In late 1941 the Kriegsmarine introduced a new type of vessel into the Mediterranean theatre, the Marinefährprahm (MFP, or simply ‘Prahm’), of ‘F-Lighter’ as it was known by the Royal Navy. I have previously written about the early history of these vessels at this link.
One of the first series of MFPs on the move from Tripoli to Benghazi, late November 1941. In the background a Spica class torpedo boat, probably Perseo. (Author’s Collection)
Loss of F148
F148, of the first series, was mined and lost on 15 January 1942, while proceeding to the forward area at Marsa el Brega from Tripoli. At this stage, the Axis forces were in the Marada – Mersa el Brega position, having retreated from Agedabia on 6 January 1942. It was the furthest east they would move until after their defeat at El Alamein in October and November 1942. There was no natural harbour nearby, but MFPs could discharge over a bow ramp, so did not need much of a harbour.
Supply to this area was not possible by normal ships, but could be carried out by the MFPs with their much shallower draft. The British on the other hand were well aware of the importance of coastal traffic to the Axis forces, and made persistent efforts to interdict it, both through direct attacks and through a mining campaign. Mines were dropped regularly by Fleet Air Arm Swordfish and Albacores operating out of Malta and Cyrenaica, on what the Malta forces called ‘cucumber’ raids.
One such raid took place on 4 January, with two Swordfish from No. 830 Squadron F.A.A. and one Albacore from No. 828 Squadron F.A.A. setting out from Malta to mine the approaches to Tripoli harbour, at this stage the only main harbour left to the Axis in North Africa. The raid is noted here. While it cannot be said whether this mining raid led to the loss of F148, it is the last one before she was mined. The location of the mining indicates that this was an air-dropped mine.
Report on the Loss of F148
82 tons of fuel in canisters loaded.
About 4 nautical miles east of Tripolis, at a distance of about 800-1,000 metres from the coast, detonation under the rear of the vessel. Probably English E-Mine. Ship slowly slips down aft. Emergency signals. All rescue boats and one man blown overboard. Two man on fireship, three below deck, the others on the poop. 11 men are wounded, some of them severely. Try to bring floats closer again to recover the wounded. Attempts are broken off since Italian 34th AA Battery and one Arab come alongside with three boats to take off the crew. Emergency signals seen from the coast. Admin Officer grips an Italian motor boat with some men and takes it to the site of the incident, but doesn’t find any crew on board. Boat continues to float.
Flotilla CO leaves port with Italian rescue tug, touring in the ship if possible. Because of the draft of the tug the site of the incident can only be reached at 22.00 hours. Life boat is hoisted out. Lighter has however already capsized, poop has sunk, prow sticks out of the water keel up. Nobody left on board. On return to port English air attack on Tripoli, therefore only tied up alongside at 24.00 hours. Crew was moved to hospital Tripoli by Battery.
Thus ended one of the small dramas of the desert war. Nobody was killed, but a valuable supply vessel with 82 tons of fuel was lost.
For the wargamers, you can play with these vessels here.