From 16 to 21 January Convoy operation MF3 ran an important supply convoy from Alexandria to Malta. On 18 January, U-133 torpedoed the modern L-Class destroyer HMS Ghurka, and on 19 January 1942 MV Thermopylae was sunk north of Benghazi after being dive-bombed by Luftwaffe Junkers 88 bombers on her way to Malta from Alexandria as part of this convoy.
Early on the outbound journey, during the early morning hours of 17 January, while off Sollum, the L-Class destroyer HMS Ghurka (ii)) was torpedoed by Kriegsmarine submarine U-133 under Lieutenant Hesse, and lost. U-133 was a novice crew, which after the successful attack on HMS Ghurka experienced their first depth charging attacks by Tribal Class destroyer HMS Maori. These slightly damaged the boat, but did not preclude further ops.
HMS Ghurka was left on fire by the torpedo hits, and lost nine men in the attack and sinking. Her crew was taken off by Isaac Sweers, who a month before had participated in Battle of Cape Bon. Before taking off the crew, Isaac Sweers towed Ghurka out of a patch of burning fuel oil, thus ensuring that not more lives were lost.
HMS Ghurka on fire, probably taken from HNLMS Isaac Sweers during rescue operations. Source unknown.
The crew of U-133 was very pleased with itself for its success, and received encouragement from the F.d.U. Dönitz himself. HMS Ghurka was to be the only success in the short life of U-133. She had only been on active service since October 1941, and was transferred from the Atlantic to the Med on 1 Jan 1942. She was lost with all hands on a German mine when leaving the U-boat base at Salamis on 14 Mar 1942.
U-133 log book entry on the sinking of HMS Ghurka.
Radio Telegram 0730/17 – Qu 9224 encountered two destroyers. One sunk. Depth charges. Remaining 2 bow and 2 stern torpedoes. – Hesse
Radio Telegram 2114/17 – For Reschke and Hesse. Reschke to operate based on listening direction finding. Hesse to do the same, if based on position there is still potential. Report intent. F.d.U.
Radio Telegram 2204/17 – For Hesse. Go on like this. Beat England! F.d.U.
This was a proud and beautiful day for our boat.
Loss of MV Thermoyplae
Also on 17 January, MV Thermopylae detached to Benghazi due to technical difficulties (unable to keep up speed and steering gear issues), under escort by AA cruiser HMS Carlisle and destroyers HMS Arrow and HMS Havock. At 0730 hours on 19 January, 2 Junkers 88 of Lehrgeschwader 1 attacked her and hit her amidships.
At least 30 of the 381 crew and troops on board were lost in the attacks and the sinking, together of course with all the stores she carried. These included a whole Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, with 16 Bofors 40mm guns, and 10 tanks.
HNLMS Isaac Sweers
HNLMS Isaac Sweers would be lost herself, with heavy loss of life, to a torpedo attack by U-431 on 13 November 1942, while escorting the invasion force for Operation TORCH, the invasion of North Africa by Allied forces.
Destroyer HNLMS Isaac Sweers. Dutch Institute for Military History No. 2158_005293
Originally meant to become HMS Larne, but named out of order after the Tribal Class HMS Ghurka was lost off Norway during Operation Weserübung, to an air attack.
Führer der Boote (Commander Submarines)
Another U-Boat commander.
You can read the detailed report at this link
Numbers reach as high as 124 KIA.
- Naval History Net HMS Ghurka (II)
- Codenames.info Operation MF3
- Peter Smith ‘Fighting Flotilla’ on the L-class destroyers;
- Naval History Net The Supply of Malta 1940 – 1942