Loss of HM S/M Tempest, 13 Feb 1942

Loss of HM S/M Tempest, 13 Feb 1942


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

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

Torpediniere Circe Marina Militare

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

Tempest in the Mediterranean

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

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

Sinking of Tempest

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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


Further Reading

Survivor of HM S/M Tempest

German ASW Equipment Pt. 1

German ASW Equipment Pt. 2

German ASW Equipment Pt. 3

Sinking of HM S/M P.38

Difesa.it on the sinking of Tempest

Book review – Italian Torpedo Boat against British Submarine

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

Service history of HM S/M Tempest

Lt.Cdr. Cavaye

National Archive Files Relating to Sinking of ORP Kujawiak

National Archive Files Relating to Sinking of ORP Kujawiak


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

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


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



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

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

Editorial Note – Numbering/Naming Corps and Units

Editorial Note – Numbering/Naming Corps and Units


In recent discussions regarding the correct approach to identifying Corps in publications it was noted that the correct way is to use Roman numerals, due to historic precedent and Corps always having been numbered in this way. As a general rule, this is wrong. As a specific rule, for WW2, it is also wrong.

Different armies did it differently, and post-war, but not immediately, the standard of Roman numerals emerged. It has something to recommend itself, particularly when writing a large and complex history of a major campaign, such as the Russo-German war, where individual divisions almost don’t matter. But that also doesn’t make it a universal requirement, and it is important to note that rather than helping the reader, such standardization can confuse them.

It is also important to note at this stage that it’s up to every author to do as they please or as their publisher guidelines require. What I have an issue with is any claim that only Roman numerals are right, and the implication that anyone not doing it that way is doing it wrong. 

The British Army

The historical case is quite clear here, thanks to Jonathan Prince on Twitter. In World War 2, British Corps were numbered in Arabic numerals. The rules for this are contained in the British Army’s Field Service Pocket Book No.2 (FSPB 2). The 1941 edition of this book can be found on the most excellent Vickers MG site at this link. There was a difference depending on the medium – a report or a message, for example.


Field Service Pocket Book No. 2, 1944 edition. Via Twitter Richard Fisher @vickersmg

It is this style that our books will follow, even though, as you will note from the examples below, it wasn’t universally followed at the time.

  • Armies:
  • Reports: written out (Eighth Army)
  • Messages: 8th Army
  • Corps
  • Report: 13th Corps
  • Messages: 13 Corps
  • Division (as Corps)
  • Brigades (as Corps)
  • Regiments
  • Numbers as Corps
  • Names as in FSB 2, abbreviated after first mention
  • In messages, abbreviations as in FSB 2.

The end result would be:

  • Long version: Right Flank Company, 2nd Scots Guards, 20th Guards Brigade, 7th Armoured Division, 13th Corps, Eighth Army
  • Short version: RF Company, 2 SG, 20 Gds Brig, 7 Armd Div, 13 Corps, 8th Army.

The Western Desert and Axis Corps When writing about the Western Desert in 1941, there is another issue in the form of potential for confusion with the Axis corps. During the period of Operation CRUSADER, there were up to four Axis Corps in action, three Italian, and one German. The Italian corps used a mix of Roman numerals (of course) and names, while the German corps used a name.

  • Italian
  • X Corpo Armata (10th Army Corps), abbreviated X C.A.
  • XXI Corpo Armata (21st Army Corps),  abbreviated XXI C.A.
  • XX Corpo Armata di Manovra (20th Mobile Corps),  abbreviated C.A.M.
  • German
  • Deutsches Afrika-Korps (German Africa Corps, abbreviated D.A.K.)

So the issue with using XIII Corps and XXX Corps for the British rather than 13 Corps and 30 Corps is that in the Western Desert, it is not helping, but rather adding to the confusion. The correct usage at the time was 13 and 30 for the two Empire Corps, and using Arabic numerals clearly distinguishes them from both the Italian, and the German Corps. This is not the case in other theatres.

Furthermore, there is no potential for confusing them with divisions, since neither the British 13th, nor the 30th Division served in the Western Desert.



And yes, I know I said there is no right or wrong way, but this still jars, because it is ahistoric. Helion Books via Twitter.

Historical Precedent

To anyone who has spent time looking at primary documents, it is clear that ‘historical precedent’ cannot refer to either usage during the war, or indeed post-war useage in all Official Histories (the Australian Official History is using Roman numerals for British corps). It must refer to usage which crept in with increasing standardization due to NATO language, is my guess. That in my view makes it an anachronism. It is a defensible one in many cases, but it doesn’t appear so when writing about the Western Desert, where all that can be said for it is that it follows a style guide that is aligned with NATO. It looks odd, if not wrong, and there really isn’t a historic reason to use it.


The below examples are from our collection, or have been taken from Twitter posts or the official histories, in which case the origin is identified.  They clearly demonstrate that the weight of historical precedent is on the side of Arabic numerals for British Corps, throughout the war and into the immediate post-war period up until the creation of NATO.



Contemporary Message header, from Eighth Army to various recipients, 22 November 1941. Rommelsriposte.com collection.


1942 report on operations on the Libyan/Egyptian border to reduce Bardia and Halfaya, 30 Corps. Note that while this is a report, and should presumably use “30th”, it doesn’t do so. Rommelsriposte.com collection.


Eighth Army operation order No. 23, December 1941. Rommelsriposte.com collection.

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December 1942 map of deception arrangements, El Alamein. Rommelsriposte.com collection.

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Contemporary diagram of signals arrangements for counter-battery, 30 Corps, El Alamein. Rommelsriposte.com collection.


Particular of contemporary situation map, El Alamein 1942. Rommelsriposte.com collection.


Situation Map, January 1945. Note use of Roman numerals for US XIII Corps. UK 8 Corps in the upper left corner. Via Twitter – Gareth Davies


UK Official History 


New Zealand Official History, NZETC.


Operational Account Covers, 1945 or later, via Twitter, Alan Pollock


Operation Order, Operations Varsity and Plunder, 1945. Via Twitter, Alex Collins

Innovation in Action – Airborne Artillery Spotting

Innovation in Action – Airborne Artillery Spotting


Operation CRUSADER saw a range of innovations on the Empire side, in particular related to the integration of air/land battle. In a previous post I have provided some information on the arrangements for close air support by strike aircraft (see this link). I have also written up a book review of Mike Bechtold’s excellent ‘ Flying to Victory’ at this link). Finally, I have provided some analysis of how effective close air support was at this link.

This entry concerns itself with another form of support, the utilization of aircraft to spot for artillery batteries. It is something taken for granted today, and indeed became a major feature of the war on the Allied side by 1944, with the famous Auster aircraft carrying spotter/pilots and enabling Allied artillery to strike at will on the battlefield.

In 1941, this kind of support was by no means as well developed, but it nevertheless was utilised by Army Cooperation (AC) squadrons at least. These squadrons flew a range of planes, including Westland Lysanders, and Hawker Hurricanes. Two designated squadrons were operational in Operation CRUSADER, one for each of the British Army Corps – No. 208 Squadron R.A.F. and No. 451 Squadron R.A.A.F. They carried out short-range reconnaissance, message delivery flights, and other duties. 

451 squadron

Hurricane Tac. R Mark I, Z4641, of No. 451 Squadron RAAF, in flight during a reconnaissance sortie over Libya, with another aircraft of the Squadron acting as a ‘sweeper’ in the background. The pilot is Flight Lieutenant G F Morley-Mower[1]. (IWM CM2206)

451 Squadron R.A.A.F. (AC) on 30 December 1941

Just prior to 30 December, No.451 Squadron had been relieved in Cyrenaica by No. 208 Squadron, and returned to the Libyan-Egyptian border, subordinated to 30 Corps for the operation against Bardia/Halfaya that was about to begin. 30 December was a busy day for the squadron, with nine sorties in total. The squadron was based at Sidi Azeiz, ironically until 18 November the base for 2.(H)/14, Panzergruppetactical reconnaissance unit. Sorties on the day were as follows:

General Reconnaissance

SGT.WATTS carried out a tactical reconnaissance of BARDIA. One small ship in 51963957. One large moving from shore at 51943965.

One small moron boat moving about in harbour towards East headland.

Medium A/A from harbour vicinity. A/A positions at 517398

SGT. HOWLANDS carried out a Photographic reconnaissance. After landing at L.G.75 had abandon photographs owing to bad weather. Dummy railhead[2] reported easily distinguishable. 

F/LT. MORLEY-MOWER carried out a photographic reconnaissance, did not quite cover area due to bad weather.

P/O. HUTLEY carried out a tactical reconnaissance of BARDIA area. Small craft reported in harbour sunk.


Bardia Area, Empire 1942 map utilizing the same coordinate system as report below. Red dots mark artillery strike locations. Rommelsriposte.com Collection.

Artillery Spotting

P/O. ACHILLES carried out an artillery reconnaissance BARDIA. Engaged and registered target S.B.

F/LT. SPRINGBETT carried out an artillery reconnaissance BARDIA. Targets T.D. 51673947 and T/F/ 51483908 engaged.

P/O.MACDONALD carried out an artillery reconnaissance BARDIA. 4 gun pits 52063874 and MET[3] – tents 52093885, successfully engaged.

P/O. ROBERTSON carried out an artillery reconnaissance BARDIA HARBOUR. Ships spotted, not engaged, faulty R/T.[4]

LT. THOMPSON carried out an artillery reconnaissance BARDIA HARBOUR. Engaged one ship successfully, 1 direct hit under water line. A/A 88 and Breda[5]

P/O.HUDSON carried out an artillery reconnaissance BARDIA. Engaged dump 51503990 satisfactorily. Heavy explosion observed at 51354013 by ranging rounds.[6]

F/LT. FERGUSON carried out an artillery reconnaissance BARDIA. Engaged 4 tanks 51483942, fire ineffective due to movement of tanks and bad R/T.

[1]Flight Lieutenant Morley-Mower served with 451 Squadron in December 1941. This and the type of plane makes me think this picture dates to CRUSADER.

[2]This refers to the Empire dummy railhead at Sidi Barrani.

[3] Motor Enemy Transport

[4]Radio Transmitter

[5]Meaning heavy (88mm) and light (20mm) anti-air guns engaged him.

[6]Marked by red X on the map.



First blood: D.A.K. war diary entry 24 February 1941

First blood: D.A.K. war diary entry 24 February 1941

24 February 1941

Enemy situation: elements of an Australian division[1] apparently pushed forward to Agedabia and south of it. 40km north-east of el Agheila strong enemy forces noted. The area of the Oasis Marada apparently evacuated by the enemy.


Afrika-Korps troops of Aufklärungsabteilung 3 advancing, Spring 1941, unknown date and location. Rommelsriposte.com Collection

During the morning hours successful push of a reinforced patrol of Forward Detachment Wechmar in the area of el Agheila: 2 enemy armoured cars, 1 truck and 1 car destroyed. 1 English officer and 2 other ranks captured, 1 Englishman killed, 1 escaped. No losses of our own.

Commander arrives around midday in Tripoli, coming from Sirt. Courier from Berlin with important news:

e.g. Announcement of the soon to come subordination of former German soldiers of the French Foreign Legion.

[1]This was 6th Australian Division.

D.A.K. war diary entry for 19 February 1941

D.A.K. war diary entry for 19 February 1941

19 February 1941

Forward Detachment Wechmar with subordinated Italian reconnaissance company Santa Maria and one Italian machine gun company moves off on en Nofilia as ordered at 06.45 hours and reaches it at 14.00 hours. Armoured car patrols pushed ahead don’t have contact with the enemy.

23 Stukas of II./Stuka 2[1] attack vehicles at el Brega with good success, dropping 21 500kg bombs. 1 Ju 87 force landed at en Nofilia on return flight, crew recovered. The escort of 7 Me 110 shot down 4 Hurricanes in air combat. 1 Me 110 ditched into sea. Crew rescued by sea rescue plane on 20 February.


Stukas, probably of II./Stuka 2, being readied for a mission in early 1941. Clearly visible the long-range external fuel tanks. Rommelsriposte.com Collection


X.Fliegerkorps attacks port of Benghazi during the afternoon, damaging two merchant vessels.

[1]2nd Group of 2nd Dive Bomber Wing. A full group would consist of 36 planes organised in three squadrons. Only II./Stuka 2 was present in North Africa, not the whole 2nd Wing.

D.A.K. war diary entry 11 February 1941

D.A.K. war diary entry 11 February 1941

11 February 1941

10.30 hours visit of the German embassy by Commanding General, Chief of Staff, and Colonel Schmundt[1], visiting Fürst Bismarck. Following this drive to Italian war ministry. There report to the Generals Guzzoni and Roatta[2] (equivalents to Keitel and Brauchitsch).

Alfredo guzzoni

General Guzzoni. Italian Army Archives via Wikipedia.

Conference progresses highly satisfactorily. Defense of Libya no longer to be based on Tripoli, as planned up to now. General Raotta should come along to Tripoli to make all the arrangements agreed upon.

Around 13.00 hours joint breakfast.

Afternoon flight from Rome to Catania on Sicily. Arrival there in the dark.

In Catania conferences with the Commanding General X. Fliegerkorps[3]. Air force elements to strike during the night 12/13 February against enemy in the area south of Benghazi.

Exploration staff is joined by Rittmeister von Plehwe[4] as Ic[5]. Remainder of exploration staff reaches Catania by train, coming from Rome.

Around 22.30 hours short discussion by Colonel Schmundt with General Jodl. Result: Luftwaffe has a free hand up to but excluding Benghazi.

[1]Hitler’s aide-de-camp, who was killed in the July 1944 assassination attempt.
[2]Deputy Chiefs of the Italian Armed Forces Command. Both survived the war. Roatta was tried for his role in war crimes in occupied Yugoslavia, and escaped to Spain after the war.
[3]This was the German air force formation carrying out operations against Malta from Sicily. A Fliegerkorps was roughly equivalent to an R.A.F. Group, it was responsible for controlling operational units such as wings or squadrons in a particular geographical area. A good definition can be found at this link. The OOB for January 1941 can be found at this link (pdf).
[4]A cavalry rank used in the German reconnaissance forces, typically in charge of a squadron. Equivalent to Captain. von Plehwe did not serve long in the role. He survived the war and had a distinguished diplomatic career afterwards, ending as Secretary General of the West European Union.
[5]Responsible for intelligence matters.