Loss of Armando Diaz, 25 February 1941

Loss of Armando Diaz, 25 February 1941

Background

The initial transport of the Afrikakorps (see this link)to North Africa went without any losses on the south-bound route until one of the last convoys saw the German merchant Herakleia sunk at the end of March. Despite this success though, it was not without losses overall.

The most serious strike by the Malta-based submarines happened on 25 February 1941, when a Condottieri-class light cruiser of the early two series of six vessels went down, this time it was the Cadorna sub-class RN Armando Diaz. 

The first loss of a light cruiser of this class had occurred in July 1941 at the Battle of Cape Spada, when RN Bartolomeo Colleoni was sunk by HMAS Sydney.

UntitledImage

RN Armando Diaz at Melbourne in 1934 (Courtesy Wikipedia)

The early Condottieris

By the the start of the war, the early Condottieris could be considered obsolete due to their lack of protection, and their degraded top speed, which for  Armando Diaz seems to have declined from 39 knots when launched in 1932 to 31-32 knots by 1941. They were primarily to be used for convoy escort, mine-laying, and training, or indeed as transports in their own right, although da Giussano did serve in the battle fleet at Punto Stilo in 1940.

These early vessels of the Condottieri  class also had construction weaknesses, and the rapid sinking of Diaz confirmed their low survivability. These light cruisers were built for high speed, with the aim to be able to chase and engage on superior terms the French ‘super- destroyers’ of the Chacal  and  Guepard  classes. The test speed of some of the early vessels was astounding, reaching well over 40 knots (64 km/h).

The design for speed of these six early  Condottieris caused them to suffer from multiple issues however, including strong vibrations, and a lack of stability due to being top-heavy. The latter ultimately required the removal of the original tripod mast behind the bridge, which was present in the first vessels.

On the six vessels of the follow-on sub-classes, a completely new armoured forward structure was introduced, giving the Montecuccoli sub-class it’s very distinctive look, and the final iteration of the two Abruzzi-class light cruisers were in my view two of the finest 6″ cruisers of the war.

Sinking of Armando Diaz

On 25 February 1941, while moving south to reach Tripoli, Armando Diaz was torpedoed off Kerkenah Bank in position 34°33’N, 11°45’E by HM/Sub Upright under command of Lt. Norman, D.S.C. RN, who was on his last patrol with this submarine.

Diaz was acting as distant escort to the German 4th Convoy to Libya, consisting of the German merchants Marburg, AnkaraReichenfels, and Kybfels. On this mission she was part of the 4th Cruiser Squadron, together with the di Giussano sub-class RN Giovanni delle Bande Nere and the modern Soldati-class destroyers  Ascari and Corazziere.

Diaz was hit by two of the four torpedoes that HM/Sub Upright fired at her, resulting in catastrophic explosions in her magazine and boiler rooms, leading to rapid sinking. Over 500 sailors were lost with her, and only 153 men were rescued. Ascari was also near-missed, and she proceeded to attack HM/Sub Upright without results.

Details on the attack can be found at this link, and in Italian at this link

Upright

HM/Sub Upright returning to Holy Loch submarine base, Scotland, 17 April 1942, Lieut J S Wraith, DSO, DSC, RN on the left, her 1st Lieutenant on the right. (IWM A8424)

A full article on the operations and fate of the early Condottieris is under preparation.

The Kriegstransporter Programme

The Kriegstransporter Programme

Background

1941 was not a good year for the German naval supply capacity in the Mediterranean, with many of the vessels that were present at the start of operations in North Africa in February being lost by the end of the year. The tonnage losses amounted to about 70,000 tons lost out of 124,000 tons available at the start of the year, or 57%. It was of course impossible to send major vessels into the Mediterranean to replace these ships.

The shortage was particularly acute when it came to faster vessels, that could make the run to North Africa at higher speed, reducing their vulnerability to interception. Furthermore, there was also a lack of smaller vessels that could use the heavily degraded ports on the North African coast, which were strewn with wrecks from 18 months of warfare.

In reaction to this challenge, and the continuing need to supply German forces in North Africa, an emergency construction programme was established, based on a newly designed standardised type of a relatively small steamship of easy construction, called a Kriegstransporter abbreviated KT (literally: war transport). This programme was in addition to the considerable construction programme of Marinefaehrpraehme, MFP (literally: Navy Ferry Barge – called ‘F-Lighters’ by the Royal Navy), which had commenced at Palermo in September 1941.
 
The Kriegstransporter
Unlike the flat-bottomed MFP, the KT were proper ships with about five times the displacement (1,200 tons fully loaded (I guess) instead of up to 220 tons for version A of the MFP), higher speed (14.5 knots instead of 10.3 knots), and about four times the carrying capacity (400 tons instead of up to 105 tons for Type A of the MFP).  They also had the advantage of running on coal, rather than scarce Diesel or fuel oil, and had considerably more range and were more seaworthy (one of the first MFPs in the Mediterranean sank on its maiden voyage due to constructive weakness). Just like the MFP, the KT were not given names, but were simply numbered, starting with KT1 (KT3 was the type ship, and the only one constructed in Germany).
 
The KT could take as many tanks as the MFP in one load, six, and they had the ability to unload these themselves in harbour, through the use of a 30t crane that was installed amidships. This was sufficient to handle any tank then in the German or Italian arsenal.
 

KT1 after launch, September 1942 at Genoa. Source: Seekrieg WLB

KT1 after launch, September 1942 at Genoa. Source: Seekrieg WLB

 
Defining the Kriegstransporter Programme
The programme was discussed in January 1942 at the offices of the Kriegsmarine naval transport section in Naples, and the entry of its war diary is given below. Despite the ambitious timeline, only two vessels were commissioned before the end of 1942. In other words the programme failed to achieve its ultimate aim, to alleviate the shortage of merchant tonnage on the North Africa route in 1942. 
 

24 January 1942 10.30am

Conference at the Naval Attache concerning the construction of Kriegstransporters, with participation by Captain Kleikamp, Lt.Com. Aust from the German Naval High Command, Director Scholz of Deutsche Werke yard Hamburg and Commander German Naval Transport Italy. Captain Kleikamp informed as follows about the Kriegstransporter:

Length: 62 m

Width: 11 m

Height to main deck: 4.2 m

Draught: 2.9 m

Displacement loaded: 1,200t

Stowage space: 980 cbm

Carrying capacity: 400 tons

Bunker capacity: 160 tons

Range: 1,500 nautical miles

Speed: up to 14.5 knots

Hatch 1: 6.75×5.4 m, space for 2 tanks

Hatch 2: 9.8×7.4 m, space for 4 tanks

Cranes: 1×30 t, 4×5 t or 1×30 t, 1×10 t, 3×5 t

Armament: 1×7.5 cm gun, 1×3.7 cm AA gun single barrel, 2×20 mm guns

All the material for 20 transporters, including engines and secondary engines, will be delivered from Germany. The construction plan foresees the following dates for the first group of four steamers:

Laying down: 15 March 1942

Launch: early June 1942

Commissioning: end of August or early September 1942

Another meeting was held at the Italian naval ministry in Rome on 27 January, with high-level representatives from the four shipyards designated to carry out the programme, and the Italian naval ministry. The conclusion of this was a programme that foresaw materials being delivered from February to May 1942, and for five steamers to be ready by the end of September 1942, with another two coming in October and November each, and another four in December, for a total of 12 being ready by the end of the year, and the remaining eight to be finished by the end of August 1943.

This meeting was followed by another meeting during the morning of 28 January in the Naval Ministry, at which the German side was informed by the Italian navy that because of an intervention by the Italian Minister for Transport, the programme had to be halved, because it otherwise threatened the Italian construction programme. The new programme foresaw five steamers to be ready in September, with the remainder coming in the fourth quarter of 1942.

In the end however it was to take to 3 February 1943 to reach the number of four completed KT from Italian yards. Construction continued until the end of the war, when 40 of the KT had been completed on Italian yards, and another two in a French yard. 30 KT were launched by Ansaldo Genoa alone by the end of the war. KTs were also assembled in the Black Sea. Despite these numbers, I am not aware of a surviving example.

Further Reading

An excellent source for these little-known vessels is Wilhelm Donko, Die Kriegstransporter KT1 – KT62 der Deutsche Kriegsmarine: Konzept, Einsatz und Verbleib

There is a very informative thread including many pictures at this link.

There is a great diver article on the wreck of what is probably KT11 at this link.

The history of KT3 can be read at this link.

Initial Transport of the Afrikakorps to North Africa

Initial Transport of the Afrikakorps to North Africa

Background

While not strictly related to CRUSADER, this information is nevertheless of interest and relevance. This post was born from this discussion thread on the Axis History Forum.

Below the initial transports of Army units covering 5.lei.Division (later to become 21st Panzer) and I./Flak 18, as well as some smaller units I guess. Where available the size of the ship is given when it is first mentioned (thanks to Mescal on AHF for this), and any damage due to enemy action is also mentioned. Luftwaffe transports are not included in this. The organisational unit of were small convoys, termed ‘Staffel’ in German. Attached to these were supply ships which carried purely supply apparently, rather than new units.

Original Convoys

  • 1st Staffel 8 Feb 41 (back in Naples 18 Feb, so 10-day roundtrip):
    Ankara (4,768 GRT)
    Arcturus (2,596 GRT)
    Alicante (2,140 GRT)
  • 2nd Staffel 12 Feb 41
    Kybfels (7,764 GRT)
    Adana (4,205 GRT)
    Aegina (2,447 GRT)
    Ruhr (5,954 GRT)
  • 3rd Staffel 17 Feb 41
    Menes (5,609 GRT – torpedoed and damaged on return journey by HM/Sub Regent, who herself was damaged in the counter attack), Arta (2,452 GRT) Maritza (2,910 GRT), Herakleia (1,927 GRT)
  • 4th Staffel 23 Feb 41:
    Ankara, Marburg (7,564 GRT), Reichenfels (7,744 GRT), Kybfels
  • 5th Staffel 25 Feb 41:
    Leverkusen (7,368 GRT), Wachtfels (8,467 GRT), Alicante (2,140 GRT), Arcturus
  • 6th Staffel 1 Mar 41:
    Castellon (2,086 GRT), Ruhr, Maritza, Amsterdam (8,673 GRT – Italian vessel, not sure whether she carried German load)
  • 7th Staffel
    Adana, Aegina, Arta, Herakleia, Sabaudia (1,590 – Italian(?) attached as supply ship)
  • 8th. Staffel 5 Mar 41
    Ankara, Marburg, Reichenfels, Kybfels
  • 9th Staffel 7 Mar 41:
    Alicante, Arcturus, Wachtfels
  • 10th Staffel 12 Mar 41
    Castelleon, Ruhr, Maritza, Leverkusen (this was after the famous fire which caused the loss of 13 tanks, according to WD CO Naval Transport)
  • 11th Staffel 14 Mar 41
    Adana, Aegina, Herakleia, Galilea (8,040 GRT), Arta (supply ship)
  • 12th Staffel 16/17 Mar 41
    Marburg (16 March from Naples), Reichenfels (dto), Ankara (17 Mar from Palermo, re-directed to pick up 150 urgently needed vehicles), Kybfels (dto)
  • 13th Staffel 19 Mar 41
    Arcturus, Wachtfels, Santa Fe (4,627 GRT?), Procida (1,842 GRT)
  • 14th Staffel 22 Mar 41:
    Alicante, Leverkusen, Castellon, Maritza
  • 15th Staffel 26 Mar 41:
    Adana, Herakleia (sunk by submarine HM/Sub Utmost off Tunisian coast, 69 out of 206 soldiers on board lost), Ruhr (damaged by submarine HMS Utmost off Tunisian coast), Galilea (damaged by submarine HM/Sub Upright on return journey, beached in Tripoli a few days later), Samos (2,576 GRT – supply ship)
  • 16th Staffel – 29/30 Mar 41
    Marburg (29 March from Naples), Kybfels (dto), Ankara (30 Mar from Palermo), Reichenfels (dto)
  • 17th Staffel – 2 Apr 41
    Maritza, Procida, Alicante, Santa Fe
  • 18th Staffel – 8 Apr 41 (last troops of the original contingent)
    Wachtfels, Arcturus, Leverkusen, Castellon
  • 19th Staffel – 11 Apr 41 (last load of original units, possibly first load of 15th Panzer) Ankara, Marburg, Kybfels, Reichenfels

0063

A leichter Befehlswagen (command tank on Panzer I chassis) of Panzerregiment 5 being unloaded in Tripoli, Feb/Mar 1941. Rommelsriposte.com Collection.

Various Runs

  • 26 Mar 41, Italian tanker Persiano (2,474 GRT) with fuel for the army from Naples.
  • 10 Apr 41
    Persiano with fuel Naples to Tripoli, (attacked 40nm north of Tripoli by HM/Sub Tetrach, set on fire and sunk)
  • 1st Supply Runs to Benghazi: Samos from Tripoli Ramb III (3,667 GRT, Italian vessel) from Naples, effective loading capacity only 1,100 tons due to ballast issues)
  • Motor sailing vessels for coastal traffic from Trapani: Rosina, Giorgina, Unione, Luigi, Frieda

The organisation of the transport had to be made with the consideration of several constraints.

1)  Harbour capacity in Tripoli was restricted by a policy of not unloading at night, to reduce the risk of enemy air attacks disrupting unloading and maybe blocking quays by sinking ships alongside. My guess is that at dusk ships were moved off the quays into more open water. This essentially reduced capacity by about 50%, is my guess. See this older post on port capacity.

2)  Ships were of different sizes and speeds, so slow and fast convoys were organised, and optimisation of unloading was an issue, since ideally convoys were supposed to return together.

3)  Italian reinforcement convoys continued at the same time as the German transports, and convoys were timed to reduce the number of ships in Tripoli harbour at any given time. This also indicates the very heavy call on Italian escort vessels, which would have been in service non-stop.

4)  There was a conflict between the Kriegsmarine and the army (Rommel/Halder, who for a change saw eye to eye on something) about the loading of ships. The navy wanted to send troops and vehicles separately, to presumably reduce risk to losing troops if a slower supply vessel was sunk, while the army wanted them to be sent together, in order to have the units immediately ready for action once they hit the quayside in Tripoli. Following a number of ship losses the navy method was adopted.

5)  There was no capacity at first at the receiving end to handle navy matters, and everything had to be run from Italy. This included coastal convoys in North Africa.

6)  Not all ships were available immediately, and arrived in drips and drops throughout the period. Furthermore, not all ships were protected against magnetic mines from the outset.

7)  The Luftwaffe had to be given space on the ships as well, but it wasn’t fully integrated into the transport system, and there appears to sometimes have been a lack of clarity on when supplies would arrive.

8)  AA armament on the ships had to be organised, and when the Luftwaffe refused to provide it, it had to be borrowed from the Italians. This left vessels relatively weakly equipped for AA defense, and they had to rely on the escorts. Navy AA detachments (Marinebordflakkompanie Sued)only arrived during the period. See this older post for AA equipment about half a year later.

Source

War Diary Naval Transport Command South for 1941, while the identity of the attacking subs is based on Royal Navy Day by Day. Many thanks to Dirk for sending this war diary through!

A costly Strike– No 107 Squadron 11 October 1941

A costly Strike– No 107 Squadron 11 October 1941

Background

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.

A bad day at the office

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.

The Aftermath

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.

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

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

Background

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.

Naiad

A huge bomb bursting just astern of HMS NAIAD during Operation MF3. Possibly the attack at 1245 hours. IWM A9577

ULTRA Intercepts

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 MV Thermopylae – there is good detail on her including pictures at this link.
[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.

Sinking of HM Submarine P.38 – 23 February 1942

Sinking of HM Submarine P.38 – 23 February 1942

Background

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.

HM/Sub P.38

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.

Hms p38 submarine

HM/Sub P.38 underway. Wikipedia.

Attack Operations

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-Gerät sonar and German depth charge throwers (and maybe also depth-charge rails, since references to depth charges used on Circe use two German separate designations).

 

Torpediniere Circe Marina Militare

Spica-class Torpedo Boat Circe with dazzle camouflage, which she carried by May 1942. USMM

Lt. Commander Palmas’ Report

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.