After Germany invaded Poland on the 1st,
France demanded the withdrawal of German forces.
ultimatum expired and at 11.15am on the 3rd,
Minister Neville Chamberlain broadcasts to
announce that Britain
was at war with Germany. Italy
declared its neutrality.
declared war on Britain and France
Situation in the Mediterranean - In the
western half, Britain and France between them
controlled Gibraltar, southern
France, Corsica, Algeria and Tunisia. In the
half, Britain maintained a hold on Egypt and the
Suez Canal, Palestine and Cyprus. In the Levant,
and Syria were French. Italy stood astride the
with Italy itself, Sardinia and Sicily to the
Libya to the south. Albania on the Adriatic Sea
Dodecanese Islands in the southern Aegean off
islands were taken from Turkey in 1912
and included - from north to south - Patmos,
Kalymnos and the much larger island of Rhodes.
The Neutral countries
western Mediterranean were Spain, and in the
and Crete, Yugoslavia and Turkey.
Eastern Europe - The
started planning the invasion of Russia.
Axis Powers -
Germany, Italy and Japan signed the Tripartite
in Berlin on the 27th. They agreed to jointly
country joining the Allies at war - by which
the United States.
- German troops occupied the Rumanian
Balkans - On
28th, the Italians invaded Greece from points in
but were soon driven back. Fighting continued on
soil until April 1941.
- Hungary and Rumania joined the Axis
on the 20th and 23rd. Only Yugoslavia and
out against German pressure to become members;
countries in Eastern Europe and the Balkans not
completely dominated by the Axis or Russia.
Balkans - As
Greek Army pushed back the Italians into
squadrons were sent from Egypt to Greece and the
Navy carried over the first Australian, British
Zealand troops by cruiser. Mediterranean Fleet
established an advance base at Suda Bay on the
coast of Crete.
- Hitler ordered detailed planning for
Operation 'Barbarossa' - the invasion of Russia.
- At anchor in the poorly defended Suda Bay,
cruiser "Glasgow" was hit by two torpedoes
from Italian aircraft on the 3rd and badly
Attacks on Albania
the Dodecanese - Another series of Royal
and offensive operations were carried out by the
Mediterranean Fleet with battleships
"Warspite", "Valiant "and carrier
"Illustrious". On the 17th carrier aircraft
attacked Rhodes and on the night of the
18th/19th the two
battleships bombarded Valona, Albania.
series of Royal Navy convoy and ship movements
revolving around Malta led to carrier
badly damaged and the Royal Navy losing
its comparative freedom of operation in the
Mediterranean. The operations included convoy
leaving Gibraltar on the 6th for Malta and
by Gibraltar-based Force H. All merchantmen
destinations safely, but at a cost of a cruiser
destroyer, and the loss of "Illustrious'" vital
Greyhound, escorting a convoy to Greece, sank
submarine "NEGHELLI" in the Aegean Sea
- Bulgaria joined the Tripartite Pact on the 1st
and German troops marched in. As of now, only
in the Balkans retained national independence
Greece - In
space of three weeks in March, 60,000 British
Dominion troops were carried from North Africa
escorted by the Royal Navy (Operation 'Lustre').
6th - Italian
submarine "ANFITRITE" attacked a troop convoy
east of Crete and
was sunk by escorting destroyer
26th - At
Suda Bay, northern Crete, heavy cruiser "YORK"
damaged by Italian explosive
motor boats and beached. She was later wrecked
and abandoned when Crete was evacuated in May.
Battle of Cape Matapan
(above) - As ships
Fleet covered troop movements to Greece,
'Ultra' intelligence was received reporting the
of an Italian battlefleet with one battleship,
and two light cruisers plus destroyers to attack
convoy routes. On the 27th, Vice-Adm
Pridham-Wippell with cruisers "Ajax",
"Gloucester", "Orion" and the
Australian "Perth" and destroyers sailed from
Greek waters for a position south of Crete. Adm
Cunningham with carrier "Formidable" and
battleships "Warspite", "Barham" and
"Valiant "left Alexandria on the same day to
meet the cruisers. Around 08.30 on the 28th,
south of Crete, Adm Pridham- Wippell was in
an Italian cruiser squadron. Just before noon he
himself between them and the battleship
Veneto" which had now come up. An attack by
Swordfish from "Formidable" failed to hit the
Italian battleship, but enabled the British
extricate themselves. Mediterranean Fleet heavy
arrived, but their only chance of action was to
the Italians before they could reach Italy.
A second Swordfish
at around 15.00 hit and slowed down
Veneto", but only
for a short while. At 19.30 a third
southwest of Cape Matapan stopped heavy cruiser
"Pola". All this time, RAF aircraft were
attacking but without success. Later that
(still on the 28th), two more heavy cruisers -
"Fiume" and "Zara with four destroyers
were detached to help "Pola". Before reaching
her, Adm Cunningham's ships detected them by
radar and "FIUME",
destroyers "ALFIERI" and "CARDUCCI"
crippled by the close range gunfire
of "Barham", "Valiant" and
"Warspite". All four Italians were finished off
by four destroyers led by the Australian
"Stuart". Early next morning on the
partly abandoned. After taking off
the remaining crew, destroyers "Jervis" and
"Nubian" sank her with torpedoes. The Royal
Navy lost one aircraft.
Cruiser "BONAVENTURE" with a Mediterranean Fleet
force escorting a convoy from Greece to Egypt,
torpedoed and sunk to the southeast of Crete by
25th Yugoslavia joined the Tripartite Pact, but
later an anti-Nazi coup toppled the Government.
Greece - Germany
both countries on the 6th. By the 12th they
entered Belgrade and within another five days
Yugoslav Army had surrendered. Greek forces in
and Greece suffered the same fate. Starting on
over a period of five days, 50,000 British,
and New Zealand troops were evacuated to Crete
in Operation 'Demon'. The Germans occupied
Athens on the
27th - As
the Mediterranean Fleet carried out the Greek
destroyers "DIAMOND" and "WRYNECK" rescued
troops from the bombed
transport "Slamat", but were then sunk by more
German bombers off Cape Malea at the southeast
Greece. There were few survivors from the three
18th - On
south of Crete, AA cruiser "Coventry"
attacked from the air. +
Petty Officer Alfred Sephton continued to carry
duties in the director after being mortally
was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
May-1st June -
Battle for Crete
On the 21st, in the
of the attack on Crete, cruiser minelayer
"Abdiel" laid mines off the west coast of
Greece sinking Italian destroyer "MIRABELLO" and
two transports. Most of the
Mediterranean Fleet with four battleships, one
10 cruisers and 30 destroyers fought the Battle
Crete. For the Navy there were two
both of which took place under intense air
German, from which all losses resulted. Phase
One was from the German airborne invasion
on the 20th until the decision was taken on the
27th to evacuate the island.
During this time the Mediterranean Fleet managed
prevent the sea-borne reinforcement of the
paratroops fighting on Crete, but at heavy cost.
these losses happened as the ships tried to
night-time patrols north of the island out of
Phase Two was
27th May to 1st June when over 15,000 British
Dominion troops were evacuated. Ten thousand had
left behind - and again the naval losses were
- In the morning destroyer "JUNO"
and cruiser "Ajax" slightly damaged as they
southeast of Crete. Later that evening "Ajax",
with "Dido", "Orion" and four
destroyers, savaged a German troop convoy of
More such vessels were sunk over the next few
the north coast. 22nd - Early that
force of four cruisers and three destroyers
swept to the
north and was attacked on their return. Cruisers
and as they reached their support
force to the northwest, battleship "Warspite"
hit. Later, destroyer "GREYHOUND"
caught on her
own in the same area
and soon sent to the bottom. Other destroyers
rescue her survivors, covered by cruisers
"Gloucester" and "Fiji". As the
cruisers withdrew, first "GLOUCESTER"
northwest of Crete by Ju87s and
Ju88s. Three hours later "FIJI"
by a single Me109
fighter-bomber and sank to the southwest. All
very short of AA ammunition by this stage. 23rd
Withdrawing from the usual night-time patrols
led to the
loss of two more destroyers. Capt Lord Louis
Mountbatten's five ship flotilla was attacked to
south and "KASHMIR" and "KELLY" sunk. Over the
next few days the north
coast sweeps continued, and supplies and
were brought into Crete.
26th - Carrier
"Formidable", accompanied by battleships
"Barham" and "Queen Elizabeth", flew
off aircraft from a position well to the south
attack on the Scarpanto Island airfields. In the
counter-attack "Formidable" and destroyer
- As "Barham" covered a supply mission, she was
hit to the northwest of Alexandria. 28th
decision to evacuate was made, and cruisers and
destroyers prepared to lift off the troops. As
approached Crete, cruiser "Aiax" and destroyer
the southeast. 29th
- Early in the morning, 4,000 men were lifted
Heraklion on the north coast. As they did the
scuttled, and "HEREWARD"
hit and left behind to go down off
the eastern tip of Crete. Shortly, cruisers
and "Orion" were
to the southeast. 30th
- Early in the day, more troops were lifted from
southern port of Sphakia by another cruiser
to the south the Australian cruiser "Perth"
and damaged. 1st June -
As the last men were carried from Crete,
"Calcutta" and "Coventry" sailed from
Alexandria to provide AA cover. "CALCUTTA"
sunk north of the Egyptian coast.
Some 15,000 troops were saved but at a cost to
Navy of 2,000 men killed. Total warship
from German and some Italian bombing were:
Attacks Russia - On the 22nd
attack on Russia (Operation
with the eventual aim of destroying
Armies and occupying the whole of
west of the line Archangel in the
Arctic to the
Caspian Sea. Germany and its Axis
including Italy invaded from the
Baltic to the
Black Sea. Italy and Romania
war on Russia
on the 22nd. Finland followed on the
Hungary on the 27th.
- With German forces now in
Greece and Crete, the problems of supplying
even greater. From airfields in
as well as Libya, the
Italian Air force were as close to the eastern
routes from Alexandria, as Sardinia and Sicily
the western ones through the Strait of
Submarine "Torbay" on patrol in the Aegean Sea
sank Italian submarine "JANTINA".
Mines previously laid by submarine "Rorqual" in
the Gulf of Athens sank Italian torpedo boats
"ALDEBARAN" and "ALTAIR".
of War - In a
series of diplomatic moves, numerous
declarations of war
were made: (1) 5th-6th - Britain,
Canada, New Zealand and South Africa on Hungary
Rumania. (2) 11th-13th -
Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary against the United
(3) 28th-14th January - Britain,
Zealand and South Africa against Bulgaria.
patrol off the west coast of Greece was mined
off Zante Island. Just one man made an amazing
the surface and reached the distant shore.
“Truant” sank Italian torpedo boat “ALCIONE”
north of Crete.
Early January -
Alexandria on 26th December for
a cloak-and-dagger landing near Athens before
in the Aegean. She reported the landing on the
failed to rendezvous back there on the 9th and
presumed mined off the island of Milo, southeast
"Thorn" in the
Gulf of Venice, in the far north of the
British submarine "Thresher"
by the escorts of a
convoy off northern Crete. Two unexploded bombs
between the casing and hull, and with the
drowning should she be forced to submerge, two
boat's crew managed to remove them. Lt Peter
and Petty Officer Thomas Gould were awarded the
4th - Another
British submariner won the Victoria Cross. HM
Torbay (Cdr Miers) carried out a difficult
shipping off Corfu, an island on the west coast
and torpedoed two merchantmen. This was only the
of a number of successful patrols. Cdr Anthony
was awarded the Victoria Cross.
off Brindisi in the southern
Adriatic, torpedoed by "Upholder" (Lt-Cdr
Submarine "THORN" attacked a tanker off
southwest Crete and
was presumed sunk in the counter-attack by
Invasion of French North Africa
Destroyers "Petard" and Greek "Queen
Italian submarine "UARSCIEK" south of Malta.
21st - Royal
sunk by German
"Hermes" (ex-Greek) south of Capri.
'The Man Who Never
Was'- Submarine "Seraph" released the body
of a supposed Royal Marine officer into the sea
Spain. His false papers help to persuade the
the next Allied blows would fall on Sardinia and
Greece as well as Sicily.
Forces - In occupied Europe, Tito's
continued to hold down large numbers of German
Destroyers "Jervis" and Greek "Queen
Olga" sank two
merchantmen and Italian torpedo boat "CASTORE"
off Cape Spartivento,
of Sicily: Operation 'Husky'
British submarine "PARTHIAN"
on this date. She left
Malta on 22nd July for the southern Adriatic and
to return to Beirut.
Aegean Campaign - With the surrender of
Winston Churchill wanted to seize the Italian
islands in the southern Aegean before the
establish themselves. From here the Allies could
Greece and support Turkey, but the Americans and
British commanders were lukewarm to what they
saw as a
sideshow compared with the battle for Italy.
forces and especially aircraft were made
the Germans soon took Rhodes from where,
other bases, they maintained air superiority
the coming campaign.
and 16th, British troops occupied Kos, Leros,
other smaller islands. The Royal Navy had the
supplying and reinforcing them, as well as
German supply routes. The potential parallels
Norway, Greece and Crete all those many months
obvious, if only in hindsight. 26th -
carrying troops to Leros, destroyers "Intrepid"
and Greek "Queen Olga" were
attacked by Ju88s while at anchor in the
OLGA" soon went
down and "INTREPID" capsized next day.
HHMS Adrias of
the Royal Hellenic Navy (CyberHeritage)
Aegean Campaign - On the 3rd,
landed on British-held Kos, which fell next day.
German forces headed for the Kos and on the 7th
convoy of seven small ships and one escort was
annihilated by cruisers "Penelope" and
"Sirius" and two destroyers. As they withdrew
through the Scarpanto Strait, "Penelope"
damaged in attacks by
Ju88s. More sweeps and more supply trips led to
losses, particularly amongst the 'Hunts',
November: 9th - Returning from a sweep
Kos, cruiser "Carlisle" and destroyers were
dive-bombed in the Scarpanto Strait area by Ju87
damaged and never fully
repaired; destroyer PANTHER
17th - Cruiser "Sirius"
was damaged by bombs
south of Scarpanto Strait. 22nd - Greek
off Kos on mines laid
by the German "Drache", and as sister ship
to her aid,
was also mined. She
sank with heavy casualties. 24th -
Destroyer "ECLIPSE" fell victim to the same
30th - Cruiser "Aurora"
in bombing attacks.
- A Royal Navy submarine failed to return.
"TROOPER" set out from Beirut in the Lebanon
on 26th September for Dodecanese patrol and did
back on the 17th. German records claim she was
sunk by a
Q-ship off Kos on the 14th
Aegean Campaign, Conclusion - German
forces landed on Leros on
the 12th and captured the Island after four
fighting against the British and Italian
campaign came to an end when Samos was evacuated
20th, but not before two more 'Hunts' fell
time to Hs293 glider bombs: 11th -
damaged off Kos following
an attack with other destroyers on Kalymnos
was not repaired and went into reserve. 13th
off Kos as she withdrew from searching for
shipping making for Leros. The cost of this
campaign to the Royal Navy could now be added up
cruisers damaged with one never repaired, six
lost or permanently out of action and others
addition the small Greek Navy had lost two
- Submarine "SIMOOM"
Said on the 2nd for the
Aegean and failed to answer a signal on the
19th. She was
presumed mined although German records claim she
torpedoed by "U-565" off Kos on the 15th.
Front - In the centre/south all
east of the Dnieper River together with deep
across much of its length were now in Russian
prepared to recover the rest of the Ukraine,
the Crimea and move on Poland and Rumania.
at Sea - With the surrender of the Italian
the big ships of the Royal Navy were released
Eastern Fleet and to prepare for the landings in
Normandy. The remaining smaller vessels
escort the convoys needed to supply the Allied
Italy, and to support both Fifth and Eighth
their seaward flanks. The RN also went over to
offensive against Germany supply traffic down
coast of Italy and from the northeast through
the Adriatic to Yugoslavia.
From bases such as Corsica and
Bari, light and coastal forces struck regularly
shipping, and also at land targets along the
coast of Yugoslavia
in support of
Tito's partisan armies.
Landings, western Italy, Operation
- Nearly all the Ukraine was now back in
Russian hands and in the south the advance
southwest brought the Russians to the foothills
Carpathian mountains, just inside pre-war Rumania.
Thoroughly concerned about the
potential collapse of the Balkans, Hitler orders
into Hungary to prevent the country leaving the
Against fierce German resistance, the Russians
south had now re-captured all the Ukraine
Crimea. In the centre, they were over the border
pre-war Poland and Rumania.
Shipping War - U-boats had only managed to
merchantmen in the Mediterranean in the first
of 1944. In return 15 had been lost, including
breaking through the Strait of Gibraltar and
USAAF raids on Toulon, southern France and Pola
in the northern Adriatic.
Submarine "SICKLE" on patrol in the Aegean
failed to return to
Malta when recalled on the 14th, and was
presumed lost on
Destroyer "QUAIL", damaged by a mine in the
Adriatic seven months earlier in November 1943,
off south-eastern Italy on tow from Bari around
Front - Nearly all pre-war Russia had now
liberated. The summer offensive started in the
aimed at clearing the Balkans. The Russian
attacked on the 20th from the Ukraine south and
Rumania. Events moved rapidly. Three
later Rumania accepted the Russian armistice
the 25th declared war on Germany, and by the
Russians were entering Bucharest. Now Bulgaria
tried to declare its neutrality and
withdraw from the war, just as the Russian
west and north towards Hungary and on to Yugoslavia
threatening to cut off the Germans
the Balkans, Rumania signed an Allied
armistice in Moscow on the
12th, by which time its troops were in battle
the Russians. The country was almost free of the
by the end of the month. From Rumania, the
reached the eastern border of Yugoslavia
by the 6th and crossed into
southern Hungary before September was out.
declared war on Bulgaria on the 5th,
which in turn declared against
Germany three days later as Russian forces
the country near the Black Sea. They entered
Sofia on the
16th and at the end of October an armistice was
with the Allied powers. By then Bulgarian troops
attacking into Yugoslavia with the
Greece - As
Russians attacked through Rumania and Bulgaria
Yugoslavia, German troops started to evacuate
southern Greece and the islands of the Aegean.
right up until May 1945, garrisons held out on
western Crete and some of the Greek Islands.
End of the
Mediterranean U-boats - The last U-boats
Mediterranean were lost to sea and air attack.
On the 19th
sunk north of Crete by
"Terpischore", "Troubridge" and the
Polish "Garland" of Adm Troubridge's escort
carrier and cruiser force. Five days later in
Salamis near Athens, USAAF aircraft sank "U-596"
and the damaged "U-565".
Operations - These too drew to a close.
With so few
German targets left, the famous 10th Submarine
was disbanded although some of the boats
work out of Malta in the Aegean. The last
submarine sunk was "Sickle" three months
earlier in June, the 45th Royal Navy loss in the
the Balkans, the struggle up through
but the Russians could only
reach the outskirts of Budapest in early
Meanwhile the Eastern Allies were advancing into
Yugoslavia and joined forces with units
Marshall Tito's partisan armies on the 4th.
on the 20th.
Returning from bombarding shore targets on the
coast of Italy, destroyer "LOYAL"
in the Adriatic on the 12th
and not repaired.
Greece - The
Germans were now coming to the end of the
the Aegean area and northern Greece as British,
Allied troops landed in the south and on many of
islands. On the 12th Allied paratroops dropped
Athens. Adm Troubridge's force continued to
Aegean for German evacuation shipping as Royal
submarines also took a toll. 7th - Destroyers
and "Tuscan" sank torpedo
boat "TA-37" in the Gulf of Salonika. 19th
- Further south it was the turn of "TA-18", lost
to the same two British
destroyers. Both were ex-Italian vessels.
Eastern Front -
main activity was in Hungary where the Russians
battle towards Budapest, and in the Balkans as
was cleared by the Eastern
in the northern Adriatic on the 1st, escort
"Avon Vale" and "Wheatland" sank
German torpedo boat "TA-20" and two corvettes -
- By mid-month Greece was free of those Germans
could escape and British troops had landed in
They also had the job of disarming the various
movements. In Albania the Germans were pulling
out and on
the 21st the capital of Tirana was occupied by
escort destroyer "ALDENHAM"
67th and last Royal
lost in the Mediterranean. Returning from
German-held island off Fiume in the northern
the 14th, she was mined and sunk northwest of
Disagreements with the Greek communist movement
over the future government of the country led to
and the declaration of martial law. British
supported by Royal Navy ships, had the
unenviable task of
fighting their previous allies. By month's end
fighting started to die down as proposals for
setting-up of a regency were announced. The
not over until February 1945, and trouble flared
with the outbreak of civil war in 1946.
Mediterranean - All the
Mediterranean except the
Ligurian Sea to the north of
northern part of the Adriatic and
some of the
Greek islands were now under Allied
German explosive motorboats were made on
Split harbour, Yugoslavia, hitting a flak
and damaging cruiser "Delhi" laying alongside.
17th - Italian
battleship "CONTE DI CAVOUR", sunk in the 1940
Fleet Air Arm
attack on Taranto and salvaged but not
was finally destroyed in RAF raids on Trieste.
Italy - Eighth
started towards the Argenta gap on the 9th, and
18th was through. US Fifth Army moved on Bologna
14th and a week later captured the city.
Brazilian, Indian, New Zealand, Polish, South
US divisions of Fifth and Eighth Armies then
River Po and raced across the north of Italy. By
of the month, Spezia, Genoa and Venice had been
by coastal forces off Fiume in the northern
the 13th, the last major enemy warship to fall
the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean.
Forces in Italy Surrendered