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ROYAL, DOMINION & ALLIED NAVIES in WORLD WAR 2

16. FINAL BATTLES for TUNIS & NORTH AFRICA,  BATTLE of ATLANTIC PEAKS, U-BOATS WITHDRAW,  'DAMBUSTERS' RAID'

February - May 1943

HMS Adventure, cruiser minelayer (Navy Photos, click to enlarge)

on to June-September 1943

 

Scene of May 1943 Convoy Battles (see May 1943)

...1943

FEBRUARY 1943

ATLANTIC - FEBRUARY 1943

4th-7th, Attack on Slow Halifax/UK Convoy SC118 - SC118, escorted by the British B2 group was heavily attacked in mid-Atlantic. A total of 20 U-boats sank 13 of the 63 merchantmen. However, on the 4th "U-187" was detected by HF/DF, hunted down and sunk by destroyers "Beverley" and "Vimy". Three days later, Free French corvette "Lobelia" sank "U-609" and a RAF B-17 Flying Fortress accounted for "U-624".

17th - Slow UK/North America convoy ONS165 and the escorting British B6 group were attacked east of Newfoundland. "U-201" was sunk by destroyer "Fame" and "U-69" by "Viscount". Only two merchantmen were lost. 22nd - U-boats attacked ON166 and its American A3 group in mid-Atlantic and sank 14 ships in the course of four days. In exchange "U-606" was depth-charged to the surface by Polish destroyer "Burza" and Canadian corvette "Chilliwack" and finished off when rammed by US Coast Guard cutter "Campbell". 23rd - UK/Caribbean tanker convoy UC1 lost badly to U-boats, but southwest of Madeira, "U-522" was sent to the bottom by cutter "Totland".

22nd - Mines laid by "U-118" in the Strait of Gibraltar sank three merchantmen and on the 22nd Canadian corvette "WEYBURN" as she escorted North Africa/UK convoy MKS8.

Russian Convoys - Russia-bound convoy JW53 sailed with 28 merchantmen. Six turned back because of the weather, but the rest reached Kola Inlet on the 27th. Return convoy RA53 with 30 ships lost three to U-boats in March. These were the last convoys to or from Russia until November 1943 - another nine months, because of the pressure of events in the North Atlantic

Monthly Loss Summary: 50 British, Allied and neutral ships of 310,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 1 corvette; 15 U-boats including 5 by RAF in North Atlantic and off Portugal and Gibraltar, 2 by RAF and US aircraft on Bay of Biscay patrols, 1 by US Navy in North Atlantic.

EUROPE - FEBRUARY 1943

23rd - On or around the 23rd, submarine "VANDAL" was lost, cause unknown as she worked up in the Firth of Clyde area of Scotland. Next day, sister-boat "UREDD" of the Royal Norwegian Navy was sunk off Norway

Eastern Front - By mid-February in the Centre/South the Russians had liberated the cities of Kursk, Kharkov and Rostov-on-Don, but within a matter of days German forces started a successful counter-attack around Kharkov. In the South, with the Russian capture of Rostov-on-Don, the Germans left in the Caucasus were driven back towards the Taman Peninsula opposite the Crimea.

Monthly Loss Summary: 2 British, Allied and neutral ships of 5,000 tons in UK waters.

MEDITERRANEAN - FEBRUARY 1943

1st - As cruiser-minelayer WELSHMAN sailed from Malta to Alexandria after minelaying operations in the Strait of Sicily, she was sunk by "U-617" north of Bardia. 3rd - Italian destroyer "SAETTA" and destroyer escort "URAGANO", supplying Axis forces in Tunisia, sank on cruiser-minelayer Abdiel's mines northeast of Bizerta.

North Africa - As Rommel prepared his Mareth line defences in southern Tunisia, Eighth Army units crossed the border from Libya on the 4th. All of Libya was now in Allied hands and the Italian North African Empire ceased to exist. From Mareth, Rommel could switch his forces to the northwest or east as he wished. His supply lines were also much shorter. The battle for the rest of North Africa was not yet over. Leaving much of his forces to hold Mareth, in mid-month he launched an attack against the US Second Corps to the northwest. The aim was to break through the Allied lines around Gafsa and reach the sea near Bone. Gafsa soon fell and the Allies were pushed back in the Battle of Kasserine Pass and other passes. After a week of struggle the Axis forces were held. They withdrew to concentrate on the Mareth defences as the bulk of Eighth Army approached.

Northern Tunisia Campaign - German and Italian operations against Allied shipping off Algeria led to further losses: 6th - Canadian corvette "LOUISBERG" escorting UK/North Africa convoy KMS8 was torpedoed by German aircraft off Oran. 8th - The Royal Canadian Navy took its revenge when corvette "Regina" sank the Italian submarine "AVORIO" off Philippeville. 17th - A patrol of escort destroyers "Bicester", Easton", Lamerton" and Wheatland" shared in the sinking of two Axis submarines. The Italian "ASTERIA" went down off Bougie on the 17th. 23rd - Six days later the same escort destroyer patrol sank "U-443" to the northwest of Algiers.

Southern Tunisia Campaign - As the Mediterranean Fleet Inshore Squadron continued to support the advancing Eighth Army, ships were lost on both sides: 9th - Corvette "ERICA" on escort duty sank on a British mine off Benghazi. 17th - "U-205" attacked Tripoli/Alexandria convoy TX1 northwest of Derna, and was then sunk by South African aircraft of No 15 Squadron and destroyer "Paladin". 19th - Combined air and sea attacks also accounted for "U-562" northeast of Benghazi. This time the convoy was Alexandria/Tripoli XT3, the warships destroyers "lsis" and "Hursley" with aircraft from No 38 Squadron RAF.

Mediterranean Fleet - Adm Sir Andrew Cunningham returned to his old post as C-in-C, Mediterranean Fleet on the 20th.

Monthly Loss Summary: 14 British or Allied merchant ships of 53,000 tons

INDIAN & PACIFIC OCEANS - FEBRUARY 1943

Burma - Col Orde Wingate mounted the first Chindit Operation behind Japanese lines, northwest of Lashio. Success was limited, losses heavy and the survivors started to withdraw in late March 1943. In the south-west, the Arakan Offensive failed to make any progress.

Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, Conclusion - By the 8th, Japanese destroyers had quietly evacuated over 10,000 troops from the Cape Esperance area. This marked the end of one of the most intense struggles ever for a single island. In the seven main naval battles alone, US losses had been one carrier, six cruisers and eight destroyers plus the "Wasp" and Australian Canberra. Japanese losses were two battleships, one carrier, a cruiser and six destroyers.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 3 merchant ships of 16,000 tons; Pacific Ocean - 4 merchant ships of 19,000 tons

 

MARCH 1943

ATLANTIC - MARCH 1943

4th - In operations against the US/Gibraltar routes, "U-87" was sunk off Portugal by Canadian destroyer "St Croix" and corvette "Shediac". 11th - North American/UK convoy HX228 (60 ships), escorted by the British B3 group, lost a total of four ships. Destroyer "Harvester" rammed "U-444" but was disabled and the U-boat had to be finished off by French corvette "Aconit". "HARVESTER", now stationary, was sunk by "U-432" which was in turn brought to the surface in mid-Atlantic by "Aconit's" depth charges and finally destroyed by gunfire and ramming.

Battle of the Atlantic - Throughout the war a large proportion of the losses due to U-boats were among independently routed merchantmen and stragglers from convoys, but in March 1943 the Germans came close to overwhelming well escorted convoys. Between the 7th and 11th, slow convoy SC121 lost 13 ships. Worse was to come between the 16th and 20th in the largest convoy battle of the war - around HX229 and SC122. Over 40 U-boats were deployed against the two as they slowly coalesced in the mid-Atlantic air gap until there were 100 ships plus their escorts. Twenty U-boats took part in the attacks and sank 21 merchantmen before additional air and surface escorts finally drove them off. A RAF Sunderland accounted for the one U-boat destroyed. Again the German B-Service was responsible for providing Doenitz' packs with accurate convoy details and routeing. These losses took place at another turning point in the secret war around the Enigma codes. Early in the month the U-boats changed from three-rotor to the far more complex four-rotor 'Triton' code. Yet by month's end this had been broken by the men and women of Bletchley Park and their electromechanical computers. The Allies' tremendous advantage was restored. This came at the same time as a number of other developments which together brought about a complete reversal in the war against the U-boats.

The first five Royal Navy support groups with modern radars, anti-submarine weapons and HF/DF were released for operation in the North Atlantic. Two were built around Home Fleet destroyers, two around Western Approaches escorts, including Capt Walker's 2nd Escort Group, and one with escort carrier Biter. Escort carriers "Archer" and the American "Bogue" were also ready for action, but Dasher was unfortunately lost in UK waters. Nevertheless, the mid-Atlantic air gap was about to be finally closed. Another major breakthrough was again in the air war. Aircraft were being fitted with the 10cm wavelength radar which was undetectable by U-boat Metox receivers. The new radar and the Leigh light made a powerful weapon against surfaced submarines, especially as they tried to break out through the Bay of Biscay air patrols. More VLR aircraft were also joining Coastal Command to further extend the Allies grip on the convoy routes throughout their length.  

Monthly Loss Summary: 90 British, Allied and neutral ships of 538,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 1 destroyer; 12 U-boats including 4 by the RAF in North Atlantic, 1 by RAF Bay of Biscay patrols, 1 by US aircraft off Barbados, 2 by US forces off the Azores and Canary Islands, 1 by unknown causes

EUROPE - MARCH 1943

Air War - RAF Bomber Command started the Battle of the Ruhr, a four-month long campaign against the cities and factories of Germany's main industrial centre.

27th - Escort carrier DASHER worked up in the Firth of Clyde after repairs to damage sustained during the February Russian convoy JW53. An aviation gasoline explosion led to her total destruction.

Eastern Front - Until now the Germans had held on to the salients in the Moscow area left over from the Russian winter offensive of 1941/42 in the North and Centre. Under attack they pulled back and straightened their lines. In the Centre and South, the Germans retook Kharkov, but the Russian Army held on to the salient around Kursk. As the front stabilised both sides prepared for the coming Battle of Kursk - the greatest tank battle of the war.

Monthly Loss Summary: 2 ships of 900 tons in UK waters.

MEDITERRANEAN - MARCH 1943

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".

Monthly Loss Summary: 16 British or Allied merchant ships of 86,000 tons

INDIAN & PACIFIC OCEANS - MARCH 1943

Burma - In the Arakan the Japanese went over to the attack and pushed back the British and Indian forces which by mid-May 1943 were back in India. The first of three Allied Arakan campaigns had been a failure.

New Guinea - Between the 2nd and 4th in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, US and Australian land-based aircraft annihilated a troop convoy bound for Lae from Rabaul. All eight transports and four escorting destroyers were sunk.

Aleutian Islands - Japanese supply operations to Kiska island in the North Pacific led to a cruiser gun action on the 26th - the Battle of Komandorski Islands. A cruiser on both sides was damaged, but the Japanese force turned back.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 10 merchant ships of 62,000 tons; Pacific Ocean - 2 merchant ships of 6,000 tons

 

PACIFIC OCEAN - STRATEGIC AND MARITIME SITUATION

At the Casablanca Conference in January, the Allied strategy for the South West Pacific was agreed. Twin offensives were to be mounted up the Solomons and along the New Guinea coast (and thence across to New Britain), leading to the capture of the main Japanese base at Rabaul - later by-passed. Breaking through the Bismarck Archipelago in this way would open the route to the Philippines. American strategy was subsequently revised to allow for a parallel push through the Japanese mandate islands to the north. Gen MacArthur, C-in-C, South West Pacific, had full responsibility for the New Guinea area, and Adm Halsey as C-in-C, South Pacific, tactical command of the Solomons. This overlapping caused some complications. Japanese resistance in both Papua and Guadalcanal pointed to many bloody battles in the months and years ahead. The US Seventh Fleet was formed to support Gen MacArthur's campaigning in New Guinea. For some time to come its main component (Task Force 74, previously 44) was Australian cruisers Australia and Hobart, some US destroyers and the Australian 'Tribal' destroyers "Arunta" and "Warramunga". Main US naval strength would remain with Adm Halsey's Third Fleet in the South Pacific Command area to which New Zealand cruiser Leander was assigned.

 

APRIL 1943

ATLANTIC - APRIL 1943

2nd - "U-124" on passage to the Freetown area encountered UK/West Africa convoy OS45 to the west of Portugal. Two merchant ships were sunk, but she was attacked by sloop "Black Swan" and corvette Stonecrop of the 37th EG and sunk in turn. 6th - In attacks on Halifax/UK convoy HX231 southwest of Iceland, two U-boats were lost - "U-635" to frigate "Tay" of the British B7 group and "U-632" to a RAF Liberator. Six of the convoy's merchantmen were lost to the 15-boat pack. (Note: the identity of these two U-boats is sometimes reversed). 7th - Submarine "Tuna" on Norwegian Arctic patrol sank "U-644" northwest of Narvik. 11th - Destroyer "BEVERLEY" of the British B6 group escorting convoy ON176 was sunk south of Greenland by "U-188". 18th - "U-123" on patrol south of Freetown torpedoed and sank "P-615" (ex-Turkish) on passage to the South Atlantic Command to provide anti-submarine training.

23rd-25th, Battle of Slow UK/North America Convoy ONS4 - ONS4 (these convoys were renumbered starting in March) was escorted by the British B2 group (Cdr Macintyre) and reinforced by the 5th Escort Group with escort carrier Biter. On the 23rd "U-191" was detected to the south of Greenland by HF/DF and sunk by destroyer "Hesperus" using the Hedgehog forward-throwing A/S mortar. Two days later on the 25th a Swordfish of 811 Squadron from "Biter" found "U-203" and destroyer "Pathfinder" finished her off.

Battle of the Atlantic - U-boat strength was up to 425 with 240 boats operational, and over half of them on passage through or on patrol throughout the North Atlantic. However, there was somewhat of a lull until the end of the month with the start of the ONS5 battle. A group also operated once again in the weakly defended Sierra Leone area. In just one night "U-515" sank seven of the 18 ships in Takoradi/Sierra Leone convoy TS37. Changes were again made in the Allies' responsibility for the North Atlantic routes. As agreed at the March 1943 Atlantic Convoy Conference in Washington: Royal Canadian Navy was to exercise full control of the northerly routes west of the 47W CHOP line - approximately south of Greenland; Royal Navy took over to the east of 47W; US Navy was to look after the southerly convoys, and also the CU/UC tanker routes between the West lndies and UK. With these organisational changes, the far more effective convoy Escort Groups, and the developments described in March, the scene was set for the decisive convoy battles of May 1943.

Monthly Loss Summary: 40 British, Allied and neutral ships of 242,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 1 destroyer and 1 submarine; 14 German and 1 Italian U-boats including 3 by the RAF in the North Atlantic and off the Canaries, 1 by RAF Bay of Biscay patrol; 1 by RAF-laid mine in the Bay of Biscay, 1 by RAAF north of the Faeroes, 3 to US forces in the North and South Atlantic, including the one Italian

EUROPE - APRIL 1943

War Crimes - The site of the massacre of Polish officers was found at Katyn near Smolensk: the Russians and Germans accused each other of the atrocity. In Poland itself the surviving Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto rose up against the Germans. SS troops were called in and by May the struggle was over. Those Jews not killed in the fighting were sent to extermination camps.

Eastern Front - In the South the Russians squeezed the Germans trapped in the Caucasus further into the Taman Peninsula across from the Crimea. Here they held out for a further six months until October.

Monthly Loss Summary: 5 British, Allied and neutral ships of 10,000 tons in UK waters.

MEDITERRANEAN - APRIL 1943

Tunisia - The Battle of Gabes in southern Tunisia started on the 5th when Eighth Army attacked the Wadi Akarit defences. Within two days the Axis were retreating. The same day - the 7th - US troops of Second Corps met Eighth Army units near Gafsa - the long awaited link-up. By the 10th Sfax had fallen to Eighth Army, but a British First Army breakthrough at Fondouk was too late to cut off the retreating Germans and Italians. The 14th saw the Axis well established in the main defence lines running around Tunis and Bizerta from Enfidaville in the south, through Longstop Hill and to the sea west of Bizerta. For the rest of April heavy fighting took place as the Allies slowly closed in.

16th - Destroyers "Pakenham" and "Paladin" out of Malta encountered an Italian convoy north of Pantelleria island. In a running gun battle with the four escorting torpedo boats, Italian "CIGNO" was sunk and another damaged, and "PAKENHAM" disabled. She had to be scuttled.

21st - Numerous Axis supply ships on the Tunisian route and elsewhere, and an Italian warship, fell victim to Royal Navy submarines. In return three were lost starting with "SPLENDID" to German destroyer "Hermes" (ex-Greek) south of Capri. 24th - After sinking a transport off northeast Sicily, "SAHIB" was counter-attacked by the escorts including a German Ju88 and finally sunk by Italian corvette "Gabbiano". 28th - "Unshaken" torpedoed and sank Italian torpedo boat "CLIMENE" off Sicily as she escorted a convoy. Mid/Late April - "REGENT" on patrol in the Strait of Otranto may have attacked a small convoy near Bari, Italy on the 18th, but there was no response from the convoy escorts. She failed to return to Beirut at the end of the month and was presumed lost on mines in her patrol area.

'The Man Who Never Was' - Submarine "Seraph" released the body of a supposed Royal Marine officer into the sea off Spain. His false papers helped to persuade the Germans that the next Allied blows would fall on Sardinia and Greece as well as Sicily.

Monthly Loss Summary: 6 British or Allied merchant ships of 14,000 tons

INDIAN & PACIFIC OCEANS - APRIL 1943

New Guinea - Australian troops made limited moves from Wau towards the coast south of Salamaua.

Japanese Navy - Adm Yamamoto, Commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet was killed when his aircraft was ambushed and shot down over Bougainville in the northern Solomons. His travel plans were known in advance through decoded intercepts. Since 1940 the Americans had been able to read the Japanese 'Purple' diplomatic and command ciphers.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 6 merchant ships of 43,000 tons; Pacific Ocean - 7 merchant ships of 35,000 tons

 

MAY 1943

ATLANTIC - MAY 1943

United States - Winston Churchill travelled in the troopship "Queen Mary" together with 5,000 German POWs for the Trident Conference, the third major meeting in Washington DC. The invasion of Sicily had now been agreed and he pressed for follow-up landings in Italy. The cross-Channel invasion of Europe continued to be a major topic of discussion and D-day was set for May 1944.

The May 1943 Convoy Battles - Victory of the Escorts
(see map above)

At the beginning of the month over 40 U-boats were deployed in three patrol lines off Greenland and Newfoundland. Another group operated to the far west of the Bay of Biscay. A number were passing through the northern transit area and over 30 on passage between their Biscay bases and the North Atlantic. More still were on patrol in the South Atlantic or passing through. There were numerous Allied convoys crossing the North Atlantic as suitable targets, starting with ONS5:

(1) Slow UK/North America ONS5 - On the 21st April, ONS5 sailed with 42 ships from Liverpool outward bound for North America. Escort was provided by the British B7 group (Cdr P. W. Gretton) with two destroyers, a frigate, four corvettes and two trawlers. The first threat was dealt with before the end of April when "U-710" was sunk by an escorting RAF B-17 Flying Fortress south of Iceland. The real battle started in early May, south of Greenland as all three U-boat patrol lines closed in. Before they arrived the escort was reinforced by the 3rd Escort Group (EG) from St John's, Newfoundland. Rough seas made refuelling difficult and some of the escorts had to leave. The 1st EG, also from St John's sailed to replace them. Over the next few days 13 merchantmen were lost, but at a cost of a further six U-boats. All went down in often confused fighting to the south of Greenland or northeast of Newfoundland. More still were damaged. Type 271 radar played a large part in the escort's successes. 4th - "U-630" to a RCAF Canso (Catalina). 5th - B7 group corvette "Pink" sank "U-192", sister ship "Loosestrife", also from B7 sank "U-638". 6th - B7 group destroyer "Vidette" sank "U-125". Destroyer "Oribi" detached from convoy SC127 to join B7 together with corvette "Snowflake" accounted for "U-531". (The identity of "U-125" and "U-531" is reversed in some sources). Finally, "U-433" was sunk by sloop "Pelican" of the 1st EG.

The surviving U-boats regrouped for attacks on other convoys, but in the area south of Greenland/northeast of Newfoundland as well as throughout the North Atlantic, merchantmen sinkings went down as U-boat losses mounted alarmingly. Much of this was due to the way escort groups (EG) moved from one convoy to another to support the existing escorts. The number of convoys crossing the North Atlantic in both directions was truly impressive and the main movements in May, together with the U-boats sunk is listed here:

(2) North America/UK HX236 - 46 ships escorted by British B1 group and 2nd EG (Capt Walker); no merchant ship losses.

11th - "U-528" was damaged by US aircraft in an earlier attack on ONS5. Now southwest of Ireland, she was sunk by sloop "Fleetwood" and RAF aircraft of No 58 Squadron.

(3) Slow UK/North America ONS6 - 31 ships escorted by British B6 group and 4th EG with escort carrier Archer; no merchant ship losses.

(4) North America/UK HX237 - 46 ships escorted by Canadian C2 group and 5th EG with escort carrier Biter (right - NavyPhotos). Three stragglers sunk in exchange for possibly three U-boats in mid-Atlantic: 12th - "U-89" to destroyer "Broadway" and frigate "Lagan", both of C2 group, assisted by Swordfish of 811 Squadron from "Biter" . 12th - RAF B-24 Liberator of No 120 Squadron damaged either "U-456" or "U-753", which may have been finished off by destroyer "Pathfinder" of the 5th EG. Alternatively one of these U-boat may have gone missing on the 15th. (Sources vary). 13th - Either "U-456" or "U-753" was then detected by RCAF Sunderlands of No 423 Squadron which brought up frigate "Lagan" and Canadian corvette "Drumheller" to sink the U-boat.

(5) North America/UK SC129 - 26 ships escorted by British B2 group, with 5th EG transferred from HX237 on the 14th. Two merchant ships lost in mid-Atlantic for two U-boats: 12th - "U-136" to destroyer "Hesperus" of B2 (Cdr Macintyre). 14th - "U-266" to a RAF B-24 Liberator of No 86 Squadron.

(6) UK/North America ON182 - 56 ships escorted by Canadian C5 group, with 4th EG and carrier "Archer" transferred from ONS6; no merchant ship losses.

(7) North America/UK HX238 - 45 ships escorted by Canadian C3 group; no merchant ship losses.

(8) Slow UK/North America ONS7 - 40 ships escorted by British B5 group, with 3rd EG transferred from ONS5. One ship lost for two U-boats destroyed in the vicinity of the convoy to the southeast of Greenland and south of Iceland: 14th - "U-657" to a US Navy Catalina. 17th - "U-640" to frigate "Swale" of B5. (The identity of "U-657" and "U-640" is reversed in some sources.)

(9) UK/NorthAmerica ON183 - 32 ships escorted by British B4 group, no merchant ship losses.

(10) North America/UK SC130 - 38 ships escorted by British B7 group, with 1st EG transferred from ONS5. No merchant ship losses in exchange for four U-boats south of Greenland: 19th - "U-954" to a RAF Liberator; "U-209" to frigates "Jed" and "Sennen" of 1st EG; and "U-381" to destroyer "Duncan and corvette "Snowflake2 of B7. 20th - "U-258" to another RAF Liberator - both VLR aircraft from the very successful No 120 Squadron.

(11) UK/NorthAmerica ON184 - 39 ships escorted by Canadian C1 group and US 6th EG with escort carrier "Bogue". No merchant ship losses in exchange for one U-boat: 22nd - "U-569" in mid-Atlantic to Avengers flying from "Bogue".

(12) North America/UK HX239 - 42 ships escorted by British B3 group and 4th EG and carrier "Archer" transferred from ON182 (and before that ONS6). No merchant ship losses in exchange for one more U-boat: 23rd - In the first success with aircraft rockets, "U-752" in mid-Atlantic was badly damaged by "Archer's" Swordfish of 819 Squadron, and scuttled as surface escorts approached.

23rd - Italian submarine "DA VINCI" returning from a successful patrol off South Africa was detected and sunk northeast of the Azores by destroyer "Active" and frigate "Ness".

By the 24th, U-boat losses were so heavy and the attacks so fruitless, Adm Doenitz ordered his captains to leave the North Atlantic battlefield. They either returned home or concentrated on the US/Gibraltar routes. It was some time before the Allies realised the North Atlantic was almost free of U-boats. The air and sea escorts were winning.

26th - "U-436" was sunk west of Cape Ortegal, Spain by frigate "Test" and Indian corvette "Hyderabad".

(13) North America/UK SC131 - 31 ships escorted by British B6 group, 3rd and 40th EGs; no merchant ship losses.

(14) Slow UK/North America ONS8 - 52 ships escorted by Canadian C4 group and 2nd EG (Capt Walker) transferred from HX236; no merchant ship losses.

(15) North America/UK HX240 - 56 ships escorted by Canadian C5 group and 2nd EG from ONS8. No merchant ship losses in exchange for one U-boat: 28th - "U-304" to a RAF Liberator of No 120 Squadron south of Greenland.

Summary statistics for these North Atlantic convoy actions

15 convoys totalling 622 merchantmen, seven British B and five Canadian C convoy groups, six British and one US supporting Escort Groups, three escort carriers

Well over 70 U-boats at sea, 23 German U-boats sunk

11 convoys were unscathed, four convoys lost 19 ships - a loss rate of 3 percent. Without the heavy losses of ONS5, loss rate was 1 percent

Without the U-boats sunk in attacks on OSN5, 16 U-boats were lost in exchange for 6 merchantmen

Monthly Loss Summary: 40 British, Allied and neutral ships of 204,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes; 37 German and 1 Italian U-boats. In addition to those lost in or around the convoy battles: 3 by RAF in North Atlantic, 6 by RAF and RAAF Bay of Biscay patrols, 4 by US forces in the North Atlantic, off Florida and Brazil, 2 by collision in the North Atlantic

EUROPE - MAY 1943

Royal Navy - After 2 years in post as C-in-C Home Fleet, Adm Tovey moved to command of The Nore. He was succeeded by Adm Sir Bruce Fraser.

The Dambusters' Raid - On the night of the 16th/17th, Wg Cdr Guy Gibson led No 617 Squadron in the famous raid on the Ruhr dams. Two dams were breached by Barnes Wallis' bouncing bombs, but the damage to German industry was not great.

Resistance Forces - In occupied Europe, Tito's partisan armies continued to hold down large numbers of German troops in Yugoslavia. In France the various resistance groups met to co-ordinate anti-German activities.

Monthly Loss Summary: 1 merchant ship of 1,600 tons in UK waters.

MEDITERRANEAN - MAY 1943

North Africa and Tunis, The End for the Axis - The Allied Armies continued to push on, and on the 7th Tunis was taken by the British, and Bizerta by the Americans. The Axis surrender came on the 12th and nearly 250,000 Germans and Italians were taken prisoner. All North Africa - French and Italian - was under Allied control after nearly three years struggle. 4th - As the Tunisian campaign ended, destroyers "Nubian", Paladin" and "Petard" sank Italian torpedo boat "PERSEO" and a supply ship near Cape Bon.

21st - Six Axis submarines were lost in May - two German to the RAF, two Italian to US forces, and two to the Royal Navy. The first RN success came on the 21st when submarine "Sickle" on patrol south of Toulon, France torpedoed "U-303".   25th - Four days later escorting corvette "Vetch" sank "U-414" northeast of Oran.

Merchant Shipping War - In the first five months of 1942 Allied forces had sunk over 500 Axis merchantmen of 560,000 tons throughout the Mediterranean. In contrast, the end of the Tunisian campaign marked a major upturn in the fortunes of Allied shipping. By mid-month minesweepers had cleared a channel through the Strait of Sicily, and the first regular Mediterranean convoys since 1940 were able to sail from Gibraltar to Alexandria (GTX). Return XTG's started in June 1943. The long haul around the Cape of Good Hope to the Middle East was no longer necessary, and the WS troop convoys were discontinued. The opening of the Mediterranean was equivalent to commissioning a large amount of new Allied merchant ship tonnage.

Monthly Loss Summary: 6 British or Allied merchant ships of 32,000 tons

INDIAN & PACIFIC OCEANS - MAY 1943

Royal Navy in the Pacific - After re-equipping with American aircraft and working-up out of Pearl Harbor, fleet carrier Victorious joined the Third Fleet under Adm Halsey seven months after a first USN request was made. From now until August 1943, she and "Saratoga" were the only Allied big carriers in the South Pacific. In the few months she was out there, there was not one carrier battle to follow on the 1942 Battles of Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz.

Aleutian Islands, Alaska - US troops landed on Attu island on the 11th. As usual the Japanese fought ferociously and the island was not secured until the end of the month. A few wounded were captured; the rest died in the fighting or by their own hand.

Merchant Shipping War - Adm Somerville's Eastern Fleet had lost its remaining carrier, two battleships and many smaller vessels to other theatres. An inadequate anti-submarine and escort force was left to deal with the submarines active in the Indian Ocean. Japanese boats were again being joined by German U-boats, and right through until December 1943 not many more than a dozen German and Japanese boats inflicted quite heavy losses throughout the length and breadth of the Indian Ocean. Between June and year's end they sank over 50 merchantmen.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 6 merchant ships of 28,000 tons; Pacific Ocean - 5 merchant ships of 33,000 tons

 

DEFENCE OF TRADE - January 1942 to May 1943

Total Losses = 2,029 British, Allied and neutral ships of 9,792,000 tons ( 576,000 tons per month)

By Location

Location

Number of British, Allied, neutral ships

Total Gross Registered Tonnage

North Atlantic

1,234

6,808,000 tons

South Atlantic

97

611,000 tons

UK waters

105

248,000 tons

Mediterranean

129

598,000 tons

Indian Ocean

230

873,000 tons

Pacific Ocean

234

654,000 tons

By Cause

Causes in order of tonnage sunk
(1. 4. ... - Order when weapon first introduced)

Number of British, Allied, neutral ships

Total Gross Registered Tonnage

1. Submarines

1,474

8,048,000 tons

4. Aircraft

169

814,000 tons

5. Other causes

228

348,000 tons

6. Raiders

31

202,000 tons

2. Mines

71

172,000 tons

3. Warships

31

130,000 tons

7. Coastal forces

25

78,000 tons

 

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revised 24/12/10