0605 hours Hood signalled that another turn of two points to port had to be executed. Bismarck had just fired her fifth salvo when the Hood was rent in two by a huge explosion rising apparently between the after funnel and the mainmast. The fore part began to sink seperately, bows up, whilst the after part remained shrouded in a pall of smoke. Three or four minutes later, the Hood had vanished between the waves leaving a vast cloud of smoke drifting away to the leeward. She sank in position 63°20'N, 31°50'W (the wreck was found in 2001 in approximate position 63°22'N, 32°17'W, the exact position has not been released to the public.)
The Prince of Wales altered course to starboard to avoid the wreckage of the Hood. The Bismarck now shifted fire from her main and secondary armament to her. Range was now 18000 yards. Within a very short time she was hit by four 15" and three 6" shells. At 0602 hours a large projectile wrecked the bridge, killing or wounding most of the personnel and about the same time the ship was holed underwater aft. It was decided temporarily to discontinue the action and at 0613 hours HMS Prince of Wales turned away behind a smoke screen. The after turret continued to fire but it soon malfunctioned and was out of action until 0825 hours. When the Prince of Wales ceased firing the range was 14500 yards. She had fired 18 salvos from the main armament and five from the secondary. The Bismarck made no attempt to follow or continue the action. She had also not escaped unscatched and had sustained two severe hits.
Such was the end of the brief engagement. The loss by an unlucky hit of HMS Hood with Vice-Admiral Holland, Captain Kerr and almost her entire ships company was a grievous blow, but a great concentration of forces was gathering behind the Commander-in-Chief, and Admiral Somerville with Force H was speeding towards him from the south.
When the Hood blew up, HMS Norfolk was 15 nautical miles to the northward coming up at 28 knots. By 0630/24 she was approaching HMS Prince of Wales and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker, signalling his intention to keep in touch, told her to follow at best speed. The destroyers that had been with HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales were still to the northward. They were ordered to search for survivors but only HMS Electra found three. The Prince of Wales reported that she could do 27 knots and she was told to open out to 10 nautical miles on a bearing of 110° so that HMS Norfolk could fall back on her if she was attacked. Far off the Prinz Eugen could be seen working out to starboard of the Bismarck while the chase continued to the southward.
At 0757 hours, HMS Suffolk reported that the Bismarck had reduced speed and that she appeared to be damaged. Shortly afterwards a Sunderland that had taken off from Iceland reported that the Bismarck was leaving behind a broad track of oil. The Commander-in-Chief with HMS King George V was still a long way off, about 360 nautical miles to the eastward, and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker on the bridge of HMS Norfolk had to make an important decision, was he to renew the action with the help of the Prince of Wales or was he to make it his business to ensure that the enemy could be intercepted and brought to action by the Commander-in-Chief. A dominant consideration in the matter was the state of the Prince of Wales. Her bridge had been wrecked, she had 400 tons of water in her stern compartments and two of her guns were unserverable and she could go no more then 27 knots. She had only been commissioned recently and barely a week had passed since Captain Leach had reported her ready for service. Her turrets were of a new and an untried model, liable for 'teething' problems and evidently suffering from them, for at the end of the morning her salvoes were falling short and wide. It was doubted if she was a match for the Bismarck in her current state and it was on these grounds that Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker decided that he would confine himself to shadowing and that he would not attempt to force on an action. Soon after 1100/24 visibility decreased and the Bismarck was lost out of sight in mist and rain.
Measures taken by the Admiralty, 24 May 1941.
After the loss of HMS Hood the following measures were taken by the Admiralty. To watch for an attempt by the enemy to return to Germany, HMS Manchester, HMS Birmingham and HMS Arethusa had been ordered at 0120/24 to patrol off the north-east point of Iceland. They were told to proceed to this location with all despatch.
HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN), which with four destroyers was escorting the troopship Britannic (26943 GRT, built 1930) westward, was ordered at 1022/24 to steer west on a closing course and if the Britannic could not keep up she was to leave her with one of the destroyers. Rodney was about 550 nautical miles south-east of the Bismarck. At 1200/24 she left the Britannic in position 55°15'N, 22°25'W and left HMS Eskimo (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN) with her. Rodney then proceeded with HMS Somali (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN) and HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN) westwards on a closing course.
Two other capital ships were in the Atlantic; HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Read, RN) and HMS Revenge (Capt. E.R. Archer, RN). The Ramillies was escorting convoy HX 127 from Halifax and was some 900 nautical miles south of the Bismarck. She was ordered at 1144/24 to place herself to the westward of the enemy and leaving her convoy at 1212/24 in position 46°25'N, 35°24'W, she set course to the north. HMS Revenge was ordered to leave Halifax and close the enemy.
Light cruiser HMS Edinburgh (Capt. C.M. Blackman, DSO, RN) was patrolling in the Atlantic between 44°N and 46°N for German merchant shipping and was ordered at 1250/24 to close the enemy and take on relief shadower. At 1430/24 she reported her position as 44°17'N, 23°56'W and she was proceeding on course 320° at 25 knots.
Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker was ordered to continue shadowing even if he ran short of fuel so to bring the Commander-in-Chief into action.
The Bismack turns due south at 1320 hours on 24 May 1941.
In the low state of visibility, HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk had to be constantly on the alert against the enemy falling back and attacking them. At 1320/24 the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen altered course to the south and reduced speed. HMS Norfolk sighted them through the rain at a range of only 8 nautical miles. Norfolk had to quickly turn away under the cover of a smoke screen.
It was at 1530/24 when HMS Norfolk received a signal made by the Commander-in-Chief at 0800/24 from which it was estimated that the Commander-in-Chief would be near the enemy at 0100/25. This was later changed to 0900/25.
At 1545/24, Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker was asked by the Admiralty to answer four questions; 1) State the remaining percentage of the Bismarck's fighting efficiency. 2) What amout of ammunition had the Bismarck expended. 3) What are the reasons for the frequent alterations of course by the Bismarck. 4) What are your intentions as regards to the Prince of Wales' re-engaging the Bismarck.
The answers by Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker were as follows. 1) Uncertain but high. 2) About 100 rounds. 3) Unaccountable except as an effort to shake off HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk. 4) Consider it wisely for HMS Prince of Wales to not re-engage the Bismarck until other capital ships are in contact, unless interception failed. Doubtful if she has the speed to force an action.
The afternoon drew on towards evening. Still the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen held on to the south while the Norfolk, Suffolk and Prince of Wales were still keeping her in sight.
At 1711/24 in order to delay the enemy if possible, by attacking him from astern, the Prince of Wales was stationed ahead of the Norfolk. The enemy was not in sight from the Norfolk at that time, but the Suffolk was still in contact.
At 1841/24 the Bismarck opened fire on the Suffolk. Her salvoes fell short, but one or two shorts came near enough to cause some minor damage to her hull plating aft. HMS Suffolk replied with nine broadsides before turning away behind a smoke screen.
On seeing the Suffolk being attacked, HMS Norfolk turned towards and she and HMS Prince of Wales opened fire, the latter firing 12 salvoes. By 1856 hours the action was over. Two of the guns on the Prince of Wales malfuntioned again. After the action the cruisers started to zig-zag due to fear for German submarines.
British dispositions at 1800 hours on 24 May 1941.
From the Admiralty at 2025/24, there went out a signal summarising the situation at 1800/24. The position, course and speed of the Bismarck was given as 59°10'N, 36°00'W, 180°, 24 knots with HMS Norfolk, HMS Suffolk and HMS Prince of Wales still in touch. The Commander-in-Chiefs estimated position at 1800/24 was 58°N, 30°W, with HMS King George V and HMS Repulse. HMS Victorious was with the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya, HMS Neptune). They had parted company with the Commander-in-Chief at 1509/24. Heavy cruiser HMS London (Capt. R.M. Servaes, CBE, RN) was in position 42°45'N, 20°10'W and had been ordered to leave her convoy and close the enemy. HMS Ramillies was in estimated position 45°45'N, 35°40'W. She had been ordered to place herself to the west of the enemy. HMS Manchester, HMS Birmingham and HMS Arethusa were returning from their position off the north-east of Iceland to refuel. HMS Revenge had left Halifax and was closing convoy HX 128. HMS Edinburgh was in approximate position 45°15'N, 25°10'W. She had been ordered to close and take over stand by shadower.
Evening of 24 May 1941.
At 2031/24 HMS Norfolk received a signal sent by the Commander-in-Chief at 1455/24 stating that aircraft from HMS Victorious might make an attack at 2200/24 and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker now waited for an air attack which he expected at 2300 hours. By that time Bismarck had been lost from sight but at 2330/24 HMS Norfolk briefly sighted her at a distance of 13 nautical miles. At 2343/24 aircraft from HMS Victorious were seen approaching. They circled round HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Norfolk and the latter was able to direct them to the enemy. At 0009/25 heavy anti-aircraft gunfire was seen and the Bismarck was just visible as the aircraft attacked.
HMS Victorious and the 2nd Cruiser Squadron detached by the Commander-in-Chief.
At 1440/24 the Commander-in-Chief ordered the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya, HMS Hermione) and HMS Victorious to a position within 100 nautical miles from Bismarck and to launch a torpedo bombing attack and maintain contact as long as possible. The object of the torpedo bombing attack was to slow the enemy down. On board the Victorious were only 12 Swordfish torpedo bombers and 6 Fulmar fighters. Victorious was only recently commissioned and her crew was still rather green. She had on board a large consignment of crated Hurricane fighters for Malta which were to be delivered to Gibraltar.
At 2208/24 HMS Victorious commenced launching 9 Swordfish in position 58°58'N, 33°17'E. Two minutes later al were on their way to find the Bismarck. The Squadron was led by Lt.Cdr.(A) E. Esmonde, RN.
HMS Victorious aircraft attack the Bismarck.
When the Swordfish took off from HMS Victorious the Bismarck was estimated to be in position 57°09'N, 36°44'W and was steering 180°, speed 24 knots. At 2330/24 they sighted the Bismarck but contact was lost in the bad weater. Shortly afterwards the Swordfish sighted HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk. HMS Norfolk guided them to the enemy which was 14 nautical miles on her starboard bow. At 2350 hours a vessel was detected ahead and the squadron broke cloud to deliver an attack. To their surprise they found themselves over a United States Coastguard cutter. The Bismarck was 6 nautical miles to the southward and on sighting the aircraft opened up a heavy barrage fire. Lt.Cdr. Esmonde pressed home his attack, 8 of the Swordfish were able to attack, the other had lost contact in the clouds.
The 8 planes attacked with 18" torpedoes, fitted with Duplex pistols set for 31 feet. At midnight three Swordfish attacked simultaneously on the port beam. Three others made a longer approach low down attacking on the port bow a minute later. One took a longer course, attacking on the port quarter. One went round and attacked on the starboard bow a couple of minutes after midnight. At least one hit was claimed on the starboard side abreast the bridge. The Germans however state that no hit was scored but that the violent maneuvering of the ship to avoid the attack, together with the heavy firing by the Bismarck caused the leak in no.2 boiler room to open up. No.2 boiler room was already partially flooded and now had to be abandoned.
All Swordfish from the striking had returned to HMS Victorious by 0201/25. Two Fulmars launched at 2300/24 for shadowing failed to find their ship in the darkness due to the failure of Victorious' homing beacon. Their crews were in the end picked up from the chilly water.
HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk loose contact at 0306/25.
While the aircraft from HMS Victorious were making their attack, HMS Norfolk sighted a ship to the south-west and gave the order to open fire. HMS Prince of Wales was able to identify it in time as an American coast guard cutter, but in the movements prepartory to opening fire HMS Norfolk lost touch with the enemy for a time and it was not until 0116/25 that she suddenly sighted the Bismarck only 8 nautical miles away. There followed a brief exchange of fire. HMS Norfolk and HMS Prince of Wales turned to port to bring their guns to bear and the latter was ordered to engage. It was then 0130/25. The Prince of Wales fired two salvoes at 20000 yards by radar. The Bismarck answered with two salvoes which fell a long way short. The light was failing and the enemy was again lost to sight. HMS Suffolk, which had to most reliable RDF set was told to act independently so as to keep in touch.
Around 0306/25 the Suffolk lost touch with the Bismarck. At 0552/25 Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker asked if HMS Victorious could launch aircraft for a search at dawn.
Search measures, 25 May 1941.
With the disappearance of the Bismarck at 0306/25 the first phase of the pursuit ended. The Commander-in-Chief, in HMS King George V with HMS Repulse in company was then about 115 nautical miles to the south-east. At 0616/25, Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker signalled that it was most probable that Bismarck and Prinz Eugen made a 90° turn to the west or turned back and 'cut away' to the eastward astern of the cruisers. Suffolk was already searching to the south-west and Norfolk was waiting for daylight to do the same. Prince of Wales was ordered to join the King George V and Repulse.
Force H was still on a course to intercept the Bismarck while steaming on at 24 knots. The Rear-Admiral commanding the 2nd Cruiser Squadron in HMS Galatea had altered course at 0558/25 to 180° for the position where the enemy was last seen and the Victorious was getting 8 aircraft ready to fly off at 0730/25 for a search to the eastward. This plan however was altered on orders being recieved from the Commander-in-Chief to take the cruisers and Victorious and carry out a search to the north-west of the Bismarck's last reported position. Five Fulmars had already been up during the night, two of them had not returned to the ship. The search therefore had to be undertaken by Swordfish, the only aircraft available. At 0810/25, seven Swordfish were flown off from position 56°18'N, 36°28'W to search between 280° and 040° up to 100 nautical miles. The search was supplemented by Victorious herself as well as the cruisers from the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (Galatea, Aurora, Kenya and Hermione) which were spread some miles apart.
DF position of the Bismarck of 0852/25.
HMS King George V was still proceeding to the south-west when at 1030/25 the Commander-in-Chief recieved a signal from the Admiralty that the Bismarck's position had been obtained by DF (direction finding) and that it indicated that the Bismarck was on a course for the North Sea by the Faeroes-Iceland passage. To counter this move by the enemy the Commander-in-Chief turned round at 1047/25 and made for the Faeroes-Iceland passage at 27 knots. HMS Repulse was no longer in company with HMS King George V, she had been detached at 0906/25 for Newfoundland to refuel. Suffolk also turned to the eastward to search, her search to the south-west had been fruitless. The search by HMS Victorious, her aircraft and the 2nd Cruiser Squadron to the north-west also had no result. Six Swordfish were landed on by 1107/25, one failed to return. HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora and HMS Kenya now turned towards the DF position of the Bismarck to search in that direction. HMS Hermione had to be detached to Hvalfiord, Iceland to refuel as she was by now down to 40%. The other cruisers slowed down to 20 knots to economise their remaining fuel supply wich was also getting low. At this moment HMS King George V had about 60% remaining.
Events during 25 May 1941.
At 1100/25, HMS King George V, HMS Suffolk and HMS Prince of Wales were proceeding to the north-east in the direction of the enemy's DF signal. HMS Rodney was in position 52°34'N, 29°23'W some 280 nautical miles to the south-eastward on the route towards the Bay of Biscay. On receiving the Commander-in-Chiefs signal of 1047/25 she too proceeded to the north-east.
Meanwhile to Admiralty had come to the conclusion that the Bismarck most likely was making for Brest, France. This was signalled to the Commander-in-Chief at 1023/25 to proceed together with Force H and the 1st Cruiser Squadron on that assumption.
In the absence however of definite reports it was difficult to be certain of the position of the enemy. The DF bearings in the morning had not been very definite. At 1100/25, HMS Renown (Force H), was in position 41°30'N, 17°10'W was ordered to act on the assumption the enemy was making for Brest, France. She shaped course accordingly and prepared a comprehensive sheme of air search. At 1108/25, HMS Rodney, was told to act on the assumption that the enemy was making for the Bay of Biscay. At 1244/25 the Flag Officer Submarines ordered six submarines to take up intercepting positions about 120 nautical miles west of Brest. The submarines involved were HMS Sealion (Cdr. B. Bryant, DSC, RN), HMS Seawolf (Lt. P.L. Field, RN), HMS Sturgeon (Lt.Cdr. D. St. Clair-Ford, RN) from the 5th Submarine Flottilla at Portsmouth, HMS Pandora (Lt.Cdr. J.W. Linton, DSC, RN), which was on passage to the U.K. from the Mediterranean to refit, HMS Tigris (Lt.Cdr. H.F. Bone, DSO, DSC, RN), from the 3rd Submarine Flottilla at Holy Loch and HMS H 44 (Lt. W.N.R. Knox, DSC, RN), a training boat from the 7th Submarine Flotilla at Rothesay which happened to be at Holyhead. Seawolf, Sturgeon and Tigris were already on patrol in the Bay of Biscay, Sealion departed Portsmouth on the 25th as did H 44 but she sailed from Holyhead. Pandora was on passage to the U.K. to refit and was diverted.
At 1320/25 a good DF fix located an enemy unit within a 50 mile radius from position 55°15'N, 32°00'W. This was sent by the Admiralty to the Commander-in-Chief at 1419/25 and it was received at 1530/25. It was only in the evening that it was finally clear to all involved that Bismarck was indeed making for a French port. Air searches had failed to find her during the day. (17)
18 May 1941
Chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, 18 to 27 May 1941.
26 May 1941.
By now the question of fuel was becoming acute. For four days ships had been steaming at high speeds and the Commander-in-Chief was faced with the reality of fuel limits. HMS Repulse had already left for Newfoundland, HMS Prince of Wales had by now been sent to Iceland to refuel. HMS Victorious and HMS Suffolk had been forced to reduce speed to economise their fuel.
Coastal Command started air searches along the route towards the Bay of Biscay by long range Catalina flying boats. Lack of fuel was effecting the destroyer screens of the capital ships. There was no screen available for HMS Victorious. The 4th Destroyer Flotilla, escorting troop convoy WS 8B, was ordered at 0159/26 to join the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V and HMS Rodney as was HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN) which sailed from Londonderry. Leaving the convoy the 4th D.F. proceeded to the north-east. Force H in the meantime was also approaching the immediate area of operations. These forces were to play an important part in the final stages of the chase of the Bismarck.
Force H, 26 May 1941.
HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Sheffield were having a rough passage north in heavy seas, high wind, rain and mist. Their escorting destroyers had already turned back towards Gibraltar at 0900/25. At dawn on the 26th there was half a gale blowing from the north-west. At 0716/26 HMS Ark Royal launched a security patrol in position 48°26'N, 19°13'W to search to the north and to the west just in case the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had departed Brest to come to the aid of the Bismarck. At 0835/26 there followed an A/S patrol of ten Swordfish. All planes had returned by 0930. None had seen anything.
Bismarck sighted at 1030/26.
It was at 1030/26 that one of the long range Catalina's of the Coastal Command sighted the Bismarck in position 49°30'N, 21°55'W. It was received in HMS King George V at 1043 hours and in HMS Renown in 1038 hours. It placed the enemy well to the westward of the Renown. It was confirmed within the hour when two Swordfish from the Ark Royal which reported the Bismarck in position 49°19'N, 20°52'W some 25 miles east of the position given by the Catalina. The Commander-in-Chief was at that moment about 130 miles to the north of the Bismarck but it was soon clear that the Bismarck had too great a lead to permit her being overtaken unless her speed could be reduced. Nor was the question one merely of distance and speed. The Bismarck was approaching a friendly coast and could run her fuel tanks nearly dry and was sure of air protection, while the British ships would have a long journey back to base in the face of air and submarine attack. HMS Renown was ahead of the Bismarck but it was important that she did not engage the Bismarck unless the latter was already heavily engaged by the better armoured HMS King George V and HMS Rodney.
When the Catalina found the Bismarck at 1030 hours, the 4th Destroyer Flotilla was steering east to join the Commander-in-Chief. They seem to have crossed astern of the enemy's track about 0800/26. The Catalina's report reached Capt. Vian in HMS Cossack at 1054/26 and 'knowing that the Commander-in-Chief would order him to intercept the enemy' Capt. Vian altered course to the south-east.
First attack by aircraft from the Ark Royal.
At 1315/26 HMS Sheffield was detached to the southward with orders to close and shadow the enemy, who was estimated to be 40 nautical miles south-west of the Renown. The visual signal ordering this movement was not repeated to HMS Ark Royal, an omission which had serious consequenses for the aircraft that were to take off did not know that HMS Sheffield had parted company.
At 1450/26 HMS Ark Royal launched a striking force of 14 Swordfish aircraft with the orders to proceed to the south and attack the Bismarck with torpedoes. Weather and cloud conditions were bad and a radar contact was obtained on a ship some 20 nautical miles from the estimated position of the enemy that had been given to the leader shortly before takeoff. At 1550 hours they broke through the clouds and fired 11 torpedoes. Unfortunately the supposed enemy was HMS Sheffield which managed to avoid all torpedoes. The Bismarck at that time was some 15 nautical miles to the southward. The striking force then returned an all aircraft had landed on by 1720/26.
At 1740/26, HMS Sheffield, sighted the Bismarck in position 48°30'N, 17°20'W and took station about 10 nautical miles astern and commenced shadowing the enemy.
Ark Royal's second attack, 2047/26.
The first striking force on its way back sighted the 4th Destroyer Flotilla 20 nautical miles west of Force H. As soon as the aircraft from the first strike had landed they were refuelled and rearmed as fast as possible. Take off started at 1910/26, a total of 15 Swordfish were launched. Reports coming in from HMS Sheffield placed the Bismarck at 167°, 38 nautical miles from the Ark Royal. The striking force was ordered to contact HMS Sheffield who was told to use DF to guide them in.
At 1955/26 HMS Sheffield was sighted but soon lost in the bad weather conditions. She was found again at 2035 hours, she guided the Swordfish in and directed them by visual signal on the enemy bearing 110°, 12 nautical miles. The force took departure for the target in subflights in line astern at 2040/26.
At 2047/26 no.1 subflight of three Swordfish dived through the clouds and sighted the Bismarck 4 nautical miles off to the south-east. One Swordfish of no.3 subflight was with them. Approaching again just inside the cloud they made their final dive at 2053/26 on the port beam under a very intense and accurate fire from the enemy. They dropped four torpedoes of which one was seen to hit. No.2 subflight, made up of two Swordfish, lost touch with no.1 subflight in the clouds, climed to 9000 feet, then dived on a bearing obtained by radar and then attacked from the starboard beam, again under heavy and intense fire. They dropped two torpedoes for one possible hit. The third plane of this subflight had lost touch with the other two and had returned to HMS Sheffield to obtained another range and bearing to the enemy. It then flew ahead of the enemy and carried out a determined attack from his port bow under heavy fire and obtained a torpedo hit on the port side amidships.
Subflight no.4 followed subflight no.3 into the clouds but got iced up at 6600 feet. It then dived through the clouds and was joined by no.2 aircraft from subflight no.3. The Bismarck was then sighted engaging subflight no.2 to starboard. The four aircraft then went into the clouds and cicled the German battleships stern and then dived out of the clouds again and attack simultaneously from the port side firing four torpedoes. All however missed the Bismarck. They came under a very heavy and fierce fire from the enemy and one of the aircraft was heavily damaged, the pilot and air gunner being wounded.
The two aircraft of subflight no.5 lost contact with the other subflights and then with each other in the cloud. They climbed to 7000 feet where ice began to form. When coming out of the cloud at 1000 feet aircraft 4K sighted the Bismarck down wind, she then went back into the cloud under fire from the enemy. She saw a torpedo hit on the enemy's starboard side, reached a position on the starboard bow, withdrew to 5 miles, then came in just above the sea and just outside 1000 yards fired a torpedo which did not hit. The second plane of this flight lost his leader diving through the cloud, found himself on the starboard quarter and after two attempts to attack under heavy fire was forced to jettison his torpedo.
Of the two Swordfish of subflight no.6 one attacked the Bismarck on the starboard beam and dropped his torpedo at 2000 yards without success. The second plane lost the enemy, returned to the Sheffield for a new range and bearing and after searching at sea level attacked on the starboard beam but was driven off by intense fire. The attack was over by 2125/26. Thirteen torpedoes had been fired and it was thought two hits and one probable hit had been obtained. Two torpedoes were jettisoned. The severe nature and full effect of the damage done was at first not fully realised. Actually the Bismarck had received a deadly blow. The last of the shadowing aircraft to return had seen her make two complete circles. One torpedo had struck her on the port side amidships doing little damage but th other torpedo that hit was on the starboard quarter damaging her propellors, wrecking her steering gear and jambing her rudders, it was this torpedo hit that sealed her fate.
HMS Sheffield was still shadowing astern when at 2140/26 the Bismarck turned to port and fired six accurate salvoes of 15". None actually hit Sheffield but a near miss killed three men and seriously injured two. HMS Sheffield turned away and while doing so she sighted HMS Cossack and the other destroyers from the 4th DF approaching from the westward. She then gave them the approximate position of the Bismarck. At 2155/26, HMS Sheffield lost touch with the Bismarck. The destroyers continued to shadow and eventually attack. Meanwhile HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal shaped course for the southward to keep the road clear for the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V and for HMS Rodney. Also in the Ark Royal aircraft were being got ready for an attack on the Bismarck at dawn.
Bismarck, 26 May 1941.
The Bismarck could no longer steer after the torpedo hit aft. The steering motor room was flooded up to the main deck and the rudders were jambed. Divers went down to the steering room and managed to centre one rudder but the other remained immovable. She was by this time urgently in need of fuel. It was hoped by the Germans that while she was nearing the French coast strong forces of aircraft and submarines would come to her assistance.
At 2242/26, Bismarck sighted the British destroyers. A heavy fire was opened on them. Their appearence greatly complicated the situation. Before their arrival however, Admiral Lütjens seems to have made up his mind as one hour earlier he had signalled to Berlin 'ship out of control. We shall fight to the last shell. Long live the Führer.'
The fourth Destroyer Flotilla makes contact, 26 May 1941.
Just as the sun was setting, Captain Vian (D.4) in HMS Cossack with HMS Maori, HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu and the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun arrived on the scene.
Shortly after 1900/26 HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal were sighted to the northward. Ark Royal was just about to fly off the second striking force. The destroyers continued on the the south-east. At 2152/26 HMS Sheffield was sighted and from her Captain Vian obtained the approximate position of the enemy.
The destroyers were spread 2.5 nautical miles apart on a line bearing 250° - 070° in the order from north-east to south-west, Piorun, Maori, Cossack, Sikh, Zulu. During the latter stages of the approach speed was reduced and the flotilla manoeuvred so as to avoid making a high speed end-on contact.
At 2238/26, ORP Piorun on the port wing reported the Bismarck 9 nautical miles distant, bearing 145° and steering to the south-eastward.
Destroyers shadowing, late on 26 May 1941.
At the time the Piorun reported being in contact with the Bismarck the destroyers were steering 120°. All were at once ordered to take up shadowing positions. Four minutes later the Bismarck opened a heavy fire with her main and secondary armaments on the Piorun and Maori. Two attempts were made by these ships to work round to the northward of the enemy but they were silhouetted against the north-western horizon making them easy to spot. The Bismarck's fire was unpleasantly accurate, through neither destroyer was actually hit. The Commanding Officer of the Maori then decided to work round to the southward and altered course accordingly.
The Piorun closed the range and herself opened fire from 13500 yards but after firing three salvoes, she was straddled by a salvo which fell about 20 yards from the ships side. She then ceased fire and turned away to port while making smoke. During this engagement she lost touch with the other destroyers and later also with the Bismarck. She remained under fire for about one hour but was not hit. She worked round to the north-east of the Bismarck but eventually lost touch with her prey at 2355/26.
The other destroyers, meanwhile, had been working round to the southward of the enemy to take up shadowing positions to the eastward of him. Soon after the initial contact it was evident the the Bismarck's speed had been so seriously reduced that interception by the battlefleet was certain, provided that contact could be held. In these circumstances Captain Vian defined his object at firstly, to deliver the enemy to the Commander-in-Chief at the time he desired, and secondly, to sink or immoblise her with torpedoes during the night but not with to great a risk for the destroyers. Accordingly at 2248/26 as signal was made to all ordering them to shadow and this operation was carried out through the night, though torpedo attacks were carried out later under the cover of darkness.
As darkness came on, the weather deteriorated and heavy rain squalls became frequent. Visibility varied between 2.5 nautical miles and half a mile but the Bismarck, presumably using radar, frequently opened up accurate fire outside these ranges.
About half an hour after sunset, the destroyers were ordered at 2324/26 to take up stations prepartory to carrying out a synchronised torpedo attack. This was subsequently cancelled on account of the adverse weather conditions and they were ordered to attack independently as opportunity offered. At about 2300 hours the Bismarck altered course to the north-westward.
At this time HMS Zulu was in touch with her and kept her under observation from the southward. At 2342 hours the Bismarck opened fire on HMS Cossack, then about 4 miles to the south-south-west and shot away her aerials. The Cossack turned away under the cover of smoke, shortly afterwards resuming her course to the eastward.
A few minutes later, at 2350 hours, HMS Zulu came under heavy fire from the Bismarck's 15" guns. The first three salvoes straddled wounding an officer and two ratings. Drastic avoiding action was taken as a result of which Zulu lost touch. HMS Sikh, however, who had lost sight of the enemy half an hour previously, had observed her firing at HMS Cossack and now succeeded in shadowing from astern until 0020/27 when the enemy made a large alteration to port and commenced firing at her. HMS Sikh altered course to port, intending to fire torpedoes, but the view of the Torpedo Control Officer was obscured by shell splashes and Sikh then withdrew to the southward.
Destroyer night torpedo attacks, 26/27 May 1941.
HMS Zulu, after her escape at 2345/26, had steered to the northward and at 0030/27 fell in with HMS Cossack. Shortly afterwards she sighted ORP Piorun. On receipt of a signal from Captain Vian, timed 0040/27, to take any opporunity to fire torpedoes, HMS Zulu altered course to the westward,and at 0100/27 sighted the Bismarck steering 340°.
Positions of the destroyers was now as follows; to the north-eastward of the enemy, HMS Cossack was working round to the north and west. HMS Maori, since losing touch, had been making to the westward. She was now to the south-west of the Bismarck. HMS Sikh was some distance to the southward, not having received any information regarding the position of the Bismarck since 0025/27. HMS Zulu was astern of the enemy and in contact. Range was only 5000 yards. Bismarck finally spotted Zulu and at once opened fire with her main and secondary armament and straddled Zulu. She fired four torpedoes at 0121/27 but no hits were observed and they are believed to have missed ahead. Zulu then ran out to the northward in order to be clear of the other destroyers. Shortly afterwards they widnessed a successful attack by HMS Maori.
HMS Maori had seen the Bismarck opening fire on the Zulu at 0107/27. Maori then closed to 4000 yards on Bismarck's port quarter apparently undetected. When abeam of the enemy, who then appeared to be altering course to starboard Maori fired a star shell to see what he was about. Two minutes later, at 0137/27, two torpedoes were fired and course was altered towards the Bismarck with the intention of attacking again from her starboard bow once the enemy had steadied on her new course. Whilst Maori was turning a torpedo hit was observed on the enemy. A bright glow illuminated the waterline of the enemy battleship from stem to stern. Shortly afterwards there appeared between the bridge and the stem a glare that might have been a second hit. The enemy immediately opened up a very heavy fire with both main and secondairy armaments and quick firing guns. As the Maori was being straddled, she turned away, and increased to full speed. Shots continued to fall on both sides of the ship until the range had been opened up to 10000 yards. Maori was not actually hit. Meanwhile HMS Cossack had been creeping up from the north-eastward and at 0140/27, only three minutes after Maori had fired two torpedoes, Cossack launched three torpedoes from 6000 yards. Bismarck stood out plainly, silhoutted by the broadsides she was firing at the Maori. One torpedo was seen to hit. Flames blazed on the forecastle of the Bismarck after this hit but they were quickly extinguished. Probably as a consequence of the torpedo hits the Bismarck stopped dead in the water, this was reported by HMS Zulu at 0148/27. After about one hour the Bismarck got underway again. On receipt of this report, HMS Sikh, who was closing the scene of the action from the southward, made an attack. Four torpedoes were fired at 0218/27 at the stopped battleship. It is believed that one hit was obtained. After this attack Sikh remained in radar contact with the enemy until 0359/27 when contact was lost.
Around 0240/27 the Bismarck was underway again, proceeding very slowly to the north-westward. At 0335/27, HMS Cossack made another attack firing her last remaining torpedo from a range of 4000 yards. It missed. HMS Cossack then came under a heavy fire. She withdrew to the northward under the cover of smoke, altering to a westerly course shortly afterwards.
At 0400/27 all destroyers had lost touch with the enemy. HMS Cossack was then to the north-west and HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu and HMS Maori were between the south-west and south-east of the Bismarck. All destroyers now endeavoured to regain contact.
Touch with the enemy was not regained until shortly before 0600 hours. By that time ORP Piorun, which was running short of fuel, had been ordered to proceed to Plymouth.
Destroyers shadowing, morning twilight, 27 May 1941, final attack.
Touch was regained by HMS Maori at 0550/27 when she sighted the Bismarck zigzagging slowly on a base course of 340° at about 7 knots. Maori commenced shadowing until daylight. At 0625 hours, HMS Sikh was also in contact when the Bismarck emerged from a rain squal 7000 yards on her starboard bow. By then it was nearly full daylight but to the surprise of the crew of the Sikh she got away with it without being fired at.
Shortly before sunrise a final torpedo attack was carried out by HMS Maori, which fired two torpedoes at 0656/27 from 9000 yards. Both missed. The Bismarck opened fire and straddled Maori which escaped at 28 knots.
At daylight the destroyers were stationed in four sectors from which they were able to keep the enemy under continuous observation until the arrival of the Battle Fleet at 0845 hours.
Force H, 26/27 May 1941.
While the destroyers were shadowing the Bismarck, the pursuing forces were drawing steadily closer. To the north was the Commander-in-Chief with the King George V and the Rodney with the Norfolk closing on them. In the south HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) was coming up, while Force H was waiting for the dawn. When Captain Vian's destroyers got in touch at 2251/26 the Renown and Ark Royal were north-west of the enemy. It was not possible to attack with aircraft during the night but all preparations were made to attack at dawn with 12 Swordfish. Course was shaped to the northward and then to the west for a time and at 0115/27 Force H turned south. Shortly afterwards instructions were received from the Commander-in-Chief to keep not less then 20 miles to the southward of the Bismarck so as to leave a clear approach for the Battle Fleet. Force H accordingly continued to the southward during the night. Bursts of starshell and gunfire could be seen during the night while the destroyers attacked. At 0509/27 an aircraft was flown off from HMS Ark Royal to act as a spotter for HMS King George V but it failed to find the Bismarck in the bad weather. The striking of force of 12 Swordfish was ready but due to the bad weather to strike was cancelled.
At 0810/27, HMS Maori was sighted. She reported the Bismarck 11 miles to the north of her. The made the enemy 17 miles to the north of HMS Renown so course was shaped to the south-west. At 0915/27 heavy gunfire could be heard and the striking force was flown off. They found the Bismarck at 1016/27. By then the battle was almost over, her guns were silenced and she was on fire. They saw her sink. At 1115/27 they had all landed back on HMS Ark Royal. A German Heinkel aircraft dropped a couple of bombs near HMS Ark Royal when they were landing on.
HMS Norfolk, 26/27 May 1941.
When the Catalina report (1030/26) came in, HMS Norfolk altered course to the south-west and increased speed to 27 knots. At 2130/26 the Bismarck was still some 160 nautical miles to the southward and speed was increased to 30 knots. At 2228/26 the report on the torpedo hit by the aircraft from Ark Royal came in and the Norfolk turned to the southward, continuing to close the enemy. At 0753/27 Norfolk sighted the Bismarck. She did not open fire and was lost to sight after ten minutes. At 0821/27, HMS King George V, was sighted to the westward, 12 nautical miles away. The position of the enemy was passed to the Commander-in-Chief. The action opened at 0847/27 at which time HMS Norfolk was then some 10 nautical miles from the Commander-in-Chief and due north of the Bismarck. HMS Norfolk had seen the beginning and was now to see the end.
HMS Dorsetshire, 26/27 May 1941.
On 26 May 1941, HMS Dorsetshire, was with convoy SL 74 proceeding from Freetown to the U.K. When she received the sighting report from the Catalina at 1056/26 she was some 360 nautical miles to the south of the Bismarck. She then left the protection of the convoy to the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Bulolo (Capt.(Retd.) R.L. Hamer, RN) and set course for the northward to take up the possible task of shadowing. By 2343/26 it became clear from reports that the Bismarck was making no ground to the eastward and that at 0230/27 she appeared to be laying stopped. Due to the heavy seas HMS Dorsetshire was forced to reduce speed to 25 knots and later even to 20 knots. At 0833/27 a destroyer was sighted ahead at a range of 8 nautical miles, it was HMS Cossack which reported the enemy at a range of 6 nautical miles. At 0850/27 the flashes of the Bismarck's guns could be seen to the westward. HMS Dorsetshire arrived at the scene of the action in the nick of time.
HMS King George V and HMS Rodney, 26/27 May 1941.
During 26 May 1941 the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V had been making hard to the south-east at 25 knots. He had been joined by HMS Rodney at 1806/26. They were then some 90 nautical miles north of the Bismarck. Fuel was a matter of grave anxiety. At noon on the 26th, HMS King George V, had only 32% remaining and HMS Rodney reported that she had to return at 0800/27. Speed had to be reduced on this account to 22 knots at 1705/26. In these circumstances it was no longer possible to hope to intercept the enemy, and the Commander-in-Chief decided that unless the enemy's speed had been reduced by 2400/26, he must turn at that hour. The only hope lay in the Bismarck being slowed up by the Swordfish attacking from HMS Ark Royal. A report came in that the striking force had left. Then at 2132/26, HMS Sheffield, reported that the enemy was steering 340° followed by 000° four minutes later. These reports indicated that the Bismarck was not able to hold her course and that her steering gear must have been damaged. It might still be possible to intercept her.
The Commander-in-Chief turned to the south at once hoping to make contact from the eastward in the failing light. Due to the bad weather conditions and visibility the Commander-in-Chief decided to haul off the the eastward and northward and then work round to engage from the westward at dawn. He turned eastward at 2306/26. During the night reports from Captain Vian's destroyers came in confirming the northerly course of the Bismarck. At 0236/27 the Commander-in-Chief ordered Captain Vian that the destroyers were to fire star-shell every half hour, but frequent rain squalls prevented these from being seen and they tended to attrack the enemy's fire. The Bismarck was still a formidable opponent for at 0353/27 Captain Vian reported that during the last hour she had done 8 nautical miles and that she was still capable of heavy and accurate fire. The Commander-in-Chief decided not to make a dawn approach but to wait until daylight while approaching from the west taking advantage of wind, sea and light. At 0529/27 HMS Rodney reported sighting HMS Norfolk to the eastward by DF. It was light at 0600 hours. At 0820 hours HMS Norfolk was sighted on the port bow of HMS King George V. She signalled 'enemy 130°, 16 nautical miles'. At 0843/27 looming on the starboard bow there emerges out of a rain squall the dark grey blot of a large ship. 'Enemy in sight'.
Bismarck 26/27 May 1941.
The Bismarck after altering course to the north-west had been labouring along with a jambed rudder, steering an erratic course at 8 knots. During the night the attacking destroyers were met with heavy and accurate salvoes. Sixteen torpedoes were fired at her. Early in the morning a glare of star-shell burst over her, lighting her up. Three torpedoes followed from a destroyer on the port bow (HMS Maori) of which one hit on the port side amidships. Three minutes later three more came from the starboard side (these were fired by HMS Cossack) of which one hit on the starboard bow. The damage that was sustained from these torpedo hits is not known. The Bismarck lay stopped for over one hour. At 0140/27 a message was received that a large number of Junkers bombers were coming to her aid as were U-boats but the Bismarck was beyond their help besides that the aircraft did not find her. One U-boat (U-556, which was out of torpedoes) on its way back from the Atlantic joined her and was within sight during the night. Another (U-74) arrived at 0600/27 but had been damaged in a depth charge attack and could do nothing as well. In the Bismarck the crew was exhausted and men were falling asleep at their posts. It was under these conditions that at 0840/27 two British battleships were seen to approach from the westward.
Situation before the action, 27 May 1941.
A north-westerly gale was blowing when dawn broke with a good light and clear horizon to the north-eastward. Reports received during the night indicated that, despite reduced speed and damaged rudders, Bismarck's armament was functioning effectively. Given the weather conditions the Commander-in-Chief decided to approach on a west-north-westerly bearing and, if the enemy continued his northerly course, to deploy to the southward on opposite course at a range of about 15000 yards. Further action was to be dictated by events.
Between 0600 and 0700 hours a series of enemy reports from HMS Maori which was herself located by DF bearings. This enabled HMS King George V to plot her position relatively to the Bismarck which had apparently settled down on a course of 330° at 10 knots. At 0708/27, HMS Rodney, was ordered to keep station 010° from the flagship. HMS Norfolk came in sight to the eastward at 0820/27 and provided a visual link between the Commander-in-Chief and the enemy. After the line of approach had been adjusted by two alterations of course, the Bismarck was sighted at 0843/27 bearing 118°, range about 25000 yards. Both British battleships was then steering 110° almost directly towards the enemy in line abreast formation, 8 cables apart.
Commencement of action 0847/27.
HMS Rodney opened fire at 0847/27, her first salvo sending a column of water 150 feet into the air. HMS King George V opened fire one minute later. Bismarck opened fire at 0850 hours after turning to open up A arcs. The first German salvo was short. The third and fourth salvoes straddled and nearly hit, but the Rodney manoeuvered succesfully to avoid them and the nearest fell 20 yards short. At 0854/27, HMS Norfolk joined in, but the target was not clearly visible and she opened fire without obtaining a range.
Observers state that the German gunnery was accurate at first, but commenced to deteriorate after 8 to 10 salvoes. The first hit on the Bismarck was believed to be scored by the Rodney at 0854 hours with her third salvo. Both British battleships made small alterations of course away from the enemy shortly after opening fire, the King George V to increase her distance from the Rodney and the latter to open her A arcs. From then onwards they manoeuvered independently although HMS Rodney conformed to the Flagship's general movements. The Bismarck's secondary armament came into action during this phase. HMS Rodney opened fire with her secondary armament at 0858 hours.
Run to the southward.
HMS King George V deployed to the southward at 0859/27 when the Bismarck was 16000 yards distant. HMS Rodney, 2.5 nautical miles to the northward, followed suit a minute or two later. Cordite smoke was hanging badly with the following wind and spotting was most difficult. Considerable smoke interference was therefore experienced on the southerly course which was partly overcome by radar. The Bismarck had transferred her fire to the King George V shortly after the turn but except for an occasional splash the latter hardly knew that she was under fire. At 0902/27, HMS Rodney saw a 16” shell hit the Bismarck on the upper deck forward, apparently putting the forward turrets out of action. At 0904 hours, HMS Dorsetshire joined in the firing from the eastwards from a range of 20000 yards but observation of the target was difficult and she had to check fire from 0913 to 0920 hours. Between 0910 and 0915 hours the range in King George V was more or less steady at 12000 yards.
The fate of the Bismarck was decided during this phase of the action although she did not sink until later. Around 0912 hours, the Bismarck was hit on her forward control position. During the run to the south HMS Rodney fired six torpedoes from 11000 yards and HMS Norfolk four from 16000 yards. No hits were obtained. The King George V’s secondary battery came into action at 0905 hours but this increased the smoke interference and was accordingly ordered to cease fire after two or three minutes.
Run to the northward.
At 0916/27 the Bismarck’s bearing was drawing rapidly aft and HMS Rodney turned 16 points to close and head her off. The King George V followed a minute or so later and both ships re-opened fire at ranges from 8600 and 12000 yards respectively. The Bismarck shifted her target to the Rodney about this time. A near miss damaged the sluice of her starboard torpedo tube. Most of the enemy’s guns had however been silenced at this time. Only one turret from her main armament was firing at this time as was part of her secondary armament. A fire was blazing amidships and she had a heavy list to port. During the run to the north HMS Rodney obtained a very favourable position on the Bismarck’s bow from which she poured in a heavy fire from close range. She also fired two torpedoes from 7500 yards but no hits were obtained.
HMS King George V’s position, further to leeward, was less favourable. Her view was obscured by smoke and splashes surrounding the target and her radar had temporarily broken down. Mechanical failures in the 14” turrets constituted, however, a more serious handicap at this stage. ‘A’, ‘X’ and ‘Y’ turrets were out of action for 30, 7 and a unspecified short period, respectively. This resulted in reduction of firepower of 80% for 7 minutes and 40% for 23 minutes which might have had serious effects under less favourable conditions. There were also several defects of individual guns in addition to those effecting the turrets.
At 0925/27, HMS King George V, altered outwards to 150° and reduced speed to avoid getting too far ahead of the Bismarck. She closed in again at 1005 hours, fired several salvoes from a range of only 3000 yards and then resumed her northerly course. Meanwhile HMS Rodney was zigzagging across the Bismarck’s line of advance at a range of about 4000 yards firing her main and secondary armaments. She also fired four torpedoes, one of which is thought to have hit. By 1015 hours the Bismarck was no more than a wreck. All her guns were silenced, her mast had been blown away, she was a black ruin, pouring high into the air a great cloud of smoke and flame. Men were seen jumping overboard at this time and the Captain of the King George V later remarked had he known it he would have ceased fire.
End of the action.
The Commander-in-Chief was confident that the enemy could never get back to harbour, and as both battleships were running short of fuel and as further gunfire was unlikely to hasten the Bismarck’s end, the Commander-in-Chief signalled the King George V and Rodney to steer 027° at 1015/27 in order to break off the action and return to base. At 1036/27 the Commander-in-Chief ordered HMS Dorsetshire to use her torpedoes, if she had any, on the enemy. In the meantime HMS Norfolk had been closing the target but due to the movements of the King George V and Rodney, had not fired her torpedoes until 1010 hours when she fired four torpedoes from 4000 yards and two possible hits were reported. The Dorsetshire was then approaching a mile or so to the southward, and anticipating the Commander-in-Chief’s signal at 1025 hours fired two torpedoes from 3600 yards into the enemy’s starboard side. She then steamed round the Bismarck’s bow and at 1036 hours fired another torpedo but now into her port side from 2600 yards. This was the final blow, the Bismarck heeled over quickly to port and commenced to sink by the stern. The hull turned over keel up and disappeared beneath the waves at 1040/27.
The Dorsetshire then closed and signalled to one of HMS Ark Royal’s aircraft to carry out a close A/S patrol while she was to pick up survivors assisted by HMS Maori. After 110 men had been picked up by both ships from the water both ships got underway again as a submarine was suspected to be in the area.
Damage to the Bismarck.
Survivors have told the story of terrible damage inflicted on her. The fore turrets seem to have been knocked out at 0902 hours. The fore control position was knocked out around 0912 hours. The after control position followed about 0915 hours. The after turrets were at that moment still in action. Then the aftermost gun turret was disabled by a direct hit on the left gun which burst sending a flash right through the turret. ‘C’ turret was the last one in action.
One survivor stated that around 0930 hours a shell penetrated the turbine room and another one entered a boiler room. A hit in the after dressing station killed all the medical staff and wounded that were in there at that moment. The upper deck was crowded with killed and wounded men and the seas surging in washed them overboard. Conditions below were even more terrible. Hatches and doors were jammed by concussion and blocked with wreckage. The air was thick with smoke and even more smoke was coming in from great holes in the upper deck. By 1000 hours all heavy guns were out of action and 10 minutes later the all secondary guns were also silent.
As HMS King George V and HMS Rodney turned northwards they were joined by HMS Cossack, HMS Sikh and HMS Zulu at by 1600/28 more detroyers had joined the screen (HMS Maori, HMS Jupiter, HMS Somali, HMS Eskimo, HMS Punjabi, HMAS Nestor, HMS Inglefield, HMS Lance, HMS Vanquisher (Cdr. N.V. Dickinson, DSC, RN), HMCS St. Clair (Lt.Cdr. D.C. Wallace, RCNR), HMCS Columbia (Lt.Cdr. (Retd.) S.W. Davis, RN) and HMS Ripley (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Agnew, RN). Heavy air attacks were expected that day, but only four enemy aircraft appeared, one of which bombed the screen while another one jettisoned her bombs on being attacked by a Blenheim fighter. The destroyers HMS Mashona and HMS Tartar, 100 nautical miles to the southward, were not so furtunate. They were attacked in position 52°58’N, 11°36’W at 0955/28 by German aircraft. HMS Mashona was hit and sank at noon with the loss of 1 officer and 45 men. The Commander-in-Chief reached Loch Ewe at 1230/29. Vice-Admiral Somerville with Force H was on his way back to Gibraltar.
End of ‘Operation Rheinübung’.
The Bismarck’s consort, heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, was not heard off until 4 June 1941 when aircraft reported her having arrived at Brest. After leaving the Bismarck at 1914/24, the Prinz Eugen’s primary need was to replenish her fuel stock. She set course for a rendez-vous with two tankers, the Spichern (9323 GRT, built 1935, former Norwegian Krossfonn) and the Esso Hamburg (9849 GRT, built 1939) which were position to the north-west of the Azores. All next day the German cruiser made her way southwards, and at 0906/26 , some 600 nautical miles west-north-west of the Azores she sighted the Spichern and refuelled. Two reconnaissance ships had also been ordered into this area, the Gonzenheim and the Kota Pinang. On the 28th Prinz Eugen fuelled from the Esso Hamburg. She then proceeded southwards to carry out cruiser warfare against independently routed ships in the area to the north and west of the Cape Verde Islands but an inspection of her engines the next day showed that an extensive overhaul was needed. Her Commanding Officer then decided to break off the action and course was set for Brest, France where she arrived at 2030/1 June.
A German reconnaissance ship, a supply vessel and two tankers were intercepted by Royal Navy warships and sunk by their own crew or sunk with gunfire. Also two tankers were captured. These were in chronological order; tanker Belchen (6367 GRT, built 1932, former Norwegian Sysla) by gunfire from HMS Kenya and HMS Aurora on 3 June 1941 in the Greenland area in approximate position 59°00'N, 47°00'W. On 4 June the tanker Esso Hamburg by HMS London and HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN) in position 07°35'N, 31°25'W, tanker Gedania (8966 GRT, built 1920) was captured in the North Atlantic in position 43°38'N, 28°15'W by naval auxiliary (Ocean Boarding Vessel) HMS Marsdale (Lt.Cdr. D.H.F. Armstrong, RNR), she was put into service with the MOWT as Empire Garden, reconnaissance vessel Gonzenheim (4000 GRT, built 1937, former Norwegian Kongsfjord) was scuttled by her own crew after being sighted by HMS Esperance Bay ((Capt.(ret) G.S. Holden, RN) and intercepted by HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN) and finally ordered to be boarded by HMS Neptune in position 43°29'N, 24°04'W. The next day (5 June) supply vessel Egerland (10040 GRT, built 1940) was intercepted by HMS London and HMS Brilliant in approximate position 07°00'N, 31°00'W. On 12 June, HMS Sheffield, intercepted tanker Friedrich Breme (10397 GRT, built 1936) in position 49°48'N, 22°20'W and finally on 15 June, HMS Dunedin (Capt. R.S. Lovatt, RN), captured the tanker Lothringen (10746 GRT, built 1940, former Dutch Papendrecht) in position 19°49'N, 38°30'W which had first been sighted by an aircraft from HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN). The Lothringen was sent to Bermuda and was put into service by the MOWT as Empire Salvage. (17)
21 Jul 1941
Operation Substance, convoys to and from Malta
Passage through the Straits of Gibraltar of the eastbound convoy and sailing from Gibraltar of the remaining ships involved in the operation.
Around 0130/21 convoy WS 9C passed the Straits of Gibraltar. The convoy at that moment consisted of six merchant ships; City of Pretoria (8049 GRT, built 1937), Deucalion (7516 GRT, built 1930), Durham (10893 GRT, built 1934), Melbourne Star (11076 GRT, built 1936), Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933) and Sydney Star (11095 GRT, built 1936).
At the time they passed through the Straits they were escorted by HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN), HMS Edinburgh (Capt. H.W. Faulkner, RN), HMS Manxman (Capt. R.K. Dickson, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN), HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) and HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN).
HMS Manchester (Capt. H. Drew, DSC, RN), HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Sikh departed Gibraltar around 0200/21 escorting troopship Leinster (4302 GRT, built 1937) which was to join the convoy. However Leinster grounded while leaving Gibraltar and had to left behind. The small fleet tanker RFA Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941, master D.B.C. Ralph) left Gibraltar around the same time escorted by the destroyer HMS Beverley (Lt.Cdr. J. Grant, RN).
About one hour later, around 0300/21, HMS Renown (Rear-Admiral R.R. McGrigor, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) departed Gibraltar to give convoy for the convoy during the passage to Malta.
At sea the forces were redistributed; Force H, the cover force HMS Renown (Flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Nelson, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione, HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Fury, HMS Lightning and HMS Duncan.
Force X, the close escort for the convoy HMS Edinburgh (Flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, RN), HMS Manchester, HMS Arethusa, HMS Manxman, HMS Cossack, HMS Maori, HMS Sikh, HMAS Nestor, HMS Fearless, HMS Firedrake, HMS Foxhound, HMS Avon Vale, HMS Eridge and HMS Farndale.
Plan for the operation
Force H was to cover the convoy until it reached the narrows between Sicily and Tunisia. Force X was to escort the convoy all the way to Malta. Ships of Force X also had troops for Malta on board that had been taken to Gibraltar by troopship Pasteur. On 23 July 1941, the day the eastbound convoy would reach ‘the narrows’ five empty transports and two tankers would depart Malta for Gibraltar (Convoy MG 1) The seven empty transports were; Group 1 (speed 17 knots) HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939), Talabot (6798 GRT, built 1936),
Group 2 (speed 14 knots) Thermopylae (6655 GRT, built 1930), Amerika (10218 GRT, built 1930),
Group 3 (speed 12 knots) Settler (6202 GRT, built 1939), Tanker Svenor (7616 GRT, built 1931) and Tanker Hoegh Hood (9351 GRT, built 1936) These were escorted by the destroyer HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) which had been repairing and refitting at Malta.
Through intelligence it was known that the Italian Navy had five battleships operational (three of them at Taranto) and about ten cruisers divided between Taranto, Palermo and Messina. The Italian Air Force had about 50 torpedo planes and 150 bombers (30 of which were dive bombers) stationed in Sardinia and Sicily, roughly half of each type on both islands.
The Royal Air Force was able to be of more help than during the previous convoy trip from Gibraltar to Malta last January. Aircraft from Gibraltar conducted A/S patrols for the fleet during the first two days of the passage to the east. Also patrols were flown between Sardinia and the coast of Africa, while aircraft from Malta conducted reconnaissance between Sardinia and Sicily, besides watching the Italian ports. Malta would also provide fighter escort for Force X and the convoy after Force H would part with them and HMS Ark Royal could no longer provide fighter cover for them.
During the operation eight submarines (HMS Olympus (Lt.Cdr. H.G. Dymott, RN), HMS Unique (Lt. A.F. Collett, RN), HMS Upholder (Lt.Cdr. M.D. Wanklyn, DSO, RN), HMS Upright (Lt. J.S. Wraith, DSC, RN), HMS Urge (Lt. E.P. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Utmost (Lt.Cdr. R.D. Cayley, DSO, RN), HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) and HrMs O 21 (Lt.Cdr. J.F. van Dulm, RNN)) were on patrol to report and attack Italian warships that might be sailed to intercept the convoy.
The passage East, 22 July 1941
On 22 July the destroyers from Force X oiled from the Brown Ranger two at a time. A task that took about 10 hours. Having completed the oiling of the destroyers the Brown Ranger and her escort returned to Gibraltar. An Italian aircraft had reported Force H in the morning but the convoy and Force X, at that moment about 100 nautical miles to the south-westward, appeared not to have been sighed. At 2317/22 the Italian submarine Diaspro missed HMS Renown with torpedoes. HMAS Nestor sighted the torpedo tracks and was able to warn HMS Renown which was then able to avoid the torpedoes by doing an emergency turn to port.
The passage East and attacks by the Italian Air Force, 23 July 1941
Force H rejoined the convoy around 0800/23 as the British were now approaching the danger area. Shadowing aircraft had already reported the position of the fleet that morning and heavy air attacks soon followed.
The first came at 0945 hours, a well times combination of nine high level bombers and six or seven torpedo planes approaching from the north-east. HMS Ark Royal had eleven fighters up, which met the bombers about 20 miles from the fleet. They managed to down two of the nine bombers but unfortunately three Fulmars were shot down by the enemy. The other seven bombers came on working round the head of the screen of destroyers to attack the convoy from the starboard beam at a height of 10000 feet. Their bombs fell harmlessly amongst the leading ships as they altered course to avoid the attack. The torpedo planes however were more successful. They came from ahead out of the sun, flying low, and as the destroyers opened fire they divided into groups of two or three and to attack the convoy on both sides. Two aircraft attacked HMS Fearless, stationed ahead in the screen, dropping their torpedoes at ranges of 1500 and 800 yards from a height of 70 feet. The destroyer avoided the first torpedo, but was hit by the second, set on fire, and completely disabled. Other aircraft went to press on their attacks on the convoy itself. One of them, dropping its torpedo between two merchant vessels hit HMS Manchester as she was turning to regain her station after avoiding two torpedoes fired earlier. She reversed helm once more but to no avail. During the attacks three enemy torpedo bombers were shot down by AA fire from the ships.
HMS Manchester was badly damaged and could only use one engine out of four. At first she could steam only 8 knots. She was ordered to make for Gibraltar with HMS Avon Vale as escort. That evening, further to the westward, they were attacked again by three enemy torpedo planes but their AA gunfire kept the enemy at a distance. Both ships successfully reached Gibraltar on the 26th.
At 1010/23 five more bombers tried to attack the convoy crossing this time from north to south. Fighters from HMS Ark Royal forced them to drop their bombs from great height and mostly outside the screen.
At 1645/23 five more torpedo planes led by a seaplane came in from the northward. Three Fulmars caught them about 20 miles away. They managed to shoot down two planes and drove the remainder away.
Soon afterwards the fleet arrived off the entrance to the Skerki Channel. There HMS Hermione was transferred to Force X to take the place of HMS Manchester. Six destroyers were assigned to Force H and eight to Force X. At 1713 hours Vice-Admiral Somerville hauled round to the westward. HMS Ark Royal kept her Fulmars up until RAF Beaufighters had arrived from Malta to take over.
The convoy was attacked again around 1900/23. Four torpedo planes arrived from the eastward, flying low and and working round from ahead to the starboard side of the convoy. They approached in pairs in line abreast. They kept HMS Sikh (on the starboard bow of the screen) between them and their target until nearly the moment for attack, thereby hampering the AA fire from the other ships. They dropped their torpedoes from long range from a height of 50 feet and nearly hit HMS Hermione, sternmost ship in the starboard column. To avoid the attack each column of the convoy turned 90° outwards and all warships opened barrage fire from all guns that would bear. The barrage however fell short but it caused the Italians to drop their torpedoes early. Also one of the enemy was possibly shot down.
This attack scattered the convoy and it took some time to reform. At 1945/23 about seven bombers appeared from ahead at a height of about 14000 feet to attack the convoy from the port side. The convoy altered 40° to port together and the escort opened up a controlled fire with some hesitation as the Italian aircraft looked a lot like Beaufighters. The bombing was extremely accurate. Several bombs fell near HMS Edinburgh which was leading the port column, and a near miss abreast a boiler room disabled HMS Firedrake which had been sweeping ahead of the convoy. She could no longer steam so Rear-Admiral Syfret ordered her back to Gibraltar in tow of HMS Eridge. They had an anxious passage, being shadowed by aircraft continuously during daylight hours, but were not again attacked. On the 25th HMS Firedrake managed to lit one boiler so the tow was slipped. Both destroyers entered Gibraltar harbour on the 27th.
Soon after leaving the Skerki Channel in the evening of the 23th the convoy hauled up to the north-east towards the coast of Sicily. This was to lessen the danger of mines. The Italians did not shadow the convoy after the attack at 1945 hours and missed this alteration of course which they clearly did not expect. Around 2100 hours, as it was getting dark, enemy aircraft were seen searching along its old line of advance. During the evening the convoy sighted flares several times about 20 miles to the south.
Continued passage to the east and enemy attacks, 24 July 1941
Between 0250 and 0315 hours the convoy was however attacked by the Italian MAS boats MAS 532 and MAS 533. The managed to torpedo and damaged the Sydney Star. HMAS Nestor went alongside and took off almost 500 soldiers. Sydney Star was however able to continue her passage as staggler escorted initially by HMAS Nestor. Admiral Syfret however sent back HMS Hermione. At 1000/24 eight German dive bombers and two high level bombers attacked. Their bombs fell close the escorting ships. HMS Hermione shot down one dive bomber. The three ships arrived at Malta early in the afternoon.
The main body of the convoy meanwhile continued on its way unhindered after the attacks of the motor torpedo boats except for an attempt by three torpedo planes around 0700 hours. They dropped their torpedoes at a safe distance when fired on by the destroyers in the screen ahead. According to the orders Rear-Admiral Syfret was to leave the convoy now, if there was no threat from Italian surface forces, and go on to Malta with the cruisers and some of the destroyers. They were to land the passengers and stores, complete with fuel and return to Force H as soon as possible. The remaining destroyers were to accompany the transports to Malta. They too were to join Force H as soon as possible. Rear-Admiral Syfret felt easy about the surface danger as all Italian ships were reported in harbour the day before, but he was anxious about the threat to the convoy from the air. He decided to go ahead with the cruiser but leave all destroyers with the convoy so at 0745/24, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Arethusa and HMS Manxman left the convoy and pressed ahead at high speed to Malta where they arrived at noon the same day. The transports and the destroyers arrived about four hours later. They had been attacked only once by a torpedo plane since the cruisers separated.
Return passage of the warships of force X to make rendez-vous with Force H.
In the evening HMS Edinburgh, HMS Arethusa, HMS Hermione and HMS Manxman sailed together followed by five destroyers; HMS Cossack, HMS Maori, HMS Sikh, HMAS Nestor, HMS Foxhound, later the same evening. The destroyers overtook the cruisers in the morning of the 25th. The sixth destroyer, HMS Farndale, had to be left at Malta due to defects (condenser problems). All ships made rendez-vous with Force H to the north-west of Galita Island at 0800/25.
Movements of Force H after it parted from the convoy.
After parting with the convoy in the evening of the 23rd, Vice-Admiral Somerville had taken force H westward at 18 knots until the afternoon of the 24th going as far west as 03°30’E. He then turned back to meet Admiral Syfret, also sending from HMS Ark Royal six Swordfish aircraft which left her in position 37°42’N, 07°17’E at 1000/25. After their junction Forces H and X made the best of way towards Gibraltar. Fighter patrols of HMS Ark Royal shot down a shadowing aircraft soon after the fleet had shaped course to the westward, losing a Fulmar in doing so. However another aircraft had meanwhile reported the fleet.
High level bombers appeared from the east and torpedo bombers from the north at 1100 hours. HMS Ark Royal at that moment had four fighters in the air and sent up six more. They prevented the bombing attack shooting down three aircraft out of eight at a cost of two Fulmars, while the ships watched the enemy jettison their bombs 15 miles away. The torpedo attack came to nothing too for the enemy gave up the attempt and retired while still several miles from the fleet. Two days later, on the 27th, the fleet reached Gibraltar.
The movements of the seven empty ships coming from Malta.
Six of the transports / tankers left Malta for Gibraltar in the morning of the 23rd, escorted by HMS Encounter. The seventh ship, tanker Svenor grounded while leaving harbour and was held up for some hours. At dusk, when a few miles from Pantelleria, the six ships devided into pairs according to their speed. HMS Encounter initially escorted the middle pair but joined the leading ships in the evening of the 24th when past the Galita Bank.
Italian aircraft, both high level bombers and torpedo planes, attacked all these ships on the 24th to the southward of Sardinia. They made their first attempt on the second pair of transports and HMS Encounter. Four torpedo planes attacked at 1230/24 and four bombers at 1250/24. No ships were hit though the bombs fell close. Next came the turn for the leading pair, which were attacked further westwards by two bombers that came singly at 1330/24 and 1400/24. The second plane nearly hit HMS Breconshire. Finally when the third pair of ships reached about the same position in the evening they were attacked by torpedo planes and the Hoegh Hood was damaged but she managed to arrive at Gibraltar only a few hours after her consort on the 27th. The last ship, the one that had been delayed at Malta, arrived on the 28th. (18)
26 Jul 1943
HMS Stubborn (Lt. A.A. Duff, RN) conducted attack exercises at Scapa Flow for the C.O.Q.C. (Commanding Officers Qualifying Course) during which HMS Renown (Capt. W.E. Parry, CB, RN) served as target. (19)
28 Sep 1943
HMS Tuna (Lt. D.S.R. Martin, DSO and Bar, RN) conducted practice attacks on HMS Renown (Capt. W.E. Parry, CB, RN) escorted by two destroyers, one of these was HMS Janus (Lt.Cdr. W.B.R. Morrison, RN). (20)
10 Feb 1944
The British battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN and flagship of Vice Admiral A.J. Power, KCB, CVO, RN and second in command of the Eastern Fleet), the British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. R.L.B. Cunliffe, RN), the British light cruiser HMS Emerald (Capt. F.J. Wylie, RN), the Dutch light cruiser HrMs Tromp (A/Capt. F. Stam, RNN) and the British destroyers HMS Rotherham (Capt. F.S.W. de Winton, RN), HMS Roebuck (Cdr. J.T. Lean, DSO, RN), HMS Racehorse (Cdr. J.J. Casement, DSC, RN), HMS Pathfinder (Lt.Cdr. T.F. Hallifax, RN) and the Australian destroyers HMAS Quiberon (Cdr. G.S. Stewart, RAN), HMAS Napier (Lt.Cdr. A.H. Green, DSC, RAN) and HMAS Nizam (Cdr. C.H. Brooks, RAN).
These ships departed Trincomalee they then proceeded to the north-east to give the Japanese the impression that they were to preform a raid against the coast of Burma. A fake signal was sent to bolster this. Course was reversed the next day and exercises were then carried out during that day and the next days.
19 Mar 1944
Operation DiplomatThe Dutch light cruiser HrMs Tromp (A/Capt. F. Stam, RNN) departed Trincomalee to escort the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tankers Arndale (8296 GRT, built 1937), Eaglesdale (8032 GRT, built 1942) and Easedale (8032 GRT, built 1942).
These tankers were to refuel the ships from the Eastern Fleet that were to participate in operation Diplomat. During operation Diplomat the Eastern Fleet proceeded to the south-west of Cocos Island where the US aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (Capt. J.H. Cassady, USN) and the US destroyers USS Cummings (Cdr. P.D. Williams, USN), USS Dunlap (Cdr. C. Iverson, USN) and USS Fanning (Cdr. R.M. MacKinnon, USN).
The ships of the Eastern Fleet that participated in operation Diplomat were; the British battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth (Capt. H.G. Norman, CBE, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. G.E.M. O’Donnell, DSO, RN), the British battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN), the British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. R.L.B. Cunliffe, RN), the British heavy cruisers HMS London (Capt. R.V. Symonds-Tayler, DSC, RN), HMS Cumberland (Capt. F.J. Butler, RN), the British light cruiser HMS Ceylon (Capt. G.B. Amery-Parkes, RN), the New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Gambia (Capt. N.J.W. William-Powlett, DSC, RN) and the British destroyers HMS Quilliam (Capt. R.G. Onslow, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Quality (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, DSO, RN), HMS Queenborough (Cdr. E.P. Hinton, DSO and Bar, MVO, RN), HMS Pathfinder (Lt.Cdr. T.F. Hallifax, RN), the Australian destroyers HMAS Napier (Lt.Cdr. A.H. Green, DSC, RAN), HMAS Nepal (Cdr. F.B. Morris, RAN), HMAS Norman (Cdr. H.J. Buchanan DSO, RAN), HMAS Quiberon (Cdr. G.S. Stewart, RAN), the Dutch destroyers HrMs Van Galen (Lt.Cdr. F.T. Burghard, RNN) and HrMs Tjerk Hiddes (Lt.Cdr. G.A. Cox, RNN).
On 24 March 1944, the Eastern Fleet met Tromp and the tankers at 0930 hours in position 07°57'S, 82°14'E and during the next three days they experienced good weather. Ships were fuelled as follows;
24 March 1944 Easedale - HMS Renown Arndale - HMS Valiant and HMS Ceylon Eaglesdale - HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMNZS Gambia
25 March 1944 Easedale - HMS Quilliam, HMS Queenborough, HMAS Quiberon, HMS Quality and HMS Pathfinder Arndale - HMS Illustrious and HrMs Tromp Eaglesdale - HMS London, HMS Cumberland, HMAS Napier, HMAS Nepal and HMAS Norman
26 March 1944 Easedale - HMS Pathfinder, HrMs Van Galen, HMS Quiberon and HMAS Norman Eaglesdale - HMAS Napier, HMS Quilliam, HMS Queensborough, HMS Quality and HMAS Nepal
Tanker Arndale had been detached after fuelling on the 25th escorted by HrMS Tjerk Hiddes which was suffering from defects. The other two oilers were detached after fuelling on the 26th still escorted by HrMs Tromp. (22)
16 Apr 1944
Operation Cockpit, Carrier raid against Sabang by the Eastern Fleet.
On 16 April 1944 the Eastern Fleet put to sea from Trincomalee, Ceylon in two task forces; Task Force 69, which was made up of the British battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth HMS Queen Elizabeth (Capt. H.G. Norman, CBE, RN and flagship of Admiral Somerville, CinC Eastern Fleet), HMS Valiant (Capt. G.E.M. O’Donnell, DSO, RN), the French battleship Richelieu (Capt. Lambert), the British light cruisers HMS Newcastle (Capt. P.B.R.W. William-Powlett, DSO, RN), HMS Nigeria (Capt. S.H. Paton, RN), HMS Ceylon (Capt. G.B. Amery-Parkes, RN), the New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Gambia (Capt. N.J.W. William-Powlett, DSC, RN), the Dutch light cruiser HrMs Tromp (A/Capt. F. Stam, RNN) and the British destroyers HMS Rotherham (Capt. F.S.W. de Winton, RN), HMS Racehorse (Cdr. J.J. Casement, DSC, RN), HMS Penn (Lt. M.J.W. Pawsey, RN), HMS Petard (Lt.Cdr. R.C. Egan, DSO, RN), the Australian destroyers HMAS Quiberon (Cdr. G.S. Stewart, RAN), HMAS Napier (Lt.Cdr. A.H. Green, DSC, RAN), HMAS Nepal (Lt.Cdr. J. Plunkett-Cole, RAN), HMAS Nizam (Cdr. C.H. Brooks, RAN) and the Dutch destroyer HrMs Van Galen (Lt.Cdr. F.T. Burghard, RNN). HMS Ceylon and HMNZS Gambia joined to Task Force 70 on the 18th to bolster the AA defences of that Task Force.
Task Force 70, which was made up of the British battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN and flagship of Vice Admiral A.J. Power, KCB, CVO, RN, second in command of the Eastern Fleet), the British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. R.L.B. Cunliffe, RN), the US aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (Capt. J.H. Cassady, USN), the the British heavy cruisers HMS London (Capt. R.V. Symonds-Tayler, DSC, RN) and the British destroyers HMS Quilliam (Capt. R.G. Onslow, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Quadrant (Lt.Cdr. W.H. Farrington, RN), HMS Queenborough (Cdr. E.P. Hinton, DSO and Bar, MVO, RN) and the US destroyers USS Cummings (Cdr. P.D. Williams, USN), USS Dunlap (Cdr. C. Iverson, USN) and USS Fanning (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Bentley, USN).
During the forenoon of the 17th the four 'N' class and two 'P' class destroyers of Force 69 were fuelled by HMS Newcastle, HMS Nigeria, HMS Ceylon, HMNZS Gambia. The three 'Q' class destroyers from Force 70 were fuelled by HMS Renown and HMS London.
On the 18th HMS Ceylon and HMNZS Gambia were transferred from Force 69 to Force 70 to bolster the latters AA defence. (On the 19th HMS Nigeria replaced HMS Ceylon in this force as HMS Ceylon had problems with one shaft and could only make 24 knots.) At sunset Force 70 was detached so as to arrive at the flying off position for the aircraft at 0530/19.
At 0530/19 the carriers launched 46 bombers and 37 fighters (17 Barracudas and 13 Corsairs from HMS Illustrious and 11 Avenges, 18 Dauntless and 24 Hellcats from USS Saratoga) to attack Sabang and nearby airfields. Besides that 12 fighters were launched to patrol overhead of both Task forces.
The enemy was taken completely by surprise and 24 Japanese aircraft were destroyed on the ground. Only 1 fighter, a Hellcat from the Saratogs, was lost on the Allied side and it's pilot was rescued out of the water by the British submarine HMS Tactician (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Collett, DSC, RN). All aircraft, except the one lost, had returned to the carriers by 0930 hours after which both task forces retired to the west. The Japanese tried to attack the Allied task force with three torpedo bombers but these were shot down by Allied fighter aircraft at 1010 hours.
At Sabang the Japanese merchants Kunitsu Maru (2722 GRT, built 1937) and Haruno Maru (775 GRT, built 1927, former Dutch Kidoel) were sunk by the Allied aircraft while the Japanese minelayer Hatsutaka was damaged.
At 0800 hours on the 20th the fleet set course to return to Trincomalee. The cruisers and destroyer meanwhile carried out attack exercises. (23)
6 May 1944
Operation Transom, Carrier raid against Surabaya by the Eastern Fleet.
On 6 May 1944 the Eastern Fleet put to sea from Trincomalee, Ceylon in two task forces; Task Force 65, which was made up of the British battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth (Capt. H.G. Norman, CBE, RN and flagship of Admiral Somerville, CinC Eastern Fleet), HMS Valiant (Capt. G.E.M. O’Donnell, DSO, RN), the French battleship Richelieu (Capt. Merveilleux du Vignaux), the British light cruisers HMS Newcastle (Capt. P.B.R.W. William-Powlett, DSO, RN), HMS Nigeria (Capt. H.A. King, DSO, RN), the Dutch light cruiser HrMs Tromp (A/Capt. F. Stam, RNN) and the British destroyers HMS Rotherham (Capt. F.S.W. de Winton, RN), HMS Racehorse (Cdr. J.J. Casement, DSC, RN), HMS Penn (Lt. M.J.W. Pawsey, RN), the Australian destroyers HMAS Napier (Lt.Cdr. A.H. Green, DSC, RAN), HMAS Nepal (Lt.Cdr. J. Plunkett-Cole, RAN), HMAS Quiberon (Cdr. G.S. Stewart, RAN), HMAS Quickmatch (Lt.Cdr. O.H. Becher, DSC, RAN) and the Dutch destroyer HrMs Van Galen (Lt.Cdr. F.T. Burghard, RNN).
Task Force 66, which was made up of the British battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN and flagship of Vice Admiral A.J. Power, KCB, CVO, RN, second in command of the Eastern Fleet) (went to Task Force 65 the next day), the British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. R.L.B. Cunliffe, RN), the US aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (Capt. J.H. Cassady, USN), the British light cruiser HMS Ceylon (Capt. G.B. Amery-Parkes, RN), the New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Gambia (Capt. N.J.W. William-Powlett, DSC, RN) and the British destroyers HMS Quilliam (Capt. R.G. Onslow, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Quadrant (Lt.Cdr. W.H. Farrington, RN), HMS Queenborough (Cdr. E.P. Hinton, DSO and Bar, MVO, RN) and the US destroyers USS Cummings (Cdr. P.D. Williams, USN), USS Dunlap (Cdr. C. Iverson, USN) and USS Fanning (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Bentley, USN).
On 10 May 1944, the Dutch light cruiser Tromp and the destroyers were fuelled at sea by the capital ships and the cruisers. During fuelling from HMS Valiant the Dutch destroyer HrMs Van Galen sustained some minor damage (fractured hull plate on her port side) but the crew of the Van Galen was able to effect emergency repairs.
On 15 May 1944, task forces 65 and 66 were fuelled at Exmouth Gulf, Australia by Task Force 67 which was made up of of six Royal Fleet Auxiliary tankers; Eaglesdale (8032 GRT, built 1942), Echodale (8150 GRT, built 1941), Easedale (8032 GRT, built 1942), Arndale (8296 GRT, built 1937), Pearleaf (5911 GRT, built 1917), Appleleaf (5891 GRT, built 1917) and supplyship (used as distilling ship) Bacchus (3154 GRT, built 1936). This force had already left Trincomalee on 30 April and was escorted by the British heavy cruisers HMS London (Capt. R.V. Symonds-Tayler, DSC, RN), HMS Suffolk (Capt. A.S. Russell, DSO, RN). They had also been escorted near Ceylon by a local escort for A/S purposes, this local escort had been made up of the British destroyer HMS Rotherham, Dutch destroyer HrMs Van Galen and the British frigate HMS Findhorn (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Dawson, RD, RNR). The local escort returned to Ceylon on 5 May 1944. The two cruisers mentioned above now joined Task Force 66. Later this day Task Forces 65 and 66 went to sea again for the actual attack on Surabaya. On leaving Exmouth Gulf the fleet was spotted by the merhant vessel Aroona. This ship was now instructed to put into Exmouth Gulf and was held there by HMAS Adelaide (A/Capt. J.C.D. Esdale, OBE, RAN) for 24 hours and to impress on the master and crew of this vessel the necessity of not disclosing any information concerning the Fleet on the arrival of their ship at Fremantle (their next port of call).
In the early morning hours of the 17th the carriers launched 45 dive bombers and 40 fighters for an attack on the harbour and oil installations (Wonokromo oil refeniry) of Surabaya, Netherlands East Indies. (USS Saratoga: 12 Avengers (1 had to return with engine trouble shortly after being launched), 18 Dauntless, 24 Hellcats; HMS Illustrious: 18 Avengers (2 of which force landed in the sea shortly after being launched), 16 Corsairs). On the ground they destroyed 12 enemy aircraft (20 were claimed). The damage to the harbour and shipping were over estimated (10 ships were thought to have been hit) as in fact only the small transport ship Shinrei Maru (987 GRT, built 1918) was sunk and patrol vessel P 36, auxiliary submarine chasers CHa-107 and CHa-108, tanker Yosei Maru (2594 GRT, built 1928, former Dutch Josefina) and cargo ships Choka Maru (???? GRT, built ????) and Tencho Maru (2716 GRT, built 1919) were damaged.
On the 18th the US ships were released. The other ships then proceeded to Exmouth Gulf where they arrived to fuel the next day before starting on the return trip to Ceylon less destroyer HMAS Quiberon which was to refit in Australia and was sent to Fremantle.
On 23 May 1944, the Dutch light cruiser Tromp and the destroyers were fuelled at sea by the capital ships and the cruisers.
Task Force 65 and 66 arrived back at Trincomalee on the 27th.
During this operation several US Submarine guarded the passages to the Indian Ocean to spot a possible Japanese counter attack. The submarines deployed for this purpose were the following; In the Sunda Strait from 12 to 23 May 1944; USS Angler (Cdr. R. I. Olsen, USN) and USS Gunnel (Cdr. J.S. McCain, Jr., USN). South of Lombok Strait from 13 to 20 May 1944; USS Cabrilla (Cdr. W.C. Thompson, Jr., USN) and also the USS Bluefish (Cdr. C.M. Henderson, USN) from 13 May until the night of the 16th. South of Bali Strait from 17 to 20 May; USS Bluefish. North of Bali Strait; USS Puffer (Cdr. F.G. Selby, USN) during the night of 16/17 May.
The following US Submarines were deployed in the Surabaya area for air/sea rescue duties; USS Puffer in the Madura Strait about 40 miles to the east of Surabaya. USS Rasher (Cdr. W.R. Laughton, USN) in the Java Sea about 40 miles to the north of Surabaya. (24)
22 Jul 1944
Operation Crimson, Carrier raid and surface bombardment against Sabang, Netherlands East Indies by the Eastern Fleet.
On 22 July 1944 the Eastern Fleet put to sea from Trincomalee, Ceylon. The ships that participated in this sortie were; the British battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth (Capt. H.G. Norman, CBE, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. G.E.M. O’Donnell, DSO, RN), the British battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN and flagship of Vice Admiral A.J. Power, KCB, CVO, RN, second in command of the Eastern Fleet), the French battleship Richelieu (Capt. Merveilleux du Vignaux), the British aircraft carriers HMS Illustrious (Capt. C.E. Lambe, RN), HMS Victorious (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, CBE, RN), the British heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland (Capt. P.K. Enright, RN), the British light cruisers HMS Nigeria (Capt. H.A. King, DSO, RN), HMS Kenya (Capt. C.L. Robertson, RN), HMS Ceylon (Capt. G.B. Amery-Parkes, RN), HMS Phoebe (Capt. S.M. Raw, CBE, RN), the New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Gambia (Capt. N.J.W. William-Powlett, DSC, RN), the Dutch light cruiser HrMs Tromp (A/Capt. F. Stam, RNN), the British destroyers HMS Rotherham (Capt. F.S.W. de Winton, RN), HMS Relentless (Lt.Cdr. R.A. Fell, RN), HMS Racehorse (Cdr. J.J. Casement, DSC, RN), HMS Rocket (Lt.Cdr. H.B. Acworth, OBE, RN), HMS Raider (Lt.Cdr. K.W. Michell, DSC, RN), HMS Roebuck (Cdr. J.T. Lean, DSO, RN), HMS Rapid (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Quilliam (Capt. R.G. Onslow, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Quality (Lt.Cdr. the Viscount Jocelyn, RN) and the Australian destroyer HMAS Quickmatch (Lt.Cdr. O.H. Becher, DSC, RAN).
The British submarines HMS Templar () and HMS Tantalus () were deployed for air/sea rescue duties.
In the early hours of the 25th the carriers, HMS Illustrious and HMS Victorious, separated from the fleet under the escort of HMS Phoebe, HMS Roebuck and HMS Raider, and launched a total of 34 fighter aircraft to attack airfields in the area (18 Corsairs from HMS Illustrious and 16 Corsairs from HMS Victorious). One Corsair fighter was damaged by AA fire from the enemy and crashed into the sea, the pilot was picked up by HMS Nigeria. Five other Corsairs were damaged by AA fire but managed to return to the carriers. Two of these could be repaired on board, the other three were too badly damaged for effective repairs.
The battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Valiant, Richelieu, battlecruiser HMS Renown, heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland, light cruisers HMS Nigeria, HMS Kenya, HMS Ceylon, HMS Phoebe HMNZS Gambia and the destroyers HMS Rotherham, HMS Relentless, HMS Racehorse, HMS Rocket and HMS Rapid then commenced a bombardment of the Sabang area. They fired a total of 294 - 15", 134 - 8", 324 - 6", ca. 500 - 4.7" and 123 - 4" shells.
Then the Dutch cruiser HrMs Tromp entered Sabang Bay, her rightful waters, with the British destroyers HMS Quilliam, HMS Quality and the Australian destroyer HMAS Quickmatch. In all these four ships fired a total of 8 Torpedos and 208 - 6", 717 - 4.'7" and 668 x 4" shells. Japanese shore batteries obtained 4 hits on the Tromp while Quilliam and Quality were both hit once. The hit by what was thought to be a 3” shell on Quilliam caused minor structural damage but killed one petty officer and wounded four ratings. Quality was hit by what is thought to be a 5” shell which hit the tripod foremast and HA director. One war correspondent was killed and one officer and eight retings were wounded, some of them seriously. Tromp was hit by two 5” and two 3” shells but was lucky that none of these exploded !!!, she suffered only minor structural damage and no deaths or even wounded amongst her crew.
Later that day 13 fighters from the carriers intercepted a Japanese counter attack with 10 aircraft. 7 of these were shot down for no losses of their own. (25)
28 Aug 1944
During 28/29 August 1944, HrMs Tromp (A/Capt. F. Stam, RNN), conducted exercises off Trincomalee together with the British heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland (Capt. P.K. Enright, RN) and the New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Gambia (Capt. N.J.W. William-Powlett, DSC, RN). Later the British battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN) and the British destroyer HMS Quilliam (Capt. R.G. Onslow, DSO and 2 Bars, RN) and the Australian destroyers HMAS Quickmatch (Lt.Cdr. O.H. Becher, DSC, RAN) and HMAS Norman (Cdr. H.J. Buchanan DSO, RAN) also joined. (26)
- ADM 186/794
- ADM 53/111919
- ADM 53/112031
- ADM 53/112194
- ADM 199/376
- ADM 53/112665 + ADM 199/361
- ADM 234/318
- ADM 199/386 + ADM 199/387 + ADM 199/391
- ADM 199/379
- ADM 234/325 + ADM 234/326
- ADM 199/387 + ADM 199/392
- ADM 199/392
- ADM 199/656
- ADM 199/1136
- ADM 199/655
- ADM 199/414 + ADM 199/656
- ADM 234/322
- ADM 53/114626 + ADM 234/335
- ADM 173/18136
- ADM 173/18312
- ADM 173/18397
- Files 2.12.03.6853, 22.214.171.124 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands) and ADM 199/1388
- Files 2.12.03.6853 and 126.96.36.199 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands) and WO 203 / 4621 (British National Archives, Kew, London)
- Files 2.12.03.6853 and 188.8.131.52 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands) and WO 203 / 4767 (British National Archives, Kew, London)
- Files 2.12.03.6854 and 184.108.40.206 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands) and WO 203 / 4622 (British National Archives, Kew, London)
- File 2.12.03.6854 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands)
- ADM 173/18787
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.
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