"The Channel Dash"
ATLANTIC - DECEMBER 1941
7th - Canadian corvette WINDFLOWER with Halifax/UK convoy SC58 was lost in collision in fog with SS Zypenburg east of Newfoundland.
15th-21st, Battle for Convoy HG76: Closing the Gibraltar/UK Air-Gap - Gibraltar/UK convoy HG76 (32 ships) was escorted by the 36th Escort Group (Cdr F. J. Walker) with a support group including escort carrier Audacity. In advance of the convoy leaving Gibraltar, destroyers of Force H including the Australian Nestor located and destroyed U-127 on the 15th. In the four days from the 17th, four more U-boats were sunk for the loss of two escorts and two merchantmen. The battle took place to the far west of Portugal, north of Madeira and the Azores 17th - U-131 was sunk by destroyers Blankney, Exmoor and Stanley, corvette Pentstemon and sloop Stork together with Grumman Martlets flying from Audacity. 18th - U-434 was accounted for by Blankney and Stanley. 19th - Destroyer STANLEY was torpedoed and sunk by U-574, which was then sent to the bottom, rammed by sloop Stork. 21st - The sole escort carrier AUDACITY was torpedoed by U-751 and lost, but in the general counter-attack U-567 was sunk by corvette Samphire and sloop Deptford. The sinking of five U-boats in exchange for two merchant ships was a significant victory for the escorts, and proved beyond any doubt the value of escort carrier aircraft against the submarine - as well as the patrolling Focke Wulf Kondors, two of which were shot down.
Russian Convoys - Three outward-bound convoys, PQ6, PQ7 and PQ7B and one return, QP4 set out in December with a total of 31 ships. All but PQ6 arrived at their destinations in January, with two ships returning and one lost to U-boats.
Monthly Loss Summary: 11 British, Allied and neutral ships of 57,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 1 escort carrier and 2 escorts; 5 German U-boats plus two transferring to the Mediterranean
EUROPE - DECEMBER 1941
Declarations of War - In a series of diplomatic moves, numerous declarations of war were made: 5th-6th - Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa declared war on Finland, Hungary and Rumania. 11th-13th - Germany, Italy, Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary against the United States. 28th December-14th January - Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa against Bulgaria.
26th - Old submarine H-31 was overdue by the 26th, possibly lost on mines during Bay of Biscay patrol.
Lofoten & Vaagso Raids - Separate commando raids took place in northern Norway on the Lofoten Islands and further south on Vaagso Island. The aim was to destroy installations and sink and capture shipping. The first force was led by cruiser Arethusa with limited results. The second with cruiser Kenya was more successful. On the 27th, cruiser Arethusa was damaged in German bombing attacks.
Eastern Front - As the Germans halted outside Moscow, the Russians launched a major counter-offensive starting from near Leningrad in the North down to the Ukrainian city of Kharkov in the South. By April 1942 Russian forces had regained much lost territory, but few major cities. The siege of Leningrad continued.
Monthly Loss Summary: 19 British, Allied and neutral ships of 57,000 tons in UK waters.
MEDITERRANEAN - DECEMBER 1941
North Africa - As fighting continued around Tobruk, Gen Rommel decided to pull back to Gazala. Besieged Tobruk was completely relieved on the 10th December. Under pressure, the German Afrika Korps withdrew to El Agheila and on the 25th, British forces entered Benghazi.
1st - Malta-based Force K searching for Axis shipping encountered Italian destroyer DA MOSTA north of Tripoli. She was sunk by cruisers Aurora and Penelope and destroyer Lively. Force K had now been reinforced by cruisers Ajax and Neptune (soon lost) and two more destroyers.
6th - Submarine PERSEUS on patrol off the west coast of Greece was mined and sunk off Zante Island. Just one man made an amazing escape to the surface and reached the distant shore.
11th - Submarine Truant sank Italian torpedo boat ALCIONE north of Crete. On the same day escort destroyer Farndale on passage sighted and sank Italian submarine CARACCIOLA on a supply trip from Bardia on the Libyan side of the border with Egypt
11th - As more German U-boats transfered to the Mediterranean, two were lost. The first on the 11th when corvette Bluebell sank U-208 as she left her Atlantic patrol area to the west of Gibraltar. 21st - The second sinking of the month in the Strait of Gibraltar was by Swordfish of 812 Squadron flying from Gibraltar which accounted for U-457. The Swordfish had managed to get away from the sinking Ark Royal a month earlier and now played an important part patrolling the waters in which the carrier went down.
13th, Action off Cape Bon, Tunisia - Destroyers Legion, Maori, Sikh and Dutch lsaac Sweers under the command of Cdr G. H. Stokes sailed from Gibraltar to join the Mediterranean Fleet at Alexandria. Off Cape Bon, Tunisia they sighted two Italian 6in cruisers, DA BARBIANO and DI GIUSSANO returning from an aborted mission to carry a deck cargo of petrol to Tripoli. In a short night action and without being seen, the destroyers quickly sank both cruisers with gunfire and torpedoes. Italian loss of life was heavy.
13th-20th, First Battle of Sirte and Related Actions - Italian convoy operations to Libya led to major Royal Navy losses over just a few days. An Axis convoy bound for Benghazi set out on the 13th, covered by an Italian battlefleet. On receiving the news, Rear-Adm Vian left Alexandria with a cruiser force to join up with Force K from Malta. On the evening of the 14th, submarine Urge torpedoed and damaged battleship Vittorio Veneto off the Sicilian Strait of Messina and the Italians cancelled that convoy operation. The cruiser forces returned to their bases but as they did, Adm Vian's GALATEA was hit by three torpedoes from U-557 and went down off Alexandria that night. Adm Vian came out again late on the 15th to escort fast supply ship Breconshire from Alexandria to Malta. On the 17th they met Force K off the Gulf of Sirte, and shortly encountered Italian battleships covering a second convoy, this time to Tripoli. The two cruiser forces attacked and the Italians withdrew in what became known as the First Battle of Sirte. Breconshire reached Malta on the 18th and Force K left harbour to search for the second convoy still making for Tripoli. Early on the 19th off Tripoli, the British force ran into an Italian minefield. Cruiser NEPTUNE hit three or four mines and sank with only one man surviving. Aurora was badly damaged and Penelope slightly. Trying to assist Neptune, destroyer KANDAHAR was mined and had to be scuttled the following day. Out of a three cruiser and four destroyer force, only three destroyers escaped damage. 19th - That morning as Force K struggled to survive, three Italian human torpedoes launched from submarine Scire (Cdr Borghese) penetrated Alexandria harbour. Their charges badly damaged battleships Queen Elizabeth with Adm Cunningham on board and Valiant. Both settled to the bottom and the Mediterranean Fleet battle squadron ceased to exist. News of the sinking was kept from the Italians.
23rd - A sizeable number of German U-boats were now operating off the coasts of Egypt and Libya, attacking convoys with losses to both sides. On the 23rd, escorting destroyers Hasty and Hotspur sank U-79 off Tobruk on the Libyan coast. 24th - The day after, but further east off the Egyptian port of Mersa Matruh, corvette SALVIA was lost to U-568. 28th - Four days later, destroyer Kipling sank U-75 in the same area
Monthly Loss Summary: 9 British or Allied merchant ships of 37,000 tons
INDIAN & PACIFIC OCEANS - DECEMBER 1941
Declarations and Outbreak of War - Because of the International Dateline, events that took place on the 7th in Hawaii as far as Washington and London are concerned, were already into the 8th in Hong Kong and Malaya. By the 8th: Japan had declared war on Britain and the US; Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Holland, the United States and a number of Central American and Caribbean states had declared against Japan; China declared war against the Axis powers.
West, Hong Kong - The territory was invaded from mainland China on the 8th December, and within five days the defenders had withdrawn to Hong Kong Island. Fighting carried on until Christmas Day when the British and Dominion troops surrendered. Destroyer THRACIAN was bombed in defence of the colony and later beached and abandoned. She was re-commissioned into the Japanese Navy as a patrol boat.
South West, Thailand, Malaya, Burma - Japanese forces landed on the Kra Isthmus of Thailand and northeast Malaya on the 8th. From there they drove down the west coast of Malaya towards Singapore, outflanking the defences by land and sea. Follow-up landings took place later in the month and in January 1942. By the 13th December they had crossed from Thailand into the southern tip of Burma, but stayed there for the time being.
By the 8th, the battlecruiser and battleship had assembled at Singapore as Force Z under the command of Adm Sir Tom Phillips. That evening they sailed with four destroyers to attack the Japanese landing on the northeast Malay coast. Fighter cover was requested but not readily available. In the evening of the 9th, Force Z was well up into the South China Sea. Japanese aircraft were spotted and Adm Phillips decided to return. Around midnight he received a false report of landings at Kuantan, further down the Malay Peninsular and set course for there. The ships had by now been reported by a submarine, and a naval aircraft strike force was despatched from Indochina. Attacks started around 11.00 on the 10th December, and in less than three hours PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE had been hit by a number of torpedoes and sent to the bottom. Nearly a thousand men were lost, but 2,000 were picked up by the destroyers. Following the Pearl Harbor attack, not one of the Allies' 10 battleships in the Pacific area remained in service.
South, Northern Borneo and Philippines Islands - The first landings in northern Borneo took place in Sarawak and Brunei on the 16th December, and continued through until late January 1942. In the Philippines, the island of Luzon was the main target. Between the 10th and 22nd, landings were made in the north of the island, in the south, and at Lingayen Gulf in the west. Japanese forces made a combined drive on the capital of Manila, which was declared an open city. They entered on 2nd January 1942 by which time preparations were being made to attack Gen MacArthur's US and Filipino troops now withdrawn into the Bataan Peninsular just to the west of Manila. The southern island of Mindanao was invaded on 20th December 1941.
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