Italy Declared War - Italy declared war on Britain and
France on the 10th. Two weeks later France was out of the
war. Still on the 10th, Australia, Canada, India, New
Zealand and South Africa declared war on Italy.
Situation - Mediterranean Seaboard of North
In the western
half of the Mediterranean, Britain and France between them controlled
Gibraltar at the narrow entrance from the
Atlantic, southern France, Corsica, Morocco,
Algeria and Tunisia. Malta at the centre was a
British colony. In the eastern half, Britain maintained a hold on Egypt
and the Suez Canal, Palestine and Cyprus. In the
Levant, Lebanon and Syria were French.
Italy stood astride the central
basin, with Italy itself, Sardinia and Sicily to
the north and Libya with its provinces of
Tripolitania and Cyrenaica to the south. Albania
on the Adriatic Sea and the Dodecanese Islands in
the southern Aegean off Turkey were Italian.
countries in the western Mediterranean were
Spain, and in the east, Greece and Crete,
Yugoslavia and Turkey.
Military and Maritime
Even allied to
France, Britain's position in the Mediterranean was
not guaranteed. Gibraltar may be secure,
assuming Spain's continued neutrality, but Malta
was considered indefensible in the face of
the Italian Air Force based in Sicily. As it
happened, only the later arrival of the German
Luftwaffe turned this threat into a near reality.
However, Malta's well-equipped base had to be
abandoned by the Mediterranean Fleet for the
poorer facilities at Alexandria in Egypt.
A large Italian army in Libya
and Cyrenaica) threatened Alexandria and the Suez
Canal, against which only a relatively small
British and Dominion force could be fielded.
Fortunately this had been reinforced earlier in
the year by Australian and New Zealand troops. These threats to
Malta and Suez depended on Italy taking and
holding the initiative. She did not. Malta became
a thorn in the side of Axis supply routes to
Libya. Over the next three years, Malta above all
was the pivot about which the whole Mediterranean
campaign revolved - both the problem of its
supply and its effectiveness as an offensive
base. Later Axis plans to invade the island, so
invaluable to the Allied cause come to nothing.
Major Naval Strengths
a small force of destroyers at Gibraltar,
largely for Atlantic convoy work, but the Western
Mediterranean was primarily the responsibility of
the French Navy - although British reinforcements
could soon be dispatched from the Home Fleet as
shortly happened. The Eastern Mediterranean was
in the hands of the Mediterranean Fleet and a
small French squadron based at Alexandria.
It was up to strength in major units but still
weak in cruisers, destroyers and submarines when
compared with the Italian Navy. This was partly
offset by the presence of carrier
Eagle to accompany battleships
Royal Sovereign and
Warspite. What the Mediterranean
in numbers was more than made up by the
aggressive fighting spirit of its
Commander-in-Chief, Adm Sir Andrew B. Cunningham,
his officers and men, and their training. The Italian
strength was in the Mediterranean:
Defeat of France
17th - The French
Government of Marshal Petain requested armistice terms
from Germany and Italy
capitulated and the Franco-German
surrender document was signed. Its provisions included
German occupation of the Channel and Biscay coasts and
demilitarisation of the French fleet under Axis control.
24th - Later in the
month Italian forces invaded southern France but with
little success. A Franco-Italian Armistice was signed on
the 24th, and included provision for the demilitarisation
of French naval bases in the Mediterranean.
Strategic & Maritime Situation following
the Fall of France
circumstances were transformed. From North Cape
in Norway to the Pyrenees at the Spanish border,
the coast of Europe was in German hands. In
addition, the majority of French possessions on
the Atlantic seaboards of Africa and the Americas
were under the control of Vichy France, and thus
denied to British forces. Worse still was the
danger of their occupation by the Axis powers.
The naval situation was similarly
transformed. Not only was the French fleet denied
to the Allies, but the great fear was it would be
seized by the German and Italian navies and
totally alter the naval balance of power. The French
Navy refused to make for British ports and
most of the modern ships sailed for French North
and West Africa. The uncompleted battleships
Jean Bart and Richelieu
reached the Atlantic ports of Casablanca in
Morocco and Dakar in Senegal respectively.
With the fall of
France, Italy continued to dominate the
central Mediterranean. The situation in the
western basin became difficult. Shipping between
Gibraltar and Malta could no longer rely on
Algeria and Tunis for protection. At the eastern
end, Lebanon and Syria went over to Vichy France
and in time endangered Britain's position in the
Middle East. Fortunately the situation was also
helped by the French Fleet staying neutral
and out of Axis hands - that is, until its
sovereignty was under attack when the French Navy
fought back fiercely. The arrival of Force H
at Gibraltar went some way to offsetting the loss
of French naval power in the Western
French Navy in North Africa
3rd - Action at
Oran (Operation 'Catapult') - Adm Somerville
arrived with Force H off the French Algerian base
of Mers-el-Kebir near Oran. French Adm Gensoul
was offered a number of choices to ensure his
fleet with its four capital ships stayed out of
Axis hands. All were turned down and, at around
18.00, Force H opened fire on the anchored ships. "BRETAGNE" blew up and the "Dunkerque" and "Provence", together with other
ships, were badly damaged. Battlecruiser
"Strasbourg" and some destroyers
managed to break out in spite of attacks by
aircraft from "Ark Royal", and reach
Toulon in the south of France. Three days later
the damaged "Dunkerque" was torpedoed at her moorings
by Ark Royal's Swordfish. The tragic and unhappy
episode was over as far as Oran was concerned.
4th - A
more peaceful solution to the French naval
presence was found at Alexandria. Adm
Cunningham was able to reach agreement with Adm
Godfrey on the demilitarisation of battleship
"Lorraine", four cruisers and a number
of smaller ships.
No action was
taken against the new battleship Jean
Bart laying at Casablanca, Morocco
or the warships at Algiers.
For the Royal
Navy an unhappy but in British eyes,
necessary duty had been carried out against
our former French allies. French anger and
bitterness was understandably considerable.
Obsolescent torpedo-carrying Swordfish from carrier
"Eagle's" squadrons flew from land bases on
successful attacks against Tobruk and area. On the 5th,
aircraft of 813 Squadron sank Italian destroyer "ZEFFIRO" and a freighter at Tobruk. The
success was repeated two weeks later
20th - Carrier
"Eagle's" Swordfish continued their strikes
against Italian targets around Tobruk. In the nearby Gulf
of Bomba, 824 Squadron was responsible for sinking
destroyers "NEMBO" and "OSTRO" and another freighter.
Malta - The
decision was taken to reinforce Malta and carrier
"Argus" flew off 12 Hurricanes from a position
southwest of Sardinia. This was the first of many
reinforcement and supply operations, often bitterly
fought to keep Malta alive and in the fight against Axis
supply routes to their armies in North Africa. In the
middle of the month, Mediterranean Fleet battleships
"Warspite", "Malaya" and
"Ramillies" bombarded Italian positions around
Bardia in Libya, just over the border from Egypt.
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.
in the Mediterranean - Reinforcements were sent to
the Mediterranean Fleet in Alexandria right through until
the end of the year.
North Africa - From
bases in Libya, Italy invaded Egypt on the 13th.
Sollum just over the border was occupied and Sidi Barrani
reached on the 16th. There the Italian advance stopped.
Neither side made a move until December.
17th - Units of the
Mediterranean Fleet including battleship
"Valiant" sailed with "Illustrious"
for a raid on Benghazi. Swordfish biplanes torpedoed
destroyer "BOREA" and mines laid by them off the port sank "AQUILONE". On the return to Alexandria,
heavy cruiser "Kent" was detached to bombard Bardia, but was
torpedoed and badly damaged by Italian aircraft.
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
2nd - Mediterranean
Fleet destroyers "Havock" and "Hasty" sank Italian submarine "BERILLO"
off Sollum the border town between Libya and Egypt.
North Africa - Gen
Wavell launched the first British offensive on the 9th
against the Italian forces in Egypt. Sidi Barrani was
captured on the 10th and by the end of the month British
and Dominion troops had entered Libya for the first time.
The offensive continued until February by which time El
Agheila, half way across Libya and well on the way to
Tripoli, had been reached. Italian losses in men and
material were considerable. Units of the Mediterranean
Fleet including the small ship Inshore Squadron
and the Australian Destroyer Flotilla played an important
part in supporting and supplying the North African land
campaign. On the 13th, cruiser "Coventry"
torpedoed by Italian
submarine "Neghelli", but remained operational.
14th - Also
operating in support of the land campaign, destroyers
"Hereward" and "Hyperion" sank
Italian submarine "NAIADE" off Bardia, Libya just over the Egyptian
Theatre after Seven Months - Mussolini's claimed
domination of the Mediterranean had not been
apparent. In spite of the loss of French naval
power, Force H and the Mediterranean
Fleet had more
than held the Italian Navy in check. Malta had
been supplied and reinforced, and the British
offensive in North Africa was underway.
Elsewhere, the Greeks were driving the Italians
back into Albania and away to the south the
Italian East African Empire was about to be wound
up. However, it was now only a matter of months
and even weeks before the Luftwaffe appeared in Sicily, Gen Rommel in North Africa and the German Army in Greece, followed by their
Paratroops in Crete
Convoy "Excess" -
All merchantmen reached their destinations
safely, but at a cost of a cruiser and destroyer sunk,
and the loss of carrier "Illustrious'" vital
North Africa - As
the British advance into Libya continued, 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.
Air War - Hurricane
fighters, transported to Takoradi in West Africa, started
to arrive in Egypt after flying across the continent.
North Africa - British
armoured forces crossed the Libyan desert to a point
south of Benghazi and cut off the retreating Italians.
The resulting Battle of Beda Fomm starting on the
5th inflicted heavy losses. Australian troops captured
the major port of Benghazi at the same time, and by the
9th El Agheila was reached. There the advance stopped.
Large numbers of British and Dominion troops were now
withdrawn for transfer to Greece, just as the first units
of the Afrika Korps under Gen Rommel arrived in Tripoli. 24th
- Destroyer "DAINTY" escorting supplies to Tobruk with the
Inshore Squadron, was sunk off the port by German Ju87
25th - On patrol
off the east coast of Tunisia, submarine
"Upright" torpedoed and sank Italian cruiser "ARMANDO
DIAZ" covering a
North African convoy from Naples to Tripoli.
North Africa - In
command of German and Italian troops, Gen Rommel started
his first offensive with the capture of El Agheila on the
24th. Within three weeks the British and Dominion forces
were back in Sollum on the Egyptian side of the border.
Malta - Late in the
month a small Malta convoy sailed from the east covered
by the Mediterranean Fleet. These were the first supplies
to arrive since the January 'Excess' operation. In the
intervening two months Malta had been heavily attacked by
the Axis air forces hoping to neutralise the island as a
base for air and sea attacks against the supply routes to
31st - Cruiser "BONAVENTURE" with a Mediterranean Fleet cruiser
force escorting a convoy from Greece to Egypt, was
torpedoed and sunk to the southeast of Crete by Italian
North Africa - Germans entered Benghazi on the
4th and by mid-month had surrounded Tobruk and reached
the Egyptian border. Attacks on the British and
Australian troops defending Tobruk were unsuccessful, and
an eight-month siege began. This took place as the
Germans invaded Yugoslavia and Greece,
and a pro-German coup in Iraq threatened Allied
of Sfax, Tunisia - Capt
P. J. Mack with destroyers "Janus",
"Jervis", "Mohawk" and
"Nubian" sailing from Malta intercepted on the
16th a German Afrika Korps convoy of five transports
escorted by three Italian destroyers off Kerkennah
Islands, east of Tunisia. All Axis ships were sunk
including the destroyers "BALENO" (foundered next day), "LAMPO" (later salvaged) and "TARIGO". In the fighting "MOHAWK"
torpedoed by "Tarigo" and
had to be scuttled.
April/early May - Two submarines operating out of
Malta against Axis shipping were lost, possibly due to
mines - "USK" in the Strait of Sicily area and "UNDAUNTED" off Tripoli. "Usk" may
have been sunk by Italian destroyers west of Sicily while
attacking a convoy.
Mediterranean Operations -
(1) Five fast transports sailed from
Gibraltar with tanks and supplies urgently needed for the
Army of the Nile (Operation 'Tiger'). Four arrived
safely. (2) On passage they were accompanied by
battleship "Oueen Elizabeth" and two cruisers
sailing to join the Mediterranean Fleet. (3)
Other units of the Mediterranean
Fleet shell Benghazi, Libya on the night of the 7th/8th.
(4) After covering the 'Tiger' convoy,
"Ark Royal" joined by carrier
"Furious" flew off more Hurricanes to Malta on
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. 25th -
Sloop "GRIMSBY" and the supply ship she was
escorting on the Tobruk run were sunk by bombers
northeast of the port.
Royal Navy Submarine
Operations - "Upholder" (Lt-Cdr Wanklyn)
attacked a strongly escorted North African troop convoy
off the coast of Sicily on the 24th May and sank
18,000-ton liner "Conte Rosso".
- With German forces now in Greece and Crete the problems
of supplying Malta were even greater. Nevertheless the
men and material were fought through for the defence of
Malta and its use as an offensive base.
North Africa -
Another unsuccessful British offensive to relieve Tobruk
started from Sollum on the 15th (Operation 'Battleaxe').
Within two days the operation was called off. A heavy
price had to be paid for the supply of besieged Tobruk by
the Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy ships involved.
All trips took place under continual threat of German and
Italian aircraft attack. 24th - Sloop
was lost off Tobruk. 30th - Australian
was bombed and sunk off Bardia.
Submarine "Triumph" on patrol off the Egyptian
coast sank the Italian submarine "SALPA".
11th - On the
Tobruk Run, destroyer "DEFENDER"
was bombed by German or Italian aircraft
and went down off Sidi Barrani.
20th - Two more
British submarines fell victim to Italian anti-submarine
forces during North Africa convoy attacks in July - the
first was "UNION" to torpedo boat "Circe" off
Malta Convoy, Operation 'Substance' -
Six transports reached Malta safely
at a cost of cruiser "Manchester" hit and destroyer
sunk by aircraft torpedoes.
The second Royal Navy submarine loss to Italian
anti-submarine forces during convoy attacks was "CACHALOT" while on passage from Malta to
Alexandria, rammed by torpedo boat "Papa".
18th - Submarine "P-32"
was lost on mines off Tripoli as she
attempts to attack a convoy entering the port. "P.33"
was also lost around
the same time in this area, possibly on mines.
27th - Covering the
transport of troops into and out of besieged Tobruk,
hit by an aircraft torpedo.
North Africa, East
Africa & Near East - With the exception of small
parts of Ethiopia, the whole of the Middle East
with its vital oilfields and pipelines together
with East Africa were now under Allied control.
The battle for North Africa had nearly another
two years to run.
10th Submarine Flotilla
- was formed at Malta with the smaller 'U' class boats
which were more suited to Mediterranean conditions. On
the 18th, "Upholder" sank the 19,500-ton troop
transports "Neptunia" and "Oceania".
Between June and the end of September, submarines sank a
total of 49 ships of 150,000 tons. Added to the losses
inflicted by the RAF this represented a high proportion
of Axis shipping bound for Libya.
Malta Convoy: Operation 'Halberd' -
Eight transports reached Malta. The
cost included damage to battleship "Nelson" by an Italian aircraft torpedo and
one merchantman lost to air attack. By now in 1941, three
major convoys had reached Malta and nearly 40 merchantmen
had got through with only one sunk. The cost to the Royal
Navy had been one cruiser and a destroyer sunk, and a
battleship, carrier and two cruisers damaged.
Force K was formed at Malta as a Strike Force to add to
the offensive against Axis North African shipping by
submarines and aircraft. Under the command of Capt W. G.
Agnew were cruisers "Aurora" and
"Penelope", destroyers "Lance" and
Over a period of 10 days, cruiser-minelayers
"Abdiel" and "Latona" transported
troops and supplies to besieged Tobruk and carried out
Australian units. On the last mission "LATONA"
bombed and sunk north of Bardia by
Ju87s Stuka divebombers.
Action off Cape Spartivento, Southwest
Italy - An
RAF report of an Italian convoy in the Ionian Sea making
for North Africa, led to Force K sailing from Malta. The
convoy consisted of seven transports escorted by six
destroyers, with a distant cruiser covering force. Early
in the morning of the 9th, every one of the transports
and destroyer "FULMINE"
were sent to the bottom. Later, while
rescuing survivors, destroyer "LIBECCIO"
was sunk by submarine
Africa - A major British offensive (Operation
'Crusader') started on the 18th, again from the Sollum
area and by January had reached El Agheila. Axis forces
around Sollum and Bardia were by-passed in the drive on
Tobruk. The first link-up with the besieged garrison was
made by New Zealand troops on the 27th. 27th -
Australian sloop "PARRAMATTA" escorting an ammunition ship on the Tobruk
Run was sunk by "U-559" off the port. Since the
siege started destroyers and other warships had been
carrying in men and supplies almost nightly. As it came
to an end the cost could be counted - 25 warships of all
sizes and five merchantmen lost.
25th - Force K
hunted for Italian convoys to North Africa supported by
the Mediterranean Fleet with battleships
"Barham", "Queen Elizabeth" and
"Valiant". In the afternoon north of Sidi
was hit by three torpedoes from
"U-331" and as she slowly turned over and
capsized, splits apart in an almighty explosion. Just
before this tragedy, Force K had sunk two more Axis
supply ships west of Crete. At this stage 60 percent of
Axis North African supplies were being lost to attacks by
British aircraft, submarines and warships.
North Africa - As
fighting continued around Tobruk, Gen Rommel decided to
pull back to Gazala. Besieged Tobruk was completely
relieved on the 10th December. Under pressure, the German
Afrika Korps withdrew to El Agheila and on the 25th,
British forces entered Benghazi.
1st - Malta-based
Force K searching for Axis shipping encountered Italian
destroyer DA MOSTA north of Tripoli. She was sunk by cruisers
Aurora and Penelope and destroyer
Lively. Force K had now been reinforced by
cruisers Ajax and Neptune (soon
lost) and two more destroyers.
off Cape Bon, Tunisia - Destroyers Legion,
Maori, Sikh and Dutch lsaac
Sweers under the command of Cdr G. H. Stokes sailed
from Gibraltar to join the Mediterranean Fleet at
Alexandria. Off Cape Bon, Tunisia they sighted two
Italian 6in cruisers, DA BARBIANO and DI GIUSSANO returning from an aborted mission
to carry a deck cargo of petrol to Tripoli. In a short
night action on the 13th, and without being seen, the
destroyers quickly sank both cruisers with gunfire and
torpedoes. Italian loss of life was heavy.
First Battle of Sirte and Related Actions
- Italian convoy
operations to Libya led to major Royal Navy losses over
just a few days. A first Axis convoy bound for Benghazi
set out on the 13th, covered by an Italian
battlefleet. On receiving the news, Rear-Adm Vian left
Alexandria with a cruiser force to join up with Force K
from Malta. On the evening of the 14th, submarine
Urge torpedoed and damaged battleship Vittorio
Veneto off the
Sicilian Strait of Messina and the Italians cancelled
that operation. The cruiser forces returned to their
bases but as they did, Adm Vian's GALATEA
was hit by three torpedoes from
U-557 and went down off Alexandria that
night. Adm Vian went out again late on the 15th to
escort fast supply ship Breconshire from
Alexandria to Malta. On the 17th they met Force K
off the Gulf of Sirte, and shortly encountered Italian
battleships covering a second convoy, this time to
Tripoli. The two cruiser forces attacked and the Italians
withdrew in what becomes known as the First Battle of
Sirte. Breconshire reached Malta on the 18th
and Force K left harbour to search for the second convoy
still making for Tripoli. Early on the 19th off
Tripoli, the British force ran into an Italian minefield.
three or four mines and sank with only one man surviving.
was badly damaged and Penelope slightly. Trying to assist
Neptune, destroyer KANDAHAR
mined and had to be scuttled the
following day. Out of a three cruiser and four destroyer
force, only three destroyers escaped damage.
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. They both settled to the bottom
and the Mediterranean Fleet battle squadron ceased to
exist. News of the sinking was kept from the Italians.
23rd - A sizeable
number of German U-boats were now operating off the
coasts of Egypt and Libya and attacking convoys with
losses to both sides. On the 23rd, escorting destroyers
Hasty and Hotspur sank U-79 off Tobruk on the Libyan coast.
24th - The day after the sinking of
U-79 but further east off the Egyptian port
of Mersa Matruh, corvette SALVIA
was lost to U-568. 28th
- Four days later, destroyer Kipling sank U-75 in the same area.
17th - During the
month, Malta was resupplied by three small convoys coming
from the east. In the second, four fast transports left
Alexandria covered by Adm Vian's Mediterranean Fleet
cruiser force. On the 17th one of the close escorting
destroyers, "GURKHA (2)",
was torpedoed north of Sidi Barrani by
"U-133" and scuttled. Next day the surviving
ships were met by "Penelope" of Force K from
Malta, and got there on the 19th. During this period the
Italian Navy had escorted two substantial convoys to
North Africa in time for Rommel's next offensive. Malta
continued to be heavily bombed for many months by the
German and Italian Air Forces.
North Africa - By
the 6th the British advance had reached the German and
Italian lines at El Agheila. Just two weeks later on the
21st, Rommel started his second campaign. The first of
two phases took him as far as Gazala just to the west of
Tobruk. El Agheila soon felll and Benghazi was occupied
before the month was out. On 1st February Eighth Army
withdrew to Gazala and within a week Rommel had come up.
There he stayed until May 1942.
Malta - Three
escorted merchantmen covered by cruisers and destroyers
left Alexandria on the 12th for Malta. One was disabled
and the other two sunk by aircraft. There was little
relief for the island.
23rd - Submarine "P-38" attacked a heavily defended convoy
off Tripoli and was lost to the escorts' counter-attack
which again included Italian torpedo boat
Adm Vian's cruiser force returned to Alexandria after
searching for Axis North African shipping and covering
the passage of cruiser "Cleopatra" from Malta.
North of Sidi Barrani, flagship "NAIAD"
was torpedoed by "U-565" and
Second Battle of Sirte -
Adm Vian sailed on the 20th from
Alexandria with four fast supply ships for Malta escorted
by cruisers "Cleopatra", "Dido",
"Euryalus" and "Carlisle" plus
destroyers. Seven 'Hunt' class escort destroyers came
from Tobruk and as they carried out anti-submarine sweeps
ahead of the convoy, "HEYTHROP" was sunk off Sidi Barrani by
"U-652". The remaining six joined the convoy to
bring the total number of destroyers to 16. In action
with an Italian battlefleet on the 22nd, destroyers "Havock" and "Kingston's"
damaged by 15in hits. Unfortunately
all four transports including the renowned
"Breconshire" were lost to air attack, two off
Malta and two in harbour before much of their cargo could
be off-loaded. As the Hunt class "SOUTHWOLD" stood by "Breconshire"
on the 24th, she hit a mine and sank off the island.
26th - Destroyer "JAGUAR" and the tanker she was escorting to
Tobruk were both sunk by "U-652" off Sidi
Malta - By now
Malta had almost ceased to be of any value as a base for
attacking Rommel's supply lines, and most of his
transports were getting through. The German and Italian
bombing led to the loss, directly and indirectly, of
numerous ships including four destroyers and four
submarines. They concentrated on cruiser
"Penelope" in dry dock and destroyers
"Havock" and "Kingston" both damaged
in the Battle of Sirte.
14th - 10th
Flotilla lost its most famous boat when
(Lt-Cdr Wanklyn VC) was lost. She attacked an Axis convoy
northeast of Tripoli and was presumed sunk in the
counter-attack by destroyer escort "Pegaso".
27th - By this time
the 10th Submarine Flotilla had been ordered to left
for Alexandria on the
27th, but failed to arrive.
Destroyers "Jackal", "Jervis",
"Kipling" and "Lively" left
Alexandria to search for reported Axis shipping bound for
Benghazi. There was no fighter cover. On being sighted
they turned back, but north of Sidi Barrani (yet again)
were attacked by a specially trained anti-ship group of
German Ju88s. "KIPLING" and "LIVELY"
were sent to the bottom that evening,
was scuttled on the 12th. Only
"Jervis" with 630 survivors reached Alexandria.
North Africa - From
Gazala, Gen Rommel started the second phase of his
advance towards Egypt on the 26th with a main attack
around Bir Hakeim. Shortly afterwards, heavy fighting
broke out between there and Gazala around the areas known
as the 'Cauldron' and 'Knightsbridge'.
28th - "U-568" attacked Tobruk supply traffic,
was hunted down and sunk by destroyer "Hero"
and escort destroyers "Eridge" and
29th - In a series
of attacks on convoys bound for North Africa, submarine
"Turbulent" (Cdr Linton) sank three transports
in May and on the 29th torpedoed and sank escorting
Italian destroyer "PESSAGNO" northwest of Benghazi.
States - Winston Churchill flew to Washington DC for
another series of meetings with President Roosevelt.
Agreement did not come easily on the question of where to
open a Second Front in 1942. The Americans wanted to land
in France to take pressure off the Russians, but the
British considered this impossible at present and
proposed the invasion of French North Africa. The
President did not come to accept this until July.
Planning then started on what will be Operation 'Torch'.
North Africa -
After more than two weeks of fierce attack and
counter-attack, British forces pulled out of
'Knightsbridge'. Tobruk was surrounded by the 18th and
three days later surrendered. Another two days and the
Axis forces were back in Egypt. Mersa Matruh fell on the
28th and Eighth Army prepared to make its last stand at
El Alamein, just 60 miles from Alexandria and behind
there the vital Suez Canal. With this threat to Suez and
the Mediterranean Fleet's main base, warships and
supplies started to withdraw from the immediate danger
area. 2nd - Attacks on Allied shipping making for
Tobruk before its fall brought further losses to both
sides. Aircraft of FAA 815 Squadron and RAF No 203
Squadron damaged "U-652" off Sollum on the Egyptian/Libyan border.
She was scuttled by a torpedo fired from
"U-81". 12th - Ten days after the loss
of "U-652" and further east off Sidi Barrani,
escort destroyer GROVE was sunk
by "U-77" as she returned to Alexandria from
escorting supply ships to Tobruk.
Malta Convoys 'Harpoon' from Gibraltar,
'Vigorous' from Alexandria -
Just two of 'Harpoon's' six ships reached
Malta for the loss of two destroyers and serious damage
to three more and a cruiser. All the 'Vigorous' ships
were forced to turn back; one cruiser, three destroyers
and two merchant ships had been lost in the attempt.
North Africa - In
the First Battle of El Alamein, Rommel's German
and Italian army started its assault on the British
defences on the 1st. In three weeks of tough fighting,
British, Australian, New Zealand, South African and other
units of Eighth Army managd to hold on. Both sides then
Malta - Carrier
"Eagle" again flew off Spitfires for Malta.
Shortly after, "Unbroken" was the first 10th
Flotilla submarine to return to the Island.
Malta Convoy: Operation 'Pedestal'
- This was the biggest operation ever
mounted from the Gibraltar end. Only five out of fourteen
transports 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 tanker
"Ohio's" oil - were enough to sustain Malta as
an offensive base at a time critical to the coming Battle
of El Alamein.
22nd - Italian
torpedo boat "CANTORE"
was lost on mines laid by submarine
"Porpoise" northeast of Tobruk.
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.
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.
French North Africa -
In preparation for Operation 'Torch', US Gen Mark Clark
landed in Algeria from submarine "Seraph" to
help persuade the Vichy French authorities to support the
coming Allied landings. Gen Giraud was to be smuggled
from unoccupied France, again in "Seraph", to
head pro-Allied Frenchmen.
19th - South of
Pantelleria, submarine "Unbending" attacked an
Axis convoy bound for Tripoli, sinking a transport and
Italian destroyer "DA VERAZZANO".
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.
Malta - At the end
of the month, carrier "Furious" flew off
Spitfires to Malta. The island was even now short of
supplies and the little getting through was carried by
submarines and cruiser-minelayers.
30th - Destroyers
"Pakenham", "Petard" and
"Hero", escort destroyers "Dulverton"
and "Hurworth" and RAF aircraft of No 47
Squadron sank "U-559" north of Port Said. Egypt.
North Africa - By
the 4th the Second Battle of El Alamein had been
won by Eighth Army. Rommel's losses in men and material
were so great he withdrew, first to Fuka and then Mersa
Matruh. The British got there by the 7th. New Zealand
troops entered Sidi Barrani on the 9th and two days later
reached the Libyan border. As the remaining Axis troops
continued to fall back, Eighth Army entered Tobruk on the
12th and Benghazi a week later. Rommel had moved back to
the old 'start/finish' line of El Agheila by the end of
the month. Montgomery halted Eighth Army after a 600-mile
advance in 14 days.
French North Africa:
8th - French North
African Landings: Operation 'Torch'
By July 1942 the
Allies had accepted that a cross-Channel assault
on German-occupied Europe was not yet possible,
and instead opted to land an expeditionary force
in French North Africa. For political reasons the
main landing forces would be American. Their
arrival would be timed to coincide with Eighth
Army's offensive. Plans were formally approved in
October, by which time the large amounts of
shipping needed had been organised and assembled.
To provide them, Russian convoys and those to and
from Britain and Gibraltar/West Africa had been
suspended and the Home Fleet stripped bare. The
Allies' greatest concern was the hundred or more
U-boats at sea. Outline order of battle was:
Commander-in-Chief - US Gen
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Naval Commander Expeditionary Force - Adm Sir
33,000 US & British
Naval Task Forces:
Rear-Adm H K Hewitt USN
Cdre T H Troubridge
Vice-Adm Sir H Burrough
Troopships, supply ships, tankers etc
Most of the task force carriers were escort
carriers, and the US totals included a heavy
cover force. In the Mediterranean, British Force
H reinforced by Home Fleet and under the command
of Vice-Adm Sir Neville Syfret, covered the
Algerian landings. Their main task was to hold
off any attack by the Italian fleet. Strength
included three capital ships, three fleet
carriers, three cruisers and 17 destroyers.
Various other forces added to the number of
Allied ships in the area. Over 300 ships were
therefore directly involved in what at that time
was the greatest amphibious operation in history,
and the forerunner of even greater ones to come
before the war was won. Throughout October and
early November convoys sailed for the landings on
Vichy French soil in the early hours of the
8th. Negotiations with the French were not
completed in time to avoid resistance. There was
bloodshed on both sides.
Morocco - US
troops landed at three points along a 200-mile
stretch of Atlantic coastline. By the 10th they
prepared to attack Casablanca itself, but this
became unnecessary when the French forces stopped
fighting. Before this happened the Western Task
Force had fought a series of fierce actions with
Vichy French warships. Battleship "Jean
Bart" was seriously damaged and a cruiser
and several destroyers and submarines sunk or
Oran, Algeria - Within the Mediterranean,
the landings to the west and east of Oran were
followed by an attempt to smash through the
harbour boom and land troops directly from ex-US
Coast Guard cutters "WALNEY" (Capt Peters) and "HARTLAND". Both were disabled by
ship and shore gunfire and soon sank. (+ Capt
Frederick Peters RN of the "Walney" was
awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry. Five
days later he was kiIled in an aircraft
accident.) Cruiser "Aurora" (Capt
Agnew) and destroyers fought off an attack by
French destroyers outside the port. The large
destroyer "EPERVIER" was driven ashore
and "Tornade" and
"Tramontane" disabled. In addition,
destroyers "Achates" and
"Westcott" accounted for submarines
"ACTEON" and "ARGONAUTE". US
troops fought their way into Oran, which fell on
Algiers, Algeria - A similar opening attack
was mounted old destroyers "Broke" and
"Malcolm". The latter was badly damaged
but "BROKE" eventually brokes through
the boom to land her troops. Hard hit by shore
batteries, she got away but foundered next day on
the 9th. Algiers was soon in Allied hands
and Adm Darlan, C-in-C Vichy French forces was
captured. It was not Gen Giraud as originally
intended, but Adm Darlan who broadcast the
ceasefire on the 10th. Resistance was
stopped, but confusion reigned for a number of
days as the Vichy French authorities were
pressurised by both the Allies and Axis. However,
before long the forces of France were fighting on
the Allied side in French North Africa. Adm
Darlan was assassinated in late December and Gen
Giraud took his place.
On news of the 'Torch' landings, the first German
troops were flown across from Sicily to Tunisia
on the 9th and within two days started a large
-Throughout all these events Spain fortunately
stayed neutral. There was therefore no threat to
Gibraltar directly from Spanish troops, or from
Germans passing through the country. And the
Americans in Morocco were safe from attack by the
Spanish in Spanish Morocco.
9th - Off Oran the corvette "GARDENIA"
was lost in collision with armed trawler
"Fluellen". 10th - In addition
to the Atlantic approaches to Gibraltar, a large
number of German and Italian submarines were
concentrated in the Western Mediterranean to
attack the 'Torch' follow-up convoys. Transports
and escorting warships were sunk and damaged, but
losses were never great, and seven Axis
sunk in exchange. On the 10th,
was sunk by "U-431"
off Algiers and Italian submarine "EMO" (1) scuttled after an attack by
armed trawler "Lord Nuffield" . 10th
- Further Allied landings were made to the east
of Algiers along the Algerian coast, where there
was little air cover. Attacks by German aircraft
on these and other Algerian targets sank or
damaged a number of ships. On the 10th, sloop "IBIS"
hit by an aircraft torpedo and went
down off Algiers.
first of the further Allied troop landings were
made at Bougie and Bone on the 11th and 12th,
well on the way to the Tunisian border.
Warship Losses - continued,
- "U-660" (2)
sunk by escorting corvettes
"Lotus" and "Starwort"
northeast of Oran. 13th - Next day
"Lotus", this time with
"Poppy" accounted for "U-605"
Algiers. On the 14th and 15th respectively, "U-595" and "U-259"
sunk by aircraft. 13th -
"U-431" sent Dutch destroyer "lSAAC
to the bottom northwest of Algiers. 17th -
"U-331" (6) was damaged by RAF Hudsons of
No 500 Squadron and tried to surrender. Aircraft
of 820 Squadron from carrier
"Formidable" torpedoed her in error off
20th - Cruiser "Delhi"
damaged by bombs in Algiers Bay. 28th
- North of Bone the Italian
was sunk by destroyers
"Quentin" and the Australian
"Quiberon", now part of cruiser Force Q
operating out of Bone.28th - Destroyer "ITHURIEL" in harbour at Bone was
badly damaged in bombing attacks and not
The Relief of Malta - On the 17th a convoy of four ships,
escorted by three cruisers and 10 destroyers, left
Alexandria (Operation 'Stoneage'). Although cruiser "Arethusa"
was badly damaged by German torpedo
aircraft on the 18th and had to return with over 150
casualties, the convoy got through on the 20th. Its
arrival effectively marksed the lifting of the long and
bloody siege of Malta. Since Operation 'Excess' in
January 1941, two aircraft carriers, four cruisers, 16
destroyers and five submarines had been lost in the many
attempts to supply and reinforce the island, and in the
heavy air attacks launched against the George Cross
French North Africa
continued - After the Bougie and Bone landings in
eastern Algeria, British paratroops were flown into the
north of Tunisia and the advance began on Bizerta and
Tunis. US paratroops further south moved on to Gafsa from
where they threatened to take the coastal town of Gabes
and cut Tunisia in half. Fighting took place as the
Allies closed in, but by the time the main offensive
started on the 25th, the Germans had built up their
forces around both Bizerta and Tunis, and also occupied
the east coast towns of Sousse, Sfax and Gabes. However
by month's end, units of British First Army were within
12 miles of the Tunis.
French North Africa -
German forces counter-attacked in the north of Tunisia,
driving back the Allies. Much of the fighting took place
in the Battle for Longstop Hill near Medjez el
Bab. By the end of the year Axis forces had established
strong defence lines around Bizerta and Tunis, and were
holding on to the eastern half of the country. The Allies
had lost the race for Tunis. Throughout January 1943 both
sides attacked along the line, but without much success.
As this happened more and more German and Italian troops
were drawn into Tunisia. When the Axis command eventually
surrendered in May 1943, it had drained Sicily and Italy
of some of its best men.
Cruiser Force Q -
Based in Bone, Force Q and a new Malta-based cruiser
force took turns attacking Axis shipping bound for North
Africa. On the 2nd, Force Q with
"Sirius" and two destroyers went into action in
the Strait of Sicily. All four transports in a convoy and
Italian destroyer "FOLGORE"
sunk by gunfire. As they returned,
was lost to Italian torpedo aircraft
north of Cape Bon. 14th - Two weeks after Force
Q's success in the Strait of Sicily, cruiser "Argonaut"
badly damaged by Italian submarine
"Mocenigo" northeast of Bone.
Royal Navy Submarine
Operations - 6th - "Tigris" sank
Italian submarine "PORFIDO" north of Bone, Algeria near the Tunisian
border. 17th - North of Bizerta, Tunis,
"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
Attacks off Algeria
- Attacks on Allied shipping off Algeria led to more
losses in return for the sinking of one Italian
submarine. 9th - As destroyer "PORCUPINE"
depot ship "Maidstone" from Gibraltar to
Algiers, she was torpedoed and badly damaged off Oran by
"U-602", and never repaired. On the same day
corvette "MARIGOLD" was sunk by torpedo aircraft to the
west of Algiers while escorting North Africa/UK convoy
MKS3. 11th - Escort destroyer "BLEAN" sailing with fast North Africa/UK
convoy MKF4 was lost to "U-443" west of Oran. 13th
- Sloop "Enchantress" sank Italian submarine "CORALLO" off Bougie, Algeria.
- Porcupine's sister-ship "PARTRIDGE" was torpedoed by "U-565"
while carrying out an A/S sweep with Force H, and went
down off Oran.
North Africa - On
the 11th, Gen Montgomery resumed Eighth Army's advance.
Under direct and flanking attack, Rommel abandoned El
Agheila and withdrew to defence lines at Buerat on the
approaches to Tripoli. By now he had decided to make his
main stand on the Mareth line in southern Tunisia. Eighth
Army reached Buerat by year's end. 19th -
Escorting a convoy to Benghazi, corvette "SNAPDRAGON" was bombed and sunk off the port by