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HM Motor Torpedo Boat 218  (Navy Photos/Mark Teadham, click to enlarge)

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Western Europe was about to erupt. There was a lull in the Battle of the Atlantic as U-boats were withdrawn for the Norwegian campaign, and before surface raiders started operations and long-range aircraft and U-boats emerged from bases in France and Norway. Around the British Isles, aircraft and mines continued to account for merchant ships of all sizes, especially during the confused months of May, June and July 1940. During this time German E-boats commenced attacks in coastal waters. (Enemy or E-boat was the English term for German motor torpedo boats or S-boats, not to be confused with the heavily armed torpedo boats or small destroyers with their 'T' designation.) The comparatively low monthly average of 186,000 tons of merchant shipping lost in the first seven months was not seen for any more than a month or two for three long and deadly dangerous years - until mid 1943.


Germany invades Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg

23rd - French destroyer “JAGUAR” torpedoed and sunk by German E-boats “S-21” and “S-23” off Dunkirk.

29th - Royal Navy destroyer “WAKEFUL” sunk off Dunkirk beaches by a torpedo from E-boat “S-30”.

30th - French destroyer “SIROCCO” torpedoed and sunk by German E-boats “S-23” and “S-26”.


French Navy in the Atlantic - Carrier “Hermes” and cruisers “Dorsetshire” and Australian sister-ship “Australia” lay off Dakar, French West Africa on the 8th after negotiations were refused on the future of French battleship “Richelieu”. Attacks made with depth-charges from a fast motorboat failed.


Merchant Shipping War - With the Germans now so close to British shores, new coastal convoy routes had to be established and integrated with overseas convoys. The Thames/Forth FN/FS convoys between south east England and Scotland continued along the East Coast. Two additional routes were instituted: Forth/Clyde, EN/WN, around the north of Scotland between the east and west coasts; and Thames/English Channel, CW/CE, through the Strait of Dover to south and south west England. Channel losses were so heavy that CW/CE convoys were stopped for a while. On the 25th/26th, CW8 lost eight of its 21 ships to attacks by Stukas and E-boats. Four more merchantmen and two destroyers were damaged.


22nd - Land-based Swordfish from "Eagle's" 824 Squadron repeated their July success with another torpedo strike in the Gulf of Bomba near Tobruk. Just as she prepared for a human torpedo attack on Alexandria, submarine "IRIDE" and a depot ship were sunk.


30th - As Italian submarine "GONDAR" approached Alexandria carrying human torpedoes for an attack on the base, she was found by a RAF Sunderland of No 230 Squadron and sunk by Australian destroyer "Stuart".

DEFENCE OF TRADE - April to December 1940

U-boats and now long-range aircraft had taken a heavy toll of British, Allied and neutral shipping in the Atlantic, mainly in the North Western Approaches to the British Isles. Further afield surface raiders had sunk, captured and disrupted shipping as far away as the Pacific. U-boats also operated with success off West Africa. In UK waters, attacks by aircraft and E-boats had added to the continuous threat from mines. Over half the ships and 40 percent of tonnage had been lost close to home. Vital as the Battle of the Atlantic was, there could be no let up in the equally important battle for the coastal convoy routes once the ships reached UK waters. Only heavily escorted transports used the Mediterranean until 1943. The monthly loss rate in these months was twice that of the first seven months of the war, and each form of attack required a different technical and operational response by the Royal Navy and its Allies. The 1940 patterns of assault against the trade routes continued throughout 1941, although the U-boats moved further out into the Atlantic. By year's end they had reached the coasts of America.




Merchant Shipping War - Losses due to air attack and mines remained a major problem. Aircraft and E-boats had now added acoustic to the magnetic and moored contact mines in their armoury, but they never matched up to the threat the magnetic mines represented a year earlier.


North Africa - As the British advance continued into Libya, Bardia was taken on the 5th. Australian troops captured Tobruk on the 22nd and Derna, further west by the end of the month. The Royal Navy's Inshore Squadron played an important part in the campaign - bombarding shore targets, carrying fuel, water and supplies, and evacuating wounded and prisoners of war.


25th - Escort destroyer "EXMOOR" was the first of the 'Hunt' class to be lost, torpedoed off Lowestoft, east coast of England by German E-boat "S-30" while escorting Thames/Forth convoy FN417.


Merchant Shipping War - Royal Navy motor gun-boats (MGB's) were entering service to combat E-boat attacks on East Coast convoys. Improved motor torpedo boats (MTBs) were also being built to attack German coastal shipping. This marked the first step in the build up of Coastal Forces.


Greece - In the space of three weeks in March, 60,000 British and Dominion troops were carried from North Africa to Greece, escorted by the Royal Navy (Operation 'Lustre'). 6th - Italian submarine "ANFITRITE" attacked a troop convoy east of Crete and was sunk by escorting destroyer"Greyhound". 26th - At anchor in Suda Bay, northern Crete, heavy cruiser "YORK" was badly damaged by Italian explosive motor boats and beached. She was later wrecked by bombing and abandoned when Crete was evacuated in May.


East Africa - On the Red Sea coast of Italian East Africa, the capture of Eritrea was completed when Asmara was occupied on the 1st and the port of Massawa on the 8th. Two days earlier, Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, had been taken. Italian resistance continued mainly in the north of Ethiopia. 3rd - Leading up to the capture of Massawa, the surviving eight Italian destroyers and torpedo boats were lost or scuttled. On the 3rd, five seaworthy destroyers sailed to attack Port Sudan, Sudan further north along the Red Sea shore. Shore-based Swordfish from carrier "Eagle" sank "MANIN" and "SAURO". 8th - Before the final scuttling at Massawa, Italian MTB MAS-213 torpedoed and damaged cruiser "Capetown" escorting a convoy off Massawa. Four Italian submarines did manage to escape and eventually reached Bordeaux, France after sailing right round Africa.


North Africa - A British offensive started from the Sollum area on the 15th in an attempt to relieve Tobruk (Operation 'Brevity'). Two weeks later both sides were back to their original positions. The first of many supply trips to besieged Tobruk were made by Australian destroyers "Voyager" and "Waterhen" and other ships of the Inshore Squadron.


21st-24th, Malta Convoy, Operation 'Substance' - 'Substance' set out from Gibraltar with six transports covered by Force H with "Ark Royal", battlecruiser "Renown", cruisers and destroyers. Battleship "Nelson", three cruisers and more destroyers reinforced Force H from the Home Fleet. On the 23rd, south of Sardinia, sustained Italian air attacks started. Cruiser "Manchester" was hit and destroyer "FEARLESS" sunk by aircraft torpedoes. Next day the transports reached Malta safely. On the 26th the Italians launched an attack on Grand Harbour with explosive motor-boats, human torpedoes and aircraft, but failed to reach the recently arrived ships. By the 27th, Force H and a return empty convoy were in Gibraltar. During this operation, Mediterranean Fleet carried out diversionary manoeuvres in the eastern basin.


19th - That morning as Force K struggled to survive, three Italian human torpedoes launched from submarine “Scire” (Cdr Borghese) penetrated Alexandria harbour. Their charges badly damaged battleships “Queen Elizabeth” with Adm Cunningham on board and “Valiant”. Both settled to the bottom and the Mediterranean Fleet battle squadron ceased to exist. News of the sinking was kept from the Italians.


Pearl Harbor - Japanese midget submarines unsuccessful




Merchant Shipping War - E-boats and aircraft continued to attack British coastal convoy routes directly and with magnetic and acoustic mines. Convoy escorts and minesweepers fought back, supported by RAF Fighter Command, but they had their losses: 9th - Escorting a southbound East Coast convoy, destroyer "VIMIERA" was mined and sunk in the Thames Estuary.


11th-13th, The Channel Dash  - The Brest Squadron (Vice-Adm Ciliax) with "Scharnhorst", "Gneisenau" and "Prinz Eugen", heavily escorted by air and other naval forces, left late on the 11th for Germany in Operation 'Cerberus'. The aim was to pass through the Strait of Dover around noon the next day. A number of problems conspired to prevent the RAF standing patrols detecting their departure. The first intimation of the breakout came with a RAF report around 10.45 on the 12th as the German force steamed towards Boulogne. This left little time for attacks to be mounted. Soon after midday the first was made by five motor torpedo boats from Dover and six Swordfish torpedo-bombers of 825 Squadron (Lt-Cdr Esmonde), but no hits were made. All Swordfish were shot down. Lt-Cdr Eugene Esmonde was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. From then on, events moved swiftly. At 14.30 off the Scheldt, "Scharnhorst" was slightly damaged by a mine. An hour later, torpedo attacks by six destroyers from Harwich were unsuccessful. Twenty minutes later a heavy attack by the RAF failed. The German ships carried on and in the early evening off the Dutch Frisian Islands, first "Gneisenau" and then "Scharnhorst" (for the second time) hit mines. Both were damaged, but together with "Prinz Eugen" reached German ports in the early hours of the 13th. The escape was an embarrassment for the British Government, but a tactical victory for the German Navy was also a strategic gain for the Royal Navy. The Brest Squadron no longer directly threatened the Atlantic convoy routes, both battlecruisers were damaged and ten days later "Prinz Eugen" was badly damaged. Two weeks later "Gneisenau" was damaged even more in a RAF raid on Kiel and never went to sea again. A start was made on repair but in early 1943 she was laid up.

Bruneval Raid - Commandos carried out a raid on Bruneval in northern France to capture radar equipment. They were lifted off by Royal Navy coastal forces.


 Combined Operations - Lord Louis Mountbatten was promoted Vice-Adm and appointed Chief of Combined Operations as planning continued for the raids on St Nazaire and later Dieppe. 28th, Raid on St Nazaire - Concerned about the possibility of battleship "Tirpitz" breaking out into the Atlantic, the decision was made to put out of action the only dry-dock in France capable of taking her - the 'Normandie' at St Nazaire. Ex-US destroyer "Campbeltown" would be loaded with high explosives and rammed into the lock gates while British commandos, carried over in Royal Navy ML's or motor launches landed to destroy the dry-dock installations. The force sailed from southwest England on the 26th, and by a number of ruses penetrated the heavily defended port early on the 28th. In the face of intense fire, "Campbeltown" was placed exactly in position and many of the commandos got ashore to carry out their mission. Losses in men and coastal forces' craft were heavy, but when "CAMPBELTOWN" did blow up, the lock gates were put out of commission for the rest of the war and many Germans killed. + The Victoria Cross was awarded to three members of the Royal Navy taking part - Cdr Robert Ryder RN, Commanding Officer, Naval Forces sailing with his staff on board "MGB-314", Lt-Cdr Stephen Beattie RN, Commanding Officer, HMS Campbeltown, and posthumously to Able Seaman William Savage, gunner on "MGB-314" for gallantry under heavy fire.

15th - Destroyer "VORTIGERN" escorting Forth/Thames convoy FS749, was torpedoed and sunk by E-boat "S-104" off Cromer on the east coast of England.


13th - German raider “Stier” left Rotterdam for the Channel and operations in the South Atlantic. Off Boulogne she was attacked by RN coastal forces. One MTB was lost, but escorting German torpedo boats “ILTIS” and “SEEADLER” were torpedoed and sunk. “Stier” was free for four months until her eventual sinking.


8th - Submarine "OLYMPUS" sailed from Malta for Gibraltar with many passengers including the crews of bombed boats "P-36" and "P-39". Just off Grand Harbour she hit a mine laid by German E-boats and went down with heavy loss of life.


8th, Landings at Diego Saurez, Madagascar: Operation 'Ironclad' - Concerned about the Japanese carrier sorties into the Indian Ocean and the vulnerability of the Cape of Good Hope/Middle East convoy routes, Britain decided to take Diego Saurez at the north end of Vichy French Madagascar. Under the command of Rear-Adm E. N. Syfret (recently appointed to Force H), a large force of ships including battleship "Ramillies" and carriers "Indomitable" and "Illustrious" assembled at Durban, South Africa towards the end of April. The assault took place on 5th May in Courrier Bay to the west of Diego Saurez. As usual the Vichy French forces resisted strongly. Submarine "BEVEZIERS" was sunk, but the only Royal Navy casualty was corvette "AURICULA" mined on the 5th. The advance on Diego Saurez was held up and next day a Royal Marine unit stormed the town from the sea. By the 7th the fighting was over and the important anchorage was in British hands. On the 7th and 8th, French submarines "LE HEROS" and "MONGE" were sunk by joint air and sea attacks. On the night of the 30th, Japanese submarines "I-16" and "I-20" launched midget submarine attacks on Diego Saurez. "Ramillies" was torpedoed and badly damaged, and a tanker sunk. By September the complete occupation of Madagascar became necessary.


12th-16th, Malta Convoys 'Harpoon' from Gibraltar, 'Vigorous' from Alexandria - Six escorted merchantmen passed through the Strait of Gibraltar covered by battleship "Malaya", carriers "Argus" and "Eagle", cruisers "Kenya", "Charybdis", "Liverpool" and destroyers - this force comprised Operation 'Harpoon'. Attacks by Italian aircraft on the 14th led to the first merchant ship going down south of Sardinia. "Liverpool" was also damaged and had to return. Later that day at the entrance to the Strait of Sicily, the big ship cover force turned back. In the morning of the 15th, south of Pantelleria, an Italian two-cruiser squadron in conjunction with Italian and German aircraft attacked the by now lightly defended convoy. The five escorting fleet destroyers headed for the Italians, but "Bedouin" and "Partridge" were disabled by gunfire. Three more merchantmen were lost to bombing attacks and Italian torpedo aircraft finished off "BEDOUIN". Later that evening, as the seriously depleted convoy approached Malta, it ran into a minefield. Two destroyers and the fifth supply ship were damaged, but Polish escort destroyer "KUJAWIAK" was sunk. Just two of 'Harpoon's' six ships reached Malta for the loss of two destroyers and serious damage to three more and a cruiser. Meanwhile the Operation 'Vigorous' force of 11 ships and their escorts sailed from Haifa and Port Said, and were met on the 13th off Tobruk by Adm Vian with seven light cruisers and 17 destroyers. By the 14th, two ships had been lost to air attack and two more damaged. That evening Vian learnt an Italian battlefleet with two battleships, two heavy and two light cruisers plus destroyers had sailed south from Taranto. The chances of driving them off were slim. Early on the 15th the first of five (1-5) course reversals were made as 'Vigorous' tried to break through to Malta. As the convoy now headed back (1), German E-boats from Derna launched torpedo strikes. Cruiser "Newcastle" was damaged by "S-56" and destroyer "HASTY" sunk by "S-55". Around 07.00, when the Italian fleet was 200 miles to the northwest, the convoy turned back for Malta (2). Attacks by Malta-based aircraft were made on the main Italian fleet without serious effect, although they disabled heavy cruiser "TRENTO" which was finished off by submarine "Umbra". Between 09.40 and noon on the 15th, two more course reversals (3 & 4) were made so that once again the convoy was bound for Malta. All afternoon air attacks were mounted; and south of Crete, cruiser "Birmingham" was damaged and escort destroyer "AIREDALE" sunk by Ju87 Stukas. The convoy was now down to six ships when Australian destroyer "Nestor" was badly damaged. That evening 'Vigorous' finally turned back for Alexandria (course reversal 5). Now into the early hours of the 16th, cruiser "HERMIONE" was torpedoed and sunk by "U-205" and "NESTOR" scuttled. At this time, as the Italian fleet headed back for Taranto, a RAF Wellington from Malta torpedoed and damages battleship "Littorio". None of the 'Vigorous' ships reached Malta. One cruiser, three destroyers and two merchant ships had been lost in the attempt.


19th, Raid on Dieppe: Operation 'Jubilee' - Unable to open a Second Front in Europe, the Western Allies decided to mount a large-scale raid on the French coast to take some of the pressure off the Russians. The plan was for a largely Canadian force supported by British commandos to assault the defended port of Dieppe in northern France. Over 200 ships and landing craft, including escort destroyers and coastal forces under the command of Capt J. Hughes-Hallett sailed with 6,000 troops from south coast of England ports on the 18th. The attempted landings took place early on the 19th against heavy defensive gunfire. One flanking attack by commandos achieved some success, but the other and the frontal assault with tanks were total failures. By noon the decision was taken to withdraw. This went ahead under constant air attack and escort destroyer "BERKELEY" was bombed and sunk. Others were damaged. Canadian casualties in dead, wounded and prisoners were high, and Dieppe proved an expensive but important lesson on the problems of landing in occupied Europe at a defended port.


4th - Two more Axis submarines were lost at the far east end of the Mediterranean, this time off Palestine. The first was "U-372" sunk near Jaffa on the 4th by destroyers "Sikh" and "Zulu", 'Hunts' "Croome" and "Tetcott" and a RAF Wellington of No 203 Squadron. Back in June, "U-372" had sunk the valuable submarine depot ship "Medway" off Alexandria. 10th - The second loss was Italian. As they continued to mount special forces underwater operations and submarine "SCIRE" prepared to launch human torpedoes against Haifa in Palestine, armed trawler "Islay" found and sank her.

10th-15th, Malta Convoy, Operation 'Pedestal'  - For Malta to survive another convoy had to be fought through, and the biggest operation ever was mounted from the Gibraltar end. A total of fourteen merchantmen, including two American and the British-manned tanker "Ohio" (Capt D. W. Mason) had a massive escort. Close in under Rear-Adm Harold Burrough were cruisers "Nigeria", "Kenya", "Manchester" and "Cairo" and 12 destroyers. Covering were three fleet carriers "Eagle", "Indomitable" and "Victorious" each with their accompanying cruisers "Charybdis", "Phoebe" and "Sirius" respectively, battleships "Nelson" and "Rodney", and another 12 destroyers. Eight more destroyers sailed with the force - to give a total of 44 major warships. The opportunity would be taken for carrier "Furious" to fly off 38 Spitfires for Malta and the Mediterranean Fleet would try to distract the enemy at the other end of the Mediterranean. In overall command of 'Pedestal' was Vice-Adm E. N. Syfret.

The convoy passed Gibraltar on the 10th and from the next day was subjected to increasingly intense attacks by submarines, aircraft and later coastal forces. Early on the afternoon of the 11th, "Furious" sent off her Spitfires and later that day headed back for Gibraltar. On the 12th one of her escorting destroyers "Wolverine", rammed and sank Italian submarine "DAGABUR" off Algiers. Still on the 11th and now north of Algiers, "EAGLE" was torpedoed four times by "U-73" and went down. Air attacks took place later that day and early on the 12th, but not until noon, south of Sardinia, did they gain their first success. Italian and German aircraft slightly damaged "Victorious" and hit a merchantman which later sank. More submarines then appeared and the Italian "COBALTO" was rammed by destroyer "Ithuriel". Once the convoy was north of Bizerta, Tunisia, submarine, aircraft and Italian MTB (MAS) attacks came fast and furiously. At 18.30, still on the 12th, aircraft badly damaged "Indomitable" putting her out of action and destroyer "FORESIGHT" was torpedoed by an Italian bomber and scuttled next day. The main Royal Navy cover force next turned back at the entrance to the 100 mile wide Strait of Sicily. The convoy carried on, still with 13 of the original 14 merchantmen afloat and its close escort of four cruisers and 12 destroyers.

Disaster struck soon after 20.00 to the northwest of Cape Bon. Three of the four cruisers were put out of action by Italian submarines. "Axum" and "Dessie" hit "Nigeria" and "Cairo" and the vital tanker "Ohio", and "Alagi" torpedoed "Kenya". "CAIRO" was scuttled and "Nigeria" headed back to Gibraltar. Around this time aircraft sank two transports. Cruiser "Charybdis" and two destroyers left the the main cover force and returned east to replace the lost ships. In the early hours of the 13th, the convoy was hugging the coast south of Cape Bon when Italian MTBs attacked. Four merchantmen were sent to the bottom and the last of the original close escort cruisers "MANCHESTER" was hit and scuttled. Air attacks later that morning accounted for one more merchantman and disabled another which was finished off in the evening. And to add to the torpedo hit, "Ohio" loaded with its highly inflammable cargo was now damaged by bombs and a crashing Ju87 Stuka. Including her, just five ships were left. Now into the afternoon of the 13th, three reached Malta. The fourth struggled in next day, but the crippled "Ohio", lashed to destroyer "Penn", only made port on the 15th. (Capt Mason was awarded the George Cross). By now the close escort had just returned to Gibraltar.

Earlier, an Italian cruiser force set out to add to the convoy's miseries, but turned for home. North of Sicily on the 13th it was sighted by submarine "Unbroken" (Lt A. C. G. Mars) and heavy cruiser "Bolzano" and light cruiser "Attendolo" were torpedoed and damaged. Only five out of fourteen transports had got through to Malta for the loss of one aircraft carrier, two cruisers and a destroyer sunk, and a carrier and two cruisers badly damaged. But the supplies delivered - and especially "Ohio's" oil - were enough to sustain Malta as an offensive base at a time critical to the coming Battle of El Alamein. More was still needed however, and only two days after "Ohio's" arrival, "Furious" flew off more Spitfires while submarines continued to make supply trips.

North Africa - Just as Gen Montgomery assumed command of Eighth Army, Rommel made his last attempt to get round the El Alamein defences. In the Battle of Alam Halfa, the German-Italian attack broke on the ridge of that name 15 miles behind the main lines. By early September he was back to his starting position. 29th - As escort destroyer "ERIDGE" returned from bombarding Axis positions west of El Alamein, she was torpedoed and badly damaged by a German E-boat. Back in port, she was declared a constructive total loss.


13th/I4th, Raid on Tobruk: Operation 'Agreement' - To help relieve the pressure on Eighth Army in the Alamein area, a combined operations raid was planned on Tobruk to destroy installations and shipping. An attack would be launched from the landward side by the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) while simultaneously destroyers "Sikh" and "Zulu" together with coastal forces craft would land Royal Marine and Army units from the sea. AA cruiser "Coventry" and 'Hunts' provided cover. In the night of the 13th/14th, a few troops got ashore but "SIKH" was soon disabled by shore batteries. She went down off Tobruk early in the morning of the 14th. As the other ships withdrew, heavy attacks by German and Italian aircraft sank cruiser "COVENTRY" and destroyer "ZULU" to the northwest of Alexandria. The land attack also failed.


14th - German raider "KOMET" attempted to pass down the English Channel on the way out for a second cruise. A force of British escort destroyers and MTBs attacked off Cherbourg, and in spite of a strong escort, she was torpedoed and sunk by MTB.236.


North Africa - With the Second Battle of El Alamein, Gen Montgomery started the last and decisive British campaign against Axis forces in Egypt. On the night of the 23rd a massive bombardment preceded the advance of first infantry and then armour through the German and Italian lines in the centre. Progress was at first slow and the battle became a straight slogging match. Australian troops played an important part with a thrust in the north near the sea. In the build-up to the battle, Royal Navy submarines and RAF aircraft, especially those based in Malta, were sinking more than a third of Axis supplies setting out for North Africa. As the offensive got underway, the Inshore Squadron continued to support and supply Eighth Army along its right, seaward flank.


3rd - Escort destroyer "PENYLAN", with Portsmouth/Bristol Channel convoy PW257, was sunk by E-boat "S-115" in the English Channel off Start Point.

'Cockleshell Heroes' - Maj H. G. Hasler led Royal Marine Commandos in canoes up the Gironde Estuary in southwest France and damaged several blockade runners with limpet mines on the 7th.


Royal Navy Submarine Operations - Throughout the month, British submarines were on patrol in the Western Mediterranean and lost four of their number. In return they sank several Axis ships including two Italian warships. Early December - "TRAVELLER" left Malta on 28th November for the Gulf of Taranto. Overdue by the 8th December, she was presumed mined in her patrol area. 6th - "Tigris" sank Italian submarine "PORFIDO" north of Bone. 12th - In the Gulf of Naples submarine "P-222" was lost to Italian torpedo boat "Fortunale" while attacking a convoy. 17th - North of Bizerta, "Splendid" sank Italian destroyer "AVIERE" escorting a convoy to North Africa. 25th - As an Axis convoy headed into Tunis, "P-48" attacked and was sunk by Italian destroyer escorts "Ardente" and "Ardito". Late December - At the end of the month submarine "P-311" sailed for Maddalena, Sardinia with Chariot human torpedoes for an attack on the cruisers based there. Her last signal was on the 31st December and she was presumed lost on mines in the approaches to the port.




Merchant Shipping War - By now the attack was being carried into the waters of German-occupied Europe by Royal Navy coastal forces, strike aircraft of RAF Coastal Command and minelayers of Bomber Command. German aircraft, E-boats and mines continued to threaten shipping around the coasts of Britain, but few ships were now being lost due to the combined effort of the RAF fighters, convoy escorts and minesweepers.


Axis Supplies to Libya - Final supply trips to Tripoli by Italian submarines led to more losses north of the Libyan capital. 14th - "NARVALO" was attacked by a RAF Beaufort and finished off by destroyers "Pakenham" and "Hursley", escorts with Malta/Alexandria convoy ME15. 20th - "SANTAROSA" was torpedoed off Tripoli by MTB-260, one of the growing number of coastal forces operating along the North African coast.


Royal Navy Submarine Operations - The Royal Navy lost three 'T' class submarines: February/March - "TIGRIS" set out from Malta on 18th February for a patrol off Naples. She failed to return to Algiers on the 10th March, possibly mined off the Gulf of Tunis as she returned. 12th - "TURBULENT" (Cdr Linton) attacked an escorted ship off Maddalena, Sardinia and was presumed sunk in the counter-attack by Italian MTB escorts. + Cdr John Linton RN was awarded the Victoria Cross for his record as commanding officer of "Turbulent". The award was not gazetted until May 1943. 14th - "THUNDERBOLT" was lost off the north entrance to the Strait of Messina to Italian corvette "Cicogna".

Tunisia - In the south, before his final recall from Africa, Field Marshal Rommel attacked Eighth Army positions in front of the Mareth Line, but was easily held. On the 20th the main Eighth Army offensive started with British and Indian forces going in near the sea, as the New Zealanders once again moved up to outflank. Meanwhile, from the northwest, the US Second Corps alongside the British First Army attacked towards Gafsa and Gabes, endangering the Axis rear. By the 29th, the Mareth Line was broken and the Germans and Italians had retreated to a strong position north of Gabes at Wadi Akarit. The Inshore Squadron was still in attendance on Eighth Army in the south and the battles of the supply routes in the north and south continued: 8th - Cruiser-minelayer "Abdiel" laid more mines in the Axis supply routes to Tunisia. The field north of Cape Bon sank three destroyers in March, starting with destroyer escort "CICIONE" on the 8th. 12th - In a sortie against Axis shipping bound for Tunisia, Force Q destroyer "LIGHTNING" was torpedoed and sunk off Bizerta by German E-boat "S-55". 19th - Attacks by German aircraft on Tripoli harbour sank two supply ships and damaged escort destroyer "DERWENT" so badly she was not fully repaired. This was the first German success using circling torpedoes. 24th - "Abdiel's" Cape Bon minefield sank two more Italian destroyers - "ASCARI" and "MALOCELLO".


Axis submarines had fewer successes than the attacking aircraft in and around Sicily. Two British cruisers were damaged, but in return 12 of their number were lost over the next four weeks into early August: 11th - "FLUTTO" off the southern end of the Strait of Messina in a running battle with MTBs 640, 651 and 670. 12th - "U-561" torpedoed in the Strait of Messina by MTB-81; Italian "BRONZO" captured off Syracuse by minesweepers "Boston", "Cromarty", "Poole" and "Seaham"; "U-409" sunk off Algeria by escorting destroyer "Inconstant" as she attacked a returning empty convoy. 13th - Italian "NEREIDE" was lost off Augusta to destroyers "Echo" and "llex"; north of the Strait of Messina "ACCIAIO" was torpedoed by patrolling submarine "Unruly". 15th - Transport submarine "REMO" on passage through the Gulf of Taranto during the invasion was lost to submarine "United". 16th - Cruiser "Cleopatra" was torpedoed and badly damaged off Sicily by submarine "Dandolo". 18th - "Remo's" sister-boat "ROMOLO" was sunk off Augusta by the RAF. 23rd - Cruiser "Newfoundland" was damaged off Syracuse by a torpedo from "U-407", and as Italian "ASCIANGHI" attacked a cruiser force off the south coast of Sicily she was sunk by destroyers "Eclipse" and "Laforey". 29th - "PIETRO MICCA" was torpedoed by submarine "Trooper" at the entrance to the Adriatic in the Strait of Otranto.

30th - "U-375" was lost off southern Sicily to an American sub-chaser.


22nd, Midget Submarine Attack on Tirpitz, Operation 'Source' - Battleship "Tirpitz" posed such a threat to Russian convoys and held down so much of Home Fleet's strength that almost any measures to immobilise her were justified. One gallant attempt was made in October 1942 when a small Norwegian fishing vessel "Arthur", penetrated to within a few miles of the battleship in Trondheimfiord with Chariot human torpedoes slung underneath. Just short of the target they broke away and the effort was in vain. Now it was the turn of midget submarines - the X-craft each with two 2-ton saddle charges. Six left for northern Norway towed by 'S' or 'T' class submarines. Two were lost on passage, but on the 20th off Altenfiord, "X-5", "X-6" and "X-7" set out to attack "Tirpitz" and "X-10" the Scharnhorst. "X-5" was lost and "X-10" was unable to attack, but "X-6" (Lt Cameron) and "X-7" (Lt Place) penetrated all the defences to reach "Tirpitz" laying in Kaafiord at the far end of Altenfiord. Both dropped their charges under or near the battleship before they sank and some of their crews escaped. "Tirpitz" managed to shift position slightly, but not enough to avoid damage when the charges went up. She was out of action for six months. Lt Donald Cameron RNR and Lt Basil Place RN were awarded the Victoria Cross.


Italy - Surrender and Invasion - The Italian surrender was signed in Sicily on the 3rd, but not announced until the 8th to coincide with the main Allied landing at Salerno, and in the forlorn hope of preventing the Germans from taking over the country. Before long they controlled north and central Italy, were fighting a delaying action in the south, had occupied Rome, regrouped their main forces near Naples, and had disarmed - often bloodily - Italian forces in the Dodecanese islands and Greece. Meanwhile the invasion and occupation of southern Italy got underway. A start was made on the 3rd when British and Canadian troops of Gen Montgomery's Eighth Army crossed over the Strait of Messina from Sicily in 300 ships and landing craft (Operation 'Baytown') and pushed north through Calabria, eventually joining up with forces landed at Salerno. Early on the 9th, in conjunction with these landings, the Eighth Army's 1st Airborne Division was carried into Taranto by mainly British warships (Operation 'Slapstick'). Shortly afterwards the Adriatic ports of Brindisi and Bari were in Allied hands. 9th - Around midnight in Taranto harbour, cruiser-minelayer "ABDIEL", loaded with 1st Airborne troops, detonated one of the magnetic mines dropped by E-boats "S-54" and "S-61" as they escaped, and sank with heavy loss of life.


SOE Raid on Singapore - Working for Special Operations Executive, a small group of Australian and British servicemen were carried from Australia in an old fishing vessel, and on the night of the 24th/25th penetrated Singapore harbour in canoes. Several ships were sunk. In a similar raid in September 1944 the attackers were captured and executed.


Early October - Two RN submarines failed to return from patrol in the month. The first was "USURPER" which left Algiers on 24th September for the Gulf of Genoa, and failed to answer a signal on the 11th. She may have been mined or fallen victim to German A/S forces. Mid-October - "TROOPER" set out from Beirut in the Lebanon on 26th September for Dodecanese patrol and did not get back on the 17th. German records claim she was sunk by a Q-ship off Kos on the 14th.


Merchant Shipping War - E-boats and mines were still capable of taking a toll of coastal shipping. On the night of the 4th/5th, Channel convoy CW221 lost three ships off Beachy Head to E-boat attack, and later in the month two more were mined off Harwich.




German Coastal Shipping - These surface actions were only part of the Allied air and sea offensive against German shipping off the coasts of occupied Europe, mounted by strike aircraft of Coastal Command, the MTBs and MGBs of coastal forces, and submarines patrolling off the Biscay bases. RAF Bomber Command also continued to lay mines in the Baltic.


6th - Normandy Invasion: Operation 'Overlord'  - Other warships, incl. minesweepers & coastal forces (Western Naval Task Force - 260 (135 RN, 124 US, 1 Allied); Eastern - 248 (217 RN, 30 US, 1 Allied))

(1) Home Command for follow-up escort and Channel patrols, plus reserves: 1 battleship (RN); 118 destroyers and escorts (108 RN, 4 US, 1 French, 5 Allied); 364 other warships including coastal forces (340 RN, 8 French, 16 Allied).

The assault forces sailed from their ports of departure on the 5th to a position off the Isle of Wight, and headed south through swept channels down 'The Spout' towards Normandy. Two midget submarines were already on station off the British sector, ready to guide in the landing craft. Partly because of elaborate deception plans, partly because of poor weather, both strategic and tactical surprise was achieved. The invasion was not expected in such weather conditions and certainly not in Normandy. The Germans expected the Pas-de-Calais with its much shorter sea-crossing to be the target although realised that diversionary landings might be made in Normandy.

Channel Patrols - Attempts by German light forces to interfere with invasion shipping had little effect and they suffered heavy losses.


Attacks on the beachhead shipping by E-boats and small battle units such as the newly introduced "Neger" and "Marder" human torpedoes had limited successes, but mines still caused the most damage: 20th - Destroyer "ISIS" was sunk by a mine or possibly a Neger off the beaches. 24th - Escort destroyer "GOATHLAND" was badly damaged by a mine and although saved, was not repaired.


German Coastal Forces Attacks - Coastal forces and small battle units continued to attack shipping off the invasion beaches, sinking and damaging a number of vessels in return for heavy casualties. 3rd - 'Hunt' class escort destroyer "QUORN" on patrol off the British sector was sunk, probably by a Linsen explosive motor boat. 9th - Old cruiser "Frobisher", acting as a depot ship for the British 'Mulberry', was badly damaged by a Dackel long range torpedo fired by E-boats.


Royal Navy Submarine Operations - These too drew to a close. With so few German targets left, the famous 10th Submarine Flotilla was disbanded although some of the boats continued to work out of Malta in the Aegean. The last British submarine sunk was "Sickle" three months earlier in June, the 45th Royal Navy submarine loss in the Mediterranean. From June 1940 to the end of 1944 the flotillas had accounted for: one million tons of Axis shipping in the Mediterranean theatre, three cruisers, over 30 destroyers, torpedo boats and German and Italian submarines. To these could be added the uncompleted light cruiser "Ulpio Traiano" sunk at Palermo in January 1943 by submarine-launched Chariot human torpedoes.




Merchant Shipping War - E-boats and small battle units continued operating out of Holland against Allied shipping in the North Sea and English Channel, and were now joined by Seehunde midget submarines. The new craft enjoyed some success, but mines remained the biggest problem for the Allies at sea. Allied air and sea patrols and minesweeping kept all these dangers under control.


12th - Attacks by German explosive motorboats were made on shipping in Split harbour, Yugoslavia, hitting a flak landing craft and damaging cruiser "Delhi" laying alongside.


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