HMS Eridge (L 68)
Escort destroyer of the Hunt (Type II) class
|Navy||The Royal Navy|
|Class||Hunt (Type II)|
|Built by||Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd. (Wallsend-on-Tyne, U.K.): Wallsend|
|Ordered||4 Sep 1939|
|Laid down||21 Nov 1939|
|Launched||20 Aug 1940|
|Commissioned||28 Feb 1941|
|End service||29 Aug 1942|
While in the Mediterranean in July 1941 HMS Eridge provided escort for convoys bound for Malta from Gibraltar. In September 1941, the destroyer was docked in the Selborne dry dock at Simonstown, South Africa.
In February 1942 back in the Mediterranean, Eridge was once again an escort to the Malta bound convoys setting out from Gibraltar. On March 19th, Eridge a member of the 5th DD Flotilla set out from Alexandria bound for Tobruk on a submarine hunting expedition, in preparation to an advance supply convoy to Malta. The next afternoon a U-boat evaded the searchers and managed to launch an audacious attack, it takes a lot of courage to attack a flotilla of A/S destroyers. HMS Heythrop was torpedoed by U-652, and later taken in tow by Eridge but later had to be scuttled by the destroyer north of Sollum. On the 20th, she and her sisters rendezvous with the Malta bound supply convoy and Eridge was employed as convoy escort to the commissioned auxiliary supply ship HMS Breconshire loaded with 5,000 tons of precious fuel, the Clan Campbell, the bomb damaged ship of the previous convoy, the Pampas and the Norwegian ship Talabot, fully loaded with ammunition. Getting this convoy through to Malta was afterwards referred to as the second battle of Sirte. Admiral Vian was in command of the operation. Clan Campbell met disaster a mere 20 miles from Malta, bombers which had first appeared soon after daylight were eventually rewarded for their persistence. A bomb struck home, her engine room became flooded and she soon went under. The hard working little Eridge was being tossed about by the waves like an empty barrel yet she managed to claw no less than 112 survivors from the angry sea. Of the total of 26,000 tons of stores carried by the four ships only 5,000 tons finally reached Malta. The price paid for delivering much needed stores was indeed heavy. On 29 May 1942 after a 15 hour pursuit by HMS Eridge, HMS Hero and HMS Hurworth the German submarine U-568 was sunk north-east of Tobruk. On July 11th, Eridge in company with destroyers HMS Dulverton and HMS Hurworth they bombarded Mersa Matruh and sank one ship that was driven out to sea by Albacore aircraft. In August, in company with the destroyer HMS Aldenham she bombarded the Daba area on the Egyptian coast. On August 29th HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. William Frank Niemann Gregory-Smith, DSO, DSC, RN) was torpedoed by an Italian MTSM (45 cm [18"]torpedo) in position 31º07'N, 28º26'E. Though towed by Aldenham to Alexandria, she was a total constructive loss and spent the remainder of the war as a base ship. In October 1946 Eridge was sold at Alexandria for scrapping.
Commands listed for HMS Eridge (L 68)
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|1||Lt.Cdr. William Frank Niemann Gregory-Smith, RN||14 Nov 1940||mid 1942|
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Notable events involving Eridge include:
18 Mar 1941
After ammunitioning on completion of her refit, HMS Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), departed Rosyth around 1630 hours for Scapa Flow. She was escorted by the destroyer HMAS Nestor (Cdr. G.S. Stewart, RAN) and the escort destroyers HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) and HMS Whaddon (Lt.Cdr. P.G. Merriman, RN). (1)
19 Mar 1941
The battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth (Capt. C.B. Barry, DSO, RN) escorted by the destoyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Arrow (Cdr. R.E. Hyde-Smith, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN), HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN) and HMS Eskimo (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN) departed Scapa Flow at 0515/19. At 0630 hours they were joined at sea by the battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN) which had departed Rosyth the previous afternoon. The destroyer HMAS Nestor (Cdr. G.S. Stewart, RAN) and the escort destroyers HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) and HMS Whaddon (Lt.Cdr. P.G. Merriman, RN), which had been escorting HMS Hood then proceeded to Scapa Flow.
The ships then proceeded to the area to the south of Iceland where they were to join the battleship HMS Nelson and her escorting destroyers which is already patrolling there to intercept the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau if they were trying to return to Germany.
17 Apr 1941
Around 0045A/17, the aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. T.O. Bulteel, RN) and the heavy cruiser HMS London (Capt. R.M. Servaes, CBE, RN) departed the Clyde. HMS Argus was to proceed to Gibraltar and HMS London was to escort her until being relieved.
Around 2215A/18, HMS Winchelsea and HMS Eridge parted company. (2)
26 Apr 1941
Convoy WS 8A
This convoy departed the Clyde on 26 April 1941 for various ports in the Far East and Mediterranean (see below).
The convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels and troop transports; Abbekerk (Dutch, 7889 GRT, built 1939), Aronda (British, 8328 GRT, built 1941), Clan Campbell (British, 7255 GRT, built 1937), Clan Chattan (British, 7262 GRT, built 1937), Clan Lamont (British, 7250 GRT, built 1939), Dominion Monarch (British, 27155 GRT, built 1939), Empire Song (British, 9228 GRT, built 1940), Empress of Asia (British, 16909 GRT, built 1913), Empress of Russia (British, 16810 GRT, built 1913), Highland Chieftain (British, 14135 GRT, built 1929), New Zealand Star (British, 12436 GRT, built 1935), Reina del Pacifico (British, 17702 GRT, built 1931), Sobieski (Polish, 11030 GRT, built 1939) and Strathaird (British, 22281 GRT, built 1932).
The armed merchant cruiser HMS Pretoria Castle (A/Capt.(Retd.) A.V. Hemming, RN) also took passage in the convoy.
On departure from the Clyde the convoy was escorted by the battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN), light cruiser HMS Naiad (Capt. M.H.A. Kelsey, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.L.S. King, CB, MVO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, DSC, RN), HMS Havelock (Cdr. E.H. Thomas, DSC, RN) and HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN), HMS Hurricane (Lt.Cdr. H.C. Simms, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMS Beagle, (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, DSO and Bar, RN), HMCS Ottawa (Cdr. E.R. Mainguy, RCN), HMCS Restigouche (Cdr. H.N. Lay, OBE, RN), HMCS Saguenay (Lt. P.E. Haddon, RCN), ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski) and the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN).
In the morning of the 29th HMS Beagle and HMS Eridge were detached to join the escort of convoy SL 71.
Shortly afterwards HMS Hurricane was detached to search for the survivors of the liner City of Nagpur that had been torpedoed and sunk earlier that day.
On 30 April, at 0400 hours, HMCS Ottawa, HMCS Restigouche, HMCS Saguaenay, HMS Legion and ORP Piorun parted company.
On 2 May the light cruiser HMS Mauritius (Capt. W.D. Stephens, RN) joined shortly after noon. HMS Naiad was then detached and proceeded to Gibraltar where she arrived around 0900/4.
Earlier that morning HMS Repulse, HMS Harvester, HMS Havelock and HMS Hesperus had parted company with the convoy taking the transports Clan Campbell, Clan Chattan, Clan Lamont, Empire Song and New Zealand Star with them to Gibraltar.
The remainder of the convoy continued southwards. On 5 May the destroyers HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN) joined followed on 6 May by two more destroyers; HMS Boreas (Lt.Cdr. D.H. Maitland-Makgill Crichton, DSC, RN) and HMS Hurricane (Lt.Cdr. H.C. Simms, RN). The convoy arrived at Freetown on 9 May.
The convoy departed Freetown on 14 May having been joined by the Imperial Star (British, 12427 GRT, built 1934). The Highland Chieftain was unable to depart on the 14th. She sailed one day later to overtake the convoy. She was being escorted by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Cicilia (Capt.(Retd.) V.B. Cardwell, OBE, RN).
On leaving Freetown A/S protection was given by the destroyers Highlander, HMS Duncan, HMS Boreas and HMS Wishart until 16 May.
HMS Mauritius was relieved by HMS Hawkins (Capt. H.P.K. Oram, RN) on 24 May.
The convoy arrived at Durban on 27 May minus the Empress of Asia, Imperial Star and Strathaird that had been detached to Capetown on the 24th. The Strathaird departed Capetown on the 25th to rejoin the convoy off Durban.
The remainder of the convoy arrived at Durban on 27 May escorted by HMS Hawkins.
On 31 May the Abbekerk, Aronda, Empress of Russia, Sobieski and Strathaird departed Durban escorted by HMS Hawkins. They arrived at Aden on 10 June after which the troopships / transports proceeded to Suez independently.
30 Apr 1941
Convoy HX 124.
This convoy departed Halifax on 30 April 1941 for Liverpool where it arrived on 20 May 1941.
Upon departure from Halifax the convoy was made up of the following merchant ships: Aalsum (Dutch, 5418 GRT, built 1922), Alchiba (British, 4427 GRT, built 1920), Algenib (British, 5483 GRT, built 1937), Asbjorn (British, 4387 GRT, built 1935), Athelviscount (British (tanker), 8882 GRT, built 1929), Atlantian (British, 6549 GRT, built 1928), Auditor (British, 5444 GRT, built 1924), Baron Ogilvy (British, 3391 GRT, built 1926), Barrington Court (British, 4910 GRT, built 1924), Beaconstreet (British (tanker), 7467 GRT, built 1927), Botavon (British, 5848 GRT, built 1912), British Faith (British (tanker), 6955 GRT, built 1928), British Fortune (British (tanker), 4696 GRT, built 1930), British Industry (British (tanker), 4297 GRT, built 1927), British Resolution (British (tanker), 8408 GRT, built 1937), Charlton Hall (British, 5200 GRT, built 1940), Daytonian (British, 6434 GRT, built 1922), Delphinula (British (tanker), 8120 GRT, built 1939), Echodale (British (tanker), 8150 GRT, built 1941), Empire Hawk (British, 5033 GRT, built 1919), Empire Steel (British (tanker), 8138 GRT, built 1941), Gitano (British, 3956 GRT, built 1921), Harmala (British, 5730 GRT, built 1935), King Lud (British, 5224 GRT, built 1928), Kingswood (British, 5080 GRT, built 1929), Korsholm (Swedish, 2647 GRT, built 1925), Madrono (Norwegian (tanker), 5894 GRT, built 1917), Morska Wola (Polish, 3208 GRT, built 1924), Pacific Enterprise (British, 6736 GRT, built 1927), Pomella (British (tanker), 6766 GRT, built 1937), Queen City (British, 4814 GRT, built 1924), Redgate (British, 4323 GRT, built 1929), Souliotis (Greek, 4299 GRT, built 1917), Varand (British (tanker), 6023 GRT, built 1927), Vera Radcliffe (British, 5587 GRT, built 1925), Vivi (Norwegian (tanker), 6546 GRT, built 1932) and Wearwood (British, 4597 GRT, built 1930).
On departure from Halifax the convoy was escorted by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Circassia (A/Capt. E.V. Lees, RN) and the corvettes HMCS Cobalt (T/A/Lt.Cdr. R.B. Campbell, RCNR) and HMCS Collingwood (T/Lt. W. Woods, RCNR). The corvettes were detached later the same day.
On 2 May the convoy was joined by the battleship HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN). She detached from the convoy on 9 May.
On 11 May the destroyer HMS Broadway (Lt.Cdr. T. Taylor, RN) and corvettes HMS Aubretia (Lt.Cdr. V.F. Smith, RNR), HMS Hollyhock (Lt. T.E. Davies, OBE, RNR) and HMS Nigella (T/Lt. T.W. Coyne, RNR) joined the convoy
On 12 May the destroyers HMS Burwell (Lt.Cdr. S.R.J. Woods, RNR), HMS Scimitar (Lt. R.D. Franks, OBE, RN), HMS Malcolm (Cdr. C.D. Howard-Johnston, DSC, RN), HMS Watchman (Lt.Cdr. E.C.L. Day, RN), HMS Amazon (Lt.Cdr. N.E.G. Roper, RN), corvettes HMS Heliotrope (Lt.Cdr. J. Jackson, RNR), HMS Mallow (Lt.Cdr. W.B. Piggott, RNR), HMS Violet (Lt.Cdr. K.M. Nicholson, RNR), and A/S trawlers HMS Northern Gem (Skr.Lt. W.J.V. Mullender, DSC, RNR), HMS Northern Wave (T/Lt. W.G. Pardoe-Matthews, RNR), HMS Notts County (T/S.Lt. R.H. Hampton, RNR) and HMS Vizalma (T/Lt. M.M. Firth, RNVR) joined the convoy.
On 14 May the corvettes HMS Anemone (Lt.Cdr. H.G. Boys-Smith, DSO and Bar, RD, RNR), HMS Clarkia (Lt.Cdr. F.J.G. Jones, RNR), HMS Verbena (Lt.Cdr. D.A. Rayner, DSC, RNVR) and HMS Veronica (Lt.Cdr. (retired) D.F. White, RNR) joined the convoy.
The destroyers HMS Burwell, HMS Scimitar, HMS Malcolm, corvettes HMS Aubretia, HMS Heliotrope, HMS Hollyhock, HMS Mallow, HMS Nigella, HMS Vervena, HMS Veronica and all the A/S trawlers were detached on 14 May.
HMS Circassia and HMS Watchman were detached on 15 May while on the same day the destroyers HMS Burnham (Cdr. J. Bostock, DSC, RN), HMS Leamington (Lt.Cdr. H.G. Bowerman, RN), HMS Salisbury (Lt.Cdr. H.M.R. Crichton, RN), escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN), minesweepers HMS Hussar ( Lt.Cdr. D.H.P. Gardiner, RN), HMS Niger ( Lt.Cdr. J.M. Bayley, DSC, RN), and catapult ship Ariguani joined the escort.
On 18 May the destroyer HMS Roxborough (Lt. V.A. Wight-Boycott, OBE, RN) joined the convoy. Also on this day HMS Leamington and HMS Anemone were detached.
On 19 May the destroyer Saladin joined the escort.
The convoy arrived at Liverpool on 20 May.
8 May 1941
HrMs O 10 (Lt. J.H. Geijs, RNN) participated in A/S exercises off Lough Foyle together with HMS Burnham (Cdr. J. Bostock, DSC, RN), HMS Salisbury (Lt.Cdr. H.M.R. Crichton, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN), HMS St. Elstan (T/Lt. G. Butcher, RNVR), HMS Vizalma (T/Lt. M.M. Firth, RNVR), HMS Gladiolus (Lt.Cdr. H.M.C. Sanders, DSC, RNR) and HMS Veronica (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) D.F. White, RNR). (3)
18 May 1941
Chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, 18 to 27 May 1941.
Departure of the Bismarck from the Baltic.
At 2130B/18 the German battleship Bismarck and the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen departed Gotenhafen for an anti-shipping raid in the North Atlantic. The following morning they were joined off Cape Arkona by the German destroyers Z 16 / Friedrich Eckhold and Z 23. They then proceeded through the Great Belt. The four ships were joined by a third destroyer, Z 10 / Hans Lody shortly before midnight on 19 May.
First reports of Bismarck and British dispositions 20-21 May 1941.
On 20 May 1941 two large warships with a strong escort were seen at 1500 hours northward out of the Kattegat. This information originated from the Swedish cruiser Gotland which had passed the Germans off the Swedish coast in the morning. The Naval Attaché at Stockholm received the news at 2100/20 and forwarded it to the Admiralty. At 0900/21 the Bismarck and her consorts entered Kors Fjord, near Bergen, Norway and anchored in nearby fiords. A reconnaissance aircraft flying over Bergen at 1330/21 reported having seen two Hipper class heavy cruisers there. One of these ships was later identified on a photograph as being the Bismarck. This intelligence went out at once to the Home Fleet.
The ships of the Home Fleet were at this time widely dispersed on convoy duties, patrols, etc. Some of the units were ranging as far as Gibraltar and Freetown. The Commander-in-Chief, A/Admiral Sir John Tovey, was at Scapa Flow in his flagship, HMS King George V (Capt. W.R. Patterson, CVO, RN). With him were her newly commissioned sister ship HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), the battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, with Vice-Admiral L.E. Holland, CB, RN, onboard), the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, RN), the light cruisers HMS Galatea (Capt. E.W.B. Sim, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral K.T.B. Curteis, CB, RN), HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN), HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN) and the destroyers HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.B.N. Hicks, DSO, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSO, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN) and HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN). HMS Victorious was under orders to escort troop convoy WS 8B from the Clyde to the Middle East. HMS Neptune was working up for service with the Mediterranean Fleet and was to escort convoy WS 8X from the Clyde to the Middle East on completion. She did not sail to operate against the Bismarck having only just began her post-refit work-up programme.
Rear-Admiral W.F. Wake-Walker (commanding the first Cruiser Squadron), with the heavy cruisers HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN) (flag) and HMS Suffolk (Capt. R.M. Ellis, RN) was on patrol in the Denmark Straight. The light cruisers HMS Manchester (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN) and HMS Birmingham (Capt. A.C.G. Madden, RN) were patrolling between Iceland and the Faeroes. The battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) was at the Clyde to escort troop convoy WS 8B.
Action taken by the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet
Admiral Tovey took the following action when he received the news the Bismarck had been spotted at Bergen. Vice-Admiral Holland with the Hood, Prince of Wales, Achates, Antelope, Anthony, Echo, Electra and Icarus was ordered to cover Rear Admiral Wake-Walker's cruisers in the Denmark Straight. His force departed Scapa Flow around 0100/22.
HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), which was taking the Vice-Admiral, Orkneys and Shetlands, to Reykjavik on a visit of inspection, was ordered to remain at Hvalfiord and placed at Rear-Admiral Wake-Walkers disposal. HMS Manchester and HMS Birmingham were ordered to top off with fuel at Skaalefiord and them to resume their patrol. The other ships that remained at Scapa Flow were brought to short notice for steam.
The Free French submarine FFS Minerve (Lt. P.M. Sonneville), which was on patrol off south-west Norway was ordered to proceed to position 61°53'N, 03°15'E and HMS P 31 (Lt. J.B.de B. Kershaw, RN) was ordered to proceed to position 62°08'N, 05°08'E which is to the west of Stadtlandet.
The sailing of HMS Repulse and HMS Victorious with troop convoy WS 8B was cancelled and the ships were placed at the disposal of Admiral Tovey.
A reconnaissance aircraft flying over Bergen reported that the German ships were gone. This information reached Admiral Tovey at 2000/22. HMS Suffolk which had been fuelling at Hvalfiord was ordered to rejoin HMS Norfolk in the Denmark Strait. HMS Arethusa was ordered to join HMS Manchester and HMS Birmingham to form a patrol line between Iceland and the Faeroes. Vice-Admiral Holland, on his way to Iceland was told to cover the patrols in Denmark Strait north of 62°N. Admiral Tovey would cover the patrols south of 62°N.
Commander-in-Chief leaves Scapa Flow on 22 May 1941
The King George V, with Admiral Tovey on board, departed Scapa Flow at 2245/22. With the King George V sailed, HMS Victorious, HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya, HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), HMS Windsor (Lt.Cdr. J.M.G. Waldegrave, DSC, RN), HMS Active, HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Intrepid (Cdr. R.C. Gordon, DSO, RN), HMS Punjabi, HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMAS Nestor. HMS Lance however had to return to Scapa Flow due to defects.
At A.M. 23 May they were joined off the Butt of Lewis by HMS Repulse escorted by HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMCS Assiniboine (A/Lt.Cdr. J.H. Stubbs, RCN) and HMCS Saguenay (Lt. P.E. Haddon, RCN) coming from the Clyde area which they departed on 22 May.
The Commander-in-Chief was 230 miles north-west of the Butt of Lewis in approximate position 60°20'N, 12°30'W when at 2032/23 a signal came in from HMS Norfolk that she had sighted the Bismarck in the Denmark Strait.
HMS Suffolk and HMS Norfolk made contact with the Bismarck in the Denmark Strait on 23 May 1941.
At 1922/23 HMS Suffolk sighted the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen in position 67°06'N, 24°50'W. They were proceeding to the south-west skirting the edge of the ice in Denmark Strait. HMS Suffolk immediately sent out an enemy report and made for the mist to the south-east. HMS Norfolk then commenced closing and sighted the enemy at 2030 hours. They were only some six nautical miles off and the Bismarck opened fire. HMS Norfolk immediately turned away, was not hit and also sent out an enemy report.
Although HMS Suffolk had sighted the enemy first and also sent the first contact report this was not received by the Commander-in-Chief. The enemy was 600 miles away to the north-westward.
Vice-Admiral Holland had picked up the signal from the Suffolk. He was at that moment about 300 nautical miles away. Course was changed to intercept and speed was increased by his force to 27 knots.
Dispositions, 23 May 1941.
At the Admiralty, when the Norfolk's signal came in, one of the first considerations was to safeguard the convoys at sea. At this time there were eleven crossing the North-Atlantic, six homeward and five outward bound. The most important convoy was troop convoy WS 8B of five ships which had left the Clyde the previous day for the Middle East. She was at this moment escorted by the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, MVO, RN), light cruiser (AA cruiser) HMS Cairo (A/Capt. I.R.H. Black, RN) and the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), HMCS Ottawa (Cdr. E.R. Mainguy, RCN), HMCS Restigouche (Cdr. H.N. Lay, RCN) and the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN). HMS Repulse was also intended to have sailed with this convoy but she had joined the Commander-in-Chief instead.
Force H was sailed around 0200/24 from Gibraltar to protect this important convoy on the passage southwards. Force H was made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt Sir R.R. McGrigor, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN).
HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk shadowing Bismarck 23 / 24 May 1941.
During the night of 23 / 24 May 1941 HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk hung on to the enemy, The Norfolk on their port quarter, Suffolk on their starboard quarter. All through the night they sent signals with updates on the position, course and speed of the enemy. At 0516 hours HMS Norfolk sighted smoke on her port bow and soon HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales came in sight.
HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales 23 / 24 May 1941.
At 2054/23 the four remaining escorting destroyers were ordered to follow at best speed in the heavy seas if they were unable to keep up with the capital ships which were proceeding at 27 knots. Two destroyers, HMS Antelope and HMS Anthony had been ordered to proceed to Iceland to refuel at 1400/23. The destroyers all managed to keep up for now and at 2318 hours they were ordered to form a screen ahead of both capital ships. At 0008/24 speed was reduced to 25 knots and course was altered to due north at 0017 hours. It was expected that contact with the enemy would be made at any time after 0140/24. It was just now that the cruisers lost contact with the enemy in a snowstorm and for some time no reports were coming in. At 0031 hours the Vice-Admiral signalled to the Prince of Wales that if the enemy was not in sight by 0210 hours he would probably alter course to 180° until the cruisers regained touch. He also signalled that he intended to engage the Bismarck with both capital ships and leave the Prinz Eugen to Norfolk and Suffolk.
The Prince of Wales' Walrus aircraft was ready for catapulting and it was intended to fly it off, but visibility deteriorated and in the end it was defuelled and stowed away at 0140 hours. A signal was then passed to the destroyers that when the capital ships would turn to the south they were to continue northwards searching for the enemy. Course was altered to 200° at 0203/24. As there was now little chance of engaging the enemy before daylight the crews were allowed to rest.
At 0247/24 HMS Suffolk regained touch with the enemy and by 0300 hours reports were coming in again. At 0353 hours HMS Hood increased speed to 28 knots and at 0400/24 the enemy was estimated to be 20 nautical miles to the north-west. By 0430 hours visibility had increased to 12 nautical miles. At 0440 hours orders were given to refuel the Walrus of HMS Prince of Wales but due to delays due to water in the fuel it was not ready when the action began and it was damaged by splinters and eventuelly jettisoned into the sea.
At 0535/24 hours a vessel was seen looming on the horizon to the north-west, it was the Bismarck. She was some 17 nautical miles away bearing 330°. Prinz Eugen was ahead of her but this was not immediately realised and as the silhoutte of the German ships was almost similar the leading ship was most likely thought to be the Bismarck on board HMS Hood.
Battle of the Denmark Strait, action with the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. Loss of HMS Hood.
At 0537/24 HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales were turned together 40° to starboard towards the enemy. At 0549 hours course was altered to 300° and the left hand ship was designated as the target. This was a mistake as this was the Prinz Eugen and not the Bismarck. This was changed to the Bismarck just before fire was opened at 0552 hours. At 0554 hours the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen also opened fire. In the meantime Prince of Wales had also opened fire at 0053 hours. Her first salvo was over. The sixth salvo was a straddle. The Norfolk and Suffolk were too far astern of the enemy to take part in the action.
At 0555 hours Hood and Prince of Wales turned two points to port. This opened up Prince of Wales' A arcs as her ninth salvo was fired.
Shortly before 0605 hours Hood signalled that another turn of two points to port had to be executed. Bismarck had just fired her fifth salvo when the Hood was rent in two by a huge explosion rising apparently between the after funnel and the mainmast. The fore part began to sink seperately, bows up, whilst the after part remained shrouded in a pall of smoke. Three or four minutes later, the Hood had vanished between the waves leaving a vast cloud of smoke drifting away to the leeward. She sank in position 63°20'N, 31°50'W (the wreck was found in 2001 in approximate position 63°22'N, 32°17'W, the exact position has not been released to the public.)
The Prince of Wales altered course to starboard to avoid the wreckage of the Hood. The Bismarck now shifted fire from her main and secondary armament to her. Range was now 18000 yards. Within a very short time she was hit by four 15" and three 6" shells. At 0602 hours a large projectile wrecked the bridge, killing or wounding most of the personnel and about the same time the ship was holed underwater aft. It was decided temporarily to discontinue the action and at 0613 hours HMS Prince of Wales turned away behind a smoke screen. The after turret continued to fire but it soon malfunctioned and was out of action until 0825 hours. When the Prince of Wales ceased firing the range was 14500 yards. She had fired 18 salvos from the main armament and five from the secondary. The Bismarck made no attempt to follow or continue the action. She had also not escaped unscatched and had sustained two severe hits.
Such was the end of the brief engagement. The loss by an unlucky hit of HMS Hood with Vice-Admiral Holland, Captain Kerr and almost her entire ships company was a grievous blow, but a great concentration of forces was gathering behind the Commander-in-Chief, and Admiral Somerville with Force H was speeding towards him from the south.
When the Hood blew up, HMS Norfolk was 15 nautical miles to the northward coming up at 28 knots. By 0630/24 she was approaching HMS Prince of Wales and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker, signalling his intention to keep in touch, told her to follow at best speed. The destroyers that had been with HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales were still to the northward. They were ordered to search for survivors but only HMS Electra found three. The Prince of Wales reported that she could do 27 knots and she was told to open out to 10 nautical miles on a bearing of 110° so that HMS Norfolk could fall back on her if she was attacked. Far off the Prinz Eugen could be seen working out to starboard of the Bismarck while the chase continued to the southward.
At 0757 hours, HMS Suffolk reported that the Bismarck had reduced speed and that she appeared to be damaged. Shortly afterwards a Sunderland that had taken off from Iceland reported that the Bismarck was leaving behind a broad track of oil. The Commander-in-Chief with HMS King George V was still a long way off, about 360 nautical miles to the eastward, and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker on the bridge of HMS Norfolk had to make an important decision, was he to renew the action with the help of the Prince of Wales or was he to make it his business to ensure that the enemy could be intercepted and brought to action by the Commander-in-Chief. A dominant consideration in the matter was the state of the Prince of Wales. Her bridge had been wrecked, she had 400 tons of water in her stern compartments and two of her guns were unserverable and she could go no more then 27 knots. She had only been commissioned recently and barely a week had passed since Captain Leach had reported her ready for service. Her turrets were of a new and an untried model, liable for 'teething' problems and evidently suffering from them, for at the end of the morning her salvoes were falling short and wide. It was doubted if she was a match for the Bismarck in her current state and it was on these grounds that Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker decided that he would confine himself to shadowing and that he would not attempt to force on an action. Soon after 1100/24 visibility decreased and the Bismarck was lost out of sight in mist and rain.
Measures taken by the Admiralty, 24 May 1941.
After the loss of HMS Hood the following measures were taken by the Admiralty. To watch for an attempt by the enemy to return to Germany, HMS Manchester, HMS Birmingham and HMS Arethusa had been ordered at 0120/24 to patrol off the north-east point of Iceland. They were told to proceed to this location with all despatch.
HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN), which with four destroyers was escorting the troopship Britannic (26943 GRT, built 1930) westward, was ordered at 1022/24 to steer west on a closing course and if the Britannic could not keep up she was to leave her with one of the destroyers. Rodney was about 550 nautical miles south-east of the Bismarck. At 1200/24 she left the Britannic in position 55°15'N, 22°25'W and left HMS Eskimo (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN) with her. HMS Rodney then proceeded with HMS Somali (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN) and HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN) westwards on a closing course.
Two other capital ships were in the Atlantic; HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Read, RN) and HMS Revenge (Capt. E.R. Archer, RN). The Ramillies was escorting convoy HX 127 from Halifax and was some 900 nautical miles south of the Bismarck. She was ordered at 1144/24 to place herself to the westward of the enemy and leaving her convoy at 1212/24 in position 46°25'N, 35°24'W, she set course to the north. HMS Revenge was ordered to leave Halifax and close the enemy.
Light cruiser HMS Edinburgh (Capt. C.M. Blackman, DSO, RN) was patrolling in the Atlantic between 44°N and 46°N for German merchant shipping and was ordered at 1250/24 to close the enemy and take on relief shadower. At 1430/24 she reported her position as 44°17'N, 23°56'W and she was proceeding on course 320° at 25 knots.
Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker was ordered to continue shadowing even if he ran short of fuel so to bring the Commander-in-Chief into action.
The Bismack turns due south at 1320 hours on 24 May 1941.
In the low state of visibility, HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk had to be constantly on the alert against the enemy falling back and attacking them. At 1320/24 the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen altered course to the south and reduced speed. HMS Norfolk sighted them through the rain at a range of only 8 nautical miles. Norfolk had to quickly turn away under the cover of a smoke screen.
It was at 1530/24 when HMS Norfolk received a signal made by the Commander-in-Chief at 0800/24 from which it was estimated that the Commander-in-Chief would be near the enemy at 0100/25. This was later changed to 0900/25.
At 1545/24, Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker was asked by the Admiralty to answer four questions; 1) State the remaining percentage of the Bismarck's fighting efficiency. 2) What amout of ammunition had the Bismarck expended. 3) What are the reasons for the frequent alterations of course by the Bismarck. 4) What are your intentions as regards to the Prince of Wales' re-engaging the Bismarck.
The answers by Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker were as follows. 1) Uncertain but high. 2) About 100 rounds. 3) Unaccountable except as an effort to shake off HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk. 4) Consider it wisely for HMS Prince of Wales to not re-engage the Bismarck until other capital ships are in contact, unless interception failed. Doubtful if she has the speed to force an action.
The afternoon drew on towards evening. Still the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen held on to the south while the Norfolk, Suffolk and Prince of Wales were still keeping her in sight.
At 1711/24 in order to delay the enemy if possible, by attacking him from astern, the Prince of Wales was stationed ahead of the Norfolk. The enemy was not in sight from the Norfolk at that time, but the Suffolk was still in contact.
At 1841/24 the Bismarck opened fire on the Suffolk. Her salvoes fell short, but one or two shorts came near enough to cause some minor damage to her hull plating aft. HMS Suffolk replied with nine broadsides before turning away behind a smoke screen.
On seeing the Suffolk being attacked, HMS Norfolk turned towards and she and HMS Prince of Wales opened fire, the latter firing 12 salvoes. By 1856 hours the action was over. Two of the guns on the Prince of Wales malfuntioned again. After the action the cruisers started to zig-zag due to fear for German submarines.
British dispositions at 1800 hours on 24 May 1941.
From the Admiralty at 2025/24, there went out a signal summarising the situation at 1800/24. The position, course and speed of the Bismarck was given as 59°10'N, 36°00'W, 180°, 24 knots with HMS Norfolk, HMS Suffolk and HMS Prince of Wales still in touch. The Commander-in-Chiefs estimated position at 1800/24 was 58°N, 30°W, with HMS King George V and HMS Repulse. HMS Victorious was with the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya). They had parted company with the Commander-in-Chief at 1509/24. Heavy cruiser HMS London (Capt. R.M. Servaes, CBE, RN) was in position 42°45'N, 20°10'W and had been ordered to leave her convoy and close the enemy. HMS Ramillies was in estimated position 45°45'N, 35°40'W. She had been ordered to place herself to the west of the enemy. HMS Manchester, HMS Birmingham and HMS Arethusa were returning from their position off the north-east of Iceland to refuel. HMS Revenge had left Halifax and was closing convoy HX 128. HMS Edinburgh was in approximate position 45°15'N, 25°10'W. She had been ordered to close and take over stand by shadower.
Evening of 24 May 1941.
At 2031/24 HMS Norfolk received a signal sent by the Commander-in-Chief at 1455/24 stating that aircraft from HMS Victorious might make an attack at 2200/24 and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker now waited for an air attack which he expected at 2300 hours. By that time Bismarck had been lost from sight but at 2330/24 HMS Norfolk briefly sighted her at a distance of 13 nautical miles. At 2343/24 aircraft from HMS Victorious were seen approaching. They circled round HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Norfolk and the latter was able to direct them to the enemy. At 0009/25 heavy anti-aircraft gunfire was seen and the Bismarck was just visible as the aircraft attacked.
HMS Victorious and the 2nd Cruiser Squadron detached by the Commander-in-Chief.
At 1440/24 the Commander-in-Chief ordered the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya, HMS Hermione) and HMS Victorious to a position within 100 nautical miles from Bismarck and to launch a torpedo bombing attack and maintain contact as long as possible. The object of the torpedo bombing attack was to slow the enemy down. On board the Victorious were only 12 Swordfish torpedo bombers and 6 Fulmar fighters. Victorious was only recently commissioned and her crew was still rather green. She had on board a large consignment of crated Hurricane fighters for Malta which were to be delivered to Gibraltar.
At 2208/24 HMS Victorious commenced launching 9 Swordfish in position 58°58'N, 33°17'E. Two minutes later al were on their way to find the Bismarck. The Squadron was led by Lt.Cdr.(A) E. Esmonde, RN.
HMS Victorious aircraft attack the Bismarck.
When the Swordfish took off from HMS Victorious the Bismarck was estimated to be in position 57°09'N, 36°44'W and was steering 180°, speed 24 knots. At 2330/24 they sighted the Bismarck but contact was lost in the bad weater. Shortly afterwards the Swordfish sighted HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk. HMS Norfolk guided them to the enemy which was 14 nautical miles on her starboard bow. At 2350 hours a vessel was detected ahead and the squadron broke cloud to deliver an attack. To their surprise they found themselves over a United States Coastguard cutter. The Bismarck was 6 nautical miles to the southward and on sighting the aircraft opened up a heavy barrage fire. Lt.Cdr. Esmonde pressed home his attack, 8 of the Swordfish were able to attack, the other had lost contact in the clouds.
The 8 planes attacked with 18" torpedoes, fitted with Duplex pistols set for 31 feet. At midnight three Swordfish attacked simultaneously on the port beam. Three others made a longer approach low down attacking on the port bow a minute later. One took a longer course, attacking on the port quarter. One went round and attacked on the starboard bow a couple of minutes after midnight. At least one hit was claimed on the starboard side abreast the bridge. The Germans however state that no hit was scored but that the violent maneuvering of the ship to avoid the attack, together with the heavy firing by the Bismarck caused the leak in no.2 boiler room to open up. No.2 boiler room was already partially flooded and now had to be abandoned.
All Swordfish from the striking had returned to HMS Victorious by 0201/25. Two Fulmars launched at 2300/24 for shadowing failed to find their ship in the darkness due to the failure of Victorious' homing beacon. Their crews were in the end picked up from the chilly water.
HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk loose contact at 0306/25.
While the aircraft from HMS Victorious were making their attack, HMS Norfolk sighted a ship to the south-west and gave the order to open fire. HMS Prince of Wales was able to identify it in time as an American coast guard cutter, but in the movements prepartory to opening fire HMS Norfolk lost touch with the enemy for a time and it was not until 0116/25 that she suddenly sighted the Bismarck only 8 nautical miles away. There followed a brief exchange of fire. HMS Norfolk and HMS Prince of Wales turned to port to bring their guns to bear and the latter was ordered to engage. It was then 0130/25. The Prince of Wales fired two salvoes at 20000 yards by radar. The Bismarck answered with two salvoes which fell a long way short. The light was failing and the enemy was again lost to sight. HMS Suffolk, which had to most reliable RDF set was told to act independently so as to keep in touch.
Around 0306/25 the Suffolk lost touch with the Bismarck. At 0552/25 Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker asked if HMS Victorious could launch aircraft for a search at dawn.
Search measures, 25 May 1941.
With the disappearance of the Bismarck at 0306/25 the first phase of the pursuit ended. The Commander-in-Chief, in HMS King George V with HMS Repulse in company was then about 115 nautical miles to the south-east. At 0616/25, Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker signalled that it was most probable that Bismarck and Prinz Eugen made a 90° turn to the west or turned back and 'cut away' to the eastward astern of the cruisers. Suffolk was already searching to the south-west and Norfolk was waiting for daylight to do the same. Prince of Wales was ordered to join the King George V and Repulse.
Force H was still on a course to intercept the Bismarck while steaming on at 24 knots. The Rear-Admiral commanding the 2nd Cruiser Squadron in HMS Galatea had altered course at 0558/25 to 180° for the position where the enemy was last seen and the Victorious was getting 8 aircraft ready to fly off at 0730/25 for a search to the eastward. This plan however was altered on orders being recieved from the Commander-in-Chief to take the cruisers and Victorious and carry out a search to the north-west of the Bismarck's last reported position. Five Fulmars had already been up during the night, two of them had not returned to the ship. The search therefore had to be undertaken by Swordfish, the only aircraft available. At 0810/25, seven Swordfish were flown off from position 56°18'N, 36°28'W to search between 280° and 040° up to 100 nautical miles. The search was supplemented by Victorious herself as well as the cruisers from the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (Galatea, Aurora, Kenya and Hermione) which were spread some miles apart.
DF position of the Bismarck of 0852/25.
HMS King George V was still proceeding to the south-west when at 1030/25 the Commander-in-Chief recieved a signal from the Admiralty that the Bismarck's position had been obtained by DF (direction finding) and that it indicated that the Bismarck was on a course for the North Sea by the Faeroes-Iceland passage. To counter this move by the enemy the Commander-in-Chief turned round at 1047/25 and made for the Faeroes-Iceland passage at 27 knots. HMS Repulse was no longer in company with HMS King George V, she had been detached at 0906/25 for Newfoundland to refuel. Suffolk also turned to the eastward to search, her search to the south-west had been fruitless. The search by HMS Victorious, her aircraft and the 2nd Cruiser Squadron to the north-west also had no result. Six Swordfish were landed on by 1107/25, one failed to return. HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora and HMS Kenya now turned towards the DF position of the Bismarck to search in that direction. HMS Hermione had to be detached to Hvalfiord, Iceland to refuel as she was by now down to 40%. The other cruisers slowed down to 20 knots to economise their remaining fuel supply wich was also getting low. At this moment HMS King George V had about 60% remaining.
Events during 25 May 1941.
At 1100/25, HMS King George V, HMS Suffolk and HMS Prince of Wales were proceeding to the north-east in the direction of the enemy's DF signal. HMS Rodney was in position 52°34'N, 29°23'W some 280 nautical miles to the south-eastward on the route towards the Bay of Biscay. On receiving the Commander-in-Chiefs signal of 1047/25 she too proceeded to the north-east.
Meanwhile to Admiralty had come to the conclusion that the Bismarck most likely was making for Brest, France. This was signalled to the Commander-in-Chief at 1023/25 to proceed together with Force H and the 1st Cruiser Squadron on that assumption.
In the absence however of definite reports it was difficult to be certain of the position of the enemy. The DF bearings in the morning had not been very definite. At 1100/25, HMS Renown (Force H), was in position 41°30'N, 17°10'W was ordered to act on the assumption the enemy was making for Brest, France. She shaped course accordingly and prepared a comprehensive sheme of air search. At 1108/25, HMS Rodney, was told to act on the assumption that the enemy was making for the Bay of Biscay. At 1244/25 the Flag Officer Submarines ordered six submarines to take up intercepting positions about 120 nautical miles west of Brest. The submarines involved were HMS Sealion (Cdr. B. Bryant, DSC, RN), HMS Seawolf (Lt. P.L. Field, RN), HMS Sturgeon (Lt.Cdr. D. St. Clair-Ford, RN) from the 5th Submarine Flottilla at Portsmouth, HMS Pandora (Lt.Cdr. J.W. Linton, DSC, RN), which was on passage to the U.K. from the Mediterranean to refit, HMS Tigris (Lt.Cdr. H.F. Bone, DSO, DSC, RN), from the 3rd Submarine Flottilla at Holy Loch and HMS H 44 (Lt. W.N.R. Knox, DSC, RN), a training boat from the 7th Submarine Flotilla at Rothesay which happened to be at Holyhead. Seawolf, Sturgeon and Tigris were already on patrol in the Bay of Biscay, Sealion departed Portsmouth on the 25th as did H 44 but she sailed from Holyhead. Pandora was on passage to the U.K. to refit and was diverted.
At 1320/25 a good DF fix located an enemy unit within a 50 mile radius from position 55°15'N, 32°00'W. This was sent by the Admiralty to the Commander-in-Chief at 1419/25 and it was received at 1530/25. It was only in the evening that it was finally clear to all involved that Bismarck was indeed making for a French port. Air searches had failed to find her during the day. (4)
18 May 1941
Chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, 18 to 27 May 1941.
26 May 1941.
By now the question of fuel was becoming acute. For four days ships had been steaming at high speeds and the Commander-in-Chief was faced with the reality of fuel limits. HMS Repulse had already left for Newfoundland, HMS Prince of Wales had by now been sent to Iceland to refuel. HMS Victorious and HMS Suffolk had been forced to reduce speed to economise their fuel.
Coastal Command started air searches along the route towards the Bay of Biscay by long range Catalina flying boats. Lack of fuel was effecting the destroyer screens of the capital ships. There was no screen available for HMS Victorious. The 4th Destroyer Flotilla, escorting troop convoy WS 8B, was ordered at 0159/26 to join the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V and HMS Rodney as was HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN) which sailed from Londonderry. Leaving the convoy the 4th D.F. proceeded to the north-east. Force H in the meantime was also approaching the immediate area of operations. These forces were to play an important part in the final stages of the chase of the Bismarck.
Force H, 26 May 1941.
HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Sheffield were having a rough passage north in heavy seas, high wind, rain and mist. Their escorting destroyers had already turned back towards Gibraltar at 0900/25. At dawn on the 26th there was half a gale blowing from the north-west. At 0716/26 HMS Ark Royal launched a security patrol in position 48°26'N, 19°13'W to search to the north and to the west just in case the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had departed Brest to come to the aid of the Bismarck. At 0835/26 there followed an A/S patrol of ten Swordfish. All planes had returned by 0930. None had seen anything.
Bismarck sighted at 1030/26.
It was at 1030/26 that one of the long range Catalina's of the Coastal Command sighted the Bismarck in position 49°30'N, 21°55'W. It was received in HMS King George V at 1043 hours and in HMS Renown in 1038 hours. It placed the enemy well to the westward of the Renown. It was confirmed within the hour when two Swordfish from the Ark Royal which reported the Bismarck in position 49°19'N, 20°52'W some 25 miles east of the position given by the Catalina. The Commander-in-Chief was at that moment about 130 miles to the north of the Bismarck but it was soon clear that the Bismarck had too great a lead to permit her being overtaken unless her speed could be reduced. Nor was the question one merely of distance and speed. The Bismarck was approaching a friendly coast and could run her fuel tanks nearly dry and was sure of air protection, while the British ships would have a long journey back to base in the face of air and submarine attack. HMS Renown was ahead of the Bismarck but it was important that she did not engage the Bismarck unless the latter was already heavily engaged by the better armoured HMS King George V and HMS Rodney.
When the Catalina found the Bismarck at 1030 hours, the 4th Destroyer Flotilla was steering east to join the Commander-in-Chief. They seem to have crossed astern of the enemy's track about 0800/26. The Catalina's report reached Capt. Vian in HMS Cossack at 1054/26 and 'knowing that the Commander-in-Chief would order him to intercept the enemy' Capt. Vian altered course to the south-east.
First attack by aircraft from the Ark Royal.
At 1315/26 HMS Sheffield was detached to the southward with orders to close and shadow the enemy, who was estimated to be 40 nautical miles south-west of the Renown. The visual signal ordering this movement was not repeated to HMS Ark Royal, an omission which had serious consequenses for the aircraft that were to take off did not know that HMS Sheffield had parted company.
At 1450/26 HMS Ark Royal launched a striking force of 14 Swordfish aircraft with the orders to proceed to the south and attack the Bismarck with torpedoes. Weather and cloud conditions were bad and a radar contact was obtained on a ship some 20 nautical miles from the estimated position of the enemy that had been given to the leader shortly before takeoff. At 1550 hours they broke through the clouds and fired 11 torpedoes. Unfortunately the supposed enemy was HMS Sheffield which managed to avoid all torpedoes. The Bismarck at that time was some 15 nautical miles to the southward. The striking force then returned an all aircraft had landed on by 1720/26.
At 1740/26, HMS Sheffield, sighted the Bismarck in position 48°30'N, 17°20'W and took station about 10 nautical miles astern and commenced shadowing the enemy.
Ark Royal's second attack, 2047/26.
The first striking force on its way back sighted the 4th Destroyer Flotilla 20 nautical miles west of Force H. As soon as the aircraft from the first strike had landed they were refuelled and rearmed as fast as possible. Take off started at 1910/26, a total of 15 Swordfish were launched. Reports coming in from HMS Sheffield placed the Bismarck at 167°, 38 nautical miles from the Ark Royal. The striking force was ordered to contact HMS Sheffield who was told to use DF to guide them in.
At 1955/26 HMS Sheffield was sighted but soon lost in the bad weather conditions. She was found again at 2035 hours, she guided the Swordfish in and directed them by visual signal on the enemy bearing 110°, 12 nautical miles. The force took departure for the target in subflights in line astern at 2040/26.
At 2047/26 no.1 subflight of three Swordfish dived through the clouds and sighted the Bismarck 4 nautical miles off to the south-east. One Swordfish of no.3 subflight was with them. Approaching again just inside the cloud they made their final dive at 2053/26 on the port beam under a very intense and accurate fire from the enemy. They dropped four torpedoes of which one was seen to hit. No.2 subflight, made up of two Swordfish, lost touch with no.1 subflight in the clouds, climed to 9000 feet, then dived on a bearing obtained by radar and then attacked from the starboard beam, again under heavy and intense fire. They dropped two torpedoes for one possible hit. The third plane of this subflight had lost touch with the other two and had returned to HMS Sheffield to obtained another range and bearing to the enemy. It then flew ahead of the enemy and carried out a determined attack from his port bow under heavy fire and obtained a torpedo hit on the port side amidships.
Subflight no.4 followed subflight no.3 into the clouds but got iced up at 6600 feet. It then dived through the clouds and was joined by no.2 aircraft from subflight no.3. The Bismarck was then sighted engaging subflight no.2 to starboard. The four aircraft then went into the clouds and cicled the German battleships stern and then dived out of the clouds again and attack simultaneously from the port side firing four torpedoes. All however missed the Bismarck. They came under a very heavy and fierce fire from the enemy and one of the aircraft was heavily damaged, the pilot and air gunner being wounded.
The two aircraft of subflight no.5 lost contact with the other subflights and then with each other in the cloud. They climbed to 7000 feet where ice began to form. When coming out of the cloud at 1000 feet aircraft 4K sighted the Bismarck down wind, she then went back into the cloud under fire from the enemy. She saw a torpedo hit on the enemy's starboard side, reached a position on the starboard bow, withdrew to 5 miles, then came in just above the sea and just outside 1000 yards fired a torpedo which did not hit. The second plane of this flight lost his leader diving through the cloud, found himself on the starboard quarter and after two attempts to attack under heavy fire was forced to jettison his torpedo.
Of the two Swordfish of subflight no.6 one attacked the Bismarck on the starboard beam and dropped his torpedo at 2000 yards without success. The second plane lost the enemy, returned to the Sheffield for a new range and bearing and after searching at sea level attacked on the starboard beam but was driven off by intense fire. The attack was over by 2125/26. Thirteen torpedoes had been fired and it was thought two hits and one probable hit had been obtained. Two torpedoes were jettisoned. The severe nature and full effect of the damage done was at first not fully realised. Actually the Bismarck had received a deadly blow. The last of the shadowing aircraft to return had seen her make two complete circles. One torpedo had struck her on the port side amidships doing little damage but th other torpedo that hit was on the starboard quarter damaging her propellors, wrecking her steering gear and jambing her rudders, it was this torpedo hit that sealed her fate.
HMS Sheffield was still shadowing astern when at 2140/26 the Bismarck turned to port and fired six accurate salvoes of 15". None actually hit Sheffield but a near miss killed three men and seriously injured two. HMS Sheffield turned away and while doing so she sighted HMS Cossack and the other destroyers from the 4th DF approaching from the westward. She then gave them the approximate position of the Bismarck. At 2155/26, HMS Sheffield lost touch with the Bismarck. The destroyers continued to shadow and eventually attack. Meanwhile HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal shaped course for the southward to keep the road clear for the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V and for HMS Rodney. Also in the Ark Royal aircraft were being got ready for an attack on the Bismarck at dawn.
Bismarck, 26 May 1941.
The Bismarck could no longer steer after the torpedo hit aft. The steering motor room was flooded up to the main deck and the rudders were jambed. Divers went down to the steering room and managed to centre one rudder but the other remained immovable. She was by this time urgently in need of fuel. It was hoped by the Germans that while she was nearing the French coast strong forces of aircraft and submarines would come to her assistance.
At 2242/26, Bismarck sighted the British destroyers. A heavy fire was opened on them. Their appearence greatly complicated the situation. Before their arrival however, Admiral Lütjens seems to have made up his mind as one hour earlier he had signalled to Berlin 'ship out of control. We shall fight to the last shell. Long live the Führer.'
The fourth Destroyer Flotilla makes contact, 26 May 1941.
Just as the sun was setting, Captain Vian (D.4) in HMS Cossack with HMS Maori, HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu and the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun arrived on the scene.
Shortly after 1900/26 HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal were sighted to the northward. Ark Royal was just about to fly off the second striking force. The destroyers continued on the the south-east. At 2152/26 HMS Sheffield was sighted and from her Captain Vian obtained the approximate position of the enemy.
The destroyers were spread 2.5 nautical miles apart on a line bearing 250° - 070° in the order from north-east to south-west, Piorun, Maori, Cossack, Sikh, Zulu. During the latter stages of the approach speed was reduced and the flotilla manoeuvred so as to avoid making a high speed end-on contact.
At 2238/26, ORP Piorun on the port wing reported the Bismarck 9 nautical miles distant, bearing 145° and steering to the south-eastward.
Destroyers shadowing, late on 26 May 1941.
At the time the Piorun reported being in contact with the Bismarck the destroyers were steering 120°. All were at once ordered to take up shadowing positions. Four minutes later the Bismarck opened a heavy fire with her main and secondary armaments on the Piorun and Maori. Two attempts were made by these ships to work round to the northward of the enemy but they were silhouetted against the north-western horizon making them easy to spot. The Bismarck's fire was unpleasantly accurate, through neither destroyer was actually hit. The Commanding Officer of the Maori then decided to work round to the southward and altered course accordingly.
The Piorun closed the range and herself opened fire from 13500 yards but after firing three salvoes, she was straddled by a salvo which fell about 20 yards from the ships side. She then ceased fire and turned away to port while making smoke. During this engagement she lost touch with the other destroyers and later also with the Bismarck. She remained under fire for about one hour but was not hit. She worked round to the north-east of the Bismarck but eventually lost touch with her prey at 2355/26.
The other destroyers, meanwhile, had been working round to the southward of the enemy to take up shadowing positions to the eastward of him. Soon after the initial contact it was evident the the Bismarck's speed had been so seriously reduced that interception by the battlefleet was certain, provided that contact could be held. In these circumstances Captain Vian defined his object at firstly, to deliver the enemy to the Commander-in-Chief at the time he desired, and secondly, to sink or immoblise her with torpedoes during the night but not with to great a risk for the destroyers. Accordingly at 2248/26 as signal was made to all ordering them to shadow and this operation was carried out through the night, though torpedo attacks were carried out later under the cover of darkness.
As darkness came on, the weather deteriorated and heavy rain squalls became frequent. Visibility varied between 2.5 nautical miles and half a mile but the Bismarck, presumably using radar, frequently opened up accurate fire outside these ranges.
About half an hour after sunset, the destroyers were ordered at 2324/26 to take up stations prepartory to carrying out a synchronised torpedo attack. This was subsequently cancelled on account of the adverse weather conditions and they were ordered to attack independently as opportunity offered. At about 2300 hours the Bismarck altered course to the north-westward.
At this time HMS Zulu was in touch with her and kept her under observation from the southward. At 2342 hours the Bismarck opened fire on HMS Cossack, then about 4 miles to the south-south-west and shot away her aerials. The Cossack turned away under the cover of smoke, shortly afterwards resuming her course to the eastward.
A few minutes later, at 2350 hours, HMS Zulu came under heavy fire from the Bismarck's 15" guns. The first three salvoes straddled wounding an officer and two ratings. Drastic avoiding action was taken as a result of which Zulu lost touch. HMS Sikh, however, who had lost sight of the enemy half an hour previously, had observed her firing at HMS Cossack and now succeeded in shadowing from astern until 0020/27 when the enemy made a large alteration to port and commenced firing at her. HMS Sikh altered course to port, intending to fire torpedoes, but the view of the Torpedo Control Officer was obscured by shell splashes and Sikh then withdrew to the southward.
Destroyer night torpedo attacks, 26/27 May 1941.
HMS Zulu, after her escape at 2345/26, had steered to the northward and at 0030/27 fell in with HMS Cossack. Shortly afterwards she sighted ORP Piorun. On receipt of a signal from Captain Vian, timed 0040/27, to take any opporunity to fire torpedoes, HMS Zulu altered course to the westward,and at 0100/27 sighted the Bismarck steering 340°.
Positions of the destroyers was now as follows; to the north-eastward of the enemy, HMS Cossack was working round to the north and west. HMS Maori, since losing touch, had been making to the westward. She was now to the south-west of the Bismarck. HMS Sikh was some distance to the southward, not having received any information regarding the position of the Bismarck since 0025/27. HMS Zulu was astern of the enemy and in contact. Range was only 5000 yards. Bismarck finally spotted Zulu and at once opened fire with her main and secondary armament and straddled Zulu. She fired four torpedoes at 0121/27 but no hits were observed and they are believed to have missed ahead. Zulu then ran out to the northward in order to be clear of the other destroyers. Shortly afterwards they widnessed a successful attack by HMS Maori.
HMS Maori had seen the Bismarck opening fire on the Zulu at 0107/27. Maori then closed to 4000 yards on Bismarck's port quarter apparently undetected. When abeam of the enemy, who then appeared to be altering course to starboard Maori fired a star shell to see what he was about. Two minutes later, at 0137/27, two torpedoes were fired and course was altered towards the Bismarck with the intention of attacking again from her starboard bow once the enemy had steadied on her new course. Whilst Maori was turning a torpedo hit was observed on the enemy. A bright glow illuminated the waterline of the enemy battleship from stem to stern. Shortly afterwards there appeared between the bridge and the stem a glare that might have been a second hit. The enemy immediately opened up a very heavy fire with both main and secondairy armaments and quick firing guns. As the Maori was being straddled, she turned away, and increased to full speed. Shots continued to fall on both sides of the ship until the range had been opened up to 10000 yards. Maori was not actually hit. Meanwhile HMS Cossack had been creeping up from the north-eastward and at 0140/27, only three minutes after Maori had fired two torpedoes, Cossack launched three torpedoes from 6000 yards. Bismarck stood out plainly, silhoutted by the broadsides she was firing at the Maori. One torpedo was seen to hit. Flames blazed on the forecastle of the Bismarck after this hit but they were quickly extinguished. Probably as a consequence of the torpedo hits the Bismarck stopped dead in the water, this was reported by HMS Zulu at 0148/27. After about one hour the Bismarck got underway again. On receipt of this report, HMS Sikh, who was closing the scene of the action from the southward, made an attack. Four torpedoes were fired at 0218/27 at the stopped battleship. It is believed that one hit was obtained. After this attack Sikh remained in radar contact with the enemy until 0359/27 when contact was lost.
Around 0240/27 the Bismarck was underway again, proceeding very slowly to the north-westward. At 0335/27, HMS Cossack made another attack firing her last remaining torpedo from a range of 4000 yards. It missed. HMS Cossack then came under a heavy fire. She withdrew to the northward under the cover of smoke, altering to a westerly course shortly afterwards.
At 0400/27 all destroyers had lost touch with the enemy. HMS Cossack was then to the north-west and HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu and HMS Maori were between the south-west and south-east of the Bismarck. All destroyers now endeavoured to regain contact.
Touch with the enemy was not regained until shortly before 0600 hours. By that time ORP Piorun, which was running short of fuel, had been ordered to proceed to Plymouth.
Destroyers shadowing, morning twilight, 27 May 1941, final attack.
Touch was regained by HMS Maori at 0550/27 when she sighted the Bismarck zigzagging slowly on a base course of 340° at about 7 knots. Maori commenced shadowing until daylight. At 0625 hours, HMS Sikh was also in contact when the Bismarck emerged from a rain squal 7000 yards on her starboard bow. By then it was nearly full daylight but to the surprise of the crew of the Sikh she got away with it without being fired at.
Shortly before sunrise a final torpedo attack was carried out by HMS Maori, which fired two torpedoes at 0656/27 from 9000 yards. Both missed. The Bismarck opened fire and straddled Maori which escaped at 28 knots.
At daylight the destroyers were stationed in four sectors from which they were able to keep the enemy under continuous observation until the arrival of the Battle Fleet at 0845 hours.
Force H, 26/27 May 1941.
While the destroyers were shadowing the Bismarck, the pursuing forces were drawing steadily closer. To the north was the Commander-in-Chief with the King George V and the Rodney with the Norfolk closing on them. In the south HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) was coming up, while Force H was waiting for the dawn. When Captain Vian's destroyers got in touch at 2251/26 the Renown and Ark Royal were north-west of the enemy. It was not possible to attack with aircraft during the night but all preparations were made to attack at dawn with 12 Swordfish. Course was shaped to the northward and then to the west for a time and at 0115/27 Force H turned south. Shortly afterwards instructions were received from the Commander-in-Chief to keep not less then 20 miles to the southward of the Bismarck so as to leave a clear approach for the Battle Fleet. Force H accordingly continued to the southward during the night. Bursts of starshell and gunfire could be seen during the night while the destroyers attacked. At 0509/27 an aircraft was flown off from HMS Ark Royal to act as a spotter for HMS King George V but it failed to find the Bismarck in the bad weather. The striking of force of 12 Swordfish was ready but due to the bad weather to strike was cancelled.
At 0810/27, HMS Maori was sighted. She reported the Bismarck 11 miles to the north of her. The made the enemy 17 miles to the north of HMS Renown so course was shaped to the south-west. At 0915/27 heavy gunfire could be heard and the striking force was flown off. They found the Bismarck at 1016/27. By then the battle was almost over, her guns were silenced and she was on fire. They saw her sink. At 1115/27 they had all landed back on HMS Ark Royal. A German Heinkel aircraft dropped a couple of bombs near HMS Ark Royal when they were landing on.
HMS Norfolk, 26/27 May 1941.
When the Catalina report (1030/26) came in, HMS Norfolk altered course to the south-west and increased speed to 27 knots. At 2130/26 the Bismarck was still some 160 nautical miles to the southward and speed was increased to 30 knots. At 2228/26 the report on the torpedo hit by the aircraft from Ark Royal came in and the Norfolk turned to the southward, continuing to close the enemy. At 0753/27 Norfolk sighted the Bismarck. She did not open fire and was lost to sight after ten minutes. At 0821/27, HMS King George V, was sighted to the westward, 12 nautical miles away. The position of the enemy was passed to the Commander-in-Chief. The action opened at 0847/27 at which time HMS Norfolk was then some 10 nautical miles from the Commander-in-Chief and due north of the Bismarck. HMS Norfolk had seen the beginning and was now to see the end.
HMS Dorsetshire, 26/27 May 1941.
On 26 May 1941, HMS Dorsetshire, was with convoy SL 74 proceeding from Freetown to the U.K. When she received the sighting report from the Catalina at 1056/26 she was some 360 nautical miles to the south of the Bismarck. She then left the protection of the convoy to the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Bulolo (Capt.(Retd.) R.L. Hamer, RN) and set course for the northward to take up the possible task of shadowing. By 2343/26 it became clear from reports that the Bismarck was making no ground to the eastward and that at 0230/27 she appeared to be laying stopped. Due to the heavy seas HMS Dorsetshire was forced to reduce speed to 25 knots and later even to 20 knots. At 0833/27 a destroyer was sighted ahead at a range of 8 nautical miles, it was HMS Cossack which reported the enemy at a range of 6 nautical miles. At 0850/27 the flashes of the Bismarck's guns could be seen to the westward. HMS Dorsetshire arrived at the scene of the action in the nick of time.
HMS King George V and HMS Rodney, 26/27 May 1941.
During 26 May 1941 the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V had been making hard to the south-east at 25 knots. He had been joined by HMS Rodney at 1806/26. They were then some 90 nautical miles north of the Bismarck. Fuel was a matter of grave anxiety. At noon on the 26th, HMS King George V, had only 32% remaining and HMS Rodney reported that she had to return at 0800/27. Speed had to be reduced on this account to 22 knots at 1705/26. In these circumstances it was no longer possible to hope to intercept the enemy, and the Commander-in-Chief decided that unless the enemy's speed had been reduced by 2400/26, he must turn at that hour. The only hope lay in the Bismarck being slowed up by the Swordfish attacking from HMS Ark Royal. A report came in that the striking force had left. Then at 2132/26, HMS Sheffield, reported that the enemy was steering 340° followed by 000° four minutes later. These reports indicated that the Bismarck was not able to hold her course and that her steering gear must have been damaged. It might still be possible to intercept her.
The Commander-in-Chief turned to the south at once hoping to make contact from the eastward in the failing light. Due to the bad weather conditions and visibility the Commander-in-Chief decided to haul off the the eastward and northward and then work round to engage from the westward at dawn. He turned eastward at 2306/26. During the night reports from Captain Vian's destroyers came in confirming the northerly course of the Bismarck. At 0236/27 the Commander-in-Chief ordered Captain Vian that the destroyers were to fire star-shell every half hour, but frequent rain squalls prevented these from being seen and they tended to attrack the enemy's fire. The Bismarck was still a formidable opponent for at 0353/27 Captain Vian reported that during the last hour she had done 8 nautical miles and that she was still capable of heavy and accurate fire. The Commander-in-Chief decided not to make a dawn approach but to wait until daylight while approaching from the west taking advantage of wind, sea and light. At 0529/27 HMS Rodney reported sighting HMS Norfolk to the eastward by DF. It was light at 0600 hours. At 0820 hours HMS Norfolk was sighted on the port bow of HMS King George V. She signalled 'enemy 130°, 16 nautical miles'. At 0843/27 looming on the starboard bow there emerges out of a rain squall the dark grey blot of a large ship. 'Enemy in sight'.
Bismarck 26/27 May 1941.
The Bismarck after altering course to the north-west had been labouring along with a jambed rudder, steering an erratic course at 8 knots. During the night the attacking destroyers were met with heavy and accurate salvoes. Sixteen torpedoes were fired at her. Early in the morning a glare of star-shell burst over her, lighting her up. Three torpedoes followed from a destroyer on the port bow (HMS Maori) of which one hit on the port side amidships. Three minutes later three more came from the starboard side (these were fired by HMS Cossack) of which one hit on the starboard bow. The damage that was sustained from these torpedo hits is not known. The Bismarck lay stopped for over one hour. At 0140/27 a message was received that a large number of Junkers bombers were coming to her aid as were U-boats but the Bismarck was beyond their help besides that the aircraft did not find her. One U-boat (U-556, which was out of torpedoes) on its way back from the Atlantic joined her and was within sight during the night. Another (U-74) arrived at 0600/27 but had been damaged in a depth charge attack and could do nothing as well. In the Bismarck the crew was exhausted and men were falling asleep at their posts. It was under these conditions that at 0840/27 two British battleships were seen to approach from the westward.
Situation before the action, 27 May 1941.
A north-westerly gale was blowing when dawn broke with a good light and clear horizon to the north-eastward. Reports received during the night indicated that, despite reduced speed and damaged rudders, Bismarck's armament was functioning effectively. Given the weather conditions the Commander-in-Chief decided to approach on a west-north-westerly bearing and, if the enemy continued his northerly course, to deploy to the southward on opposite course at a range of about 15000 yards. Further action was to be dictated by events.
Between 0600 and 0700 hours a series of enemy reports from HMS Maori which was herself located by DF bearings. This enabled HMS King George V to plot her position relatively to the Bismarck which had apparently settled down on a course of 330° at 10 knots. At 0708/27, HMS Rodney, was ordered to keep station 010° from the flagship. HMS Norfolk came in sight to the eastward at 0820/27 and provided a visual link between the Commander-in-Chief and the enemy. After the line of approach had been adjusted by two alterations of course, the Bismarck was sighted at 0843/27 bearing 118°, range about 25000 yards. Both British battleships was then steering 110° almost directly towards the enemy in line abreast formation, 8 cables apart.
Commencement of action 0847/27.
HMS Rodney opened fire at 0847/27, her first salvo sending a column of water 150 feet into the air. HMS King George V opened fire one minute later. Bismarck opened fire at 0850 hours after turning to open up A arcs. The first German salvo was short. The third and fourth salvoes straddled and nearly hit, but the Rodney manoeuvered succesfully to avoid them and the nearest fell 20 yards short. At 0854/27, HMS Norfolk joined in, but the target was not clearly visible and she opened fire without obtaining a range.
Observers state that the German gunnery was accurate at first, but commenced to deteriorate after 8 to 10 salvoes. The first hit on the Bismarck was believed to be scored by the Rodney at 0854 hours with her third salvo. Both British battleships made small alterations of course away from the enemy shortly after opening fire, the King George V to increase her distance from the Rodney and the latter to open her A arcs. From then onwards they manoeuvered independently although HMS Rodney conformed to the Flagship's general movements. The Bismarck's secondary armament came into action during this phase. HMS Rodney opened fire with her secondary armament at 0858 hours.
Run to the southward.
HMS King George V deployed to the southward at 0859/27 when the Bismarck was 16000 yards distant. HMS Rodney, 2.5 nautical miles to the northward, followed suit a minute or two later. Cordite smoke was hanging badly with the following wind and spotting was most difficult. Considerable smoke interference was therefore experienced on the southerly course which was partly overcome by radar. The Bismarck had transferred her fire to the King George V shortly after the turn but except for an occasional splash the latter hardly knew that she was under fire. At 0902/27, HMS Rodney saw a 16” shell hit the Bismarck on the upper deck forward, apparently putting the forward turrets out of action. At 0904 hours, HMS Dorsetshire joined in the firing from the eastwards from a range of 20000 yards but observation of the target was difficult and she had to check fire from 0913 to 0920 hours. Between 0910 and 0915 hours the range in King George V was more or less steady at 12000 yards.
The fate of the Bismarck was decided during this phase of the action although she did not sink until later. Around 0912 hours, the Bismarck was hit on her forward control position. During the run to the south HMS Rodney fired six torpedoes from 11000 yards and HMS Norfolk four from 16000 yards. No hits were obtained. The King George V’s secondary battery came into action at 0905 hours but this increased the smoke interference and was accordingly ordered to cease fire after two or three minutes.
Run to the northward.
At 0916/27 the Bismarck’s bearing was drawing rapidly aft and HMS Rodney turned 16 points to close and head her off. The King George V followed a minute or so later and both ships re-opened fire at ranges from 8600 and 12000 yards respectively. The Bismarck shifted her target to the Rodney about this time. A near miss damaged the sluice of her starboard torpedo tube. Most of the enemy’s guns had however been silenced at this time. Only one turret from her main armament was firing at this time as was part of her secondary armament. A fire was blazing amidships and she had a heavy list to port. During the run to the north HMS Rodney obtained a very favourable position on the Bismarck’s bow from which she poured in a heavy fire from close range. She also fired two torpedoes from 7500 yards but no hits were obtained.
HMS King George V’s position, further to leeward, was less favourable. Her view was obscured by smoke and splashes surrounding the target and her radar had temporarily broken down. Mechanical failures in the 14” turrets constituted, however, a more serious handicap at this stage. ‘A’, ‘X’ and ‘Y’ turrets were out of action for 30, 7 and a unspecified short period, respectively. This resulted in reduction of firepower of 80% for 7 minutes and 40% for 23 minutes which might have had serious effects under less favourable conditions. There were also several defects of individual guns in addition to those effecting the turrets.
At 0925/27, HMS King George V, altered outwards to 150° and reduced speed to avoid getting too far ahead of the Bismarck. She closed in again at 1005 hours, fired several salvoes from a range of only 3000 yards and then resumed her northerly course. Meanwhile HMS Rodney was zigzagging across the Bismarck’s line of advance at a range of about 4000 yards firing her main and secondary armaments. She also fired four torpedoes, one of which is thought to have hit. By 1015 hours the Bismarck was no more than a wreck. All her guns were silenced, her mast had been blown away, she was a black ruin, pouring high into the air a great cloud of smoke and flame. Men were seen jumping overboard at this time and the Captain of the King George V later remarked had he known it he would have ceased fire.
End of the action.
The Commander-in-Chief was confident that the enemy could never get back to harbour, and as both battleships were running short of fuel and as further gunfire was unlikely to hasten the Bismarck’s end, the Commander-in-Chief signalled the King George V and Rodney to steer 027° at 1015/27 in order to break off the action and return to base. At 1036/27 the Commander-in-Chief ordered HMS Dorsetshire to use her torpedoes, if she had any, on the enemy. In the meantime HMS Norfolk had been closing the target but due to the movements of the King George V and Rodney, had not fired her torpedoes until 1010 hours when she fired four torpedoes from 4000 yards and two possible hits were reported. The Dorsetshire was then approaching a mile or so to the southward, and anticipating the Commander-in-Chief’s signal at 1025 hours fired two torpedoes from 3600 yards into the enemy’s starboard side. She then steamed round the Bismarck’s bow and at 1036 hours fired another torpedo but now into her port side from 2600 yards. This was the final blow, the Bismarck heeled over quickly to port and commenced to sink by the stern. The hull turned over keel up and disappeared beneath the waves at 1040/27.
The Dorsetshire then closed and signalled to one of HMS Ark Royal’s aircraft to carry out a close A/S patrol while she was to pick up survivors assisted by HMS Maori. After 110 men had been picked up by both ships from the water both ships got underway again as a submarine was suspected to be in the area.
Damage to the Bismarck.
Survivors have told the story of terrible damage inflicted on her. The fore turrets seem to have been knocked out at 0902 hours. The fore control position was knocked out around 0912 hours. The after control position followed about 0915 hours. The after turrets were at that moment still in action. Then the aftermost gun turret was disabled by a direct hit on the left gun which burst sending a flash right through the turret. ‘C’ turret was the last one in action.
One survivor stated that around 0930 hours a shell penetrated the turbine room and another one entered a boiler room. A hit in the after dressing station killed all the medical staff and wounded that were in there at that moment. The upper deck was crowded with killed and wounded men and the seas surging in washed them overboard. Conditions below were even more terrible. Hatches and doors were jammed by concussion and blocked with wreckage. The air was thick with smoke and even more smoke was coming in from great holes in the upper deck. By 1000 hours all heavy guns were out of action and 10 minutes later the all secondary guns were also silent.
As HMS King George V and HMS Rodney turned northwards they were joined by HMS Cossack, HMS Sikh and HMS Zulu at by 1600/28 more detroyers had joined the screen (HMS Maori, HMS Jupiter, HMS Somali, HMS Eskimo, HMS Punjabi, HMAS Nestor, HMS Inglefield, HMS Lance, HMS Vanquisher (Cdr. N.V. Dickinson, DSC, RN), HMCS St. Clair (Lt.Cdr. D.C. Wallace, RCNR), HMCS Columbia (Lt.Cdr. (Retd.) S.W. Davis, RN) and HMS Ripley (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Agnew, RN). Heavy air attacks were expected that day, but only four enemy aircraft appeared, one of which bombed the screen while another one jettisoned her bombs on being attacked by a Blenheim fighter. The destroyers HMS Mashona and HMS Tartar, 100 nautical miles to the southward, were not so furtunate. They were attacked in position 52°58’N, 11°36’W at 0955/28 by German aircraft. HMS Mashona was hit and sank at noon with the loss of 1 officer and 45 men. The Commander-in-Chief reached Loch Ewe at 1230/29. Vice-Admiral Somerville with Force H was on his way back to Gibraltar. HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Sheffield made rendezvous at 0800/29 with the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN). At 1605/29, HMS Forester and HMS Fury were detached to hunt a submarine further to the west. Force H, minus the two destroyers that had been detached, arrived at Gibraltar around 2030/29.
End of ‘Operation Rheinübung’.
The Bismarck’s consort, heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, was not heard off until 4 June 1941 when aircraft reported her having arrived at Brest. After leaving the Bismarck at 1914/24, the Prinz Eugen’s primary need was to replenish her fuel stock. She set course for a rendez-vous with two tankers, the Spichern (9323 GRT, built 1935, former Norwegian Krossfonn) and the Esso Hamburg (9849 GRT, built 1939) which were position to the north-west of the Azores. All next day the German cruiser made her way southwards, and at 0906/26 , some 600 nautical miles west-north-west of the Azores she sighted the Spichern and refuelled. Two reconnaissance ships had also been ordered into this area, the Gonzenheim and the Kota Pinang. On the 28th Prinz Eugen fuelled from the Esso Hamburg. She then proceeded southwards to carry out cruiser warfare against independently routed ships in the area to the north and west of the Cape Verde Islands but an inspection of her engines the next day showed that an extensive overhaul was needed. Her Commanding Officer then decided to break off the action and course was set for Brest, France where she arrived at 2030/1 June.
A German reconnaissance ship, a supply vessel and two tankers were intercepted by Royal Navy warships and sunk by their own crew or sunk with gunfire. Also two tankers were captured. These were in chronological order; tanker Belchen (6367 GRT, built 1932, former Norwegian Sysla) by gunfire from HMS Kenya and HMS Aurora on 3 June 1941 in the Greenland area in approximate position 59°00'N, 47°00'W. On 4 June the tanker Esso Hamburg by HMS London and HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN) in position 07°35'N, 31°25'W, tanker Gedania (8966 GRT, built 1920) was captured in the North Atlantic in position 43°38'N, 28°15'W by naval auxiliary (Ocean Boarding Vessel) HMS Marsdale (Lt.Cdr. D.H.F. Armstrong, RNR), she was put into service with the MOWT as Empire Garden, reconnaissance vessel Gonzenheim (4000 GRT, built 1937, former Norwegian Kongsfjord) was scuttled by her own crew after being sighted by HMS Esperance Bay ((Capt.(ret) G.S. Holden, RN) and intercepted by HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN) and finally ordered to be boarded by HMS Neptune in position 43°29'N, 24°04'W. The next day (5 June) supply vessel Egerland (10040 GRT, built 1940) was intercepted by HMS London and HMS Brilliant in approximate position 07°00'N, 31°00'W. On 12 June, HMS Sheffield, intercepted tanker Friedrich Breme (10397 GRT, built 1936) in position 49°48'N, 22°20'W and finally on 15 June, HMS Dunedin (Capt. R.S. Lovatt, RN), captured the tanker Lothringen (10746 GRT, built 1940, former Dutch Papendrecht) in position 19°49'N, 38°30'W which had first been sighted by an aircraft from HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN). The Lothringen was sent to Bermuda and was put into service by the MOWT as Empire Salvage. (4)
22 May 1941
Convoy WS 8B
Convoy from the Clyde to Aden where it was dissolved. Departure date: 22 May 1941. Arrival date: 4 July 1941.
The following merchant ships (mostly troopships) were part of this convoy; British: Abosso (11330 GRT, built 1935), Almanzora (15551 GRT, built 1914), Duchess of Richmond (20022 GRT, built 1928), Georgic (27759 GRT, built 1932), Martand (7967 GRT, built 1925), Orduna (15507 GRT, built 1914).
Dutch Christian Huygens (16287 GRT, built 1927).
The aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. T.O. Bulteel, RN) was also part of the convoy. She was to proceed to Gibraltar to deliver replacement aircraft. She detached from the convoy on 27 May 1941. In the morning of 28 May 1941, she was joined by the destroyers HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) and HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) which escorted her to Gibraltar.
Escort was initially provided by the following warships; Heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, MVO, RN), light (AA) cruiser HMS Cairo (A/Capt. I.R.H. Black, RN), HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), HMCS Ottawa (Cdr. E.R. Mainguy, RCN), HMCS Restigouche (Cdr. H.N. Lay, RCN) and the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN).
On 26 May 1941, all escorts were detached except HMS Exeter.
On 2 June 1941, while approaching Freetown, the destroyers HMS Boreas (Lt.Cdr. D.H. Maitland-Makgill Crichton, DSC, RN) and HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) joined the convoy. The next day the corvette HMS Marguerite (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Blundell, RNR) also joined.
The convoy arrived at Freetown on 4 June 1941.
The convoy, less Abosso and Christiaan Huygens, departed Freetown on 6 June. It was escorted by the Exeter and had a local escort of the destroyers HMS Duncan, HMS Boreas and HMS Highlander (Cdr. S. Boucher, RN). The destroyers were detached on 8 June.
The convoy arrived at Durban, South Africa on 20 June 1941.
The convoy departed Durban for Aden on 23 June. The Dutch Nieuw Zeeland (11069 GRT, built 1928) had joined the convoy at Durban. Escort was still provided by HMS Exeter.
The convoy was dissolved off Aden on 4 July 1941 and the ships proceeded to their destination independently.
11 Jul 1941
The aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN, with Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN on board) departed Gibraltar at 0730/11 for exercises and flying training. She was being escorted by the destroyers HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) and the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN). The light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) departed Gibraltar at 1020A/11 to join the exercises. The Admiral later returned to Gibraltar in an aircraft.
At 0815A/12, HMS Renown (Rear-Admiral R.R. McGrigor, RN) sailed from Gibraltar to join the exercises. All ships returned to harbour around 1700/12. (5)
12 Jul 1941
Convoy WS 9C
This convoy was formed at sea and was initially made up of the British merchants/ troop transports Avila Star (14443 GRT, built 1927), City of Pretoria (8049 GRT, built 1937), Deucalion (7516 GRT, built 1930), Durham (10893 GRT, built 1934), Leinster (4302 GRT, built 1937), Melbourne Star (11076 GRT, built 1936), Pasteur (30447 GRT, built 1939), Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933) and Sydney Star (11095 GRT, built 1936).
They were escorted by the battleship HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN) (12-20 July), cruisers HMS Manchester (Capt. H. Drew, DSC, RN) (12-17 July), HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), (12-17 July), AA cruiser HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck (Cdr. E.J. van Holthe, RNN) (12-15 July), cruiser-minelayer HMS Manxman (Capt. R.K. Dickson, RN), (15-16 July), destroyers HMS Winchelsea (Lt.Cdr. W.A.F. Hawkins, OBE, DSC, RN) (12 July), HMS Vanoc (Lt.Cdr. J.G.W. Deneys, DSO, RN) (12-15 July), HMS Wanderer (Cdr. A.F.St.G. Orpen, RN) (12-15 July), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. K.F. Namiesniowski, ORP) (12-15 July), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN) (12-15 July), HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC and Bar, RN) (12-17 July), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN) (12-17 July), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN) (12-17 July), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN) (12-17 July), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN) (12-17 July), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN) (17-20 July), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN) (18-20 July), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) (17-20 July), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) (17-20 July), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) (17-20 July), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) (17-20 July), escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, RN) (18-20 July), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) (18-20 July), HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) (18-20 July) and sloop HMS Stork (Lt. G.T.S. Gray, DSC, RN) (12-13 July).
The merchant ships from the convoy departed either Avonmouth, Liverpool, the Clyde area and Belfast. The convoy was finally formed up at sea early on the 13th in position 55°40'N, 06°55'W.
The passage of the convoy was uneventful.
HMS Gurkha and ORP Garland left the convoy around 0330/15 reaching the limit of their endurance. HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck, HMS Vanoc and HMS Wanderer did the same around 1830/15. Around 2000/15 HMS Manxman joined the convoy, she parted company at 1900/16 and set course for Gibraltar. The merchant Avila Star had meanwhile left the convoy at 1000/16.
At 0700/17 the 8th Destroyer Flotilla was to join the convoy coming from Gibraltar but due to thick for no contact was made. At 1000/17 the Pasteur left the convoy for Gibraltar escorted by HMS Manchester, HMS Maori, HMS Lightning and HMAS Nestor. Shortly afterwards the fog lifted and the 8th Destroyer Flottilla was sighted and joined the convoy. At 1200/17 the Leinster also left the convoy for Gibraltar escorted by HMS Arethusa, HMS Cossack and HMS Sikh.
At 1800/18 HMS Firedrake joined the convoy coming from Gibraltar.
At 0700/18 HMS Avon Vale, HMS Eridge and HMS Farndale joined the Pasteur, HMS Manchester, HMS Lightning and HMAS Nestor. HMS Maori then left that group and joined the group that was made up of the Leinster, HMS Arethusa, HMS Cossack and HMS Sikh. HMS Manchester departed the ‘Pasteur group’ at 1000/19 to join the ‘Leinster group’ which she did at 1500/19.
The ‘Pasteur group’ arrived at Gibraltar shortly after noon on the 19th and around 0330/20 the ‘Leinster group’ arrived at Gibraltar. Troops aboard these ships then disembarked.
Around 0200/20, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Manxman, HMS Lightning, HMAS Nestor, HMS Avon Vale, HMS Eridge and HMS Farndale departed Gibraltar to rendez-vous with the now incoming convoy WS 9C. They joined the convoy shortly before noon, the six F-class destroyers of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla then left to refuel at Gibraltar.
For the continuation of the events see the event for 21 July 1941 on Operation Substance. (6)
21 Jul 1941
Operation Substance, convoys to and from Malta
Passage through the Straits of Gibraltar of the eastbound convoy and sailing from Gibraltar of the remaining ships involved in the operation.
Around 0130/21 convoy WS 9C passed the Straits of Gibraltar. The convoy at that moment consisted of six merchant ships; City of Pretoria (8049 GRT, built 1937), Deucalion (7516 GRT, built 1930), Durham (10893 GRT, built 1934), Melbourne Star (11076 GRT, built 1936), Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933) and Sydney Star (11095 GRT, built 1936).
At the time they passed through the Straits they were escorted by HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN), HMS Edinburgh (Capt. H.W. Faulkner, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, RN), HMS Manxman (Capt. R.K. Dickson, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN), HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) and HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN).
HMS Manchester (Capt. H. Drew, DSC, RN), HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN) departed Gibraltar around 0200/21 escorting troopship Leinster (4302 GRT, built 1937) which was to join the convoy. However Leinster grounded while leaving Gibraltar and had to left behind. The small fleet tanker RFA Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941, master D.B.C. Ralph) left Gibraltar around the same time escorted by the destroyer HMS Beverley (Lt.Cdr. J. Grant, RN).
About one hour later, around 0300/21, HMS Renown (Rear-Admiral R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) departed Gibraltar to give convoy for the convoy during the passage to Malta.
At sea the forces were redistributed; Force H, the cover force HMS Renown, HMS Nelson, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione, HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Fury, HMS Lightning and HMS Duncan.
Force X, the close escort for the convoy HMS Edinburgh, HMS Manchester, HMS Arethusa, HMS Manxman, HMS Cossack, HMS Maori, HMS Sikh, HMAS Nestor, HMS Fearless, HMS Firedrake, HMS Foxhound, HMS Avon Vale, HMS Eridge and HMS Farndale.
Plan for the operation
Force H was to cover the convoy until it reached the narrows between Sicily and Tunisia. Force X was to escort the convoy all the way to Malta. Ships of Force X also had troops for Malta on board that had been taken to Gibraltar by troopship Pasteur. On 23 July 1941, the day the eastbound convoy would reach ‘the narrows’ five empty transports and two tankers would depart Malta for Gibraltar (Convoy MG 1) The seven empty transports were; Group 1 (speed 17 knots) HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939), Talabot (6798 GRT, built 1936),
Group 2 (speed 14 knots) Thermopylae (6655 GRT, built 1930), Amerika (10218 GRT, built 1930),
Group 3 (speed 12 knots) Settler (6202 GRT, built 1939), Tanker Svenor (7616 GRT, built 1931) and Tanker Hoegh Hood (9351 GRT, built 1936) These were escorted by the destroyer HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) which had been repairing and refitting at Malta.
Through intelligence it was known that the Italian Navy had five battleships operational (three of them at Taranto) and about ten cruisers divided between Taranto, Palermo and Messina. The Italian Air Force had about 50 torpedo planes and 150 bombers (30 of which were dive bombers) stationed in Sardinia and Sicily, roughly half of each type on both islands.
The Royal Air Force was able to be of more help than during the previous convoy trip from Gibraltar to Malta last January. Aircraft from Gibraltar conducted A/S patrols for the fleet during the first two days of the passage to the east. Also patrols were flown between Sardinia and the coast of Africa, while aircraft from Malta conducted reconnaissance between Sardinia and Sicily, besides watching the Italian ports. Malta would also provide fighter escort for Force X and the convoy after Force H would part with them and HMS Ark Royal could no longer provide fighter cover for them.
During the operation eight submarines (HMS Olympus (Lt.Cdr. H.G. Dymott, RN), HMS Unique (Lt. A.F. Collett, RN), HMS Upholder (Lt.Cdr. M.D. Wanklyn, DSO, RN), HMS Upright (Lt. J.S. Wraith, DSC, RN), HMS Urge (Lt. E.P. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Utmost (Lt.Cdr. R.D. Cayley, DSO, RN), HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) and HrMs O 21 (Lt.Cdr. J.F. van Dulm, RNN)) were on patrol to report and attack Italian warships that might be sailed to intercept the convoy.
The passage East, 22 July 1941
On 22 July the destroyers from Force X oiled from the Brown Ranger two at a time. A task that took about 10 hours. Having completed the oiling of the destroyers the Brown Ranger and her escort returned to Gibraltar. An Italian aircraft had reported Force H in the morning but the convoy and Force X, at that moment about 100 nautical miles to the south-westward, appeared not to have been sighed. At 2317/22 the Italian submarine Diaspro missed HMS Renown with torpedoes. HMAS Nestor sighted the torpedo tracks and was able to warn HMS Renown which was then able to avoid the torpedoes by doing an emergency turn to port.
The passage East and attacks by the Italian Air Force, 23 July 1941
Force H rejoined the convoy around 0800/23 as the British were now approaching the danger area. Shadowing aircraft had already reported the position of the fleet that morning and heavy air attacks soon followed.
The first came at 0945 hours, a well times combination of nine high level bombers and six or seven torpedo planes approaching from the north-east. HMS Ark Royal had eleven fighters up, which met the bombers about 20 miles from the fleet. They managed to down two of the nine bombers but unfortunately three Fulmars were shot down by the enemy. The other seven bombers came on working round the head of the screen of destroyers to attack the convoy from the starboard beam at a height of 10000 feet. Their bombs fell harmlessly amongst the leading ships as they altered course to avoid the attack. The torpedo planes however were more successful. They came from ahead out of the sun, flying low, and as the destroyers opened fire they divided into groups of two or three and to attack the convoy on both sides. Two aircraft attacked HMS Fearless, stationed ahead in the screen, dropping their torpedoes at ranges of 1500 and 800 yards from a height of 70 feet. The destroyer avoided the first torpedo, but was hit by the second, set on fire, and completely disabled. Other aircraft went to press on their attacks on the convoy itself. One of them, dropping its torpedo between two merchant vessels hit HMS Manchester as she was turning to regain her station after avoiding two torpedoes fired earlier. She reversed helm once more but to no avail. During the attacks three enemy torpedo bombers were shot down by AA fire from the ships.
HMS Manchester was badly damaged and could only use one engine out of four. At first she could steam only 8 knots. She was ordered to make for Gibraltar with HMS Avon Vale as escort. That evening, further to the westward, they were attacked again by three enemy torpedo planes but their AA gunfire kept the enemy at a distance. Both ships successfully reached Gibraltar on the 26th.
At 1010/23 five more bombers tried to attack the convoy crossing this time from north to south. Fighters from HMS Ark Royal forced them to drop their bombs from great height and mostly outside the screen.
At 1645/23 five more torpedo planes led by a seaplane came in from the northward. Three Fulmars caught them about 20 miles away. They managed to shoot down two planes and drove the remainder away.
Soon afterwards the fleet arrived off the entrance to the Skerki Channel. There HMS Hermione was transferred to Force X to take the place of HMS Manchester. Six destroyers were assigned to Force H and eight to Force X. At 1713 hours Vice-Admiral Somerville hauled round to the westward. HMS Ark Royal kept her Fulmars up until RAF Beaufighters had arrived from Malta to take over.
The convoy was attacked again around 1900/23. Four torpedo planes arrived from the eastward, flying low and and working round from ahead to the starboard side of the convoy. They approached in pairs in line abreast. They kept HMS Sikh (on the starboard bow of the screen) between them and their target until nearly the moment for attack, thereby hampering the AA fire from the other ships. They dropped their torpedoes from long range from a height of 50 feet and nearly hit HMS Hermione, sternmost ship in the starboard column. To avoid the attack each column of the convoy turned 90° outwards and all warships opened barrage fire from all guns that would bear. The barrage however fell short but it caused the Italians to drop their torpedoes early. Also one of the enemy was possibly shot down.
This attack scattered the convoy and it took some time to reform. At 1945/23 about seven bombers appeared from ahead at a height of about 14000 feet to attack the convoy from the port side. The convoy altered 40° to port together and the escort opened up a controlled fire with some hesitation as the Italian aircraft looked a lot like Beaufighters. The bombing was extremely accurate. Several bombs fell near HMS Edinburgh which was leading the port column, and a near miss abreast a boiler room disabled HMS Firedrake which had been sweeping ahead of the convoy. She could no longer steam so Rear-Admiral Syfret ordered her back to Gibraltar in tow of HMS Eridge. They had an anxious passage, being shadowed by aircraft continuously during daylight hours, but were not again attacked. On the 25th HMS Firedrake managed to lit one boiler so the tow was slipped. Both destroyers entered Gibraltar harbour on the 27th.
Soon after leaving the Skerki Channel in the evening of the 23th the convoy hauled up to the north-east towards the coast of Sicily. This was to lessen the danger of mines. The Italians did not shadow the convoy after the attack at 1945 hours and missed this alteration of course which they clearly did not expect. Around 2100 hours, as it was getting dark, enemy aircraft were seen searching along its old line of advance. During the evening the convoy sighted flares several times about 20 miles to the south.
Continued passage to the east and enemy attacks, 24 July 1941
Between 0250 and 0315 hours the convoy was however attacked by the Italian MAS boats MAS 532 and MAS 533. The managed to torpedo and damaged the Sydney Star. HMAS Nestor went alongside and took off almost 500 soldiers. Sydney Star was however able to continue her passage as staggler escorted initially by HMAS Nestor. Admiral Syfret however sent back HMS Hermione. At 1000/24 eight German dive bombers and two high level bombers attacked. Their bombs fell close the escorting ships. HMS Hermione shot down one dive bomber. The three ships arrived at Malta early in the afternoon.
The main body of the convoy meanwhile continued on its way unhindered after the attacks of the motor torpedo boats except for an attempt by three torpedo planes around 0700 hours. They dropped their torpedoes at a safe distance when fired on by the destroyers in the screen ahead. According to the orders Rear-Admiral Syfret was to leave the convoy now, if there was no threat from Italian surface forces, and go on to Malta with the cruisers and some of the destroyers. They were to land the passengers and stores, complete with fuel and return to Force H as soon as possible. The remaining destroyers were to accompany the transports to Malta. They too were to join Force H as soon as possible. Rear-Admiral Syfret felt easy about the surface danger as all Italian ships were reported in harbour the day before, but he was anxious about the threat to the convoy from the air. He decided to go ahead with the cruiser but leave all destroyers with the convoy so at 0745/24, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Arethusa and HMS Manxman left the convoy and pressed ahead at high speed to Malta where they arrived at noon the same day. The transports and the destroyers arrived about four hours later. They had been attacked only once by a torpedo plane since the cruisers separated.
Return passage of the warships of force X to make rendez-vous with Force H.
In the evening HMS Edinburgh, HMS Arethusa, HMS Hermione and HMS Manxman sailed together followed by five destroyers; HMS Cossack, HMS Maori, HMS Sikh, HMAS Nestor, HMS Foxhound, later the same evening. The destroyers overtook the cruisers in the morning of the 25th. The sixth destroyer, HMS Farndale, had to be left at Malta due to defects (condenser problems). All ships made rendez-vous with Force H to the north-west of Galita Island at 0800/25.
Movements of Force H after it parted from the convoy.
After parting with the convoy in the evening of the 23rd, Vice-Admiral Somerville had taken force H westward at 18 knots until the afternoon of the 24th going as far west as 03°30’E. He then turned back to meet Admiral Syfret, also sending from HMS Ark Royal six Swordfish aircraft which left her in position 37°42’N, 07°17’E at 1000/25. After their junction Forces H and X made the best of way towards Gibraltar. Fighter patrols of HMS Ark Royal shot down a shadowing aircraft soon after the fleet had shaped course to the westward, losing a Fulmar in doing so. However another aircraft had meanwhile reported the fleet.
High level bombers appeared from the east and torpedo bombers from the north at 1100 hours. HMS Ark Royal at that moment had four fighters in the air and sent up six more. They prevented the bombing attack shooting down three aircraft out of eight at a cost of two Fulmars, while the ships watched the enemy jettison their bombs 15 miles away. The torpedo attack came to nothing too for the enemy gave up the attempt and retired while still several miles from the fleet. Two days later, on the 27th, the fleet reached Gibraltar.
The movements of the seven empty ships coming from Malta.
Six of the transports / tankers left Malta for Gibraltar in the morning of the 23rd, escorted by HMS Encounter. The seventh ship, tanker Svenor grounded while leaving harbour and was held up for some hours. At dusk, when a few miles from Pantelleria, the six ships devided into pairs according to their speed. HMS Encounter initially escorted the middle pair but joined the leading ships in the evening of the 24th when past the Galita Bank.
Italian aircraft, both high level bombers and torpedo planes, attacked all these ships on the 24th to the southward of Sardinia. They made their first attempt on the second pair of transports and HMS Encounter. Four torpedo planes attacked at 1230/24 and four bombers at 1250/24. No ships were hit though the bombs fell close. Next came the turn for the leading pair, which were attacked further westwards by two bombers that came singly at 1330/24 and 1400/24. The second plane nearly hit HMS Breconshire. Finally when the third pair of ships reached about the same position in the evening they were attacked by torpedo planes and the Hoegh Hood was damaged but she managed to arrive at Gibraltar only a few hours after her consort on the 27th. The last ship, the one that had been delayed at Malta, arrived on the 28th. (7)
30 Jul 1941
Ferrying of troops and supplies to Malta and diversery attack on Sardinia.
' Force X ', made up of the light cruisers HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) and HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), fast minelayer HMS Manxman (Capt. R.K. Dickson, RN) and escorted by the destroyers HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN) and HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN) departed Gibraltar on the 31 July 1941 carrying the troops and supplies that had been on the troopship Leinster and the light cruiser HMS Manchester which had not reached Malta during Operation Substance.
To cover ' Force X ', ' Force H ' departed Gibraltar on 30 July 1940 and it was made up of the battleship HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, now flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), battlecruiser HMS Renown (Rear-Admiral R.R. McGrigor, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN). They were also ordered to create a diversion for the operation.
An then these was also ' Force S ' which was made up of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941, master D.B.C. Ralph) escorted by the escort destroyer HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, RN). This force also departed Gibraltar on 30 July 1941.
At 1630/31, the destroyers HMS Cossack and HMS Maori were detached to bombard the harbours of Alghero and Port Conte on Sardinia and fire star shells for a night raid by aircraft from the aircraft carrier Ark Royal. Also the seaplane base at Porte Conte was to be attacked.
The destroyers at first proceeded as of making for the Straits of Bonifacio altering course after dark.
At 0130/1, HMS Maori parted company with HMS Cossack and proceeded toward Porte Conte while Cossack went towards Maddalena Island where she switched on her searchlight at 0220/1 to search the bay and the harbour. Cossack also fired starshell on various bearings from north to south-east and moved right into Alghero Roads. They harbour and roads were completely emptry and no targets could be found. One starshell started a fire in a building about 2 miles north of the town.
Meanwhile Maori had opened fire with starshell at 0210/1 in the entrance to Port Conte and steamed up the bay at 12 knots. The whole bay was illuminated and seen to be empty. Buildings on the hill to the east of the harbour were illuminated by searchlight and the Customs house and one other official looking building were demolished by gunfire at a range decreasing from 4000 to 2000 yards. A church between these two targets was not fired at. Maori detected a large number of sharp asdic contacts ahead and thinking they might be possibly caused by a line of mines, stopped engines and turned round.
At 0235/1, Cossack sighted a plane flying up the coast from the south and passing over Alghero. As there were no targets to be engaged and as he considered a sufficient diversion had been caused in the vicinity, Capt. Berthon ordered both destroyers to withdraw which they then did to the south-west. When clear of the 50 fathom line speed was increased to 32 knots and course was shaped to rejoin ' Force H ' after daylight.
At 0310/1, ' Force H ' alterered course together and HMS Ark Royal flew off 9 Swordfish from position 40°43'N, 06°35'E, for a bombing attack on Alghero airodrome. On completion of flying off the fleet withdrew on course 255° at 20 knots.
The aircraft, which were armed with four 250lb G.P. bombs, 40lb G.P. bombs and 20lb H.E. bombs abd flares were ordered to attack aircraft on the ground and the aerodrome buildings and hangars.
When they attacked two direct hits were observed on the equipment shop where a fire broke out. The eastern and western hangars and the living quarters were also hit and fired were caused in the two latter targets.
As soon as the flares illuminated the aerodrome considerable light AA fire was experienced but no aircraft was hit. No enemy aircraft were observed. A fire was burning in a two storey building just to the north of the town of Alghero which was probably that started by the starshell from HMS Cossack.
All aircraft returned to the carrier. Landing on began at 0621/1. As the third aircraft landed a 40lb G.P. bomb exploded which had probably hung up on the racks, exploded setting the aircraft on fire, blowing a hole in the deck and killing four officers and three ratings. One rating was wounded. The remaining aircraft now could not be landed before the remains of the burnt aircraft had been hauled aft and the flight deck was repaired. Also the arrestor gear was damaged by the explosion and had to be repaired. Repairs were completed at 0715/1 after the remaining six aircraft landed on. Course was continued to the westward and HMS Cossack and HMS Maori rejoined at 0800/1.
At 0812/1, an Italian aircraft was sighted but the fighters could not intercept as it hid in the low cloud.
Another aircraft was reported to the southward at 0852/1 but again the fighters failed to make contact. The aircraft was however believed to be a Spanish flying boat.
All aircraft were landed on by noon owing to low visibility and approaching heavy rain.
Attempts to refuel destroyers in the afternoon from Brown Ranger did not succeed owing to the weather and the tanker with its escort were ordered to proceed further to the south. HMS Cossack and HMS Maori went with them as they were the first that had to refuel. They were ordered to try to refuel during the night if possible ad make rendezvous with ' Force H ' at 0630/2.
At 1807/1, HMS Renown reported that her port bulge wa coming away and that she would require docking on arrival at Gibraltar and that high speed was undesirable except in an emergency.
Meanwhile ' Force X ' had proceeded to the eastward some 35 nautical miles from the African coast. They streamed paravanes at 0700/1 and then proceeded at 25 knots increasing to 26 knots at noon. At 2000/1 speed was increased to 28 knots which was Arethusa's best speed with paravanes streamed.
While ' Force X ' was passing south of Sardinia, ' Force H ' proceeded down the western side of the Balearics to make rendezvous with Brown Ranger the following morning.
At 0025/2, ' Force X ' intercepted an enemy report which might have emanated from a submarine sighting the force while it passed the Cani Rocks. Cape Bon was passed 1.5 nautical miles abeam to starboard at 0145/2.
At 0510/2 the light cruiser Hermione rammed and sank Italian submarine Tembien between Pantelleria and Linosa in position 36°21'N, 12°40'E. The light cruiser sustained only light damage. HMS Lightning was then briefly detached to search the area but soon rejoined having sighted nothing.
' Force X ' arrived safely at Malta at 0900/2.
Meanwhile ' Force H ', having passed to the westward of the Balearics during the night, made rendezvous with the Brown Ranger at 0630 some 40 nautical miles south-east of Ibiza. HMS Cossack and HMS Avon Vale had topped off with fuel ad HMS Maori who made an unsuccesful attempt before dark was completing with fuel as ' Force H ' approached.
There was a north-westerly wind force 4 and a slight south-west swell. Brown Ranger steamed to and fro south of te islands on courses either directly with or against the prevailing south-westerly swell whilst ' Force H ' cruised within visibility distance changing destroyers as necessary for fuelling. Problems with the gear on board the Brown Ranger caused some delays. All destroyers were however able to refuel and at 1900/2 Brown Ranger was ordered to return to Gibraltar now escorted by HMS Eridge.
While oiling was tanking place and A/S patrol was kept up over the area while a fighter patrol was kept ready on the deck of HMS Ark Royal.
At 1900/2, after the last destroyers had just completed fuelling, ' Force H ' altered course to 102° at 18 knots. Speed was increased to 20 knots at 2200/2 to rendezvous with ' Force X ' about 0830/3 in position 38°05'N, 07°28'E.
While ' Force H ' had been spending the day south of the Balearics, ' Force X ' was unloading troops and stores and fuelling at Malta. ' Force X ' sailed at 1600/2 augumented by the escort destroyer HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) who had completed repairs at Malta. The force proceeded at 24 knots, this being HMS Farndale's best speed. When north of Gozo, HMS Farndale reported that she could not maintain a higher speed than 18 knots. She was then ordered by HMS Hermione to return to Malta.
' Force X ' then increased speed to 26 knots and returned by the same route which they had followed successfully on the eastward passage through Tunisian territorial waters. Owing to loss of paravanes HMS Hermione was stationed astern of the line, which was led by HMS Arethusa.
At 2215/2, RDF indicated a low flying aircraft 20 miles to the southward and up moon. The aircraft came straight in, unseen, and passing about 1000 feet overhead, opened 8 miles to the northward and faded. It was though the aircraft had failed to sight the force but a little later it returned and appeared to circle ahead.
At 2225/2 when in position 36°28'N, 12°00'E, the aircraft approached at right angles on HMS Hermione'sHermione's stern. The aircraft was engaged by pom-pom and seen to jink just before dropping it's torpedo which missed well astern. The speed of ' Force X ' was evidently considerably underestimated. The aircraft which did not appear to be hit was held by RDF as far as Pantellaria before it faded. Twenty minutes later a shore station was heard apparently homing an aircraft but no enemy report was intercepted.
At 0027/3, ' Force X ' was turning to starboard to approach Kelibia a small darkeneded vesel was sighted at about 5000 yards on the port beam. Guns and searchlights were trained on but as the vessel drew into the path of the moon it was identified as a small schooner. The order was passed to 'revert to normal' but Hermione's pom-pom opened fire at about 4000 yards. HMS Manxman and HMS Arethusa both joining in. Cease fire was immediately ordered by W/T. No hits were observed.
' Force X ' proceeded without further incident to rendezvous with ' Force H '. A low layer of misty cloud and reduced visibility probably accounted for the abence of enemy air reconnaissance.
At 0612/3, HMS Ark Royal, flew off a reconnaissance of three aircraft along tracks 080°, 093° and 106° to a depth of 80 miles to locate ' Force X ' and any enemy forces that might be to the northward and between forces ' X ' and ' H '.
At 0640/3, HMS Foresight sighted a floating mine and sank it with small arms fire. HMS Foresight was then stationed 3 miles 160° from HMS Nelson to asist in homing in the reconnaissance aircraft.
The first fighter patrol was flown off at 0700/3. An hour later the reconnaissance aircraft returned reporting ' Force X ' bearing 117°, 33 nautical miles from HMS Nelson. No enemy forces had been sighted. HMS Foresight was then ordered to rejoin the destroyer screen.
at 0835/3, when ' Force H ' was 75 nautical miles west-north-west of Galita, ' Force X ' was sighted 6 nautical miles to the eastward.
' Force H ' altered course to 270° as ' Force X ' joined and the whole fleet withdrew to the westward at 20 knots. Visibility gradually improved.
At 0927/3, while the visibility was still low, an enemy aircraft was sighted and one section of fighters was sent to investigate. The enemy only entered the visibility circle to the north-west for a very short period before making off at high speed on a course of 250°. The fighters were not able to intercept the enemy.
At 1006/3, a shadower was detected by RDF and four fighters in the air were sent to intercept. The enemy was engaged by one of the Fulmars but was able to take cover in the clouds and disappeared to the north-east.
An emeny report was intercepted at 1045/3 indicating that this aircraft reported the position of the fleet at 1010/3. No further enemy aircraft were sighted.
Course was altered to 260° at 1515/3 and speed was reduced to 18 knots as by this time HMS Repulse's port bulge had started to fold back. At 1917/3 course was altered to 250°.
Low visibility probably persised in the vicinity of Cagliari during the forenoon and early afternoon may have been partly responsible for the enemy's lack of enterprise.
At 0400 when in position 37°22'N, 01°01'E, look-outs in HMS Avon Vale heard shouts and after investigating picked up an RAF sergeant pilot from a rubber dinghy. He was the sole survivor of a Wellington aircraft whichhad force landed on the night of 31 July when en-route from Gibraltar to Malta.
At daylight the fleetwas divided into three groups to facilitate berthing arrangements at Gibraltar. Group one comprising HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione, HMS Lightning, HMS Sikh, HMS Encounter and HMS Forester proceeded ahead at 27 knots and entered harbour at 2030/4.
Group two, comprising HMS Nelson, HMS Arethusa, HMS Manxman, HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight, HMS Foxhound and HMS Fury proceeded at 20 knots and entered harbour at 2230 hours.
And finally, Group three, comprising HMS Renown, HMS Cossack, HMS Maori, HMAS Nestor and HMS Avon Vale proceeded at 18 knots and entered harbour at midnight. (5)
30 Sep 1941
HMS Naiad (Capt. M.H.A. Kelsey, DSC, RN), HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, RN) and HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) departed to Port Tewfik to make rendez-vous with a convoy off the southern end of the Gulf of Suez and then escort it to Port Tewfik.
he convoy, made up of the troopships / transports; Brisbane Star (British, 12791 GRT, built 1937), Indrapoera (Dutch, 10825 GRT, built 1925), Port Alma (British, 7983 GRT, built 1928) and Port Jackson (British, 9687 GRT, built 1937) was met around 0900/1 after which course was set of Port Tewfik where they arrived around 0600/2. (8)
2 Oct 1941
HMS Naiad (Capt. M.H.A. Kelsey, DSC, RN) and HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) departed to Port Tewfik around 1800/2 and proceeded southwards to make rendez-vous with the troopship Strathnaver (British, 22283 GRT, built 1931) and then escort her to Port Tewfik where they arrived around 1330/4 having spent the night of 3/4 October anchored at the Shab Ali anchorage. (9)
6 Oct 1941
HMS Naiad (Capt. M.H.A. Kelsey, DSC, RN), HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, DSO, RN) and HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) departed Port Tewfik for Alexandria. During their passage north through the Suez Canal they parted company with the escort destroyer proceeding ahead while HMS Naiad remained in Lake Timsah for about two hours.
HMS Naiad, HMS Avonvale and HMS Eridge departed Port Said around 1700/6 and arrived at Alexandria around 0630/7. (9)
10 Oct 1941
Shortly after 0900 hours, the battleships HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, KCB, CVO, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), light cruisers HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMAS Hobart (Capt. H.L. Howden, CBE, RAN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN), HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN), HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, DSO, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN), HMS Hotspur (Lt. T.D. Herrick, DSC, RN), HMS Griffin (Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN), HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Alliston, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, DSO, RN) and HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) departed Alexandria for a sweep to the westwards.
The destroyers HMS Jupiter, HMS Kandahar, HMS Griffin, HMS Decoy and the escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale, HMS Eridge were detached for a sweep towards Bardia. The destroyers HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St.Clair-Ford, RN) and HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, RAN) had sailed from Alexandria to join the fleet to take their place in the screen.
The fleet turned back to the east around 1800 hours. They returned to Alexandria in the morning of the 11th.
The destroyers that had been detached returned to Alexandria in the afternoon of the 11th. (10)
12 Oct 1941
Replacement of Australian troops at Tobruk with 'fresh' troops.
At 0700/12 the fast minelayer HMS Abdiel (Capt. E. Peydell-Bouverie, MVO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St.Clair-Ford, RN) and HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, RAN) departed Alexandria with troops and stores for Tobruk.
A cover force also sailed from Alexandria. It was made up of the battleships HHMS Queen Elizabeth (Capt. C.B. Barry, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, GCB, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, KCB, CVO, RN), light cruisers HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Galatea (Capt. E.W.B. Sim, RN), HMAS Hobart (Capt. H.L. Howden, RAN), destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN), HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN), HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, DSO, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN), HMS Hotspur (Lt. T.D. Herrick, DSC, RN), HMS Griffin (Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN), HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Alliston, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, DSO, RN) and HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN).
The cruisers with three of the destroyers were detached during the night. They rejoined at daylight when the fleet set course to return to Alexandria.
Meanwhile Abdiel with her destroyers had landed the stores and troops at Tobruk and taken on board troops that were being relieved and set course to return to Alexandria.
Early in the afternoon a report was received of Italian cruisers and destroyers and the fleet was turned westwards again. Shortly afterwards the fleet was attacked by three enemy torpedo bombers but no damage was done. During the night the cruisers and three of the destroyers were again detached.
At daylight on the 14th the detached ships again rejoined and course was set to return to Alexandria. The fleet arrived at Alexandria around 1530/14.
Operation 'Cultivate' continued for a while sending 'fresh' troops to Tobruk. (10)
The destroyers HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Alliston, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, DSO, RN) and HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) departed Alexandria to hunt the submarine. They were joined later at sea by destroyers HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO and Bar, RN) and HMS Hotspur (Lt. T.D. Herrick, DSC, RN) which had departed Alexandria two hours later then they had did.
They all returned to Alexandria the next day not having found the attacker. (11)
20 Oct 1941
The light cruisers HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Galatea (Capt. E.W.B. Sim, RN) and HMAS Hobart (Capt. H.L. Howden, RAN) and the destroyers HMS Griffin (Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN) and HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN) departed Alexandria at 0830/20 to bombard an enemy gun battery near Tobruk during the night of 20/21 October.
The cruisers returned to Alexandria at 1330/21. At 0610/21 the destroyers had been detached to go to the assistance of the gunboat HMS Gnat (Lt.Cdr. S.R.H. Davenport, RN) which had been torpedoed and heavily damaged. Due to the air threat they remained near Mersa Matruh and were not allowed to proceed further to the west. HMS Griffin and HMS Jaguar were later joined by the escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, DSO, RN) and HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN).
They contacted the damaged gunboat before sunset. HMS Griffin took HMS Gnat in tow escorted by HMS Jaguar and the A/S whalers HMSAS Southern Maid and HMS Klo.
Tow was later passed to the tug HMS St. Monance.
HMS Jaguar, HMS Avon Vale and HMS Eridge arrived at Alexandria at 0030/23.
HMS Gnat and HMS Griffin arrived at Alexandria later on 23 October. (11)
23 Oct 1941
The light cruisers HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMAS Hobart (Capt. H.L. Howden, RAN), destroyers HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, RN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, RAN), HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, DSO, RN) and HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) departed Alexandria around 0845 hours on a bombardment operation.
During the night of 23/24 October the light cruisers and the escort destroyers bombarded the Bardia area. Petrol dumps and a building, thought to be the Army headquarters were the main targets.
The four fleet destroyers had been detached and bombarded the Sollum area.
All ships then returned to Alexandria. (10)
14 Nov 1941
At 0805 hours the destroyers HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, RN), HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, DSO, DSC, RN) and HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN) departed Alexandria for an A/S hunt.
They were joined at sea by the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) coming from Port Said.
They arrived at Alexandria on the 16th. (HMS Hasty at 1440 hours, the other three at 1830 hours). (12)
16 Nov 1941
Dummy convoy to Malta from Gibraltar to create a diversion for the enemy during army operations in Libya.
16 November 1941.
On 16 November a dummy convoy departed Gibraltar and proceeded eastwards, it was made up of the merchant vessels; Baron Newlands (British, 3386 GRT, built 1928), Blairatholl (British, 3319 GRT, built 1925), Cisneros (British, 1886 GRT, built 1926), Ottinge (British, 2818 GRT, built 1940) and Shuna (British, 1575 GRT, built 1937).
The RFA tanker Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941) was also part of the convoy.
Escort was provided by the destroyer HMS Wild Swan (Lt.Cdr. C.E.L. Sclater, RN), sloop HMS Deptford (Lt.Cdr. H.R. White, RN), and the corvettes HMS Convolvulus (T/Lt. R.C. Connell, RNR), HMS Marigold (T/Lt. J. Renwick, RNR) and HMS Rhododendron (Lt.Cdr. W.N.H. Faichney, DSO, RNR).
HMS Wild Swan got an A/S contact and was detached to hunt it reinforced by the corvette HMS Samphire (Lt.Cdr. F.T. Renny, DSC, RNR) from Gibraltar.
The corvette Marigold detected and depth charged the German submarine U-433. The submarine surfaced and was sunk at 2155/6 on 16 November 1941 in the Mediterranean east of Gibraltar, in position 36°13'N, 04°42'W.
17 November 1941.
The dummy convoy turned back to the eastwards again on the 17th.
18 November 1941.
The dummy convoy arrived back at Gibraltar in the evening of the 18th.
Around 0730/18 the battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth (Capt. C.B. Barry, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, GCB, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, KCB, CVO, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), light cruisers HMS Naiad (Capt. M.H.A. Kelsey, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Galatea (Capt. E.W.B. Sim, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Jackal (Lt.Cdr. R.McC.P. Jonas, DSC, RN), HMS Kimberley (Cdr. J.S.M. Richardson, DSO, RN), HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Somerville, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St.Clair Ford, RN), HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, RN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, RAN), HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Alliston, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, DSO, RN) and HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) departed Alexandria to be at sea to support several operations in the Mediterranean.
The fleet turned back towards Alexandria after dark.
On the 18th HMS Naiad and HMS Euryalus split off together with the destroyers HMS Jackal and HMS Kipling for a night bombardment of the Helfaya pass area upon which they also returned to Alexandria. They too arrived before noon on the 19th.
' Force K ', made up of light cruisers HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN), HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN) and the destroyers HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN), departed Malta around 1845/18 to create a diversion during the night.
19 November 1941.
' Force K ' returned to Malta around 0730/19.
The fleet arrived back in harbour before noon on the 19th followed shortly afterwards by HMS Naiad, HMS Euryalus, HMS Jackal and HMS Kipling. (10)
20 Nov 1941
Around 1130B/20, the light cruisers HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN) and HMAS Hobart (Capt. H.L. Howden, RAN) departed Alexandria to conduct a bombardment of the Bardia area during the night of 20/21 November. They were joined off the gate by the escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, DSO, RN) and HMS Heythrop (Lt.Cdr R.S. Stafford, RN) which had departed around 1000B/20.
Around 1400B/20, they were joined, about 40 miles east of Alexandria by the escort destroyers HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) and HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) which had departed Alexandria around 1315B/19 for an A/S hunt for a reported enemy submarine reported by an aircraft. (which in the end turned out to be HMSAS Southern Maid).
A bombardment was carried out around 0200B/21 and course was then set to join the fleet at sea which was done around noon. (13)
21 Nov 1941
Operations ME 7 and Landmark.
Diversionary attack on Tripoli to divert enemy air strenght away from the Bardia / Halfaya pass area during land operations.
The battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth (Capt. C.B. Barry, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, GCB, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, KCB, CVO, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), light cruisers HMS Naiad (Capt. M.H.A. Kelsey, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Galatea (Capt. E.W.B. Sim, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Jackal (Lt.Cdr. R.McC.P. Jonas, DSC, RN), HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Kimberley (Cdr. J.S.M. Richardson, DSO, RN), HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Somerville, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St.Clair Ford, RN), HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, RN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, RAN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN), HMS Hotspur (Lt. T.D. Herrick, DSC, RN) and HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Alliston, RN) departed Alexandria for operation ME 7.
At noon, the light cruisers HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMAS Hobart (Capt. H.L. Howden, RAN) and the escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, DSO, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN), HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) and HMS Heythrop (Lt.Cdr R.S. Stafford, RN) joined the fleet at sea having completed their bombardment. The four hunt-class destroyers were however detached to return to Alexandria where they arrived around 1500B/21.
After dark HMS Naiad, HMS Euryalus, HMS Galatea were detached after dark to make false W/T reports further to the west. The fleet then turned back towards Alexandria.
The fleet arrived back at Alexandria at daybreak on the 22nd. The detached cruisers arrived back later the same day.
To simulate a fake landing attempt on the coast near Tripoli (Operation Landmark) a convoy made up of the transports HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939), Ajax (7540 GRT, built 1931), Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938) and Sydney Star (12696 GRT, built 1936) departed Malta. It was escorted by the corvette HMS Gloxinia (Lt.Cdr. A.J.C. Pomeroy, RNVR) and cover was provided by ' Force K ', made up of HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN), HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN) and the destroyers HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN). These ships all departed Malta around 1415/21. [Both destroyers had actually departed around 1235/21, presumably to conduct an A/S sweep before the other ships departed the harbour.]
' Force K ' returned to Malta around 0600/22 followed around 2 hours later by the convoy. It does not appear the convoy had been sighted by the enemy. (10)
23 Nov 1941
Operations against enemy convoy's / Sinking of HMS Barham.
23 November 1941.
'Force K', made up of the light cruisers HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN), HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN) and the destroyers HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN), departed Malta around 2330B/23 to intercept reported enemy convoy's. They were to proceed to position 33°40'N, 21°14'E at first.
24 November 1941.
'Force B', made up of the light cuisers HMS Naiad (Capt. M.H.A. Kelsey, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMS Galatea (Capt. E.W.B. Sim, RN) and the destroyers HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Kimberley (Cdr. J.S.M. Richardson, DSO, RN), HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Somerville, DSO, DSC, RN) and HMS Hotspur (Lt. T.D. Herrick, DSC, RN) departed Alexandria around 0500B/24 to also operate directly against the enemy convoy's.
A cover force, made up of the battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth (Capt. C.B. Barry, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, GCB, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, KCB, CVO, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Griffin (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN) and HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Alliston, RN) departed Alexandria around 1700 hours. They were joined at sea by the escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, DSO, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) and HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN). Around 2245 hours these escort destroyers were relieved by the destroyers HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, RN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, RAN), HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St.Clair Ford, RN), HMS Jackal (Lt.Cdr. R.McC.P. Jonas, DSC, RN) and HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN) which came from Alexandria but had not completed fuelling at the time the fleet sailed.
In the meantime the Italian submarine Luigi Settembrini had heard the HE of fast moving ships which was thought to be 'Force K'. This was reported shortly after 0500B/24. Enemy convoy's were then ordered to proceed to the nearest ports.
At 1040B/24, ' Force K ' was informed that an enemy convoy was in position 35°40'N, 22°22'E. Enemy course was 239° at 5 knots.
It appeared likely to Capt. Agnew, Senior Officer ' Force K ', that the emeny from the current position of ' Force K ' and its course would think his ships would be on passage from Malta to Alexandria. Therefore this course was held for as long as possible in order to mislead the enemy in order to avoid the possibility that the convoy would be turning back. Capt. Agnew also thought it wise to attack as late as possible in the day so that the convoy would be further away from Crete and that there would be less daylight left for the enemy to deliver dive-bombing attacks.
At 1310B/24, ' Force K ' altered course to 029° and the ships were spread five miles apart in the order, from left to right, HMS Lively, HMS Penelope, HMS Lance and HMS Aurora. For the next three hours enemy aircraft, mostly He-111's, ere seen apparently ferrying between Greece and Benghasi. These were engaged whenever they provided a suitable target.
At 1524B/24, HMS Lively and HMS Penelope sighted smoke bearing 005° and these reports were quickly followed by ' masts in sight '.
All the ships of ' Force K ' at once altered course to intercept. HMS Aurora and HMS Lance increasing to full speed.
During the approach a number of Ju-88's which had apparently been escorting the convoy, attacked with bombs in shallow dives. These attacks were ineffective.
HMS Penelope was now closing the convoy rapidly. HMS Lively was dropping back to clear Penelope's line of fire and to give her AA protection from an up-sun direction. The two enemy escorts were zig-zagging across the front of the merchant ships laying smoke and firing at HMS Penelope.
As ' Force K ' gradually closed, the enemy escorts made off to the northward, leaving the merchant ships to their fate.
Up to this point the merchant ships had been firing their guns, but when the destroyers left them they stopped engines and abandoned ship.
HMS Penelope then engaged the merchant ships which caught fire quickly and after about ten minutes blew up.
There were no casualties in ' Force K ' but HMS Penelope was holed above the waterline by splinters.
The action took place within 100 miles of Crete and there was over two hours of daylight remaining so at 1630B/24 ' Force K ' retired to the westward at 23 knots.
As there was insufficient fuel remaining in the destroyers for upcoming operations Capt. Agnew decided to retire to Malta to refuel.
One of the enemy convoys, which was en-route from the Aegean to Benghazi, however did not receive the order to return and it was this convoy that was attacked by ' Force K '. Both transports in the convoy, the Maritza (German, 2910 GRT, built 1936) and Procida (German, 1842 GRT, built 1927), were sunk but the two escorts, the Italian torpedo boats Cassiopea and Lupo managed to escape although Cassiopea was damaged by splinters.
25 November 1941.
'Force K' returned to Malta around 0745B/25.
'Force B' meanwhile had set course to conduct a sweep alongt the coast of Cyrenaica during the night of 25/26 November but they sighted nothing.
At 1629B/25, the fleet (cover force) was attacked north-north-east of Sidi Barrani, Egypt in position 32°34'N, 26°24'E by the German uboat U-331 and HMS Barham was hit on the port side by three torpedoes. She quickly rolled over and then a magazine exploded. She quickly sank. The destroyers HMS Jervis, HMS Jackal and HMAS Nizam were left behind to pick up survivors while the fleet continued on to the westward.
26 November 1941.
The fleet (cover force) returned to Alexandria around 1000B/26. The three detached destroyers returned at 1400B/26. A total of 449 survivors had been picked up from HMS Barham.
'Force B' returned to Alexandria around 1800B/26. (14)
5 Jan 1942
Convoy AT 12
This convoy departed Alexandria on 5 January 1942 for Tobruk where it arrived on 7 January 1942.
The composition of this convoy is currently not entirely clear to us but the transports Robert Maersk (2290 GRT, built 1937) and Trajanus (Dutch, 1712 GRT, built 1930) at least appeared to be part of it.
Escort was provided by the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN) and the A/S whaler HMSAS Southern Maid (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Trew, SANF(V)).
After delivering the convoy at Tobruk HMS Eridge then escorted empty store ships to Alexandria [The identity of these ships is currently not known to us].
On the way back, HMS Legion sighted a surfaced U-boat at 1706/8 to the north-west of Marsa Matruh in position 32°04’N, 26°40’E. The U-boat submerged and was hunted and depth charged by Legion and Isaac Sweers. The U-boat in question was the U-374. She was damaged and after she surfaced she was unable to submerge again and had to abandon her patrol and return to base. She was caught on the surface off Cape Spartivento on 12 January and sunk by the British submarine HMS Unbeaten (Lt.Cdr. E.A. Woodward, DSO, RN).
All ships arrived at Alexandria on 9 January 1942.
12 Feb 1942
Operation MF 5.
Passage convoy MW 9A and MW 9B from Alexandria to Malta and passage of convoy ME 10 from Malta to Alexandria / Port Said.
Timespan: 12 to 16 February 1942.
Convoy MW 9A made up of the transports Clan Campbell (British, 7255 GRT, built 1937) and Clan Chattan (British, 7262 GRT, built 1937) departed Alexandria around 1600B/12. Close escort was provided by the AA cruiser HMS Carlisle (Capt. D.M.L. Neame, DSO, RN), destroyer HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, DSO, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN) and HMS Heythrop (Lt.Cdr R.S. Stafford, RN).
Convoy MW 9B made up of the transport Rowallan Castle (British, 7801 GRT, built 1939) and Clan Chattan (British, 7262 GRT, built 1937) departed Alexandria around 1700B/12. Close escort was provided by the escort destroyers HMS Beaufort (Lt.Cdr. S.O’G Roche, RN), HMS Dulverton (Lt.Cdr. W.N. Petch, OBE, RN), HMS Hurworth (Lt.Cdr. J.T.B. Birch, RN) and HMS Southwold (Cdr. C.T. Jellicoe, DSC, RN).
A cover force (Force B) for these convoys departed Alexandria around 0200B/13 and was made up of the light cruisers HMS Naiad (Capt. G. Grantham, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St.Clair Ford, DSO, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Alliston, DSO, RN), HMS Griffin (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt. N.H.G. Austen, RN), HMS Havock (Lt.Cdr. G.R.G. Watkins, DSC, RN) and HMS Arrow (Cdr. A.M. McKillop, RN).
At 1730B/13, the transport Clan Campbell was damaged by bombing in position 32.22’N, 24.22’E and detached to Tobruk escorted by HMS Avon Vale and HMS Eridge. The escort destroyer were ordered to rejoin the convoy as soon as possible.
Convoy MB 9B was attacked from the air but no damage was sustained.
The cover force (Force B) was also attacked by enemy bombers at dusk but no damage was sustained by any of the ships.
After dark on 13 February, convoy ME 10, made up of the transports Ajax (British, 7540 GRT, built 1931), HMS Breconshire (British, GRT, built ), City of Calcutta (British, 8063 GRT, built 1940) and Clan Ferguson (British, 7347 GRT, built 1938) departed Malta for Alexandria / Port Said. Close cover was provided by Force K made up of the light cruiser HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN) and the destroyers HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, DSC, RN), HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. R.D.H.S. Pankhurst, RN) and HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Alliston, RN) which had departed Malta around 1945B/13.
At 0700B/14, convoy MW 9A, convoy MW 9B and Force B joined. They were shadowed throughout the day. High level and dive bombing attacks started at 1345 and continued until 1600 hours. The transport Clan Chatten was hit and badly damaged in position 35°01’N, 20°11’E. She was later scuttled by our own forces after all crew and passengers had been taken off.
Force K and convoy ME 10 was met at 1440B/14 hours. HMS Lance then joined Force K while HMS Fortune and HMS Decoy from Force K, which had just completed repairs at Malta (she had undocked on 11 February), joined Force B. Force K then turned back to Malta escorting Rowallan Castle.
Both forces continued to be attacked by enemy aircraft and at 1515B/14 Rowallan Castle was near missed in position 35°34’N, 19°40’E. Her engines were disabled and she was taken in tow by HMS Zulu but she could not make sufficient speed to reach Malta safely and the transport had to be sunk which was done at 1956B/14.
HMS Penelope, HMS Lance and HMS Lively were ordered to continue to Malta where they arrived around 0800B/15, while HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu and HMS Legion were ordered to join Force B.
Meanwhile two ships of the close escort of convoy ME 10, HMS Carlisle and HMS Eridge had sustained some minor damage in enemy air attacks in the afternoon of the 14th.
Force B and convoy ME 10 were bombed throughout the day on the 15th by single aircraft but no damage was done to any of the ships.
During the day, HMS Beaufort, HMS Dulverton, HMS Hurworth and HMS Southwold were detached to Tobruk. They left there around 1830B/15 escorting the damaged transport Clan Campbell back to Alexandria.
Light cruisers HMS Naiad, HMS Dido, HMS Euryalus, destroyers HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu, HMS Legion, HMS Hasty, HMS Havock, Griffin, HMS Decoy, HMS Arrow and the escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale, HMS Eridge and HMS Heythrop arrived at Alexandria around 0130B/16 with the transport HMS Breconshire.
The transports Ajax, City of Calcutta and Clan Ferguson continued on to Port Said escorted by the destroyers HMS Jervis, HMS Jaguar, HMS Kelvin, HMS Kipling and HMS Fortune. They arrived at Port Said P.M. on the 16th. HMS Kelvin, HMS Jaguar and HMS Fortune then immediately proceeded to Alexandria (arriving on February, 17th), while HMS Jervis and HMS Kipling remained at Port Said.
The damaged transport Clan Campbell and the escort destroyers HMS Beaufort, HMS Dulverton, HMS Hurworth and HMS Southwold arrived at Alexandria P.M. on the 16th coming from Tobruk. (16)
3 Mar 1942
The light cruisers HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, DSO and 2 Bars, RN [for this day only !]), HMS Naiad (Capt. G. Grantham, DSO, RN), HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Alliston, DSO, RN), HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO and Bar, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN) and HMS Southwold (Cdr. C.T. Jellicoe, DSC, RN) conducted exercises off Alexandria. (17)
20 Mar 1942
Operation MG 1 and the resulting second Battle of Sirte.
Operation MG 1, passage of convoy MW 10 to Malta.
Around 0700B/20 convoy MW 10 departed Alexandria for Malta. This convoy was made up of the transports HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939), Clan Campbell (British, 7255 GRT, built 1937), Pampas (British, 5415 GRT, built 1941) and Talabot (British, 6798 GRT, built 1936). Close escort was provided by the AA cruiser HMS Carlisle (Capt. D.M.L. Neame, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Sikh (Capt. St.J.A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. N.H.G. Austen, RN), HMS Havock (Lt.Cdr. G.R.G. Watkins, DSC, RN) and HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO and Bar, RN).
Cover for this convoy was provided by Force B, made up of the light cruisers HMS Cleopatra (Capt. G. Grantham, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. A.L. Poland, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Alliston, DSO, RN), HMS Kingston (Cdr. P. Somerville, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St.Clair Ford, DSO, RN). This cover force departed Alexandria around 1800B/20.
At daylight on 21 March the convoy escort was reinfored by the escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, DSO, RN), HMS Dulverton (Lt.Cdr. W.N. Petch, OBE, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN), HMS Hurworth (Lt.Cdr. J.T.B. Birch, RN) and HMS Southwold (Cdr. C.T. Jellicoe, DSC, RN). These escort destroyers had departed Alexandria already on the 19th to proceed to Tobruk while conducting an A/S sweep and fuel there before joining the convoy. A sixth escort destroyer joined later as she had been delayed at Tobruk with a fouled propeller. This was HMS Beaufort (Lt.Cdr. S.O’G Roche, RN) and she sailed from Tobruk around 0945B/21. Another escort destroyer, HMS Heythrop (Lt.Cdr R.S. Stafford, RN), was torpedoed at 1100B/20 in position 32°22'N, 25°28'E by the German submarine U-652 while the escort destroyers were conducting their A/S sweep. The stricken ship was taken in tow towards Tobruk by HMS Eridge but she sank at 1600B/20 in position 32°13'N, 25°33'E.
Shortly after the escort destroyers had joined the convoy escort, Force B made contact with the convoy. The fleet destroyers that had been escorting the convoy the joined that force.
After dark on March 21st, around 2015B/21, the light cruiser HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN) and the destroyer HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, DSC, RN) departed Malta and joined Force B in the morning of March 22nd.
At 0130B/22, the submarine HMS P 36 (Lt. H.N. Edmonds, DSC, RN) reported enemy heavy ships leaving Taranto.
In the forenoon light enemy air attacks commenced on the convoy. These developed into heavy air attacks in the afternoon. A total of about 150 enemy aircraft were counted attacking. They concentrated mainly on the convoy but no ships were hit.
At 1430B/22 Force B sighted four enemy cruisers to the north-east in position 33°53'N, 17°47'E. These were then driven off.
At 1640B/22 Force B sighted a Littorio class battleship, two heavy cruisers and some destroyers to the northward. A delaying action was then fought by the cruisers and destroyers of Force B making full use of smoke while the convoy continued on to the westward. Destroyers pressed home a torpedo attack to 6000 yards and reported a hit on the battleship (this was not the case). The battleship was also hit by gunfire and was seen to be on fire aft. One enemy cruiser was seriously damaged and the other was also hit. HMS Cleopatra was hit on the bridge but only sustained minor damage. HMS Kingston was hit in an engine room and HMS Havock in a boiler room. Both destroyers had their speed reduced to 15 knots. HMS Lively was hit forward but was not seriously damaged.
At 1900B/22 (dusk) the enemy, who had never got within range of the convoy, withdrew to the northward while the convoy was dispersed to Malta with the escorts proceeding with the individual ships. HMS Penelope, HMS Havock, HMS Kingston and HMS Legion were also detached to Malta. Force B set course to Alexandria.
The Italian ships encountered were the following; battleship Vittorio Veneto, heavy cruisers Bolzano, Trento, light cruiser Giovanni Delle Bande Nere and the destroyers Alpino, Bersagliere, Fuciliere, Lanciere, Ascari, Aviere, Geniere, Grecale, Alfredo Oriani and Scirocco.
From daylight on March 23rd the ships of the convoy were again subjected to heavy air attacks as they were approaching Malta. At 1040B/23 Clan Campbell was bombed and sunk in position 35°33'N, 14°35'E. HMS Eridge rescued 113 men. Breconshire was hit in the engine room at 1030B/23 wen about eight miles from Grand Harbour. She was disabled and attempts by HMS Penelope to take her in tow failed. She drifted towards the shore and came to anchor. Owning to the gale and heavy swell attempts to tow her had to be abandoned.
Pampas and Talabot arrived in harbour safely. HMS Legion was hit but reached Marsaxlokk Harbour and anchored in shallow water.
HMS Carlisle and the Hunt class escort destroyers remained at Malta to provide AA protection for Breconshire. HMS Avon Vale was damaged when she collided with Breconshire and by a near miss. She was unseaworthy. The damaged HMS Kingston and HMS Havock were able to reach Malta safely.
Force B, on their passage east, were delayed by heavy weather. Some of the destroyers sustaining weather damage. The force was bombed during the day but no ship sustained any damage due to the bombing.
An aircraft search for the Italian fleet failed to find any enemy ships.
Shortly after noon on the 24th HMS Cleopatra, HMS Dido, HMS Euryalus, HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu, HMS Hasty, HMS Hero, HMS Jervis, HMS Kelvin and HMS Kipling entered harbour at Alexandria. All ships had sustained some form of weather damage. HMS Lively arrived later due to flooding forward. HMS Zulu and HMS Lively were out of action for some weeks.
Meanwhile at Malta weather was still unsuitable to tow Breconshire into the harbour. HMS Southwold was mined while operating near her. She sank while under tow to the harbour. Breconshire was finally towed into the harbour in the morning of the 25th. (16)
29 May 1942
German U-boat U-568 was sunk in the Mediterranean north-east of Tobruk, in position 32°42'N, 24°53'E, by depth charges from the British destroyer HMS Hero (Lt. W. Scott, RN) and the British escort destroyers HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN) and HMS Hurworth (Lt.Cdr. J.T.B. Birch, RN).
30 May 1942
HMS Cleopatra (Capt. G. Grantham, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, KBE, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN), HMS Coventry (Capt. R.J.R. Dendy, RN), HMS Jervis (Capt. A.L. Poland, CB, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, DSC, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. M.S. Townsend, OBE, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Sikh (Capt. St.J.A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Hero (Lt. W. Scott, RN), HMS Beaufort (Lt.Cdr. S.O’G Roche, RN), HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. R.C. Egan, RN), HMS Dulverton (Lt.Cdr. W.N. Petch, OBE, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN), HMS Exmoor (Lt.Cdr. L.StG. Rich, RN) and HMS Hurworth (Lt.Cdr. J.T.B. Birch, RN). conducted exercises off Alexandria. (19)
7 Jun 1942
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) arrived at Port Said. She departed for Alexandria later the same day escorted by the escort destroyers HMS Beaufort (Lt.Cdr. S.O’G Roche, RN) and HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN). (20)
8 Jun 1942
At 1130C/8, HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), HMS Beaufort (Lt.Cdr. S.O’G Roche, RN) and HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN), arrived at Alexandria from Port Said. (16)
11 Jun 1942
Convoy MW 11 from ports in the Eastern Mediterranean to Malta.
Operation Vigorous in the Eastern Mediterranean took place at the same time of Operation Harpoon in the Western Mediterranean.
11 June 1942.
On 11 June 1942, a diversionary convoy, MW 11C, departed Port Said for Malta. It was made up of the following transports; Aagtekerk (Dutch, 6811 GRT, built 1934), Bhutan (British, 6104 GRT, built 1929), City of Calcutta (British, 8063 GRT, built 1940) and Rembrandt (Dutch, 8126 GRT, built 1941).
The convoy was escorted by the AA cruiser HMS Coventry (Capt. R.J.R. Dendy, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Airedale (Lt.Cdr. A.G. Forman, DSC, RN), HMS Aldenham (Lt. H.A. Stuart-Menteth, RN), HMS Beaufort (Lt.Cdr. S.O’G Roche, RN), HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. R.C. Egan, RN), HMS Dulverton (Lt.Cdr. W.N. Petch, OBE, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN) and HMS Hurworth (Lt.Cdr. J.T.B. Birch, RN).
The convoy proceeded eastwards and on 12 June the convoy was joined while near Alexandria by the escort destroyer HMS Exmoor (Lt.Cdr. L.StG. Rich, RN).
12 June 1942.
On 12 June 1942, convoy MW 11A departed Haifa for Malta. It was made up of the following transports; Ajax (British, 7540 GRT, built 1931), City of Edinburgh (British, 8036 GRT, built 1938), City of Lincoln (British, 8039 GRT, built 1938), City of Pretoria (British, 8049 GRT, built 1937), Elizabeth Bakke (British, 5450 GRT, built 1937) and Princess Marguerite (Canadian, 5875 GRT, built 1925).
On depature from Haifa this part of the convoy was escorted by the detroyers HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, DSO, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, DSO and Bar, RAN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, DSC, RAN), HMAS Norman (Cdr. H.M. Burrell, RAN), HMS Inconstant (Lt.Cdr. W.S. Clouston, RN) and HMS Hotspur (Lt. T.D. Herrick, DSC and Bar, RN).
Also on 12 June 1942, convoy MW 11B departed Port Said to join up with convoy MW 11A. It was made up of the following merchant vessels; Bulkoil (American (tanker), 8071 GRT, built 1942) and Potaro (British, 5410, built 1940).
13 June 1942.
Convoy MW 11C turned back eastward after dark on the 12th and joined convoys MW 11A and MW 11B near Alexandria on the 13th. The Hunt-class escort destroyers escorting convoy MW 11C were sent to Alexandria to fuel.
The transport City of Calcutta had been damaged by a near miss at 2100C/12 while the convoy was still proceeding to the west. She had been detached and was now escorted to Tobruk by HMS Croome and HMS Exmoor. The four MTB's that were in tow of the four merchant ships of convoy MW 11C, were slipped and also sent to Tobruk due to the bad weather conditions. MTB 259 however was damaged and sunk.
The transport Elizabeth Bakke was unable to keep up with the convoy and was therefore detached from convoy MW 11A to return to Alexandria. The decoy ship Centurion joined the convoy from Alexandria. This ship was disguised as a battleship.
The destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. A.L. Poland, CB, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN), HMS Javelin (Lt.Cdr. G.E. Fardell, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. M.S. Townsend, OBE, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Sikh (Capt. St.J.A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. R.T. White, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. N.H.G. Austen, RN) and HMS Hero (Lt. W. Scott, RN) departed Alexandria in the afternoon to relieve all the fleet destroyers which were with the convoy at that time. The rescue ships Antwerp (British, 2957 GRT, built 1920) and Malines (British, 2969 GRT, built 1921) took passage to the convoy with these destroyers. The destroyers they were to relieve were then to proceed to Alexandria to fuel. The corvettes HMS Delphinium (Cdr.(Retd.) R.L. Spalding, RN), HMS Erica (Lt.Cdr. W.C. Riley, RNR), HMS Primula (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) J.H. Fuller, RNR) and HMS Snapdragon (T/Lt. P.H. Potter, RNR) also joined the convoy escort from Alexandria.
At 1730C/13 the Rear Admiral Commanding, Fifteenth Cruiser Squadron, which was in overal command, sailed from Alexandria in HMS Cleopatra (Capt. G. Grantham, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, KBE, DSO and 2 Bars, RN) with HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN), HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Newcastle (Capt. P.B.R.W. William-Powlett, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear Admiral W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN), HMS Birmingham (Capt. H.B. Crane, RN) and HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers: HMAS Napier, HMAS Nestor, HMAS Nizam, HMAS Norman, HMS Pakenham, HMS Paladin, HMS Inconstant, HMS Fortune, HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Hotspur and the escort destroyers HMS Dulverton, HMS Airedale, HMS Aldenham, HMS Beaufort, HMS Eridge, HMS Hurworth and HMS Tetcott (Lt. R.H. Rycroft, RN).
14 June 1942.
HMS Erica had to be detached to Mersa Matruh during night of 13th/14th due to defects.
The escort destroyers HMS Croome and HMS Exmoor rejoined the convoy at daylight coming from Tobruk.
The transport Aagtekerk was unable to keep up with the convoy and was ordered to proceed to Tobruk escorted by HMS Tetcott and HMS Primula. She was later attacked by aircraft, set on fire and had to be grounded near Tobruk. She was later declared a total loss.
During the afternoon and evening the convoy and escort were heavily bombed. The transport Bhutan was hit and sank while the transport Potaro was damaged but she was able to remain with the convoy. The rescue ships picked up crew and passengers from the Bhutan following which they parted company with the convoy and proceeded to Tobruk.
In the early evening it was reported that Italian warships had left Taranto.
15 June 1942.
Rear-Admiral Vian ordered the convoy to turn back at 0145C/15 so that an air attack could launched on the enemy fleet before contact could be made. During the night of the 14th/15th the convoy was constantly illuminated by aircraft flares and was also attacked by E-Boats and submarines. HMS Newcastle was hit forward by an E boat (S 56) torpedo around 0300C/15, her speed being reduced to 24 knots and her forward turret was put out of action. HMS Hasty was torpedoed and damaged also byan E boat (S 55) at 0525C/15 and later had to be scuttled by HMS Hotspur which also rescued her crew, only 12 of the crew of HMS Hasty were lost.
At 0630C/15 the convoy turned west again, but had to turn back to the east at 0930C/15 when the enemy was only 100 miles to the west and air attacks had not developed. At 1115C/15 a Beaufort torpedo bomber striking force reported hits on the two Littorio battleships, and the Commander in Chief Mediterranean ordered the convoy to turn westward once again. However the enemy continued to proceed to the south-east, apparently not reduced in speed. Rear-Admiral Vian, therefore, maintained his course to the eastward.
There were heavy air attacks with mainly Ju-88's and Ju-87's throughout the day and torpedo bombers attacked at dusk. Both Centurion and HMS Birmingham were damaged, but were able to continue. HMS Airedale was hit and she was later scuttled by HMS Aldenham and HMS Hurworth, casualties were fortunately once again slight. HMAS Nestor was also hit and immobilized but she did not sink and taken in tow by HMS Javelin with HMS Beaufort and HMS Eridge escorting the tow.
By 1630C/15 it had been reported that the enemy fleet had turned northward and the Commander in Chief Mediterranean again ordered the convoy to turn to the westward if in any way possible. Shortage of fuel and ammunition, however, did not permit this, and Rear-Admiral Vian was instructed to return to Alexandria with his whole force.
Submarines then intercepted the enemy fleet, but a simultaneous air attack caused the enemy to alter course and unfortunately the attacks could not be pressed home. The heavy cruiser Trento was damaged by the air attack and later sunk by HMS P 35 (Lt. S.L.C. Maydon, RN) while making her way back to Italy. HMS P 35 also reported one torpedo hit on a Littorio-class battleship but this was not the cast, she had missed the Vittorio Veneto.
16 June 1942.
At 0126C/16 HMS Hermione was torpedoed by the German submarine U-205 and sank shortly afterwards taking 88 of her crew with her. HMS Aldenham, HMS Beaufort and HMS Exmoorrescued 498 of her crew.
The efforts to tow the damaged HMAS Nestor had to be abandoned at 0530C/16 and she was scuttled by HMS Javelin who then proceeded to rejoin the 15th Cruiser Squadron and its escort.
During the day several attacks on A/S contacts were carried out by the convoy escort, but there was no evidence of damage or a submarine sunk.
In the early evening ships started to arrive back at Alexandria and all the remaining ships arrived there during the evening except the merchant vessels Bulkoil and Ajax which went on to Port Said escorted by HMS Pakenham, HMS Inconstant, HMS Griffin and HMS Fortune. (21)
19 Jun 1942
The damaged light cruiser HMS Newcastle (Capt. P.B.R.W. William-Powlett, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear Admiral W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) departed Alexandria for Port Said. She is escorted by the destroyers HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. R.D.H.S. Pankhurst, RN) and HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN).
The escort destroyers HMS Aldenham (Lt. H.A. Stuart-Menteth, RN), HMS Beaufort (Lt.Cdr. S.O’G Roche, RN), HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. R.C. Egan, RN) and HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN) accompanied them until off Port Said as they were on passage to Haifa. (16)
27 Jun 1942
The battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth (A/Capt. R. Gotto, DSO, RN) is undocked at Alexandria. She departed for Port Said later the same day escorted by the light cruiser HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), destroyers HMS Sikh (Capt. St.J.A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. R.T. White, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Jervis (Capt. A.L. Poland, CB, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN), HMS Javelin (Lt.Cdr. G.E. Fardell, RN), HMS Hero (Lt. W. Scott, RN) and the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN).
Around 0630C/28, all escorts parted company to return to Alexandria, where they arrived later the same day, except HMS Sikh and HMS Zulu which parted company with the battleship when it was about to enter the Suez Canal around 0730C/28. (22)
28 Jun 1942
A convoy made up of the destroyer tender HMS Woolwich (Capt.(Retd.) L.H. Bayley, RN), repair ship HMS Resource (Capt.(Retd.) D.B. O’Connell, RN) and four transports, (this appears to be the City of Calcutta (British, 8063 GRT, built 1940), City of Edinburgh (British, 8036 GRT, built 1938), City of Lincoln (British, 8039 GRT, built 1938) and Llandovery Castle (British, 10609 GRT, 1925)) departed Alexandria for Port Said (Suez Canal). They were escorted by the light cruiser HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. A.L. Poland, CB, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN), HMS Javelin (Lt.Cdr. G.E. Fardell, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Aldenham (Lt. H.A. Stuart-Menteth, RN), HMS Beaufort (Lt.Cdr. S.O’G Roche, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN) and HMS Exmoor (Lt.Cdr. L.StG. Rich, RN).
On arrival at Port Said, in the afternoon of the 29th, the convoy entered the Suez Canal to proceed southwards while the escort entered Port Said harbour. (23)
30 Jun 1942
HMS Cleopatra (Capt. G. Grantham, KBE, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), HMS Jervis (Capt. A.L. Poland, CB, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN), HMS Beaufort (Lt.Cdr. S.O’G Roche, RN) and HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN) departed Alexandria for Haifa where they arrived the following day. (24)
1 Aug 1942
HMS Cleopatra (Capt. G. Grantham, KBE, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), HMS Sikh (Capt. St.J. A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. R.T. White, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Javelin (Cdr. G.E. Fardell, RN), HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. R.C. Egan, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN), HMS Hursley (Lt. W.J.P. Church, DSC, RN) and HMS Tetcott (Lt. H.R. Rycroft, RN) conducted exercises off Haifa. (25)
2 Aug 1942
Convoy WS 21S and Operation Pedestal.
Convoy WS 21S and the concentration of the escort forces
Convoy WS 21S departed the Clyde on 2 August 1942. The convoy was made up of the following ships; American freighters; Almeria Lykes (7773 GRT, built 1940), Santa Elisa (8379 GRT, built 1941), British freighters; Brisbane Star (12791 GRT, built 1937), Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938), Deucalion (7516 GRT, built 1930), Dorset (10624 GRT, built 1934), Empire Hope (12688 GRT, built 1941), Glenorchy (8982 GRT, built 1939), Melbourne Star (11076 GRT, built 1936), Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933), Rochester Castle (7795 GRT, built 1937), Waimarama (12843 GRT, built 1938), Wairangi (12436 GRT, built 1935), and the American tanker; Ohio (9264 GRT, built 1940).
These ships were escorted by light cruisers HMS Nigeria (Capt. S.H. Paton, RN, flying the flag of the Rear-Admiral 10th C.S., H.M. Burrough, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Kenya (Capt. A.S. Russell, RN) and the destroyers HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN), HMS Venomous (Cdr. H.W. Falcon-Stewart, RN), HMS Wolverine (Lt.Cdr. P.W. Gretton, OBE, DSC, RN), HMS Malcolm (A/Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN), HMS Amazon (Lt.Cdr.(Emgy) Lord Teynham, RN), HMS Derwent (Cdr. R.H. Wright, DSC, RN) and HMS Zetland (Lt. J.V. Wilkinson, RN).
A cover force made up of departed Scapa Flow on the same day. This force was made up of the battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN) and HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, DSO, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN), HMS Somali (Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN), HMS Tartar (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN), HMS Pathfinder (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Penn (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RN) and HMS Quentin (Lt.Cdr. A.H.P. Noble, DSC, RN). They were to rendez-vous with convoy WS 21S at sea on 3 August. HMS Penn was delayed by a defect and after topping off with fuel at Moville, Northern Ireland overtook the force and joined at sea.
The aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Rear Admiral A.L.St.G. Lyster, CB, CVO, DSO, RN) and the light cruiser HMS Sirius (Capt. P.W.B. Brooking, RN) meanwhile had already left Scapa Flow on 31 July 1941 to rendez-vous with the convoy. They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Intrepid (Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Campbell, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. R.A. Fell, RN). These ships were joined at sea on 1 August 1942 by the aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, RN), loaded with spare fighter aircraft for the operation, and her two escorts the destroyers HMS Buxton (Lt.Cdr. I.J. Tyson, RD, RNR) and HMS Sardonyx (Lt.Cdr. A.F.C. Gray, RNR). HMS Argus and her two escorting destroyers had departed the Clyde on 31 July. HMS Buxton later split off and proceeded towards Canada and HMS Sardonyx proceeded to Londonderry.
The last ships to take part in the operation to depart the U.K. (Clyde around midnight during the night of 4/5 August) were the aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. T.O. Bulteel, RN), loaded with Hurricane fighters for Malta, and her escorts, the light cruiser HMS Manchester (Capt. H. Drew, DSC, RN) and the Polish destroyer ORP Blyscawica (Lt.Cdr. L. Lichodziejewski, ORP). They were joined at sea, around dawn, by HMS Sardonyx coming from Londonderry. The destroyers parted company around midnight during the night of 5/6 August. They arrived at Londonderry on 7 August. HMS Furious and HMS Manchester then joined convoy WS 21S around midnight of the next night but HMS Manchester parted company shortly afterwards to proceed ahead of the convoy and fuel at Gibraltar.
On 1 August 1942 the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN), light cruiser HMS Phoebe (Capt. C.P. Frend, RN) and the destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN) and HMS Lookout (Lt.Cdr. A.G. Forman, DSC, RN) departed Freetown to proceed to a rendez-vous position off the Azores.
On 5 August 1942, the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. L.D. Mackintosh, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Charybdis (Capt. G.A.W. Voelcker, RN) and the the destroyers HMS Wrestler (Lt. R.W.B. Lacon, DSC, RN), HMS Westcott (Cdr. I.H. Bockett-Pugh, DSO, RN) and HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. T. Johnston, RN) departed Gibraltar also to the rendez-vous position off the Azores.
The convoy conducted maneuvering and AA exercises with the escorts between the Azores and Gibraltar during the period of 6 to 9 August. (Operation Berserk). Also dummy air attacks were carried out by aircraft from the carriers.
Passage of the Straits of Gibraltar and organization of escort forces.
The convoy then passed the Straits of Gibraltar during the night of 9/10 August 1942 in dense fog but despite this the convoy was detected by German and Italian spies and reported.
After passing the Straits of Gibraltar the convoy was organized as follows; The actual convoy was protected a large force of warships until the whole force would split up before entering the Sicilian narrows after which ‘Force X’ under command of Rear-Admiral Sir H.M. Burrough, CB, DSO, RN was to accompany the convoy to the approaches to Malta where they would be met by the Malta Minesweeping Flotilla, which was then to sweep the convoy into the harbour. Force X was made up of the following ships: Licht cruisers: HMS Nigeria (flagship), HMS Kenya,, HMS Manchester. AA cruiser: HMS Cairo (A/Capt. C.C. Hardy, DSO, RN). Destroyers: HMS Ashanti, HMS Fury, HMS Foresight, HMS Icarus, HMS Intrepid, HMS Pathfinder and HMS Penn. Escort destroyers: HMS Derwent, HMS Bicester (Lt.Cdr. S.W.F. Bennetts, RN), HMS Bramham (Lt. E.F. Baines, RN), HMS Ledbury (Lt.Cdr. R.P. Hill, RN) and HMS Wilton (Lt. A.P. Northey, RN). Also the rescue tug HMS Jaunty was to be part of this force.
After the escort was to be split up cover was provided by ‘Force Z’ under Vice-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN. This force was made up of the following ships: Battleships: HMS Nelson (flagship) and HMS Rodney. Aircraft carriers: HMS Victorious, HMS Indomitable and HMS Eagle. Light cruisers: HMS Phoebe, HMS Sirius and HMS Charybdis. Destroyers: HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Lookout, HMS Eskimo, HMS Somali, HMS Tartar, HMS Quentin, HMS Ithuriel (Lt.Cdr. D.H. Maitland-Makgill-Crichton, DSC, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair), HMS Wishart and HMS Vansittart. Escort destroyer: HMS Zetland. Also attached were the aircraft carrier HMS Furious (for Operation Bellows, the launching of Hurricane fighters for Malta. HMS Furious only carried four Albacore aircraft for A/S searches after the Hurricanes had been launched) and the ‘spare’ destroyers HMS Keppel (Cdr. J.E. Broome, RN), HMS Malcolm, HMS Venomous, HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, DSC, RN), HMS Westcott, HMS Wolverine, HMS Wrestler and HMS Amazon. These ‘spare’ destroyers were to take the place of destroyers in the screen ‘Force Z’ if needed, escort HMS Furious during her return passage to Gibraltar after she had completed Operation Bellows and / or strengthen the escort of ‘Force R’.
Then there was also ‘Force R’, the fuelling force. This force was made up of the following ships: Corvettes: HMS Jonquil (Lt.Cdr. R.E.H. Partington, RD, RNR), HMS Spiraea (Lt.Cdr. R.S. Miller, DSC, RNR), HMS Geranium (T/Lt. A. Foxall, RNR) and HMS Coltsfoot (T/Lt. the Hon. W.K. Rous, RNVR). Rescue tug: HMS Salvonia. RFA tankers: RFA Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941, Master D.B.C. Ralph) and RFA Dingledale (8145 GRT, built 1941, Master R.T. Duthie).
Before we give an account of the passage of the main convoy we will now first describe the operations taking place in the Eastern Mediterranean (Operations MG 3 and MG 4), the launching of the Hurricane fighters for Malta by HMS Furious (Operation Bellows) and the return convoy from Malta (Operation Ascendant) as well as on submarine operations / dispositions.
Diversion in the Eastern Mediterranean.
As part of the plan for Operation Pedestal the Mediterranean Fleet had to carry out a diversion in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean. Before we go to the operations in the Western Mediterranean we will first give an account of the events in the Eastern Mediterranean.
It was at this time not possible to sent any supplies from Egypt to Malta as all supplies and forces were much needed for the upcoming land battle at El Alamein it was agreed that ‘a dummy convoy’ would be sent towards Malta with the object of preventing the enemy to direct the full weight of their air and naval power towards the Western Mediterranean.
In the evening of 10 August 1942 a ‘convoy’ (MG 3) of three merchant ships departed Port Said escorted by three cruisers and ten destroyers. Next morning one more merchant ship departed Haifa escorted by two cruisers and five destroyers. The two forces joined that day (the 11th) and then turned back dispersing during the night. The Italian fleet however did not go to sea to attack ‘the bait’.
The forces taking part in this operation were: From Port Said: Merchant vessels City of Edinburgh (8036 GRT, built 1938), City of Lincoln (8039 GRT, built 1938) and City of Pretoria (8049 GRT, built 1937) escorted by the light cruisers HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral I.G. Glennie, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), the AA cruiser HMS Coventry (Capt. R.J.R. Dendy, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. A.L. Poland, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. M.S. Townsend, OBE, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Pakenham (Capt. E.B.K. Stevens, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Paladin (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Dulverton(Lt.Cdr. W.N. Petch, OBE, RN), HMS Hurworth (Lt.Cdr. J.T.B. Birch, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN), HMS Hursley (Lt. W.J.P. Church, DSC, RN), HMS Beaufort (Lt.Cdr. S.O’G Roche, RN) and HMS Belvoir (Lt. J.F.D. Bush, DSC and Bar, RN).
From Haifa: Merchant vessel Ajax (7797 GRT, built 1931) escorted by the light cruisers HMS Cleopatra (Capt. G. Grantham, DSO, RN, flagship of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, KBE, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN), the destroyers HMS Sikh (Capt. St.J. A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. R.T. White, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Javelin (Cdr. G.E. Fardell, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Tetcott (Lt. H.R. Rycroft, RN) and HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. R.C. Egan, RN).
After dark on 11 August 1942 the force turned back and the City of Pretoria returned to Port Said escorted by HMS Eridge and HMS Hursley. The City of Edinburgh, escorted by HMS Beaufort and HMS Belvoir proceeded to Haifa. The City of Lincoln escorted by HMS Dulverton and HMS Hurworth proceeded to Beirut and finally the Ajax, escorted by HMS Tetcott and HMS Croome returned to Haifa. HMS Dido had to return to Port Said with hull defects. She was escorted by HMS Pakenham, HMS Paladin and HMS Jervis.
HMS Cleopatra, HMS Arethusa, HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu, HMS Javelin and HMS Kelvin then proceeded to carry out another diversion (Operation MG 4). They bombarded Rhodos harbour and the Alliotti Flour Mills during the night of 12/13 August but did little damage. On the way back HMS Javelin attacked a submarine contact in position 34°45’N, 31°04’E between 0654 and 0804 hours. She reported that there was no doubt that the submarine was sunk but no Axis submarines were operating in this area so the attack must have been bogus. This force returned to Haifa at 1900/13.
During operation Bellows, the aircraft carrier HMS Furious, started 37 Spitfire which were to proceed to Malta, when south of the Balearic Islands. The Admiralty had decided to carry out this operation at the same time as Operation Pedestal.
HMS Furious remained with the convoy until 1200/11. She then launched the Spitfires for Malta in 5 batches between 1230 and 1515 hours. During these flying off operations she acted independently with the destroyers HMS Lookout and HMS Lightning. After having launched the last batch of Spitfires she briefly re-joined to convoy until around 1700 hours when she split off and set course for Gibraltar escorted by the destroyers HMS Malcolm, HMS Wolverine and HMS Wrestler. These were joined shortly afterwards by HMS Keppel and HMS Venomous.
Around 0100/12, HMS Wolverine, rammed and sank the Italian submarine Dagabur which was trying to attack HMS Furious. Around 0200 hours, HMS Wolverine reported that she was stopped due to the damage she had sustained in the ramming. HMS Malcolm was detached to assist her.
At 1530/12, the destroyer HMS Vidette joined the screen. The force then entered Gibraltar Bay around 1930/12. The damaged HMS Wolverine arrived at Gibraltar at 1230/13 followed by HMS Malcolm around 1530/13.
On 10 August 1942 the empty transports Troilus (7648 GRT, built 1921) and Orari (10107 GRT, built 1931) departed Malta after dark for Gibraltar. They were escorted by the destroyer HMS Matchless (Lt.Cdr. J. Mowlam, RN) and the escort destroyer HMS Badsworth (Lt. G.T.S. Gray, DSC, RN). They first proceeded to the south of Lampedusa, then hugged the Tunisian coast as far as Galita Island. Near Cape Bon they encountered the Italian destroyer Lanzerotto Malocello that was laying a minefield. They had a brief gunfight but this was soon ended as both sides were thinking the enemy was Vichy-French. The remained of the passage to Gibraltar was uneventful and the convoy arrived at Gibraltar shortly before noon on 14 August 1942.
Submarine operations / dispositions. Eight submarines took part in the operation; these were HMS Utmost (Lt. A.W. Langridge, RN), HMS P 31 (Lt. J.B.de B. Kershaw, DSO, RN), HMS P 34 (Lt. P.R.H. Harrison, DSC, RN), HMS P 42 (Lt. A.C.G. Mars, RN), HMS P 44 (Lt. T.E. Barlow, RN), HMS P 46 (Lt. J.S. Stevens, DSC, RN), HMS P 211 (Cdr. B. Bryant, DSC, RN), HMS P 222 (Lt.Cdr. A.J. MacKenzie, RN). Two of these were to carry out normal dived patrol to the north of Sicily, one off Palermo, the other off Milazzo which is futher to the east. The other six submarines were given alternative patrol lines south of Pantelleria, one od which they were to take up at dawn on 13 August 1942, according to the movements of enemy surface ships that might threathen the convoy from the westward. When the convoy had passed the patrol line, which it should have done by that time, the submarines were to proceed on the surface parallel to the convoy as a screen and to dive away clear of the convoy at noon. It was expressly intended that they should be seen on the surface and reported by enemy aircraft in order to deter enemy warships from attacking the convoy.
Enemy warships did go to sea but as soon as it was clear that the enemy ships could not reach the convoy the sunmarines were ordered to dive and retire. These six sumarines had no contact with the enemy. One of the the two submarines off the north coast of Sicily, HMS P 42, managed to torpedo two Italian cruisers near Stromboli on the morning of 13 August 1942.
Now we return to the main convoy to Malta.
Passage eastwards after passing the Straits of Gibraltar.
10 and 11 August 1942.
After passing through the Straits of Gibraltar in the early hours of 10 August 1942, in dense fog, the convoy was first sighted by an Italian passenger aircraft, which sighted the convoy in the afternoon of the same day. German reconnaissance aircraft started shadowing the convoy from dawn on the 11th, and thereafter they or Italian aircraft kept the convoy under continuous observation, despite the effort of the fighters from the carriers to shoot them down or drive them off. At 1315 hours, HMS Eagle, was hit an sunk by torpedoes from the German submarine U-73 which had penetrated the destroyer screen. At that moment there were thirteen destroyers in the screen, the remainder was away from the main convoy, escorting HMS Furious during the flying off operations of the Hurricane fighters for Malta or oiling from and screening ‘Force R’ which was several miles away. Between 1430/10 and and 2030/11 no less then three cruisers and twenty-four destroyers fuelled from the two oilers of ‘Force R’.
At the time of the torpedoing of HMS Eagle the convoy was in four columns, zigzagging at 13 knots, with the heavy ships stationed close round it and a destroyer screen ahead. HMS Eagle was on the starboard quarter of the convoy. She was hit on her starboard side by four torpedoes which had dived through the destroyer screen and the convoy columns undetected and then torpedoed and sank the Eagle in position 38°05’N, 03°02’E (Another source gives 03°12’E but this might be a typo). The carrier sank quickly in about 8 minutes, 926 of her crew, including the Commanding Officer, were rescued by the destroyers HMS Laforey and HMS Lookout and the rescue tug HMS Jaunty. At the time of her sinking, HMS Eagle had four aircraft on patrol. These landed on the other carriers. All other aircraft were lost with the ship. The survivors picked up were later transferred to the destroyers HMS Keppel, HMS Malcolm and HMS Venomous that were to escort HMS Furious back to Gibraltar. The tug HMS Jaunty that had been involved in picking up survivors was never able to rejoin the convoy due to her slow speed.
Late in the afternoon air attacks were expected so Vice-Admiral Syfret ordered the destroyer to form an all-round screen. Indeed the air attacks started around sunset, 2045 hours. The last destroyers had just returned from oiling from ‘Force R’. The enemy aircraft that were attacking were 36 German bombers and torpedo aircraft, Ju 88’s and He 111’s, most of which attacked the convoy but a few attacked ‘Force R’ to the southward. The Junkers arrived first, diving down from 8000 feet to 2000 / 3000 feet to drop their bombs. They claimed to have hit an aircraft carrier and one of the merchant ships. Then the Heinkels attacked, they claimed to have torpedoed a cruiser but during the attacks no ship was hit. The British fighter cover was unable to attack / find the enemy in the failing light. Four enemy aircraft were claimed shot down by the ships AA fire but it appears only two JU 88’s were in fact shot down.
12 August 1942
At 0915/12 another wave of German aircraft attacked the convoy. Some twenty or more JU 88’s approached the convoy out of the sun ahead. They were intercepted by fighters about 25 miles from the convoy. About a dozen got through to the convoy, making high-level or shallow dive-bombing attacks individually but without any result. Eight German aircraft were claimed to be shot down by the fighters and two more by AA guns from the ships. The fighters meanwhile were also busy dealng with shadowers, three of which are claimed to have been shot down before the morning attack. Around this time destroyers were also busy with numerous submarine contact which were attacked by depth charges.
Around noon the enemy launched heavy air attacks from the Sardinian airfields. Seventy aircraft approached which were heavily escorted by fighters. They attacked in stages and employed new methods.
First ten Italian torpedo-bombers were each to drop some sort of circling torpedo or mine a few hundred yards ahead of the British force, while eight fighter bombers made dive-bombing and machine-gun attacks. The object at this stage was clearly to dislocate the formation of the force and to draw anti-aircraft fire, making the ships more vulnerable to a torpedo attack which soon followed with over forty aircraft. They attacked in two groups, one on either bow of the convoy. The next stage was a shallow dive-bombing attack by German aircraft, after which two Italian Reggiane 2001 fighters, each with a single heavy armour-piercing bomb were to dive bomb on one of the aircraft carriers, whilst yet another new form of attack was to be employed against the other carrier, but defects in the weapon prevented this attack from taking place.
The enemy attack went according to plan besides that the torpedo attack was only made half an our after the ‘mines’ were dropped instead of five minutes. British fighters met the minelaying aircraft, they shot down one of them as they approached. The remaining nine aircraft dropped their ‘mines’ at 1215 hours in the path of the force, which turned to avoid the danger. The mines were heard to explode several minutes later. Only three of the fighter-bombers of this stage of the attack appear to have reached as far the screen, but HMS Lightning had a narrow escape from their bombs.
The torpedo-aircraft appeared at 1245 hours. Their number were brought down a bit due to British fighters. The remaining aircraft, estimated at 25 to 30 machines, attacked from the port bow, port beam and starboard quarter. They dropped their torpedoes well outside the screen some 8000 yards from the merchant ships which they had been ordered to attack. The force turned 45° to port and then back to starboard to avoid the attack.
In the next stage, around 1318 hours, the German bombing attack, the enemy scored their one success. These aircraft were also intercepted on their way in but about a dozen of about twenty aircraft came through. They crossed the convoy from starboard to port and then dived to 3000 feet. They managed to damage the transport Deucalion which was leading the port wing column. More bombs fell close to several other ships.
Finally, at 1345 hours, the two Reggiane fighters approached HMS Victorious as if to land on. They looked like Hurricanes and HMS Victorious was at that time engaged in landing her own fighters. They managed to drop their bombs and one hit the flight deck amidships. Fortunately the bomb broke up without exploding. By the time HMS Victorious could open fire both fighters were out of range.
The Deucalion could no longer keep up with the convoy and was ordered to follow the inshore route along the Tunisian coast escorted by HMS Bramham. Two bombers found these ships late in the afternoon, but their bombs missed. At 1940 hours, however, near the Cani Rocks, two torpedo aircraft attacked and a torpedo hit the Deucalion. She caught fire and eventually blew up.
The convoy passed some 20 miles north of Galita Island and spent the afternoon avoiding enemy submarines which were known to be concentrated in these waters. There were innumerable reports of sightings and Asdic contacts and at least two submarines proved dangerous. At 1616 hours, HMS Pathfinder and HMS Zetland attacked one on the port bow of the convoy and hunted her until the convoy was out of reach. HMS Ithuriel, stationed on the quarter, then attacked, forced the enemy to surface and finally rammed her. She proved to be the Italian submarine Cobalto. Meanwhile HMS Tartar, on the starboard quarter, saw six torpedoes fired at close range at 1640 hours, and the next destroyer in the screen, HMS Lookout sighted a periscope. Together they attacked the submarine, continuing until it was no longer dangerous. There was no evidence this submarine was sunk.
At 1750 hours, HMS Ithuriel, which was on her way back to the convoy after sinking the Italian submarine Cobalto was attacked by a few dive-bombers, when still a dozen miles astern of the convoy. At this time the convoy came under attack by aircraft stationed on Sicily. This force numbered nearly 100 aircraft. Ju.87 dive-bombers as well as Ju.88’s and SM-79’s all with a strong escort of fighters. The enemy started attacking at 1835 hours, the bombers attacking from both ahead and astern which last was the direction of the sun. The torpedo aircraft came from ahead to attack on the starboard bow and beam of the convoy.
The Italian SM-79’s torpedo bombers dropped their torpedoes from ranges of about 3000 yards outside the destroyer screen, and once again the convoy turned away to avoid them. However the destroyer HMS Foresight was hit by a torpedo and disabled. The bombers chose HMS Indomitable as their main target. She was astern of HMS Rodney at the time on the port quarter of the convoy. Four Ju.88’s and eight Ju.87’s came suddenly out of the sun and dived steeply towards HMS Indomitable from astern. Some of the Ju.87 came down to 1000 feet and the carrier received three hits and her flight deck was put out of action. Her airborne fighters eventually had to land on HMS Victorious. HMS Rodney meanwhile had a narrow escape when a bomber attacked from ahead. One enemy aircraft was claimed to have been shot down by AA fire from the ships while the fighters claimed nine more although there were about twice as much enemy fighters in the air then British.
HMS Tartar took the damaged HMS Foresight in tow and proceeded westward for Gibraltar. Next day, as they were shadowed by enemy aircraft, and enemy submarines were known to be in the area, it was decided to scuttle the cripple before both ships might be lost. HMS Tartar then torpedoed HMS Foresight a few miles from Galita Island.
Passage through the narrows, 12-13 August 1942, and the loss off HMS Manchester.
These last air attacks took place about 20 nautical miles west of the Skerki Channel and at 1900 hours, when the attacks were clearly over, Vice-Admiral Syfret turned away with ‘Force Z’. It was now up to Rear-Admiral Burrough with ‘Force X’ to take the convoy to Malta.
At 2000 hours, when the convoy was changing it’s formation from four to two columns, the convoy was attacked by Italian submarines. The submarine Dessiè attacked a freighter with four torpedoes and claimed three hits. The sound of the torpedo hits was however not caused by her attack but by an attack by the Axum which hit three ships, HMS Nigeria, HMS Cairo and the tanker Ohio.
HMS Nigeria had to turn back to make for Gibraltar escorted by the escort destroyers HMS Derwent, HMS Wilton and HMS Bicester. Rear-Admiral Burrough transferred his flag to the destroyer HMS Ashanti. The stern of HMS Cairo had been blown off and she had to be sunk as she was beyond salvage with both engines also out of action. She was scuttled by HMS Pathfinder. The Ohio meanwhile managed to struggle on.
At this time the convoy was still trying to form up the the submarine attacks messed things up and right at thus time the convoy was once more attacked from the air in the growing dusk at 2030 hours. About 20 German aircraft, Ju-88’s made dive bombing and torpedo attacks, hitting the Empire Hope with a bomb and the Clan Ferguson and Brisbane Star with torpedoes. The first of these ships had to be sunk (by HMS Bramham, the second blew up but the last eventually reached Malta. Soon after this attack, at 2111 hours, HMS Kenya was torpedoed by the Italian submarine Alagi. She was able to evade three of the four torpedoes but was hit in the bow by the fouth. She was however able to remain with the convoy.
The situation was then as follows. HMS Kenya and HMS Manchester with two merchant ships, and with the minesweeping destroyers HMS Intrepid, HMS Icarus and HMS Fury sweeping ahead, had passed the Skerki Channel and were steering to pass Zembra Island on the way to Cape Bon. HMS Ashanti, with Rear-Admiral Burrough on board was fast overhauling these ships. The other two destroyers HMS Pathfinder, HMS Penn and the escort destroyer HMS Ledbury, were rounding up the remaining nine merchant ships. The escort destroyer HMS Bramham was also catching up after having escorted the single Deucalion until she sank.
On learing about the fate of HMS Nigeria and HMS Cairo, Vice-Admiral Syfret detached HMS Charybdis, HMS Eskimo and HMS Somali to reinforce Rear-Admiral Burrough. It would take these ships several hourse to catch up with the convoy.
The main body of the convoy passed Cape Bon around midnight. Fourty minutes later enemy Motor Torpedo Boats appeared and started to attack. Their first victim was HMS Manchester which was torpedoed at 0120/13 by the Italian MS 16 or MS 22. She had to be scuttled by her own crew. Many of her ships company landed in Tunisia and were interned by the Vichy-French but about 300 were picked up by destroyers (first by HMS Pathfinder, and later by HMS Eskimo and HMS Somali. These last two destoyers then set off towards Gibraltar.)
Four and possibly five of the merchant ships were also hit by the Motor Torpedo Boats. These were the Wairangi, Rochester Castle, Almeria Lykes, Santa Elisa and probably the Glenorchy. They were attacked between 0315 and 0430 hours about 15 nautical miles south-east of Kelibia whilst taking a short cut to overhaul the main body of the convoy. Four were lost, only the Rochester Castle survived and she managed to catch up with the main body of the convoy at 0530 hours. The Glenorchy was sunk by the Italian MS 31, the other four, of which the Rochester Castle survived as mentioned earlier, were hit by the German S 30 and S 36 as well as the Italian MAS 554 and MAS 557.
Shortly before 0530 hours HMS Charybdis, HMS Eskimo and HMS Somali had joined the main body of the convoy making the force now two cruisers and seven destroyers with the transports Rochester Castle, Waimarama and Melbourne Star. The damaged tanker Ohio was slowly catching up. With her was the escort destroyer HMS Ledbury. Astern of the main body was the Port Chalmers escorted by the destroyer HMS Penn and the escort destroyer HMS Bramham. The destroyers recued the crew of the Santa Elisa when the passed by the abandoned ship which was afterwards finished off by a German bomber. The Dorset was proceeding without escort and lastly the damaged Brisbane Star was still keeping close to the Tunisian coast independently, intending to steer towards Malta after nightfall.
At 0730 hours, Rear-Admiral Burrough, sent back HMS Tartar and HMS Somali to Kelibia to assist HMS Manchester and then go to Gibraltar. When they arrived they found out that the Manchester had been scuttled several hours earlier so they rescued those of her crew that had not reached the shore yet and then made off to Gibraltar as ordered. Besides crew of the Manchester they also picked up survivors from the Almeria Lykes and Wairangi.
The next encounter with the enemy was an air attack on the main body of the convoy at 0800 hours by German bombers. About 12 Ju.88’s made a shallow diving attack coming down from 6000 feet to 2000 feet to drop their bombs. Two dived on the Waimarama hitting her several times and she blew up immediately, one of the bombers was even destroyed in the explosion. HMS Ledbury saved some of her crew out of the blazing sea. At 0925 hours, when the Ohio, Port Chalmers and Dorset where with the main body again, a few Ju.87’s escorted by Italian fighters attacked. They dived down to 1500 to 1000 feet. HMS Kenya leading the port column, and the Ohio last ship but one in the starboard column, had narrow escapes. One of the enemy aircraft crashed on board the Ohio just after having released it’s bomb after being damaged by gunfire from the Ohio and HMS Ashanti. Another aircraft was claimed to have been shot down by fighters from Malta that had been patrolling overhead since daybreak.
Arrivals at Malta 13-15 August 1942.
At 1050 hours, about 20 bombers, mostly Ju.88’s with a few Ju.87’s, came in to attack. Target was the Ohio and she received four or five near misses and her engines were disabled. At the same time the Rochester Castle in the port column was near-missed and set on fire but she continued with the convoy. The Dorset which was astern of her was hit and stopped. The convoy went on leaving the Dorset behind with the Ohio and two destroyers.
At 1125 hours the last air attack on the main body took place. Five Italian SM.79’s attacked with torpedoes and almost hit the Port Chalmers as the torpedo got stuck in the paravane. Further attacks on the main body were held of by fighters from Malta. At 1430 hours, four minesweepers from Malta joined the main body of the convoy, these were HMS Speedy (Lt.Cdr. A.E. Doran, RN, with the group’s commander A/Cdr. H.J.A.S. Jerome, RN on board), HMS Hebe, HMS Rye and HMS Heyte. Also with them were seven Motor Launches; ML 121, ML 126, ML 134, ML 135, ML 168, ML 459 and ML 462. HMS Rye and two of the ML’s were sent towards the damaged Ohio which was ‘vital for Malta’, according to A/Cdr. Jerome.
At 1600 hours, Rear-Admiral Burrough, set course to the west with his two cruisers and with five destroyers. The Port Chalmers, Melbourne Star and Rochester Castle arrived in Grand Harbour around 1800 hours with the force of A/Cdr. Jerome. The Rochester Castle was by that time very low in the water, she had just made it into port on time.
Out were still the Ohio, Dorset and the Brisbane Star. The valuable Ohio had been helpless with HMS Penn and HMS Bramham. When HMS Rye arrived at 1730 hours, HMS Penn took the Ohio in tow. Meanwhile HMS Bramham was sent to the Dorset but soon afterwards German bombers came again and the ships were attacked repeatedly until dark. Both merchantman were hit around 1900 hours and the Dorset sank.
At daylight on the 14th HMS Ledbury arrived to help bringing the Ohio to Malta. HMS Speedy also soon arrived on the scene with two ML’s. The rest of his force he had sent to search for the Brisbane Star. At 1045 hours, enemy aircraft made their last attempt, causing the parting of the tow. Fighter from Malta shot down two of the attackers. The tow was passed again and the slow procession went on and in the morning of the 15th the vital tanker finally reached Malta.
The Brisbane Star had by then also arrived. She left the Tunisian coast at dusk on the 13th. Aircraft had attacked her unsuccessfully and one of the attackers was shot down by a Beaufighter escort that had been sent from Malta. She arrived at Malta in the afternoon of the 14th.
Italian surface ships to operate against the convoy ?
The convoy had experienced the violence of the enemy in every shape except that of an attack by large surface ships. Yet Italian cruisers and destroyers had been at sea to intercept and attack it. Two light cruiser had left Cagliari in the evening of 11 August 1942 and the heavy cruisers Gorizia and Bolzano from Messina, and a light cruiser from Naples had sailed on the morning of the 12th. That evening reconnaissance aircraft reported one heavy and two light cruisers with eight destroyers about 80 nautical miles to the north of the western tip of Sicily and steering south. It would have been possible for this force to meet the convoy at dawn on the 13th so the shadowing aircraft was therefore ordered in plain language to illuminate and attack. This apparently influenced the Italians as they had limited air cover and they turned back at 0130/13 when near Cape San Vito. At 0140 hours the aircraft reported that it had dropped its bombs but no hits had been obtained. Similar orders were signalled, in plain language, to relief shadowers and to report the position of the enemy force to the benefit of imaginary Liberator bombers in case the Italians would change their minds and turn back. They however held on to the eastward.
The submarine HMS P 42 sighted them around 0800/13 off Stromboli and attacked with four torpedoes claiming two hits. She had in fact hit the heavy cruiser Bolzano which was able to proceed northwards and the light cruiser Muzio Attendolo which managed to reach Messina with her bows blown off. The other cruisers went to Naples. Following the attack P 42 was heavily depth charged by the destroyers but managed to escape.
In fact the following Italian ships had been at sea; heavy cruisers Gorizia, Trieste, Bolzano, light cruisers Eugenio di Savoia Raimondo Montecuccoli, Muzio Attendolo. They were escorted by eleven destroyers; Ascari, Aviere, Camicia Nera, Corsaro, Fuceliere, Geniere, Legionaro, Vincenzo Gioberti, Alfredo Oriani, Grecale and Maestrale.
The return to Gibraltar.
The British ships returning to Gibraltar had better fortune. Having left the convoy off Malta in the afternoon of the 13th, they rounded Cape Bon around 0130/14 and from that point until past Zembra Island they successful ran the gauntled of E-boats laying in wait.
at 0450/14, near the Fratelli Rocks, a submarine fired torpedoes at HMS Ashanti from the surface. She was nearly rammed by HMS Kenya, which was next astern of the ‘flagship’ (Rear-Admiral Burrough was still in HMS Ashanti). The inevitable shadowers arrived soon after daylight to herald their air attacks that began at 0730 hours. They lasted until around 1315 hours. German bombers came in first with three attemps by a few Ju.88’s. This was followed by a more severe attack with about 30 bombers, Ju-88’s and Ju-87’s between 1030 and 1050 hours. An hour later 15 Savoia high-level bombers attacked followed until 1315 hours by torpedo-carrying Savoia’s. Around 20 aircraft attacking single or in pairs. Also aircraft are though to be laying mines ahead. Several ships were near missed, but no further damage was sustained. After these attacks the British were left alone and in the evening they joined ‘Force Z’.
Vice-Admiral Syfret had gone as far west as 01’E where he ordered the damaged carrier HMS Indomitable to proceed to Malta with HMS Rodney and a destroyer screen made up of HMS Ithuriel, HMS Antelope, HMS Amazon, HMS Westcott, HMS Wishart and HMS Zetland. He then turned back to the east to make rendez-vous with Rear-Admiral Burrough. HMS Rodney, HMS Indomitable, HMS Ithuriel, HMS Antelope, HMS Amazon, HMS Westcott, HMS Wishart and HMS Zetland arrived at Gibraltar in the evening of the 14th.
A few hours before they arrived the damaged HMS Nigeria and her escort had also entered port, as had HMS Tartar, HMS Eskimo and HMS Somali. On her way back HMS Nigeria had been attacked by torpedo-bombers and a submarine but she had not been hit.
Out of the fourteen ships that had sailed only five arrived ‘safe’ at Malta. This was not a very high score also given the very heavy escort that had been provided also taken in mind that an aircraft carrier, a light cruiser, an AA cruiser an a destroyer had been lost and two heavy cruiser had been damaged. But the convoy had to meet very heavy air attacks by over 150 bombers and 80 torpedo aircraft, all in the space of two days. Also these aircraft were protected by fighter in much greater strength that the carriers and Malta could provide. And there were also the enemy submarines and E-boats.
The spirit in which to operation was carried out appears in Vice-Admiral Syfret’s report: ‘ Tribute has been paid to the personnel of His Majesty’s Ships, both the officers and men will desire to give first place to the conduct, courage, and determination of the masters, officers, and men of the merchant ships. The steadfast manner in which these ships pressed on their way to Malta through all attacks, answering every maneuvering order like a well trained fleet unit, was a most inspiring sight. Many of these fine men and their ships were lost. But the memory of their conduct will remain an inspiration to all who were privileged to sail with them. ‘ (26)
- ADM 53/114436
- ADM 53/113616 + ADM 53/114554
- File 2.12.03.6376 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands)
- ADM 234/322
- ADM 199/657
- ADM 53/114626 + ADM 53/114204 + ADM 199/1138
- ADM 53/114626 + ADM 234/335
- ADM 53/114754 + ADM 53/114755
- ADM 53/114755
- ADM 199/415
- ADM 53/115215 + ADM 199/415
- ADM 53/115216 + ADM 199/415
- ADM 53/113535 + ADM 53/114780 + ADM 199/415
- ADM 1/12257 + ADM 199/415
- ADM 173/17327
- ADM 199/650
- ADM 53/115791 + ADM 53/115907 + ADM 53/116780
- ADM 173/17329
- ADM 53/115623 + ADM 53/115793 + ADM 53/115909 + ADM 53/116782
- ADM 199/650 + ADM 199/2556
- ADM 199/650 + ADM 234/353
- ADM 53/115910 + ADM 53/116468 + ADM 199/650
- ADM 53/115910 + ADM 53/116547 + ADM 53/116783 + ADM 199/650
- ADM 53/115347 + ADM 53/115348 + ADM 53/115642 + ADM 53/115643
- ADM 53/115349 + ADM 53/115626
- ADM 199/651 + ADM 234/353
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.