HMS Auricula (K 12)
Corvette of the Flower class
|Navy||The Royal Navy|
|Built by||George Brown & Co. (Greenock, Scotland) : Kincaid|
|Ordered||25 Jul 1939|
|Laid down||25 Nov 1939|
|Launched||14 Nov 1940|
|Commissioned||5 Mar 1941|
|Lost||6 May 1942|
|Loss position||12° 12'S, 49° 19'E|
HMS Auricula (Lt.Cdr. Sidney Lord Bannister Maybury, RN) was mined in Courrier Bay, Madagascar in position 12º12'S, 49º19'E on 5 May 1942 and foundered the next day while under tow.
Commands listed for HMS Auricula (K 12)
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|1||T/Lt. William Wilkinson White, RNR||5 Dec 1940||15 Sep 1941|
|2||Lt.Cdr. Sidney Lord Bannister Maybury, RN||15 Sep 1941||6 May 1942|
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Notable events involving Auricula include:
Auricula was based in Liverpool and spent most of 1941 in escort work across the Atlantic. She was fitted with RDF in Londonderry and transferred to Freetown later in the year and patrolled the West Coast of Africa. She was moved again to Lagos, where many of the crew got malaria, and sailed for Cape Town calling in on Walvis Bay. She arrived at the Cape on Good Friday 1942 and proceeded on to Durban, the assembly port for part of the fleet carrying troops for the invasion of Madagascar. Early in the operation she hit a mine and sank the next day. Casualties were mostly head and leg injuries and the injured were transferred to the SS Batory, the Polish trans Atlantic liner that was acting as hospital ship. The injured were then transferred to the SS Atlantis, a Greek passenger vessel, that took them to Durban. (1)
28 Apr 1942
Operation Ironclad, the landing on Madagascar.
The main body of the assault forces sailed from South Africa in two convoys, these were;
Convoy Y, Slow convoy.
This convoy departed Durban on 25 April 1942.
This convoy was made up of the following troopships / transports; Empire Kingsley (British, 6996 GRT, built 1941), Mahout (British, 7921 GRT, built 1925), Martand (British, 7967 GRT, built 1925), Nairnbank (British, 5155 GRT, built 1925), Thalatta (Norwegian, 5671 GRT, built 1922) as well as the landing ship HMS Bachaquero (A/Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) A.W. McMullan, RNR) and the RFA tankers Derwentdale (8398 GRT, built 1941), Easedale (8032 GRT, built 1942).
On departure from Durban the convoy was escorted by the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire (Capt. R.D. Oliver, CBE, DSC, RN), destroyers HMS Duncan ( Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), corvettes HMS Auricula (fitted for mineweeping) (Lt.Cdr. S.L.B. Maybury, RN), HMS Freesia (T/Lt. R.A. Cherry, RNR), HMS Fritillary (Lt.Cdr. W.H. Barker, RD, RNR), HMS Jasmine (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) C.D.B. Coventry, RNR), HMS Nigella (fitted for minesweeping) (T/Lt. L.J. Simpson, RNR), HMS Thyme (Lt. H. Roach, RNR) and the minesweepers HMS Cromarty (Lt.Cdr. C.G. Palmer, DSC, RNZNVR), HMS Cromer (Cdr. R.H. Stephenson, DSC, RN), HMS Poole (Lt. W.L.G. Dutton, RNR) and HMS Romney (Cdr.(Retd.) R.H.V. Sivewright, RN).
The transport City of Hong Kong (British, 9678 GRT, built 1924) had been delayed and sailed on 26 April 1942 escorted by the corvettes HMS Cyclamen (Lt. A.G. Scott, RNR) and HMS Genista (Lt.Cdr. R.M. Pattinson, DSC, RNR).
Convoy Z, Fast convoy.
This convoy departed Durban on 28 April 1942.
This convoy was made up of the following troopships / transports; Duchess of Atholl (British, 20119 GRT, built 1928), Franconia (British, 20175 GRT, built 1923), HMS Karanja (British, 9891 GRT, built 1931), HMS Keren (British, 9890 GRT, built 1930), Oronsay (British, 20043 GRT, built 1925), HMS Royal Ulsterman (British, 3244 GRT, built 1936), Sobieski (Polish, 11030 GRT, built 1939) and Winchester Castle (British, 19141 GRT, built 1922).
Upon departure from Durban the convoy was escorted by the battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Pakenham (Capt. E.B.K. Stevens, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Lookout (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Javelin (Cdr. G.E. Fardell, RN) and HMS Inconstant (Lt.Cdr. W.S. Clouston, RN).
The convoys met around noon on 3 May. Earlier that day the aircaft carrier HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Paladin (Cdr. A.D. Pugsley, RN) and HMS Panther (Lt.Cdr. R.W. Jocelyn, RN) had joined the 'Z' convoy.
Both convoys had a good passage so far thanks also to the favourable weather conditions. From the 'Y' convoy all escorts had been able to fuel from the RFA tanker Easedale. Also HMS Hermione and the destroyers from the 'Z'-convoy were now able to fuel.
By dusk on 3 May the fast convoy had closed to within about 4 miles from the slow convoy and it maintained this position until the final approach on the following afternoon.
At noon on the 4th of May, the flagship was some 95 mils west of Courrier Bay and at 1430/4, Group I, made of of HMS Ramillies, HMS Indomitable, HMS Illustrious, HMS Hermione and seven destroyers parted company with the convoys and steered for the covering position near Cape Amber. At 1500/4 the signal was made to proceed in execution with the orders and Groups II to V formed up for the final approach.
The composition of these groups was as follows; II; HMS Laforey, one corvette, two minesweeping corvettes and the four minesweepers.
III; HMS Devonshire, Winchester Castle, HMS Royal Ulsterman and one destroyer.
IV; HMS Keren, HMS Karanja Sobieski, Derwentdale, HMS Bachaquero and three corvettes.
V; HMS Pakenham, two corvettes, 10 transports, store ships and auxliaries.
Capt. Oliver of HMS Devonshire was the senior officer. It was his task of bringing the convoy of 34 ships safely to its anchorage. It had 88 miles to go, most of it in the dark.
At 1800/4, HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning and HMS Anthony were detached to make landfall of Nosi Amambo, and proceeded to the south-east. At 1950/4 a suspicious vessel was reported and the division was about to attack with torpeoes at 2021/4 when it was seen to be a distant island (sic !). Twenty minutes later shallow sounding raised doubts as to their position, but at 2100/4 a white light was seen on Noi Anambo and at 2122 the moon rose silhouetting a tower on the island. Half an hour later the first buoy was laid (ZA) and course was shaped for Nosi Fati shoal, which was found without difficulty, both land and beakers showing up well in the moonlight.
At 2310/4 No.1 main channel buoy was laid and HMS Lightning anchored off it. At 2340/4, she swithched on the prearranged lights (green, white, red) to seaward. HMS Anthony then went to inform the convoy that these buoy were in place, and the Laforey went on laying the remainder in the 15-mile channel to Nosi Hara.
This was an easy task, as the channel between Nosi Hari and Nosi Anjombavola could be seen clearly in the moonlight, and after dropping the last buoy, she turned back at 0003/5. The convoy could be seen just entering the channel. Its ships were clearly visible to the naked eye. HMS Laforey then stood to the westward. At 0026/5, HMS Laforey reported ' Channel OK, no corss set ' to the Devonshire and Keren, then turning, took station astern of the minesweepers.
HMS Devonshire, meanwhile, with group IV and V astern, had been groping her way in. It was quite dark at 184/4, but star sights showed that the north-easterly set allowed for had in effect been running the other way during the afternoon carrying her some 5 miles to the south-westward of her intended position. She altered coursev without signal at 1900/4 to correct this and her screen not immediately observing the alteration, got a long way out of station. At 2100/4 the high land on Cape Sebastian was sighted, and a reasonably good fix was obtained by visual bearing and RDF range. More land was sighted after moonrise, and at 2150/4 the jaged peak of Windsor Castle was identified 40 miles away and an accurate fix placed the Devonshire 298°, 18 miles from position ZB. Course was altered to 118° at 2200/4 and speed was reduced to 8.5 knots.
At 2312/4 another good fix showed that she had been set 2.5 miles to the northward, placing her 360°, 6 miles from position ZB, and course was altered to 138° at 2318/4. Twenty minutes later the lights displayed by HMS Lightning were sighted so navigation was no longer difficult. At 2342/4 HMS Anthony passed close alongside and reported there was no set though the outer dan buoy had drifted to the south-westward. Course was altered to follow the minesweepers which could be seen clearly ahead and HMS Lightning was passed 6 cables abeam to starboard at 0008/5. This showed that HMS Devonshire had passed position ZB 33 minutes ahead of time. The right hand edge of Nosi Hara selected as a leading mark was clearly visible, bearing 114°, but it was not easy to follow the passage as several of the dan buoys had broken adrift and it wa difficult to ee which minesweepers were sweeping. Actually their work had come to a sudden halt. Owing to the out dan buoy being to the south-west of it intended position, the mineweepers had gone too close to Nosi Fati shoal and all four had parted their sweepers. Nothing was known of this at the time, and it was supposed that the channel was being swept according to plan, though in fact it was not being swept at all. Fortunately no mines had been laid so far to seaward.
At 0130/5, the ships in group III passed between Nosi Hari and Nosi Anjombavola. Before them lay Ambararata Bay. At 0154/5 the Winchester Castle came noiselessly to an anchor, the Royal Ulsterman and HMS Lightning standing by to the north-eastward of her. The troops were all drawn up and her assault craft were lowered and manned. HMS Devonshire anchored some 3.5 cables to the eastward of Nosi Hara, ready to open fire on the enemy's batteries under Windsor Castle. She lay invisible against the background of the island. Through unlit and tortuous channels studded with rocks and shoals the ships had been brought safely to their anchorage. Silently, Groups IV and V entered and took up their berths, anchoring some 10 minutes earlier than planned.
Assault landing, 5 May 1942.
While the assault craft were being manned, HMS Romney and HMS Cromarty accurately and steadfastly led by HMS Freesia commened to sweep the 8-mile channel from the Winchester Castle's berth to position JJ. They were closely followed by HMS Laforey leading the Winchester Castle's flotilla with HMS Lightning and HMS Royal Ulsterman some distance astern. During this passage about 17 mines were cut. At 0300/5 one detonated in the Romney's sweep, but no sign of life came from the French garrison ashore. A quarter of an hour later another mine exploded. All waited for the expected fusillade, but to their surprise the quiet of the summer night remained undisturbed. The garrison was evidently sleeping soundly, and at 0330/5 the dispersal point (JJ) was reached and the flotilla moved off towards the 'Red' beaches, while HMS Royal Ulsterman silently anchored and commenced landing her cobles. Meanwhile the flotillas from the Keren and Karanja had left at 0253/5 and 0319/5 for the 'Green' and 'White' beaches respectively.
The navigation of the landing craft was as good as that of their parent ships. All made accurate landings and the assault was carried out exactly as planned. Despite the explosions of the mines, complete surprise was achieved, and all three beaches and No.7 battery were carried without loss. 'Blue' beach was then assaulted. Here opposition was experienced, but it was overcome by troops which had landed at 'White' beach, who crossed the peninsula and took the defenders in the rear.
Simultaneously with these landings, HMS Hermione was carrying out her diversion on the east coast, consisting of a demonstration with delay action smoke floats, rockets, and the firing of star shell to burst over the beach at the head of Ambodi Vahibe Bay. She then established a patrol of the entrance to Diego Suarez Bay which she maintained for the rest of the day without incident, except for a short engagement (0643 to 0655/5) with No.1 coast defence batterey, Oranjiia, which she outranged at 18000 yards.
Half an hour after the initial landing, air attacks by the FAA developed on the Vichy-French shipping in Diego Suarez harbour and on Antsirane aerodrome. The former, carried out by 18 Swordfish from HMS Illustrious armed with torpedoes, bombs and depth charges, proved very effective. The armed merchant cruiser Bougainville was hit by a torpedo, the submarine Beveziers was sunk by depth charges and the sloop D'Entrecasteaux, another submarine and AA batteries were narrowly missed by bombs. Fighter protection was provided by 8 Martlets, which demonstrated ovr the town during the attack. One Swordfish was shot down during the attack.
At the same time six Albacores from HMS Indomitable carried out a low level bombing attack on Antsirane airport. Here, again, the surprise was complete and the hangars, which were full of aircraft, were left burning. This was followed by an attack with incendiary bullets by eight sea Hurricanes.
After these main air attacks, three Swordfish dropped dummy parachutists in a valley 6 mines west-south-west of Ambodi Vahibe Bay, to strengthen the effect of the diversion by HMS Hermione. Fighter patrols were then established over the town, beaches and transports, and an A/S patol off the entrance to Diego Suarez harbour.
At 0545/5 the ' success ' signal from No.7 battery was received and Keren, Karanja, Sobieski, Winchester Castle and Bachaquero proceeded to shift to the main anchorage off Ambararata Bay. The three former were still loading their second flight of landing craft but Winchester Castle and Bachaquero at once got under way. By that time it was broad daylight and they were seen by HMS Devonshire advancing up the swept channel. Just at that moment Capt. Oliver received a signal from HMS Romney that she had exploded two mines just north of the anchorage. Capt. Oliver therefore ordered the two ships to stop and the ordered to move was then cancelled until the new anchorage was swept.
By 0620/5, about 2000 troops had been landed but the turn round for the landing craft was very long. Reports of a successful advance and the capture of prisoners began to come in.
At 0750/5, group IV, followed by the remainder of the convoy, shifted berth to the main anchoragem which by that time had been swept by HMS Cromer, HMS Poole, HMS Auricula and HMS Nigella. No mines had been found in the actual anchorage, but about a mile to the north-west, HMS Cromer and HMS Auricula cut seven in quick succession and cut six more and detonated one in the same position shortly afterwards.
Conditions in the anchorage by this time were far from pleasant. The south-easterly wind had increased to force 8 and was raising a heavy sea. Ships were dropping second anchors and the handling and loading of landing craft was difficult but non the less disembarkation continued at full speed.
Sweeping was still continuing in the vicinity of position HH, when at 1138/5, HMS Auricula struck a mine and broke her back. As she had no casualties and was in no immediate danger of sinking, she remained where she was, anchored by her sweep. By this time the minesweepers had swept up no less than 35 mines but half of them were now out of action with defects to their gear. As it was imperative to have sufficient minesweepers with the fleet to proceed into Diego Suarez after its capture it was decided to cease further minesweeping for the moment.
Landing continued throughout the day. Two or three machine-gun attacks were made on the beaches by enemy fighter aircraft, but FAA patrols provided effective protection and, thanks to the initial blow to the aerodrome no attacks were made on the transports.
At 1354/5, an enemy post on Windsor Castle, becoming a nuisance was engaged by HMS Laforey. Shortly afterwards a white flag and signals of surrender were observed and fire was ceased. However, on advancing, the British troop wee bombed by the French with hand granades.
Considerable difficulty was experienced in finding a suitable beach for the Bachaquero but a spot close to 'Red' beach was eventually found. She had to approach it through the minefield but was swept in by HMS Cromarty who cut two mines adrift, and she landed her cargo in 14 minutes.
At sunset landing operations were suspended till sunrise, in order to avoid damage to the landing craft. Before dark destroyers and corvettes took up their stations as A/S patrols of the entrances to the harbour, and orders were given to abandon HMS Auricula for the night.
Operations of Group I, 4 to 6 May 1942.
Meanwhile, outside the harbour the night had passed without incident. Group I, made up of HMS Ramillies, HMS Indomitable, HMS Illustrious, HMS Hermione, HMS Paladin, HMS Panther, HMS Lookout, HMS Javelin, HMS Inconstant, HMS Duncan and HMS Active, after the assault landing force parted company (4th May), had continued to the north-eastwar, HMS Hermione being detached at 1700/4 to the east coast to carry out her diversion next morning. The remainder patrolled up and down in the vicinity of position 'AA' till 2200/4, when course was shaped towards Nosi Fati and towards midnight the ships in Group V could be seen bearing 070°, distant 11 miles, steering for position 'ZC'. At 0015/5, land loomed up ahead and it was clear that the force was further to the south-eastward than had been aniticipated, course was altered the the north-east under the stern of the convoy at 0020/5.
Shortly before 0300/5, HMS Anthony was sighted. She reported that the channel had been buoyed without difficulty, that at 0015/15 Winchester Castle was approaching position 'ZC' with the remainder of the ships closed up, and that conditions for landing were very good.
The time had come for the carriers to get to work, and at 0300/5 they, with HMS Paladin, HMS Panther, HMS Javelin and HMS Inconstant were detached to operate independently under Rear-Admiral Boyd, some 35 miles were of Cape Amber, while HMS Ramilles with HMS Lookout, HMS Duncan and HMS Active kept within visual supporting distance.
THe carrier had barely moved off when the first news was received by the Admiral from the ships inshore. It was a signal time 0318/5 from HMS Laforey reporting that mines had been cut near position 'JJ'. A long pause then followed. About 0440/5 star shell was seen, which were taken to be from HMS Hermione.
At 0540/5 another signal came in from HMS Laforey reported no sign of oppostion on the shore. Further signals from her reported No.7 battery captured with negligible opposition, native troops surrendering, and the advance continuing. No.8 battery could not be found and was apparently non-existent, and the situation was under complete control. Later it was reported that mines were delaying the move to the main anchorage.
Signals were also received from HMS Hermione and the carriers, reporting the progress of their activities. At 0836/5, HMS Illustrious reported that there were no submarines remaining in Diego Suarez harbour and all ships were then warned that most likely two of them would be at sea in the area.
At 0719/5, a reply on the ultimatum was received from the French stain that they would defend to the last.
By 0720/5, the Combined Commander-in-Chief felt that the assault had made a very good start. Troops were advancing, prisoners taken, HMS Hermione diversion had proceeded satisfacorily, air attacks had been successful both on the aerodrome and on ship. On the debit side it was clear that unswept mines in Courrier Bay were causing delays in disembarkation, and the rejection of the ultimatum showed that opposition might be expected to stiffen.
During the forenoon, though news was somewhat scanty it seemed that the disembarkation was proceeding steadily, and the assault was advancing to their objectives it was evident that resistance was increasing. Rear-Admiral Boyd, confirmed that there were no submarines in harbour and that a sloop was seen undeway. She was later attacked by Swordfish aircraft from HMS Illustrious. She was hit forward and was beached but she remained in action.
At noon on the 5th, Major-General Sturges, who was on board HMS Ramillies expressed a wish to disembark, so the flagship shaped course for position 'ZB'. At 1420/5 the General and hi staff were transferred to HMS Anthony for passage ashore. The information on board HMS Ramillies at that time was that Headquarter, No.5 Commando was east of Andrakaka village and that they were advancing with very little resistance.
HMS Ramillies then proceeded towards a position some 88 miles to the westward of Cape Amber, being joined by the carriers at sunset. A message was received that the attack on the Antsirane position was held up but that a fresh assault would be made at daylight. Air support was asked for and this was arranged.
During the night of 5/6 May 1942, Group I cruiser in the vicinity of position 12°S up to 100 miles from Cape Amber. At 0148/6, a situation report timed 2200/5 was received. It stated that the advance of troops had been delayed but that new attacks had been planned for the following day.
On receipt of this signal, HMS Devonshire was ordered to join HMS Hermione to the eastward of Diego Suarez to give supporting fire to upcoming assaults.
At 0400/6, the carriers and their escort were detached to carry out flying operations, and the bombing of enemy positions south of Antsirane started at 0500/6, followed up by machine-gun attacks by Martlets at 0530/6. A bombing attack was also launched on the aerodrome at first light. Enemy Potez 63 bombers were engaged over the town by fighters from HMS Illustrious, which shot down two for certain, and probably a third. Fighters from HMS Indomitable attacked the sloop D'Entrecasteaux, which was firing on out troops. The sloop was set on fire.
As it was uncertain when entry into the harbour of Diego Suarez would be possible, Rear-Admiral Syfret decided to refuel HMS Ramillies and her destroyer screen after detaching the carriers. The destroyers were then to swap places with the ones escorting the carriers so that these could also refuel. They accordingly proceeded to Ambararata Baym anchoring near position ZD at 0722/6. Twenty minutes later HMS Auricula broke in two and sank, while attempts were being made by HMS Freesia to tow her to shallow water. No life was lost.
The general situation at 0900/6 was as follows; HMS Devonshire and HMS Hermione were concentrated east of Diego Suarez, and the minesweepers HMS Cromer, HMS Cromarty, HMS Romney, HMS Nigella had also proceeded to this area. No report had been received of the progress of the land assault on Antsirane. At 0600/6, HMS Lightning had bombarded an enemy machine-gun nest which had been re-estalished on Windsor Castle. HMS Pakenham also fired a few rounds on this target. HMS Laforey from position 'JJ' was just opening fire on the D'Entrecasteaux, which had extinguished the fire caused by the air attack and was still flying her battle ensign.
At 1009/6, HMS Laforey reported the sloop again on fire with ammunition exploding. She then joined HMS Lightning near 'Red' beach and with her bombarded a position south of Antsirane.
During the forenoon, 6th May, no information was forthcoming as to the progress of the assault, and it was not until 1250/6 that the Admiral learnt that it had failed. Of the situation as it appeared that afternoon the Admiral says: At about 1400/6 the General arrived on board. He was hot, begrimed and unhappy. Things were not going well, he said. French resistance was heavier then expected and they appeared to be well organized and equipped.
The Admiral offered the General " any and all assistance " the fleet could give. The enemy's position was outside the range of the Ramillies and cruisers guns, but aircraft bombing was promised. Then came a suggestion which had a substantial effect. The General asked if it would be possible to put 20 or 30 seamen ashore on the Antsirane Peninsula to create a diversion in the enemy's rear. It was decided to try to land 50 marines there from a destroyer. Assistance might be forthcoming from No.5 Commano which was in control of Andrakaka Peninsula, but this would depend on their finding boats to cross Port Nievre.
At was then 1430/6and the party had to be collected, a destroyer told off and a passage of 100 miles to be accomplished. The Admiral recommended that the hour for the attack should be put off till 2030 hours. HMS Anthony was called alongside and instructions were given to her Commanding Officer, Lt.Cdr. Hodges and to Captain Price, Royal Marines who was to lead the landing party. The General then left the flagship in order to organise the night attack by the 17th Brigade. The 50 marines were embarked in HMS Anthony by 1530/6, one hour ater the decision to make the ettempt - and at 1545/6 she cast off. The Admiral then proceeded to sea in HMS Ramillies, keeping within 45 miles of position 'ZB' in order to facilitate wireless communication with the Army.
The impression left on Rear-Admiral Syfret after the General's visit was that the intended quick capture of Diego Suarez was a 90 per cent failure. The night attack, planned in a hurry, to be carried out by tired troops against very strong positions, had only a small chance of success. Prolonged operations, which we so much wished to avoil, was the unpleasant alternative. The Anthony' chance of success the Rear-Admiral assessed at about 50 per cent though his advisers thought only 15 per cent. They thought that the Royal Marines would not survive the night. The next few hours were not going to be happy ones they thought.
Meanwhile the landing on the beaches had continued throughout the day. By 1700/6, 10000 men were ashore.
The capture of Antsirane, 6 May 1942.
After leaving Ambararata Bay at high speed, HMS Anthony ran into a heavy sea. Most of the marines were sick - a sorry start for the task before them.
Cape Amber was abeam at 1805/6, course was altered to 170° a quarter of an hour later and speed was reduced to 13 knots. Thanks to echo sounding and RDF little difficulty was experienced in making the entrance to Diego Suarez Harbour, and speed was increased to 22 knots at 2001/6 when 1 mile from the entrance. The ship was apparently unobserved till she was through Oranjia Pass and half a mile to the westward, when fire was opened by Nos. 2, 4 and 5 batteries and later by No. 1 battery. About 25 rounds were fired. HMS Anthony replied briskly with her after 4.7" guns (the two foremost would not bear), the port pom-pom and Oerlikon, and the enemy ceased fire at 2018/6, when course was altered to 212° short of Nosi Langor.
It had been intended to go alongside the deep water quay, port side to, where it was hoped men from No.5 Commando would be waiting ti help berth the ship. They had failed, however, to find any boats to bring them across from Andrakaka, and in the darkness the jetty was overshot. HMS Anthony turned round and an attempt was made to go alongside starboard side to, but a strong off-shore wind prevented this so with supreme skill Lt.Cdr. Hodges held his stern against the jetty long enough for Captain Price to get his men ashore. Snipers were firing from the jetty and the wooded slopes from the eastward, but a constant stream of bright tracer from pom-pom, Oerlikon, Lewis and Bren guns evidently disconcerted them, and by the time the Marines disembarked the majority had ceased fire. HMS Anthony, having done her part, left at high speed. The barreries at Oronjia opened fire on her, but she was not hit, though some of the rounds fell rather close. She replied with rapid salvos from the whole gun armament. No.1 battery continued to fire till she was about 3 miles from the harbour entrance, when course was shaped to the northward to return to Ambararata Bay.
Meanwhile, Captain Price and his Marines - left entirely to their own devices, with no means of retreat - were groping their way south through the dockyard. In spite of fires still burning after the raids by FAA aircraft, it was very dark and they missed the turning to the eastward by which they had meant to enter the town. Progress was delayd by having to spread to avoid heavy casualties from rifle and machine-gun fire. For some time a high wall on their left forced them to parallel the town, but eventually they found a gap in it and Captain Price led them over a very high bank. It was a rough scramble which brought them to a wall and through a stiff wire fence into the compund of the artillery General's house. Captain Price occupied it with No.1 platoon while Lieutenant Powell, with the other platoon formed another strong point a few hundred yards down the road. Attempts to advertise the diversion by fires had little success as the houses seemed to be under construction and had nothing in them to burn.
Lieutenant Powell soon reached what proved to be the naval depot. A feeble fire was opened on his party, they replied with hand grenades, on which the defenders, headed by the Commandant of the barracks, proceeded to surrender. Lieutenant Powell had barely accepted the surrender when the drummer sounded off a call and was immediately 'overwhelmed' for his treachery by a posse of marines. The Commandant then explained that the call was the 'cease fire'. Apologies were made and accepted.
In the barracks were found three British Army officers with 50 other ranks, three FAA personnel, and a British agent who was awaiting execution next morning. Two or three thousand rifles and some heavy machine-guns were found in the artillery headquarters.
to Captain Price's astonishment crowds then appeared who wished to surrender, both from the naval headquarters as from the artillery depot. Rifle and machine-gun fire was opened on his party periodically from the right flank but this caused no appreciable inconvenience.
Meanwhile, the attack from the south by the 17th and 29th Brigades had commenced at 2030/6. The General had finally decided to use both brigades. Firing as sporadic until the success signal from the town showed that the Marines had landed. Then the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers and the 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers pressed home their attac and by 0300/7, Brigadier Festing was able to report that he was in complete possession of the town and its defences, and had received the personal surrender of the naval and military commanders and staffs. Rear-Admiral Syfret was of opinion that, on hearing the firing in the town, the men in the trenches made for the town to look after their homes and belongings, thus simplifying the task of our troops. Be that as it may, the town was in British hands that night, a result largely due to the success of the hazardous enterprise launched suddenly at the enemy's back door, and to the splendid leadership of both Captain Price and Lieutenant Powell as well as the fine qualities displayed by the whole landing party.
By 0800/7, the work of sorting out the prisoners was in full swing.
Occupation of Diego Suarez, 7 May 1942.
Whilst affairs in Antsirane were taking this happy turn, Rear-Admiral Syfret was cruising to the south-west of a line 300° from Nosi Fati, while the aircraft carrier to the north-eastward were carrying out flying operations in support of the night attack. The first indication or a possible success reached the Admiral at 2129/6, a signal from HMS Anthony reporting that she had accomplished her task successfully.
No news from the Army came in until 0103/7, when a requist came in for ship and air support at 0900/7 for an attack on Oronjia Peninsula by the 29th Brigade. From this it was clear that the night attack had succeeded. HMS Ramillies then shaped course to join HMS Devonshire and HMS Hermione to the eastward of te Oronjia Peninsula, in readiness to bombard.
During the night these were two submarine alarms. At 2345/6, HMS Genista reported a contact, 285°, 4 miles from Nosi Hara, She attacked with a pattern of 10 depth-charges before losing it at 0111/7. A search by HMS Pakenham, HMS Laforey and corvettes failed to regain contact.
At early dawn, 0504/7, a Swordfish from HMS Illustrious sighted a submarine, which proved to be the Le Heros, on the surface off Voailava Point, the northern entrance to Courrier Bay and immediately sank her with depth charges. 6 Officers and 44 ratings were picked up by HMS Pakenham and HMS Jasmine three hours later some 4 miles west of the position of the attack.
Meanwhile HMS Ramillies had joined HMS Devonshire and HMS Hermione at 0625/7. The squadron formed line ahead in the order Ramillies, Devonshire and Hermione. They were screened by HMS Paladin, HMS Panther, HMS Lightning and HMS Active. They were ready to open fire at 0900/7.
Then a message came in from the Army stating that the reorganisation of units in Antsirande had necessitated a revised plan, and the 17th Brigade would commence the attack on Oranjia Peninsula at noon/7. Bombardment was requisted as soon as possible after 1000/7, unless and ultimatum to surrender was accepted by the French. Orders were therefore given to open fire at 1030/7m but at 1003/7 came a signal that the chances of surrender seemed good and requesting a further postponement of action. The Admiral, however, was averse to keeping the Fleet steaming up and down in dangerous waters, and decided to commence a 15 minute bombardment ' to encourage the enemy to surrender'.
At 1040/7, fire was opened accordingly from a range of 20000 to 21000 yards, in order to keep outside the maximum range (18000 yards) of the 6.6" guns of No.1 battery, which was engaged by HMS Ramillies and HMS Lightning. Spotting aircraft failed to arrive and firing was carried out under very difficult condition, against targets seen only as the crests of a gently sloping ridge of hills, but despite this hanicap out of 23 15" shells fired, six fell in the immediate vicinity of the battery and quarters.
Great difficulty was experienced in spotting te fall of HMS Lightning's shot at this long range, and she fired only a few rounds. HMS Hermione fired half a dozen rounds at a battery which she had reported the previous day, but it was in thickly wooded country, and she was unable to identify it with certainty. HMS Devonshire did not fire at all, partly owing to the interpretation placed on signals received from the Army, and partly on accoint of the Admiral's instructions to conserve ammunition during the preliminary bombardment. Ten minutes after fire was opened, a message that Oronjia Peninsula had surrendered was reeived, and the bombardment ceased.
This ended the fighting. By 1620/7 the four minesweepers which had been standing by since the day before had swept the channel and harbour. At 1700/7, HMS Ramillies, HMS Hermione, HMS Paladin and HMS Lightning, entered Diego Suarez harbour. A bare 60 hours had elapsed since the initial landing in Courrier Bay.
The slow convoy had already sailed from Ambararata Bay at 1600/7 and the fast convoy followed the next morning. Both anchoring in Baie des Francais in the afternoon of the 8th. Rear-Admiral Boyd in HMS Indomitable also arrived on the morning of the 8th. When 7 miles to the eastward of Oranjia Pass she was attacked by a submarine - subsequently identified as the Monge - whose torpedo passed 50 yards ahead of the ship. HMS Active, joined later by HMS Panther, carried out two counter-attacks, which the wreckage and oil brought ti the surface proved to have been successful.
HMS Illustrious and HMS Devonshire remained at sea for a further 24 hours to provide fighter and A/S protection till 0800/9 when the joined the remainer of the force in Diego Suarez Bay.
- Personal communication
- ADM 234/331
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.