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October - December 1943

HM S/M Stoic (CyberHeritage, click to enlarge)

on to January-May 1944


Battle of North Cape, sinking of 'Scharnhorst' (see December 1943)





Norway - Covered by battleships Anson and Duke of York and other units of the Home Fleet, US carrier "Ranger" launched air attacks against shipping off Bodo, northern Norway on the 4th. Four ships were sunk and others damaged.

8th - In attacks on Halifax/UK convoy SC143, "U-610" or "U-378" sank Polish destroyer "ORKAN" (ex-"Myrmidon") with an acoustic torpedo. Later in the day RAF and RCAF air escorts sank "U-419", "U-643" and "U-610".

16th-17th, Attacks on Convoys ON206 and ONS20 - Six U-boats were lost in exchange for a single merchantman in attacks on UK-out convoys ON206 (B6 group) and ONS20 (4th Escort Group). The 4th EG was mainly composed of the new US lease-lend 'Captain' class frigates. The B7 group commanded by Cdr Gretton first of all reinforced ON206. On the 16th, southeast of Greenland, RAF Liberators accounted for "U-470", "U-844" and "U-964". Next day on the 17th it was "U-540's" turn. Shortly after, as B7 transferred to ONS20, corvette Sunflower sank "U-631" with her Hedgehog. Still on the 17th, frigate "Byard" with the 4th EG escorting ONS20 sank "U-841". Cdr Gretton then took B7 to support nearby ON207.

23rd-29th, Attacks on Convoys ON207 and ON208 - South of Iceland, B7 reinforced ON207's already formidable escort consisting of the Canadian C1 group and Capt Walker's 2nd EG. On the 23rd a RAF Liberator of No 224 Squadron and B7 destroyers "Duncan" and "Vidette" shared in the sinking of "U-274". Three days later the RCAF got "U-420". Then on the 29th, by now with ON208, B7 ships "Duncan", "Vidette" and Sunflower sank "U-282". In less then two weeks in attacks on just four convoys, nine U-boats had been sunk by the highly efficient inter-service air and sea escorts.

31st - Northeast of the Azores, destroyer "Whitehall" and corvette "Geranium" of the British B1 group escorting North and West Africa/UK convoys MKS28 and SL138 detected "U-306" by HF/DF and sent her to the bottom.

Battle of the Atlantic - After lengthy negotiations ending in August 1943, Portugal granted the Allies the right to establish air and sea bases in the Azores as from October. This greatly extended the Allies' ability to cover the central Atlantic and the convoy routes between Britain and North and West Africa; also between North America and the Mediterranean.

Monthly Loss Summary: 13 ships of 61,000 tons and 1 destroyer; 23 U-boats including 4 by RAF and US aircraft in North Atlantic and off Portugal, 6 by US escort carriers Card, Core and Block Island off the Azores and in mid-Atlantic.


Royal Navy - Adm of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound, First Sea Lord since 1939, suffered a stroke in August 1943 at the time of the Quebec conference. He resigned and died on 21st October - Trafalgar Day. Adm Fraser was offered the post as Winston Churchill's first choice, but declined, and Adm Sir Andrew B. Cunningham filled the Navy's most senior position on the 15th.

23rd, Operation 'Tunnel' - Cruiser "Charybdis", accompanied by two fleet and four 'Hunt' class destroyers, sailed from Plymouth to intercept a German blockade runner off the coast of Brittany. Early in the morning the force was surprised by a group of torpedo boats. CHARYBDIS was hit twice by torpedoes fired by "T-23" and "T-27" sinking with heavy loss of life. 'Hunt' class escort destroyer "LIMBOURNE" followed her after a hit by "T-22".

Eastern Front - In the Centre and South the Russians made little progress against fierce German resistance. Further South still the remaining German troops in the Caucasus evacuated the Taman Peninsula and were ferried across to the Crimea.


Mediterranean Fleet - Adm Sir John H. D. Cunningham succeeded Adm Sir Andrew Cunningham as C-in-C in the middle of the month - they were not related.

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.

Italy - British units of the US Fifth Army entered Naples on the 1st as the Germans fell back, ready to make the Allies fight long and hard for every gain over the next eight months. As they held the line of the Volturno River in the west and the Biferno River in the east, they prepared their main defences - the Gustav Line - along the Garigliano and Rapido rivers below Monte Cassino, and on to Ortona on the Adriatic coast. On the west, Gen Mark Clark's Fifth Army managed to fight its way across the Volturno by mid-month and then came up against the formidable defences in front of the main Gustav Line. On the east, Gen Montgomery's Eighth Army had to cross a number of well-defended rivers before reaching the Line. By the end of the month he was over the Biferno and starting to cross the Trigno. While the struggle continued, Italy declared war on Germany on the 13th.

British Aegean Campaign - On the 3rd, German troops landed on British-held Kos, which fell next day. More German forces headed for the Kos and on the 7th a convoy of seven small ships and one escort was annihilated by cruisers Penelope and Sirius and two destroyers. As they withdrew through the Scarpanto Strait, "Penelope" was damaged in attacks by Ju87s and Ju88s. More sweeps and more supply trips led to further losses, particularly amongst the 'Hunts', through to November: 9th - Returning from a sweep west of Kos, cruiser "Carlisle" and destroyers were dive-bombed in the Scarpanto Strait area by Ju87 Stukas. CARLISLE was seriously damaged and never fully repaired; destroyer "PANTHER" was sunk. 17th - Cruiser Sirius was damaged by bombs south of Scarpanto Strait. 22nd - Greek 'Hunt' "ADRIAS" (right - CyberHeritage) was badly damaged off Kos on mines laid by the German "Drache", and as sister ship "HURWORTH" went to her aid, was also mined. She sank with heavy casualties. "Adrias" was not repaired. 24th - Destroyer "ECLIPSE" fell victim to the same minefield. 30th - Cruiser Aurora was damaged in bombing attacks.

31st - Five German U-boats set out for the Mediterranean, but one was sunk by the RAF while still in the Atlantic and two were disposed of by Gibraltar air and sea patrols. On the 31st destroyer "Douglas" and trawlers "Imperialist" and "Loch Oskaig" sank "U-732" off Tangiers. The second sinking was on the first day of November.

Monthly Loss Summary: 9 British or Allied merchant ships of 46,000 tons


New Guinea - Finschhafen was taken on the 2nd, but fighting continued in the area right through until December 1943 when the Australians started pushing slowly along the north coast towards Madang in parallel with their drive further inland.

North and Central Solomons, Battle of Vella Lavella - As nine Japanese destroyers completed the evacuation of the island on the night of the 6th/7th, they were intercepted by three US ships. A destroyer an each side was lost. In preparation for the invasion of the northern Solomons island of Bougainville, New Zealand troops were landed on the Treasury Islands on the 27th.

German Raiders - The last operational German raider was sunk on the 17th. Heading for Japan, "MICHEL" was torpedoed off Yokohama by US submarine "Tarpon". Since leaving Europe in March 1942 she had accounted for 18 ships of 127,000 tons.

Merchant Shipping War - RAF aircraft sank their second U-boat of 1943 in the Indian Ocean with "U-533" on the 16th in the Gulf of Oman.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 6 merchant ships of 26,000 tons; Pacific Ocean - 1 merchant ship of 7,000 tons




6th - Capt Walker's Escort Group with escort carrier "Tracker" patrolled east of Newfoundland in support of convoy HX264. "U-226" was sighted by "Tracker's" aircraft and destroyed by sloops "Starling", "Kite" and "Woodcock". Shortly after, "Starling" this time with "Wild Goose", accounted for "U-842".

19th-25th, Attacks on the UK/ North and West Africa Convoy Routes - Combined UK-bound convoys MKS30 and SL139 were escorted by the 40th Escort Group and joined in turn by the 7th, 5th and 4th EG's to the far west and northwest of Portugal. One merchantman was lost to air attack, but three U-boats went down in the fighting: 19th - "U-211" to a RAF Wellington. 20th - Frigate "Nene" and Canadian corvettes "Calgary" and "Snowberry" of the 5th EG sank "U-536". 21st - Frigate "Foley" and sloop "Crane" of the 40th EG accounted for "U-538". Northwest of Cape Finisterre, Hs293 glider bombs sank the one merchant ship lost. The surviving U-boats were next deployed against other convoys in the area. As the U-boats approached southbound convoys KMS30/0S59 they ran into the 4th EG, which had also been diverted: 23rd - Frigates "Bazely", "Blackwood" and "Drury" sank "U-648". 25th - Two days later "Bazely" and "Blackwood" sank "U-600". Later, in the same area around the Azores, a RAF Wellington accounted for "U-542", and aircraft from US escort carrier "Bogue" the "U-86".

Russian Convoys - For the first time since March 1943, Russian convoys sailed - setting out and arriving at the end of the month and in early December. Convoys JW54A and JW54B to Kola Inlet, and return RA54A and RA54B passed through a total of 54 ships without loss.

Monthly Loss Summary: 7 ships of 28,000 tons and 1 US destroyer off the Azores; 16 U-boats including 2 by RAF and US Bay of Biscay air patrols, 2 by RAF in North Atlantic and off the Azores, 3 by US forces in mid-Atlantic and off Ascension in the South Atlantic.


Air War - RAF Bomber Command launched the Battle of Berlin with heavy raids in the middle of the month. This was the first of 16 major attacks on the German capital through to March 1944.

Eastern Front - In the Centre/South, Russian forces captured Kiev, capital of the Ukraine on the 6th and pushed on. However, the Germans managed to counter-attack and recaptured some of the towns to the west of the city. A larger German counter-offensive in the same area faded out by early December. Further South the attacks towards Odessa finally cut off the Germans in the Crimea where they held out until May 1944.

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.

Monthly Loss Summary: 7 British, Allied and neutral ships of 13,000 tons in UK waters.


1st - The second U-boat lost to the Strait of Gibraltar defences following the sinking the day before was "U-340" to destroyers "Active" and "Witherington", sloop "Fleetwood" and RAF aircraft of No 179 Squadron.

Italy - In the west, Fifth Army struggled to make progress towards the main Gustav Line but was still short of the Garigliano River and Cassino. To the east, Eighth Army was over the Trigno and preparing to attack new German positions behind the Sangro River. A major offensive was launched on the 28th led by British and New Zealand troops with the aim of breaking through the East End of the Gustav Line and taking Ortona. Luftwaffe Field Marshal Kesselring was given command of all German forces in Italy. Right through until the end of 1944 he was responsible for the stubborn and skilful defence of the country against strong Allied attacks.

British Aegean Campaign, Conclusion - German forces landed on Leros on the 12th and captured the Island after four day's heavy fighting against the British and Italian defenders. The campaign came to an end when Samos was evacuated on the 20th, but not before two more 'Hunts' fall victim, this time to Hs293 glider bombs: 11th - "ROCKWOOD" was severely damaged off Kos following an attack with other destroyers on Kalymnos (Calino). She was not repaired and went into reserve. 13th - "DULVERTON" was sunk off Kos as she withdrew from searching for German shipping making for Leros. The cost of this abortive campaign to the Royal Navy could now be added up - four cruisers damaged with one never repaired, six destroyers lost or permanently out of action and others damaged. In addition the small Greek Navy had lost two destroyers.

Mid-November - Submarine "SIMOOM" sailed from Port Said on the 2nd for the Aegean and failed to answer a signal on the 19th. She was presumed mined although German records claim she was torpedoed by "U-565" off Kos on the 15th.

28th - On passage through the Mediterranean to join the Eastern Fleet, cruiser Birmingham was badly damaged northwest of Derna by "U-407".

Cairo and Teheran Conferences - On their way to Teheran to meet Marshal Stalin, Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt first stopped over at Cairo to discuss operations in Burma and China with Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek. Arriving at Teheran on the 28th, the agenda included the Allied invasion of Normandy and southern France, and Russia's agreement to declare war on Japan once the Germans were defeated.

Monthly Loss Summary: 10 British or Allied merchant ships of 68,000 tons


Bougainville, Northern Solomons - The large Japanese island garrison was mainly established in the south and so US Marines were landed on the weakly defended western side near Empress Augusta Bay on the 1st. They soon had a large beachhead, and it was not until March 1944 that the Japanese mounted a strong counter-attack. Two main naval battles resulted in November: Battle of Empress Augusta Bay - Japanese force of four cruisers and six destroyers sailed to attack the invasion shipping. On the night of the 1st/2nd in a confused night action with four US light cruisers and eight destroyers, the Japanese were driven off with the loss of a cruiser and destroyer. Battle of Cape St George - Five Japanese 'Tokyo Express' destroyers headed for the Bougainville area and early on the 25th were intercepted by five US destroyers off the southern tip of New Ireland. Three of the Japanese were sent to the bottom in the last of the numerous and hard-fought Solomon Islands actions that started only 15 months earlier with the Battle of Savo Island.

12th - On patrol off Penang, Malaya in the Malacca Strait, submarine "Taurus" sank the Japanese "I-34" sailing on a supply trip to Europe.

British Gilbert Islands, Central Pacific - US forces now started the advance through the Central Pacific with the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. Under the overall command of Adm Nimitz, C-in-C Pacific Fleet, Adm Spruance's Fifth Fleet landed US Marines and Army troops on the atolls of Tarawa and Makin respectively on the 20th. Both were strongly defended but US losses on Tarawa were particularly heavy, although as usual few Japanese survived. Both atolls were secured by the 23rd. Next day, escort carrier "LISCOME BAY" was sunk off Makin by a submarine. The next step would be to the Japanese Marshall Islands lying to the northwest.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 4 merchant ships of 29,000 tons; Pacific Ocean - 1 merchant ship of 7,000 tons




24th - Destroyer "HURRICANE" of the 1st EG with UK/African convoys OS62 and KMS36 was torpedoed by "U-305" or "U-415" northeast of the Azores. She was scuttled next day.

26th, The Battle of North Cape and Russian Convoy JW55B (see map above) - Russian convoys were still sailing in two sections. JW55A left Loch Ewe, Scotland on the 12th and arrived safely with all 19 merchant ships on the 20th. Adm Fraser with Duke of York went right through to Russia for the first time before returning to Iceland. Convoy JW55B, also with 19 ships, sailed for Russia on the 20th - three days later return convoy RA55A (22 ships) set out. Cover for both convoys through the Barents Sea was to be provided by Vice-Adm R. L. Burnett with cruisers Belfast, Norfolk and Sheffield which left Kola Inlet on the same day as RA55A - the 23rd. The Admiralty expected the 11in-gunned battlecruiser "Scharnhorst" to attack the convoys and Adm Fraser with "Duke of York" and cruiser Jamaica left Iceland and headed for the Bear Island area. "Scharnhorst" (Rear-Adm Bey) and five destroyers sailed from Altenfiord late on the 25th, Christmas Day. Early next morning JW55B was 50 miles south of Bear Island, the weather stormy, as the Germans headed north to intercept. Meanwhile Adm Fraser was 200 miles away to the southwest as Adm Burnett's cruisers approached the convoy from the east. At 07.30 on the 26th the German destroyers were detached to search for the convoy, failed to make contact and were later ordered home. They played no part in the battle.

First contact was just before 09.00 on the 26th when "Belfast" detected "Scharnhorst" by radar as she was heading south and only 30 miles east of the convoy. "Norfolk" engaged and hit the battlecruiser which turned north and away to try to get around to JW55B. Adm Burnett anticipated this move and instead of shadowing, carried on towards the convoy. "Belfast" regained contact at noon and all three cruisers opened fire. In the next 20min "Scharnhorst" was hit and "Norfolk" badly damaged by 11in shells. The German ship now headed south away from the convoy as Adm Burnett shadowed by radar. At this time, Adm Fraser was now to the south-southwest and in a position to cut off her retreat. He made radar contact soon after 16.00 at a range of 22 miles and closed in. Fifty minutes later at 1650, "Belfast" illuminated "Scharnhorst" with starshell and Adm Burnett's cruisers engaged from one side and "Duke of York" and "Jamaica" from the other. Hard hit, especially by the battleship's 14in shells, the German ship's main armament was eventually silenced. Finally the cruisers and accompanying destroyers fired torpedoes, 10 or 11 of which struck home, and soon after 19.30 "SCHARNHORST" went down. Only 36 men could be rescued. Now only "Tirpitz" remained as a potential big ship threat to the Russian convoys. On the 29th JW55B reached Kola safely. Return convoy RA55A was well clear of Bear Island by the time the battle had started and made Loch Ewe on 1st January. The second return half - RA55B of eight ships - left Russia on the last day of the year and got in on 8th January.

Monthly Loss Summary: 7 ships of 48,000 tons and 2 destroyers including one US in the North Atlantic; 1 German battlecruiser and 5 U-boats including 1 by RAF Bay of Biscay patrol, 3 by US Navy in Azores and Madeira areas, 1 scuttled after storm damage in mid-Atlantic.


28th, Battle in the Bay of Biscay - Eleven German destroyers and torpedo boats sortied into the Bay of Biscay to bring in the blockade-runner "Alsterufer". She was sunk by a Czech liberator of RAF Coastal Command on the 27th, and next day as the German warships returned to base they were intercepted by 6in cruisers Glasgow and Enterprise. Although outnumbered and out-gunned they sank 5.9in-gunned destroyer "Z-27" and torpedo boats "T-25" and "T-26". This marked the virtual end of German attempts to bring in vital supplies from the Far East by surface ships. Since 1941, of 35 ships that had set out, only 16 broke through Allied patrols.

Normandy Invasion - In late December the commanders for the invasion of Europe were announced. US General Eisenhower would be Supreme Allied Commander with Air Marshal Tedder as deputy. In charge of all naval operations under the code name 'Neptune' was Adm Sir Bertram Ramsey.

Eastern Front - Since October 1943, five Russian attacks in the Centre had been launched against the Germans west of Smolensk. The greatly outnumbered defenders held on, but the Russians now had a foothold back in Byelorussia. In the Centre/South all the Ukraine east of the Dnieper River together with deep bridgeheads across much of its length were now in Russian hands. They prepared to recover the rest of the Ukraine, push into the Crimea and move on Poland and Rumania.

Monthly Loss Summary: 1 merchant ship of 6,000 tons in UK waters.


Italy - Fifth Army continued its bloody struggle in the west of the country towards the Gustav Line, but had only just reached the Garigliano River and was still short of Cassino and the Rapido River. Meanwhile Eighth Army breached the Line in the east and the Canadians had taken Ortona, where the Allies remained until June 1944. Gen Montgomery, Eighth Army commander now returned to England to prepare for his part in the Normandy invasion. Gen Eisenhower also headed for England and Gen Sir Henry Maitland Wilson succeeded him as Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean. Later, in November 1944, Field Marshal Alexander took over this post.

War at Sea - With the surrender of the Italian fleet, the big ships of the Royal Navy were released for the Eastern Fleet and to prepare for the landings in Normandy. The remaining smaller vessels continued to escort the convoys needed to supply the Allied forces in Italy, and to support both Fifth and Eighth armies on their seaward flanks. The RN also went over to the offensive against Germany supply traffic down the west coast of Italy and also from the northeast through the Adriatic to Yugoslavia. From bases such as Corsica and Bari, light and coastal forces struck regularly at shipping, and also at land targets along the coast of Yugoslavia in support of Tito's partisan armies. A major disaster marred these successes on the 2nd when an air raid on Bari blew up an ammunition ship, with 16 more merchantmen lost in the resulting fires.

11th-16th, U-boats attacks on UK/North Africa Convoy KMS34 - Attacks were made on the convoy off the Algerian coast using acoustic torpedoes: 11th - "U-223" damaged frigate "Cuckmere". 12th - Northeast of Bougie, "U-593" sank 'Hunt' escort destroyer "TYNEDALE". A long hunt ensued by escort destroyers "Calpe" and "Holcombe" and US destroyers "Benson", "Niblack" and "Wainwright", in the course of which the U-boat managed to sank "HOLCOMBE". 13th - After more than 30 hours the escorts finally sent "U-593" to the bottom. Other US destroyers including "Niblack" sank "U-73" on the 16th. This was the 23rd U-boat lost in the Mediterranean in 1943.

Monthly Loss Summary: 18 British or Allied merchant ships of 83,000 tons


Burma - Under Adm Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia, Gen Slim's 14th Army prepared for a major offensive into northern Burma from the area of Kohima and lmphal in India. Preceding this would be a Second Arakan campaign to the south, and in the far north a parallel Chindit and American/Chinese operation in part to open a new route to the Burma Road from Ledo in India. The Arakan push started late in December. Throughout the rest of the war, Adm Mountbatten's plans to prosecute the campaign even more vigorously in South East Asia were continually frustrated by his lack of amphibious capability.

New Britain, Bismarck Archipelago - Gen MacArthur was ready to complete his part in the isolation of Rabaul by preliminary landings on the southwest coast of New Britain, followed by a major assault at the western tip of Cape Gloucester on the 26th. Cover was partly provided by Rear-Adm Crutchley with cruisers Australia and Shropshire. Fighting continued until March 1944 when, assisted by further landings, the western third of the island was secured. By November 1944, when Australian troops relieved the US forces, considerable numbers of Japanese were still penned in around Rabaul where they stayed until war's end.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean only - 5 merchant ships of 31,000 tons


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revised 24/12/10