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September - December 1940

HMS Glowworm destroyer (Navy Photos, click to enlarge)

on to January-May 1941


Fleet Air Arm Attack on Taranto (see November 1940)





United States - After months of negotiations, an agreement was announced on the 5th for the transfer of 50 old but valuable US destroyers to the Royal Navy in exchange for British bases in Newfoundland, Bermuda, the West lndies and British Guiana. The first of the "flushdeckers" arrived in Britain towards the end of the month.

1st - Cruiser Fiji was torpedoed by "U-32" out in the North Atlantic off Rockall as she escorted troop transports for the Dakar expedition. Her place was taken by Australian heavy cruiser Australia.

6th - Escorting convoy 0A205, corvette "GODETIA" was rammed and sunk by merchantman "Marsa" north of Ireland, the first 'Flower' class lost.

15th - "U-48" attacked convoy SC3 northwest of Ireland and sank sloop "DUNDEE". Both "Dundee" and "Penzance", lost the previous month, were long endurance ships used as anti-submarine (A/S) ocean escorts for the slow and vulnerable SC convoys.

23rd-25th, Dakar Expedition, Operation 'Menace' - Because of Dakar's strategic importance to the North and South Atlantic shipping routes, an expedition was mounted to acquire the port for Allied use. Free French troops led by Gen de Gaulle were carried in ships escorted and supported by units of the Home Fleet and Force H under the command of Vice-Adm John Cunningham. They included battleships Barham and Resolution, carrier Ark Royal, three heavy cruisers and other smaller ships including Free French. Naval forces at Dakar included the unfinished battleship "Richelieu" and two cruisers recently arrived from Toulon (see below). Attempts to negotiate on the 23rd soon failed and as Vichy French ships tried to leave harbour, shore batteries opened fire, damaging heavy cruiser Cumberland and two destroyers. Shortly afterwards, the Vichy submarine "PERSEE" was sunk by gunfire and large destroyer "L'AUDACIEUX" disabled by cruiser Australia and beached. A Free French landing was beaten off. Next day, on the 24th, Dakar was bombarded by the warships and "Richelieu" attacked by "Ark Royal's" aircraft. Vichy submarine "AJAX" was sunk by destroyer "Fortune". The bombardment continued on the 25th, but battleship "Resolution" was torpedoed and badly damaged by submarine "Beveziers", and "Barham" hit by "Richelieu's" 15in gunfire. At this point the operation was abandoned and the Anglo-Free French forces withdrew.

Battle of the Atlantic - Early in the month the first wolf-pack attacks were directed by Adm Doenitz against convoy SC2. Five of the 53 ships were sunk. A similar operation was mounted two weeks later against the 40 ships of HX72. The U-boats present included those commanded by the aces Kretschmer, Prien and Schepke. Eleven ships were lost, seven to Schepke's "U-100" in one night. The German B-Service was instrumental in directing U-boats to the convoys, where they held the advantage as they manoeuvred on the surface between the merchantmen and escorts. Radar was urgently needed so the escorts could detect the U-boats, force them to dive and lose their speed advantage, and then hunt them with ASDIC.

Monthly Loss Summary: 53 British, Allied and neutral ships of 272,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes; 2 escorts; no German losses


Battle of Britain - By now heavy units of the Home Fleet had come south from Scapa Flow ready to oppose the expected German invasion. The Blitz on Britain got under way on the 7th when major raids were launched against London. An attack on the 15th - subsequently known as Battle of Britain Day - led to heavy Luftwaffe losses, although no where near the claimed 185 aircraft: the Luftwaffe lost around 60 in exchange for 26 RAF fighters. Operation 'Sealion' was shortly postponed until further notice and invasion shipping started to disperse. The Blitz did not let up.

9th - Cruiser Galatea was damaged by an acoustic mine in the Thames Estuary. 18th - Major bombing raids on Clydeside, Scotland badly damaged heavy cruiser "Sussex" as she refitted.

Axis Powers - Germany, Italy and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact in Berlin on the 27th. They agreed to jointly oppose any country joining the Allies at war - by which they meant the United States.

Monthly Loss Summary: 39 British, Allied and neutral ships of 131,000 tons in UK waters.


Royal Navy in the Mediterranean - Reinforcements were sent to the Mediterranean Fleet in Alexandria right through until the end of the year. They were covered from Gibraltar by Adm Somerville's Force H, met in the central basin by Adm Cunningham and then escorted the rest of the way. The opportunity was usually taken to carry in supplies of men and material to Malta. Early in September new fleet carrier Illustrious with its armoured flight deck, battleship Valiant and two cruisers were transferred in this way in Operation ''Hats'. On passage with the new arrivals, aircraft from Force H's Ark Royal attacked Sardinian targets. After joining up with carrier Eagle and now in the eastern Med, "Illustrious" sent aircraft against Rhodes. The Italian Fleet sortied during these operations, but failed to make contact. The arrival of "Illustrious" allowed Adm Cunningham to go ahead with plans to attack the Italian battlefleet at Taranto. ("The Supply of Malta 1940-1942", including the Malta Convoys)

Vichy France - Three French cruisers with accompanying destroyers sailed from Toulon and, on the 11th, passed through the Strait of Gibraltar bound for French West Africa. All but one of the cruisers arrived at Dakar just as Operation 'Menace' (above) was about to get underway. Adm Sir Dudley North, Flag Officer, North Atlantic, at Gibraltar was somewhat unfairly held responsible for allowing them passage. He was relieved of his command and never officially cleared.

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 torpedoed by Italian aircraft and badly damaged.

22nd - British submarine "Osiris" on patrol in the southern Adriatic attacked a convoy and sank Italian torpedo boat "PALESTRO".

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

Monthly Loss Summary: 2 ships of 6,000 tons




 22nd - Canadian destroyer MARGAREE escorting Liverpool-out convoy OL8, was lost in collision with merchantman "Port Fairy" to the west of Ireland. This was the last of the short-lived fast OL's sailing from Liverpool. 30th - Destroyers "Harvester" and "Highlander" sank "U-32" northwest of Ireland during a convoy attack. Two days earlier, the U-boat had finished off the damaged 42,000-ton liner "Empress of Britain" (below).

German Surface Warships & Raiders - Pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer" sailed from Germany for the Atlantic and later Indian Oceans. She returned home in March 1941. Meanwhile German raider "Widder" arrived in France after six month's operations in the central Atlantic where she sank or captured 10 ships of 59,000 tons.

Battle of the Atlantic - Focke-Wulf Kondor bombers continued to range the waters off Ireland and on the 26th, bombed and damaged the "Empress of Britain", later sunk by "U-32" (above). The Luftwaffe's long-range aircraft were now flying from bases in Norway as well as France. Inter-service rivalry between the Luftwaffe and Navy meant the Kondor would never be fully integrated into the Gerrnan effort in the Battle of the Atlantic. Escort limits were only now pushed out to 19W. In a series of wolf-pack attacks on lightly-defended Canada/UK convoys, U-boats sank more than 30 ships from SC7 and HX79 between the 17th and 20th, a rate of loss that would soon have brought Britain to her knees. Fortunately, a number of measures were being taken to ease the dire situation and provide some of the foundations from which Britain and her Allies would go on to hold the U-boat threat in check: (1) the old US destroyers were coming into service and the British building programme starting to deliver the escorts needed; (2) the need for permanent escort groups to develop and maintain expertise was being accepted, and greater emphasis given to A/S training and (3) co-operation between RAF Coastal Command and Western Approaches Command was steadily improving. But there was still a long way to go, and vast areas of the Atlantic were without air or sea anti-submarine cover.

Monthly Loss Summary: 56 British, Allied and neutral ships of 287,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 1 destroyer; 1 German U-boat.


Britain - Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester joined London as targets for German bombers in the Blitz. On the 12th the planned invasion of Britain was postponed until the following Spring.

18th - The old submarine H-49, on anti-invasion patrol off the Dutch coast, was lost to German A/S trawlers. 19th - Destroyer VENETIA also of World War 1 vintage was sunk by a mine in the Thames Estuary while on patrol. 30th - Destroyer STURDY, local Western Approaches escort for Halifax/UK convoy SC8, ran aground off the west coast of Scotland, on Tiree Island. She was a total loss.

Eastern Europe - German troops occupied the Rumanian oilfields.

Monthly Loss Summary: 43 British, Allied and neutral ships of 132,000 tons in UK waters.


2nd - Mediterranean Fleet destroyers "Havock" and "Hasty" sank Italian submarine "BERILLO" off Sollum, the border town between Libya and Egypt.

12th/14th, Attacks on Malta Convoy - From Alexandria a convoy safely reached Malta covered by the Mediterranean Fleet with four battleships and carriers Illustrious and Eagle. As the Fleet returned on the 12th, attacks were made by Italian light forces southeast of Sicily. Cruiser Ajax sank Italian torpedo boats "AIRONE" and "ARIEL" and badly damaged destroyer "ARTIGLIERE" which was finished off by heavy cruiser York. Later heading back east, the carriers launched air strikes against Leros island in the Dodecanese. On the 14th as the Med Fleet headed for Alexandria, cruiser Liverpool (right - Navy Photos) was badly damaged by a torpedo hit from Italian aircraft.

15th - On patrol off Calabria, south west Italy in the Ionian Sea, submarine RAINBOW was lost in a gun action with the Italian submarine "Enrico Toti". At about this time TRIAD was probably mined off the Gulf of Taranto.

18th - Air and sea patrols accounted for two Italian submarines to the east of Gibraltar. On the 18th "DURBO" went down to attacks by destroyers "Firedrake" and "Wrestler" working with RAF London flying boats of No 202 Squadron. 20th - Two days later, Gibraltar-based destroyers "Gallant", "Griffin" and "Hotspur" accounted for the "LAFOLE".

21st - Red Sea convoy BN7 was attacked by Italian destroyers based at Massawa in Eritrea. The escorts, including New Zealand cruiser Leander and the destroyer Kimberley, drove "NULLO" ashore with their gunfire, where she was destroyed next day by RAF Blenheim light bombers.

Balkans - On the 28th, the Italians invaded Greece from points in Albania, but were soon driven back. Fighting continued on Albanian soil until April 1941.

Monthly Loss Summary: 1 ship of 3,000 tons




United States - Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented third term of office as President of the United States.

2nd - Attacking a convoy northwest of Ireland, "U-31" was sunk for the second and final time, on this occasion by destroyer "Antelope" in co-operation with shore-based aircraft of RAF Coastal Command. RAF Bomber Command first sank her in March 1940.

3rd - Two armed merchant cruisers returning from patrol were sunk west of Ireland by Kretschmer's "U-99". The first was "LAURENTIC" on the 3rd. 4th - Next day, "PATROCLUS" was lost west of Ireland to an attack by "U-99". A third AMC was sunk next day.

5th, Loss of the "Jervis Bay" - Halifax/UK convoy HX84 with 37 ships and its solitary escort, armed merchant cruiser "Jervis Bay" (Capt Fegen) was attacked by 11in-gunned pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer" in mid-Atlantic. The convoy was ordered to scatter as "JERVIS BAY" headed for the "Scheer", guns firing. The end was in no doubt and she went down, but her sacrifice saved all but five of the merchant ships. Capt Edward Fegen RN was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. It was in this action that tanker "San Demetrio" was damaged by gunfire and abandoned. Later re-boarded by a few of her crew, they got her into port in spite of the greatest difficulties and privations. "Admiral Scheer" headed for the central and later the South Atlantic.

Battle of the Atlantic - Outward-bound OB244 and UK-bound SC11 were attacked by two groups of U-boats west of North Channel. Fifteen merchant ships were sunk, including seven from SC11 by Schepke's "U-100" on the night of the 22nd/23rd. In separate North Atlantic operations, German submarine "U-104" and the Italian "FAA DI BRUNO" were lost. In both cases the circumstances were uncertain, but "U-104" was claimed by corvette "Rhododendron" and the Italian by destroyer "Havelock". "U-104" was the last German U-boat lost until March although the Italians suffered casualties. By the end of the month they had 26 submarines operating out of Bordeaux, but were never as successful as their Axis ally. Important steps were taken in the air war when an RAF Sunderland equipped with 1.5m wavelength anti-surface vessel (ASV) radar located a U-boat. This was the first success of its kind with a system that was mainly effective by day; contact was lost within two miles of the target. It was the addition of the Leigh light that turned it into a powerful night-time weapon as well. Now Coastal Command was using depth charges instead of ineffective A/S bombs.

Monthly Loss Summary: 38 British, Allied and neutral ships of 201,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes; 3 armed merchant cruisers; 2 German and 1 Italian U-boats.


Britain - The Blitz continued with a particularly damaging raid on Coventry on the night of the 14th. Night-time attacks on London and other ports and cities carried on through to May. German cities were also targets for the RAF. Former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain died on the 9th.

7th - A planned attack by German torpedo boats (small destroyers) off the coast of Scotland ended when "T-6" was mined on the British East Coast barrage and went down.

16th - Submarine SWORDFISH, setting out on Bay of Biscay patrol, struck an enemy mine off the Isle of Wight, southern England and sank.

Eastern Europe - Hungary and Rumania joined the Axis Tripartite Pact on the 20th and 23rd. Only Yugoslavia and Bulgaria held out against German pressure to become members, the only countries in Eastern Europe and the Balkans not completely dominated by the Axis or Russia.

Monthly Loss Summary: 48 British, Allied and neutral ships of 93,000 tons in UK waters.


11th, Fleet Air Arm Attack on Taranto, Operation 'Judgement' (map above) - Early in the month, a complex series of reinforcement and supply moves (1-5) mounted from both ends of the Mediterranean led to the classic air attack (6) on the Italian battlefleet at Taranto. (1) From Alexandria, Adm Cunningham, with battleships Malaya, Ramillies, Valiant and Warspite, carrier Illustrious, cruisers and destroyers, sailed to cover west-bound convoys to Crete and Malta. Aircraft carrier Eagle had to be left behind because of defects caused by earlier bombing. (2) From Gibraltar, Force H in a separate operation called "Coat" supported the east-bound passage of battleship Barham, two cruisers and three destroyers to reinforce the Mediterranean Fleet. (3) Troop reinforcements were also carried to Malta at this time from Gibraltar. (4) Still in the eastern half of the Med, Adm Cunningham's Fleet met its new members and covered the return of an empty ship convoy from Malta. (5) On the 11th a cruiser force was detached for a successful attack on Italian shipping in the Strait of Otranto at the entrance to the Adriatic Sea. (6) "Illustrious" meanwhile, escorted by cruisers and destroyers, headed for a position in the Ionian Sea 170 miles to the southeast of Taranto. All six battleships of the Italian Navy were at anchor there.

That night she launched two waves of Swordfish biplanes, some belonging to "Eagle". Under the command of Lt-Cdrs K. Williamson and J. W. Hale, the total of no more than 20 aircraft of Numbers 813, 815, 819 and 824 Squadrons hit "CONTE DI CAVOUR" and "CAIO DIULIO" (right - Maritime Quest) with one torpedo each and the brand new "LITTORIA" with three. All three battleships sank at their moorings and "Cavour" was never recommissioned, all for the loss of just two Swordfish. The Japanese Navy carefully studied the attack as Pearl Harbor learnt to its cost just a year later.

27th, Action off Cape Spartivento, Southern Sardinia - A fast convoy under the codename Operation 'Collar' sailed eastward from Gibraltar with ships for Malta and Alexandria. Cover as usual was provided by Force H with battlecruiser Renown, carrier Ark Royal, cruisers Despatch and Sheffield. Meanwhile, units of the Mediterranean Fleet including Ramillies and cruisers Newcastle, Berwick and Coventry headed west for a position south of Sardinia to meet them. Other ships accompanied the two Mediterranean Fleet carriers in separate attacks on Italian targets - Eagle on Tripoli, Libya, and Illustrious on Rhodes off the southwest Turkish coast. These moves took place on the 26th. Next day, on the 27th, south of Sardinia, aircraft of Force H's "Ark Royal" sighted an Italian force with two battleships and seven heavy cruisers. Force H, now joined by the Med Fleet's "Ramillies", sailed to meet them. In an hour-long exchange of gunfire "Renown" and the cruisers were in action, during which time "Berwick" was damaged and an Italian destroyer badly hit. The slower "Ramillies" had not come up by the time the Italians turned back for home. Adm Somerville pursued, but as he approached Italian shores had to turn back himself. The convoys arrived safely. Adm Somerville was later subjected to a board of enquiry for not continuing the pursuit of the Italian force, but soon exonerated.

Balkans - As the Greek Army pushed back the Italians into Albania, RAF squadrons were sent from Egypt to Greece and the Royal Navy carried over the first Australian, British and New Zealand troops by cruiser. Mediterranean Fleet established an advance base at Suda Bay on the north coast of Crete.

Monthly Loss Summary: There are no British or Allied shipping losses in November 1940.




German Raiders - "Kormoran" was the first of the second wave of raiders to leave for operations. She started in the central Atlantic and later moved to the Indian Ocean, where she was lost in November 1941. Much further afield in the South West Pacific, "Komet" and "Orion" shared in the sinking of five ships near the phosphate island of Nauru. Later in the month "Komet" shelled the installations on Nauru. 1st - Armed merchant cruiser "Carnarvon Castle" was badly damaged in action with raider "Thor" off Brazil, the German ship's second and equally successful fight with an AMC.

2nd - Cdr Kretschmer and "U-99" claimed a third armed merchant cruiser when "FORFAR" was sent to the bottom west of Ireland; the others were "Laurentic" and "Patroclus" a month earlier. At the same time nearby convoy HX90 was attacked just before the Western Approaches escorts arrived. Eleven ships were lost to the U-boats.

15th - Italian submarine "TARANTINI" returning from North Atlantic patrol was torpedoed and sunk by submarine "Thunderbolt" in the Bay of Biscay.

German Heavy Warships - Earlier in the month the 8in heavy cruiser "Admiral Hipper" left Germany and passed into the Atlantic through the Denmark Strait. On Christmas Day the 25th December, 700 miles to the west of Cape Finisterre, northwest Spain she encountered Middle East troop convoy WS5A, one of 'Winston's Specials', escorted by cruisers. They were accompanied by carrier Furious ferrying aircraft to Takoradi in West Africa. In an exchange of gunfire the heavy cruiser "Berwick" and two merchantmen were slightly damaged. "Hipper" retired and soon reached Brest. She was the first of the Gerrnan big ships to reach the French Biscay ports. From there she and her companions posed a major threat to the Atlantic convoy routes right up until the Channel Dash of February 1942.

Monthly Loss Summary: 42 British, Allied and neutral ships of 239,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 1 armed merchant cruiser; 1 Italian U-boat


Royal Navy - Adm Sir John Tovey succeeded Adm Forbes as Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet.

5th - The ex-American destroyer CAMERON undergoing refit in Portsmouth harbour was bombed and badly damaged. Not worth repairing, she was used for experimental purposes. 17th - Following repairs to bomb damage, destroyer ACHERON was carrying out trials off the Isle of Wight, southern England when she detonated a mine and went to the bottom.

Eastern Europe - Hitler ordered detailed planning for Operation 'Barbarossa' - the invasion of Russia.

Monthly Loss Summary: 34 British, Allied and neutral ships of 83,000 tons in UK waters.


Late November/early December - Submarines REGULUS and TRITON were lost in late November or early December, possibly mined in the Strait of Otranto area at the southern end of the Adriatic Sea. Alternatively "Regulus" may have been sunk by Italian aircraft on 26th November.

3rd - At anchor in the poorly defended Suda Bay, cruiser Glasgow was hit by two torpedoes from Italian aircraft and badly damaged.

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 was 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 border.

Mediterranean Operations - Another series of convoy and offensive operations were carried out by the Mediterranean Fleet with battleships Warspite, Valiant and carrier Illustrious. On the 17th carrier aircraft attacked Rhodes and on the night of the 18th/19th the two battleships bombarded Valona, Albania. At the same time, battleship Malaya passed through to the west for Gibraltar. On the way, escorting destroyer HYPERION hit a mine near Cape Bon, northeast tip of Tunisia on the 22nd and had to be scuttled. "Malaya" carried on to meet up with Force H. The German Luftwaffe's X Fliegerkorps - including Ju87 Stuka dive-bombers - was ordered to Sicily and southern Italy to bolster the Italian Air Force.

Mediterranean Theatre after Seven Months

A total of nine Royal Navy submarines had been lost since June in the Mediterranean, a poor exchange for the sinking of 10 Italian merchantmen of 45,000 tons. Most of the submarines were the large, older boats transferred from the Far East and unsuited to the waters of the Mediterranean. In the same time the Italians lost 18 submarines from all causes throughout the Mediterranean and Red Sea areas. 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 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

Monthly Loss Summary: There were no British or Allied shipping losses in December.


DEFENCE OF TRADE - April to December 1940

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

Total Losses = 878 British, Allied and neutral ships of 3,441,000 tons (382,000 tons per month)

By Location


Number of British, Allied, neutral ships

Total Gross Registered Tonnage

North Atlantic


1,683,000 tons

South Atlantic


55,000 tons

UK waters


1,367,000 tons



64,000 tons

Indian Ocean


173,000 tons

Pacific Ocean


99,000 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


1,842,000 tons

4. Aircraft


546,000 tons

6. Raiders (new cause)


367,000 tons

2. Mines


342,000 tons

5. Other causes


201,000 tons

3. Warships


95,000 tons

7. Coastal forces (new cause)


48,000 tons


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revised 24/12/10