Loss of HM S/M Tempest, 13 Feb 1942

Loss of HM S/M Tempest, 13 Feb 1942


In early 1942, the only means of naval offensive left to Malta were the submarines of the 10th Submarine Flotilla. Most of these were U-class boats, but some were P- and T-class, such as HM S/M Tempest.

The flotilla suffered a steady drip of losses to anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and mines. Starting in late 1941, German Sonar sets (S-Gerät) appeared on Italian escort vessels, and made them a far more deadly enemy.

Torpediniere Circe Marina Militare

Torpedo Boat Circe, after 1941. Marina Militare Photo Archive.

Tempest in the Mediterranean

Tempest was a large boat at 1,327 tons, and thus not considered for joining 10th Flotilla. Instead she was assigned to 1st Flotilla in Alexandria, whence she was supposed to travel at the end of the patrol in the Gulf of Taranto. This was her second combat patrol, not counting the transfer from the UK to Gibraltar. It appears that she carried spare parts for the flotilla in Alexandria on her mission as well.

Her Captain, Lt. Cdr. Cavaye, was an Australian career Royal Navy officer, unlike many other submariners at the time, and well experienced in submarines. 

Sinking of Tempest

HM S/M Tempest had the misfortune of encountering Capitano di Corvetta (Lt.Cdr.) Stefanino Palmas and his torpedo boat Circe on 13 February 1942. Palmas had been to the Kriegsmarine ASW course, and had received further training in Italy. On this mission, Circe was accompanying the German merchant Bosforo on her way to Taranto, and had also been ordered to patrol a specific area, where the day before HM S/M Una had illegally sunk the Italian tanker Lucania, which was traveling under safe passage from the Royal Navy to refuel a repatriation ship with civilians from East Africa. Two experienced commanders were thus set up against each other.

Both vessels noted each other about the same time, and Lt.Cdr. Cavaye made the fatal mistake of opting for a surface attack, probably trusting the night as protection. He would almost certainly not have been aware of the presence of advanced German anti-submarine equipment, including a German operator section, on Italian navy vessels. Cavaye ordered a crash dive when Tempest was about to be rammed, and received a first set of German depth charges while dropping down into the depths. Circe continued to patrol, and commenced attacking with daylight returning. She never lost contact with the submarine, and following a 6.5 hour hunt starting with the attack at 03.22am, using his last depth charges, Palmas finally managed to damage Tempest sufficiently to force her to surface, only 1,000m of Circe, where her crew abandoned ship. Some Royal Navy sailors appeared to be moving towards the boat’s gun were engaged with light AA guns from Circe, and nine rounds of the 10cm main gun.

As this account makes clear however, Tempest was almost mortally wounded by the first attack, and she was lucky not to succumb to it, unlike HM S/M P.38 ten days later. The final attack had led to flooding and chlorine gas building up, making it impossible to remain in the stricken submarine. At a water depth of 1,600 m at the site of the engagement, there was also no possibility for the boat to escape downwards and wait out matters on the sea floor or close to it.

Following this success, Palmas spent time trying to rescue as many of the men as possible, rather than trying to take the submarine under tow, although a small boarding command was sent over, including some German sailors who took code tables and other materials. After a short while, and a failed attempt to tow her to Crotone harbour 30 nm away, she slipped under the waves. 23 survivors out of the crew of 62 were then delivered to the Italian mainland. Many of the remainder were either killed by Circe’s gunfire or the very cold winter Mediterranean.

Palmas notes that the recovered Royal Navy sailors comported themselves very well, and remained calm throughout. He supplied them with food, hot drinks, and clothes. Palmas’ German crew members were not impressed by his actions, but it doesn’t appear there was anything to fault him.

The attack was covered in the Italian War Bulletin No. 631, and Lt.Cdr. Palmas received the Silver Medal for Military Valour.




HM /SM Tempest on the surface during the attempt to take her in tow. Marina Militare Photo Archive.

DSC 0382

Success Report from Italy to German Navy High Command. Rommelsriposte.com Collection


Further Reading

Survivor of HM S/M Tempest

German ASW Equipment Pt. 1

German ASW Equipment Pt. 2

German ASW Equipment Pt. 3

Sinking of HM S/M P.38

Difesa.it on the sinking of Tempest

Book review – Italian Torpedo Boat against British Submarine

Oral history of Charles G. N. Anscomb who survived the sinking.

Service history of HM S/M Tempest

Lt.Cdr. Cavaye

National Archive Files Relating to Sinking of ORP Kujawiak

National Archive Files Relating to Sinking of ORP Kujawiak


ORP Kujawiak was a British-built Hunt Class destroyer, transferred to the Polish navy in exile in April 1941. On 16 June 1942, at the end of Operation Harpoon, a supply convoy to Malta, she struck a mine outside Grand Harbour, killing 13 of her crew. She sank before she could be towed to safety.

Two folders with messages related to her sinking have been preserved at the UK’s National Archives in Kew. Based on the cover page, I expect these documents to be scheduled for destruction in 2022, 70 years after her sinking. In order to preserve them, they can be downloaded from my Dropbox by clicking here.


Survivors of the Polish Navy destroyer ORP Kujawiak, sunk by a mine in the  Operation Harpoon in the Mediterranean, come ashore at Greenock, still  wearing tropical kit, 24 June 1942. (IWM A10363)



HMS Eridge was a sister of ORP Kujawiak. She is shown passing the French battleship Lorraine, which was part of the French fleet in Alexandria harbour. Of note in the picture above is the wrong description. She was hit by a Regia Marina MAS motor-torpedo boat, not a German one. She was so badly damaged that she was never repaired, but used for base duties in Alexandria, and finally scrapped in 1946. The picture shows the arrangement of the main turrets and the central AA 4-barrel Pom-Pom gun quite well.

Lorraine was not active at the time, and had been disarmed. She was a 1910 vintage dreadnought that had been modernized between the wars. In December 1942 the ship joined the Free French forces and was put back into service, providing fire support to amphibious operations in the Mediterranean.

Directive No. 38

On 2 December 41 Hitler issued Directive 38, appointing Kesselring to the new post of CiC South. I tried to find it online, but to no avail, so here it is, in German, as a public service. An English translation is provided below.

This is an OCR of a copy reprinted in Germany, emphasis as in the copy, and I presume the original.

Der Führer and Oberste Befehlshaber F. H. Qu., den 2. 12. 1941 der Wehrmacht

OKW/WFSt/Abt. L (I Op)

441980/41 g. Kdos. Chefs.

Geheime Kommandosache

Chefsache! 17 Ausfertigungen

Nur durch Offizier ! 2. Ausfertigung

Weisung Nr. 38

1) Als Grundlage für die Sicherung und Erweiterung der eigenen Mittelmeerstellung und zur Bildung eines Kraftzentrums der Achsenmächte im mittleren Mittemeer befehle ich nach Einvernehmen mit dem Duce, dass Teile der im Osten frei gewordenen Verbände der deutschen Luftwaffe in Stärke etwa eines Fliegerkorps und der erforderlichen Luftverteidigungskräfte in den süditalienischen und nordafrikanischen Raum zu überführen sind.

Neben der unmittelbaren Auswirkung auf die Kriegführung im Mittelmeer und Nordafrika soll dadurch eine wesentliche Einflussnahme auf die gesamte weitere Entwicklung im Mittelmeerraum angestrebt werden.

2) Mit der Führung der für diese Aufgabe einzusetzenden Gesamtkräfte beauftrage ich den Generalfeldmarschall Kesselring unter gleichzeitiger Ernennung zum Oberbefehlshaber Süd (Ob. Bfh. Süd).

Seine Aufgaben sind:

Erzwingen der Luft- und Seeherrschaft im Raum zwischen Süditalien und Nordafrika zur Herstellung gesicherter Verbindungswege nach Libyen und der Cyrenaika, hierzu insbesondere Niederhaltung Maltas,

Zusammenwirken mit den in Nordafrika eingesetzten deutschen und verbündeten Kräften,
Unterbindung des feindlichen Verkehrs durch das Mittelmeer sowie der englischen Versorgung von Tobruk und Malta in enger Zusammenarbeit mit den dafür verfügbaren deutschen und italienischen Seestreitkräften.

3) Der Ob. Bfh. Süd untersteht dem Duce and erhält über das Comando Supremo dessen Richtlinien für die Aufgaben im grossen. In allen luftwaffeneigenen Angelegenheiten verkehrt der Ob. d. L. mit dem Ob. Bfh. Süd unmittelbar, in wesentlichen Fragen unter gleichzeitiger Unterrichtung des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht.

4) Dem Ob. Bfh. sind unterstellt:

sämtliche im Mittelmeerraum und Nordafrika eingesetzten Kräfte der deutschen Luftwaffe, die seitens der italienischen Wehrmacht zur Durchführung seiner Aufgaben zur Verfügung gestellten Flieger- and Flak-Verbände.

5) Die im mittleren Mittelmeergebiet eingesetzten deutschen Seestreitkräfte bleiben dem Ob. d. M. unterstellt.

Der Ob. Bfh. Süd ist befugt, für die Durchführung der ihm zugewiesenen Aufgaben dem Deutschen Admiral beim Oberkommando der italienischen Kriegsmarine, gegebenenfalls auch der Marine-Gruppe Süd (für das östliche Mittelmeer) Weisungen zu erteilen. Den Einsatz befehlen die Marinedienststellen im Einvernehmen mit dem Ob. Bfh. Süd.

Die Wünsche des Ob. Bfh. Süd zur Abstimmung des gemeinsamen Einsatzes der verbündeten Seestreitkräfte sind ausschliesslich an den Deutschen Admiral beim Oberkommando der italienischen Kriegsmarine zu richten.

6) Die Aufgaben des W. B. Südost und des Deutschen Generals beim Hauptquartier der italienischen Wehrmacht bleiben unverändert.

(gez.) Adolf Hitler

English Translation

The Führer and Commander in Chief. Führer HQ, 2nd Dec. 1941, to the Wehrmacht

OKW/WFSt/Abt. L (I Op)

441980/41/ Secret Command Affair

Chiefs Only! 17 Copies

Only by Officer! 2nd Copy

Directive No. 38

1) As basis for securing and broadening our position in the Mediterranean and to create a power centre of Axis forces in the central Mediterranean I hereby order, in agreement with the Duce, that elements of the German air force formations which have been freed up in the east, in strength of about one air corps, and the required air defense forces, are to be transferred into the Southern Italian and North African area. Apart from the immediate effect on the conduct of war in the Mediterranean and North Africa, a major influence on the whole development in the Mediterranean area will be pursued.

2) I charge Field Marshal Kesselring with the command of the totality of forces employed for this task, and appoint him as CIC South at the same time.
His tasks are:
Force command of the air and sea in the area between South Italy and North Africa to establish secure connections to Libya and the Cyrenaica, and in this context especially to suppress Malta, Co-operation with the German and allied forces employed in North Africa, Stopping of enemy traffic through the Mediterranean, as well as the English supply of Tobruk and Malta in close co-operation with the German and Italian naval forces available for this task.

3) The CIC South is subordinated to the Duce and receives his general guidance for the tasks at large through the Comando Supremo. In all internal German air force affairs he deals with the CIC German Air Force directly, in important matters while informing the High Command of the Wehrmacht at the same time.

4) Subordinated to the CIC South are:
All the forces of the German Air Force employed in the Mediterranean and North Africa, the flying and air defense forces made available by the Italian armed forces for the carrying out of his tasks.

5) The German naval forces employed in the central Mediterranean remain under the command of the CIC Navy.
The CIC South is allowed, to carry out the tasks given to him, to issue directives to the German Admiral at the High Command of the Italian Navy, and where necessary to the Naval Group South (for the eastern Mediterranean). The tactical employment is ordered by the naval offices in agreement with the CIC South.
Wishes of the CIC South to co-ordinate the joint employment of the allied naval forces are solely to be directed to the German Admiral at the High Command of the Italian Navy.

6) The tasks of the Armed Forces Commander South East and of the German General at the HQ of the Italian Armed Forces remain unchanged.

(signed) Adolf Hitler