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January - May 1944

HMS Queen Elizabeth, battleship (CyberHeritage, click to enlarge)

on to June-August 1944


Indian Ocean Theatre (see January 1944, Indian & Pacific Oceans)





7th - U-boats concentrated against UK/West and North African convoys, mainly to the west and southwest of Ireland, and eight were lost from all causes, but first the Royal Navy suffered a loss. As the 5th Escort Group swept to the west of Cape Finisterre, frigate "TWEED" was torpedoed and sunk by "U-305". Intense A/S activity further north saw "U-305" lost well before the month was out. 8th - "U-757" was sunk by frigate "Bayntun" and Canadian corvette "Camrose" of the 4th and 5th EGs escorting OS64/KM538. 13th - Northeast of the Azores "U-231" was lost to a RAF Leigh light Wellington. 15th - Off the Azores "U-377" was sunk by one of her own torpedoes. 17th - Back to the waters west of Ireland, and "U-305" was now sunk by destroyer "Wanderer" returning from a search for blockade runners. 19th - "U-641" attacked OS65 and KMS39 and went down to corvette "Violet" of the British B3 group. 28th - Operations against OS66/KMS40 led to the loss of "U-271" to a US Navy Liberator and "U-571" to a RAAF Sunderland flying boat - one of the famous "flying porcupines". West of Ireland "U-972" suffered the same "own-torpedo" fate as "U-377" two weeks earlier.

Russian Convoys - Escorting Russian convoy JW56B, destroyer "HARDY (2)" was torpedoed by "U-278" to the south of Bear Island on the 30th and had to be scuttled. On the same day destroyers "Whitehall" and "Meteor" of the escort sank "U-314". All 16 of JW56B's ships reached Kola Inlet. JW56A earlier in the month had not been so fortunate - of the 20 merchantmen, five returned due to the weather, and three were lost to U-boats.

Capt Walker's 2nd Escort Group - Capt Walker with sloops "Starling", "Kite", "Magpie", "Wild Goose" and "Woodpecker" accompanied by escort carriers Activity and Nairana arrived in the waters to the southwest of Ireland. Over the next three weeks the five sloops shared in the sinking of six U-boats operating against the convoys passing through the area. They started on the 31st when "Starling", "Magpie" and "Wild Goose" depth charged "U-592" to destruction.

Battle of the Atlantic - Over the next five months U-boat losses were so heavy that by May 1944, North Atlantic operations had virtually ceased. In this period only 25 merchant ships were lost in the North and South Atlantic at a cost of 77 U-boats from all causes. At the same time the Allies were not so successful against them as they passed through the Bay of Biscay from French bases and the Northern Transit Area from Norway, and direct from Germany. Now equipped with 10cm radar detectors they only lost five of their number in the Bay, but in mid-May were badly hit by RAF Coastal Command off Norway. By then the whole complexion of the U-boat war near the shores of Europe changed with the invasion of Normandy.

Monthly Loss Summary: 5 British, Allied and neutral ships of 36,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 2 destroyers including one US off New York, and 1 frigate; 14 U-boats including 2 by RAF and RAAF Bay of Biscay patrols, 1 by RAF-laid mine in Bay of Biscay, 1 by US escort carrier Guadalcanal off the Azores


Air War - RAF and USAAF operations against Germany and occupied Europe increased in intensity. Much of the RAF's efforts were still directed at Berlin by night, but both air forces were now attacking the V-1 buzz-bomb launch sites in northern France. The recently introduced long-range P-57 Mustang fighter allowed the Americans to continue daylight bombing, but losses remained heavy. Italy also stayed high on the list of Allied targets. In February the Luftwaffe carried out a number of raids on London in the 'Little Blitz'.

Eastern Front - Now the German invaders in the North felt the weight of Russian attacks. A series of offensives drove them back from the gates of Leningrad by the end of January. By early March the Russian armies had regained a large chunk of Russian territory that took them just over the border of northern Estonia and close to Latvia. Here they stayed until July 1944. Meanwhile, the massive assaults continued in the Centre/South from north of Kiev down to the Black Sea, and the ground lost to the west of Kiev was soon regained. The Russians pushed on and early in the month crossed into the southeast corner of pre-war Poland.

Monthly Loss Summary: 8 British, Allied and neutral ships of 7,000 tons in UK waters.


Italy - Four months after the Salerno landings the Allies had only moved a further 70 miles north and were still well short of Rome. Both Fifth and Eighth Armies had suffered badly and, in an attempt to break the deadlock, the decision was made to go ahead with landings at Anzio to coincide with fresh attacks on the Gustav Line and Monte Cassino. As the landings got underway, British units of Fifth Army in the west managed to get across parts of the Garigliano River and the French over the Rapido, but in the centre in the First Battle of Cassino, US troops were badly mauled. The Germans held all attacks.

22nd January - Anzio Landings, Operation 'Shingle'

Landing Areas:

N and S of Anzio town

Forces landing:

US 6th Corps - Gen Lucas
50,000 British & US troops with 115,000 follow-up

British 1st Division

US 3rd Division

Departure from:


Naval Assault Forces and Commanders:

Naval Commander - Rear-Adm F J Lowry USN

Northern - Rear-Adm T Troubridge

Southern - Rear-Adm F J Lowry USN

Naval Assault & Follow-up Forces

British & Allied








Other warships



LSIs, landing craft & ships (major only)






Grand Total


The British and US warships were not strictly allocated to their own sectors and two Royal Navy submarines provided the usual navigational markers. Landings took place early on the 22nd and were virtually unopposed. By next day the beachheads were secured, but by the time Sixth Corps was ready to move out on the 30th, powerful German reinforcements were ready to stop it in its tracks. For over a month until early March the Allies were hard pushed to hold on to their gains. Supporting warships were heavily attacked from the air: 23rd - On patrol off the beaches, destroyer "JANUS" was torpedoed and sunk by a He111 bomber. 29th - Six days later, cruiser SPARTAN was hit by a Hs293 glider bomb and capsized with many casualties.  

Monthly Loss Summary: 5 British or Allied merchant ships of 31,000 tons


New Guinea - US Army troops landed at Saidor on the 2nd covered by Rear-Adm Crutchley's mixed force of Australian and American warships. Saidor was soon taken as the Australian forces continued to push along the north coast and overland from Lae. They linked up with the Americans near Saidor on the 10th February, and the Huon Peninsula was now almost entirely in Allied hands.

Indian Ocean Operations (see map above) - Late in the month the British Eastern Fleet was considerably strengthened by the arrival of capital ships Queen Elizabeth, Valiant, Renown and carriers Illustrious and Unicorn, cruisers and destroyers. To date only the Ceylon-based submarines had been available to carry out offensive operations in the Indian Ocean, and in January they had two successes against Japanese light cruisers of the 'Kuma' class, both off Penang in the Malacca Strait. On the 11th "Tally Ho" (Lt-Cdr L. W. A. Bennington) sank the "KUMA". Two weeks later "Templar" damaged "Kitakami".

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean only - 8 merchant ships of 56,000 tons




Capt Walker's 2nd Escort Group, continued - U-boat concentrations again suffered badly to the west and southwest of Ireland, and 10 boats were lost, all to the Royal Navy in exchange for a sloop and one straggler. Capt Walker's 2nd EG accounted for five, which added to the one on 31st January gave a record for U-boat sinkings in one patrol only equalled by the US destroyer escort "England" in the South West Pacific in May 1944. 8th - In support of convoys SL147/MKS38, Capt Walker in "Starling" together with "Kite", "Magpie", "Wild Goose" and "Woodpecker" shared in the sinking of "U-762". 9th - "Starling", "Kite", "Magpie", "Wild Goose" and "Woodpecker" now shared in the sinking of "U-734" and "U-238". 11th - Back to the southwest of Ireland, "Wild Goose" and "Woodpecker" hunted down "U-424" and destroyed her with depth charges. 19th - The 2nd EG now supporting ON224 was attacked by "U-264". Brought to the surface by "Starling" and "Woodpecker", she was scuttled, the first of the schnorkel-equipped boats lost. 19th - As Capt Walker's Group looked for its seventh victim "WOODPECKER" lost her stern to an acoustic torpedo from "U-764". Towed slowly home, she sank on the 27th off the Scilly Islands.

Other supporting Escort Groups also had their successes in the month: 10th - West of Ireland, "U-666" was sunk by Swordfish of 842 Squadron from escort carrier Fencer in support of trans-Atlantic convoy ON223. 18th - Frigate "Spey" of the 10th EG with ONS29 sank "U-406". 19th - As the 10th EG transfered to convoy ON224 (2nd EG was also in support), "Spey" claimed another success with the sinking of "U-386". 24th - West of Ireland, "U-257" was sunk by Canadian frigate "Waskesiu" of the 6th EG with Halifax/UK convoy SC153. 25th - Further south "U-91" was lost to frigates "Affleck", "Gore" and "Gould" of the 1st EG carrying out an A/S patrol in support of the convoys in the vicinity.

Russian Convoys - The 42 merchantmen of Russian convoy JW57 all reached Kola on the 28th, but one escort and two U-boats were sunk in the battles surrounding them: 24th - To the northwest of Norway, "U-713" was put down by destroyer "Keppel" of the escort. 25th - Next day, destroyer "MAHRATTA" was lost to an acoustic torpedo from "U-956" or "U-990" and sank with heavy loss of life. A RAF Catalina of No 210 Squadron flying at extreme range managed to sink "U-601". Return convoy RA56 earlier in the month made Loch Ewe with its 37 ships.

Monthly Loss Summary: 2 British, Allied and neutral ships of 12,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 1 destroyer and 1 sloop; 15 U-boats including 2 by RAF to the west of Scotland, 1 by US Navy aircraft off Ascension Island


5th - Escort carrier Slinger was mined and damaged in the Thames Estuary off Sheerness.

20th - On patrol off Trevose Head, southwest England for a reported U-boat, destroyer "WARWICK" was torpedoed and sunk by "U-413" - the first enemy submarine to effectively penetrate British coastal waters since 1940.

Norway - Norwegian resistance fighters sank a cargo of heavy water bound for Germany for nuclear research.

Eastern Front - In the Centre the Russians moved further into Poland. All the time German commanders were severely restricted by Hitler's refusal to allow them to fall back to more defensible positions. Large formations found themselves encircled by the Russians and the Germans' limited resources were used up rescuing them.

Monthly Loss Summary: 3 ships of 4,000 tons in UK waters.


Italy - Before the Second Battle of Cassino, the decision was taken to bomb the monastery of Monte Cassino on the 15th, but the only result was to provide the Germans with even better defensive positions. This time it was the attacking Indian and New Zealand troops that took heavy losses for zero gains. Throughout the month the Germans launched more attacks at Anzio to prevent the Allies breaking out of the beachhead. By early March they had exhausted themselves and moved over to the defensive. Royal Navy ships continued to suffer casualties during the Battle for Anzio. 18th - Returning to Naples, the seemingly indestructible cruiser PENELOPE (HMS 'Pepperpot') was torpedoed and sunk by "U-410". 25th - A week later destroyer "INGLEFIELD" was hit off the beaches by a Hs293 glider bomb and went down.

24th - In the Strait of Gibraltar, USN Catalina's equipped with the new magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) located "U-761" trying to break in to the Mediterranean. Destroyers "Anthony" and "Wishart" of the Gibraltar patrol sank her.

Monthly Loss Summary: 8 British or Allied merchant ships of 36,000 tons


11th - As German and Japanese submarines continued to attack Allied shipping in the Indian Ocean, two Japanese boats were sunk, but in the second case only after the loss of many lives. First "RO-110" attacked a Calcutta/Colombo convoy in the Bay of Bengal and was sunk by the escorts - Indian sloop "Jumna" and Australian minesweepers "Ipswich" and "Launceston". 12th - Off Addu Atoll "I-27" attacked a five-ship troop convoy bound for Colombo from Kilindini in East Africa, and escorted by old cruiser Hawkins and destroyers "Paladin" and "Petard". Transport "Khedive lsmail" went down with over 1,000 men, but "I-27" was hunted and sunk by the two destroyers.

14th - On patrol in the Malacca Strait, submarine "Tally Ho" had another success (the other was cruiser "Kuma" the month before) by sinking German ex-Italian submarine "UIt-23" bound for Europe with cargo from the Far East.

Burma - The Arakan offensive to the south was slowly progressing when early in the month the Japanese started their own attack, outflanking and surrounding the British and Indian troops. Supplied by air they held out and by June 1944 were established on a line north of Akyab, where they stayed through the monsoon until December.

Japanese Marshall Islands, Central Pacific - After taking the south-eastern and undefended atoll of Majuro on 31st January, Adm Spruance's Fifth Fleet landed US forces half way up the Marshall's group on the huge atoll of Kwajalein the same day. The Japanese defenders resisted stubbornly, but with their wild Banzai charges were soon wiped out. At the western end of the Marshall's, Eniwetok atoll was also taken starting on the 17th.

The Truk Raid - With the Japanese major fleet base of Truk only 700 miles away in the Caroline Islands, ships and aircraft of Fifth Fleet attacked, and together with patrolling submarines sank three cruisers, four destroyers and much shipping in mid-month.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean only - 10 merchant ships of 64,000 tons  


MARCH 1944


1st - The 1st Escort Group, last recorded five days earlier sinking "U-91" was now to the far southwest of Ireland, north of the Azores. Frigates "Affleck", "Gould", "Garlies" and "Gore" had already hunted a contact for 30hr when the second two ships had to leave for Gibraltar. Late on the 1st the tables were turned when "GOULD" was hit and sunk by a Gnat acoustic torpedo. That just left "Affleck" which located "U-358" and sent her to the bottom with depth charges and gunfire. At 38hr this was probably the longest continuous U-boat hunt of the war. 6th - In another long hunt lasting 30hr, the Canadian C2 group escorting Halifax/UK convoy HX280 sank "U-744" in mid-Atlantic. Canadian destroyers "Chaudiere" and "Gatineau", frigate "St Catherines", corvettes "Chilliwack" and "Fennel" and British destroyer "lcarus" were joined by corvette "Kenilworth Castle" before the action was over.

9th - Corvette "ASPHODEL" escorting West and North Africa/UK convoys SL150/MKS41 was torpedoed and sunk by "U-575" to the west of the Bay of Biscay. The U-boat was lost four days later. 10th - In an attack on Halifax/UK convoy SC154, "U-845" was sunk in mid-Atlantic by Canadian C1 group including destroyer "St Laurent", frigates "Owen Sound", "Swansea" and British destroyer "Forester". 13th - RAF Wellingtons flying from the Azores attacked "U-575" well to the north. She was finally sent to the bottom by the aircraft and ships of the US escort carrier "Bogue" task group and Canadian frigate "Prince Rupert" from nearby convoy ON227. 15th - In mid-Atlantic, Swordfish of 825 Squadron from escort carrier Vindex (right - NavyPhotos) working with 2nd EG's "Starling" and "Wild Goose" sank "U-653" - Capt Walker's 13th kill. 25th -'Tsetse' Mosquitos of RAF Coastal Command armed with new 6pdr guns had their first success. On Bay of Biscay patrol one of them sank "U-976".

Russian Convoys - The next return convoy from Russia, RA57, sailed with the escort of the February JW57 convoy including escort carrier Chaser and her rocket-firing Swordfish of 816 Squadron. On the 4th, to the north west of Norway, they damaged "U-472" which was finished off by destroyer "Onslaught". In the next two days, in spite of foul weather, they destroyed "U-366" and "U-973". The 2nd EG moved from Atlantic convoys to support Russian convoy JW58. Two days after leaving Loch Ewe and by now off Iceland, "Starling" sank "U-961" on the 29th. More U-boats were lost before the convoy reached Russia early in April.

Battle of the Atlantic - To make more efficient use of available tonnage, trans-Atlantic convoys were now designated Fast, Medium or Slow. All this time great numbers of US servicemen were being carried across to Britain in preparation for the invasion of Europe, many by the fast, unescorted liners "Queen Elizabeth" and "Queen Mary" each carrying 15,000 men every trip.

Monthly Loss Summary: 8 British, Allied and neutral ships of 41,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 2 escorts and 1 US destroyer off Iceland; 17 U-boats including 1 by RCAF off Ireland, 4 by the aircraft and ships of USS Block Island off the Azores and Cape Verde Islands. 1 by unknown causes in the North Atlantic, 1 by SAAF off South Africa


20th - Two Royal Navy submarines, one ex-German, were lost. On the 20th "GRAPH" (the captured "U-570") broke her tow and ran aground on Islay Island off the west coast of Scotland. 28th - The second was "SYRTIS" on Norwegian patrol. After sinking a small ship off Bodo a few days before, she was sunk in the minefields flanking the port.

Eastern Front - Nearly all the Ukraine was now back in Russian hands and in the South the advance towards the southwest brought the Russians to the foothills of the Carpathian mountains, just inside pre-war Rumania. Thoroughly concerned about the potential collapse of the Balkans, Hitler ordered troops into Hungary to prevent the country leaving the Axis. As this happened the Finnish Government was trying to negotiate an armistice with Russia.

Monthly Loss Summary: Between now and the invasion of Normandy in June 1944 only one small ship was lost in UK waters


Italy - In the middle of the month the Third Battle of Cassino was fought again by the Indians and New Zealanders of Fifth Army. Once more they lost badly. The Germans still held stubbornly on to Monte Cassino. Now there was a lull as Eighth Army was brought across from the east to add its weight to the struggle. 10th - In operations against Allied shipping bound for Italy, three U-boats were lost together with one Royal Navy destroyer. On the 10th off Anzio, 'Hunts' "Blankney", "Blencathra", "Brecon" and "Exmoor" and US destroyer "Madison", sank "U-450". The same day south of Sardinia, anti-submarine trawler "Mull" sank "U-343". 30th - In support of Allied shipping bound for Italy, destroyers "Laforey", "Tumult" and 'Hunts' "Blencathra" and "Hambledon" located a U-boat north of Sicily. As the search proceeded, "LAFOREY" was torpedoed and sunk, but the remaining ships found and finished off "U-223".

16th - US Navy Catalinas use MAD to locate another U-boat in the Strait of Gibraltar on passage into the Mediterranean. Destroyer "Vanoc" and frigate "Affleck" were called up and accounted for "U-392".

Monthly Loss Summary: 5 British or Allied merchant ships of 41,000 tons 


March - Submarine "STONEHENGE" sailed from Ceylon for patrol in the area between Sumatra and the Nicobar Islands. She was overdue on the 20th, cause of loss unknown.

Burma - In the north, as one Chindit group marched from Ledo into Burma, a second was airlifted to a position northeast of lndaw on the 5th. US Gen 'Vinegar Joe' Stillwell and his Chinese forces also left from near Ledo and started their own march into Burma heading for Myitkyina. Behind them the new Burma Road was constructed through the mountainous country, but would not link up with the old road until January 1945. Major Gen Orde Wingate was killed in an air crash on the 24th, and shortly afterwards the Chindits were used to support Gen Stillwell's campaign. Further to the south and west the Japanese chose this time to start their own major offensive into India to pre-empt 14th Army's planned attack. By the end of the month they were over the Assam border and approaching the British and Indian defences at Kohima and lmphal.

Admiralty Islands, Bismarck Archipelago - To complete Allied strategic control of the Bismarcks, Gen MacArthur's US forces landed on the Admiralty Islands on the last day of February. Further landings were made during March, but by the end of the month, in spite of fierce resistance, they were secured. Some fighting continued through until May 1944. The main island of Manus became one of the major Allied bases for the rest of the war.

Bougainville, Northern Solomons - Only now did the Japanese launch their main attack on the US beachhead, but were soon beaten back. The survivors were left to themselves in the south of the island. In November 1944, Australian forces relieved the Americans and early in 1945 started a long and tedious campaign to clear them out.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean only - 12 merchant ships of 75,000 tons


APRIL 1944


Russian Convoys - Three days after 2nd EG sank "U-961" off Iceland, Russia-bound JW58 was to the northwest of Norway and the attacking U-boats lost three of their number. On the 1st an Avenger of 846 Squadron from escort carrier Tracker damaged "U-355" with rockets and destroyer "Beagle" completed the job. Next day - the 2nd - destroyer "Keppel" sank "U-360" with her ahead-throwing Hedgehog mortar. On the 3rd it was the turn of "U-288". A Swordfish, Wildcat and Avenger from "Tracker's" 846 and Activity's 819 Squadrons sent her to the bottom. Apart from one merchantman that was forced to return, all JW58's remaining 48 ships arrived at Kola on the 5th April. Return convoy RA58 passed through 36 rnerchantmen by mid-month without loss.

3rd, Fleet Air Arm Attack on "Tirpitz", Operation 'Tungsten' - The damage inflicted by midget submarines on "Tirpitz" in September 1943 was nearly repaired and the Admiralty decided to launch a Fleet Air Arm attack. On the 30th March, Adm Fraser left Scapa Flow with battleships Duke of York and Anson, fleet carriers Victorious and the old Furious, escort carriers Emperor, Fencer, Pursuer and Searcher, cruisers and destroyers, split into two forces, and headed north, partly to cover JW58. By the 2nd the two forces had joined up 120 miles off Altenfiord and early next morning on the 3rd, two waves each of 20 Barracuda bombers with fighter cover surprised "Tirpitz" at anchor. A total of 14 hits were made, but the damage was not serious. However, the battleship was out of action for another three months. Home Fleet was back in Scapa on the 6th. A similar operation was attempted later in the month, but bad weather prevented any attacks. Instead a German convoy was found in the area and three ships sunk. The weather again saved Tirpitz from two sorties in May 1944, but the fleet and escort carrier aircraft did manage to sink several more merchant ships at these and other times during the month.

6th - "U-302" sank two ships from Halifax/UK convoy SC156 to the northwest of the Azores before being destroyed by frigate "Swale" of the British B5 group. 8th - To the northwest of Cape Finisterre, sloops "Crane" and "Cygnet" of the 7th EG accounted for "U-962". 14th - North of the Azores "U-448" attacked escort carrier Biter but was detected by Canadian frigate "Swansea" of the 9th EG and sunk by her and sloop "Pelican" of the 7th. 19th - Norwegian submarine "Ula" working with the Home Fleet flotillas and on patrol off Stavanger, SW Norway sank "U-974".

Monthly Loss Summary: 7 British, Allied and neutral ships of 48,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes; 16 U-boats including 2 by RAF in North Atlantic, 1 by RAF Bay of Biscay patrol, 6 by US Navy forces off America, Madeira, Cap Verde Islands and in North Atlantic.


26th - Two surface actions took place in the English Channel off the coast of Brittany, both involving Canadian destroyers. On the 26th, cruiser "Black Prince" with four destroyers - three from the Royal Canadian Navy - was on Western Channel patrol out of Plymouth. Early that morning they run into German torpedo boats "T-24", "T-27" and "T-29" on a minelaying mission. "T-27" was damaged and "T-29" sunk by the Canadian 'Tribal' class "Haida". 29th - This time "Haida" and sister ship "Athabaskan" were covering Allied minelaying, when they were surprised by the surviving "T-24" and repaired "T-27". "ATHABASKAN" was hit by a torpedo from "T-24" and blew up, but "Haida" managed to drive "T-27" ashore where she was later destroyed. The surviving "T-24" hit a mine but got into port.

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

Eastern Front - In the South the Russians started the task of clearing the Crimea. Further west, on the 10th they captured the major Black Sea port of Odessa.   


Monthly Loss Summary: 5 British or Allied merchant ships of 34,000 tons


India - On the 14th freighter "Fort Stikine" loaded with ammunition and cotton caught fire and blew up in Bombay harbour. Damage was widespread to both shipping and installations.

Burma - By the 6th, the Battles of Kohima & lmphal started when the two towns were surrounded. Although the ring around Kohima was partly broken on the 18th, the defenders had to hold out in the two areas in often desperate conditions, supplied by air, throughout April and May 1944.

19th, Carrier Attack on Sabang, Sumatra - Adm Somerville's Eastern Fleet had almost enough strength to start offensive operations, although the loan of US carrier "Saratoga" was necessary for the first attack on oil installations at Sabang, together with shipping and airfields. Sailing from Ceylon with "Saratoga" and fleet carrier Illustrious were battleships Queen Elizabeth, Valiant and the French "Richelieu", cruisers and destroyers. From a position to the southwest, bombers and fighters flew off from the two carriers for a successful strike on the 19th before returning to Ceylon.

New Guinea - As Australian forces approached Madang, entering there on the 24th, the Japanese concentrated their weakened divisions around Wewak. Now Gen MacArthur was ready to occupy most of the north coast with a series of leapfrog landings with US troops beyond the Japanese fallback positions. He started on the 22nd with Aitape and across the border in the Dutch half of the Island around Hollandia, which was soon secured. Aitape took longer.

Monthly Loss Summary: There were no merchant shipping losses in either the Indian or Pacific Oceans in April and May 1944


MAY 1944


Russian Convoys - Return Russian convoy RA59 (45 ships) was attacked by U-boats to the northwest of Norway. One ship was lost, but in return the Swordfish of 842 Squadron from Fencer sank three with depth charges - on the 1st, "U-277", and next day "U-674" and "U-959". The convoy arrived at Loch Ewe with the rest of the 44 ships on 6th May. 30th - Destroyer "Milne" sank "U-289" to the southwest of Bear Island.

5th/6th - The 2nd and 5th EGs in the North Atlantic detected U-boats by HF/DF after the torpedoing of a US destroyer. "U-473" was found by 2nd EG (Capt Walker) and sunk on the 5th by "Starling", "Wren" and "Wild Goose". Next day it was the 5th EG's turn (Cdr Macintyre). Aircraft of 825 Squadron from escort carrier "Vindex" located "U-765" and frigates "Aylmer", Bickerton and "Bligh" shared in her destruction. 6th - The US escort carrier "Block Island" group was again on patrol in the Atlantic off the Canaries and being directed to U-boats by the work of 'Ultra' and the Admiralty Tracking Room. On the 6th her aircraft and accompanying destroyer escorts sank "U-66". Then at the end of the month, the carrier was sunk. 7th - Canadian frigate "VALLEYFIELD", with a Canadian group escorting UK/North America convoy ONM234, was sunk off Cape Race, Newfoundland by "U-548". 29th - "BLOCK ISLAND" was torpedoed and sunk by "U-549" in the Canaries area, but her task group soon avenged the loss of their leader.

Battle of the Atlantic - RAF Coastal Command and one of its Norwegian squadrons were particularly successful between the 16th and 27th against the U-boats passing through the Northern Transit Area off south and west Norway. In the space of 12 days, "U-240", "U-241", "U-476", "U-675", "U-990" and "U-292" were sunk.

Monthly Loss Summary: 3 British, Allied and neutral ships of 17,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 1 frigate and 1 US escort carrier; 15 U-boats including 1 by RCAF Bay of Biscay patrol


Air War - The Allied air forces concentrated their considerable energies against targets mainly in France, in preparation for the D-day landings. In another facet of the air war, a V-2 rocket crashed near Warsaw and resistance groups managed to arrange for the parts to be successfully airlifted to Britain.

Eastern Front - Against fierce German resistance, the Russians in the South had now re-captured all the Ukraine including the Crimea. In the Centre, they were over the border into pre-war Poland and Rumania.


Italy - With the help of Eighth Army, the Allies at last pierced the Gustav Line with an offensive starting on the 11th. British, Indian and Polish troops of Eighth Army went in around the Cassino area, followed up by the Canadians. Nearer the sea, both US and French divisions of US Fifth Army attacked. It was the French in the centre who made the first decisive push, but it fell to the Poles to finally take the heights of Monte Cassino on the 18th. US Sixth Corps started its breakout from the Anzio bridgehead on the 23rd and met up with the advancing Fifth Army two days later. The Germans first retreated to a line south of Rome, but as the Allies headed towards the city, they fell back to the north of the capital.

4th - "U-371" attacked North Africa/US convoy GUS38 off Algeria on the 3rd and was detected, but damaged one of the escorting US destroyers. Throughout the night she was hunted by a mixed group of British, US and French warships including the 'Hunt' "Blankney", and this time managed to torpedo a French destroyer. Later on the 4th "U-371" was sunk northeast of Bougie. 21st - U-boats gained their last success of the war in the Mediterranean. East of Sicily "U-453" attacked Taranto/Augusta convoy HA43 and its Italian escort and sank one merchant ship. Destroyers "Termagant", "Tenacious" and the 'Hunt' "Liddlesdale" were brought up and sent her to the bottom on the 21st.

15th - "U-731" on passage through the Strait of Gibraltar was detected by USN Catalinas and lost to attacks by patrol sloop "Kilmarnock" and trawler "Blackfly" of the Gibraltar patrol. No more U-boats made the attempt to get into the Mediterranean.

Merchant Shipping War - U-boats had only managed to sank 10 merchantmen in the Mediterranean in the first five months of 1944. In return 15 had been lost, including three breaking through the Strait of Gibraltar and four in USAAF raids on Toulon and Pola.

Monthly Loss Summary: 2 British or Allied merchant ships of 10,000 tons


17th, Carrier Attack on Surabaya, Java - Eastern Fleet carried out another raid, this time on the oil facilities at Surabaya and with the same ships as the Sabang strike. Afterwards "Saratoga" returned to the US.

New Guinea - US forces made their next landings on Wadke Island on the 16th, and further west still on Biak Island on the 27th. The Japanese were not yet finished and fought hard against US attempts to break out from their positions around Aitape, on the mainland near Wadke Island, and on Biak, in some cases right through until August 1944. All this time the Australians pushed west along the north coast from Madang. Rear-Adm Crutchley's TF74 and other units of Seventh Fleet landed Gen MacArthur's troops and supported and supplied them. In June 1944 they drove off a determined Japanese operation to reinforce Biak Island by sea.

Merchant Shipping War - No Allied merchant ships were lost in April and May 1944 throughout the Indian Ocean, but 29 were sunk in the preceding three months, and by never more than six German and four Japanese submarines. In return only four boats including one transport submarine had been sunk. The last was "U-852" off the Gulf of Aden to RAF aircraft on 3rd May. 


DEFENCE OF TRADE - June 1943 to May 1944

Total Losses = 324 British, Allied and neutral ships of 1,733,000 tons (144,000 tons per month)

By Location


Number of British, Allied, neutral ships

Total Gross Registered Tonnage

North Atlantic 76 443,000 tons

South Atlantic

27 147,000 tons

UK waters


31,000 tons



550,000 tons

Indian Ocean


532,000 tons

Pacific Ocean


30,000 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


1,219,000 tons

4. Aircraft


378,000 tons

2. Mines


55,000 tons

6. Raiders


35,000 tons

5. Other causes


20,000 tons

7. Coastal forces


18,000 tons

3. Warships


8,000 tons


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revised 24/12/10