12 September 1941 – the Tembien Convoy

Added German Navy AA Report Information – 22 September 2018

Introduction

The summer of 1941 was primarily spent trying to build up the Axis forces in North Africa to prepare for the assault on Tobruk and the subsequent invasion of Egypt. While the supply route overall was delivering, with the vast majority of supplies reaching their destination, losses were suffered on a regular basis. I have previously written about the quite harrowing experience of the Malta Blenheim IVs of Nos. 105 and 107 Squadrons engaging the Axis supplies at this link.

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Bristol Blenheim Mark IV, V6014 ‘GB-J’, of No. 105 Squadron RAF Detachment in a dispersal at Luqa, Malta. Canvas covers protect the cockpit and glazed nose section from the sun. From July to September 1941, 105 Squadron was detached from the United Kingdom to Malta, to operate against targets in the Mediterranean and North Africa, losing 14 aircraft during the period. Note the modified gun mounting under the nose. Courtesy of the IWM Collection.

Nevertheless, while the loss rate on daytime shipping strikes was brutal, the reward was high, when a fully laden merchant with vital supplies could be sent to the depths of the Mediterranean. This happened on 11-13 September 1941, when the Malta strike forces had a good outing against the 44th convoy with Italian and German supplies, known to the Italians as the TEMBIEN convoy, and also sank the single runner SS Alfredo Oriani. While the loss of three vessels in two days was a remarkable success, it came at a price.

Air/Sea Battle on the North Africa Route 11-13 September 1941

The period saw heavy anti-shipping operations by the Malta-based British aircraft, covering the 11-13 September, with substantial losses on both sides.

The 12th of September 1941 day saw the heaviest anti-shipping operations, with a total of 22-29 aircraft operating out of Malta according to the Malta War Diary, 7x Wellington of No. 38 Squadron in a night attack, 8x Blenheim of No. 105 Squadron in the afternoon, and 7x Swordfish of No. 830 Squadron F.A.A. operating possibly twice during the night and the afternoon.

Losses were heavy, with 3x Blenheims lost, those of S/Ldr Charney D.F.C. with Observer Sgt. Porteous and Wireless Op./Air Gunner Sgt. Harris, Sgt. Mortimer with Observer Sgt. Reid and Wireless Op./Air Gunner Sgt. Owen, and Sgt. Brandwood. The latter and his crew were rescued by HM/Sub Utmost on 14 September, and the former two crews were all killed. Another Blenheim belly-landed on Malta due to damage from the naval anti-air fire.

Two ships were sunk, SS Caffaro by No.105 and SS Nicoló Odero by No.38 Squadron, both out of the Tembien convoy. Furthermore, on the 13th the  Italian 3,059t steamer SS Alfredo Oriani, a merchant with an identical name to the escort leader of the Tembien convoy, sank halfway to Benghasi following an air attack while on the way to Benghasi, from Patras, on 11 September, probably again by No. 105 Squadron. Thus, the R.A.F. sent a total of over 15,500 tons of shipping carrying thousands of tons of supplies and hundreds of vehicles to the bottom of the sea.

Based on information from Lorenzo Colombo, who runs the excellent Con la Pelle appesa a un Chiodo blog detailing all Italian vessel losses, the butcher’s bill for the three days was amounted to 26 on the Axis side, to which need to be added six R.A.F. crew members in two of the lost Blenheims and the German army officer who died of wounds in Tripoli, for a total of 33 killed:

  • SS Caffaro carried 228 men, including 168 Germans; 224 survived and four were missing (two Italian crew members and two Germans)
  • SS Nicolò Odero had 285 survivors, the victims were about twenty including 4 crew members (the other being troops and AA crews)
  • SS Alfredo Oriani had 50 men aboard, two were missing and 48 survived.

There are substantial discrepancies between the British and the Italian accounts, which I am aiming to clear up below. A big gap is the lack of an operations record book for No.830 Squadron. I have inquired with the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton, but to no avail. I will also add a bit more analysis on the issue of who sank SS Alfredo Oriani.

Official Accounts and Memories

The write up in the Malta war diary is below:

An Italian convoy of steamers TEMBIEN, CAFFARO, NIRVO, BAINSIZZA, NICOLO ODERO, and GUILA[1] departed Naples on the 10th, escorted by destroyers ORIANI and FULMINE and torpedo boats PROCIONE, PEGASO, ORSA, and CIRCE from Trapani, and OERSEO[1] which joined at 0600/13th.

Italian steamer CAFFARO (6476grt) was sunk by British Swordfish of 830 Squadron from Malta 105° northwest of Tripoli in 34-14N, 11-54E.

Italian steamer TEMBIEN (5584grt) was damaged by 830 Squadron attack.

Italian steamer NICOLO ODERO (6003grt) was damaged in the attack. She was sunk on the 14th by RAF bombing in 32-51N, 12-18E after the convoy arrived at Tripoli on the 13th.

One of the air crew of No 830 Squadron, Sub-Lt. Campbell describes the attack thus at this link:

12/13.9 – If my memory serves me right this was the night about which the Malta Daily Paper headlined as “Ducks and Drakes in the Med”. The Squadron took off at dusk to attack a large Convoy heavily escorted by Destroyers. We found the Convoy and attacked individualy, splitting it up completely. At least three ships were hit and Destroyers were racing about all over the place. We returned to base and my flight were sent out again to finish off the remaining ships. As we approached the scene of the previous engagement, I saw a Destroyer racing along at high speed. I decided to follow it to see if it would lead me to the remaining ships, this took some doing in a “Stringbag”, if there had been any wind against me I couldn’t have done it. After awhile I saw a large MV and attacked it. There was a bright flash and then it just blew up.

The above two accounts are severely flawed. Fortunately though on the British side, a fairly detailed account by No.105 Squadron has survived, in AIR27/826, the Operations Record Book (ORB) of No. 105 Squadron, and a less detailed account in the ORB of No. 38 Squadron.

11 September

First, the attack that I believe claimed SS Alfredo Oriani on 11 September, even though the timing of the attack reports in the British and Italian accounts diverges by a day, and the British pilots reported another merchant present. Nevertheless, the description of the attack and the location of it and the sinking are so close that I believe No.105 Squadron was responsible for her loss, following a check in the Nos. 11, 14, 55 and 107 Squadron Operations Record Books. The Malta Admiralty War Diary describes the attack thus:

Italian steamer ALFREDO ORIANI (3059grt) was sunk by British Blenheim bombers in 35-05N, 20-16E.

The steamer which had departed Petrasso on the 11th was escorted by torpedo boat CANTORE.

Oriani

SS Alfredo Oriani in peacetime, from Wrecksite.eu

No. 105 Squadron ORB states that five Blenheim IV went out on a shipping sweep at 0645am on 11 September. The attacking aircraft returned at 1211pm, while two returned early at 0750am. Crews were S/Ldr Smithers with Sgts. Harford and Green, F/Lt. Duncan with Sgts. Smith and Lyndall, Sgt. Bendall, with Sgts. Hindle and Brown, Sgt. Mortimer, Sgt. Weston, with Sgts. Storey and Kindell.

Five crews were detailed for an offensive sweep of the Ionian Sea.

The aircraft departed in two waves, the first sighting two MERCHANT VESSELS and DESTROYER escort in position 35°33N. 20°35’E.

One aircraft – SQUADRON LEADER SMITHERS – attacked first dropping bombs from stern to bow and registered a hit amidships.

The other aircraft attacking the same ship claim one hit each but not confirmed.

The MERCHANT VESSEL when last see appeared to be settling in the water in a sinking condition.

The second wave – FLIGHT LIEUTENANT DUNCAN and SGT. MORTIMER – returned with engine trouble.

All aircraft landed safely at BASE.

In the Italian official history, her loss is described thus.

11 September 4am from Patras to Benghazi. Steamer A. Oriani. Escort Escort Destroyer Cantore then Altair (from 1700 hours on 13 September). Attacked  and repeatedly hit by bombers at 1400 hours on 12 September, 60 nautical off Cape Matapan, sinks at 1800 hours on the 13th.

Screenshot 2018 04 08 22 44 08

The position of SS Alfredo Oriani’s sinking is not 60nm, but over 100 nautical miles off Cape Matapan, and about .

Screenshot 2018 04 08 22 48 17

More puzzlingly, at the time of the attack, she would have steamed about 190nm. A solid 17 hours of steaming at 11knots, her top speed. Pretty much impossible in the ten hours since she left port according to the Italian OH. Furthermore, the timing of the No. 105 Squadron operations on that day and the attack timing do not line up. Nevertheless, there is no record of another Blenheim unit attacking a vessel in the Ionian Sea on 11 September 1941.

A possibility would be that the Italian OH is wrong here. It is clearly wrong giving the position of Oriani being attacked as 60nm off Cape Matapan (the actual position of the attack is almost on a  straight line from Patras to Benghazi, while 60nm would be too far east), and is also wrong in giving the position of her sinking as 80nm north of Benghazi. It is therefore not impossible that the time or date of her departure and the actual time of the attack are also wrong. For example, an average speed of 7 knots would have put her almost straight into the attack position around 0800 hours on the morning of the 11th, had she departed Patras on 10 September at 0400 hours in the morning, instead of the 11 September. The location is about an hour and a halfs’ flying time in a Blenheim IV from Malta. Given that No. 105’s Blenheim’s left at 0645 hours, they could have been there at 0815 hours.

RN Cantore5

RN Generale Alfredo Cantore, an obsolete destroyer, downgraded to Escort Destroyer. She was lost on a mine in 1942. Courtesy Wikipedia.

SS Alfredo Oriani sank two days later on 13 September at 35°05’N 20°16’E, about 80 nautical miles north of Benghazi according to the Italian official history, although this position is more like 180 miles north of Benghazi. That position is 19 nautical miles west and 28 nautical miles south  of the attack position given in the No. 105 ORB, indicating that the vessel drifted about 33 nautical miles, or a speed of less than a knot after the attack. It is also physically impossible for Oriani to have made it to the position of the attack if her departure date is correct even if steaming at maximum speed of 11.5 knots. Patras is about 14 hours of steaming as the crow flies, given Oriani’s speed, from the location of the attack. My guess is that the Italian official history is not correct when it comes to the time/day of her departure.

12 September

The first to attack were No. 830 Squadron with their Swordfish, without success.

In the afternoon of the 12th, eight Blenheim IV were despatched by No. 105 Squadron. This time, it did not go so well for them. The crews were S/Ld Smithers with Sgts. Harbord and Fisher, Sd/Ld. Charney with Sgts. Portous and Harris, F/Lt. Ballands, F/O Greenhill, Sgt. Brandwood with Sgts. Miller and See, Sgt. Weston with Sgts. Storey and Kindell, Sgt. Bendall with Sgts. Hindle and Brown, and Sgt. Mortimer with Sgt. Reid and F/O Owen.

Eight crews were detailed to attack a CONVOY attacked by SWORDFISH aircraft the previous night.

The CONVOY was estimated to consist of six MERCHANT VESSELS of 6000 – 12000 tons and six escorting DESTROYERS and was attacked at 1415 hours.

Two aircraft – SQUADRON LEADER SMITHERS and SGT. WESTON – claimed two hits each with 250lb and 500lb bombs respectively. This MERCHANT VESSEL was left a mass of flames and a later reconnaissance report indicated that it had probably sunk.

One aircraft – SGT. BENDALL – attacked a 10000 ton MERCHANT VESSEL and scored two direct hits with 500lb bombs causing a large fire.

Two aircraft – FLIGHT LIEUTENANT BALLANDS and FLYING OFFICER GREENHILL – did not bomb as their approach was obstructed by other aircraft. Anti-aircraft opposition was intense from the DESTROYERS and three MACCHI 200 FIGHTERS and three C.R.42’s were reported diving out of the clouds though no attacks were witnessed.

One aircraft – SQUADRON LEADER CHARNEY – was shot down in flames near the CONVOY with little hope of survivors. One aircraft – SGT. MORTIMER – failed to return and nothing further was heard of the crew.

Another aircraft – SGT. BRANDWOOD – came down into the sea about 12 miles from the convoy but the crew were rescued the next day by a submarine.

Five aircraft landed safely at BASE, one of these – SGT. BENDALL – was forced to execute a belly landing owing to damage to the hydraulic system. The observer – SGT. HINDLE – was slightly wounded.

The British accounts are incorrect in several aspects, and need to be read with the Italian account of the battle. Fortunately, the Italian official history La Difesa del Trafico Vol. I has an account of this convoy battle as well, which would lead to the total loss of two of the five steamers with their important cargo. For example, while there were six merchants and six escorts, none of the merchants came in at 12,000 tons.

An adventurous voyage, albeit marked by painful losses, was that of the TEMBIEN convoy, which left Naples the morning of the 10th for Tripoli. This was the second convoy of cargo vessels bound for Libya in the month of September and, since it was composed of slower vessels, it had orders to follow the route of the Marettimo Channel of Sicily to the Kerkennah Banks, the route called the Ponente [2].

The steamers TEMBIEN, CAFFARO, NIRVO, NICOLO’ ODERO and BAINSIZZA were part of the convoy; the escort[3] consisted of the destroyers ORIANI[4] (Convoy Leader Commander Chinigò[5]) and FULMINE[6] and the torpedo boats PROCIONE, PEGASO, and ORSA[7], with which the torpedo boat CIRCE[8] united in the Sicily Channel.

During the night 11/12 November the convoy was discovered by a nighttime reconnaissance plane south of Pantelleria. Thus at 03.10 hours of the 12th an attack by torpedo bombers followed, avoided  by the maneuvering of the convoy, a smoke screen, and the anti-air reaction of various units.

The following morning the formation navigated without incident or alarm along the Kerkennah following diverse routes. But at 14.00 hours, while under escort of Italian planes, it was again attacked by airplanes, this time by bombers. This was the second air attack during the crossing. Not the last one however, since two more times, between Zuara and Tripoli, during the nights of the 12th and 13th, the convoy was attacked from the air.

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RN Alfredo Oriani underway. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On the daytime attack of the 12th, and the two following nights, the Escort Commander, Commander Chinigo, referred thus in his report:

The 12th

14.00 hours – Eight enemy planes are sighted[9], coming from the west at low height towards the formation. The escorting units and the steamers open targeted and barrage fire. Numerous water columns are seen close to the escort units and the steamers. Three of the attacking planes hit by the anti-aircraft fire crash in flames.

14.10 hours – The CAFFARO, hit by a bomb, takes fire. I am ordering CIRCE and ORSA and then FULMINE to come to the aid of the unfortunate steamer. I send the standard signal of having been discovered.

15.00 hours – Continued observation of flames from the fire in the direction of CAFFARO, and more and more explosions can be heard.

15.55 hours – I inform Supermarina[10] and Marina Tripoli[11] of the air attack with the reservation that further information cannot be provided yet.

16.05 hours – I observe a strong explosion in the direction of CAFFARO. Immediately after CIRCE signals that the steamer has sunk.

16.50 hours – CIRCE, FULMINE, ORSA report that they have on board 110, 35, and 79 shipwrecked, respectively. CIRCE and ORSA also that they have no-one particularly badly hurt.

18.40 hours – Notify Supermarina and Marina Tripoli of the sinking of CAFFARO and the number of shipwrecked rescued. Communicate furthermore that FULMINE is navigating for Tripoli with one severely wounded.

23.54 hours – At point C of the safe route to Tripoli. Steamers proceed in line astern.

It is worth noting that the German documentation on the downed Blenheims is somewhat more precise. German navy AA crews were on board of at least the steamer Nirvo. They reported that all three Blenheims were downed at 14.35 hours, one directly by the Kriegsmarine AA embarked on Nirvo, one by AA from a destroyer, with support from the Kriegsmarine AA on board Nirvo, and the other downed by AA weapons of embarked troops on Nirvo. Ammunition use was 23, 13, and 62 rounds of 2cm AA, respectively. The weather is described as clear and sunny, with medium visibility.

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Vickers Wellington Mark IC of No. 38 Squadron RAF Detachment, taxying at Luqa, Malta. Seven aircraft of the Squadron were detached to Malta from Shallufa, Egypt, between August and October 1941 for operations over the Mediterranean and Italy. Courtesy of the IWM Collection.

13 September

While the ORB of No. 38 Squadron places this attack on the 12th, I am certain it actually happened in the night 12/13 September, from 0340am to 0455am, seven Wellingtons of No. 38 Squadron bombed the convoy. They suffered no losses. Crews were led by Sgts. Robotham, Brine, Earl, Pottis, Secomb and Hawes, and F/Lt. Davis.

Target – Convoy – proceeding to Tripoli. Convoy was located 25 miles N.W. of Tripoli and was attacked from 03.40 to 04.55 hours.

Bombs dropped 24,500.lbs.

Results: four ships were hit, fires starting on two of them.

Opposition: light flack from escorting destroyers.

The timing of the attack fits exactly with the timing of the aircraft noise report by Tp Circe. The hits reported were then on SS Nicoló Odero. The earlier attack was almost certainly again a torpedo attack, with the standard attack pattern.

The 13th

01.05 hours – Four or five airplanes are seen on a course of 240 degrees with landing lights illuminated. Issue the air alarm signal to all units.

01.20 hours – Numerous flares light up to the left of the formation. Order the escort units to make smoke. The units and the steamers fire targeted and barrage. A total of 18 flares are counted.[12]

02.30 hours – The attack ceases and the formation is reordered, and normal navigation proceeds.

03.33 hours – Marina Tripoli informs me that the PERSEO leaves Zuara and will join the convoy to strengthen the escort. Further informs that at sunrise a MAS will be the pilot for the safe route.

03.45 hours – CIRCE signals aircraft noises to the rear.

03.55 hours – A flare light is seen on the right of the convoy. I issue the standard signal of having been discovered. Escort units and steamers open barrage fire. Smoke is made.

04.00 hours – An explosion on one of the steamers is observed.

04.04 hours – CIRCE signals that the steamer ODERO was hit.

04.24 hours – A bomb hits in our wake at about 100 meters from the stern. Fire is opened with the machine guns.

04.30 hours – CIRCE signals that there are men in the water and requests that another escort is sent. I order ORSA and PERSEO, which during the attack rejoined the formation, to get close to CIRCE and cooperate in the assistance of the hit steamer and to the rescue of the  shipwrecked.

05.00 hours – The attack ceases and the formation is taken up again, and we proceed on the safe route.

05.05 hours – CIRCE signals that the ODERO has fire on board, but that she is not sinking, and requests sending a tug.

The steamer NICOLO’ ODERO, even though in flames, remains afloat for many hours, with the support of the torpedo boats ORSA, CIRCE, and PERSEO which, in the first instance, are engaged in saving the men embarked on the merchant.

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Torpedo boat RN Perseo, lead of her sub-class of Spica torpedo boats.

In support of the steamer, the tugs PRONTA and PORTO PALO leave Tripoli at sunrise,  seeking with any means to extinguish the fire which is still raging on the merchant. The PORTO PALO even goes alongside the ODERO, sending men to fight the fire.

Only when it is clear that the flames cannot be doused do the two tugs take the burning steamer in tow, first trying to reach Tripoli, and then to beach it on the coast. During the whole night, the two tugs and two motor trawlers, also coming from Tripoli, remain close to the steamer with the hope to ultimately save it, but during the afternoon of the 14th September a hold with ammunition blows up, causing the destruction of the NICOLO’ ODERO.

No. 38 Squadron then ‘visited’ Tripoli on the 13th, again I believe this was the night of 13/14, probably to attack during the unloading of the convoy.  The report of Odero having been beached, which only happened on the 14th, is a give-away in this regard.

Numerous bombs on the harbour edge are reported and six  Italian soldiers killed in a direct hit on their MG position near the lighthouse. Seven Wellingtons went out, with the crews of Flight Officer Pascall, Pilot Officer Ridgway, and Sgts. Cooper, Fell, McManus, and Nankivell. None were lost.

Target – Tripoli – shipping alongside Spanish Quay. Attack lasted from 03.00 to 04.35 hours.

Bombs dropped 27,500. lbs.

Bombs fell on or near the Quay.

Aircraft reported a large ship aground 30 miles W. of Tripoli. This M/V presumed to be one of those set on fire during previous night’s attack on convoy.

Opposition: effective smoke-screen. Heavy A.A. aimed at aircraft, not barrage fire. Light A.A. as usual. Eleven searchlights operated.

Assessment

It is clear from the Italian account that the British accounts were severely mistaken about the impact of their attacks. No ships had been hit in the night attack by No. 830 Squadron on 11/12 September. In the afternoon attack by No. 105 Squadron, only one merchant had been hit, not two. The second attack by the Swordfish is not mentioned at all.

What is also interesting is that the Italian air escort is not mentioned by the Italian report.

Sub-Lt. Campbell of No. 830 Squadron seems to overstate the case of his attack somewhat regarding his hit on what must have been Caffaro.  At this stage I am doubtful regarding his claim, and what could be surmised is that the explosion leading to the end of Caffaro was actually caused by a torpedo hit. But overall his story does not stack up, while the time of the Blenheim attack, the description by the escort commander, and the losses all seem to fit.

The official Italian history claims she was hit by a bomb, which appears the likely reason. The Italian report of eight attacking planes, of which three were shot down, is therefore to be considered an accurate account of the loss of Caffaro.

As for No. 105 Squadron, this was to be one of the last operations it flew in the Mediterranean. It suffered two more losses. Sgt. Bendall and crew on 17 September when attacking a small convoy, and Wing Commander Sciviers and his crew on 22 September, when his plane collided with that of Sgt. Williams during an attack on the barracks at Homs in Libya. The attack on the small convoy on 17 September is again well documented.

First the British side:

Three aircraft took off to attack one small MERCHANT VESSEL, one TUG and two SCHOONERS. One SCHOONER was left a mass of flames and the other was seen to blow up and disintegrate. One aircraft failed to return from this OPERATION. The crew were – SGT. BENDALL – Pilot: Sgt. HILL – Observer. SGT BROWN – W/OP/A.G.

PILOT OFFICER ROBINSON of No. 107 Squadron also proceeded on this operation and failed to return.

From the Italian side:

14 September 2200 hours from Trapani to Tripoli. Steamer Ascianghi, Steam Tug Mirabello del Parco with Minesweeper Pietrino in tow; Motor Schooner Filuccio. Escort Escort Destroyer Clio. At 1600 hours of 17 September, 15 miles north of Zuara, the convoy is attacked by bombers. Three are shot down and one of these crashes on Mv Filuccio, provoking a fire and her sinking. The Ascianghi rescues 10 out of 13 members of the crew. On the 18th at 0900 hours at Tripoli without Mv Filuccio.

The sections show again how easy it was to get things wrong.

In October No. 105 Squadron was withdrawn back to the UK, to convert to Mosquitos. It did maintain a Blenheim I as a ‘hack’ plane. No. 107 Squadron took over operations on Malta, with similarly tragic performance.

Impact

According to the German loading lists, Nicoló Odero did not carry any German supplies on this voyage. Caffaro however did. She went down with substantial numbers of vehicles, rations, and ammunition, losses that the German forces could ill afford, and that further delayed the build up to the attack on Tobruk, which in turn enabled the Allied forces to attack first. The full list of her German load is given below. She almost certainly also carried Italian cargo, but I have not been able to find the manifest for this. While Caffaro carried a substantial number of soldiers, primarily drivers for the vehicles of 7./Flak 25, Heeresfunkstelle XVIII and Stab Panzergruppe, most of these are likely to have been rescued, with 224 men being picked up.

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Footnotes

[1] Should be MV Giulia. Orseo should be Perseo, Spica class boat, the staple Regia Marina escort. Displacing 1,020 tons at full load, they were armed with 3x10cm guns, four 450mm torpedo tubes, and a reasonable set of AA and ASW weaponry, running 34 knots top speed.
[2] Western
[3] This was a powerful escort with substantial AA capabilities. Strangely, the report omits to mention the MV Giulia, which was definitely part of the convoy,.
[4] The Orianis were a class of four modern, large destroyers. An improved repeat of the Maestrale class, with 2,470t at full displacement, 4x120mm main guns and six torpedo tubes as main armament, and a claimed top speed of 38 knots. They carried improved anti-air guns compared to the Maestrales. Oriani survived the war and served in the French navy until 1954.
[5]Commander Chinigò survived the war and after the war rose to the rank of Captain and commanded the Littorio, being her last captain.
[6] A Folgore class destroyer, an older ship, she was sunk in the Duisburg/Beta convoy battle on 9 November 1941 with the loss of 141 men including her commander, Lt.Cdr. Mario Milano. The Folgores were not a lucky class, with all four ships lost during the war. They displaced 2,096 tons at full load, carried 4x120mm guns and six torpedo tubes as main armament, and had a claimed top speed of 38 knots. A repeat of the Freccia class they had less stability and range than her predecessor due to a reduction in their beam.
[7] Orsa-class torpedo boats, an enlarged version of the Spicas (see below). At 1,575 tons full displacement, they traded one 10cm gun for improved AA and ASW equipment, carrying also 4x 450mm torpedo tubes and only running at up to 28 knots. Pegaso claimed four Royal Navy submarines, which if confirmed would make her one of the top submarine hunters of the Regia Marina. There are however doubts over this record. Pegaso and Procione scuttled on the armistice, while Orsa survived the war and continued to serve until 1964.
[8] Circe was also a Spica-class boat. Circe destroyed four confirmed Royal Navy submarines during the war, making her one of the most successful sub-hunters of the Regia Marina.
[9] This are likely to have been the eight Blenheims of No. 105 Squadron out of Luqa, Malta, on their attack run.
[10] Regia Marina High Command
[11] Naval Command Tripoli
[12] This was standard attacking practice for the torpedo bombers. The lead aircraft which carried radar instead of a torpedo would drop flares behind the convoy, to silhouette it, and enable the attacking planes to approach from the dark.

Sources

British

Operations record books of Nos. 11, 14, 38, 55, 105, 107, and 272 Squadrons R.A.F..
Admiralty War Diary, Malta

Italian

Official history: La Difesa del Trafico con l’Africa Settentrionale Vol. I

German

War diaries Naval Transport Offices Benghazi, Tripolis.

Cargo Manifests, Naval Transport Office Naples

Websites:

Malta War Diary

Royal Navy Day by Day

Wrecksite

Superb site about the Inshore Squadron

Thanks to Robert’s inquiry on the About page, I did a quick Google regarding the Royal Navy’s Inshore Squadron, which ran a variety of vessels for close-in work along the North African coast. Quite a few of these were provided by the Royal Australian Navy. The page below has a lot of information on them.

Happy reading!

http://www.gunplot.net/matapan/scrapironflott12.html

Emilio Bianchi – Alexandria Frogman, died at 103 years old

Emilio Bianchi, who on 19 Dec 41 placed a mine under HMS Valiant together with Durant de la Penne, disabling her for eight months, died on August 15th. He and his comrades who carried out the attack on the British battleships in Alexandria achieved an amazing feat, putting the final act in place in a drama which had played out since mid-November, and which saw a sudden changing of the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean in just four weeks.

On 14 November, aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal is sunk by German submarine U-81 in the western Mediterranean.

On 25 November, battleship HMS Barham was sunk by German submarine U-331 while returning to Alexandria, with a dramatic video showing her demise, which caused substantial loss of life:

On the night 14/15 December, light cruiser HMS Galatea is sunk by German submarine U-557 on her return to Alexandria.

On the night 18/19 November Force K, consisting of light cruisers HMS Neptune, HMS Aurora, and HMS Penelope, supported by destroyers Havock, Kandahar, Lance, and Lively, runs into a deep sea minefield off Tripoli. HMS Neptune capsizes, again with substantial loss of life, leaving only one survivor. HMS Kandahar also strikes a mine and is sunk the next day by destroyer HMS Jaguar. HMS Aurora and HMS Penelope both strike mines, with HMS Aurora damaged so badly that she has to return to the UK where she is repaired until the end of August 1942, while HMS Penelope can be repaired in Malta and re-enters battle after one month.

The attack by Bianchi and its colleagues was the final chapter of this chain of events, disabling two battleships and one destroyer.

Together they removed one carrier, three battleships, and four light cruisers, as well as several destroyers from the order of battle of the British navy in the Mediterranean, at the height of the battle for supremacy in the central Mediterranean.

Daily Telegraph Obituary

Interview with Emilio Bianchi

History of HMS Valiant

May this very brave man rest in peace.

HM/Sub Urge (N17) may have been located off Libya

It appears from various news media that a missing submarine from the famous 10th Submarine Flotilla on Malta may have been located off Libya. There are some doubts around it, but I thought it worth mentioning in any case.

Telegraph Article

Argunners Article – includes a sonar picture.

HM/Sub Urge was, as the name indicates, a U-Class submarine, and a highly decorated one at that. Her wartime history is very well set out on U-Boat Net at this link

HMS Urge

HM/Sub Urge underway – official Admiralty picture from the IWM Website

Hopefully it is really her, and the relatives will then have some more knowledge on what happened to the crew. Also, hopefully the situation in Libya will calm down at some point, and enable further investigation of the wreck, to confirm that it is HM/Sub Urge, and maybe confirm the reason for her loss. Urge was lost with 42 men on board, carrying a number of passengers apart from her complement. The crew and passengers were very highly decorated, between them accounting for:

1x D.S.O. and bar

1x D.S.C. and bar

2x D.S.C.

1x D.S.M. and bar, twice Mentioned in Despatches

10x D.S.M.

4x Mentioned in Despatches 

Ras el Hilal

Location of Sonar Contact, showing how close it is to the straight line course from Malta to Alexandria. Click on the picture for a smaller scale satellite image of the area.

Based on the history on U-Boat Net, and the location, which seems to confirm that the fatal attack was delivered by Fiat CR.42s of this may well be one of the last (if not only) times that a double-decker plane sunk a submarine. Contrary to the entry on U-Boat Net however, it appears that the CR.42 in the ground assault variant, which was the main role it played in North Africa in 1942, could carry up to 2x100kg bombs, which may well be fatal to a surfaced submarine.

It is most likely that the planes of 153 Squadriglia which are now likely to have sunk HM/Sub Urge were flying escort or maritime surveillance to cover the coastal convoys between Benghazi and Derna. The parent unit of 153 Squadriglia, 3 Gruppo C.T. (3rd Fighter Group) was based on airfields around Benghazi (K2, K3) in early 1942 (see this link).

Fiat CR 42 Benina Lybia 2

“Fiat CR.42 – Benina Lybia” by Unknown – . Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Urge conducted four patrols during Operation CRUSADER, damaging the modern Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto in an attack that led to the cancellation of convoy operation M.40 in mid-December 1941. While this was quite a success, it appears that the Admiralty was not too happy that Urge’s commander did not try to sink her, even if it would have been suicidal to do so.

Urge’s most famous victim was the Italian light cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere, a Condottieri-class light cruiser from 1930. She was lost with about half her crew when Urge put a torpedo into her just off the island of Stromboli on 1 April 1942. She was the last survivor of her sub-class (Giussano) of four light cruisers. Somewhat confirming that the class was very vulnerable, she broke in two after being hit by one torpedo, and quickly sank. The exact location of her sinking and two pictures can be found at this link.

3NDxQGB

Giovanni delle Bande Nere at anchor, probably pre-war.

Lost with HM/Sub Urge

ROWLEY JOHN KENNETH 27 D S M 06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/SSX 21371’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 56, 1. SON OF HARVEY SWANN ROWLEY AND SYBIL MARY ROWLEY, OF HALL GREEN, BIRMINGHAM.

 

DAY FREDERICK 21   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/SSX 20578’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 53, 3. SON OF ANNIE DAY.

 

PARKINSON JOHN LESLIE 24   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 204152’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 66, Column 2. SON OF JOSEPH AND EDITH PARKINSON, OF COPPULL, LANCASHIRE; HUSBAND OF ADA PARKINSON, OF COPPULL.

 

DAVISON ROBERT 21   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 190316’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 64, Column 3. SON OF ROBERT JAMES DAVISON AND AGNES DAVISON, OF NORTH WALSHAM, NORFOLK.

 

GOSS RONALD HENRY 22   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/SSX 20989’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 65, Column 1. SON OF SAMUEL AND DAISY GOSS, OF CWMBRAN MONMOUTHSHIRE.

 

WILDMAN RICHARD 22   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 204322’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 67. Column 1. SON OF RICHARD JOHN AND MARY ALICE WILDMAN, OF LANCASTER.

 

O’NEILL JOHN 22 Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘P/JX 217252’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 64, Column 3. SON OF WILLIAM JOHN AND ANNIE O’NEILL, OF HUCKNALL, NOTTINGHAMSHIRE.

 

TOMS CHARLES HERBERT 38 D S M 06-05-42   Chief Engine Room Artificer Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/M 35358’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 3. SON OF HERBERT AND ALICE TOMS; HUSBAND OF VERA MURIEL TOMS, OF GOSPORT, HAMPSHIRE.

 

JACKMAN CHARLEY JOHN 33 D S M and Bar, Twice Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42  Chief Petty Officer  Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘P/J 110919’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 62, Column 2. SON OF GLOSTER AND CATHERINE ARABELLA JACKMAN; HUSBAND OF ELSIE ROSALIE JACKMAN, OF BROCKENHURST, HAMPSHIRE.

 

RUTTER RONALD FREDERICK 24   06-05-42   Electrical Artificer 4th Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/MX 59915’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 63, 3. SON OF WILLIAM THOMAS AND ELLEN LOUISA RUTTER, OF UXBRIDGE, MIDDLESEX.

 

HELLYER REGINALD 28 D S M 06-05-42   Engine Room Artificer 2nd Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/MX 47775’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 60, 2. SON OF ERNEST AND OLIVE HELLYER; HUSBAND OF VERONICA ANN HELLYER.

 

VARLEY ERIC 28 Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42   Engine Room Artificer 3rd Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/MX 52497’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 69, Column 1. SON OF JOHN AND HANNAH EDDEN VARLEY, OF HORDEN, CO. DURHAM.

 

WHITE WILLIAM PETER 21   06-05-42   Engine Room Artificer 4th Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/MX 76840’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 60, 2. SON OF GEORGE VICTOR AND CHARLOTTE LEASK WHITE, OF EAST HAM, ESSEX.

 

HARMAN STANLEY GORDON     06-05-42   Engine Room Artificer 4th Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/MX 76070’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 60, 2.  

 

NORRIS JESSE   D S M 06-05-42   Leading Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/JX 142500’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 52, 2. SON OF JESSE AND MINNIE NORRIS, OF ROCHESTER, KENT.

 

OSBORN HERBERT GEORGE ARTHUR 27 D S M 06-05-42   Leading Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/JX 134094’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 52, 2. SON OF HERBERT CHARTER OSBORN AND ROSE EMILY OSBORN; HUSBAND OF VIOLET MAY OSBORN, OF CAMBRIDGE.

 

GROVES LAURENCE FRANK 36 D S M 06-05-42   Leading Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/J 101563’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 52, 2. SON OF FRANK AND ROSE GROVES; HUSBAND OF GLADYS WINIFRED GROVES, OF FLEETWOOD, LANCASHIRE.

 

MORRIS FREDERICK HAROLD 22   06-05-42   Leading Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘P/JX 145545’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 63, Column 1.

 

LAW ERIC CHARLES 22 Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42   Leading Signalman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/JX 145120’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 58, 2. SON OF CHARLES FREDERICK AND LOUISA ALICE LAW.

 

WILKES SAMUEL CORNELIUS     06-05-42   Leading Stoker Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/KX 81223’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 61, 3.  

 

WOOLRICH JOHN EDWARD 24   06-05-42   Leading Stoker Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘P/KX 90716’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 2. SON OF WILLIAM AND EDITH WOOLRICH, OF CHELL, STAFFORDSHIRE.

 

ASHFORD HAROLD GEORGE 32   06-05-42   Leading Telegraphist Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 127562’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 1. SON OF GEORGE AND ESTHER D. ASHFORD, OF FROME, SOMERSET.

 

ROGERS ROY WILLIAM GEORGE 22 D S M 06-05-42   Leading Telegraphist Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/SS 26082’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 1. SON OF GEORGE WILLIAM AND EDITH LOUISA ROGERS, OF WHITSTABLE,

 

KENT. TOMKINSON EDWARD PHILIP 30 D S O and Bar 06-05-42  Lieut-Commander Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 61. Column 3. SON OF ROBERT EDWARD AND BEATRICE LUCY TOMKINSON; HUSBAND OF MYRTLE ALICE TOMKINSON, OF LANGHAM, SUFFOLK.

 

ALLEN DAVID BENNETT   D S C 06-05-42   Lieutenant Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 61, Column 3.

 

RANSOME JOHN SANDEMAN DEANE 26 D S C 06-05-42   Lieutenant Royal Naval Reserve H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 71, Column 1. SON OF CAPTAIN FRANK DEANE RANSOME AND CELIA NOEL RANSOME.

 

POOLE JAMES MALCOLM STUART 23 D S C and Bar 06-05-42 Lieutenant Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 62, Column 1. SON OF JAMES AND FLORENCE MAY POOLE; HUSBAND OF LILIAN ELIZABETH ANNE POOLE, OF STREATHAM HILL, LONDON.

 

BOTTING HENRY JOHN     06-05-42   Petty Officer Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/JX 137747’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 51, 3.  

 

WATTS HENRY RONALD JOSEPH 31 D S M, Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42   Petty Officer Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘P/JX 129967’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 62, Column 3. SON OF JOSEPH EVANS WATTS AND EDITH CLARA WATTS, OF ARBORFIELD, BERKSHIRE. HIS BROTHER STANLEY HORACE WATTS ALSO FELL.

 

ASHFORD WILLIAM GEORGE 28 D S M 06-05-42   Petty Officer Stoker Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/KX 82966’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 60, 3. SON OF HENRY GEORGE AND ALICE M. ASHFORD; HUSBAND OF VIOLET FRANCES ASHFORD, OF MERTON, SURREY.

 

WISEMAN PETER DUGDALE 27 Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42   Petty Officer Telegraphist Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 134000’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 1. SON OF THOMAS AND JANE WISEMAN, OF BLYTH, NORTHUMBERLAND.

 

STANGER MARCUS 26   06-05-42   Stoker 1st Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/KX 90258’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 70, Column 3. HUSBAND OF GEORGINA ALEXANDRA STANGER, OF PLYMOUTH.

 

McMILLAN JOSEPH CRESSWELL DIXON 21   06-05-42   Stoker 1st Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/SSX. 32970’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 70, Column 2. SON OF ROBERT AND MARY A. MCMILLAN, OF FAULDHOUSE, WEST LOTHIAN.

 

TWIST HENRY ERNEST   D S M 06-05-42   Telegraphist Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 225829’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 2.

 

BAXTER LESLIE GORDON     06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘C/LD/X 3971’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 66, 2.  

 

McDIARMID FRED 21   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/SSX 32644’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 64, Column 2. SON OF GEORGE AND ELIZABETH B. MCDIARMID, OF GLOSSOP, DERBYSHIRE.

 

CHAMBERLAIN SIDNEY WILLIAM 22   06-05-42   Leading Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/SSX 22878’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 62, Column 3. SON OF ERNEST WILLIAM AND EMILY CHAMBERLAIN, OF BRIGHTON.

 

LEEKE RONALD WILLIAM 20   06-05-42   Leading Signalman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/JX 154364’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 66, Column 2. SON OF THOMAS WILLIAM AND ADA DOROTHY LEEKE, OF SCOTTER, LINCOLNSHIRE.

 

LAMB JAMES WILFRED 24   06-05-42   Leading Stoker Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/KX 94635’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 1. SON OF CLARENCE LAMB, AND OF JANE A. LAMB, OF YORK.

 

MAIDMENT JOHN 22   06-05-42   Leading Telegraphist Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/SSX 22031’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 66, Column 3. SON OF JOHN AND ETHEL MARY MAIDMENT, OF DORCHESTER, DORSETSHIRE.

 

BRYANT ALBERT EDWARD 38   06-05-42   Stoker 1st Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/K 61633’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 2. SON OF ALBERT AND ROSE BRYANT; HUSBAND OF ETHEL MARY BRYANT.

 

BROWN CYRIL 28   06-05-42   Stoker 1st Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/KX 84490’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 2. SON OF RUFUS AND HILDA ELIZA BROWN, OF COAL ASTON, DERBYSHIRE.

 

Naval Personnel Losses during Operation CRUSADER

In an older post (at this link), I have provided the losses during Operation CRUSADER. These are almost certainly ground forces, and in any case, air force losses would not have added significantly to them, in terms of overall volume. One thing I did not consider until now however are the losses of the two large navies supporting the battle, the Regia Marina and the Royal Navy. Reading up on the sinking of Citta di Palermo on 5 Jan 1942, which caused heavy loss of life (921 dead and missing presumed dead), made me think about this aspect however.

Having had a quick look, it is apparent that the personnel losses on both sides are about equal to the losses suffered at land, further reinforcing the nature of Operation CRUSADER as a campaign fought in three dimensions, and probably at the time, the largest one ever fought in this way. These two older posts provide information on unit losses, both large and small.

In the table below I have ignored any losses by merchants, and anything outside the period. I have also not included German submarines. With one exception, losses happening apart from the on the day the unit was lost are not considered. For the Royal Navy, the sources are the HMS Barham Association and HMS Neptune Association websites, and the excellent Naval History Net. On the latter, it appears that in some cases losses for damaged ships (e.g. torpedoing and beaching of HMS Glenroy) are not given. This, and the exclusion of losses on operations (with one exception, a casualty from air attack on HMSAS Sotra on 1 Jan 42) understates the overall losses. For the Italian navy, it is the Italian Wikipedia, which I deem to be reliable in this. Kriegsmarine losses are based on information on Uboat Net. For the Italian side, I have estimated the losses of Citta di Palermo as 350 men. Losses of passengers are excluded.

The end result is that the Italian navy lost about 40% more men killed at sea than the army did on land during Operation CRUSADER. For the Commonwealth, losses at sea reach close to 2,600, while during land operations about 2,900 were killed (plus about 800 who were drowned later as POWs on Sebastiano Venier, Ariosto and Tembien, in December 41 and February 1942). But in direct operations, Royal Navy losses reached over 90% of losses during land operations.

German losses were primarily with the six submarines they lost (one had no casualties), and these come to 186 killed. In addition, the Germans lost naval personnel embarked on freighters Maritza and Procida to man AA guns (Marinebordflak), and maybe some smaller numbers on other vessels (e.g. some of the instructors for the sonar on Alvise da Mosto), but I don’t have those numbers. In any case they would be small, so total losses will probably not be more than 250.

It is worth noting that while none of the Regia Marina vessels was lost with all hands, both the Royal Navy and the Kriegsmarine suffered such losses. HMS Salvia, HMSAS Sotra, HMS Lady Shirley and HM/Sub Triumph were lost with all hands. So were U557 (rammed in error by Italian Orione) and U577 (sunk by a Swordfish of No. 815 Sqdrn.) HMS Neptune, HM/Sub Perseus, U374, and U451 had only one survivor each. It is further worth noting, as Urs Hessling points out, that HMS Barham and HMS Neptune are amongst the highest personnel losses the Royal Navy suffered in World War II, while the combined loss of Alberico da Barbiano and Alberto da Giussano probably also ranks amongst the highest losses of the Regia Marina in a single action, and these do of course affect the picture.

Lest we forget.

Arm of Service

Unit

Type

Individual Loss

Total Loss

Regia Marina

Alberico da Barbiano

Light Cruiser

534

1,436

Citta di Palermo

Auxilary Cruiser

350

Alberto da Giussano

Light Cruiser

283

Alvise da Mosto

Destroyer

138

Amm. Saint Bon

Submarine

75

Corazziere/Granatiere

Destroyers

24

Alcione

Torpedo Boat

17

Amm. Carraciolo

Submarine

15

Royal Navy

HMS Barham

Battleship

841

2,651

HMS Neptune

Light Cruiser

764

HMS Galatea

Light Cruiser

470

HMAS Parramatta

Sloop

147

HMS Kandahar

Destroyer

73

HMS Chakdina

Armed Boarding Vessel

72

HM/Sub Triumph

Submarine

62

HMS Salvia

Corvette

59

HM/Sub Perseus

Submarine

59

HMS Lady Shirley

A/S Trawler

33

1

HMS Rosabelle

A/S Yacht

30

1

HMSAS Sotra

Mine-Sweeping Whaler

23

HMS Gurkha

Destroyer

9

HMS Queen Elizabeth

Battleship

8

HMS Chantala

Armed Boarding Vessel

1

Note 1: Both HMS Lady Shirley and HMS Rosabelle were sunk by U-374 when it entered the Mediterranean.

Luftwaffe Report – Air Attacks on Convoy Operation MF 3, 16 to 19 Jan 42

Convoy operation MF 3 was a combination of two two-ship convoys, both from Alexandria to Malta, MW 8A, and 8B. from 16 January to 21 January 1942. Full detail can be found at this link. They had substantial escort support, of a total of 14 destroyers and four light cruisers, indicating how severe the situation in the Mediterranean was viewed by the Royal Navy’s command at the time. Out of convoy MW 8A, the Norwegian freighter Thermopylae of 6,655 GRT (details including a detailed account of her loss and pictures at this link) was hit off Derna on its way to Alexandria, after being detached for technical trouble. She had 30 crew, and 336 troops from 65 LAA Regt, with 16 Bofors 40mm AA guns and 10 tanks embarked to reinforce the garrison. Reports about losses are conflicting, ranging from 33 to 124 men who were killed in this attack and the subsequent rescue operation.

No other damage to either of the merchants in the convoys was reported, although the L-Class destroyer HMS Ghurka went down after being torpedoed on the outbound journey off Sollum by German submarine U 133. The three freighters reached Malta with their substantial supplies and reinforcements, and they were crucial in enabling the island to hold out during the siege. A comment on the Malta GC blog (at this link – many thanks to Robert Dimech) gives the surviving cargo as follows:

  • 85 men of A Squadron 6 RTR with 8 A9 and A13 cruiser tanks
  • 21 officers and 421 men of 65 LAA Regiment with 20 Bofors 40mm AA guns
  • 18 4,000 lbs ‘Blockbuster’ bombs for the Wellingtons based on Malta

The weather at the time was quite severe, so bad in fact that one of the escorting destroyers, the Dutch HNMS Isaac Sweers, had to return to Alexandria with weather damage. An important strategic advantage for the operation was the air cover which could be provided from Cyrenaica, which was still under control of the Commonwealth at the time.

An ULTRA intercept (CX/MSS/640T24) contains the German air command report on the attacks. Punctuation and spelling as in the original, notes indicated in brackets.

The following report was sent by SULTAN 1C A.O.C.-in-C. South 1C [1]:

Heights of attack during operations carried out against ship targets on 18/1 and 19/1/42 were as follows:

0915 hours 18/1: 1 Ju. 88 carried out dive bombing attack against merchant ship in BENGHAZI harbour: bombs released at 1200 metres – no result. Defence by HURRICANE and heavy anti-aircraft fire.[2]

0735 hours 19/1: 1 Ju. 88 carried out dive-bombing attack on freighter of 5000 tons in position 23 degrees East 3488. Bombs released at 800 metres; direct hit amidships. [3]

0739 hours: 1 Ju. 88 carried out level bombing attack against destroyer in position 23 degrees East 3488: Bombs released at 2,500 metres, results not observed. Owing to having received hit by anti-aircraft fire no dive bombing attack was carried out.[4]

0945 hours: Level bombing attack from 3500 metres carried out against warships in position 23 East 3316. Result not observed. Very heavy anti-aircraft fire of all calibers.

1240 hours: Dive bombing attack by 2 Ju. 88s against medium-sized merchant ship in position 23 East 4336 without result. Bombs released at 2,500 metres. Fighter escort by 2 Blenheim heavy fighter a/c encountered.

1255 hours: 1 Ju. 88 carried out a fliding approach attack against destroyer(s) in position 23 East 3486. Height of release 2800 metres. No result. Strong anti-aircraft fire.[5][6]

Notes

  1. SULTAN was the code name for the Air Commander Greece, the 1C position was the staff intelligence officer. A.O.C.-in-C. South (Air Officer Commanding in Chief) was Field Marshal Kesselring.
  2. This attack was not aimed against the two convoys.
  3. This must have been Thermopylae
  4. It is noteable that the fact that an explanation was submitted as to why the far more effective dive-bombing attack was not carried out.
  5. This was most likely the remaining escort of Thermopylae, which included the AA cruiser HMS Carlisle.
  6. What is notable about all of the final three attacks is the high level of bomb release, and the emphasis on the heavy defense encountered.

Mystery Sub Loss?

Here’s a puzzle.

In the records of the German navy command South (Marinebefehlshaber Sued – Admiral Weichold), there’s a telegram from a chap called Ahrens, who was assigned to the Regia Marina‘s torpedo boat Orsa, about a successful attack by Orsa on a submarine. Based on the report about the attack in the same file, Orsa was equipped with the German sonar equipment and depth charge launchers (see this older post), and Mr. Ahrens was an offiicial responsible for the final hand-over of this equipment to ships’ crews, and participated in the mission.

The text of the telegram is as follows:

131 Trapani 725 34 TF 8 1941

German Naval Command, Navy Ministry Rome

Entered Trapani with Orsa on 8 January 17.30 hours. Submarine attacked with visual success. Depart 8 January [should be 9?] 08.00 hours for Messina. Request information of Fuerbringer Berlin. Ahrens.

The separate report states that the attack happened on 7 January, at 09.45 hours. The target was identified as a submarine because of the very clear echo. The visual confirmation of success consisted of an oil spot on the surface, coming after a depth charge attack, an air bubble, and wooden pieces coming up.

Now here’s the puzzle. No submarine has been reported lost in the area on the 8 January or on the preceding days. One submarine went missing during this period, HMSub Triumph, but that was probably far away from Trapani, in the Aegean. More detail on this can be found at this link. HMSub Triumph was quite an interesting boat, having been involved in Operation FLIPPER, the raid on ‘rommel’s HQ’ (actually offices of the Chief Quartermaster Panzergruppe). And her successor in name is busy again in Libya today

Of course, it could be that even though visual confirmation of the success was obtained, the boat attacked was only damaged, or maybe not even that. One boat that was in the area just prior to the attack was the famous HMS Upholder, which on 5 January 42 had sunk Regia Marina sub Ammiraglio Saint Bon during a supply mission for North Africa.

So, does anyone have any ideas who was attacked by Orsa on the 7 January, if anybody?