HMAS Stuart (D 00)
Destroyer of the Admiralty Leader class
|Navy||The Royal Australian Navy|
|Built by||Cammell Laird Shipyard (Birkenhead, U.K.)|
|Laid down||18 Oct 1917|
|Launched||22 Aug 1918|
|Commissioned||11 Oct 1933|
|End service||27 Apr 1946|
Commissioned as HMS Stuart on 21 December 1918. Transferred to Australia and commissioned in the Royal Australian Navy on 11 October 1933. Decommissioned to reserve before the Second World War but recommissioned for war service on 1 September 1939.
Went to the Mediterranean in December 1939 together with the four Australian V-class destroyer to form the 19th Destroyer Division for service with the Mediterranean fleet. In July 1940 HMAS Stuart was present at the Battle of Calabria and on 17 August 1940 she took part in the operation of bombarding Italian troop concentrations near Bardia, Lybia. During the night of 19/20 September 1940 HMAS Stuart attacked the Italian submarine Gondar with depth charges. The submarine was forced to surface the next morning and scuttled by her crew. In January 1941 HMAS Stuart supported the capture of Tobruk. In March 1941 she was present at the famous Battle of Matapan. In April she escorted troop-convoys to Greece and the following month she participated in the evacuation from Greece and Crete. In June she took part in convoy operations to the beleaguered city of Tobruk. HMAS Stuart left the Mediterranean for Fremantle on 22 August 1941. The ship was badly in need for a refit, she had sailed home on one engine, and was under refit at Melbourne until April 1942.
From April 1942 untill October 1942 she escorted coastal convoys and from October 1942 untill March 1943 she escorted convoys from Australia to New Guinea. For the remainder of 1943 and 1944 she again escorted coastal convoys in her Home waters.
During March and April 1945 she was converted to a store and troop carrying vessel and served in this role of New Guinea.
Stuart was decomissioned at Sydney on 27 April 1946 and on 3 February 1947 she was sold to T. Carr and Co.,Ltd. of Sydney to be broken up for scrap.
|Former name||HMS Stuart|
Commands listed for HMAS Stuart (D 00)
Please note that we're still working on this section.
|1||Cdr. Hector Macdonald Laws Waller, RAN||1 Sep 1939||26 Sep 1940|
|2||Lt. Rupert Cowper Robison, RAN||26 Sep 1940||27 Sep 1940|
|3||Lt. Norman Joseph MacDonald Teacher, RN||28 Sep 1940||6 Oct 1940|
|4||Lt. Rupert Cowper Robison, RAN||7 Oct 1940||10 Jan 1941|
|5||Capt. Hector Macdonald Laws Waller, DSO, RAN||11 Jan 1941||21 Aug 1941|
|6||Lt.Cdr. Rupert Cowper Robison, RAN||22 Aug 1941||4 Jan 1942|
|7||Cdr. Stanley Herbert King Spurgeon, DSO, RAN||5 Jan 1942||21 Jan 1943|
|8||Lt.Cdr. Neil Alexander Mackinnon, RAN||22 Jan 1943||3 Mar 1944|
|9||Lt.Cdr. Neven Robinson Read, RAN||4 Mar 1944||4 May 1944|
|10||Lt. Alexander Duncan Black, RAN||5 May 1944||8 Aug 1944|
|11||Lt. Thomas Richard Fenner, RAN||8 Aug 1944||31 Oct 1944|
|12||T/Lt.Cdr. Harold Arthur Litchfield, RANR(S)||1 Nov 1944||May 1945|
|13||Lt.Cdr. Alan Clive Mather, RAN||3 Jun 1945||22 Dec 1945|
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Notable events involving Stuart include:
7 Nov 1939
HMS Rover (Lt.Cdr. H.A.L. Marsham, RN) departed Singapore for several days of exercises with HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN), HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Cant, RAN) and HMAS Waterhen (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RN). (1)
30 Apr 1940
HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, RN) and HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN) departed Malta to join the British battleships HMS Malaya (Capt. I.B.B. Tower, DSC, RN), HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN), French battleships Lorraine (Capt. L.M.L. Rey), Bretagne (Capt. L.R.E. de Pivian), Provence (Capt. G.T.E. Barois), French heavy cruisers Tourville (Capt. A.J.A. Marloy), Duquesne (Capt. G.E. Besineau), French light cruiser Duguay Trouin (Capt. J.M.C. Trolley de Prevaux) that were escorted by the British destroyers HMS Velox (Cdr.(Retd.) J.C. Colvill, RN), HMS Watchman (Lt.Cdr. E.C.L. Day, RN), the Australian destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN), HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN, HMAS Vendetta (Lt. R. Rhoades RAN), HMAS Waterhen (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RN) and the French destroyers Lion (Cdr. J.J.A. Vetillard), Lynx (Cdr. A.M. De Gouyon Matignon de Pontourade) and Forbin (Lt.Cdr. R.C.M. Chartellier).
11 Jun 1940
Operations in the Eastern Mediterranean, 11 to 15 June 1940.
Around 0100/11, Cruisers of the 7th Cruiser Squadron; (HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice Admiral J.C. Tovey, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMS Gloucester (Capt. F.R. Garside, CBE, RN), HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN) and HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, RAN) departed Alexandria.
Around 0230 hours other ships of the Mediterranean Fleet departed Alexandria; battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, OBE, RN flying the flag of A/Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Malaya (Capt. Sir A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN) and aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN), HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN), HMS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, RAN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN), HMS Hasty, (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN) and HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN).
The destroyer HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN) had already departed Malta on the 10th to join the Fleet at sea.
The Fleet was joined at 0845 hours by HMS Caledon (Capt. C.P. Clarke, RN) which had departed Port Said at 2355/10. Around 1330 hours, HMS Calypso (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN) also joined the fleet also coming from Port Said. Also in the afternoon destroyer HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN) joined coming from Alexandria.
In the evening, around 1845 hours, the destroyers HMS Havock (Lt.Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN), HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, DSO, RN), HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN) and HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN) also joined. These destroyers (minus HMS Hereward) had been on an A/S hunt to the west of Alexandria during 10/11 June 1940. A little over an hour later the three Australian destroyers then left the Fleet for Alexandria.
Around 2015 hours, HMS Caledon, HMS Calypso and HMS Dainty split off from the fleet for a sweep to the south of Crete. During this sweep HMS Calypso was torpedoed around 0300/12. She sank at 0334/12. HMS Caledon and HMS Dainty then picked up the survivors and landed them on the 13th at Alexandria.
During the night of 11/12 June 1940, HMS Orion and HMAS Sydney made a sweep of Benghazi but had no contact with the enemy. At the same time HMS Gloucester and HMS Liverpool made a sweep of Tobruk. They shelled the harbour and coast defence ship San Giorgio inside it. Also they engaged three Italian auxiliary gunboats; Palmaiola, Riccardo Grazioli Lante and Giovanni Berta. The last one was sunk during the engagement.
All British ships returned to Alexandria on 14/15 June except for HMS Diamond which returned to Malta. [The date she arrived there is currently not known to us.] (2)
16 Jun 1940
Opertion MD 2
Destroyer A/S sweep off Alexandria.
At 1400 hours the following destroyers left Alexandria for A/S sweeps; Force M: HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN) and HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN).
The next day, the 17th, a report was received that four enemy light craft were seen at noon off the Syrian coast steering south. Force M was then ordered to proceed to the Scarpanto Strait and Force H was ordered to proceed to a position 60 nautical miles to the south of Cyprus. Also the light cruiser HMS Gloucester (Capt. F.R. Garside, CBE, RN) sailed from Alexandria to support them. The report appeared to be false and HMS Gloucester and the destroyers of Force M returned to Alexandria on the 19th. The destroyers of Forces H and S had returned there on the 18th. (3)
21 Jun 1940
Operation MD 3
Bombardment of Bardia, 21 June 1940.
An Allied force sailed on 20 June 1940 to carry out operation MD 3, the object was to destroy military objectives at Bardia and to destroy enemy submarines.
At 0800/20, the destroyers HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, RN), HMS Havock (Lt.Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN) and HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, DSO, RN), sailed to carry out an A/S sweep along the North African coast as far as the longtitude of Tobruk, reaching this position at 0400/21 and to return to Alexandria at 1830/21.
A second force, made up of the French battleship Lorraine (Capt. L.M.L. Rey), the British light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.C. Tovey, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O’Coner, RN), the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, RAN) and the destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN), HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN) and HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Thyrwitt, RN) departed Alexandria at 1130/20 to conduct a bombardment of Bardia, Libya.
After this force had sailed, information was received from air reconnaissance that there were three enemy cruisers, three destroyers, two submarines and ten other ships over 40 feet long and eleven smaller vessels at Tobruk. It was therefore decided to provide cover for the destroyers of the A/S sweep. Another force left Alexandria at 1730/20 with orders to be in a position 40 nautical miles north of Tobruk at 0600/21 and if no enemy forces were encountered to return to Alexandria by 2000/21. This force was made up of the French cruisers Suffren (Capt. R.J.M. Dillard) and Duguay Trouin (Capt. J.M.C. Trolley de Prevaux). They were escorted by the British destroyers HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN) and HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitkat, RN).
The actual bombardment.
The bombarding squadron arrived off the coast at 0500/21, a few minutes before sunrise. As he could not avoid the disadvantage of the dawn light, Vice-Admiral J.C. Tovey, CB, DSO, RN had decided to make the last 20 nautical miles or so of his approach at that time, and to attack while the sun was still low enough to dazzle the Italian gunners on the shore. The ships spread as their instructions prescribed, and stood to the south-westward towards Bardia in the order HMS Orion, Lorraine, HMS Neptune and HMAS Sydney with two destroyers on the outer bow of each wing ship, HMAS Stuart and HMS Decoy to port and HMS Dainty and HMS Hasty to starboard.
At 0548 hours, HMS Orion opened fire, followed immediately by the other big ships except HMAS Sydney, which joined in about five minutes later, by which time the squadron had altered course to 145 degrees. The destroyers also started firing after the turn. At 0610 hours the squadron withdrew to the north-westward.
HMS Orion started by ranging on the lighthouse on Point Bluff at about 13500 yards range, it stood close to the position of the Italian coast defence battery, and at that time was the ony object in the target area that could be seen clearly to the haze. After turning to the south-westerly course at 0550 hours, she fired on the battery position itself until it was clear that the battery was not replying. Then at 0600 hours, she shifted to her second target area, the Wadi Jefran. Shooting was difficult as communication with her spotter aircraft could not be established.
The Lorraine attacked various targets in the left half of the area assigned to HMS Neptune, the town of Bardia, with her 13.4” guns, and perhaps silenced an anti-aircraft battery in that area with her 5.5” guns.
HMS Neptune ranged on the barracks in the left half of the town. As soon as she began firing for effect, however, the smoke of the explosions prevented her aircraft from observing, so she fired a few salvoes blind, which, with the Lorraine’s fire in the same quarter, raised cloud of dust that hid all that part of the target area. Accordingly HMS Neptune shifted her fire right, by steps, to attack an anti-aircraft battery in the northern half of that area and on regaining communication with her spotter aircraft during this sweep, she fired seventeen 4-gun salvoes with its help and the battery ceased fire.
HMAS Sydney fired at one target throughout, the camp in the centre of her area, starting a fire in one corner and probably causing losses amongst troops that were seen to leave the camp during the shoot. Smoke and dust obscured the target, so that she only saw half her shell burst. An unfortunate attack by fighter aircraft from the R.A.F. drove the spotter aircraft for HMAS Sydney out of action after her second salvo.
As for the destroyers, HMAS Stuart and HMS Decoy, now ahead of the line fired into the area of HMS Neptune at the wireless masts and the barracks respectively from a range of about 12000 yards. Smoke and dust made spotting difficult, and HMS Decoy fired only four salvoes in consequence. On the other hand HMAS Stuart could distinguish her shell bursts from those of HMS Neptune and the ones from the Lorraine so she continued firing until the smoke at last made spotting impossible.
HMS Dainty and HMS Hasty were astern of HMAS Sydney. The former attacked a house near the artillery headquarters, and believed she set it on fire. She also fired at the wireless masts. The main range for her shoot was about 14000 yards. Like the other destroyers she found her fall of shot hard to distinguish from that of the bigger ships. HMS Hasty fired on the wireless station, probably the same building as one of targets of the Lorraine. HMS Hasty then shifted her fire to a party of troops coming from the camp in the area HMAS Sydney was firing on. She could not see her fall of shot when firing at these troops.
Rounds expended in the shore bombardment was as follows; HMS Orion 118 rounds of 6”, Lorraine 53 rounds of 13.4” and 37 rounds of 5.5”, HMS Neptune 134 rounds of 6”, HMAS Sydney 148 rounds of 6”, HMAS Stuart 39 rounds of 4.7”, HMS Decoy 12 rounds of 4.7”, HMS Dainty 56 rounds of 4.7” and HMS Hasty 47 rounds of 4.7”.
All ships returned to Alexandria later on the 21st.
The Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet, called this bombardment ‘ a useful minor operation, in which the damage caused fully justified the ammunition expended ‘. So far as could be judged from air reconnaissance / photographs and from what the ships could see at the time, the squadron destroyed some ammunition and other storehouses in the Wadi Jefran, blew up an anti-aircraft battery’s ammunition dump, and damaged or set fire to barracks and other government buildings in and near the town.
The Italians did not reply to the fire, indeed the squadron could see no coast-defence guns in position. The only opposition came from anti-aircraft guns, which fired a few rounds at the spotting aircraft without effect. (4)
22 Jun 1940
Bombardment of Augusta, Sicily and raid to the south of the Strait of Messina.
Composition of forces taking part.
Force A: Battleship HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, OBE, RN, flying the flag of the C-in-C, Mediterranean Fleet, A/Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), light cruisers HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, RAN), destroyers HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN), HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN) and HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN).
Force B: Light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice Admiral J.C. Tovey, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN), HMS Gloucester (Capt. F.R. Garside, CBE, RN) destroyers HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN) and HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN).
Force C: Battleships HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, OBE, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN), destroyers HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN), HMS Hasty, (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Havock (Lt.Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN), HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, DSO, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN).
Force D: French heavy cruisers Duquesne (Capt. G.E. Besineau, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral R.E. Godfroy), Suffren (Capt. R.J.M. Dillard), light cruiser Duguay Trouin (Capt. J.M.C. Trolley de Prevaux)., destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN) and HMAS Vampire (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN).
Sailing of the forces and the cancellation of the operation.
At 1700/22 HMS Eagle from Force C sailed with all the destroyers assigned to that force. They were followed at 2000 hours by the two R-class battleships assigned to that force.
At 2130/22 Force B sailed.
At 2200/22 Force A sailed.
At 2153 hours a signal was received from the Admiralty ordering the cancellation of the operation due to the French armistice. Following this signal the sailing of Force D was cancelled. Force A returned to the harbour immediately. Forces B and C were ordered to return to harbour on the morning of the next day. Orders were also issued to the Vice-Admiral Malta to not sail a convoy to Alexandria as had been intended under the cover of the operation. (3)
27 Jun 1940
Operation MA 3, convoy’s from Malta and convoy AS 1 from the Dardanelles.
Convoy AS 1 from the Aegean (mostly from the Dardanelles) to Port Said.
This convoy was made up of the following ships:
From the Dardanelles: British merchants: Deebank (5060 GRT, built 1929), Destro (3553 GRT, built 1920), Eastlea (4267 GRT, 1924), Egyptian Prince (3490 GRT, 1922), Palermo (2797 GRT, built 1938), Volo (1587 GRT, built 1938) and the tug Brittania towing the small river tanker Danube Shell II (704 GRT, built 1934).
From Kalamata: British merchant Destro (3553 GRT, built 1920).
From Izmir: British merchant African Prince (4653 GRT, built 1939).
The Dutch merchant Ganymedes (2682 GRT, built 1917) also joined the convoy. Her port of origin is currently unknown to us.
These ships were escorted by the British light cruisers HMS Caledon (Capt. C.P. Clarke, RN), HMS Capetown (Capt. T.H. Back, RN, senior officer of the escort) and the destroyers HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN) and ORP Garland (Kpt. mar. (Lt.) A. Doroszkowski, ORP). These ships had sailed from Port Said (HMS Capetown, HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk. These ships had sailed late in the afternoon of the 26th.) and Alexandria (HMS Caledon, HMAS Vampire and ORP Garland. These ships had sailed in the evening of the 26th).
The escort joined up with the convoy late in the morning of 28 June 1940 and then proceeded towards Port Said where it arrived on 2 July 1940. In the afternoon of 29 June 1940, when near the Doro Channel, the convoy had been bombed by Italian aircraft but no damage had been sustained. The next day, when between Gavdo Island and Crete the convoy was attacked again by the Italian air force but again no damage was sustained. Following the first air attack HMS Orion, HMS Neptune and HMAS Sydney proceeded to the convoy to provide additional protection. They were near the convoy when it was attacked for the second time and were attacked themselves by eight enemy aircraft. Heavy bombs fell close to the Orion and Neptune but no actual hits were sustained although Neptune suffered some splinter damage to her aircraft and some superficial damage to the superstructure as well. The aircraft was jettisoned due to the danger of fire. Three of her crew were injured. The three cruisers left the convoy at 0900/1. When they arrived at Alexandria in the second half of 1 July 1940, HMAS Sydney landed 44 survivors from the Espero.
Operation MA 3
On 27 June 1940, five destroyers (HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN), HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN) and HMAS Voyager (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Morrow, RAN) departed Alexandria at 0600/27 to carry out an A/S hunt off the Anti-Kithera channel on 28 June leaving that area at 2200/28 to arrive at Malta at 1800/29 to provide escort for two groups of merchants ships that were to proceed from Malta to Alexandria. They were to sail at 2100/29 with a 13 knot convoy and a 9 knot convoy. The convoy’s were to arrive at Alexandria on 2 July and 4 July respectively. The fast convoy was to be escorted by HMS Dainty, HMS Ilex and one destroyer from Malta, HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN). The slow convoy was to be escorted by the other destroyers, HMS Decoy, HMS Defender and HMAS Voyager. In the end the sailing of both these convoy's was cancelled.
Also on 27 June 1940, at 1100 hours, to provide cover for the convoy’s from a position about 60 nautical miles north of their track. They were to return to Alexandria at 1800/3. HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, OBE, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN) and the destroyers HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN), HMS Hasty, (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Havock (Lt.Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN) and HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN) were to leave Alexandria at 1230/28. They were to cruise to the north-west of position 35°N, 22°E from 2000/29 until the convoy had passed.
The 7th Cruiser Squadron, made up of HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice Admiral J.C. Tovey, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMS Gloucester (Capt. F.R. Garside, CBE, RN), HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN) and and HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, RAN) departed Alexandria also at 1100/27 to provide close cover for the convoy’s coming from Malta.
On 28 June air reconnaissance reported three Italian destroyers about 75 nautical miles west-south-west of Cape Matapan and the 7th Cruiser Squadron set a course to intercept which they successfully did at 1830 hours. In a long range action one of the Italian destroyers, the Espero was sunk by HMAS Sydney. She attacked the British cruisers so that the other two destroyers had a chance to escape in which the succeeded. During the action HMS Liverpool was hit by a 4.7" shell which cut the degaussing wire. After this action it was decided the next to postpone the sailing of the convoy’s and to send HMS Gloucester and HMS Liverpool to Port Said (Bitter Lakes) to complete with ammunition. The remaining forces were ordered to cover convoy AS 1 coming from the Aegean. As said above the other three cruisers of the 7th Cruiser Squadron returned to Alexandria on 1 July. HMS Royal Sovereign, HMS Ramillies, HMS Eagle and their escorting destroyers returned to Alexandria in the first half of 2 July.
The A/S sweep by the five destroyers also proved very successful as they sank three Italian submarines. On the 27th the Console Generale Liuzzi by HMS Decoy, HMS Defender and HMS Ilex and on the 29th HMS Decoy, HMS Dainty, Defender, HMS Ilex and HMAS Voyager carried out depth charge attacks on three Italian submarines. They sank the Uebi Scebelli and damaged the Salpa. The Capitano Tarantini (offsite link) managed to escape. Following the sinking of the Uebi Scebelli, HMAS Voyager picked up secret Italian documents and she was ordered to proceed with these documents to Alexandria where she arrived in the second half of 30 June 1940. The destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN) and HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, DSO, RN) proceeded to sea from Alexandria to join the hunt for other Italian submarines of which the patrol positions were mentioned in these secret documents. HMS Dainty had picked up 10 officers and 72 ratings from the Liuzzi and Uebi Scebelli. The destroyers continued their A/S sweep until 2000/30 but no further enemy submarines were encountered. (3)
9 Jul 1940
Operation MA 5 and the resulting battle of Punta Stilo on 9 July 1940.
The passage of convoys MF 1 (fast) and MS 1 (slow) from Malta to Alexandria with evacuees and fleet stores.
After the cancellation of Operation MA 3 a new plan to pass the convoys from Malta to Alexandria was made.
The Mediterranean Fleet, less HMS Ramillies and the 3rd Cruiser Squadron (HMS Caledon and HMS Capetown) departed Alexandria on 7 July 1940 to carry out operation MA 5, the object being to cover convoys MF 1 (fast) and MS 1 (slow) from Malta to Alexandria with evacuees and fleet stores.
The composition of these convoys were as follows:
Convoy MF 1, the fast convoy: This convoy departed Malta on 9 July 1940 and arrived at Alexandria on 11 July 1940 and was made up of the Egyptian merchant El Nil (7775 GRT, built 1916), British merchants Knight of Malta (1553 GRT, built 1929), Rodi (3220 GRT, built 1928, former Italian).
Convoy MS 1, the slow convoy: This convoy departed Malta on 10 July 1940 and arrived at Alexandria on 14 July 1940 and was made up of the British merchant ships Kirkland (1361 GRT, built 1934), Misirah (6836 GRT, built 1919), Tweed (2697 GRT, built 1926), Zeeland (2726 GRT, built 1930) and the Norwegian merchant Novasli (3194 GRT, built 1920).
Cover for these convoys was provided by ships of the Mediterranean Fleet which was divided into three groups:
Force A: Light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice Admiral J.C. Tovey, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMS Gloucester (Capt. F.R. Garside, CBE, RN), HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN) and HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, RAN) and the destroyer HMS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN).
Force B: Battleship HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, OBE, RN flying the flag of A/Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), destroyers HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN) and HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN).
Force C: Battleships HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Malaya (Capt. Sir A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN), destroyers HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN), HMS Hasty, (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, DSO, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN), HMS Defender (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN), HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN) and HMS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, RAN).
8 July 1940.
All forces were clear of the harbour by midnight during the night of 7/8 July 1940. All forces were to make rendez-vous in position 36°30’N, 17°40’E at 1400/10. HMS Liverpool, who was en-route from Port Said to Alexandria with spare 6" ammunition from the East Indies station, arrived at Alexandria at 0202 hours. She then quickly unloaded some of the 6" ammuntion and topped off with fuel. She departed Alexandria at 0520 hours to join her force at sea. HMS Imperial had to return to Alexandria with defects.
Shortly before midnight, at 2359 hours, HMS Hasty reported that she sighted a surfaced submarine at a range of 1000 yards. A full pattern depth charge attack was made an the submarine was thought to have been sunk. One hour later when about to rejoin Force C she carried out another attack on a confirmed contact. It was consided that this attack caused damage to another Italian submarine.
At 0807/8 a report was received from the submarine HMS Phoenix (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Nowell, RN) that she had sighted two enemy battleships escorted by four destroyers in position 35°23’N, 17°45’E, steering 180° at 0515/8. It was suspected that this force was covering an important enemy convoy. The Vice-Admiral, Malta, was ordered to arrange air reconnaissance to the eastward and to the Rear-Admiral, Alexandria to arrange for a flying boat to shadow this force. Two enemy submarines were sighted by A/S patrols from HMS Eagle.
The Italians were aware of the Mediterranean Fleet being at sea as the Fleet had been reported by the Italian submarine Beilul. This resulted in air attacks on the Fleet during the 8th.
Damage was done to HMS Gloucester which was hit on the compass platform causing seven officers to be killed and three wounded. Amongst the officers killed was the ships Captain. Besides the officers eleven ratings were killed and six were wounded.
At 1510/8 a flying boat reported a force of three battleships, six cruisers and seven destroyers in position 33°18’N, 19°45’E, steering 340°. At 1610 hours it was reported that this force had changed course to 070°. The flying boat that reported this force had to return to base at 1715 hours but no relief was available to continue shadowing. The Commander-in-Chief therefore, in the absence of further information, decided to continue the course of the Fleet to the north-westward in order to get between the enemy and his base. A mean line of advance of 310° at 20 knots was therefore maintained during the night.
9 July 1940.
There were no incidents during the night and at 0600 hours the Fleet was concentrated in position 36°55’N, 20°30’E. An air search by aircraft from HMS Eagle was commenced at dawn between 180° and 300°. Meanwhile a mean line of advance of 300° at 16 knots was maintained by the Fleet.
The first enemy report was received from a flying boat from Malta who reported two battleships, four cruisers and ten destroyers at 0732 hours in position 37°00’N, 17°00’E, steering 330° and subsequent reports showed that there was a further large force of cruisers and destroyers in the vicinity.
A second search by aircraft from HMS Eagle covered these positions and by 1130 hours it was considered that the enemy’s position was sufficiently well established to launch the air striking force. At this time the enemy fleet was approximately 90 miles to the westward of our forces. Unfortunately, touch with the enemy fleet was lost by the shadowing aircraft at this time and shortly afterwards it appears that the enemy turned to the southward. The striking force therefore failed to locate the enemy battlefleet, but carried out an attack on some cruisers at about 1330 hours without result.
Touch was regained with the enemy battleships at 1340 hours by a relief shadower from HMS Eagle and by a flying boat. The air striking force was flown of again at 1539 hours shortly after action was joined and they are believed to have scored one hit on a cruiser. All aircraft from HMS Eagle returned. In the meanwhile reports from shadowing aircraft show that the enemy force consisted of two battleships of the Cavour-class, twelve cruisers and twenty destroyers, and that they appeared to be keeping close to the coast of Calabria.
At 1400 hours the British Fleet as in position 38°02’N, 18°40’E. The 7th Cruiser Squadron was 8 nautical miles ahead of HMS Warspite, with HMS Royal Sovereign, HMS Eagle and HMS Malaya 10 nautical miles astern. Destroyers were screening these ships. The mean line of advance the Fleet was 270° the speed being limited by that of HMS Royal Sovereign. The Commander-in-Chief was obliged to use HMS Warspite as a battle cruiser to keep ahead of the battle Squadron, in order to support the cruisers, who being so few and lacking 8” ships, were very weak compared to the enemy’s cruiser force.
At 1510 hours the enemy, consisting of six 8” cruisers and a number of destroyers, was sighted steering about 020°. HMS Eagle and the 19th division (HMAS Stuart, HMAS Vampire and HMAS Voyager) were now detached from the 1st Battle Squadron and the damaged HMS Gloucester was ordered to join them. At 1514 hours HMS Neptune sighted the enemy battlefleet bearing 260° from HMS Warspite The ensuing action can best be described in five phases.
A short action with enemy 8” and 6” cruisers in which our own cruisers were out ranged and came under a very heavy fire. HMS Warspite intervened and engaged successively two 8” and two 6” cruisers at long range, which after a few salvos turned away. One hit might have been obtained on a 8” cruiser.
After a short lull, during which HMS Warspite fell back on HMS Malaya who was now proceeding ahead of HMS Royal Sovereign. HMS Warspite and HMS Malaya then engaged two battleships of the Cavour-class at 1553 hours. HMS Warspite was straddled at 26000 yards and she herself scored a hit on one of the enemy battleships (the Guilio Cesare). The enemy then turned away making smoke. HMS Malaya was outranged and by now HMS Royal Sovereign was now well astern and never got into action. The 7th Cruiser Squadron continued their action with the enemy cruisers, who appeared to be working round to the north with the intention of engaging HMS Eagle. They were driven off with the assistance of a few salvoes from HMS Warspite.
Enemy destroyers moved out to attack, but half heartedly, and made a large volumes of smoke which soon obscured the larger targets. Destroyers were now ordered to counter attack the enemy destroyers, in which they were assisted by the 7th Cruiser Squadron, but before the range could be closed sufficiently to do damage to them the enemy retired behind their extensive smoke screen.
The British fleet chased up the smoke but, appreciating that to pass through it would be playing the enemy’s game, and suspecting that enemy submarines might be in the vicinity, the Commander-in-Chief worked round to the northward and windward of the screen. When clear, all enemy forces were out of sight and air attacks had started. The British fleet was now (1652 hours) only 45 miles from the coast of Calabria and continued on a westerly course until within 25 miles of the Punta Stilo lighthouse.
A succession of heavy bombing attacks were carried out between 1640 and 1912 hours. At least nine distinct bombing attacks were made and it is estimated that probably some 100 aircraft took part. Many attacks were made on HMS Eagle, but the fleet suffered no damage. Between 1640 and 1740 hours the fleet made good a course of 270° and from 1740 hours of 220°, this latter course being selected in the hope that the enemy would renew the fight. At 1830 hours it became clear that the enemy could not be intercepted before reaching Messina and course was altered to the south-eastward to open the land, turning back at 2115 hours to 220° for a position south of Malta.
During the action one of the aircraft from HMS Warspite was damaged by gun blast of her own gunfire and had to be jettisoned. The other aircraft was catapulted for action observation. After this mission was completed the aircraft landed at Malta. During the night there were no incidents.
10 July 1940.
At 0800 hours, the fleet was in position 35°24’N, 15°27’E, steering west, and remained cruising to the southward of Malta throughout the day while destroyers were sent there to refuel. The following fuelling programme was carried out. At 0530 hours the following destroyers arrived at Malta; HMAS Stuart, HMS Dainty, HMS Defender, HMS Hyperion, HMS Hostile, HMS Hasty, HMS Ilex and HMS Juno. After they had fuelled they sailed again at 1115 hours and rejoined the fleet at 1525 hours.
HMS Hero, HMS Hereward, HMS Decoy, HMAS Vampire and HMAS Voyager were then sent in, the last three to sail with convoy MS 1 after fuelling.
At 2030 hours, HMS Royal Sovereign with HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk and HMS Janus were detached to refuel and to rejoin the fleet before noon the next day.
HMS Gloucester and HMAS Stuart were detached to join convoy MF 1, which had been sailed from Malta at 2300/9 escorted by HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN) and HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades RAN).
In the morning an air raid took place at Malta at 0855 hours. Three or four of the attackers were shot down. Destroyers that were fuelling at Malta were not hit.
Flying boat reconnaissance of Augusta had located three cruisers and eight destroyers in harbour and at 1850 hours a strike force was flown off from HMS Eagle to carry out a dust attack. Unfortunately the enemy forces left harbour before the attack force arrived. One flight however located a Navigatori class destroyer in a small bay to the northward, which was sunk, this was the Leone Pancaldo which was later raised and repaired. The other flight did not drop their torpedoes. All aircraft landed safely at Malta.
At 2100 hours the position of the fleet was 35°28’N, 14°30’E, steering 180°. There were no incidents during the night.
In view of the heavy bombing attacks experienced during the last three days, the Commander-in-Chief has requested the Air Officer Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, to do anything possible to occupy the Italian air forces during the passage of the fleet and the convoys to Alexandria.
11 July 1940.
At 0130 hours, the fleet altered course to 000° to be in position 35°10’N, 15°00’E at 0800 hours. HMS Royal Sovereign with HMS Hero, HMS Hereward, HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk and HMS Janus rejoined from Malta at this time, and HMS Eagle landed on her striking force from Malta.
At 0900 hours the Commander-in-Chief in HMS Warspite, screened by HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk, HMS Juno and HMAS Vampire, proceeded ahead to return to Alexandria at 19 knots. The Rear-Admiral, First Battle Squadron, in HMS Royal Sovereign , with HMS Malaya and HMS Eagle and the remaining destroyers, proceeded on a mean line of advance of 80° at 12 knots to cover the passage of the convoys. The 7th Cruiser Squadron had already been detached at 2000/10 to search to the eastward in the wake of convoy MF 1.
The fleet was again subjected to heavy bombing attacks. Between 1248 and 1815 hours, five attacks were made on HMS Warspite and her escorting destroyers. A total of 66 bombs were counted. Between 1112 and 1834 hours, twelve attacks were carried out on forces in company with Rear-Admiral First Battle Squadron, a total of about 120 bombs were dropped. No damage was sustained. It was noted that the fleet was shadowed by aircraft who homed in attacking aircraft.
At 1200 hours, HMAS Vampire was sighted. She reported that her Gunner had been badly wounded in an air attack made on convoy MS 1 at 1015 hours. The officer was transferred to HMS Mohawk for treatment but died aboard that ship later the same day.
At 2100 hours, HMS Warspite was in position 34°22’N, 19°17’E steering 210°.
12 July 1940.
There had been no incidents during the night. Course was altered to 070° at 0200 hours and to 100° at 0630 hours. Course was altered from time to time during the day to throw off shadowers and attacking aircraft.
At 0700 hours, Vice-Admiral (D) with the 7th Cruiser Squadron rejoined the Commander-in-Chief. Vice-Admiral (D) in HMS Orion, together with HMS Neptune was detached to join convoy MF 1.
The following bombing attacks took place during the day; Between 0850 and 1550 hours, seventeen attacks were made on HMS Warspite. About 160 bombs were dropped but none hit although there were several near misses. On the First Battle Squadron and HMS Eagle between 1110 and 1804 hours, three attacks were made, 25 bombs were dropped but none hit.
13 July 1940.
HMS Warspite, HMS Orion, HMS Neptune, HMS Liverpool, HMAS Sydney, HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk, HMS Juno and HMAS Vampire arrived at Alexandria around 0600 hours. Convoy MF 1 and it’s escort (HMS Jervis, HMS Diamond and HMAS Vendetta) arrived during the forenoon. HMS Gloucester had detached from the convoy around 0400 hours and had already arrived at Alexandria around 0800 hours. This convoy had been unmolested during it’s passage from Malta to Alexandria.
HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, OBE, DSO, RN) then departed Alexandria to join the escort of convoy MS 1 escorted by HMS Diamond, HMS Havock (Lt.Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, RN), HMS Imperial and HMAS Vendetta. The two cruisers from the 3rd Cruiser Squadron, HMS Caledon (Capt. C.P. Clarke, RN) and HMS Capetown (Capt. T.H. Back, RN), had already left Alexandria on the 12th to join the escort of convoy MS 1.
14 July 1940.
The 1st Battle Squadron, HMS Eagle and their escorting destroyers arrived at Alexandria in the forenoon. They reported very heavy bombing attacks of the Libyan coast. Three enemy aircraft were reported shot down by fighters from HMS Eagle while a fourth was thought to be heavily damaged.
15 July 1940.
Convoy MS 1, HMS Ramillies, HMS Caledon, HMS Capetown, HMS Diamond, HMS Havock, HMS Imperial, HMAS Vendetta, HMS Decoy, HMAS Vampire and HMAS Voyager arrived at Alexandria before noon.
Italian forces involved in the battle of Punta Stilo.
On 6 July 1940 an important Italian troop convoy departed Naples for Benghazi, Libya. This convoy was made up of the troopship Esperia (11398 GRT, built 1920) and the transports Calitea (4013 GRT, built 1933), Marco Foscarini (6338 GRT, built 1940), Vettor Pisani (6339 GRT, built 1939). Escort was provided by the torpedo boats Orsa, Pegaso, Procione and Orione. The next day this convoy was joined by the transport Francesco Barbaro (6343 GRT, built 1940) that came from Catania and was escorted by the torpedo boats Giuseppe Cesare Abba and Rosolino Pilo. Cover for this convoy was provided by the light cruisers Giovanni Delle Bande Nere and Bartolomeo Colleoni and the destroyers Maestrale, Libeccio, Grecale and Scirocco.
This cover force was joined on 7 July by the heavy cruiser Pola and the destroyers Lanciere, Carabinieri, Corazziere and Ascari which came from Augusta.
From Messina came the heavy cruisers Zara, Fiume, Gorizia and the destroyers Vittorio Alfieri, Giosuè Carducci, Vincenzo Gioberti and Alfredo Oriani.
From Messina (these ships departed shortly after the other ships) came also the heavy cruisers Bolzano and Trento and the destroyers Artigliere, Camicia Nera, Aviere and Geniere.
From Palermo came the light cruisers Eugenio di Savoia, Emanuelle Filiberto Duca D’Aosta, Muzio Attendolo and Raimondo Montecuccoli with the destroyers Granatiere, Fuceliere, Bersagliere and Alpino.
From Taranto came the battleships Gulio Cesare (flagship) and Conte di Cavour with the dstroyers Freccia, Saetta, Dardo and Strale.
Also from Taranto came the light cruisers Giuseppe Garibaldi and Luigi di Savoia Duca delgi Abruzzi with the destroyers Folgore, Fulmine, Baleno and Lampo.
And finally, also from Taranto, came the light cruisers Armando Diaz, Luigi Cadorna, Alberto di Giussano, Alberico di Barbiano and the destroyers Antonio Pigafetta, Nicolò Zeno, Nicoloso Da Recco, Emanuelle Pessagno and Antoniotto Usodimare. Later the destroyers Ugolino Vivaldi, Antonio Da Noli and Leone Pancaldo were sent out as reinforements.
The destroyers Stale, Dardo and Antonio da Noli developed mechanical problems and had to return to port for repairs.
During the battle with the Mediterranean Fleet the following ships sustained damage; Battleship Gulio Cesare was hit by a heavy shell from HMS Warspite, heavy cruiser Bolzano sustained three medium shell hits. As stated earlier the destroyer Leone Pancaldo was sunk off Augusta by aircraft from HMS Eagle but was later raised and repaired.
The Italian convoy meanwhile had arrived at Benghazi without losses on 8 July. (3)
19 Jul 1940
Action of Cape Spada, 19 July 1940.
Plan for operations against enemy submarines and shipping in the Aegean.
On 18 July 1940, four destroyers departed Alexandria for an anti-submarine hunt towards the Kaso Strait and then along the north coast of Crete. These destroyers were; HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN) and HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN).
The same day the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, RAN) departed Alexandria with the destroyer HMS Havock (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC, RN) for an anti-shipping raid into the Gulf of Athens.
Two more destroyers left Alexandria for Port Said, these were HMS Hereward and HMS Imperial. They were to escort a convoy towards the Aegean and then to bring back a convoy from the Aegean to Egypt.
Proceeding of the sweeping forces up to the time of the sighting of two enemy cruisers, 18 – 19 July 1940.
The destroyers which were to perform the A/S sweep sailed from Alexandria at 0015/18 carrying out an A/S sweep towards the Kaso Strait. After passing through the Strait at 2130 hours they kept well over towards the Cretan shore to avoid being sighted from Kaso Island. They then steered towards the westward at 18 knots between Ovo Island and the Cretan mainland. At 0600/19 course was altered to 240° to pass through the Anti-Kithera Channel. At 0722 hours two Italian cruisers were sighted ahead by HMS Hero.
Meanwhile HMAS Sydney and HMS Havock had sailed from Alexandria at 0430/18. After passing through the Kaso Strait at 2345 hours they steered 295° at 18 knots. At 0733/19 they were in position 010°, Cape Spada, 40 nautical miles when HMAS Sydney received the enemy report from HMS Hyperion of two enemy cruisers steering 160°, bearing 255°, distant 10 nautical miles. HMS Hyperion gave her position as 340°, Agria Grabusa lighthouse, 3 nautical miles. Acting on this information, Captain Collins of HMAS Sydney altered course at 0736 hours to 240° to close the destroyers.
When an amplifying report from HMS Hyperion gave her course as 060°, and the enemy course as 360°, HMAS Sydney altered course to 190° and commenced to work up to full speed. At 0800 hours another alteration of course was made to 150°. Shortly afterwards signals were received from the Commander-in-Chief directing the destroyers to join up with HMAS Sydney and the latter to support them.
When Commander Nicolson continued from time to time to inform HMAS Sydney of his movements of his division and of the enemy, Captain Collins preserved W/T silence to avoid disclosing the presence of HMAS Sydney. In this he was entirely successful. Further alterations of course by HMAS Sydney were; at 0815 hours to 160°, at 0820 hours to 120°.
At 0826 hours the enemy cruisers were sighted. They were steering 090°, bearing 188°, range 23000 yards. They were about 20° before the starboard beam.
Until 0722 hours the destroyer division had been spread in line abreast 1.5 nautical miles apart, carrying out an A/S sweep at 18 knots. After sighting the enemy Commander Nicholson turned his division to starboard together to course 060°, and, in accordance with previous instructions, the destroyers concentrated in sub-divisions on the Hyperion.
It was estimated that HMAS Sydney at 0900 hours would be in a position 010°, Cape Spada, 55 nautical miles, and while steering towards this position Commander Nicholson endeavoured to work round to the northward. At 0725 hours, when speed was increased to 25 knots, the enemy was seen to have altered course to 360°.
Destroyer engagement with the enemy cruisers.
At 0726/19 one of the enemy cruisers opened fire on HMS Hyperion and HMS Ilex an the latter returned fire. With their engines working up fast the speed of the destroyers was increased to 31 knots by 0735 hours. HMS Hyperion now opened fire with her after guns at maximum range, but ceased firing very soon as all her shots fell short. The enemy’s shooting was erratic, probably because he was firing against the sun. His salvoes fell short.
Although the range was opening rapidly, the enemy instead of heading in chase of the destroyers held on their course due north. Possibly he was uncertain of the strength of the force opposing him, but whatever the reason his neglect to close lost him a favourable chance of utilising his superior gun power. At 0738 hours the enemy bore 270°, range was 11 nautical miles, and HMS Hyperion at 0740 hours, ordered her division to cease firing as the enemy was out of range. Five minutes later the enemy also ceased fire.
At 0747 hours, the enemy, who bore 270°, range 14 nautical miles, was still steering north. With the object of gaining ground and of identifying the class of the enemy cruisers, the destroyer division altered course to 360°. At 0753 hours, when the enemy turned to close, course was altered back to 060°. The Commander-in-Chief’s signal to join HMAS Sydney was received by HMS Hyperion at 0800 hours, and four minutes later course was altered to 030°, with the enemy then bearing 265°, range 17 nautical miles. The enemy’s course at that moment was 090°. These positions were signaled to HMAS Sydney at 0805 hours, and course was altered to 060° one minute later. At about this time a Greek steamer was sighted ahead but it wisely turned north quickly.
Still trying to work to the northward, the destroyer’s course was altered to 040° at 0814 hours and to 030° at 0821 hours. The enemy re-opened fire at 0825 hours, but again his shooting was very short and erratic. After five minutes the enemy ceased fire and was then seen to be altering course to the southward.
HMAS Sydney and HMS Havock sighted by the destroyer division.
At 0819/19 gun flashes were seen away on the port beam of HMS Hyperion and a minute later the destroyers enjoyed the welcome sight of HMAS Sydney and HMS Havock bearing 290°, range 10 nautical miles. Commander Nicolson immediately altered course, first to 020° and at 0832 hours to 240°. Finally at 0835 hours he formed the division in line ahead and altered course to 260°. The enemy cruisers, now 17400 yards distant, were steaming fast to the southward, making heavy black smoke. At 0838 hours, the destroyer division, now steering 170°, opened fire in divisional concentration at extreme range on the left hand cruiser but the enemy was drawing out of range and the destroyers ceased fire at 0843 hours as their salvoes were falling short.
At 0844 hours, HMAS Sydney ordered the destroyers to ‘close and attack the enemy with torpedoes’. Course was altered together to 215°, and the Hyperion signalling the division to form on a line bearing 350°, at 0846 hours fired a ranging salvo. One minute later the enemy altered course to starboard.
HMAS Sydney engaged enemy cruisers.
The action now had become a stern chase, whose main interest lies in the movements of HMAS Sydney from the moment of her sighting the enemy. Her unexpected arrival together with HMS Havock seems to have taken the Italians completely by surprise. They were then engaged with the destroyers on the other side, and, in fact, their first impression was that they had to deal with two Allied cruisers.
At 0829 hours, when HMAS Sydney opened fire on the leading enemy cruiser at a range of 20000 yards. The fall of her salvoes were the first intimation of her presence to the enemy. The destroyer division was at that time still out of sight.
When the enemy recovered from their surprise at 0832 hours, he returned a concentrated fire on the Sydney, while the latter continued on a south-easterly course to intercept the destroyer division at and at the same time to close the enemy. The enemy salvoes fell short at first, then over, with an occasional straddle. At 0835 hours, the Sydney’s fire appeared to be effective, and the enemy was seen to be turning away. When the destroyer division was sighted at 0838 hours, steering south, about 6 nautical miles off, HMS Havock hauled over to join the other destroyers. Captain Collins signalled the destroyer division to attack with torpedoes, but a further alteration off course by the enemy, to the south-westward at 0840 hours prevented any possibility of a torpedo attack. HMAS Sydney turned to course 215° in pursuit of the now rapidly retreating enemy, and an alteration which brought her on the beam of the destroyers, who, at 0846 hours, were practically in line abreast in close order chasing at full speed.
In the early stages of the action there was some difficulty of identifying the class of the enemy cruisers but by now they had been identified as being of the ‘Bande Nere’ class. In fact they were the Giovanni delle Bande Nere herself and the Bartolomeo Colleoni which had left Tripoli on 17 July for Leros.
Chase of the enemy cruisers.
About 0846/19 the Sydney’s original target was so obscured by smoke that fire was shifted to the rear cruiser (the Colleoni), which was engaged by ‘A’ and ‘B’ turrets on bearing 203° at a range of 18000 yards. The destroyer division at 0848 hours also renewed its fire at extreme range for a couple of minutes.
At 0851 hours, as the enemy altered course to port, the Sydney made a similar movement, which had the effect of opening her ‘A’ arcs. The enemy, making vast quantities of smoke, next altered course at 0853 hours to starboard. The purpose of these manoeuvres are not clear. Perhaps they were trying to throw of the pursuit to the eastward under the cover of smoke. If so it failed, for the Sydney, observing the enemy steading on course 230° at 0856 hours, resumed the chase in a south-westerly direction.
For a minute, at 0901 hours, the Sydney checked fire while she shifted target again to the leading cruiser (Bande Nere). When this ship at 0908 hours again became obscured by smoke fire was shifted back to the rear cruiser (Colleoni) then bearing 210° at a range of 18500 yards. At 0915 hours, HMAS Sydney altered course 30° to starboard to open her ‘A’ arcs, and it was soon evident that her fire had considerable effect. With the range down to 17500 yards at 0919 hours the Sydney also came under an accurate fire, receiving her only hit at 0921 hours. This projectile, bursting on the foremost funnel, blew a hole about 3 feet square in the casings, causing minor damage to three boats and some fittings but only one slight casualty.
The Bartolomeo Colleoni disabled.
The range now began to close rapidly, and at 0923/19 the Colleoni was seen to be stopped, apparently out of action, in position 250° , Cape Spada, 5 nautical miles. According to the evidence of prisoners, she was brought to by a shot in the engine or boiler room. All her lights went out and the electrical machinery ceased functioning, including the turret power hoists and steering gear. The Colleoni was now left to her fate by the Bande Nere, which, after making a tentative turn towards made off at high speed, and, steering 205°, rounded Agria Grabusa Island at a distance of about a mile.
During the 40 minutes chase described above, the destroyer division, at 32 knots, had made every effort to reduce the range, altering course as necessary from time to time. At 0909 hours, fire was renewed for a minute to test the range, and at 0911 hours the division formed on a line of bearing 350° . At 0918 hours, the range of the rear cruiser (Colleoni) was down to 17000 yards and closing rapidly. Course was altered to 240° at 0923 hours and fire opened in a divisional concentration on the Colleoni from 14500 yards. At 0928 hours the Colleoni was seen to be stopped and silent. For some minutes she had been hit repeatedly. Her whole bridge structure was soon in flames.
The Bartolomeo Colleoni torpedoed.
The Hyperion and the Ilex prepared to attack with torpedoes and the Hero was ordered by Commander Nicholson to take charge of the other two destroyers. At 0935/19, HMS Hyperion fired four and HMS Ilex two torpedoes from a range of 1400 yards. One torpedo from the Ilex hit the Colleoni forward, blowing away about 100 feet of her bows and her aircraft. The Hyperion’s torpedoes, however, owning to too great a spread, passed two ahead and two astern of the Colleoni and ran on to explode on the shore of Agria Grabusa Island.
According to survivors accounts, the men of the Colleoni started to jump overboard as soon as the ship stopped, and many of them were in the sea before to torpedo from the Ilex struck the ship. She had suffered many casualties forward, round the bridge and on the upper deck. Her Captain (Captain U. Navaro) was seriously wounded and died from his wounds at Alexandria on 23 July 1940. The Italians were much impressed by the rate and accuracy of the gunfire from the Allied ships and their tactical superiority.
During the chase the destroyers were never within satisfactory range, the last distance being 14000 yards until after the Colleoni started to drop back. The shooting from HMAS Sydney as seen from HMS Hyperion had been excellent except for a short spell when a large spread was noted.
When Captain Collins, at 0933 hours, ordered Commander Nicholson to torpedo the Colleoni the range was 7500 yards. The Colleoni was then on fire amidships, and a heavy explosion was seen to occur forward. Captain Collins signaled to HMS Hyperion to leave one destroyer to deal with the disabled enemy and to resume the chase of the other cruiser in which HMAS Sydney, HMS Hero and HMS Hasty were pressing on at full speed.
Sinking of the Bartolomeo Colleoni.
At 0952/19 the Hyperion closed in and, observing the Colleoni more or less abandoned but not sinking or too heavily on fire, Commander Nicholson’s first intention, as he passed down her starboard side, was to go alongside and salve everything possible. Barely two minutes elapsed, however, before a large fire, breaking out in the forward superstructure, was followed by an explosion which blew the whole bridge away in a cloud of smoke. The Hyperion then fired another torpedo at short range, which hit the doomed ship amidships. At 0959 hours the Colleoni heeled over and sank bottom up, in position 029° , Agria Grabusa lighthouse, 4.6 nautical miles. HMS Hyperion and HMS Ilex immediately began to rescue survivors in which they were soon joined by HMS Havock.
Chase of the Giovanni delle Bande Nere.
At 0945/19 the Bande Nere, after passing between the island of Pondiko Nisi and the Cretan mainlan, bore 192° at a range of 20000 yards. As on board the Sydney ammunition in the ‘A’ and ‘B’ turrets was running low she had to check fire. The Bande Nere however, continued firing from her after guns but the shots consistently fell 300 yards away on the Sydney’s quarter. Captain Collins at 0955 hours repeated his signal to the destroyers to finish off the Colleoni and three minutes later he re-opened fire on the Bande Nere from 20000 yards. With the range increasing and the visibility of the target and fall of shot becoming more and more indistinct HMAS Sydney checked fire again at 1011 hours. The haze combined with the enemy’s smoke now rendered spotting conditions impossible. The result from a final couple of salvoes at 1022 hours from 21000 yards could not be observed. By that time the Sydney had remaining only four rounds per gun in ‘A’ turret and only one round per gun in ‘B’ turret. Shortly afterwards the Bande Nere, now 11 nautical miles off, was completely lost from sight in the haze. She was last seen to do 32 knots on course 200°.
HMS Hero and HMS Hasty had continued the chase at 31 knots, firing ranging salvoes at intervals, which all fell short. At 1028 hours, HMS Hero informed HMAS Sydney that she was unable to close the enemy and broke off the chase. She formed, with HMS Hasty a close screen on HMAS Sydney. When last seen from the destroyers at 1044 hours, the Bande Nere bore 177°, 15 nautical miles. At 1037 hours, HMAS Sydney finally abandoned the chase and altered course for Alexandria, reducing speed to 25 knots to allow HMS Hyperion and HMS Ilex to come up.
Rescue of the survivors from the Bartolomeo Colleoni.
At 1024/19, leaving HMS Havock to continue picking up survivors of the Colleoni, HMS Hyperion and HMS Ilex had proceeded at high speed to join HMAS Sydney. HMS Ilex had 230 prisoners on board of which about 30 were seriously wounded and 3 subsequently died the same night.
HMS Havock, as mentioned earlier, had been ahead of HMAS Sydney, but had proceeded to join the other destroyers when the action commenced. Taking up station on the starboard wing when she got within range at 0911 hours and joined in with the concentration fire. The shooting, even at longer range, appeared to be effective, several hits being observed.
HMS Havock then joined HMS Hyperion and HMS Ilex and closed in on the Colleoni after that ship had come to a halt.
When the HMS Hyperion and HMS Ilex left the scene of the sinking HMS Havock carried on rescuing the survivors. By 1237 hours she had picked up some 260 survivors. Six Italian bombers were then seen approaching from the southward. HMS Havock was forced to abandon her humane task and left the scene at full speed for Alexandria.
HMS Havock damaged in air attack.
At 1245/19 the enemy aircraft attacked in two formations of three aircraft each but without success. At 1455 hours nine more aircraft attacked in flights of three, the second flight scoring a near miss which penetrated and flooded no.2 boiler room. These attacks, which were made from levels between 3000 and 4000 feet were countered with effective gunfire, which in two instances broke up the formations. Two ratings in the boiler room received minor injuries. The bomb that caused the damage appeared to be 250lb, which burst 6 feet under water, about 10 feet from the ships side. After loosing way for about 5 minutes, the Havock picked up speed again and proceeded at 24 knots.
On receiving the Havock’s signals around 1500 hours, reporting her damage, HMAS Sydney turned back to support her. HMS Hero and HMS Hasty were ordered to continue to Alexandria. Shorty afterwards a heavy bombing attack was made on HMAS Sydney but without success. Realising the possible danger of submarine attack, Captain Collins, ordered HMS Hyperion and HMS Ilex to join him. At 1540 hours, HMS Havock was sighted and HMAS Sydney took station one nautical mile astern of her.
Meanwhile HMS Hyperion and HMS Ilex were proceeding towards Alexandria being unable to make rendez-vous. When the report of HMS Havock was received stating that she was damaged in an air attack, Commander Nicholson turned back and at 1840 hours they made rendez-vous with the Sydney and Havock. One more air attack was made between 1845 and 1848 hours but no damage was done.
At 2100 hours, HMAS Sydney parted company to join the 7th Cruiser Squadron. The destroyers continued on towards Alexandria where they arrived at 0845/20.
Fleet movements 19-20 July 1940.
Acting on the possibility that other enemy forces might be at sea, the Commander-in-Chief, immediately after he received information that enemy ships had been sighted off Cape Spada, took the following measures; Air reconnaissance by flying boats of 201 Group was to be sent out to search for the Bande Nere. The movements of Convoy Aegean North 2 were postponed and the ships which had sailed from Port Said were ordered to return. An oiler convoy from Alexandria to Port Said was ordered to proceed unescorted. The Fleet was ordered to proceed to sea.
At 1100/19, HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, OBE, RN, flying the flag of A/Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO and 2 Bars, RN) with a destroyer screen (these appeared to have been HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN) and HMS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN)) sailed for a sweep in the same direction.
At 1230/19, HMS Malaya (Capt. Sir A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, OBE, DSO, RN), HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN), HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN) and a destroyer screen (seems to be made up of HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN), HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades RAN) and HMS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, RAN)) sailed for a sweep to the westward.
From the Sydney’s last enemy report at 1016/19, indicating that the Bande Nere was steaming south-westwards at high speed it was evident that she could reach Tobruk without being intercepted if she was making for that port. HMS Eagle was therefore ordered to prepare a striking force to attack Tobruk harbour and 201 Group was requested to make a dusk reconnaissance. HMS Liverpool was detached to join HMAS Sydney as additional escort for the damaged HMS Havock. HMS Liverpool joined HMAS Sydney at 0500/20.
As there was no further information of the Bande Nere during the afternoon, the Commander-in-Chief decided that at 2100 hours all forces should return to Alexandria. The aircraft from HMS Warspite which was catapulted at 1700/19 to make a search of the Tobruk area made a forced lading to the eastward of that port. The destroyer HMS Jervis was detached to search the area for the missing aircraft but failed to find it. Search for the aircraft continued on the 20th by aircraft from 201 Group but again they failed to find the missing aircraft. An Italian report on 25 July 1940 stated that the crew had been rescued.
Aircraft of No. 55 and 211 Squadrons carried out bombing attacks on shipping in Tobruk harbour and claimed several hits. At 0240/20 six aircraft from No. 844 Squadron FAA from HMS Eagle made a successful moonlight torpedo attack on shipping at Tobruk, encountering heavy barrage fire from all sides of the harbour, which damaged three aircraft, seriously wounded one observer and slightly wounded a pilot. Hits were claimed on three ships, and a sheet of flame from an oiler indicated that she was carrying petrol. During this attack the Italian destroyers Nembo and Ostro were sunk as was the merchant vessel Sereno (2333 GRT, built 1918).
The Fleet returned to Alexandria on the morning of the 20th where all ships cheered HMAS Sydney and the destroyers when they entered harbour. The total number of Italian prisoners disembarked was 545 officers and men from a complement of the Bartolomeo Colleoni of about 630 officers and men. The Bande Nere eventually returned to Tripoli and was reported there on 26 July. (5)
21 Jul 1940
Convoy operations AN 2 and AS 2
Convoys to and from the Aegean.
On 21 July 1940 six merchant vessels departed Port Said and two departed Alexandria. The next day they merged into convoy AN 2 at sea. [we currently do not know the names of these merchant vessels.] The six merchant ships coming from Port Said had been escorted by the destroyers HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN) and HMS Defender (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN). The two merchant ships coming from Alexandria were escorted by the light cruisers HMS Liverpool (Capt. A.D. Read, RN) (she departed Alexandria shortly after midnight, 0030/22), HMS Capetown (Capt. T.H. Back, RN) and the destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN) and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN). After the rendez-vous the convoy proceeded northwards to the Aegean. While in the Aegean the ships were to disperse and proceed independently towards their destinations covered by the escorting warships.
Distant cover for this convoy was provided by the battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, OBE, DSO, RN) escorted by the destroyers HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN) and HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN). This force departed Alexandria at 0400/23 and returned in the afternoon of the 26th.
A diversion was also created by having the light cruiser HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN) escorted by the destroyers HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN) and HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades, RAN) appear of Castellorizio island on 23 July 1940. They had sailed from Alexandria at 0001/24. HMS Orion then proceeded to Haifa while the destroyers proceeded to Port Said.
The escorting warships from convoy AN 2 were then to escort a convoy coming from the Aegean (AS 2) southwards. This convoy was formed off the Dardanelles on 27 July 1940 and was escorted in the Aegean by HMS Capetown, HMAS Stuart and HMS Defender. The next day the convoy was joined by HMS Liverpool, HMS Dainty and HMS Diamond and passed through the Kaso Strait.
Distant cover for this convoy was provided by the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, OBE, RN), HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), HMS Ramillies, aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN), light cruisers HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, CB, RAN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Hyperion, HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN), HMS Hereward, HMS Ilex, HMS Imperial and HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, RN) which departed Alexandria at 0330/27.
Again a diversion was created by having the light cruiser HMS Orion escorted by the destroyers HMAS Vampire and HMAS Vendetta appear of Castellorizio island but this time the ocean boarding vessels HMS Chakla (Cdr. L.C. Bach, RD, RNR) and HMS Fiona (Cdr. A.H.H. Griffiths, RD, RNR) were added to the force so that it appeared that troops were going to be landed on the island in the evening of the 27th. The destroyers and the ocean boarding vessels departed at 0700/27 and then made rendez-vous with HMS Orion which came from Haifa.
HMS Warspite escorted by HMS Hyperion, HMS Ilex and HMS Imperial returned to Alexandria at 2000/29. In the approaches to Alexandria the destroyer screen was reinforced by the destroyers HMS Hostile (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Burnell-Nugent, DSC, RN) and HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN).
The remaining warships returned to Alexandria the following day except for HMS Capetown, HMS Dainty and HMS Diamond which went with the convoy to Port Said where they arrived on 31 July 1940. The following merchant ships made up the convoy; British cargo ships Bantria (2407 GRT, built 1928) and Sardinian Price (3491 GRT, built 1922), Norwegian cargo ship Bruse Jarl (1890 GRT, built 1923) and the Greek cargo ship Perseus (5178 GRT, built 1918).
During this operation the cruisers HMS Neptune and HMAS Sydney made a anti-shipping raid in the Gulf of Athens sinking the small Greek tanker Ermioni (436 GRT, built 1902) which was transporting fuel for the Italians in the Dodecanese. They had separated from the fleet to intercept this ship on the 27th.
During 27 to 29 July 1940 the Allied ships were attacked several times by the Italian air force but no hits were obtained except a dud bomb hit on HMS Liverpool on the 29th causing one crewmember to be killed and two to be wounded. (3)
16 Aug 1940
In the morning the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN), HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, OBE, DSO, RN) the heavy cruiser HMS Kent (Capt. D. Young-Jamieson, RN) escorted by the destroyers HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Hostile (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Burnell-Nugent, DSC, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN), HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN), HMAS Waterhen (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RAN) and HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades, RAN). They carried out a bombardment of Italian positions around the fortress of Bardia on the 17th. They all returned to Alexandria later on the 17th.
23 Aug 1940
Operations MB 1, Bombardment of Bardia.
23 August 1940.
The gunboat HMS Ladybird (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) J.F. Blackburn, RN) departed Mersa Matruh today to be off Bardia at 0030/24 to conduct a bombardment of enemy positions.
To provide cover for this operation the destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN), HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN) and HMAS Waterhen (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RN) departed Alexandria with the following objectives; a) to carry out an A/S sweep in direction 300° to reach position 33°26’N, 25°26’E at 2000/23. b) proceed thence to carry out an attack on Bomba seaplane base and/or Jez el Marekeb anchorage at about 0200/24. c) on conclusion proceed to pass through position 31°41’N, 26°18’E at 0815/24 an to carry out an A/S sweep from this position along the coast to Alexandria. Speed of advance 17 knots. d) Fighter protection would be available as of 0800/24 consisting of Gladiators, Huricanes, Morane or Potez. e) HMAS Waterhen was to be detached to be off Bardia at 0001/24 to cover the retirement of HMS Ladybird, subsequently rejoining the destroyers in position 31°41’N, 26°18’E at 0815/24.
The light cruiser HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, CB, RAN) was sailed as further support, steering in the wake of the destroyers A/S sweep and to be at the rendez-vous at 0815/24 and then again proceed in the wake of the destroyers A/S sweep towards Alexandria.
24 August 1940.
The attack was successfully carried out and all ships returned to Alexandria today with the exception of HMS Ladybird which arrived on the 25th. (3)
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), HMS Malaya (Capt. Sir A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, 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 (Cdr. R.H.D. Lane, RN). which had been refitting and rearming at Malta and had recently recommissioned for service. Thy 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. (6)
29 Sep 1940
Operation MB 5.
Transport of troops to Malta.
29 September 1940.
Shortly after midnight the Mediterranean fleet was clear of Alexandria harbour. For this sortie the fleet was made up of the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, DSC, RN), heavy cruiser HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, CB, RAN). Escort was provided by the destroyers HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN), HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN) and HMS Stuart (Lt. N.J.M. Teacher, RN).
Shortly after the fleet the light cruisers HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN) and HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN) also departed Alexandria. They had on board a total of about 1200 soldiers for Malta. They were to make rendez-vous with the fleet before daylight.
At 0730 hours, HMS Jervis investigated a contact and at 0905 hours, HMS Imperial was detached to search a Turkish merchant for contraband.
At 1030 hours an enemy showing aircraft was detected and three Fulmars were flown off at 1037 hours to intercept. The shadowing aircraft was shot down. One of the Fulmar’s however had to force land in the sea. The crew was picked up by HMAS Stuart.
At noon the fleet was in position 32°52’N, 26°52’E.
At 1315 hours, HMAS Stuart reported having a burst steam pipe and she was ordered to return to Alexandria. En-route to Alexandria she encountered the Italian submarine Gondar at 2215 hours in position 31°35’N, 28°48’E. Gondar submerged and HMAS Stuart carried out several depth charge attacks forcing the Italians to surface. On surfacing she was attacked by a flying boat. The Italian submarine sank at 0925/30. Almost the entire crew was picked up, two Italians did not survive the sinking. HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN) was sent from Alexandria to assist but the Italian submarine sank around the time she arrived on the scene.
At 1420 hours, a second shadowing enemy aircraft was shot down by the fighter cover.
At 1446 hours, a small formation of enemy aircraft was detected by RD/F and seven minutes later a formation of three enemy aircraft dropped about thirty bombs near HMS York. One enemy aircraft was shot down.
At 1510 hours, a second enemy air attack occurred. A formation of five aircraft dropped twenty to thirty bombs near HMS Warspite. Many splinters landed on board causing some damage to gun shields and also three minor casualties.
At 1641 hours, four torpedo bombers made an attack on HMS Illustrious but no torpedo tracks were seen by her. One track was spotted by HMS Liverpool though.
Two of the Fulmars from HMS Illustrious made forced landings in Crete. The crews and te aircraft were interned.
At 2400 hours the fleet was in position 34°08’N, 22°38’E.
30 September 1940.
There were no incidents during the night.
At 0700 hours, reconnaissance aircraft were flown off by Illustrious to search between 270° and 330° to a depth of 80 nautical miles. This search located nothing.
At 1030 hours, a second search was flown off to search between 260° and 330° to a depth of 120 nautical miles. At 1126 hours one of these aircraft reported an unknown number of enemy vessels.
At 1210 hours, the aircraft that made the sighting reported that the force she sighted was made up of three heavy cruisers, four light cruisers and seven destroyers. They were steering to the north-west in position 37°04’N, 18°25’E. At this time they bore 340°, 80 nautical miles from the fleet.
At 1225 hours, the fleet altered course to close the enemy. Relief reconnaissance aircraft and a striking force were made ready in Illustrious.
At 1230 hours, another reconnaissance aircraft reported having sighted enemy battleships and a large number of destroyers in position 37°45’N, 18°15’E, steering 325°, speed 22 knots which was at that moment 116 nautical miles bearing 340° from the fleet.
No striking force was launched as only a few aircraft were available due to the reconnaissance flights. Also to launch a small force for a daylight attack on the large enemy force of warships was suicide. They were held back for a dusk attack in case the enemy would proceed towards the fleet. They however did not do so and appeared to be returning to Taranto.
A relief shadower was launched to keep in contact with the enemy battlefleet which this aircraft did from 1445 to 1600 hours when it was recalled after an aircraft from Malta had also made contact with the enemy at 1545 hours. At 1812 hours the enemy was in position 38°28’N, 17°15’E and tey now appeared to be making for Messina.
At 1450 hours, HMS Gloucester and HMS Liverpool were detached to Malta. Also HMS York and HMS Mohawk were detached to positions 350°, 20 nautical miles and 340°, 40 nautical miles from the fleet respectively to aid in the return of the shadowing aircraft. After the return of these aircraft HMS Mohawk was ordered to proceed to Malta.
At 1910 hours, the fleet was in position 34°38’N, 17°42’E steering 310° and at 2359 hours the fleet was in position 38°24’N, 17°06’E steering now 040° since 2300 hours.
1 October 1940.
Again there were no incidents during the night. At 0300 hours, the fleet altered course to 090° to provide cover for the cruisers on their run towards Malta and their return to the fleet.
At 0001 hours, HMS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, RAN) departed Malta to join the fleet which she did at 1245 hours.
HMS Gloucester and HMS Liverpool departed Malta at 0230 hours. They rejoined the fleet at 1745 hours.
At 0700 and 1000 hours, air searches were flown off to search between 270° and 045° to maximum depth but these did not find the enemy.
At 1055 hours, an enemy aircraft was sighted. At 1115 hours a Fulmar show down a Cant. 506 plane which was probably this aircraft.
At noon the fleet was in position 35°45’N, 20°18’E.
At 1545 hours, HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN) joined the fleet after having completed convoy duty.
At 1600 hours, the fleet was in position 35°43’N, 21°35’E steering 120°, speed 16 knots.
At sunset HMS Orion and HMAS Sydney were detached to carry out a sweep in the Gulf of Athens and then through the Doro Channel towards Tenedos.
At 2359 hours, the fleet was in position 34°23’N, 24°17’E steering 100° since 2300 hours.
2 October 1940.
At 0500 hours, HMS Havock (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC, RN) which had been on convoy escort duties with HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN) reported being in contact with an enemy submarine in position 33°26’N, 26°12’E. HMS Calcutta was detached to join these destroyers. At 0815 hours, Havock reported that the enemy submarine had surfaced, surrendered and scuttled at 0715 hours. The submarine had been surprised on the surface by the destroyer and was engaged with gunfire and when she dived with depth charges.
At 0700 hours, fighter patrols were flown off by HMS Illustrious and HMS Gloucester and HMS Liverpool were detached to carry out gunnery practices before returning to Alexandria.
At 0810 hours, the Fulmar fighter patrol sighted enemy aircraft and started a chase but they were unable to catch them.
HMS Calcutta, HMS Hasty and HMS Havock joined the fleet at noon in position 32°40’N, 28°05’E. Calcutta was however soon detached to proceed independently to Alexandria.
At 1430 hours, HMS Illustrious launched a striking force which then made a practice attack on the fleet.
At 1740 hours, shortly before arriving at Alexandria, HMS Warspite and HMS Valiant carried out gunnery exercises.
The fleet arrived at Alexandria around 2000 hours.
3 October 1940.
HMS Orion and HMAS Sydney also returned to Alexandria on completion of their sweep in the Aegean. They had also bombarded Stampalia at 2350/2 but the results were unobserved. (7)
30 Sep 1940
The Italian submarine Gondar was sunk west off Alexandria by the Australian destroyer HMAS Stuart (Lt. N.J.M. Teacher, RN) and a British Sunderland aircraft (Sqdn. 230).
8 Oct 1940
Operation MB 6.
Convoy MF 3 from Alexandria to Malta and MF 4 from Malta to Alexandria.
8 October 1940.
Around 0900 hours, the Mediterranean Fleet made up of the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, OBE, DSO, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, DSC, RN), HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN), heavy cruisers HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), light cruisers HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D. McCarthy, RN), HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, CB, RAN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Havock (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Hasty (Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN), HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, DSO, RN), HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN), HMS Defender (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMAS Vampire (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN) and HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades RAN).
When the fleet was clear of the swept channel gunnery exercises were carried out. On completion of these exercises the fleet proceeded to the north-westward divided into several groups.
At 2000 hours, the merchant vessels Memnon (7506 GRT, built 1931), Lanarkshire (11275 GRT, built 1940), Clan Macaulay (10492 GRT, built 1936) and Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938), which made up convoy MF 3 departed Alexandria for Malta. They were escorted by HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN), HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN), HMS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN), HMS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, DSO, RAN), HMS Waterhen (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RAN) and HMS Wryneck (Lt.Cdr. R.H.D. Lane, RN).
At midnight the main body of the fleet was in position 31°58’N, 27°33’E steering 350°.
9 October 1940.
At 0524 hours, in position 33°11’N, 27°20’E, HMS Nubian, obtained a contact. HMS Hyperion then reported that a torpedo was approaching HMS Malaya. An object, possibly a torpedo at the end of its run, was sighted moving slowly and emitting small columns of smoke.
At 0550 hours, A/S patrols were flown off. These were maintained throughout the day.
At 0800 hours, the main body of the fleet was in position 33°33’N, 26°47’E. At 1000 hours, HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN) and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN), who had been delayed in sailing from Alexandria, joined the fleet. They had departed Alexandria shortly after midnight this day.
At noon the fleet was in position 33°51’N, 26°32’E, steering 280°.
At 1600 hours, the convoy was in position 34°18’N, 25°06’E making a good 13 knots. During the day three A/S contacts were made. One of the contacts warranted a depth charge attack by HMAS Vendetta.
At 2200 hours, the fleet altered course to 320°.
At midnight the fleet was in position 34°41’N, 23°23’E.
10 October 1940.
There were no incidents during the night and at 0400 hours the fleet changed course to 300°.
At 0600 hours, aircraft were flown off the search between 270° and 340°.
At 1030 hours, a new air search was started between 240° and 340°, also a course change was made to close the convoy.
The first air search located a submarine on the surface in position 36°31’N, 20°20’E. Two aircraft were sent out to attack this submarine. Both depth charges that were dropped failed to explode. Other aircraft were then sent but the submarine was not found as she must have submerged. Two A/S contacts were made by the destroyer screen during the forenoon.
At 1330 hours, the fleet was in position 35°36’N, 20°42’E, steering 270°. The convoy was at this time 22 nautical miles astern of the fleet.
At 1400 hours, a final air search was launched.
At 1432 hours, one of the search aircraft reported an enemy submarine submerging 20 nautical miles ahead of the fleet. HMS Jervis, HMS Juno and HMS Ilex were sent ahead to hunt this submarine but with no result. Later a report was received that the aircraft had straddled the submarine with four bombs.
At 1600 hours, HMAS Vampire, the port wing destroyer in the screen, obtained a contact and made four depth charge attacks on it. She rejoined the screen at 1745 hours.
Late in the afternoon HMS Ramillies, HMS Nubian, HMS Hero and HMS Hereward were detached to fuel at Malta as were HMS Hyperion, HMS Hasty and HMS Ilex shortly afterwards. Also late in the afternoon the cruisers HMS York, HMS Gloucester and HMS Liverpool were detached to join the convoy.
At 1825 hours, HMS Defender attacked a suspected A/S contact with depth charges.
At 2000 hours, the main body of the fleet was in position 35°52’N, 18°55’E, course 300° which was changed to 270 at 2200 hours.
11 October 1940.
Again there were no incidents during the night.
At 0630 hours, aircraft were flown off to search the sector between 000° and 070°, keeping clear of the land. No enemy forces were sighted.
At 0800 hours the main body of the fleet was in position 35°30’N, 15°39’E. Around this time HMS Ajax was detached to join HMS York, HMS Gloucester and HMS Liverpool near the convoy.
At 0915 hours, HMS Decoy was detached to fuel at Malta and HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN) joined the screen coming from Malta.
At 0942 hours, HMS Imperial was detached to fuel at Malta.
At 1105 hours, HMS Imperial reported that she had hit a mine in position 35°34’N, 14°34’E. She was able to proceed at slow speed to Malta with HMS Decoy standing by. She finally entered Malta at 1600 hours being towed by Decoy. It was estimated that repairs would take at least four months.
During the forenoon several floating mines were sighted and HMS Coventry cut one off with her paravanes in position 35°30’N, 14°28’E so it was evident that there was an enemy minefield in this area.
At noon the main body of the fleet was in position 35°14’N, 14°50’E.
At 1450 hours, HMS Vampire was detached to Malta. During the afternoon the fleet remained approximately 20 nautical miles to the south-west of Malta while the destroyers refuelled.
At 1600 hours, the convoy arrived safely at Malta.
At 1800 hours, HMS Nubian, HMS Hero and HMS Havock rejoined and HMS Dainty, HMS Defender and HMS Diamond were detached to refuel at Malta.
At 2100 hours, HMAS Vendetta, who had reported that she had one engine out of action, was detached to Malta where she would remain for repairs.
At 2230 hours, Convoy MF 4 departed Malta for Alexandria. This convoy was made up of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Plumleaf (5916 GRT, built 1917) and the transport Volo (1587 GRT, built 1938). The river gunboat HMS Aphis (Lt.Cdr R.S. Stafford, RN), which had been refitting at Malta, was also part of this convoy. Escort for this convoy was provided by HMS Coventry, HMS Calcutta, HMS Wryneck and HMAS Waterhen. HMAS Stuart remained at Malta for a much needed refit.
Due to the weather conditions the British ships remained undetected by enemy aircraft.
12 October 1940.
At 0230 hours, HMS Ajax reported that she was engaging three enemy destroyers in position 35°57’N, 16°42’E and that she had sunk two of them. She then reported two cruisers in position 36°00’N, 16°53’E at 0306 hours. At 0333 hours she reported that she had lost touch with them.
At 0400 hours, the bulk of the fleet was in position 35°10’N, 15°45’E, approximately 70 nautical miles to the south-west of Ajax.
At 0600 hours, aircraft were flown off to search between 340° and 070°.
At 0645 hours, HMS Orion reported that one enemy ship was still burning in position 35°47’N, 16°25’E at 0510 hours.
At 0710 hours, a flying boat reported two enemy destroyers in the same position. One on fire being towed by the other. On receipt of these reports a striking force of four aircraft was flown off. The fleet altered course to 010° to close.
At 0716 hours, HMS York, HMS Gloucester and HMS Liverpool reported they were closing to investigate smoke on the horizon. When closing they were obviously sighted by the enemy destroyer that was towing which then casted off the tow and retired to the north-westward at high speed. She was attacked with torpedoes by the air striking force but no hits were obtained. In the meantime the cruisers had closed the crippled destroyer which had hoisted the white flag. The survivors were ordered to abandon ship after which she was sunk by gun and torpedo fire from HMS York. Rafts were thrown in the water for the survivors. Later a few survivors were picked up by HMS Nubian and HMAS Vampire. They reported that the enemy destroyer sunk was the Artigliere.
At 0930 hours, the bulk of the fleet was in position 35°47’E, 16°42’E, steering 120°.
Between 0915 and 1034 hours, HMS Orion, HMAS Sydney and HMS Ajax rejoined the bulk of the fleet. HMS Ajax reported that following her action D/G, RD/F and one 4” gun were out of action. She had also two officers killed and one seriously wounded. Also she had lost ten ratings killed and twenty minor casualties.
At 1000 hours, HMS Dainty, HMS Defender and HMS Diamond rejoined the fleet from Malta as did HMS Revenge that was escorted by HMS Jervis, HMS Janus, HMS Hereward and HMS Decoy.
At 1150 hours, a flying boat from Malta reported three Italian heavy cruisers and three destroyers in position 36°10’N, 16°02’E. They were steering to the north-westward. This flying boat did not shadow and no further reports on this force were received. HMS Liverpool, HMS Orion, HMAS Sydney and HMS York were ordered to proceed to cover convoy MF 4 which was then in position 35°15’N, 16°22’E, 55 nautical miles to the southward of the enemy cruisers. In the meantime the fleet had been located by enemy aircraft and one shadower was shot down by Fulmars at 1145 hours.
At 1232 hours, the fleet was attacked by eleven enemy aircraft but only a few bombs were dropped. At 1345 hours the fleet was again attacked, this time by five aircraft which dropped eleven bombs near HMS Eagle. During this time Fulmars prevented other enemy aircraft from attacking.
At 1440 hours, when in position 35°30’N, 17°50’E, course was altered to 200° to close the convoy and at 1630 hours when in position 35°23’N, 17°20’E (080°, 21 nautical miles from the convoy), course was altered to 090°.
The weather deteriorated rapidly during the day and aircraft from the final search had to be homed in by D/F. The last aircraft was landed on in the dark at 1850 hours.
At 2000 hours, the fleet was in position 35°25’N, 18°10’E still steering 090°. At 2200 hours this was altered to 070°.
13 October 1940.
At 0100 hours, the fleet was in position 36°02’N, 19°23’E and course was altered to 120° and at 0400 to 160°.
At 0600 hours, aircraft were flown off to search between 280° and 310°.
At 0700 hours, HMS Ajax, HMS Jervis and HMS Janus were detached to join convoy AS 4 which sailed from the Gulf of Athens around that time. From convoy MF 4 HMS Coventry was also detached later to join this convoy.
At 0800 hours, when in position 36°00’N, 21°04’E, course was altered to 240° to close convoy MF 4. At 1307 hours they sighted the convoy in position 35°46’N, 20°32’E. The convoy was steering 095° making a good 9 knots. As the transport Volo was able to make 12 knots she was ordered to proceed ahead escorted by HMS Wryneck.
At 1120 hours, HMS Illustrious, HMS Gloucester, HMS Liverpool, HMS Nubian, HMS Havock, HMS Hero and HMS Hereward were detached to carry out a night attack on Leros.
During the rest of the day the course of the fleet was adjusted to remain close to convoy MF 4.
At 1800 hours, the fleet was in position 35°42’N, 22°24’E and changed course to 140° doing 14 knots.
At midnight the fleet was in position 34°35’N, 23°42’E.
14 October 1940.
At 0300 hours, the fleet altered course to 090°.
At 0600 hours, HMS Eagle launched aircraft to search between 270° and 330°.
At 0800 hours, the fleet was in position 34°24’N, 25°37’E.
At 0840 hours, the Illustrious-force rejoined. They reported a very successful attack on Port Lago. Complete surprise had been achieved. Fiveteen aircraft took part in the attack. They dropped 92 250-lb bombs. Hangars at Lepida Cove were set on fire, workshops and probably a fuel tank hit at San Georgio. All aircraft had returned safely.
At 0900 hours, HMS York, which was short of fuel, was detached to Alexandria together with HMS Defender.
At 0945 hours, aircraft from HMS Eagle reported that both convoys MF 4 and AS 4 were together about 10 nautical miles east of Gavdo Island at 0830 hours, making good 10 knots. Volo and HMS Wryneck were 60 nautical miles ahead.
At 1132 hours, HMAS Vampire and HMAS Vendetta obtained an A/S contact and attacked with depth charges firing a total of three patterns.
At 1230 hours, HMS Ajax rejoined the fleet which had remained near position 34°35’N, 25°37’E to provide cover for the convoys.
At 1435 hours, the fleet was attacked by five enemy aircraft which dropped their bombs outside the destroyer screen after having been attacked by AA gunfire.
At 1442 hours, a second attack was made by three aircraft, their bombs landed between HMS Warspite and HMS Illustrious.
At 1600 hours, the fleet was in position 34°13’N, 25°54’E, steering 130°.
At 1902 hours, HMS Valiant and HMS Illustrious opened a heavy barrage of AA fire and later Valiant reported that she had shot down an enemy aircraft.
At 1911 hours, HMS Liverpool reported that she had been struck by a torpedo in position 33°58’E, 26°20’E at 1855 hours. She was heavily on fire and required assistance.
HMS Decoy and HMS Hereward were sent to stand by her.
At 2345 hours, the tug HMS St. Issey was sailed from Alexandria.
At midnight the fleet was in position 32°40’N, 27°38’E and course was altered to 310° to cover the passage of HMS Liverpool to Alexandria.
15 October 1940.
At 0100 hours, it was reported that HMS Liverpool was being towed by HMS Orion in position 33°57’N, 26°33’E making good 9 knots on a course of 135°. The fire was under control.
At 0630 hours, when the fleet was in position 33°36’N, 26°20’E, course was altered to close HMS Liverpool.
At noon, HMS Liverpool was in position 32°50’N, 27°31’E. By this time the tow from HMS Orion had parted. HMS Liverpool’s bow was hanging down and acted as a rudder. HMS Liverpool had three screws in action.
At 1432 hours, the towline had again been passed and the damaged portion of the full forward of ‘A’ turret had broken off and this simplified towing.
The fleet remained in close company until dusk and then proceeded to Alexandria. HMS Mohawk was detached to take of the escort duties wit convoy AS 4 from HMS Jervis and to escort this convoy to Port Said.
16 October 1940.
The fleet arrived at Alexandria around 0100 hours.
HMS Liverpool and it’s escort arrived in the harbour around noon.
Convoy ME 4 arrived at Alexandria later in the afternoon. (7)
6 Jan 1941
Operations Excess and Operation M.C. 4.
Convoy operations in the Mediterranean.
Timespan; 6 January to 18 January 1941.
The principal object of this operation was the passage of a convoy of four ships (five were intended, see below) from Gibraltar to Malta and Piraeus (Operation Excess). One of these was to unload her stores at Malta, the other three had supplies on board for the Greek army.
Three subsidiary convoys (Operation M.C. 4) were to be run between Malta and Egypt. These consisted of two fast ships from Malta to Alexandria (convoy M.E. 5½), two fast ships from Alexandria to Malta (convoy M.W. 5½) and six slow ships from Malta to Port Said and Alexandria (convoy M.E. 6).
Composition of the convoys and their escort.
The ‘Excess convoy from Gibraltar’ was made up of one ship that was to proceed with stores to Malta. This was the Essex (11063 GRT, built 1936). The three other ships were to proceed with stores to Piraeus, these were the Clan Cumming (7264 GRT, built 1938), Clan Macdonald (9653 GRT, built 1939) and Empire Song (9228 GRT, built 1940). It had the light cruiser HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN) and the destroyers HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN) and HMS Duncan (A/Capt. A.D.B. James, RN) as close escort (‘Force F’). A fifth merchant ship was to have been part of this convoy and was to have proceeded to Malta with stores and troops. However this ship, the Northern Prince (10917 GRT, built 1929) grounded at Gibraltar and was not able to join the convoy. The about four-hundred troops now boarded HMS Bonaventure for passage to Malta.
The most dangerous part of the ‘Excess convoy’ would be the part between Sardinia and Malta. For a stretch of about 400 nautical miles ships were exposed to enemy air attack from bases in Sardinia and Sicily less then 150 nautical miles away from the convoy’s track. Also submarines and surface torpedo craft were a constant menace. An attack by large enemy surface forces was thought less likely although this was potentially more dangerous.
’Convoy M.W.5 ½ from Alexandria to Malta’ made the passage westwards at the same time as the Mediterranean fleet moved westwards (see below). This convoy was made up of HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) and Clan Macauley (10492 GRT, built 1936). These ships were escorted by HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN), HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN) and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN).
’Convoy’s M.E. 5½ and M.E. 6’ that sailed from Malta to Egypt will be dealth with later on.
Cover forces for these convoy’s
At Gibraltar there was ‘Force H’ which had the following ships available for the operation. Battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN and flagship of Vice-Admiral J.F. Sommerville, RN, KCB, DSO, RN), battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN).
’Force H’ was to provide cover for the ‘Excess convoy’ from Gibraltar to the Sicilian narrows.
South-south-west of Sardina ‘Force H’ was to be reinforced by ‘Force B’ which came from the eastern Mediterranean and was made up of the light cruisers HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E. de F. Renouf, CVO, RN), HMS Southampton (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN) and the destroyer HMS Ilex (Capt. H.St.L. Nicholson, DSO and Bar, RN). The destroyer HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN) had also been part of 'Force B' during the passage from Alexandria to Malta but remained there for a quick docking. After this docking she departed Malta around noon on the 10th to join 'Force A'.
Further cover was to be provided by ‘Force A’, this was the Mediterranean fleet based at Alexandria. This force was made up of the following warships. Battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Thyrwhitt, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall-A’Deane, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC, RN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, RN) and HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, DSO, RN).
During the passage of the ‘Excess convoy’ three submarines were stationed off Sardinia. HMS Pandora off the east coast and HMS Triumph and HMS Upholder were stationed to the south of Sardinia.
Chronology of events
The actual ‘Excess convoy’ and it’s escort (Force F) departed Gibraltar before dark in the evening of January 6th. Course was set to the west as if to proceed into the Atlantic. This was done to deceive enemy spies based in Spain. They turned back in the night after moonset and passes Europa Point well before daylight next morning. At dawn the next morning HMS Bonaventure parted company with the convoy to make rendez-vous with ‘Force H’ which departed Gibraltar around that time. All that day the ‘Excess convoy’ followed the Spanish coast so as if to make for a Spanish port. During the night of 7/8 January the convoy crossed over towards the coast of North-Africa and steered eastwards towards the Sicilian narrows while keeping about 30 nautical miles from the shore of North Africa. ‘Force H’ overtook the convoy during the night and was now stationed to the north-east of it to shield it from Italian air attack. If Italian naval units were reported the plan was that he would join the convoy.
In the morning of the 8th, HMS Bonaventure rejoined the actual ‘Excess convoy’. Late in the afternoon of the 8th HMS Malaya escorted by HMS Firedrake and HMS Jaguar parted company with ‘Force H’ and joined the ‘Excess convoy’ very early in the evening.
At dawn on the 9th ‘Force H’ was ahead of the convoy. At 0500/9, while in position 37°45’N, 07°15’E, HMS Ark Royal flew off five Swordfish aircraft for Malta which was still some 350 nautical miles away. All of which arrived safely. ‘Force H’ then turned back and joined the ‘Excess convoy’ at 0900/9 about 120 nautical miles south-west of Sardinia. HMS Ark Royal meanwhile had launched several aircraft, one of her reconnaissance aircraft reported at 0918 hours that it had sighted two enemy cruisers and two destroyers but this soon turned out to be Rear-Admiral Renouf’s ‘Force B’ which was to join the Excess convoy for the passage through the Sicilian narrows. They joined the convoy about one hour later.
’Force B’ had departed Alexandria in the morning of the 6th with troop for Malta on board. They had arrived at Malta in the morning of the 8th and after disembarking the troops (25 officers and 484 other ranks of the Army and RAF) sailed early in the afternoon. At 0900/9 ‘Force B’ was sighted by an Italian reconnaissance aircraft. This aircraft soon made off when being fired at. One hour later another Italian reconnaissance aircraft was however sighted. It was engaged by the fighter patrol from HMS Ark Royal but managed to escape. At 1320 hours, while in position 37°38’N, 08°31’E, Italian bombers arrived on the scene and made their attack on the convoy.
The convoy of the four merchant ships was steaming in two columns in line ahead, 1500 yards apart. HMS Gloucester and HMS Malaya were leading the columns while HMS Bonaventure and HMS Southampton were the sternmost ships. The seven destroyers were placed as a screen ahead of the convoy. ‘Force H’, with HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Sheffield and their five escorting destroyers were on the convoy’s port quarter, operating in close support. The mean line of advance was 088° and the ships were zigzagging at 14 knots.
The enemy consisted of ten Savoia bombers. HMS Sheffield detected them on her radar about 43 nautical miles off, this was the maximum range of her radar equipment. They were fine on the starboard bow and came into sight fourteen minutes later, flying down the starboard side of the convoy out of range of the AA guns at a eight of about 11000 feet. At 1346 hours, when they were broad on the bow, they started their attack. They came in from 145°, which was the bearing of the sun. All the ships opened up a very heavy fire and the enemy was diverted of their course. Eight of the aircraft were seen to drop bombs, some of which fell close to HMS Gloucester and HMS Malaya but no damage was caused. The other two bombers were seen to turn away during their approach. Both were shot down by a Fulmar fighter from HMS Ark Royal. Three men from their crews were picked up from the water. Another bombers is thought to have been shot down by HMS Bonaventure. The other seven are thought to have got away.
Nothing more happened during the afternoon of the 9th. Reconnaissance showed that the Italian fleet was not at sea so at dusk, while in position 37°42’N, 09°53’E, some 30 nautical miles west of the Sicilian narrows and north of Bizerta, Tunisia, ‘Force H’ parted company with the ‘Excess convoy’ and set course to return to Gibraltar. Rear-Admiral Renouf in HMS Gloucester meanwhile continued eastwards with the convoy with his three cruisers and five destroyers of forces ‘B’ and ‘F’.
They had a quiet night, passing Pantelleria after moonset. They remained in deep water to reduce the danger of mines. Next morning, at dawn on the 10th at 0720 hours, they encountered two Italian torpedo boats in position 36°30’N, 12°10’E. HMS Jaguar, the port wing destroyer in the screen, and HMS Bonaventure, stationed astern of the convoy columns, sighted the enemy at the same time. Initially thinking they might be destroyers from the Mediterranean Fleet, which the convoy was due to meet. British ships reported the contact by signal to Rear-Admiral Renouf. HMS Bonaventure challenged the ‘strangers’ and fired a star shell and then turned to engage the enemy working up to full speed. Rear-Admiral Renouf meanwhile turned away with the bulk of the convoy. HMS Southampton, HMS Jaguar and HMS Hereward hauled out from their stations on the engaged side of the convoy and made for the enemy. HMS Bonaventure meanwhile was engaging the right-hand ship of the pair. When the other three ships arrived on the scene Bonaventure shifted her fire to the other enemy ship which came towards her at full speed to attack. The enemy fired her torpedoes which HMS Bonaventure avoided. The four British ships now quickly stopped the enemy but she did not sink. In the end HMS Hereward torpedoed the damaged Italian torpedo boat some 40 minutes later. The other Italian torpedo-boat meanwhile had disappeared. [The Italian ships were the torpedo-boats Vega, which was sunk, and the Circe. HMS Boneventure had sustained some superficial damage from splinters during the action.
Enemy air attacks during 10 January.
At 0800/10, Admiral Cunningham arrived on the scene with ‘Force A’ before the fight was finished. ‘Force A’ turned to the south-east in the wake of the ‘Excess convoy around 0830 hours. While doing so, the destroyer HMS Gallant hit a mine and had her bow blown off. [This was a mine from the Italian minefield ‘7 AN’]. HMS Mohawk took the stricken destroyer in tow towards Malta escorted by HMS Bonaventure and HMS Griffin. They were later joined by HMS Gloucester and HMS Southampton. While HMS Mohawk was passing the towline two Italian torpedo planes attacked but they had to drop their torpedoes from long range and they missed. Between 1130 and 1800 hours, as the tow crept along at five or six knots, with their escort zig-zagging at 20 knots, they were attacked or threatened by aircraft ten times. Nearly all German high level bombers, which came in ones, twos or threes. The enemy dropped bombs in five out of the ten attempts but no hits were obtained. At 1300 hours German dive bombers arrived an obtained a near miss on HMS Southampton causing some minor damage.
At 0500/11, when about 15 nautical miles from Malta, all was going well and Rear-Admiral Renouf made off with for Suda Bay, Crete with HMS Gloucester, HMS Southampton and HMS Diamond. This last ship had joined the evening before. HMS Gallant, still being towed by HMS Mohawk and escorted by HMS Bonaventure and HMS Griffin arrived at Malta in the forenoon. At Malta, HMS Bonaventure disembarked the soldiers she had on board. [HMS Gallant was further damaged by bombs while at Malta and was eventually found to be beyond economical repair and was cannibalized for spares.]
Meanwhile, Admiral Cunningham in ‘Force A’ had a similar experience on a larger scale. He had sailed from Alexandria on the 7th and enemy aircraft spotted his force already on the same day. During the afternoon of the 10th heavy dive bombing attacks were pressed home by the emeny with skill and determination. The main target was HMS Illustrious. Had the enemy attacked the convoy itself the four transports would most likely all have been sunk, instead the Ilustrious was disabled and she would be out of action of many months.
At noon on the 10th the transports were steering south-eastward, zigzagging at 14 to 15 knots with an escort of three destroyers. At 1320 hours, HMS Calcutta joined them. HMS Warspite, HMS Illustrious and HMS Valiant were steaming in line ahead on the convoy’s starboard quarter, course 110° and zigzagging at 17 to 18 knots. These ships were screened by seven destroyers. The weather was clear, with high cloud.
The fleet was in position 35°59’N, 13°13’E some 55 nautical miles west of Malta when the battle began with an air attack by two Savoia torpedo planes which were detected six nautical miles away on the starboard beam at 1220 hours. They came in at a steady level, 150 feet above the water and dropped their torpedoes about 2500 yards from the battleships. They were sighted a minute before firing and the ships received them with a barrage from long- and short-range guns, altering course to avoid the torpedoes, which passed astern of the rearmost ship HMS Valiant. Five Fulmar fighters from the Illustrious had been patrolling above the fleet. One had returned before the attack being damaged while assisting to destroy a shadower some time before the attack. The other four aircraft chased the torpedo aircraft all the way to Linosa Island, which was about 20 miles to the westward. They claimed to have damaged both the enemy machines.
Directly after this attack, while the ships were reforming the line, a strong force of aircraft were reported at 1235 hours, coming from the northward some 30 miles away. The Fulmars, of course, were then a long way off, flying low and with little ammunition remaining. Actually two were even out of ammunition. They were ordered to return and the Illustrious sent up four fresh fighters as well as reliefs for the anti-submarine patrol. This meant a turn of 100° to starboard into the wind to fly off these aircraft. The enemy aircraft came into sight in the middle of this operation which lasted about four minutes. All the ships opened fire. The fleet had just got back to the proper course, 110°, and the Admiral had made the signal to assume loose formation, when the new attack began. The enemy had assembled astern of their target ‘in two very loose and flexible formations’ at a height of 12000 feet.
They were Junkers dive bombers, perhaps as many as 36, of which 18 to 24 attacked HMS Illustrious at 1240 hours, while a dozen attacked the battleships and the destroyer screen. They came down in flights of three on different bearings astern and on either beam, to release their bombs at heights from 1500 to 800 feet, ‘a very severe and brilliantly executed dive-bombing attack’ says Captain Boyd of the Illustrious. The ships altered course continually, and beginning with long-range controlled fire during the approach, shifted to barrage fire as the enemy dived for attack. The ships shot down at least three machines, while the eight Fulmar fighters that were up shot down five more, at the coast of one British machine. Even the two Fulmars that were out of ammo made dummy attacks and forced two Germans to turn away. But, as Captain Boyd pointed out ‘ at least twelve fighters in the air would have been required to make any impression on the enemy, and double that number to keep them off’.
HMS Illustrious was seriously damaged. She was hit six times, mostly with armour-piercing bombs of 1100 pounds. They wrecked the flight deck, destroyed nine aircraft on board and put half the 4.5” guns out of action, and did other damage, besides setting the ship on fire fore and aft and killing and wounding many of the ship’s company (13 officers and 113 ratings killed and 7 officers and 84 ratings injured) . The Warspite too, narrowly escaped serious injury, but got away with a split hawsepipe and a damaged anchor.
As HMS Illustrious was now useless as a carrier and likely to become a drag on the fleet Captain Boyd decided to make for Malta. The Commander-in-Chief gave her two destroyers as escort, one from his own screen and one from the convoy’s (these were HMS Hasty and HMS Jaguar) and she parted company accordingly. She had continual trouble with her steering gear, which at last broke down altogether, so that she had to steer with the engines, making only 17 to 18 knots. Her aircraft that were in the air also proceeded to Malta.
A third attack came at 1330 hours. By this time HMS Illustrious was 10 nautical miles north-eastward of the battleships which, due to the manoeuvres during the previous attack, were nearly as far away from the transports. The enemy came in again with high level bombers. Seven machines attacked the Illustrious and seven more the battleships. They were received with heavy AA fire. All the bombs they dropped fell wide. HMS Calcutta claimed to have destroyed one of the attackers.
More serious in it’s results was a second dive-bombing attack upon HMS Illustrious at 1610 hours. There were 15 JU-87’s Stuka’s escorted by 5 fighters. Actually 9 of the Stuka’s dropped their bombs, the other 6 were kept at bay due to heavy AA fire from the Illustrious, Hasty and Jaguar. One bomb hit and two near misses on the Illustrious were obtained by the enemy for the loss of one of their aircraft which was shot down by the Illustrious and the Jaguar. A few minutes later the 6 Stuka’s that had been driven off attacked the battleships but they again retired after fire was opened on them.
At 1715 hours, 17 more Stuka’s attacked the battleships. Again they were received with heavy AA fire. The enemy dropped their bombs from a greater height and non of them hit although splinters from a near miss killed a rating on board HMS Valiant and a bombs fell very near HMS Janus but it did not explode. The ships may have destroyed one aircraft with their AA fire. Three of the Fulmars from the Illustrious came from Malta and destroyed three of the attackers.
This turned out to be the end of the ordeal for the ‘Excess Convoy’ and its supporting ships of war, but not for HMS Illustrious which had one more encounter with the enemy before she reached Malta. At about 1920 hours, a little more then an hour after sunset and in moonlight, some aircraft approached from seaward when she was only five nautical miles from the entrance to Grand Harbour, Malta. She had received warning from Malta that enemy aircraft were about and she sighted two – probably torpedo planes. Illustrious, Hasty and Jaguar fired a blind barrage on which the enemy disappeared. Directly afterwards HMS Hasty obtained an Asdic contact and attacked it with depth charges, but whether it was a submarine remains uncertain. HMS Illustrious finally entered harbour at 2100 hours accompanied by HMS Jaguar which had passengers to land.
Movements of the actual ‘Excess Convoy’.
In the meantime, after the mild attack at 1340/10, the convoy went on its way unhindered. Its movements then became involved in those of the Malta to Egypt convoys, which were to sail under cover of the main operation with the special support of Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell’s ‘Force D’ which was made up of the cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN) and HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN). The first of these convoys, the two ships of M.W. 5½ (see above), had left Alexandria for Malta on 7 January, some hours after Admiral Cunningham sailed westwards with ‘Force A’ to meet the ‘Excess Convoy’. Both ships of this convoy reached Malta without adventure in the morning of the 10th escorted by HMS Calcutta, HMS Diamond and HMS Defender. On arrival HMS Calcutta joined the six slow ships which made up convoy M.E. 6 which was bound for Port Said and Alexandria. The ships in this convoy were the; Devis (6054 GRT, built 1938), Hoegh Hood (tanker, Norwegian, 9351 GRT, built 1936), Pontfield (tanker, 8290 GRT, built 1940), Rodi (3220 GRT, built 1928, former Italian), Trocas (tanker, 7406 GRT, built 1927) and Volo (1587 GRT, built 1938). They were escorted by four corvettes; HMS Peony (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) M.B. Sherwood, DSO, RN), HMS Salvia (Lt.Cdr. J.I. Miller, DSO, RN, RNR), HMS Hyacinth (T/Lt. F.C. Hopkins, RNR), HMS Gloxinia (Lt.Cdr. A.J.C. Pomeroy, RNVR). At the end of the searched channel this convoy was joined by ‘Force D’. HMS Calcutta was then ordered to join the ‘Excess Convoy’ and arrived in time to defend it from the Italian bombers as already described.
The last convoy, M.E. 5½, two fast ships (the Lanarkshire (8167 GRT, built 1940) and Waiwera (12435 GRT, built 1934)) bound for Alexandria, also left Malta in the morning of the 10th under escort of HMS Diamond. They were to join the ‘Excess Convoy’ until they were to turn to the south to clear Crete and then proceed to Alexandria. The ‘Excess Convoy’ would then proceed to Piraeus, Greece. The two convoys met that afternoon. The transport Essex then left and proceeded to Malta escorted by HMS Hero. After the Essex was safely inside Grand Harbour, HMS Hero joined the fleet.
Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell stayed with convoy M.E. 6 until dark on the 10th. As ‘Force A’ was somewhat behind due to the air attacks and Admiral Cunningham ordered Vice Admiral Pridham-Whippell to position HMS Orion and HMAS Perth to the north of the convoy to be in a good position in case of an attack by Italian surface forces. ‘Force A’ made good ground during the night and was some 25 nautical miles north of the convoy by daylight on the 11th at which time Orion and Perth joined ‘Force A’. Their forces stayed within a few miles of the convoy until the afternoon when they turned back to help HMS Gloucester, HMS Southampton which had come under air attack (see below). In the evening the ships destined for Alexandria left the convoy, while HMS Calcutta went ahead to Suda Bay to fuel there. The three ships and their destroyer escort continued on to Piraeus where they arrived safely next morning, at 1000 on the 12th.
HMS Ajax and HMS York had been ordered to join convoy M.E. 6. HMS Ajax however was ordered to proceed to Suda Bay soon after she had joined the convoy. In the morning of the 11th therefore, Rear-Admiral Renouf in HMS Gloucester and with HMS Southampton and HMS Diamond in company, was ordered to overtake the convoy and support it. They were at that moment steering for Suda Bay having left the disabled Gallant off Malta some hours before. Rear-Admiral Renouf altered course accordingly and made 24 knots against the convoys 9 to 10 knots. He also send up a Walrus aircraft to find the convoy.
The sinking of HMS Southampton.
At 1522 hours, when his ships were some 30 nautical miles astern of the convoy, and in position 34°56’N, 18°19’E, they were suddenly attacked by a dozen German Ju-87 ‘Stuka’ dive-bombers. Fortune was against them. The attack came as an entire surprise and according to Captain Rowley of the Gloucester the ‘aircraft were not sighted until the whistle of the first bomb was heard’. Six machines attacked each cruiser, diving steeply from the direction of the sun, releasing a 550-lb bomb each, at heights of around 1500 to 800 feet. The ships opened fire with 4” AA guns and smaller AA guns. They also increased speed and altered course to avoid the attack but two bombs, perhaps three hit HMS Southampton causing disastrous damage. Another hit and some near misses did some damage to HMS Gloucester, most important damage was to her DCT (director control tower). Half-an-hour later seven high-level bombers attacked but they were detected in time and taken under fire as a result of which all bombs fell wide. During the attack the Walrus from HMS Gloucester returned and ditched alongside HMS Diamond which took off the crew and then scuttled the aircraft.
Rear-Admiral Renouf immediately reported the damage to his cruisers to Admiral Cunningham who went to their aid. He send Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell ahead with the Orion, Perth, Jervis and Janus. From Malta HMS Griffin and HMS Mohawk were sent. Before they arrived however, Rear-Admiral Renouf reported that the Southampton must be abandoned and that he would sink her. HMS Gloucester took on board 33 officers and 678 ratings of which 4 officers and 58 ratings were wounded while HMS Diamond took on board 16 wounded ratings. Upon this signal the battleships turned east again. HMS Southampton had cought fire badly upon being hit. For a time the ships company fought the fire successfully and kept the ship in action and under control but in the end the fire got out of control. Also it was found that some magazines could not be flooded. In the end the crew had to give it up and was taken off. A torpedo was fired into her by HMS Gloucester but it did not sink her. Soon afterwards Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell arrived on the scene and his flagship, HMS Orion then scuttled her with three more torpedoes (four were fired).
Further proceedings of the convoys and the fleet.
Next morning, the 12th, HMS Orion, HMS Perth, HMS Gloucester, HMS Jervis and HMS Janus joined Admiral Cunningham’s Force off the west end of Crete meeting there also A/Rear-Admiral Rawlings (‘Force X’) in HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of A/Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN) and with HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, CBE, RN), HMS Ajax and their destroyer screen made up of HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN), HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN), HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhodes, RAN), HMAS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, DSO, RAN) and HMS Wryneck (Lt.Cdr. R.H.D. Lane, RN). These ships were to have begun a series of attacks on the Italian shipping routes but the disabling of HMS Illustrious put an end to that part of the plan so Admiral Cunningham took HMS Warspite, HMS Valiant, HMS Gloucester and the destroyers HMS Jervis, HMS Janus, HMS Greyhound, HMS Diamond, HMS Defender, HMS Hero and HMAS Voyager straight to Alexandria where they arrived in the early morning hours of the 13th.
HMS Barham, HMS Eagle, HMS York, HMS Orion, HMS Ajax, HMAS Perth, HMAS Stuart, HMAS Vampire, HMAS Vendetta, HMS Wryneck, HMS Griffin and HMS Mohawk then proceeded to Suda Bay to fuel where they arrived around 1900/12.
After fuelling at Suda Bay, Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell took HMS Orion, HMAS Perth to Piraeus where they arrived at 0230/13. There they took some troops from the ‘Excess Convoy’ on board and departed for Malta at 0600/13, a task the Southampton was to have done. They arrived at Malta around 0830/14. After unloading HMS Orion departed for Alexandria later the same day together with HMS Bonaventure and HMS Jaguar. They arrived at Alexandria in the morning of the 16th. HMAS Perth remained at Malta due to defects.
Meanwhile the six ships of convoy M.E. 6 arrived safely at their destinations on 13 January.
HMS Barham, HMS Eagle, HMS Ajax, HMAS Stuart, HMS Juno, HMS Hereward, HMS Hasty and HMS Dainty departed Suda Bay for operations south-west of Crete early in the morning of the 13th. The destroyers HMS Ilex, HMS Wryneck, HMAS Vampire and HMAS Vendetta also departed Suda Bay to conduct a sweep in the Kythera Channel. They joined ‘Force X’ around noon but Vampire and Vendetta were soon detached to investigate explosions which turned out to be underwater volcano activity. Meanwhile Ilex and Wryneck were also detached for a sweep towards Stampalia.
’Force X’ returned to Suda Bay in the afternoon of the 15th and departed from there on the 16th for Alexandria where they arrived on the 18th.
Not a single of the 14 merchant ships in the convoys was lost but the fleet paid a heavy price for this loosing a light cruiser and a valuable aircraft carrier out of action for many months. As there were now German aircraft based in Italy future operations for the supply of Malta would be extremely difficult and dangerous. (8)
17 Jan 1941
Operation IS 1.
Bombardment of Tobruk.
Timespan; 17 January to 22 January 1941.
At 1800/17 the monitor HMS Terror (Cdr. H.J. Haynes, DSC, RN) and the gunboat HMS Aphis (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) J.O. Campbell, DSC, RN) departed Alexandria for Operation IS 1. The object was to bombard enemy positions off Mersa-el-Sahal in the Tobruk area during the nights of 18/19 and 19/20 January to aid the British Army in their attempt to capture Tobruk from the Italians.
At 0400/18, a force made up of the light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN),HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN) and HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN) departed Alexandria. They were to cover the operations off Tobruk. The cruisers were to patrol to the north-west while the destroyers were to patrol off the north-east.
The weather however became bad and the operation had to be postponed for 24 hours. The cover forces however remained in their positions as it was thought possible that the old Italian armoured cruiser San Giorgio might try to escape from Tobruk. In the end the cover force was withdrawn for more urgent operations and was ordered to proceed to Suda Bay where they arrived in the afternoon of the 20th. Due to this bad weather the shallow draft HMS Aphis got into trouble as she was unable to seek shelter. Two destroyers and an aircraft were sent out for assistance. She was found at 1300/19 off Damietta. HMS Griffin then accompanied her to Port Said where she arrived at 0700/20. She had to be docked there for repairs to her hull.
The weather however remained bad and it was not possible to bombard during the night of 19/20 January as well. Also HMS Terror sustained weather damage but was able remain at sea.
During the night of 20/21 January, HMS Terror assisted by HMS Gnat (Lt.Cdr. S.R.H. Davenport, RN) and HMS Ladybird (Cdr.(Retd.) J.F. Blackburn, RN) from the Inshore Squadron did manage to carry out her bombardment duties. Little enemy opposition was experienced.
Also the destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN), HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN) and HMAS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, DSO, RAN) were on patrol to the west of Tobruk to cut the enemy sea communications. During the night of 21/22 January, HMAS Vampire sank the Italian schooner Diego west of Tobruk. The crew of ten were taken prisoner. On the 22nd HMAS Voyager returned to Alexandria due to defects. She was relieved the next day by HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN).
HMS Terror and HMS Gnat also returned to on the 22nd. HMS Terror had lost her mast and sustained some additional damage in the recent heavy weather. HMS Gnat had to clean her boilers. The destroyers remained on the inshore patrol for now. (9)
12 Feb 1941
Clearence of Benghazi harbour.
12 February 1941. At 0730/12, HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN) and HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, RN) departed Alexandria to make rendez-vous in position 34°00'N, 21°00'E with the Aegean Force.
The Aegean force, made up of HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN), HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN) and HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN) departed Suda Bay at 1700/12 to make this rendez-vous.
The whole of this force was to cover the entry of the Inshore Squadron into Benghazi, advancing into the Gulf of Sirte at night and to retire towards Crete by day.
HMS Aphis (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) J.O. Campbell, DSC, RN) entered Benghazi during daylight on the 12th.
HMS Chakla (Cdr. L.C. Bach, RD, RNR), HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN), HMAS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, DSO, RAN), HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN), HMS Fareham (Lt. W.J.P. Church, RN), HMS Peony (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) M.B. Sherwood, DSO, RN) and HMS Hyacinth (T/A/Lt.Cdr. F.C. Hopkins, DSC, RNR) left Tobruk at 0730/12 to reach Benghazi early on the 13th. (10)
17 Feb 1941
HMS Terror (Cdr. H.J. Haynes, DSC, RN) arrived at Benghazi, Libya, escorted by the Australian destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN) and HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades, RAN) and remained there to bolster the stronghold defences.
19 Feb 1941
Operations MC 8, troops to be ferried to Malta and a convoy of empty transports was to return from Malta.
19 February 1941.
The purpose of this operation was to transport two battalions of infantry and certain most urgent stores to Malta in three 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) and HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E. de F. Renouf, CVO, RN) and to convoy Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) and Clan Macaulay (10492 GRT, built 1936) from Malta to the east (Alexandria / Port Said) escorted by HMS Hotspur (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC, RN) and HMS Havock (Lt. G.R.G. Watkins, RN) (which last destroyer had completed her repairs there). Also the destroyer HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN) was to proceed to Malta for refit.
Around 1200 hours HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, CBE, RN) proceeded to see for exercises with her aircraft. She was escorted by some destroyers; these appear to have been HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, DSO, RN), HMS Diamond, HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN) and HMS Hereward (Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN).
The operation was to be covered by ‘Force A’ which departed Alexandria around 1630 hours and was made up of the battleships HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (which was to join on completion of her flying exercises). These were escorted by the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN), HMS Ilex (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Hereward, HMS Hero, HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Dainty and HMS Decoy. When clear of the swept channel HMS Eagle and her escorting destroyers joined.
’Force B’ was to transport the troops and was made up of the light cruisers HMS Orion, HMS Ajax, HMS Gloucester. These were escorted by the destroyers HMS Nubian (Cdr. C.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN) and HMS Diamond. 410 Army officers and other ranks were embarked in Orion, 374 in Ajax and 657 in Gloucester. Also stores were loaded. This force departed Alexandria around 1730 hours.
20 February 1941.
The convoy from Malta departed eastwards at dusk. All other forces proceeded with the operation as planned.
21 February 1941.
At 0630 hours, ‘Force B’ arrived at Malta having made the passage unobserved. They departed again, less HMS Diamond at 1900 hours having disembarked the troops and stores. During the night HMS Nubian and HMS Mohawk were detached to join ‘Force A’ at daylight the next morning.
’Force A’ was joined by Breconshire and HMS Havock. This force was also not sighted by the enemy.
However at 1600 hours the Clan Macaulay, and her escorts, the AA cruiser HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN), which had joined at daylight that day coming from Tobruk, and the destroyer HMS Hotspur, were bombed by five Heinkel 111’s. One bomb passed through the funnel of the Clan Macaulay without causing an serious damage or casualties. One of these Heinkels attacked with a torpedo which missed and was subsequently shot down by Fulmars from HMS Eagle. Another Heinkel was severely damaged and possibly also shot down by the Fulmars.
22 February 1941.
When HMS Nubian and HMS Mohawk joined ‘Force A’ around daylight. HMS Decoy and HMS Hereward were then detached to Suda Bay where they arrived later the same day. Shortly before noon HMS Gloucester was detached from ‘Force B’ also with orders to proceed to Suda Bay where she arrived around 1830 hours.
The destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN) and HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN) joined the fleet. HMS Dainty and HMS Hasty were then detached with orders to proceed to Tobruk where they arrived later the same day.
All forces continued to proceed to the east without incident.
23 February 1941.
At 0745 hours Breconshire, HMS Coventry and HMS Havock arrived at Alexandria.
’Force B’ arrived at Alexandria at 1000 hours.
Clan Macaulay and HMS Hotspur arrived at Port Said at 1630 hours.
’Force A’ arrived at Alexandria at 1830 hours. (9)
19 Mar 1941
Operation MC 9.
Convoy MW 6 to Malta.
19 March 1941.
On 19 March 1941 three merchant vessels departed from Haifa to Malta. One more merchant vessel departed from Alexandria.
The merchant vessels that departed from Haifa were the City of Manchester (8917 GRT, built 1935), Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938) and Perthshire (10496 GRT, built 1936). They were escorted by HMS Hotspur (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC, RN) and HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN).
The merchant vessel that departed from Alexandria was the City of Lincoln (8039 GRT, built 1938). She was escorted by HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall-A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN).
20 March 1941.
Around 0430/20, HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN) departed Alexandria to joined the convoy which was known as ‘Force C’.
Around 0700/20, ‘Force A’ which was made up of the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of A/Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.La T. Bisset, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral A.L.St.G. Lyster, CB, CVO, DSO, RN) departed Alexandria to cover this convoy. These capital ships were escorted by the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Thyrwhitt, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Ilex (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Havock (Lt. G.R.G. Watkins, RN) and HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN).
21 March 1941.
Around 0700/21, ‘Force B’ which was made up of the cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN) and HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN) departed Suda Bay to join ‘Force A’ at sea. Before they did so HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN) joined ‘Force B’ around noon. She came from Piraeus. The destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN) and HMS Hereward (Lt. W.J. Munn, RN) were also in company. HMS Hasty, like HMS Gloucester came from Pireaus. These ships joined up with ‘Force A’ around 1600/21.
When ‘Force A’ and ‘Force B’ joined up, HMS Havock was detached to the convoy (‘Force C’). Also on this day ‘Force C’ was reinforced by the AA-cruisers HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN), HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN), HMS Carlisle (Capt. T.C. Hampton, RN) which had been on convoy escort duty in the Aegean.
During the night of 21/22 March 1941, ‘Force A’ remained about 20 nautical miles north of ‘Force C’ with ‘Force B’ a further 20 nautical miles to the north-west.
22 March 1941.
At 0740 hours ‘Force B’ rejoined ‘Force A’ and remained close to the convoy all day. None of the forces was detected by enemy air reconnaissance all day.
One Fulmar fighter from HMS Formidable crashed into the sea around 1115 hours. The crew was rescued by HMS Gloucester.
At 2000 hours, when in position 35°08’N, 16°42’E, ‘Force A’ parted company. They set course for Alexandria after covering ‘Force B’ during the night. ‘Force B’, reinforced with HMS Nubian and HMS Mohawk from ‘Force A’, covered ‘Force C’ to the northward during the night.
HMS Coventry and HMS Carlisle left the convoy (‘Force C’) at 2030 hours and proceeded to Alexandria. The remainder of the convoy took the direct route to Malta at the maximum speed of the merchant ships.
At 1945 hours, HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN), which had been refitting at Malta, left that place to join ‘Force A’.
23 March 1941.
At 0800 hours, ‘Force A’ was in position 35°16’N, 19°32’E where it was rejoined by ‘Force B’. HMS Defender, coming from Malta, joined shortly afterwards. Course was continued towards Alexandria during the day.
The convoy (‘Force C’) arrived at Malta safely but were bombed in the harbour. HMS Bonaventure and HMS Griffin were slightly damaged by near misses. The City of Lincoln was hit on the bridge and the Perthshire took a hit in No.1 hold.
The cruisers and destroyers of ‘Force C’ departed Malta at 1930/23.
At 1900/23, ‘Force B’ had been detached to cover the passage east of ‘Force C’. ‘Force B’ was strengthened by HMS Ilex and HMS Hasty while HMS Herewardwas detached from ‘Force A’ to strengthen the escort of convoy AN 22.
24 March 1941.
At 0800 hours, ‘Force A’ was in position 32°27’N, 25°45’E and continued direct to Alexandria where it arrived around 2230/24.
The cruisers and destroyers of ‘Force C’ joined ‘Force B’ around 0730 hours. HMS Coventry and HMS Hereward joined the escort of convoy AN 22. HMS Carlisle arrived at Alexandria in the afternoon.
HMS Calcutta, HMS Ilex and HMS Hasty proceeded to Port Said.
Cover was provided for convoy AN 22 from west of the Kithera Channel.
HMS Bonaventure, HMS Griffin, HMS Greyhound, HMS Hasty and HMS Hotspur proceeded to Alexandria where they arrived the next day.
Part of ’Force B’ then patrolled the Aegean while the other part went to Suda Bay. (9)
28 Mar 1941
HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN) was attached to Adm Cunningham battleships during the Battle of Matapan. On the night of 29/3 she attempted scuttling the disabled Italian heavy cruiser Zara but all 4 of her torpedoes missed.
28 Mar 1941
Battle of Cape Matapan.
Timespan: 26 to 30 March 1941.
26 March 1941.
The Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto departed Naples escorted by the destroyers Alpino, Bersagliere, Fuciliere and Granatiere from the 13th Destroyer Division.
The Italian heavy cruisers Fiume, Zara and Pola from the 1st Cruiser Division departed Taranto escorted by the destroyers Vittorio Alfieri, Giosuè Carducci Alfredo Oriani and Vincenzo Gioberti from the 9th Destroyer Division.
The Italian light cruisers Luigi di Savoia Duca Delgi Abruzzi and Giuseppe Garibaldi from the 8th Cruiser Division departed Brindisi escorted by the destroyers Nicoloso Da Recco and Emanuele Pessagno from the 16th Destroyer Division.
27 March 1941.
The Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto and her escorting destroyers passed the Straits of Messina after which they were joined by the heavy cruisers Trieste, Trento and Bolzano (3rd Cruiser Division) and their escorting destroyers from the 12th Destroyer Division; Ascari, Carabiniere and Corazziere which sailed from Messina.
The 1st and 8th Cruiser Divisions were to proceed to the Aegean to search for British/Greek convoy’s while the Veneto and the 3rd Cruiser Division were to proceed towards Gavdos Island to take up a cover position. Late in the evening however the 1st and 8th Cruiser Divisions were ordered to join the Veneto and 3rd Cruiser Division.
However in the meantime the British were aware of the Italian fleet movements and shortly after noon this day the 3rd Cruiser Division had been sighted and reported by a Sunderland aircraft.
In response Admiral Cunningham departed Alexandria at 1900 hours with the Mediterranean Fleet which was made up of the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of A/Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.La T. Bisset, RN, flying the flag of A/Rear-Admiral D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN), HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN / other sources give Lt. L.R.P. Lawford, RN in command), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall-A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN), HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN), HMS Havock (Lt. G.R.G. Watkins, RN) and HMS Hotspur (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC, RN).
The fleet steered a course of 300° at 20 knots.
Six hours before, at 1300/27, Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell, had departed Pireaus with the light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN), HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN) and the destroyers HMS Hereward (Lt. W.J. Munn, RN) and HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades, RAN). They were to patrol in the Aegean to provide cover for convoy’s but when the Italian warships were known to be at sea they were ordered to make rendez-vous at 0630/28 south of crete with the Mediterranean Fleet in position 34°20’N, 24°10’E, 30 nautical miles south of Gavdos Island, south of Crete.
28 March 1941 and onwards.
At 0430 hours, the Fleet was in position 32°22’N, 27°12’E steering 310° at 16 knots. They were a little over 200 nautical miles from the rendez-vous position with the cruiser force.
At 0555 hours, HMS Formidable, launched A/S and fighter aircraft. They were to search an area between Crete and Cyrenaica as far west as longitude 23°E. An air search from Maleme, in Crete, had started earlier. Four torpedo bombers (armed indeed with torpedoes) took off at 0445 hours to search to the west of Crete. One however developed engine trouble and ha to jettison her torpedo and return. The other sighted nothing of the enemy and returned at 0845 hours.
At 0630 hours, the cruiser force was proceeding to the south-east at 18 knots. They sighted an Italian aircraft of a type that was used as catapult aircraft by Italian surface ships. So this indicated that these must be in the area.
At 0630 hours, the cruiser force was joined by two more destroyers. These were HMS Ilex (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN) and HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN) which came from Suda Bay. The cruiser force then set course to 200°.
At 0720 hours, the enemy was first sighted by aircraft ‘5 B’ from HMS Formidable. At 0722 hours this aircraft amplified her report ‘four cruisers and four destroyers’ were reported in position 34°22’N, 24°57’E. They were steering 230°.
The next report came from aircraft ‘5 F’ from HMS Formidable at 0739 hours which announced four cruisers and six destroyers in position 34°05’N, 24°26’E steering 200°.
As the force reported at 0720 hours was identical in composition as the British cruiser force and only 35 miles north of this force it was thought that the aircraft had sighted our own ships.
The report of the force reported at 0739 hours was still being studied by Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell when HMS Orion sighted smoke astern at 0745 hours bearing 010°. One minute later the enemy ships were sighted and identified.
Commencement of the action.
At 0752 hours the cruiser force altered course to 140° and increased speed to 23 knots. Shorty afterwards the ships astern were seen to be three cruisers and some destroyers and speed was increased to 28 knots. As the enemy was suspected to be 8” cruisers of the Zara-class which outgunned our cruisers and were also faster it was decided to try to draw them towards out battleships which were about 90 nautical miles to the eastward.
At 0812 hours the enemy opened fire from 25000 yards. It were however not Zara-class heavy cruisers but it were Trieste, Trento and Bolzano. Enemy salvoes however fell short. Enemy fire concentrated on HMS Gloucester which commenced zig-zagging to avoid being hit.
At 0829 hours HMS Gloucester opened fire on the enemy from 23500 yards. The salvoes fell short but caused the enemy to alter course away and draw outside the British gun range. The Italians continued firing although all their salvoes were falling short. Both forces continued speeding to the south-east when at 0854 hours the aspect of affairs was suddenly changed when aircraft ‘5 F’ from HMS Formidable reported enemy battleships in position 34°00’N, 24°16’E steering course 210° at 20 knots. Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell had been in that position less then one hour before and thought the position to be incorrect but enemy battleships must be nearby non the less.
One minute later the enemy cruisers ceased fire and turned away to the north-east. They had been ordered to break off the engagement as the Italian C-in-C feared that his cruisers were drawn to far into waters controlled by British aircraft. Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell decided to follow the enemy and altered course accordingly. At 0936 hours he reported that the enemy was still in sight bearing 320°, range 16 nautical miles, speed 28 knots. During this phase of the action HMAS Vendetta developed engine trouble and was detached to Alexandria.
Movements of the Mediterranean Fleet.
When Admiral Cunningham received Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell’s contact report at 0827 hours the Fleet increased speed to 22 knots and altered course to 310°. Twenty minutes later HMS Valiant was ordered to proceed at her utmost speed and join Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell’s cruiser force. HMS Mohawk and HMS Nubian were ordered to join her.
At 0833 hours HMS Formidable was ordered to ready a torpedo bomber striking force. Also the aircraft at Maleme, Crete were ordered to attack the enemy cruisers.
Aircraft reports then came in regarding another enemy force further to the northward, though their presence was by no means certain. Aircraft reports continued to come in but the situation was very unclear. It was therefore decided to hold back the torpedo bomber striking force of HMS Formidable until the situation had cleared.
Striking force of HMS Formidable finally takes off.
At 0939 hours the C-in-C finally orders HMS Formidable to lauch her torpedo bomber strike force to attack the enemy and relieve the pressure on the cruiser force.
At 0956 hours Formidable therefore launches six Albacore torpedo aircraft and two Fulmar fighters as escort. Also a Swordfish was launched for observation duty.
Meanwhile the cruiser force was still in pursuit of the enemy cruisers. They were barely visible from the director of HMS Orion when at 1058 hours the enemy motive for breaking off the action and turning to the north-west became evident when HMS Orion sighted an enemy battleship bearing 002°. The battleship quickly opened fire and Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell at once altered course to the southward in order to disengage. Also speed was increased to 30 knots which all cruisers fortunately could make despite some machinery problems in HMS Gloucester. For ten minutes the enemy battleship concentrated her fire on HMS Orion which suffered some minor damage from a near miss. Smoke was made and the cruiser force then became invisible to the enemy except for HMS Gloucester. Fire was then shifted to this ship and she was repeatedly straddled until HMS Hasty was able to cover her in smoke. Meanwhile the Italian 8” cruisers that had been encountered first tried to cut off the retreat of our cruisers but fortunately right at this moment the air striking force from HMS Formidable intervened.
The air attack on the Vittorio Veneto.
While flying at 9000 feet the air striking force from HMS Formidable sighted the Vittorio Veneto at 1058 hours. Her salvoes were seen to straddle our cruisers. The planes proceeded to manoeuvre to reach a position off her starboard bow on the opposite site of the battleships destroyer escort.
They attacked at 1127 hours, in two waves, each plane being able to act independently. The enemy destroyers began to move over to starboard when our planes commenced their dive and the battleship altered course more then 180° to starboard when the first wave was at 1000 feet. Two aircraft (‘4 A’ and ‘4 F’) were already committed to the attack released their torpedoes on the starboard side. The third aircraft (‘4 C’) attacked from fine on the starboard bow.
The second sub-flight (aircraft ‘5 A’, ‘4 P’ and ‘4 K’) was able to take advantage of Vittorio Veneto’s turn and dropped their torpedoes from good positions on the battleships port bow. Although the striking force reported a possible hit all torpedoes passed clear astern of the target.
The enemy battleship then broke off the action with our cruiser force and retired on a north-westerly course at 25 knots. This was fortunate for the cruiser force but the C-in-C was not at all happy because this lessened his chance to bring his battleships into action against the enemy battleship.
At 1230 hours, Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell made contact with the Fleet.
Attack by FAA aircraft from Maleme on the Italian 3rd Cruiser Division.
The aircraft from Maleme also took part in this phase of the action. Three Swordfish had been flow off at 1050 hours. Flying at 9000 feet they sighted enemy cruisers in position 34°22’N, 23°02’E at 1200 hours. The enemy force was steering 300° at 28 to 30 knots. The aircraft then attacked out of the sun. Their target was the rear cruiser, Bolzano. The two leading aircraft dropped their torpedoes from the port bow and beam. The third aircraft came in too high, turned to port and then dropped it’s torpedo on the bow of the target. The enemy cruiser took avoiding action and all torpedoes missed. AA fire was opened but none of the aircraft was damaged.
Movements of the battlefleet 1100 – 1305 hours.
At 0918 hours, the C-in-C ordered HMS Valiant, HMS Mohawk and HMS Nubian to rejoin him. This was done after it was heard by the C-in-C that the Italian cruisers had broken off the action with the British cruiser force.
At 1112 hours, the C-in-C asked Rear-Admiral Boyd on board HMS Formidable when a second air strike force could be ready. The reply was ‘in about half an hour’. At 1153 hours, HMS Formidable reported this second strike force to be ready for takeoff. They were however told to wait for a moment.
At 1225 hours the battleships were ordered to launch spotter aircraft as action might be near. Shortly afterwards the C-in-C realised that the speed of the enemy battleship had to be reduced if his battleships were to see action against it. Meanwhile the cruiser force had been retiring towards the battlefleet and at 1228 hours HMS Orion had been sighted by HMS Jervis from the destroyer screen.
At 1305 hours, the cruiser force was ordered to proceed ahead of the battlefleet on a bearing of 290° at maximum visual signalling distance. They remained near the battlefleet until 1644 hours when they were ordered to press on and gain touch with the retreating enemy.
The Formidable’s second strike force awaits orders.
The first air strike force returned to HMS Formidable between 1200 and 1215 hours after attacking the Vittorio Veneto. This necessitated the second air strike force to be flown off in order to have the first one to land on. The two operations were completed by 1244 hours and HMS Formidable set course to rejoin the battlefleet she had to split off from during flight operations.
The second striking force consisted of three Albacore’s and two Swordfish accompanied by two Fulmar’s. After flying of it was ordered to wait overhead until the battlefleet engaged the enemy which was hoped to be around 1330 hours.
Whilst proceeding to rejoin the battleships, HMS Formidable was attacked by two Italian S-79 torpedo bombers but the torpedo tracks could be easily combed and both torpedoes missed astern. At 1400 hours Formidable was back in position and the Fleet was still proceeding westwards in pursuit of the enemy.
As touch with the enemy had been lost due to lack of shadowing aircraft three Albacores from the first strike group were launched again at 1400 hours to search for the enemy. One of them (aircraft ‘4 F’) sighted the Vittorio Veneto at 1459 hours in position 34°45’N, 22°14’E. The report was received at 1515 hours. This aircraft was able to remain in touch with the enemy until being relieved at 1920 hours.
The second striking force sighted the enemy battleship at 1510 hours. The squadron leader worked into the sun and succeeded in getting down to 5000 feet unobserved. The leading destroyer on the battleships bow then opened fire but turned away when shot up by the fighter escort. As the three Albacores (‘5 F’, ‘5 G’ and ‘5 H’) attacked on the Vittorio Veneto’s port bow she turned 180° to starboard and splashes were seen on her port bow and amidships. The two Swordfish (‘4 B’ and ‘5 K’) had worked round ‘up sun’ to attack separately. But as the Vittorio Veneto in turning presented her starboard side clear of the screen they decided to attack together diving from 8000 feet. By that time the enemy battleship was doing only 14 knots thus providing an easy shot. A large splash was seen on her starboard quarter and another on her starboard side. In fact only one hit was obtained which caused a reduction in the battleships speed.
Activities from R.A.F. bombers from Greece.
During the afternoon of the 28th R.A.F. bombers from Greece made a series of attacks on the enemy. When an enemy report was received from an R.A.F. Sunderland ay 1235/28 six Blenheim aircraft from 84 Squadron were ordered to take off from Menidi airfield (some 20 miles north of Athens) and attack the contact. These aircraft made an attack at 1420 hours. The target appears to have been the Vittorio Veneto but no hits were obtained.
Then at 1520 hours four more Blenheims from 84 Squadron attacked the Italian 3rd Cruiser Division. Two hits were claimed on a cruiser with 250 lb. bombs and two more on another cruiser with 500 lb. bombs. Unfortunately these were only near misses on the Trento and Bolzano.
Between 1515 and 1645 hours, several attacks were made by a total of 11 Blenheims on the Italian 1st and 8th Cruiser Divisions and near misses were obtained on the Zara and Garibaldi.
The pursuit, 1330 to 1810 hours.
At 1600 hours, the C-in-C ordered HMS Formidable to make strong as possible torpedo bomber attack on the damaged battleship.
At 1618 hours, the destroyers were organized into divisions for a possible night attack.
At 1644 hours, the cruiser force was ordered to press on to gain touch with the damaged battleship. They made off at 30 knots.
Shortly afterwards HMS Mohawk and HMS Nubian were ordered to proceed ahead of the battlefleet as a visual link between the battleships and the cruisers.
When evening was beginning to fall at 1720 hours, the destroyers were organized for night attack.
At 1810 hours, the C-in-C signalled that if the cruisers were to gain touch most of the destroyers would be sent to join them for a night torpedo attack on the damaged battleship. The situation was however not very clear due to lack of enemy reports.
At 1831 hours, the observer aircraft from HMS Warspite, which had been catapulted at 1745 hours, made a report that the damaged Vittorio Veneto was in company with three cruisers and seven destroyers and about 50 nautical miles bearing 292°, speed 12 knots, from the C-in-C’s position.
The British battleships then formed in line ahead and were doing 20 knots. Shortly afterwards the observer aircraft from Warspite reported that enemy forces were concentrating and at 1912 the aircraft reported that the enemy forces had formed five columns.
Situation at 1915 hours on 28 March 1941.
The sun had set at 1840 hours. By 1915 hours it appeared that the damaged enemy battleship was about 45 nautical miles to the westward steering 290° at 15 knots. Another cruiser force had joined the enemy fleet which was formed in five columns. The battleship was apparently in the centre with four destroyers screening ahead and two astern. On her port side were thee 8” cruisers and outside of them were three destroyers. On her starboard side were also three 8” cruisers with what appeared to be two 6” cruisers but were in fact destroyers. Both the 6” cruisers had by that time gone on to the westward.
Third torpedo attack on the Vittorio Veneto by aircraft from HMS Formidable and Maleme.
It was 1925 hours when aircraft from HMS Formidable made their third and last attack. They had flown off at 1735 hours when Formidable was in position 34°42’N, 22°44’E. Composition of this third strike force was; six Albacore’s and two Swordfish aircraft.
The sun was sinking when the force sighted the enemy and took up a waiting position astern and well out of range at low height. It was joined by two aircraft (Swordfish) from Maleme. These had sighted the enemy at 1810 hours when they were 25 miles off. On closing them they identified the enemy as four ships screened by six destroyers steering 320° at about 14 knots. At 1835 hours they saw the strike force from Formidable coming up from the eastward and took station in its rear.
Dusk had fallen at 1925 hours when the aircraft swept in to attack. During the approach the enemy was steering 230°. On closing the enemy put up barrage fire. The aircraft were forced to turn away to starboard and lost their formation after which they had to attack independently from very different angles.
Most of the pilots reported to have fired their torpedoes at the Vittorio Veneto but it was extremely difficult to observe anything with precision. Several observers of the attacking aircraft however reported a hit on a cruiser. Indeed a torpedo hit the Pola during this attack. Most likely it was fired by aircraft ‘5 A’ which dropped it’s torpedo at 1945 hours and Pola was hit one minute later. Following the attack the aircraft from Formidable proceeded to Suda Bay. Aircraft ‘5 A’ was out of petrol and had to made a forced landing on the water near destroyer HMS Juno, which then picked up the crew.
Also the two aircraft from Maleme attacked independently. They both dropped their torpedoes but obtained no hits. Both aircraft then returned to Maleme although one was damaged by enemy AA fire.
The attack by the aircraft had important results. The Pola was hit on the starboard side between the engine and the boiler room, causing her main engines to stop and putting out of action all her electric power and with it all her turrets. The attack was observed by a shadowing aircraft from HMS Formidable which had relieved the aircraft from HMS Warspite. At 1950 hours the aircraft reported that the enemy force had divided, the major portion going off on a course of 220° while the ‘battleship’ (which was in fact the Pola) remained stopped with smoke rising from her. This report however was never received which was just as well as the reported course of 220° was incorrect (300° was correct).
Movements of the British Fleet, 1920 to 2040 hours.
By 1920 hours the C-in-C was aware of the position and formation of the enemy fleet and knew that Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell’s cruiser force was in touch with it. The report of the dusk air attack was received at 2008 hours. It mentioned only probable hits. It was in light of this information that the C-in-C had to decide if it would be justified to take the fleet closer to the enemy.
At 2040 hours he decided that the destroyers were to attack. Capt. Mack with his eight destroyers then drew ahead making 28 knots with the intention of passing up the starboard side of the Vittorio Veneto and then attack from ahead.
The cruiser force.
Meanwhile the cruiser force had been pressing on at 30 knots to the westward to get in touch and at 1832 hours had seen the aircraft from HMS Formidable going up to attack the enemy.
At 1907 the Vice-Admiral ordered his ships to spread on a line of 20° apart, seven nautical miles apart. They were still opening out when at 1914 hours three or four enemy ships were sighted on the starboard bow. The Vice-Admiral then decided to keep his ships concentrated and they reformed in line ahead.
By 1930 hours the air attack had begun an was clearly visible on the horizon bearing 303°, distance about 15 nautical miles. Two minutes later the cruisers altered course to 320°. At 1949 hours speed was reduced to 20 knots in order to ‘reduce bow waves’. The last stage of the air attack was at that moment still in progress. Searchlights and gunfire was visible bearing 278°. At 195 hours course was changed to 290° to close the enemy. Visibility to the westward was then about four nautical miles and no ships were in sight.
At 2014 hours, HMS Orion altered course to 310°. A minute later a vessel was plotted and followed for 18 minutes. It became clear that the contact was either stopped or moving very slowly. At 2017 hours, the force had reduced speed to 15 knots. At 2029 hours HMS Ajax reported an enemy vessel in position 35°16’N, 21°04’E. This was 275°, 5 nautical miles from Ajax. The enemy was stationary.
Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell then decided to lead clear of this ship to the northward and try to regain touch with the retreating enemy. Accordingly at 2033 hours, the cruiser force turned to 60° and at 2036 hours to 110°. At 2040 hours the stationary Italian ship was reported to the C-in-C. It was thought the destroyers would be ordered to deal with this ship. At 2048 hours, course was altered to 310° and at 2115 hours to 300°. Speed was increased to 20 knots at 2119 hours.
The cruisers had been proceeding for some time on this course and the Vice-Admiral considered spreading them again when he realised that Capt. Mack and his destroyers might have gone further west and would almost certainly encounter his cruisers. At 2155 hours HMS Ajax reported three unknown vessels being picked up by radar 5 nautical miles to the southward. Though rather far to the westward these were thought to be some of our own destroyers. The Vice-Admiral then decided to keep concentrated and steer more to the northward as to keep clear of them. According at 2204 hours course was altered to 340°.
At 2229 hours, gun flashes from the battlefleet were seen astern bearing 150° to 160°. Then at 2243 hours, a red light was sighted by HMS Orion and HMS Gloucester bearing 320° on the port bow. The general alarm was made and the cruisers formed single line ahead. Course was altered to 000° at 2255 hours.
At 2314 hours a heavy explosion bearing 150° to 160° lit up the horizon to the southward. Shortly afterwards the Vice-Admiral received a signal from the C-in-C of 2312 hours ordering all forces not in action at that moment to withdraw to the north. At 2332 hours course was altered to 60°. Then at 0018/29 HMS Gloucester sighted an object to the south-west but lost it out of sight at 0030 hours. No other ship sighted this ‘object’. Nothing more was seen until 0635/29 when the smoke of the battlefleet was sighted to the eastward.
The destroyer striking force 2037 to 0200 hours.
After leaving the battlefleet at 2043 hours, the eight destroyers; 14th Destroyer Flotilla: HMS Jervis, HMS Janus, HMS Mohawk, HMS Nubian and the 2nd Destroyer Flottilla: HMS Ilex, HMS Hasty, HMS Hereward, HMS Hotspur, drew ahead on course 300° while making 28 knots. The 14th Destroyer Flotilla was in line ahead with the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla six cables on it’s starboard beam. It was Capt. Mack’s (who was in overall command) intention to pass up the starboard side of the damaged battleship outside visible range and then attack from ahead.
Capt. Mack did not receive the 2029 signal from HMS Ajax nor the 2040 signal from HMS Orion. It was very unfortunate that the destroyers proceeded northwards as did the cruisers leaving the south flank open for the enemy to escape.
Around 2200 hours, he received Ajax’s 2155 report of the three unknown ships. They were thought to be three miles ahead but due to a navigational error were in fact about ten miles on his port bow. As the destroyers proceeded westwards on course 285° the gunflashes of the battleships were seen at 2230 hours. Ten minutes later HMS Hardy sighted a red light bearing 010°. This was evidently the same red light that was seen to the north-westward by HMS Orion and HMS Gloucester.
The destroyers continued to proceed westwards on course 285° until 2320 hours when a signal came from the C-in-C to forces not engaging enemy ships at that moment to retire to the north-east. Capt. Mack did so and quickly sent a signal if this included his forces. He was told ‘after your attack’. This reply was received at 2337 hours and the destroyers then turned westwards again proceeding on course 270° for 20 minutes.
At midnight it was thought that the destroyers had drawn sufficiently ahead course was altered to 200° and speed reduced to 20 knots. Then at 0030 hours, just as Capt. Mack thought to have reached a position just ahead of the enemy, a signal was received from HMS Havock, which was with the disabled Italian cruisers about 50 miles further to the east, that she was in touch with a Littorio-class battleship and that she had expended all her torpedoes. Course was then altered to 110° and speed increased to 28 knots. A full hour passed before a signal was received from Havock that the contact was an Italian 8” cruiser and not a battleship.
In these circumstances Capt. Mack decided it was best to continue on to the east and at 0200 hours the destroyers sighted searchlights ahead and, steaming through a number of survivors, arrived on the scene of the battlefleet’s action and they then sighted the Italian cruiser Zara.
The British battlefleet. Night action 2213 to 2312 hours.
At 2043 hours, when the destroyer striking force proceeded on its quest, the battlefleet was left with a screen of only four destroyers; HMAS Stuart, HMS Havock, HMS Greyhound and HMS Griffin.
At 2111 hours, Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell’s report of a ‘stopped ship’ came in. The C-in-C at once turned to 280° and made for the reported position at 20 knots. The Warspite, Valiant, Formidable and Barham were in single line ahead at three cables distance. HMAS Stuart and HMS Havock were stationed one mile off to starboard and HMS Greyhound and HMS Griffin to port. Visibility was about 2.5 miles.
Nearly an hour had passed when at 2203 hours HMS Valiant’s radar detected a ‘stopped ship’ on the port bow bearing 244°, range 8 to 9 nautical miles. At 2213 hours course was altered to 240°, towards the ‘stopped ship’. At 2220 hours, the ‘stopped ship’ was reported 191°, range 4.5 nautical miles. The destroyers on the port side were ordered to move over to the starboard side but the order had hardly been given when HMAS Stuart sighted a ship 4 miles off, fine on the starboard bow bearing 250° and gave the night alarm. This however had not reached the C-in-C when two minutes later the massive outlines of ships were seen by the Chief of Staff and the C-in-C himself looming through the night. Two large cruisers could be made out on the starboard bow with a smaller vessel ahead of them.
These cruisers were the Zara and Fiume which had turned back to help the disabled Pola. They were in single line with a destroyer ahead and three destroyers astern. They were steering approximately 130° and were some 4000 yards from HMS Warspite. Almost at the same time HMS Greyhound which was drawing ahead opened her searchlight, its beam fell right across the water, most valuably illuminating a cruiser without revealing the position of our battleships.
HMS Formidable, being of no use in a gun battle hauled out of line to starboard. HMS Warspite then opened fire followed seven seconds later by HMS Valiant. A salvo of 15” shells crashed into Fiume. Her after turret was blown overboard, she started to list heavily to starboard and burst into a sea of flames. She was driven out of the line and apparently sank about 30 minutes later. Fire was then shifted to the Zara which was now illuminated by searchlights.
Just before the enemy cruisers were sighted HMS Barham, in the rear of the line, had sighted the disabled Pola on the port quarter making identification signals and had trained her turrets on her. When the Greyhound’s searchlight shone out, the Barham trained forward at once, opening fire on the leading ship which was the destroyer Vittorio Alfieri but was at that moment thought to be a 6” cruiser. A brilliant orange flash shot up under the bridge and bursts were seen along the whole length of the ship which turned to starboard and made off to the westward making smoke. The Barham then shifed fire to the Zara which was soon being heavily hit. A big explosion forward hurled one of her turrets overboard. The action lasted barely five minutes, shell after shell crashing into the helpless Italian ships which were caught unprepared with their gun turrets trained forward and aft.
At 2231 hours the remaining Italian destroyer turned towards the British battleships and one of them was seen to fire torpedoes. To avoid them the battlefleet made an emergency turn of 90° to starboard. The Warspire’s 6” guns then shifted fire to a destroyer that was illuminated by a searchlight but having difficulty in finding the target after the turn had been completed fired only one salvo at it which was fortunate as the target turned out to be HMS Havock.
By now the Italian cruisers were completely crippled and burning. At 2238 hours the C-in-C ordered the destroyers to finish them off.
The destroyers that were escorting the battlefleet, 2240 to 0140 hours.
As the battlefleet turned north after their action the Stuart was about to attack the enemy cruisers when three enemy destroyers were sighted steering to the westward. HMS Greyhound and HMS Griffin went off in pursuit while HMAS Stuart and HMS Havock proceeded south in search of the enemy cruisers. It was then 2240 hours. A minute later came the signal from the C-in-C to finish off the enemy bearing 165° and both destroyers proceeded on this mission.
at 2259 hours a burning and apparently stationary Italian cruiser could be seen about two nautical miles to the southward with what appeared to be another large cruiser circling slowly around her. HMAS Stuart then fired her whole outfit of eight torpedoes against this pair of cruisers and observed a ‘dim explosion’ low down on the ‘non burning’ one. HMS Havock did not fire torpedoes for the moment, being unable to make out a suitable target. It was then 2301 hours. HMAS Stuart then opened fire on the burning ship and then went after the other and found her at 2305 hours, about 1.5 miles off, with a heavy list and stopped. Fire was opened and two salvoes caused a big explosion and fires. She was seen to be of the Zara-class. A ship then suddenly loomed up on the port bow passing very close and Stuart had to turn to port to avoid collision. This was seen to be a Grecale class destroyer, apparently undamaged. Stuart then fired two salvoes at her. Havock which was following up Stuart lost touch with her but did sighted the Italian destroyer. She fired four torpedoes at it, one of which hit.
HMAS Stuart then sighted what was thought to be another cruiser but this could not have been the case, probably it was an enemy destroyer. She followed this ship to the south-west. HMS Havock meanwhile continued to engage the Italian destroyer for about 20 minutes until this ship had her decks awash and was blazing from fore to aft. This destroyer blew up and sank around 2330 hours.
HMS Havock still had half her torpedoes left. She sighted a cruiser which was heavily on fire and about to blow up. It was decided not to engage this cruiser as another one was sighted with a single fire abreast the bridge. Havock fired her remaining torpedoes at this ship but all missed. Havock then turned to the north and made off at high speed towards the cruiser that was heavily burning, fired star shell and then a few more salvoes in her. The star shell illuminated a large ship thought to be a battleship (this was in fact the disabled Pola) laying stopped. It was then 2345 hours. Havock then opened fire on this ship while retiring to the north-east. A signal was then sent reporting this ‘battleship’.
This was the signal received by Capt. Mack which then returned eastwards with his eight destroyers (D. 2 and D.14). At 0005 hours the Commanding Officer of the Havock realised his mistake and a signal was sent at 0030 stating that the reported ‘battleship’ was in fact a heavy (8”) cruiser. This signal was received by Capt. Mack at 0134 hours who decided (as stated earlier) to continue on to the eastward.
Meanwhile HMS Greyhound and HMS Griffin had been pursuing the enemy destroyers. The Greyhound, after her opportune searchlight display, sighted three destroyers in the rear of the Italian cruisers making off to the westward and gave chase together with Griffin. Fire was opened and hits were observed, but the enemy, lost in the smoke, turned southwards, was lost in the smoke around 2320 hours. Just then the C-in-C’s sigbal to retired to the north came in and both destroyers than proceeded accordingly until 0050 hours when HMS Havock’s signal was received, then then turned southwards.
At 0140 hours HMS Greyhound encountered the Pola, laying stopped on an even keel with ensigns flying and guns trained fore and aft. It was then that a challenge was seen and Capt. Mack and his destroyers arrived at the scene.
Captain D.14, the sinking of the Zara and Pola.
Capt. Mack in HMS Jervis had sighted searchlights ahead, and, steaming through a number of survivors, sighted what turned out to be the Zara, with a few small fires burning on the upper deck. As he passed her he fired four torpedoes, two of which appeared to hit and she blew up and sank. It was then 0240 hours. He ordered his destroyers to pick up survivors but not to lower their boats. Nine survivors were picked up by HMS Jervis.
Then at 0250 hours a red and white recognition signal was observed from the direction of the Pola which was about two miles away. The rescue of survivors was then stopped and the destroyers moved off in that direction. As they were closing they were met by HMS Havock which reported that the enemy cruiser seemed to be on an even keel with a large number of her crew on the forecastle and in the water around her. HMS Jervis then passed close to the Italian cruiser. No visible damage could be seen except for a small fire on the tarboard side abreast her after turret. He ordered his destroyers to pick up survivors from the water while HMS Jervis went alongside. To take of the rest of the ships company. They seemed thoroughly demoralised, many half drunk. The upper deck was an mess. The Jervis was alongside for about a quarter of an hour. At 0322 hours she had embarked 22 officers (including the ships Commanding Officer), 26 petty officers and 202 ratings. HMS Jervis then casted off and fired a torpedo into the stricken cruiser. As she appeared to settle very slowly Capt. Mack ordered HMS Nubian to fire another torpedo into her which completed the destruction of the Pola. At 0403 hours she blew up and sank.
Capt. Mack then reformed his flotilla’s in single line ahead, with the 2nd Flotilla on his starboard beam. Course was set to 055° at 20 knots to rejoin the C-in-C. Rendezvous was made at 0648/29.
Proceedings of the Battle Fleet, 2330 – 0800 hours.
At 2330/28, the Battle Fleet, leaving the Italian cruisers on fire and out of action, proceeded on a course of 070°, reducing speed to 18 knots. At 0006/29, the C-in-C signalled his course and speed and the position of a rendezvous at 0700/29. Light cruiser HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN) which had left Alexandria at 1300/28 together with the destroyers HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN) and HMAS Waterhen (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RN) were ordered to stay east of the C-in-C until 0430 hours. As were the destroyers HMS Juno (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN) and HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN) which had sailed from Piraeus, Greece in the morning of the 28th and made for the Kithera Channel. Patrol there was discontinued on the 29th, HMS Juno and HMS Jaguar were ordered to join the fleet while HMS Defender was ordered to proceed to Suda Bay for escort duties.
At 0430 hours, HMS Formidable flew off three aircraft for a morning search between 160° and 305° while another was sent to the south-east for 30 miles and then to proceed to Maleme with orders for the aircraft that had landed there after their air strike the day before.
Between 0600 and 0700 hours all units of the Fleet joined the Flag. None had any damage or casualties to report except for one Swordfish aircraft that was missing. The searching aircraft returned at 0830 hours. They reported having sighted only a number of rafts and survivors. At 0800 hours the Fleet was in position 35°43’N, 21°40’E and course was now set to search the scene of the action. Between 0950 and 1100 hours many boats and rafts were seen and destroyers picked up a number of survivors, a work that was interrupted by the appearance of German aircraft. The total number of survivors picked up by the British ships had now risen to 55 officers and 850 men. Further to that Greek destroyers picked up 110 survivors on the 29th.
The return to Alexandria.
While the Fleet was on the way back to Alexandria a continuous air patrol was maintained by HMS Formidable for the remainder of the voyage. Fighters dealt effectively with a dive bombing attack made by 12 Ju.88’s at 1530/29 which was directed mainly against Formidable. No damage was caused although she was shaken by two near misses. One Ju.88 was shot down, another one was damaged and four had been forced to jettison their bombs early. At 0834/30 an S.79 that was shadowing the fleet was shot down by Fulmar fighters.
The Fleet arrived at Alexandria around 1730/30. A submarine was reported while the Fleet was entering the harbour. Destroyers cleared the area by dropping depth charges but all ships arrived in harbour safely. (11)
30 Mar 1941
HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN) joined the escort of convoy GA 8. This convoy had departed Piraeus for Alexandria the previous day and was made up of the transports HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) and Cameronia (16297 GRT, built 1920). They were escorted by the destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN) and HMS Hereward (Lt. W.J. Munn, RN).
Around 2030 hours, the Italian submarine Dagabur made an unsuccesful torpedo attack on HMS Bonaventure. (9)
31 Mar 1941
Around 0245 / 0300 hours, HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN), while escorting convoy GA 8, was hit amidships by two torpedoes fired by the Italian submarine Ambra in position 33°20'N, 26°35'E. Bonaventure sank in a few minutes taking 23 officers and 115 ratings with her. 310 survivors were picked up by HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN) and HMS Hereward (Lt. W.J. Munn, RN).
HMAS Stuart heavily depth charged the Italian submarine but she managed to escape. (9)
24 Apr 1941
HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN) evacuated Greek & British troops from Navplion harbour, Crete, to Alexandria.
26 Apr 1941
HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN) rescued 600 stranded troops from Tolon Bay, Crete, ferried them to Navplion and transferred them to light cruiser HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN) then returned to Tolon and embarked more, taking them to Suda Bay. In the evening of 27 April sailed from Suda escorting convoy GA.14, consisting of troopship Glenearn, evacuating troops, with light cruiser HMS Phoebe (Capt. G. Grantham, RN) destroyer HMAS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, DSO, RAN) and corvette Hyacinth (A/Lt.Cdr. F.C. Hopkins, RNR).
26 Apr 1941
Operation Demon continued, more troops were to be evacuated from mainland Greece during the night of 26/27 April 1941.
From the Raphina and Raphtis area;
landing ship HMS Glengyle (A/Capt.(Retd.) C.H. Petrie, RN) and the merchant vessel Salween (7063 GRT, built 1938). They were escorted by the AA cruiser HMS Carlisle (Capt. T.C. Hampton, RN) and the destroyers HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN) and HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN).
HMS Glenearn was bombed en-route to the pick up zone. She was towed to Kissamo Bay by HMS Griffin. From there she was taken in tow to Alexandria, first by the sloop HMS Grimsby (Cdr. K.J. D'Arcy, RN) and later by the netlayer HMS Protector (Cdr. R.J. Gardner, RN).
To replace the troop carrying capacity of the landing ship HMS Glenearn, the light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN) and destroyer HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN) were sent from Suda Bay.
From the Nauplia and Tolon area;
landing ship HMS Glenearn (Capt.(Retd.) L.B. Hill, OBE, RN), troopships Slamat (Dutch, 11636 GRT, built 1924) and Khedive Ismael (7290 GRT, built 1922), AA cruiser HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN), and destroyers HMS Isis (Cdr. C.S.B. Swinley, DSC, RN), HMS Hotspur (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC, RN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN), HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN) and HMS Havock (Lt. G.R.G. Watkins, RN).
Slamat was late in leaving Nauplia in the early morning and delayed the convoy's sailing. Slamat was then bombed and wrecked south of the Argolic Gulf in position 37°01'N, 23°10'E shortly after 0700 hours. Destroyer HMS Diamond was then left behind to rescue the survivors which she did. At 0925 hours HMS Diamond signalled that she had picked up most of the survivors and that she had set course for Suda Bay. She had also fired a torpedo into the blazing wreck and Slamat sank shortly afterwards.
The destroyers HMS Wryneck (Cdr.(Retd.) R.H.D. Lane, RN), HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades, RAN) and HMAS Waterhen (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RN) were then sent out to assist the Nauplia group. Of these HMS Wryneck was ordered to assist HMS Diamond. Wryneck arrived just as Slamat capsized. Both destroyers were then attacked and sunk in the early afternoon by German aircraft (9 German aircraft Ju.88, probably of I./KG.51 (Hpt. Heinrich Hahn)) with heavy loss of life. Only 27 survivors (another source gives 24 survivors) were picked up the next day by HMS Griffin. HMS Diamond was lost with 7 officers and 141 ratings while HMS Wryneck was lost with 7 officers and 98 ratings.
From the Kalamata area;
transports City of London (British, 8956 GRT, built 1907), Costa Rica (Dutch, 8055 GRT, built 1910), Dilwara (British, 11080 GRT, built 1936). These were escorted by the light cruiser HMS Phoebe (Capt. G. Grantham, RN), destroyers HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN) and HMS Hereward (Lt. W.J. Munn, RN) and the sloop HMS Flamingo (Cdr. R.J.O. Otway-Ruthven, RN).
The Costa Rica was bombed north of Crete by enemy aircraft. She was taken in tow by HMS Defender but sank north-west of Suda Bay in position 35°54'N, 23°49'E. The troops and her crew were saved.
HMS Defender had also embarked the Yugoslav crown jewels for transport to Alexandria. (9)
20 May 1941
Battle for Crete.
Timespan: 20 May to 1 June 1941.
Opening of the German airborn attack on Crete, 20 May 1941.
At 0915 hours, 20 May 1941, just three weeks after the British withdrawal from Greece, the German attack on Crete commenced. This took the form of intense bombing of Maleme airfield and Suda Bay areas, closely followed by the landing of troops by parachute, gliders and troop carrying aircraft. The enemy’s main objective appeared to be Maleme airfield but in the afternoon similar attacks developed at Heraklion and Retimo.
Fierce hand to hand fighting took place throughout the day on the Maleme airfield. At nightfall the situation appeared to be in hand, though about 1200 of the 3000 enemy who had landed by air appeared to be unaccounted for.
The naval situation at dawn, 20 May 1940.
The position of British (Allied) naval forces at sea at daylight on the 20th of May was as follows;
Force A 1 was about 100 nautical miles to the west of Crete. It was made up of the following warships; battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), light cruiser HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, RN), destroyers HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, RN), HMS Kimberley (Lt.Cdr. J.S.M. Richardson, DSO, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.de W. Kitcat, RN), HMS Isis (Cdr. C.S.B. Swinley, DSC, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt. W.J. Munn, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hotspur (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC, RN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN) and HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN).
Force B was enroute from Alexandria to join force A 1 and consisted of the light cruisers HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN also in command of this force as senior Captain) and HMS Fiji (Capt. P.B.R.W. William-Powlett, RN).
Force C was to the south of the Kaso Strait and was made up of the light cruisers HMS Naiad (Capt. M.H.A. Kelsey, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.L.S. King, CB, MVO, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN), destroyers HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, DSO, RN), HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Somerville, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Juno (St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN) and HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN).
Force D had reached the Antikithera Channel during the night and was now steering to join Force A 1. Force D was made up of the light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of the Rear-Admiral (D) [D = Destroyers] I.G. Glennie, RN) and HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN).
The Commander-in-Chief’s intentions, 20-21 May 1941.
On learning that the attack on Crete had started, the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean at once ordered the forces at sea to move up towards the island but to keep out of sight of land. In the course of the forenoon he signalled his intentions for the night.
Force B was ordered to pass close to Cape Matapan at 0400/21 and then rendezvous with Force A 1 about 50 miles west of Crete at 0700/21.
Force D, augmented by HMS Ajax and the destroyers HMS Isis HMS Imperial, HMS ar and HMS Kimberley was to pass through the Antikithera Channel to sweep the area Cape Malea (36°26’N, 23°12’E), Hydra (37°21’N, 23°35’E), Phalconera (36°50’N, 23°54’E) and to be off Canea at 0700/21.
Force C was to pass through the Kaso Strait and sweep round Stampalia (75 miles north of Kaso) arriving off Heraklion at 0700/21.
Later in the day air reconnaissance reported caiques in the Aegean, and these two sweeps were cancelled as it was feared that they might miss south-bound convoys in the darkness. Instead forces C and D were ordered to establish patrols to the east and west of Longtitude 25°E respectively. A new force of destroyers (Force E) made up of HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Ilex (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN) and HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, RAN) was to bombard the Italian airfield at Scarpanto (50 miles to the east of Crete), withdrawing to the southward before daylight.
Night operations, 20-21 May 1941.
Scarpanto airfield was bombarded at 0245/21. The result could not be observed, but intelligence reports later indicated that two Do.17 aircraft were damaged. After examining Pegadia Bay (six miles to the northward of the airfield on the east coast of Scarpanto), and finding it empty, Force E retired to the southward.
The other operations ordered by the Commander-in-Chief were duly carried out but no convoys were sighted. Force C was attacked by torpedo-carrying aircraft with approaching the Kaso Strait at 2040/20. All torpedoes could be avoided. An hour later six MAS boats were encountered. Juno, Kandahar and Naiad engaged them and they retired after four of them had been damaged.
Naval situation at dawn, 21 May 1941.
At daylight, 21 May, Force A 1 (Warspite, Valiant, HMAS Napier, HMS Hereward, HMS Hero, HMS Hotspur, HMS Griffin and HMS Decoy) was 60 miles west of the Antikithera Channel, steering to the south-east to meet Force D (HMS Orion, HMS Ajax, HMS Dido, HMS Isis, HMS Imperial, HMS Janus and HMS Kimberley), which sighted nothing during the night and was now to the northward of Canea Bay and withdrawing towards the Antikithera Channel.
Force B (HMS Gloucester and HMS Fiji) was closing Force A 1 after an uneventful sweep between Cape Matapan and Cape Elophonesi (the south-west point of Crete).
The minelayer HMS Abdiel (Capt. E. Peydell-Bouverie, MVO, RN) was returning to Alexandria after laying mines off Cephalonia.
At the eastern end of Crete Force C (HMS Naiad, HMAS Perth, HMS Kandahar, HMS Kingston, HMS Juno and HMS Nubian) was joined at 0600 hours by the AA cruiser HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN). This force was now retiring from the Aegean through the Kaso Strait.
Force E (HMS Jervis, HMS Ilex and HMAS Nizam) was to the southward of Scarpanto and operating under the orders of Rear-Admiral King (Force C) as was the AA cruiser HMS Carlisle (Capt. T.C. Hampton, RN) which was on passage from Alexandria.
Operations during 21 May 1941. Loss of HMS Juno.
During 21 May, Force A 1, B and D remained to the south-west of Kithera. Every opportunity, between air attacks, being taken to refuel destroyers from the battleships. Force C cruiser to the southward of the Kaso Strait where HMS Carlisle joined him in the afternoon. Force E was recalled to Alexandria.
Throughout the day various forces were subjected to heavy air attacks. Force C in particular suffered attacks from daylight onwards, and after withdrawing through the Kaso Strait, was bombed continuously from 0950 to 1350 hours.
At 1249 hours, HMS Juno was hit and sank in two minutes. Six officers and ninety-one ratings were rescued by Kandahar, Kingston and Nubian. During the attacks one enemy aircraft was shot down and two, maybe more, were damaged.
To the west of Crete Force D was located at daylight and heavily bombed while withdrawing towards Force A 1. HMS Orion and HMS Ajax both suffered damage from near misses.
Force A 1 was attacked once during the forenoon and for two and a half hours during the afternoon. This later bombing was shared by Forces B and D which were then in company. Two enemy aircraft were probably shot down.
No seaborne landing has as yet taken place but during the afternoon air reconnaissance reported groups of small craft, escorted by destroyers, moving towards Crete from Milos (80 miles north of Retimo). Forces B, C and D were therefore ordered into the Aegean to prevent landings during the night. If there were no developments Forces C and D, in the eastern and western areas respectively, were to commence working northwards on a wide zigzag at 0530/22, to locate convoys.
Force A followed Force D well into the Antikithera Channel as AA support, turning to the westward at sunset to patrol for the night in the supporting area. As the two forces parted company a sharp attack by four Ju.88’s was made on Force D which shot down three of them.
Force D breaks up a troop convoy, night of 21/22 May 1941.
At 2330/21 when some 18 miles north of Canea, Rear-Admiral Glennie with Force D which now consisted of HMS Dido, HMS Orion, HMS Ajax, HMS Janus, HMS Kimberley, HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN) and HMS Hereward, encountered an enemy convoy composed mainly of caiques escorted by a torpedo boat. The caiques which were crowded with German troops were engaged for two and a half hours. In all, at least a dozen caiques, two or three steamers and a steam yacht were sunk or left burning. It was estimated that about 4000 German troops were accounted for [an over-estimate, the real number was about 800 of which some were rescued later]. In addition the Italian torpedo-boat Lupo, after firing torpedoes at the cruisers, was damaged by a broadside from HMS Ajax.
After taking a further sweep to the east and north, Rear-Admiral Glennie decided that, in view of serious shortage of AA ammunition (AA ammunition remaining; Orion 38%, Ajax 42%, Dido 30%) and the scale of air attack to be anticipated the next day, he was not justified in keeping his force in the Aegean to carry out the intended sweep to the northward at daylight. He accordingly turned to the westward at 0330/22. His ships which had become considerably scattered during the action were given a rendezvous some 30 miles west of Crete. This decision, together with the result of his attack on the convoy, he reported to the Commander-in-Chief who ordered Force D to return to Alexandria with all dispatch.
Meanwhile Force B (Gloucester, Fiji, Greyhound and Griffin) had been ordered by the Commander-in-Chief to leave their patrol off Cape Matapan and to proceed with dispatch to Heraklion where part of the town and harbour were reported to be in enemy hands. These orders reached Capt. Rowley in the Gloucester too late to be carried out, but the force entered the Aegean and at daylight was about 25 miles north of Canea. Nothing was sighted, and they retired to the westward towards Force A 1. Force B was attacked almost continuously by dive bombers for an hour and a half from 0630/22 onwards but escaped with slight damage only to each cruiser. They joined Force A 1 at 0830/22.
Naval situation at dawn, 22 May 1941.
At daylight on 22 May 1941, the position of the naval forces at sea was as follows. Rear-Admiral Rawlings with Force A 1 (HMS Warspite, HMS Valiant. HMAS Napier, HMS Imperial, HMS Isis, HMS Hero, HMS Hotspur and HMS Decoy) was about 45 miles south-west of Kithera, steering to the north-westward and shortly to be joined by the forces D and B from the Aegean.
The 5th Destroyer Flottilla had meanwhile sailed from Malta the previous evening and was on passage to join Rear-Admiral Rawlings around 1000/22. This Flotilla was made up of five destroyers; HMS Kelly (Capt. L.F.A.V.N. Mountbatten, DSO, RN), HMS Kashmir (Cdr. H.A. King, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Alliston, RN), HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St.Clair-Ford, RN) and HMS Jackal (Lt.Cdr. R.McC.P. Jonas, DSC, RN).
HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN), HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades, RAN) and HMAS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, DSO, RAN) from the 10th Destroyer Flotilla as well as HMS Jervis, HMS Ilex and HMAS Nizam from the 14th Destroyer Flotilla were on passage from Alexandria to join Rear-Admiral Rawlings (Force A 1) and Rear-Admiral King (Force C) respectively.
Force C (HMS Naiad, HMAS Perth, HMS Calcutta, HMS Carlisle, HMS Kandahar, HMS Kingston and HMS Nubian) was off Heraklion about to sweep to the north-westward in search of enemy troop convoys.
The 22nd of May was to prove an expensive day for the British naval forces costing them two cruisers and a destroyer sunk, and leading directly to the situation which occasioned the loss of a further two destroyers the next morning. Also two battleships and two cruisers were damaged.
On the other hand the enemy was prevented from making a seaborne landing, and that so effectively as to deter him from any further attempts to do so, until the fall of Crete had been decided by his airborne troops.
Force C’s encounter with an enemy troop convoy, AM 22nd May.
Rear-Admiral King’s Force C had spent the night of 21/22 May patrolling of Heraklion. Nothing was sighted and at dawn the force formed up to carry out the sweep to the northward as ordered by the Commander-in-Chief. Air attacks on Force C commenced at 0700/22 and were continued without intermission. At 0830 hours a single caique carrying German troops was sighted. This caique was sunk by HMAS Perth, and as she was being heavily attacks by enemy aircraft, HMS Naiad turned back to support her. A small merchant vessel, reported by HMS Calcutta at 0909 hours was dealt with by the destroyers.
At 1000/22 Force C was 25 miles south of Milo (90 miles north of Retimo), HMAS Perth had rejoined the rest of the force but HMS Naiad was being heavily attacked and was still some way astern. Ten minutes later an enemy torpedo-boat (the Italian Saggitario) with four or five small sailing vessels was sighted to the northward. The destroyers gave chase, while the Perth and Naiad engaged the torpedo boat, causing her to retire behind smoke. HMS Kingston then engaged another destroyer, who was laying a smoke screen, at 7000 yards range, claiming two hits. She also reported a large number of caiques behind the smoke.
Force C was running short of AA ammunition. Air attacks were incessant and the force had to be kept together for mutual support. Its speed was limited as HMS Carlisle was unable to do more than 21 knots.
For these reasons, Rear-Admiral King considered that he would jeopadise his whole force if he proceeded any further to the northward. He therefore decided to withdraw to the westward and ordered his destroyers to abandon the chase. A signal from the Commander-in-Chief (timed 0941 hour), which showed that this convoy was of considerable size, was not seen by him until 1100 hours. The brief action did, however, cause the enemy to turn back, and the troops, if they ever reached Crete at all, were not in time to influence the battle.
During its withdrawal to the westward, Force C, was continuously bombed for three and a half hours. HMS Naiad due to avoiding action had been unable to overtake the remainder of the force had two 5.25” turrets out of action. Several compartments were flooded by near misses, and at 1125 hours, her speed being reduced to 16-19 knots, the remainder of the force was ordered back to her support. Over a period of two hours, 181 bombs had been counted as being aimed at HMS Naiad.
HMS Carlisle was hit, and although not seriously damaged her Commanding Officer was killed. Torpedo bombers attacked the force at 1258 and 1315 hours but all torpedoes were avoided. At 1321 hours Force C sighted Force A 1 coming up the Kithera Channel from the westward.
The junction of Force A 1 with Force C, 22 May 1941.
On learning that Rear-Admiral King would be withdrawing through the Kithera Channel, Rear-Admiral Rawlings had decided that he would meet him in that neighbourhood. Accordingly, after being joined by Forces B and D he spent the forenoon patrolling between 20 and 30 miles west of the channel. The ammunition situation was causing anxiety, and rigid economy was ordered.
At 1225 hours, Rear-Admiral Rawlings heard from Rear-Admiral King that HMS Naiad was badly damaged and in need of support. He immediately decided to enter the Aegean and steered for the Kithera Channel at 23 knots. AA shell bursts from Force C were sighted at 1312 hours and a few minutes afterwards a large caique was seen between Pori and Antikithera Islands, to the south of the channel. HMS Greyhound was ordered to sink it.
At 1332 hours, just as forces A 1/B/D and C were meeting HMS Warspite was attacked by three Me 109’s equipped with bombs. A bomb hit and wrecked the starboard 4” and 6” batteries and damaged number three boiler room fan intakes, thereby reducing the ship’s speed. Both forces then withdrew to the south-westward, air attacks continuing intermittently for most of the afternoon.
The loss of HMS Greyhound, HMS Gloucester, HMS Fiji, 22 May 1941.
HMS Greyhound meanwhile, after sinking the caique, was returning to her place in Force A 1’s screen when at 1351 hours she was struck by two bombs and sank stern first 15 minutes later. HMS Kandahar and HMS Kingston were detached from Force C to pick up survivors and shortly after 1400 hours, Rear-Admiral King (who was the senior officer of all the forces present) ordered HMS Gloucester and HMS Fiji to give them AA support and to stand by the sinking Greyhound. These rescuing ships, and the men swimming in the water were subjected to almost continuous bombing and machine gun attacks. HMS Kingston was damaged by three near misses.
At 1413 hours, Rear-Admiral King asked Rear-Admiral Rawlings for close support as Force C by that time had practically no AA ammunition left. Force A 1 closed at the Warspite’s best speed (18 knots), and Rear-Admiral Rawlings, who was feeling uneasy about the orders given to Gloucester and Fiji informed Rear-Admiral King about the depleted state of their AA ammunition stocks of which the latter was not aware. At 1457 hours, Rear-Admiral King therefore ordered the rescuing ships to withdraw at their discretion, leaving boats and rafts if air attack prevented the rescue of survivors from Greyhound.
At 1530 hours, HMS Gloucester and HMS Fiji were coming up astern of HMS Warspite at high speed, engaging enemy aircraft. At 1550 hours, HMS Gloucester was hit by several bombs and came to a full stop. She was badly on fire and her upper deck was a shambles. In view of the intensity of the air attacks the Captain of HMS Fiji reluctantly decided that he could offer no assistance to her. All available boats and floats were dropped and the Fiji proceeded to the southward with Kandahar and Kingston still being hotly attacked by enemy aircraft.
At 1710 hours, HMS Fiji reported that she was in position 24 miles, 305°, Cape Elophonesi (the south-west point of Crete), steering 175° at 27 knots, a position 30 miles due east of Forces A 1 and C which were steering 215°.
At 1845 hours, after having survived about 20 bombing attacks by aircraft formations during the last four hours she fell victim to a single Me. 109. The machine flew out of the clouds in a shallow dive and dropped its bomb very close to the port side amidships. The ship took up a heavy list, but was able to steam at 17 knots until half an hour later when another single machine dropped three bombs which hit above ‘A’ boiler room. The list increased and at 2015 hours she rolled right over and sank in position 34°45’N, 23°12’E. She had expended all her 4” ammunition except for six star shell.
HMS Kandahar and HMS Kingston dropped boats and floats and then withdrew to the southward to avoid almost certain damage from air attacks if they had stayed in the area. They returned after dark and were able to rescue 523 officers and men. It was during this rescue work that Cdr. W.R. Marshall-A’Deane the Commanding Officer of HMS Greyhound, who had been picked up by HMS Kandahar earlier in the day when his own ship was sunk, jumped overboard to help a men in distress. He was lost out of sight in the darkness and was never seen again.
HMS Kandahar and HMS Kingston had been subjected to 22 air attacks between 1445 and 1920 hours and were now running short of fuel. At 2245 hours they left the scene of the loss of HMS Fiji and shaped course to rendezvous with Rear-Admiral King’s forces to the southward of Crete.
Night operations, 22-23 May 1941
Meanwhile, Rear-Admiral King, with Forces C and A 1 had been steering to the south-westward. Spasmodic air attacks continued till dusk. At 1645 hours HMS Valiant was hit by two medium bombs but no serious damage was done to her. Course was altered to the southward at 1800 hours and to the eastward at 2100 hours
Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten with his five destroyers; HMS Kelly, HMS Kashmir, HMS Kelvin, HMS Kipling and HMS Jackal had been delayed on his passage from Malta by a promising A/S hunt and only effected his junction with Force A 1 at 1600/22. At 2030 hours Kelly, Kashmir and Kipling were detached to search for survivors from Fiji and half an hour later Kelvin and Jackal were also detached to try to search for survivors from Gloucester. Subsequently these searches for survivors were cancelled and the destroyers were ordered to patrol inside Kisamo and Canea Bays.
On arrival at the Antikithera Channel HMS Kipling developed a steering defect and was detached to join Force A 1. Later on as the defect was remedied, her Commanding Officer decided to remain to the south-west of Crete where he anticipated he was able to make rendezvous with the other destroyer on their return. To this fortunate decision Capt. D.5 and over 250 of his officers and men in all probability were to owe their lives.
Continuing into Canea Bay Kelly and Kashmir fell in with a troop carrying caique, which they damaged badly with gunfire. They then carried out a short bombardment at Maleme and, whilst withdrawing, they engaged and set on fire another caique.
The Naval Officer in Command Suda had meanwhile reported some lights in Canea Bay. These lights the Kelvin and Jackal, who were operating in Kissamo Bay, were ordered to investigate, and finding them to be shore lights, proceeded independently for Alexandria informing the Commander-in-Chief of this intention at 0300/23.
Towards the eastern end of Crete, Force E, consisting of HMS Jervis, HMAS Nizam, HMS Ilex and HMS Havock (Lt. G.R.G. Watkins, RN) maintained a patrol off Heraklion without incident. They set course to return to Alexandria in the morning. On the way there were bombed for five hours, Ilex and Havock being damaged by near misses.
During the night HMS Decoy and HMS Hero embarked the Greek King, members of the government and other prominent Greeks at Agriarumeli on the south coast of Crete after which the two destroyers sailed to join Rear-Admiral King forces to the southward.
In the meantime Forces C and A 1 were some 75 miles to the southward of Crete steering 110°. At 0100/23 ‘Force C’ parted company and proceeded for Alexandria. Some hours previously Rear-Admiral Rawlings had signalled to the Commander-in-Chief that a rallying point further to the east would be better than one to the southwest of Kithera. If this was approved it was suggested that the 5th Destroyer Flotilla should make it’s withdrawal from Canea Bay to the eastward and that the Commander-in-Chief should issue orders accordingly, to all forces. Force A 1 therefore continued steering 110° until 0400/23, when, no reply having been received from the Commander-in-Chief, course was altered to the south-westward. Rear-Admiral Rawlings was about to signal a rendezvous to the southwest of Cape Elophonesi when a message was received ordering the withdrawal of all force to Alexandria. He accordingly set course for Alexandria at 15 knots, informing scattered units of his position, course and speed at 0530/23.
The Commander-in-Chief orders withdrawal to Alexandria, 23 May 1941.
At 2230/22, the Commander-in-Chief had received a ‘Most Immediate’ message from Rear-Admiral Rawlings reporting the loss of HMS Gloucester and HMS Fiji, and giving details of the ammunition situation. Owning to an error at Alexandria this signal made it appear that the battleships of Force A 1 had no pompon ammunition left. Therefore at 0408/23 orders were given to all forces to retire to the eastward.
In actual fact, the battleships had plenty of ammunition. Had the Commander-in-Chief been aware of this, they would not have been ordered to Alexandria, and would have been available as a support and rallying point for the 5th Destroyer Flotilla in the morning of the 23rd.
Naval situation at dawn, 23 May 1941.
Dawn on 23 May 1941 found the naval forces in the waters around Crete considerably scattered. To the eastward Capt. Mack with Force E was north of Crete, returning to Alexandria through the Kaso Strait.
Rear-Admiral Glennie in HMS Dido was just arriving at Alexandria with HMS Orion and HMS Ajax some distance astern of him.
The transport HMS Glenroy (Capt.(Retd.) J.F. Paget, RN), with reinforcements on board and escorted by HMS Coventry (A/Capt. W.P. Carne, RN), HMS Auckland (A/Capt. E.G. Hewitt, RN) and HMS Flamingo (Cdr. R.J.O. Otway-Ruthven, RN) had left Alexandria the previous afternoon and was 130 miles out making for Tymbaki.on the south coast of Crete.
Forces A 1 and C were about 25 miles apart to the south of Crete and were returning to Alexandria. The destroyers HMS Kandahar and HMS Kingston, with survivors from HMS Fiji on board were about to join Force C. The destroyers HMS Decoy and HMS Hero, with the King of Greece on board, were to the northward of Force A 1 which they joined at 0745/23.
Further to the west, a bit to the south of Gavdos Island, was Capt. Waller in HMAS Stuart, HMAS Vendetta and HMAS Voyager, who had been ordered by Rear-Admiral Rawlings to search for survivors from HMS Fiji. Also in that area were the destroyers HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN) and HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN) which had left Alexandria the day before with munitions for the army.
HMS Kelvin and HMS Jackal were to the south-west of Crete and returning to Alexandria. HMS Kipling was also in that vicinity and was hoping to join HMS Kelly and HMS Kashmir, who had cleared Canea Bay and were retiring close to the west coast of Crete.
Loss off HMS Kelly and HMS Kashmir, 23 May 1941.
Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten had been withdrawing at full speed since dawn. At 0755 hours, after surviving two air attacks without suffering damage, he was about 13 nautical miles to the southward of Gavdos Island when his ships were attacked by a force of 24 Ju.87 dive bombers. The Kashmir was hit and sunk in 2 minutes. A large bomb struck the Kelly while she was doing 30 knots under full starboard rudder. She turned turtle to port with considerable way on, and after floating upside down for about half an hour, finally sank. In accordance with earlier practice the dive bombers then machine-gunned the survivors in the water, killing and wounding several.
The attack was witnessed by HMS Kipling, who was some 7 to 8 miles to the southward. She immediately closed and succeeded in picking up 281 officers and men from the water including the Commanding Officers of both destroyers. She left the scene of the sinking for Alexandria at 1100/23. She was considerably hampered in this rescue work by six high level bombing attacks and it was subsequently estimated that between 0820 and 1300 hours no less then 40 aircraft attacked her, dropping 83 bombs, though she emerged from the ordeal unscathed.
Return of the British naval forces to Alexandria, 23 May 1941.
In the meantime Force C had been joined by HMS Kandahar and HMS Kingston with survivors from HMS Fiji on board at 0630/23. Both destroyers were very low on fuel. Force A 1 was only 25 miles to the north-west. Force C then closed Force A 1 and both destroyers were able to fuel from the battleships. Shortly after 0800 hours, a signal was received from HMS Kipling reporting the loss of HMS Kelly and HMS Kashmir. Rear-Admiral King reluctantly decided that he could sent no help from Forces A 1 and C.
HMS Decoy and HMS Hero, with the Greek Royal party on board, had joined Force A 1 about the same time, and in course of the forenoon all the scattered destroyer joined up except for HMS Kipling. Later in the day HMS Jaguar and HMS Defender were detached to land ammunition at Suda Bay. The remained of the force proceeded to Alexandria where they arrived in the early hours of the 24th.
The fighting in Crete, 21 -24 May 1941.
On shore, meanwhile, the situation deteriorated. During the 21st although Maleme airfield remained no-man’s land under fire from Italian guns manned by New Zealand gunners, enemy troop carriers landed there regardless of losses. Parachute reinforcements also arrived, and the Germans concentrated between Aliakanou and Canea, and immediately west of Meleme. The savage air bombardment of the British positions continued.
Early on the 22nd, a British counter attack reached Maleme airfield, but heavy dive bombing, and machine gun fire from air and ground rendered further progress impossible. Fighting continued throughout the day, but enemy troop carriers with reinforcements were arriving at a rate of more than 20 each hour, and the withdrawal of British troops to a new line further east was commenced.
The steady flow of German reinforcements, and very heavy air attacks on the British troops continued throughout the 23rd. On this day, the five Motor Torpedo Boats of the 10th M.T.B. Flotilla in Suda Bay (MTB 67, MTB 213, MTB 214, MTB 216 and MTB 217) were all sunk by air attacks. During their operations off the Cretan coast and in harbour they accounted for two aircraft shot down for sure and another two probably shot down.
By the 24th the AA defences of Suda had been seriously reduced and losses to small craft in port were heavy. Severe bombing of Canea compelled the withdrawal of the Army Headquarters to the Naval Headquarters at Suda.
At Heraklion, in the meantime, the Germans had been unable to make much headway. Successful counter attacks were carried out by British troops, in conjunction with Greek and Cretan forces on the 21st, and the situation remained will in hand the next day. 20 to 30 German troop carrying aircraft were destroyed by AA fire. On the 23rd an ultimatum from the Germans calling for the surrender of Heraklion was rejected by the British and Greek commanders, though by this time the Greeks were running short of ammunition.
Reinforcements and supplies to the Army in Crete.
Throughout the Battle of Crete, frequent attempts were made to throw reinforcements and supplies into the island, with varying success.
All disembarkation had to planned to take place at night, owning to the German command of the air. Attempts were made to use HMS Glenroy and merchant vessels for this purpose, but it was found in practice that only warships were able to get through.
On the night of the 23rd – 24th of May, HMS Jaguar and HMS Defender landed stores and ammunition at Suda between midnight and 0200 hours. They returned to Alexandria with officers and men not required in Crete as well as some wounded.
HMS Glenroy embarked 900 men from the Queens Royal Regiment, H.Q. staff of the 16th Infantry Brigade and 18 vehicles at Alexandria. She then sailed for Tymbaki on the afternoon of the 22nd escorted by HMS Coventry, HMS Auckland and HMS Flamingo. These ships were recalled at 1127/23 due to the heavy air attacks sustained by the Fleet.
The following day, HMS Isis, HMS Hero and HMAS Nizam sailed from Alexandria with the Headquarters and two battalions of special service troops, known as ‘Layforce’. These were to be landed on the south-west coast of Crete at Selinos Kastelli. The weather conditions however did not permitted a landing and it had to be cancelled.
During the night of 24 – 25 May, the fast minelayer HMS Abdiel landed about 200 personnel of ‘Layforce’ and about 80 tons of stores at Suda. She returned with about 50 wounded and 4 Greek Cabinet Ministers. A dive bombing attack by 4 Ju.88’s at 1300/25 was successfully avoided.
On arrival at Alexandria in the evening of the 25th, HMS Abdiel embarked Brigadier Laycock with 400 men and 100 tons of stores. She left again early on the 26th accompanied by HMS Hero and HMAS Nizam. These ships landed about 750 troops and stores at Suda during the night of 26 – 27 May. These were the last reinforcements landed in Crete.
About 930 men no longer required there were then embarked and taken back to Alexandria in HMS Abdiel. Air attacks commenced at daylight, just north-west of the Kaso Strait, and continued intermittently till 1130/27. No damage was sustained except by HMS Hero whose speed was reduced to 28 knots by a near miss at 0700 hours.
Meanwhile the Glenroy with a battalion of the Queen’s Regiment on board, had sailed from Alexandria for Tymbaki during the evening of the 25th. She was being escorted by HMS Coventry, HMAS Stuart and HMS Jaguar. The force was subjected to bombing attacks by enemy reconnaissance aircraft during the forenoon. At 1820/26 there were heavy dive bombing attacks. Glenroy was slightly damaged sustained some casualties owing to near misses and machine gun attacks. Three of her landing craft were holed and a large dump of cased petrol on the upper deck caught fire, which necessitated steering down wind until the fire was put out. With 800 troops on board and with a large cargo of petrol it was a nasty situation. By 1950 hours the fire was under control and course was resumed to the northward. A final attack by torpedo bombers at 2050 hours caused no further damage. The torpedoes were being successfully evaded. The Glenroy was now about three hours behind schedule and wither landing craft capacity down by about a third and the weather forecast in mind it was decided to cancel the operation and the force was ordered to return to Alexandria.
One other attempt was made to transport some supplies to Crete. Convoy AN 31 of three Greek merchant ships escorted by HMS Auckland left Alexandria at 0500/26. One of the merchant vessels soon had to turn back due to engine trouble. The convoy escort was later reinforced by HMS Calccutta and HMS Defender. Early the next forenoon it was realised that under the existing conditions they would not have a chance of reaching the island and they too were recalled. Shortly after turning back the convoy was attacked by about 9 Ju.88’s but no damage was sustained. One of the attacking aircraft was seen to be hit by AA fire.
Naval situation at dawn, 24 May 1941.
At daylight on the 24th, the only naval forces at sea were HMS Jaguar and HMS Defender, which were about to pass through the Kaso Strait on passage from Suda Bay to Alexandria and HMS Abdiel which had left Alexandria during the night and was on passage to Suda Bay with more stores for the Army.
HMS Kipling with the survivors from HMS Kelly and HMS Kashmir on board was about 70 miles from Alexandria, practically out of fuel. HMS Protector (Cdr. R.J. Gardner, RN) had been sent out to meet her.
It was on this day that the Commander-in-Chief, well aware under which strain his ships were working, signalled to his Fleet. ‘The Army is just holding its own against constant reinforcement of airborne enemy troops. We must NOT let them down. At whatever cost to ourselves, we must land reinforcements for them and keep the enemy from using the sea. There are indications that the enemy resources are stretched to the limit. We can and must outlast them. STICK IT OUT.’
The Commander-in-Chief’s appreciation, 24 May 1941.
Four days had now elapsed since the opening of the attack on Crete and in reply to a request from the Chiefs-of-Staff for an appreciation, the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, informed them that the scale of air attack now made it no longer possible for the Navy to operate in the Aegean or vicinity of Crete by day. The Navy could not guarantee to prevent seaborne landings without suffering losses which, added to those already sustained, would very seriously prejudice our command of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Chiefs-of-Staff replied that the Fleet and Royal Air Force were to accept whatever risk was entailed in preventing any considerable enemy reinforcement from reaching Crete. If enemy convoys were reported north of Crete, the Fleet would have to operate in that area by day, although considerable losses might be expected. Experience would show for how long this situation could be maintained.
To this the Commander-in-Chief replied on the 26th that the determining factor in operating in the Aegean was not the fear of sustaining losses but the need to avoid crippling the Fleet. He added that the enemy, so far, had apparently not succeeded in landing any appreciable reinforcements by sea.
As how long the situation could be maintained, he pointed out that in three days two cruisers and four destroyers had been sunk, one battleship had been put out of action for several months, and two cruisers and four destroyers had been considerably damaged. He also referred to the strain both to personnel and machinery in the light craft, who had been operating to the limits of their endurance since February.
Captain McCarthy’s Force , 24-26 May 1941.
There had been indications that a landing might take place in the east of Crete at Sitia on the night of 24-25 May. To deal with this threat a Force consisting of the cruisers HMS Ajax (Senior Officer), HMS Dido, destroyers HMS Hotspur, HMS Imperial and HMS Kimberley left Alexandria at 0800/24 and passing through the Kaso Strait swept the north coast of Crete during the night. Nothing was sighted and the Force withdrew to the southward of Kaso before daylight. Here they remained during the 25th, repeating the sweep north of Crete the next night. Again nothing was sighted.
F.A.A. attack on Scarpanto airfield, 26 May 1941.
It was known that Scarpanto airfield was being extensively used by the enemy in his operations against Crete, and it was therefore decided to attack it with Fleet Air Arm aircraft from HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.la T. Bisset, RN, flying the flag of A/Rear-Admiral D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN), who had now built up her fighter strength to 12 Fulmars.
Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippel left Alexandria on the 25th with Force A which was made up of the battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth (Capt. C.B. Barry, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Formidable and the destroyers HMS Jervis, HMS Janus, HMS Kandahar, HMS Nubian, HMS Hasty, HMS Hereward, HMAS Voyager and HMAS Vendetta.
At 0330/26 this Force was about 100 miles to the south-south-west of Scarpanto. Four Albacores and later five Fulmars were flown off from HMS Formidable to attack the airfield. The Albacores achieved complete surprise. They destroyed two enemy aircraft and damaged several others while the Fulmars damaged a number of Cr.42’s and Ju.87’s. All aircraft had returned to Formidable by 0700 hours. By now the Force headed by HMS Ajax had also joined coming from the Kaso Strait. ‘Force A’ now set course to the southward.
Operations of ‘Force A’, HMS Formidable and HMS Nubian damaged, 26 May 1941.
During the forenoon of the 26th May, enemy aircraft were continually being detected. The eight remaining serviceable aircraft, four of which were fighters, made 24 flights, during which there were 20 combats. Two enemy aircraft were shot down and two more were probably destroyed. One Fulmar was lost.
At 1320 hours, when about 150 miles south of the Kaso Strait ‘Force A’ was attacked by about 20 dive bombers which approached from the African coast. HMS Formidable was hit twice, her starboard side was blown out between numbers 17 and 24 bulkheads and ‘X’ turret and cable and accelerator gear were put out of action.
During the same attack, HMS Nubian, was hit right aft and had her stern blown off. She was still able to steam 20 knots. She was then detached to Alexandria with HMS Jackal where she arrived under her own steam that night.
Force A than shaped course to the eastward and after dark HMS Formidable escorted by HMS Hereward, HMAS Vendetta and HMAS Voyager parted company and set course for Alexandria. The remainder of the Force operated to the north-eastward of Alexandria during the night.
Naval situation at dawn, 27 May 1941.
At daylight, 27 May 1941, ‘Force A’, now consisted of the battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Barham and escorted by the destroyers HMS Jervis, HMS Janus, HMS Kandahar, HMS Kelvin, HMAS Napier and HMS Hasty were about 250 nautical miles south-east of Kaso, steering to the north-westward. In the Kaso Strait HMS Abdiel, HMS Hero and HMAS Nizam were returning from Suda Bay.
Some 90 nautical miles to the north-west of Force A, HMS Glenroy and her escorting destroyers; HMAS Stuart and HMS Jaguar were steering for Alexandria after their abortive attempt to land troops and supplies at Tymbaki. About half way between these two forces was convoy AN 31 heading for Crete. This convoy was recalled soon afterwards.
Operations of ‘Force A’, HMS Barham damaged, 27 May 1941.
Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippel with Force A had been steering since daylight for the Kaso Strait to cover the withdrawal of HMS Abdiel, HMS Hero and HMAS Nizam. At 0859 hours, 15 Ju.88’s and He.111’s attacked from the direction of the sun. HMS Barham was hit on ‘Y’ turret and two of her bulges were flooded by near misses. A fire was started, which necessitated steering down wind to the south until it was extinguished two hours later. Two enemy aircraft were shot down and one was seen to be damaged.
At 1230 hours, on receipt of instructions from the Commander-in-Chief, Force A shaped course for Alexandria, arriving there at 1900 hours that evening.
The collapse in the Suda-Maleme area, 26 May 1941.
While these operation had been in progress at sea, the battle on shore had continued with unabated bitterness. Sunday, May 25th, the sixth day of the enemy attack was critical for the Australian and New Zealand troops in the Maleme area. After continuous bombing of their positions all day, a strong enemy attack took Galatos. British light tanks and New Zealand troops retook it at the point of the bayonet. This was described by General Fryberg as ‘one of the great efforts in the defence of Crete’. The position could not be held, however, and with Maleme no longer under fire, enemy troop carriers poured in reinforcements. Late that night the new line formed in the Maleme-Canea sector was broken by the Germans, after several attacks had been repulsed.
The next day (May 26th) further attacks compelled the tired New Zealand and Australian troops to withdraw still further towards Suda. They had fought for six days without respite; more then 20 fiece bayonet counter attacks had been carried out, and throughout the whole period they had been subjected to air attacks on unprecedented scale. That night the line collapsed and the retreat commenced.
So suddenly did the collapse come at the last, that there had been no time to organise the retirement and though the infantry which withdrew from the front line did so in good order, the movements of the rest of the force were uncontrolled, and much congestion on the route resulted.
The withdrawal, which was directed towards Sphakia continued during the 27th. By this time a rearguard had been organised which was able to cover the retirement of the bulk of the remainder to Sphakia.
Meanwhile in the Heraklion sector the British troops were holding out. On the 26th, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and two of the ‘I’ tanks landed at Tymbaki on the 19th, succeeded in breaking through from the south and joining them. With the Suda-Maleme area in the hands of the enemy, however, the position of the troops at Heraklion was clearly untenable and it appeared to be only a matter of time before the enemy would launch a major attack on them.
The work of the Royal Air Force.
Throughout the battle, the Royal Air Force, working from Egypt, did all that was possible to afford relief to our troop in Crete; but the distance was too great to maintain a scale of attack on the Germans that could affect the issue.
Enemy positions and aircraft were attacked at Maleme by Blenheims and Marylands (of the S.A.A.F.) at intervals on the 23rd, 25th, 26th and 27th of May. In these raids at least 40 enemy aircraft of various types were destroyed and many others damaged. Nine Ju.52’s carrying troops were destroyed by Hurricanes on the 23rd and 26th. Wellingtons bombed Maleme on the nights of the 23rd, 25th, 26th, 27th and 29th. They also attacked Scarpanto on the nights of the 25th, 27th, 28th and 29th and Heraklion on the 30th at 31st of May and 1st of June.
All these attacks caused fires and explosions but the extent of the damage is not known. During the battle the R.A.F. lost 38 aircraft, 33 of them in the air.
The decision to evacuate Crete, 27 May 1941.
Messages received from the G.O.C. Troops in Crete and the N.O.I.C. Suda Bay made it clear that our line defending Suda had collapsed with great suddenness.
In a message times 0824/27, General Wavell informed the Prime Minister that he feared we must recognise that Crete was no longer tenable, and that, so far as possible, the troops must be withdrawn. In reply to this message, the Chiefs-of-Staff ordered Crete to be evacuated forthwith.
Evacuation from Sphakia, 1st night, 28-29 May 1941.
At 0600/28, less then 24 hours after the decision to evacuate Crete had been taken, Force B, consisting of the light cruisers HMS Orion, HMS Ajax, HMS Dido and the destroyers HMS Decoy, HMS Hereward, HMS Hotspur, HMS Imperial, HMS Jackal and HMS Kimberley departed Alexandria to evacuate the Heraklion garrison. Rear-Admiral Rawlings, flying his flag in Orion was given charge of this operation.
Two hours later, Force C, under Capt. Arliss, left Alexandria for Sphakia. It was made up of HMAS Napier, HMAS Nizam, HMS Kandahar and HMS Kelvin. Force C had an uneventful passage and commenced embarkation at 0030/29. The operation was completed by 0300/29 by which time the four destroyers had taken on board nearly 700 troops and had landed badly needed rations for 15000.
On the return passage, the force was attacked by four Ju.88’s at about 0900 hours, HMAS Nizam suffered minor damage from a near miss. Fighter protection had been arranged from 0545 hours and at 0940 hours a crashed enemy aircraft was sighted, probably shot down by our fighters. Force C arrived at Alexandria at 1700/29 without much enemy interference.
Evacuation of the Heraklion garrison, 1st night, 28-29 May 1941.
Rear-Admiral Rawlings, meanwhile, had been having a much more different experience. At 1700/28 Force B was about 90 miles from Scarpanto and from then until dark was subjected to a series of air attacks. High level, dive bombing and torpedo.
At 1920 hours, HMS Imperial was near missed but appeared to be undamaged and 50 minutes later a near miss caused slight damage and some casualties in HMS Ajax which was then detached to Alexandria.
On arrival of the force at Heraklion at 2330/28 the destroyers immediately entered harbour, embarked troops from the jetties and ferried them to the cruisers outside. By 0245/29 the ferrying was complete and a quarter of an hour later HMS Kimberley and HMS Imperial had embarked the rearguard.
At 032 hours the force proceeded to sea at 29 knots with the whole of the Heraklion garrison on board, some 4000 troops. All went well until 0345 hours when HMS Imperial’s steering gear failed and she nearly collided with HMS Orion and HMS Dido. Her rudder was jammed and repairs could not be made. Delaying the force would mean more air attacks and it was vital to be as far away as possible from the enemy airfields before daylight. It was therefore decided to take off the troops from HMS Imperial and then sink her. At 0445 hours this was successfully done by HMS Hotspur which had now 900 troops on board. By now Force B was about 1,5 hours late and it was only at sunrise that they arrived off the Kaso Strait. The German air force was already waiting.
Air attacks commenced at 0600 hours and continued at intervals to 1500 hours when the force was within 100 miles from Alexandria.
At 0625 hours, HMS Hereward was hit by a bomb which forced her to reduce speed and fall away from her position in the screen. The force was then in the middle of the Kaso Strait and once more Rear-Admiral Rawlings had to decide whether to endanger his whole force and the troops on board for the sake of a single ship, or to leave her for a certain destruction. HMS Hereward was last seen making slowly towards Crete which was only five miles distant with her guns engaging enemy aircraft.
Twenty minutes later HMS Decoy suffered damage to her machinery as the result of a near miss and the speed of the force had to be reduced to 25 knots. A further reduction to 21 knots was needed after HMS Orion had been near-missed at 0730 hours.
With 4000 troops on board, the speed reduced to 21 knots, and no fighter support, things were beginning to look ugly. The Commander-in-Chief realised from Rear-Admiral Rawlings signals that our fighters had not appeared and every endeavour was made to rectify this but the fighters only appeared at noon.
By this time Force B had suffered badly. Shortly after 0730 hours Capt. Back, the Flag captain of HMS Orion was wounded and died two hours later. His place was taken by Cdr. Wynne.
At 0815 hours, HMS Dido was hit on ‘B’ turret and the Orion on ‘A’ turret at 0900 hours, both by bombs from Ju.87 dive bombers. In each case the turrets were put out of action.
At 1045 hours, HMS Orion was again attacked by Ju.87’s and a bomb passed through her bridge, putting the lower conning tower out of action. Force B was then 100 miles south of Kaso and this was the last attack made by dive bombers.
The Orion had nearly 1100 troops on board and the casualties on the crowded mess decks were very heavy. It is believed that a total of 260 were killed and 280 were wounded. In addition three of the engineer officers were killed. All normal communication between the bridge and the engine room was destroyed, the steering gear was put out of action, and three boiler rooms were damaged. Also there were fires in the foremost 6” and 4” magazines.
Fortunately there was a lull in the air attacks until 1300/29 when a high level bombing attack developed, followed by another one at 1330 hours and a final one at 1500 hours.
Force B arrived at Alexandria at 2000/29. HMS Orion only having 10 tons of fuel and two rounds of 6” HE remaining.
Feasibility of further evacuation considered, 29-30 May 1941.
This disastrous commencement of the evacuation placed the Commander-in-Chief in a most unpleasant predicament. Of the 4000 troops embarked in Force B, no less then 800 had been killed or captured (those on the Hereward) after leaving Crete. If this was to be the scale of the casualties, it appeared that quite apart from prospective naval losses of ships and men, who could be ill spared, our efforts to rescue the army from capture might only lead to destruction of a large portion of the troops.
Particular anxiety was feld for the transport HMS Glengyle (A/Capt.(Retd.) C.H. Petrie, RN) which was already at sea and was due to embark 3000 troops the next night (29-30 May).
It was only after long and anxious consideration, and consultation with the Admiralty, as well as with the military authorities, that the decision to continue the evacuation could be taken.
Once taken this decision was amply justified. The remainder of the evacuation proceeded almost without casualties to personnel. Fighter protection became steadily more effective, and the enemy less enterprising. His failure to interfere with the nightly embarkations at Sphakia was most surprising.
The original intention to send ships to Plaka Bay to take off the Retimo garrison was abandoned, as it was not known whether the troops had received the message ordering them to retire there. Moreover it was doubtful that they would be able to reach the coast, since they had no supplies. 1200 rations were dropped by air at Plaka, in case any should get there, but it was decided to send ships to Sphakia only.
From messages received from Crete during the night of 28-29 May, it was thought that the next night was going to be the last night of the evacuation but in the course of the day it became clear that the situation was not so desperate as it had appeared and the Commander-in-Chief decided to send four destroyers to embark men on the night of 30-31 May.
Evacuation from Sphakia, 2nd night, 29-30 May 1941.
Meanwhile Rear-Admiral King, wearing his flag in HMS Phoebe (Capt. G. Grantham, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.L.S. King, CB, MVO, RN) had left Alexandria in the evening of the 28th with the light cruiser HMAS Perth, AA cruisers HMS Calcutta, HMS Coventry, transport HMS Glengyle, destroyers HMS Jervis, HMS Janus and HMS Hasty (Force D). Detination was Sphakia and their passage was uneventful except for one attack by one Ju.88 which dropped a stick of bombs near HMAS Perth but no damage was caused.
The cruisers and the Glengyle anchored off Sphakia at 2330/29 and the destroyers closed in one at a time to embark their quota. The troops were ferried from the beach in the landing craft from Glengyle assisted by two assault craft carried in HMAS Perth. The beach was too small for ships boats to be used in addition.
By 0320/30 a total of 6000 men had been embarked and Force D sailed for Alexandria, leaving three motor landing craft behind for use on subsequent nights. During the passage there were three air attacks on the force which had been joined by the destroyers HMAS Stuart, HMS Defender and HMS Jaguar at 0645 hours.
In the fist of these attacks, at 0930 hours, HMAS Perth was hit and her foremost boiler room was put out of action. The second and third attacks achieved no result although bombs fell close to HMAS Perth and HMS Jaguar. Fighter cover was able to drive off quite a number of enemy aircraft.
Evacuation from Sphakia, 3rd night, 30-31 May 1941.
At 0915/30, Force C, consisting of the destroyers HMAS Napier, HMAS Nizam, HMS Kandahar and HMS Kelvin again left Alexandria for Sphakia. After a few hours Kandahar developed a mechanical defect and had to return to Alexandria.
At 1530 hours, three Ju.88’s carried out an unseen dive from astern. Bombs were dropped and HMS Kelvin was near missed. The result was that her speed had to be reduced to 20 knots and she too was detached to Alexandria.
Captain Arliss now continued on with only the two Australian destroyers and arrived at Sphakia at 0030/31. By 0300 hours, each destroyer had embarked over 700 troops, using the three motor landing craft that had been left behind the previous night, supplemented by the ships boats.
On the return passage to Alexandria the two Australian destroyers were attacked by 12 Ju.88’s between 0815 and 0915 hours. Both destroyers were damaged by near misses and HMAS Napier had her speed reduced to 23 knots. One Ju.88 was shot down while three others were seen to be hit.
Fighter cover was able to shoot down three Ju.88’s and one Cant 1007 during the day. The remainder of the passage was without incident and HMAS Napier and HMAS Nizam arrived at Alexandria in the evening with a total of 1510 troop on board.
The final evacuation, Sphakia, 31 May – 1 June 1941.
A final evacuation of about 3000 men was required, which was more then previously was estimated. It was therefore decided to sent over one more Force to evacuate these men during the night of 31 May – 1 June.
So at 0600/31, Vice Admiral King departed Alexandria with the light cruiser HMS Phoebe (Flag), fast minelayer HMS Abdiel, destroyers HMS Hotspur, HMS Jackal and HMS Kimberley to carry out this final evacuation (Force D).
That forenoon the Commander-in-Chief received a signal from Capt. Arliss, who was then on his way back from Sphakia, which indicated that there was then some 6500 men to come off Crete. Vice-Admiral King was then authorized to increase the total number he was allowed to embark to 3500 men. This was later changed to ‘fill up to maximum capacity’.
In the evening of the 31st the force was attacked three times by enemy aircraft. None of the bombs fell very close and one Ju.88 was believed to be damaged by AA fire. Many bombs were seen to be jettisoned on the horizon indicating several successful combats by our fighters.
Force D arrived at 2320/31. Three fully loaded landing craft, the ones left behind, immediately went alongside. The embarkation went so quickly that for a time the beach was empty of troops. This was unfortunate as it led to a last minute rush, which could not be dealt with in the time available and some troops had to be left behind. Some medical stores were landed and finally the three motor landing craft were destroyed or sunk.
The force departed at 0300/1 having embarked nearly 4000 troops and arrived at Alexandria at 1700 hours that day. The return passage was uneventful.
The loss off HMS Calcutta.
Yet one more loss was suffered by the Fleet. In order to provide additional protection for Force D the AA cruisers HMS Calcutta and HMS Coventry were sailed from Alexandria early on the 1st of June. When only about 100 nautical miles out, they were attacked by two Ju.88’s, who dived from the direction of the sun. HMS Coventry was narrowly missed by the first but two bombs from the second hit HMS Calcutta and she sank within a few minutes at 0920/1. HMS Coventry then picked up 23 officers and 232 ratings. She then immediately returned to Alexandria.
Throughout the operations the Mediterranean Fleet had played a worthy part. Whilst the land fighting was in progress, sea-borne invasion had been prevented and reinforcements and stores for the Army had been maintained. When the evacuation was ordered, some 16500 British and Imperial troops were brought safely to Egypt and provisions and stores were landed for those who had to be left behind.
The Fleet had to pay a heavy price for its achievement. Losses and damage were sustained which would normally only occur during a major fleet action, in which the enemy fleet might be expected to suffer greater damage then our own. On this occasion, the enemy fleet was conspicuous by its absence, though it had many favourable opportunities for intervening, and the battle was fought out between ships and aircraft.
All forms of air attack were experienced by our ships but it were the dive bombing attacks that caused most of the losses and damage. Torpedo attacks for instance resulted in no ships being hit at all. When ships were inside the Aegean during 21/22 May air attacks were almost continuous. Aircraft appeared to land on nearby airfield, load up with new bombs, refuel and take off again.
During the evacuation the Royal Air Force gave what little protection was possible to the fleet and the presence of even a few fighter aircraft on the enemy was noticeable. It was regrettable that none had been made available to protect the Fleet during the earlier stages of the battle for Crete.
Warm thanks were expressed to the Navy by the Commanders-in-Chief of the Army and Air Force for their efforts during the Battle for Crete. (12)
21 May 1941
HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN) sailed from Alexandria with the other Australian destroyers HMAS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, DSO, RAN) and Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades, RAN) to join the cruiser force of Adm Rawlings off Crete, but was diverted to search for survivors of cruisers Fiji (Capt. P.B.R.W. William-Powlett, RN) and Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, DSO, RN) sunk by the Luftwaffe. Stuart was unable to locate any of them and returned to Alexandria.
25 May 1941
HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN) sailed from Alexandria escorting the troopship Glenroy, heading for Tymbaki, Greece, but air attacks compelled the abandonment of the attempt and both ships were back in Alexandria in the evening of the 26th.
29 May 1941
HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN) sailed from Alexandria in company of destroyers Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine RN) and Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN) to cover the return of evacuation transport Glengyle.
- ADM 173/16011
- ADM 199/386 + ADM 199/445
- ADM 199/386
- ADM 199/386 + ADM 234/323
- ADM 199/386 + ADM 234/317
- ADM 199/386 + ADM 199/387 + ADM 199/391
- ADM 199/387
- ADM 199/414 + ADM 199/656 + ADM 223/679 + ADM 234/335
- ADM 199/414
- ADM 53/113721 + ADM 53/115234
- ADM 186/795 + ADM 199/414
- ADM 199/414 + 234/320
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.
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