A costly Strike– No 107 Squadron 11 October 1941

No. 107 Squadron was one of two Bristol Blenheim Mk. IV equipped light bomber squadrons on Malta during the time of Operation CRUSADER. It carried out anti-shipping strikes throughout the central Mediterranean, as well as ground strafing of traffic on the coastal road in Libya, and bomb attacks on fixed installations. The squadron was commanded until his death in action by Wing Commander Harte, a South African, followed Flight Sergeant (later Air Marshal Sir) Ivor Broom, and then from December 1941 by W/Cdr Dunlevie, a Canadian. In January 1942 the squadron was disbanded and the remnants moved back to the UK, where they reformed and converted to Douglas Bostons.

Operating light bombers from Malta was not a task which would have been appreciated by a life insurance underwriter. The picture below shows the daring of the pilots quite well, and repeatedly there is talk of ‘attack at mast height’ in the ORB. But many of the crews paid for this with their lives.

Bristol Blenheim Mark IVs of No. 18 Squadron RAF head back for Luqa, Malta, at low level after bombing a target in the port of Locri, Italy. Photograph taken from the mid-upper turret of the leading aircraft. Courtesy of the IWM Collection.

11 October 1941 was a bad day for the squadron. Two Blenheims were lost on operations on the day. The squadron ORB has a good account of this, and the Italian official naval history has a full account of the attack on the small convoy undertaken by No. 107 Squadron. Both are given below. The relevant references are AIR27/842, held at Kew, and La Marina Italiana Nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale Vol. VII – LA DIFESA DEL TRAFICO CON L’AFRICA SETTENTRIONALE Dal 1 Ottobre 1941 Al 30 Settembre 1942.

The convoy consisted of the following vessels:

Steamer Priaruggia, 1,196 GRT, built in 1925. Finally sunk 28 November 41 in Benghazi harbour, when she was hit and blew up during a night raid, still carrying the cargo of ammunition she carried on 11 October.

Steam tanker Alberto Fassio, 2,298 GRT, built in the US in 1914. Finally sunk on 26 July 1943 when it hit a mine off Preveza, Greece.

Escorted by Torpediniera (Spica class corvette, Alcione sub-series) Partenope under the command of Capitano di Corvetta B. de Moratti. Finally lost when she was captured by German troops in dry dock after the Italian surrender, while under repair, and broken up 1945.


Partenope in wartime colour scheme. Courtesy of the U.S.M.M. Italian Corvettes 1881 – 1964, 2nd Volume 1974.

The Royal Air Force view.

11 October

Six Blenheims captained by F/O. Greenhill, Sgt. Routh, Sgt. Broome, Sgt. Level, Sg.t Baker, and Sgt. Hopkinson were ordered to attack shipping in the GULF OF SIRTE. 3,000 lb of bombs were dropped. Total flying time was 20 hrs. 50 mins. At 14.04 hours they located one m/v 3 – 5,000 tons, one Cargo boat 1 – 1,500 tons and one corvette in a position 31.53′ N 15.43′ E. They were escorted by ONE twin-engined monoplane. F/O Greenhill hit the large m/v forward and his aircraft was then seen by Sgt. Harrison to be hit in the belly and crash in the sea as he climbed over the ship. The vessel held fire until the aircraft was 50 yards away. Sgt. Broome attacked the same vessel and hit it aft and left the vessel in flames with grey smoke pouring from it. He was chased by the escort plane which did not get within firing range. Sgt. Harrison saw Sgt. Routh attack the small Cargo boat, set it on fire and then crash into the sea having been hit by guns from the large m/v. Sgt. Leven, Sgt. Baker and Sgt. Hopkinson did not make an attack and brought back their bombs. Four aircraft returned safely, but it is not thought that there could be any survivors from the two aircraft shot down. The crews of the aircraft were as follows:

F/O Greenhill, Sgt. Smith, Sgt. Whidden

Sgt. Routh, Sgt. Parker, Sgt. McLeod.

What is noticeable is the reasonably good identification of the size of the vessels (even though they got the type of propulsion and size of A Fassio wrong), the description of the attack, which claimed serious hits on both vessels even though only one was hit, and that three aircraft chose not to press the attack, presumably because of a mixture of respect for the anti-air defense, and the believe that both vessels might have been finished.

The Italian side – the Italian history uses this case as an example of the strong defense put up by the coastal convoys:

From a practical perspective however, the coastal vessels were anything but easy targets, and not only because of their small size, but because they always reacted very lively, together with the escorting corvette, sometimes inflicting severe losses on the attacker. Many episodes could be cited in evidence, but it is sufficient to give just one as an example; that of the attack suffered on the afternoon of 11 October by a convoy consisting of the steamer Priaruggia, the tanker A Fassio, escorted by the corvette Partenope under Lieutenant-Commander B. de Moratti.

The convoy, which left Tripoli at 1600 hours on 10 October, was attacked by three Bristol Blenheim in low-level flight, about 24 hours later. Regarding this the commander of the escort writes the following in his report:

    At 15.02 the left vessel advised of three enemy bombers which approached the convoy in low-level flight. The formation at that moment was as follows: Partenope in front, zig-zagging, steamer Priaruggia and tanker A Fassio in line abreast (Fassio to the right), with Priaruggia slightly behind. The escorting plane was far off, ahead of the formation. The three Bristol Blenheim planes formed in an offset formation on the left of the convoy, coming roughly from the north-east. Partenope immediately opened fire with its central 20mm gun at a distance of about 800 metres. While turning and climbing the planes dropped a series of small bombs and strafed the convoy with machine guns. Of the bombs, one hit Priaruggia at the base of the funnel, the others drop to the left and right of the steamer, as well as between Partenope and the steamer. Almost at the same time, two planes appear to be hit by the precise fire of Partenope, one in a staggering turn trying to touch down on the water, hitting hard, and then dives into the sea breaking up. The other, on fire, still manages a half turn, then dives into the sea head first, vanishing completely. The third plane carries out a wide turn, then continues to remain cruising for some minutes. During this time three German transport plane pass on the horizon on the westerly route.

I am turning around, and order Fassio to remain in the area, zig-zagging. I am moving towards the life boats and rescue floats of the Priaruggia which, after emitting abundant black smoke and steam, now appears intact everywhere apart from the centre, where it shows damage to the base of the funnel, the masts, and the loading equipment. I am ordering to put the wounded on board of Partenope, and the able to return on board the steamer to prepare the tow. In the meantime I move to the area where the remains of one of the shot-down planes are and where a wounded airman reacts to calls. I set the whaler into the sea to recover the airman and a yellow bag, which contained emergency signalling equipment. The wounded airman is tended to together with the wounded of the Priaruggia. He shows splinter wounds on the right knee and leg, and other wounds on the forehead, the right hand, and the front of his body.

16.00 – 17.58 Fassio extends a tow and commences the turn to move to Ras Cara, in line with my orders. During the maneuver the tow breaks. With a new tow, Fassio moves towards Ras Cara. During the move to Misurata, the tow breaks again. Taking up the tow again to move to Misurata where, by order of Marilibia, the Priaruggia and the wounded have to be brought.

During the last five miles I pull slightly ahead of Fassio, to disembark the personnel.

23.16 – 00.25 Arrival at Misurata. Drop anchor. The Fassio, coming closer, communicates that it has broken the tow for a fourth time, and that neither it nor the Priaruggia have any more cables. It therefore left Priaruggia behind, about five miles off Misurata.

00.25 – 01.28 Leave Misurata and move towards the steamer Priaruggia which I find about four miles at 95 degrees off Misurata with a part of the crew in the launch, about to pull away from the ship.

Communicate to that part of the crew that a tug will soon arrive. At 01.28, with all the crew on board, Priaruggia drops anchor.

I should mention the act of a torpedo operator who threw himself into the sea to rescue the enemy airman while waiting for the launch.

Priaruggia is then towed to Tripoli by the tug Ciclope with the escort of the corvette Cascino, and reaches the port without problems on the 13 November. In the overall account on the positive side are two shot-down enemy planes – one of which, prior to crashing, hits the foremast of the Piaruggia, bursting into flames, and breaking off the mast; – on the negative side the not heavy damage of the steamer which remains immobilised only for a few days.

From the Italian account it is clear that Priaruggia must have appeared very badly hit, but it is also clear that Fassio was neither hit nor attacked. The episode shows very clearly the dangers the pilots on Malta exposed themselves to, and the brutal and very quick end that awaited most of them. Fassio arrived in Benghasi on 13 October.

The lost planes were Z7618 and Z9663. While Sergeant Whidden survived the crash, he died of his wounds in hospital shortly after. (Many thanks to Brian for this information, provided in this thread.) Their loss was not completely in vain however. As is pointed out in this threadPriaruggia was badly enough damaged that she had to return in tow to Tripoli after an initial stay at Misurata. When she arrived (still with the same cargo, including ammunition) in Benghazi six weeks later, after the conclusion of repairs, she was bombed on the night of her arrival, and all her cargo was lost when she blew up.

The statistics below show the activity and losses of No. 107 Squadron during October 1941.

Date

Planes Sorties

Planes Lost

Share

Type of mission

3 October 8 0 Bombing
4 October 8 1 16% Shipping
5 October 2+2 0 Recce/Bombing
6 October 4 0 Shipping/Strafing
7 October 1 0 Armed Recce
8 October 6 0 Strafing
9 October 2+4 2 33% Strafing/Shipping
10 October 2 0 Recce
11 October 6 2 33% Shipping
13 October 4 0 Strafing
17 October 6 0 Strafing/Bombing
21 October 6 0 Shipping
23 October 4 0 Shipping
25 October 6 0 Strafing/Bombing
28 October 4 0 Bombing
29 October 2 0 Bombing
29 October 4 0 Bombing
30 October 4+3 0 Bombing/Shipping

Missions were flown on 18 days, and a total of 21 missions was flown. Total sorties were 88, and losses were 5 planes (a loss rate of 5.7%), all on shipping strikes. What is of importance to note however is that all losses occurred on shipping strikes (2 planes were lost by collision, one of them flown by the squadron commander, the other 3 due to enemy action). So for shipping strikes alone, the loss rate was 14.3%, or rather meaning 1 in 7 planes would not return – quite sobering.

Sinking of HM Submarine P.38 – 23 February 1942

This is only indirectly related to Operation CRUSADER, but of interest nevertheless because it shows the increasing sophistication of Italian escort vessels which happened around the time of the end of the operation, and which probably contributed somewhat to 1942 becoming the worst year for losses in the Mediterranean, with a total of 13 of HM Subs lost, compared to 9 in 1940 (admittedly in just over six months), and 11 each in 1941 and 1942. I have added information on the Italian convoy on 28 May, based on the entry in the Seekrieg website.

P.38, under the command of Lieutenant R.J. Hemingway RN DSC, was sunk by Tp Circe (Tp = Torpediniere – torpedo boat, a class of light escort destroyers), which sank or participated in the sinking of four Royal Navy submarines, HM S/M Grampus on 16 June 1940, HM S/M Tempest and P.38 in February 1942, and HM S/M Union in July 1942. Circe herself was lost on 27 November 1942 in a collision with auxiliary cruiser Citta di Tunisi. Lt. Hemingway was probably awarded his DSC on 20 December 1940 for  what was believed to be a successful action against an Axis submarine (either U-58, or Italian submarines Veniero or Otario) in the Bay of Biscay, while serving on HM S/M Tigris under Lt.Cdr. Bone, DSO, DSC. In reality however Tigris did not sink the target, whichever of the three it was. His previous command was HM S/M H.31, which was lost with all hands on 19 December 1941 in the North Sea.

P.38 was sunk while trying to attack one of the big convoys of early 1942, in this case the third major operation of the year, convoy K.7. It consisted of two separate convoys of six merchants each from Messina and Corfu. The convoys were the fast motor vessels Unione, Monginevro, Ravello (all in convoy 1), and Monviso, Lerici, and Giulio Giordani (convoy 2). They were escorted by destroyers in direct escort (Ugolino Vivaldi, Lanzerotto Malocello, Nicolo Zeno, (all Navigatori-class), Premuda (captured Yugoslav Dubrovnik), Strale (Freccia-class), – convoy 1; Antonio Pigafetta (F), Emanuele Pessagno, Antonio Usodimare, (all Navigatori-class) , Maestrale, Scirocco (both Maestrale-class) – convoy 2) and also by two squadrons of heavy escorts, those of the  old battleship Duilio with the Soldati-class destroyers Aviere, Ascari, Geniere, Camicia Nera, and the heavy cruisers Gorizia and Trento, the light cruiser Giovanni della Bande Nere, and the destroyers Alpino (Soldati), Antonio Da Noli (Navigatori), and Alfredo Oriani (Oriani/Poeti-class). Convoy 1 was escorted by the Spica-class torpedo boat Pallade, and convoy 2 by Spica-class torpedo boat Circe. Commander of the close escort of convoy 2 was the Captain of the destroyer Antonio Pigafetta.  It appears that only Circe and Pallade were equipped with the German S-Geraet sonar and German depth charge throwers (and probably rails, since references to depth charges used on Circe use two German separate designations).

Here’s the report of her captain, Capitano di Corvette (Lt.Cdr.) Palmas, which is held in the captured German records section in NARA. It can be found in the files of the German Naval Attache in Rome.

GKDOS 1706/42

28 March 1941 (sic!)

SECRET COMMAND AFFAIR!

REPORT ABOUT THE SINKING OF AN ENEMY SUBMARINE BY TORPEDO BOAT “CIRCE” ON 23.2.42 – ACCORDING TO STATEMENT BY COMMANDER K.KPT.PALMAS

CIRCE escorted a convoy of 3 steamers on the way to Tripolis. Calm sea. Light swell. Speed 14 knots.

Northwest of Cape Misurate an echo was reported at 1014 [hours] in 46 degrees, 1,800 metres. Bearing wanders out quickly. Signal to convoy to turn to port.

Boat [CIRCE] turns into the bearing, increases speed to 18 – 20 knots and moves across the target. At around 1,000m the periscope is sighted at the position of the echo. With 16 knots moved onto it and dropped six depth charges from rails and four from throwers into the location of the dive which was indicated by air bubbles. Depth setting 70 metres. Shortly after the submarine surfaces with heavy list to stern, it had apparently used pressurised air [emergency surfacing]. Other boats [escorts] and planes open fire and throw depth charges, in some cases in front of other boats. One Italian rating is killed by friendly machine-gun fire. This makes an orderly attack by CIRCE impossible. After the other boats have been called off, CIRCE again receives an echo from the by now again submerged submarine. This resurfaces shortly after like a dolphin with running screws and drops 45 degrees listing to prow into the depth. A lot of oil and air bubbles come up, which only slowly reduce. Apart from that parts of the interior fittings (polished cupboard door, table top), one bag with flags and body parts (lung) drift up.

Boat remains 1.5 hours on the scene of the attack. Echo shows the same location until the last. Water depth 350m. The echo is probably caused by the continuing rising of oil and the still escaping air.

In his formal report to Supermarina, the Italian admiralty, he also analysed the performance of the attack. Below is the section on lessons learnt.

  1. March during lively sea during the night 22 to 23 February has taxed the ship’s hull very much, especially while marching direction 180 degrees.
    Three cracks occured at the movement gap [Dehnungsfuge], which is situated in the centre of the boat, between machinery centre and the ventilators of boiler room 2.
  2. In contrast to the attack on 13 February [on HM S/M Tempest, which was sunk], this attack on a submarine was carried out almost with lightning speed, with the intent to prevent the submarine, which was already lying ready to attack, from carrying this out and to then hunt and destroy it.
    The second task, far more important by comparison to the first, was achieved almost immediately. The convoy could, because of my signals, turn away 90 degrees to port, and thereby move away from the danger zone. The second task was then resolved shortly after, by the almost immediate dropping of all depth charges, which were set at 75 metres depth [sic!] from the rails and throwers.
    The explosion has certainly hit the submarine which was in rapid dive. It was so strong that the enemy commander could do nothing else but surface immediately and give pressurised air on all the tanks.
    The second and last attempt by the submarine to surface failed, and it dived forever.
  3. The attach was carried out based on the information received from the S-Geraet, the prior sighting of the periscope, and the air bubbles which remained on the surface when the submarine dived rapidly.
    These visible signs led me to drop all depth charges at once, even though by this I partially violated existing regulations. 11 depth charges were dropped.
    I found it not useful to undertake further depth charge drops during the later phases of the search since the proof I had seen and collected left not the slightest doubt about the result of the attack.
    The parts of the interior fittings of the submarine and the human remains prove beyond any doubt the destruction of the submarine. During the two unsuccessful attempts to surface the tower was closed and nobody came out.
    The small bag with flags was probably inside the tower under the hatch, inside the pressure vessel.
  4. The behaviour of the crew was again commendable. The rapidity of the attack has excited the crew beyond belief.
  5. The explosion of a depth charge packet is extremely strong. The hull of the torpedo boat has vibrated noticeably, but not too much, because I carried out the attack at a speed of 15 knots.

It is clear from this account that P.38 and her crew never stood a chance. The Italian commander made all the right decisions (and risky ones – emptying his depth charge racks could have landed him in trouble if P.38 had survived the first attack), he had advanced detection systems that allowed him to find the enemy (and I wonder if 10th Flotilla on Malta was aware of this – does anyone know?), and his relentless initial attack doomed the submarine.All 32 hands on her were lost. May they Rest in Peace. You can read a bit of background on one of her crew, 22-year old Clarence Durnell, at this link. Before rejoining the convoy escort, Circe made a final gesture to the fallen, according to the report of her commander:

Before I finally move off, I cross the site of the sinking at slow speed and and offer the fallen honourable recognition with the whole crew on combat stations.

The convoy arrived in Tripoli without any losses, and brought much needed reinforcements for the Axis forces in North Africa, allowing them to build up strength for the Gazala battles in May 1942, the conquest of Tobruk, and the advance to El Alamein.

Many thanks for Dili from the Comando Supremo forum for his comments and corrections.

The tragedy of the POWs killed at sea

Operation CRUSADER saw about 8,500 Commonwealth soldiers become prisoners of the Axis forces, in the fighting around Tobruk and during the counter offensive in January. See this older post for a discussion of losses suffered by each side. This post here is based on research around the internet.

In general, as the old line goes, ‘For you [insert nickname here], the war is over!’. In the case of North Africa, this was however not the case for the Commonwealth POW. In order to secure them and relieve the supply situation in North Africa, beginning in December 41 they were shipped off to Italian-controlled territory, either to Italy or to Greece (and thence to Italy, I guess), either on naval units or on homeward bound merchants (the New Zealand Official History has a good account of the situation of the POW at this link – note that Sebastiano Venier is called Jantzen in this account).  This could be dangerous, since POW transports were not marked, and since even when ULTRA had given warning to the Royal Navy that a particular transport carried POW, it was likely impossible to warn the submarine commander without risking a breach in the ULTRA secret (e.g. if the submarine commander were to be taken POW himself, and informed his captors about the warning he was given about leaving a particular transport alone).

In consequence, several hundred Commonwealth POW lost their lives during or shortly after the end of Operation CRUSADER and the counter-offensive.

On 9 December, the large mine-laying submarine HM S/M Porpoise (Lt.Cdr. Pizey DSC) attacked Sebastiano Venier, ex-Jason, off Cape Methone. She is so badly damaged she has to be beached and is written off. Around 300 Commonwealth POW died in the attack.

Entry in Log of HMSub Porpoise describing the attack on Sebastiano Venier

On 14 February 1942 the brand-new HM S/M P.38 (Lt. Hemingway) attacked a small convoy consisting of Italian steamer Ariosto, German Atlas, and escorts Ct Premuda (ex-Yugoslav Dubrovnik) and Tp Polluce. Ariosto was sunk, hit by two torpedoes, and going down after a few hours in the early hours of 15 February, with 138 Commonwealth POW are lost, almost half the contingent.

On 27 February 1942 the most famous of the Malta submarines, HM S/M Upholder (Lt.Cdr. Wanklyn, VC) sinks the old SS Tembien, launched in 1914.  390 out of 468 Commonwealth POW on board died.

In total therefore, over 800 POW are killed in these attacks, or around 10% of the number of POW taken during CRUSADER and the counter-offensive.

All three submarines undertaking the attack were to be lost with all hands during the war. HM S/M Porpoise was to become the last Royal Navy sub to be sunk by the enemy in the Malacca Straits in 1945. HM S/M P.38 was lost on 23 February on the patrol after she sank Ariosto in a counter-attack by Tp Circe.  HM S/M Upholder was sunk on 14 April 1942, possibly by Tp Pegaso.

It is of note that Tp Circe, a Spica-class escort destroyer, was already fitted with German S-Geraet active sonar and depth charges (see this older post). She was on a roll in February 1942, sinking HM S/SM Tempest on 13 February, and HM S/M P.38 on 23 February (misidentified as a ‘Unity-class’, presumably U-class), showing quite well the capability of the new equipment.  I have reports by the captain of Circe and a member of the German sonar crew, which I have posted at this link.

Many thanks go to Brian who has researched this topic exhaustively, and to Barb Edy, whose father Don of No. 33 Squadron RAF was on the Ariosto as a POW, and suvrived the sinking. An account of her sinking by Don can be found in Don’s book ‘Goon in the Block’, which I would highly recommend.

German Antisubmarine Equipment on Italian Vessels

In the files of the German naval command in Italy held at NARA, I found something completely new to me (as one does).  In autumn 1941 the German navy had started to equip Italian escort vessels withASDIC active sonar equipment (S-Geraet) and depth charge launchers (WBW).  The priority was apparently given to equipping escort units in the Aegean, where allied submarines had been active and successful for a while.  In December 1941, the Kriegsmarine established a sub-hunting flotilla at Piraeus to be able to contribute to the Regia Marina’s effort.  Italian vessels were equipped with the German sonar when they went into wharf in Italy for general maintenance, i.e. they were not pulled from service to have this equipment fitted. My guess is they were stretched so thin already that this would not have been possible.  Until the German sonar came along, the Italian vessels had to use passive listening devices to locate submarines.  One is tempted to conclude from the significant successes achieved by Allied submarines that these were not very good at fulfilling their purpose.

The sonar equipment on the Italian vessels was operated (maybe only initially) by German sailors, and one of the first Italian units to be outfitted with the German equipment was the destroyer Alvise da Mosto, sunk in a surface engagement with Force K from Malta on 1 December 1941, off Tripoli (see this older entry). It had only been outfitted at the Italian navy shipyard in Fiume two weeks beforehand, it appears.

A report by the two surviving German sailors found its way into the files of the German naval command, and is preserved at NARA.  Both of these men were re-assigned to other Italian escort vessels and helped sink HM Submarine Tempest on 13 February 1942 (this article describes the incident), Ordinary Seaman Maidenoff being credited with re-establishing her location when she was submerged.

The report must be from after March 1942, since it refers to the death of Commander del Anno who was lost when his destroyer went down in a gale  at the 2nd battle of Sirte. While probably not a completely accurate report, it is an interesting eye-witness statement. Below is a translation of the report.

Report about the Actions of the Destroyer “Da Mosto” from 18 November 1941 to 1 December 1941 based on the Statements of the two Rescuees Petty Officer Rublack and Ordinary Seaman Maidenoff

German listening crew consisting of:

Petty Officer (Bootsmaat) Rublack

Able Seaman (Matrosengefreiter) Hartmann

Able Seaman Macar

Ordinary Seaman (Matrose) Maidenoff

Ordinary Seaman Retter

During the move from Fiume to Pola on 18 November a submerged Italian submarine located at 4200 [metres].  Echo remained good until the end. Speed 16 knots.

During the move Pola -Tarent on 24 November one steamer escorted. Defect on the motor cinema [screen of the sonar, I guess]. Mirror running too slow, therefore no correct distance.  Reason: strong variations in net. Turning the unit off leads to only slight improvement.

Around 0700 [hours] perfect echo ranged at 320 degrees. Distance could not be fixed. Boat [this refers to Da Mosto] zig-zags at high speed, steamer turns away.  This location was very probably an enemy submarine since a few hours later  an attack occured on another steamer in the same area (statement by the commander).

Enter Taranto on 25 November around 1500. With help from a German mechanic the cinema motor is changed against another one from the installation of another boat.  The work is completed shortly before the boat leaves harbour.

On 26 November 1500 left harbour with a tanker for Trapani.  In the Messina Straits submarine alarm raised by another boat. Search by Da Mosto without result.

At the southern tip of Sicily an unknown mine barrier was well located.  Moved according to location by S-Geraet.

28 November at 2000 entered Trapani with tanker.

30 November at 0300 left harbour with tanker on western route to Tripoli.  On the way location of a floating mine, a buoy, and a wreck.  Furthermore three French coastal vessels were located on 3600 to 3800 metres, which were only then recognised from the bridge.

During the course of 1 December attacks by English bombers occured in several waves. The tanker was hit in the stern and remained motionless. Attempts to take it in tow failed.  Air defense of tanker was weak.  Around 1730 English surface units came into view.  Da Mosto immediately went into the attack and achieved hits on a cruiser [this is not correct].  After a short time Da Mosto was hit in the stern.  Ammunition and the Italian depth charges went off.  During the sinking the forward torpedoes were fired, but without hit. Da Mosto sank around 1800. The crew gave cheers to its ship, the Duce and the Fuehrer.  The English destroyers drove through the swimming crew without attempting to rescue someone, and shouted derisively “Good bye boys”.

Petty Officer Rublack swam to the tanker with two Italians to bring a still intact boat into the water and to sink the tanker. A destroyer opened fire hozever, so that the intent could not be carried out.  The tanker then also sank soon afterwards.  Another destroyer appears to have had the intent before that to take it into tow [again this is wrong].

The S-Geraet was kept manned until the start of the engagement when the boat went to high speed.  The listening crews thereafter went to their battle stations on the guns.  Petty Officer Rublack and Ordinary Seaman Maidenoff were on the bridge. Able Seaman Macher fell at the rear gun.  Nothing has been observed concerning the whereabouts of Able Seaman Hartmann and Ordinary Seaman Retter, who until the last moment manned the S-Geraet.

Around 2300 the torpedo boat Prestinari reached the site of the engagement and took the survivors on board.

The commander, Fregattenkapitaen (Commander) del Anno was very complimentary about the performance and the brave behaviour of the German listening crew. Petty Officer Rublack received the Iron Cross 2nd Class and the Italian Bronze Medal of Valour, and Ordinary Seaman Maidenoff the Iron Cross 2nd Class and the Italian War Merit Cross. The commander received the Gold Medal (later killed in action as commander of Scirocco).

A very informative article on the anti-submarine warfare development of the Kriegsmarine can be found at this link (search the document for “magnetostrictive” to jump directly to the ASW section). A very informative, but highly technical, article on German passive sonar can be found at this link.

The Italian ‘Liberty’ Ships

Updated 22 May 2010

Well not quite.  But thanks to the excellent Miramar Ship Index, I have been able to ID a few key merchant vessels supplying North Africa which were built to what appears to be a standardised design. If I am wrong about that, corrections are welcome!

From 1939, the Riunito Adriatico shipyard at Monfalcone produced a number of standardised, fast merchant vessels of about 6,330/6,830 tons for foreign and Italian clients, which were taken over by the Sidarma shipping company in Fiume.  Many of these vessels were involved, and quite a few of them lost, on the trip to North Africa.  Many of them were named after historic figures, such as former Doges of Venice (Sebastiano Venier), or more recent Italian heroes, such as Fabio Filzi. The vessels played a significant role in supplying the Axis forces in North Africa, and 8 out of 10 were lost plying the North Africa route, with some of them surviving only a few months.

The vessels I could identify thus far out of this series are the following:

Pietro Orseleo (completed 1939, outside the Med in June 1940, sunk off Lorient 1943 – named after the Doge of Venice 991 – 1009)

Vettor Pisani (completed 1939, survived the war, broken up 1971 – named after a 14th-century Venetian admiral)

Andrea Gritti (completed 1939, sunk by a/c bomb (this source says a/c torpedo) with considerable loss of life while transporting troops, 3 September 41, off Sicily – named after the Doge of Venice 1523 – 1538)

Marco Foscarini (completed 1940, hit by a/c bomb and beached off Tripoli, 27 May 41 – named either after the Doge of Venice 1762 – 1763 or the commander of a Venetian galley at the Battle of Lepanto, or both)

Sebastiano Venier (completed 1940, hit by s/m torpedo 9 December 1941, wrecked off Cape Methino, Greece – named after the Doge of Venice 1577 – 1578) [actually, this was a captured Dutch vessel, originally called Jason]

Francesco Barbaro (completed 1940, sunk by s/m torpedo off Navarino, 27 September 41 – named after a 15th century Venetian humanist)

Fabio Filzi (first of the ships with a 500t increase in displacement, completed 1940, sunk by s/m torpedo off Taranto, 13 December 41 – named after an Italian 1st World War hero executed as a traitor by the Austrians)

Carlo del Greco (completed 1941, sunk by s/m torpedo off Taranto, 13 December 41 – named after an Italian 1st World War hero who died when his submarine engaged Austrian submarine U-5 under command of (the) Ritter von Trapp in 1915)

Gino Allegri (completed 1941, sunk by s/m torpedo off Benghazi, 31 May 42 – – named after an Italian 1st World War pilot)

Reginaldo Giulani* (completed 1942, hit by a/c torpedo off Benghazi, 4 June 42, and scuttled 5 June 42 – name provenance unknown to me)

Mario Roselli (completed 1942, survived the war, broken up 1972 – name provenance unknown to me)

*confusingly, an Italian submarine completed in 1940 carried the same name.

Transport Ship Tonnage Losses during CRUSADER

In a prior entry at this link I posted the arrival information for freight in North Africa by month, from the Italian navy’s official history. This entry will complete this information by adding monthly merchant and military (where used for freight transport, not escort – but see note on December) tonnage losses on the Libya route. I am presuming that German merchant vessels lost are included.

I am also presuming that the difference between ‘sent’ and ‘lost’ does not equal the tonnage that actually arrived, but instead includes the tonnage that abandoned the attempt. This is a particular important caveat in November, when the large convoy ‘C’ returned to port in Italy after it had been attacked from the air and by submarine, as well as the damaged Iseo and tanker Volturno. I have a separate post on successful voyages in November 41, which you can read at this link.

Numbers for returned tonnage are lower not just because of the losses, but also because vessels were held back for cabotage traffic along the Libyan coast, or because they were damaged.

As part of their very useful statistics, the USMM also provides success information by type of attack, even though this is not elaborated on further (e.g. how they counted joint attacks by air/surface, such as on Iridio Mantovani on 1 December). These numbers seem only to relate to actual attacks, not sorties:

Surface vessel – 10 attacks, 100% success rate*

Submarine – 33% success rate

Aerial – 32% success rate

November**

Sent 161,043 tonnes

Lost  54,011 tonnes (33.5%)

Returned 35,042 tonnes

Lost 0 tonnes

December***

Sent 79,930 tonnes

Lost  31,436 tonnes (39.3%)

Returned 30,266 tonnes

Lost 6,311 tonnes (20.9%)****

January

Sent 107,602 tonnes

Lost  13,098 tonnes (12.2%)*****

Returned 71,532 tonnes

Lost 5,741 tonnes (8.0%)

*I can identify four (five if attacks on Regia Marina vessels transporting goods are included) of these ten attacks to have taken place during the broader CRUSADER period:

Destruction of the Beta/Duisburg convoy

Sinking of Maritza/Procida

Sinking of Adriatico

Sinking of Mantovani (Adriatico and Mantovani were sunk on the same day, but in separate engagements)

Sinking of light cruisers da Barbiano/di Giussano (possibly included)

**Most of these losses fell on the Beta– or Duisburg convoy which was entirely destroyed.  But other ships were lost as well, such as Capo Faro to air attack on 30 Nov.

***The numbers here could be inflated by the loss of two Italian light cruisers da Barbiano and di Giussano with between them over 13,000 tonnes on 13 December. On the other hand, just adding up the losses of Iridio Mantovani, Adriatico, Fabio Filzi and Carlo del Greco, gets us to 26,189 tons, so it appears that the cruisers were not in fact included.

****This was Sebastiano Venier, torpedoed by HM Submarine Porpoise and beached on the Greek coast on return from North Africa, with Prisoners of War on board. A lot of detail on her loss and the consequences can be found at this link. I can state with reasonable confidence that while the Royal Navy knew of her passengers before she left harbour (Naval Headlines 159 issued on 8 December 1100 hours states that she was to leave harbour on 8 December 1600 hours with 2,000 POW), it is exceedingly unlikely that the  commander of HMS Porpoise could have known this, since he would have been at sea well before the naval headlines were circulated.

*****This was the large liner Vittoria, sunk by aerial torpedo attack as part of the T.18 convoy on 23 January.

Successful supply runs for the Axis – November 1941

I think it was Kriebel, 1a (operations staff officer) of 15. Panzerdivision, or maybe von Mellenthin, 1c (intelligence staff officer) of Panzerarmee Afrika who claimed that fromthe destruction of the Duisburg (aka Beta) convoy on the night 8/9 November until the arrival of Ankara at Benghazi on 19 December, no supplies reached the Axis forces in North Africa.  This is not true.  While it is correct that until the successful M.42 operation on 19 December no major convoy came through, and that very important vessels were sunk, some vessels made it through.

First of all, there were the naval units carrying emergency supplies, as well as reinforcements (e.g. Sonderverband 288 arrived in parts on Italian destroyers).  See this older post for the emergency supply programme. Also, there were a few runs of purely civilian supply ships carrying food, coal and cement, and a run by the water tanker Leneo with water supplies for Tripoli harbour.

But at the same time, some small merchant convoys also made it through.  Below is a list of these, including their cargo.  The information is from the official history of the Italian Navy, Vol. VIII La Difesa del Trafico con L’Africa Settentrionale and various websites.  One should note that the Med was a very dangerous place to be at the time if one was in an Italian merchant.  Of the nine ships that made the run successfully, four were lost within the next six weeks, one of them on the return run, and one in harbour in North Africa while unloading.

The list may not be complete. Naval History Net’s Day-by-Day list at this link states that German steamer Brook and Italian trawler Amba Aradam, escorted by Tp Partenope arrived at Benghazi from Brindisi on 18 November. My current information is that this is not correct, but that it was instead a coastal convoy from Tripoli.  I’ll check it.

Supplies and reinforcements delivered on merchants during this period total as follows:

Tanks M13/40 24
Troops (Italian & German) 2,846
Vehicles and prime-movers 322
General stores and rations (military) 5,885 tons
Ammunition (Italian) 896 tons
Air force fuel 675 tons
Ammunition and various materials for the Germans 330 tons
General war stores for the Germans 3,383 tons
Undefined Up to 2,300 tons on Bolsena 1 December

Arrival dates, detailed cargoes and escorts as follows:

Arrival Date 16 November
Location Benghazi
Escort(s) Ct da Verrazano (1)
Ct da Pigafetta
Ship(s) Name(s) Città di Napoli (2)
Città di Genova
Cargo by ship Città di Napoli
General Supply and Rations 130 tons
Troops 697
Città di Genova
General Supply 60 tons
Rations 104 tons
Troops 562
Arrival Date 21 November
Location Benghazi
Escort(s) Ct Zeno
Tp Partenope (3)
Ship(s) Name(s) Città di Palermo
Cargo
General Supply 92 tons
Troops (Italian) 428
Troops (German) 260
Arrival Date 23 November
Location Benghazi
Escort(s) Tp Orione
Ct Strale
Tinos (4)
Cargo by ship Bolsena
General Supply and Rations for the Italians 341 tons
Ammunition 395 tons
Vehicles and Prime Movers 5
Food and other Materials for the civilians 140 tons
Ammunition and various materials for the Germans 330 tons
Tinos
War stores for the German forces 3,383 tons
War stores for the Italian forces 14 tons
Vehicles and Prime Movers 4
Arrival Date 23 November
Location Tripoli
Escort(s) Ct Usodimare
Ct Saetta then from Tripoli
Ct Sebenico
Tp Centauro
Ship(s) Name(s) Fabio Filzi (5)
Cargo
General Supply and Rations 3,073 tons
Tanks M13/40 (Italian) 10
Vehicles and Prime Movers 123
Civilians 110
Troops 115
Fuel for the airforce in barrels 675 tons
Arrival Date 24 November (6)
Location Benghazi
Escort(s) Ct Malocello
Ship(s) Name(s) Città di Tunisi
Cargo
General Supply 103 tons
Troops (Italian) 476
Troops (German) 289
Arrival Date 1 December
Location Benghazi
Escort(s) Ct da Verrazano
Ship(s) Name(s) Sebastiano Venier (7)
Cargo
General Supply 1968 tons
Troops (Italian) 19
Civilians 118
Ammunition 591 tons
Vehicles and Prime Movers 190
Tanks M13/40 14
Arrival Date 1 December
Location Tripoli
Escort(s) Tp Centauro
Ship(s) Name(s) Bolsena
Cargo No information but see above run for capacity.

Notes:

(1) Ct = Cacciatorpediniere, a larger destroyer, I think these would be Fleet Destroyers (large, well-armed, fast) in Royal Navy classification.
(2) The four Città vessels were classed as naval auxiliaries D1 to D4 and carried an armament of 4x120mm guns and AA equipment. They were relatively fast (19 knots for Genova and Palermo, 17 knots for Tunisi and Napoli) passenger/cargo ships with about 5,400 tons displacement. Only Città di Tunisi survived the war and was broken up in 1970ish.  Città di Palermo did not even survive CRUSADER, she was torpedoed and sunk with very heavy loss of life by HM Submarine Proteus (Lt.Cmdr. Francis) off the Greek island of Cephalonia on 5 January 1942.
(3) Tp = Torpediniere, a smaller destroyer, I think these would be Destroyer Escorts (small, medium armament, medium speed, designed for convoy duty) in Royal Navy classification.
(4) Tinos was bombed while in the harbour of Benghazi. Most of her freight (AA ammunition and bombs) could be salvaged however.
(5) Mn Fabio Filzi was a new ship, commissioned in 1940. She was a fast and large merchant (16 knots, 6,836 tons displacement), and clearly seen as a high-value addition to the Italian merchant fleet, judging by her escort. It did not help her much, she was lost off Taranto to HMS Upright, together with what looks like her sister Carlo de Greco, while carrying 45 German tanks and about 600 or so troops. 453 shipwrecked were rescued by the accompanying destroyers.
(6) Mn Città di Tunisi ran in convoy from Suda Bay with Città di Genova to arrive on 21 November, but suffered an engine breakdown and had to return to Suda Bay with Malocello. After fixing the malfunction she set out again. She was damaged by bombs on the return run, according to radio interception by the British Admiralty.
(7) Tragically, on the run back Sebastiano Venier was torpedoed by HM Submarine Porpoise (Lt. Cdr. E.F.Pizey DSO) and had to be beached on Navarino. Of about 1,800 British and Commonwealth POW she transported, over 300 were killed. There is a lot of detail on this tragedy at this link.