10th - Germany invaded Holland, Belgium,
Norwegian Campaign - The Allies had evacuated central
Norway, but continued to build up forces for the attack
on Narvik in the north. By the 23rd carriers Furious and Glorious
had flown ashore the first modern RAF fighters.
Norwegian Campaign - At the end of the evacuation, fleet carrier GLORIOUS
(below) and escorting destroyers ACASTA and ARDENT sailed for Britain independently
of the other withdrawing forces. West of Lofoten Islands
on the 8th they met the 11in gun battlecruisers
Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sailing
to attack suspected Allied shipping off Harstad. The
British ships were soon overwhelmed and sunk, but not
before Acasta hit Scharnhorst with a torpedo. Few of the Royal
Navy crews survived.
13th - Five days
after the sinking of Glorious, aircraft from carrier
attacked the damaged Scharnhorst in Trondheim
but to little effect.
10th - Italy Declared War on Britain and
Strengths - The Western Mediterranean was
primarily the responsibility of the French Navy - although British
reinforcements could soon be dispatched from the
Home Fleet as shortly happened. The Eastern
Mediterranean was in the hands of the
Mediterranean Fleet and a small French squadron
based at Alexandria. It was up to strength
in major units but still weak in cruisers,
destroyers and submarines when compared with the
Italian Navy. This was partly offset by the
presence of carrier Eagle to accompany
Sovereign and Warspite. The
large Italian fleet was mainly based in the
Mediterranean, but had
Mediterranean Fleet with Warspite, Malaya, carrier
cruisers and destroyers sailed from Alexandria for a
sweep against Italian shipping in the Eastern
Mediterranean. South of Crete, light cruiser CALYPSO
was torpedoed and sunk by Italian
British Force H -
By the end of the month, Force H had been assembled at
Gibraltar from units of the Home Fleet. Vice-Adm Sir
James Somerville flew his flag in battlecruiser
Hood and commanded battleships
Resolution and Valiant, carrier
and a few cruisers and destroyers. From Gibraltar, Force
H could cover the Western Mediterranean and the Atlantic.
French Navy in the Atlantic - Carrier
cruisers Dorsetshire and Australian
sister-ship Australia laid off Dakar,
French West Africa on the 8th after negotiations were
refused on the future of French battleship
Richelieu. Attacks made with depth-charges
from a fast motorboat failed and a torpedo strike by
Swordfish inflicted only minor damage.
Navy in the Mediterranean - In the
Action at Oran (Operation
'Catapult'), Adm Somerville arrived with Force H off
the French Algerian base of Mers-el-Kebir near Oran on
the 3rd. French Adm Gensoul was offered a number of
choices to ensure his fleet with its four capital ships
stayed out of Axis hands. All were turned down and, at
around 18.00, Force H opened fire on the anchored ships. "BRETAGNE"
blew up and the "Dunkerque"
and "Provence", together with other ships, were
badly damaged. Battlecruiser "Strasbourg" and
some destroyers managed to break out in spite of attacks
by aircraft from
Royal", and reached Toulon in the south of France.
Three days later the damaged "Dunkerque"
was torpedoed at her moorings by
"Ark Royal's" Swordfish. The
tragic and unhappy episode was over as far as Oran was
5th - Obsolescent
torpedo-carrying Swordfish from carrier "Eagle's" squadrons flew from land bases on
successful attacks against Tobruk and area. On the 5th,
aircraft of 813 Squadron sank Italian destroyer "ZEFFIRO" and a freighter at Tobruk. The
success was repeated two weeks later
9th - Action off Calabria or Battle of
Punto Stila - On
the 7th, Adm Cunningham sailed from Alexandria
with battleships "Warspite", Malaya",
Royal Sovereign", carrier "Eagle", cruisers and destroyers
to cover convoys from Malta to Alexandria and to
challenge the Italians to action. Next day - the 8th
- two Italian battleships, 14 cruisers and 32 destroyers
were reported in the Ionian Sea covering a convoy of
their own to Benghazi in Libya. Italian aircraft now
started five days of accurate high-level bombing (also
against Force H out of Gibraltar) and cruiser "Gloucester"
hit and damaged. Mediterranean
Fleet headed for a position to cut off the Italians from
their base at Taranto. On the 9th, "Eagle's" aircraft failed to find
the Italians and first contact was made by a detached
cruiser squadron which was soon under fire from the
heavier Italian ships. "Warspite" came up and
"Giulio Cesare" with a 15in hit. As the Italian battleships
turned away, the British cruisers and destroyers engaged,
but with little effect. Mediterranean Fleet pursued to
within 50 miles of the south west Italian coast off
Calabria before withdrawing. As Adm Cunningham covered
the by now delayed convoys to Alexandria,
"Eagle's" Swordfish attacked Augusta harbour,
Sicily on the 10th. Destroyer
was torpedoed, but later re-floated and
20th - "Eagle's" Swordfish
continued their strikes against Italian targets around
Tobruk. In the nearby Gulf of Bomba, 824 Squadron was
responsible for sinking destroyers "NEMBO" and "OSTRO" and another freighter.
STRATEGIC & MARITIME
SITUATION - MEDITERRANEAN
With the fall of France, Italy
continued to dominate the central Mediterranean. The
comparatively healthy naval position also changed
for the worse. In all except capital ships seven
British to six Italian - the Royal Navy was distinctly
inferior in numbers to the Italians, but had its two
near-priceless fleet carriers Ark Royal based on
Gibraltar, and Eagle, later joined by
Illustrious operating out of Alexandria. They
would dominate the Mediterranean over the next six
of the Atlantic - Long
range Focke Wulf Kondor bombers started patrols off the
coast of Ireland. As well as spotting for U-boats they
attacked and sank many ships, and continued to be a major
threat until the introduction of ship-borne aircraft in late 1941 started to counteract
Malta - The
decision was taken to reinforce Malta and in Operation 'Hurry', carrier
"Argus" flew off 12 Hurricanes from a position
southwest of Sardinia. This was the first of many
reinforcement and supply operations, often bitterly
fought to keep Malta alive and in the fight against Axis
supply routes to their armies in North Africa. Now, as in
the future, cover from the west was provided by Force H.
The opportunity was taken for carrier "Ark Royal's" aircraft to hit
22nd - Land-based
Swordfish from carrier "Eagle's" 824 Squadron repeated their July
success with another torpedo strike in the Gulf of Bomba
near Tobruk. Just as she prepared for a human torpedo
attack on Alexandria, submarine "IRIDE" and a depot ship were sunk.
23rd-25th - Dakar Expedition, Operation
'Menace' - Because
of Dakar's strategic importance to the North and South
Atlantic shipping routes, an expedition was mounted to
acquire the port for Allied use. Free French troops led
by Gen de Gaulle were carried in ships escorted and
supported by units of the Home Fleet and Force H under
the command of Vice-Adm John Cunningham. They included
battleships "Barham" and "Resolution",
Royal", three heavy cruisers. Naval forces at Dakar
included the unfinished battleship "Richelieu"
and two cruisers recently arrived from Toulon. Attempts
to negotiate on the 23rd soon failed and as Vichy
French ships tried to leave harbour, shore batteries
opened fire, damaging heavy cruiser "Cumberland" and two destroyers. Shortly
afterwards, the Vichy submarine "PERSEE" was
sunk by gunfire and large destroyer
"L'AUDACIEUX" disabled by cruiser
"Australia" and beached. A Free French landing
was beaten off. Next day, on the 24th, Dakar was
bombarded by the warships and "Richelieu"
attacked by carrier "Ark Royal's" aircraft. Vichy submarine
"AJAX" was sunk by destroyer
"Fortune". The bombardment continued on the 25th,
but battleship "Resolution" was now torpedoed and badly damaged by
submarine "Beveziers" and "Barham"
hit by "Richelieu's" 15in gunfire. At this
point the operation was abandoned and the Anglo-Free
French forces withdrew.
Royal Navy in the
Mediterranean - Reinforcements were sent to the
Mediterranean Fleet in Alexandria right through until the
end of the year. They were covered from Gibraltar by Adm
Somerville's Force H, then met in the central basin by
Adm Cunningham and escorted the rest of the way. The
opportunity was usually taken to carry in supplies of men
and material to Malta. Early in September new fleet carrier
"Illustrious" with its armoured flight deck,
battleship "Valiant" and two cruisers were
transferred in this way in Operation 'Hats'. On passage
with the new arrivals, aircraft from Force H's "Ark
Royal" attacked Sardinian targets. After joining up
with carrier "Eagle"
and now in the eastern Med, "Illustrious" sent
aircraft against Rhodes. The Italian Fleet sortied during
these operations, but failed to make contact. The arrival
of "Illustrious" allowed Adm Cunningham to go
ahead with his plans to attack the Italian battlefleet at
17th - Units of the
Mediterranean Fleet including battleship
"Valiant" sailed with carrier "Illustrious" for a raid on
Benghazi. Swordfish biplanes torpedoed destroyer "BOREA", and mines laid by them off the
port sank "AQUILONE".
- Attacks on Malta Convoy - From Alexandria a convoy safely reached Malta
covered by the Mediterranean Fleet with four battleships
and "Eagle". As the Fleet returned on the
12th, attacks were made by Italian light forces
southeast of Sicily. Cruiser "Ajax" sank
Italian torpedo boats "AIRONE" and "ARIEL" and badly damaged destroyer "ARTIGLIERE" which was finished off by heavy
cruiser "York". Later heading back east, the carriers
launched air strikes against Leros
island in the Dodecanese.
11th - Fleet Air Arm Attack on Taranto,
Operation 'Judgement' - Early in the month a complex series of
reinforcement and supply moves
(1-5) mounted from both ends of the
Mediterranean led to the classic air attack
(6) on the Italian battlefleet at
Taranto. (1) From Alexandria, Adm Cunningham,
with battleships "Malaya",
"Ramillies", Valiant" and
"Warspite", carrier "Illustrious",
cruisers and destroyers, sailed to cover west-bound
convoys to Crete and Malta. Aircraft carrier
"Eagle" had to be left behind because of
defects caused by earlier bombing.
(2) From Gibraltar, Force H in a
separate operation called "Coat" supported the
east-bound passage of battleship "Barham", two
cruisers and three destroyers to reinforce the
(3) Troop reinforcements were also carried to
Malta at this time from Gibraltar.
(4) Still in the eastern half of the
Med, Adm Cunningham's Fleet met its new members and
covered the return of an empty ship convoy from Malta.
(5) On the
11th a cruiser force
was detached for a successful attack on Italian shipping
in the Strait of Otranto at the entrance to the Adriatic
Sea. (6) "Illustrious" meanwhile,
escorted by cruisers and destroyers, headed for a
position in the Ionian Sea 170 miles to the southeast of
Taranto. All six battleships of the Italian Navy were at
anchor there. That night she launched two waves of
Swordfish biplanes, some belonging to "Eagle".
Under the command of Lt-Cdrs K. Williamson and J. W.
Hale, the total of no more than 20 aircraft of Number
813, 815, 819 and 824 Squadrons hit "CONTE DI
CAVOUR" and "CAIO
DIULIO" with one
torpedo each and the brand new "LITTORIA" with three. All three
battleships sank at their moorings and "Cavour"
was never recommissioned, all for the loss of just two Swordfish.
Navy carefully studied the attack as Pearl Harbor learnt
to its cost just a year later.
27th - Action off Cape Spartivento,
Southern Sardinia - A fast convoy under the codename Operation
'Collar' sailed eastward from Gibraltar with ships for
Malta and Alexandria. Cover as usual was provided by
Force H with battlecruiser "Renown", carrier
"Ark Royal", cruisers "Despatch" and
"Sheffield" Meanwhile, units of the
Mediterranean Fleet including "Ramillies" and
cruisers "Newcastle", "Berwick" and
"Coventry" headed west for a position south of
Sardinia to meet them. Other ships accompanied the two
Mediterranean Fleet carriers in separate attacks on Italian targets -
"Eagle" on Tripoli, Libya and
"Illustrious" on Rhodes off the southwest
Turkish coast. These moves took place on the 26th.
Next day, on the 27th, south of Sardinia, aircraft
H carrier "Ark
Royal" sighted an Italian force with two battleships
and seven heavy cruisers. Force H, now joined by the Med
Fleet's "Ramillies", sailed to meet them. In an
hour-long exchange of gunfire "Renown" and the
cruisers were in action, during which time "Berwick"
was damaged and an Italian destroyer
badly hit. The slower "Ramillies" had not come
up by the time the Italians had turned back for home. Adm
Somerville pursued, but as he approached Italian shores
had to turn back himself. The convoys arrive safely.
Operations - Another series of convoy 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. At the
same time, battleship "Malaya" passed through
to the west for Gibraltar. On the way, escorting
destroyer "HYPERION" hit a nine near Cape Bon, northeast tip of
Tunisia on the 22nd and had to be scuttled.
"Malaya" carried on to meet up with Force H.
The German Luftwaffe's X
Fliegerkorps - including Ju87 Stuka dive-bombers - was
ordered to Sicily and southern Italy to bolster the
Italian Air Force.
Theatre after Seven Months - Mussolini's claimed
domination of the Mediterranean had not been
apparent. In spite of the loss of French naval
power, Force H and the Mediterranean
their carriers had more than held the Italian Navy
in check. Malta had been supplied and reinforced,
and the British offensive in North Africa was
underway. Elsewhere, the Greeks were driving the
Italians back into Albania and away to the south
the Italian East African Empire was about to be
However, it was
now only a matter of months and even weeks before
the Luftwaffe appeared in Sicily, Gen Rommel in North Africa and the German Army in Greece, followed by their Paratroops in Crete
6th-11th - Malta Convoy
"Excess" - Another complex series of convoy and ship
revolving around Malta led to carrier "Illustrious"
being badly damaged
and the Royal Navy losing its comparative freedom of
operation in the Eastern Mediterranean. This followed the
arrival in Sicily of the German Luftwaffe's X
Fliegerkorps. (1) On
the 6th, convoy 'Excess' left Gibraltar for Malta and
Greece covered by Gibraltar-based Force H. (2) At the same time the Mediterranean
Fleet from Alexandria prepared to cover supply ships to
Malta and (3) bring out empty ones.
(4) Mediterranean Fleet cruisers
"Gloucester" and "Southampton"
carried troop reinforcements to Malta and then (5) continued on west to meet
'Excess'. (6) Force
H returned to Gibraltar.
By the 10th,
'Excess' had reached the Strait of Sicily and was
attacked by Italian torpedo boats. "VEGA"
sunk by escorting cruiser
"Bonaventure" and destroyer
"Hereward". As the Mediterranean Fleet
including "Illustrious" met the convoy off the
Italian-held island of Pantelleria, screening destroyers "GALLANT" hit a mine. Still west of Malta,
heavy attacks by German and Italian aircraft were launched. Carrier
singled out and hit six times by
Ju87 and Ju88 bombers. Only the armoured flight deck
saved her from total destruction as she struggled into
Malta with 200 casualties. There, under continual attack,
she was repaired temporarily and left on the 23rd for
was sent out to replace her via the Cape of Good Hope,
but it was some weeks before she reached the Eastern
Mediterranean. All merchantmen reached their destinations
safely, but at a cost of a cruiser and destroyer, and the
of carrier "Illustrious'" vital air power.
9th - Force H Attack in the Gulf of Genoa
"Malaya" and carrier "Ark Royal,"
sailed right up into the Gulf of Genoa, northwest Italy.
The big ships bombarded the city of Genoa while "Ark
Royal's" aircraft bombed Leghorn and laid mines off
Spezia, all on the 9th. An Italian battlefleet sortied
but failed to make
of the Atlantic - On 6th March 1941, faced with the
mortal threat of the German U-boat and aircraft offensive
in the Atlantic, Winston Churchill issued his famous Battle of the
Atlantic directive. Catapult armed merchantmen (CAM) were to be fitted out,
merchant ships equipped with AA weapons as a first
priority, and more Coastal Command squadrons formed and
fitted with radar. Port and dockyard congestion was to be
dealt with and the defence of ports greatly improved.
28th - Battle of Cape Matapan - As ships of the Mediterranean Fleet
covered troop movements to Greece, 'Ultra' intelligence
was received reporting the sailing of an Italian
battlefleet with one battleship, six heavy and two light
cruisers plus destroyers to attack the convoy routes. On
the 27th, Vice-Adm Pridham-Wippell with cruisers
"Orion" and the Australian "Perth"
and destroyers sailed from Greek waters for a position
Crete. Adm Cunningham with carrier "Formidable" (right) 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 action with an
Italian cruiser squadron. Just before noon he found
himself between them and the battleship "Vittorio
Veneto" which had now come up. An attack by
Swordfish from carrier "Formidable" failed to
hit the Italian battleship, but enabled the British
cruisers to extricate themselves. Mediterranean Fleet
heavy units arrived, but their only chance of action was
to slow down the Italians before they could reach Italy.
A second Swordfish carrier aircraft strike at around 15.25 hit and slowed
Veneto", but only
for a short while. At 19.30 a third carrier strike southwest of Cape Matapan
stopped heavy cruiser "Pola".
Later that evening (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" were 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 29th,
abandoned. After taking off the remaining crew,
destroyers "Jervis" and "Nubian" sank
her with torpedoes. The Royal Navy lost one aircraft.
of the Atlantic - Over the next few months a number of long awaited
ship types and weapons started to be introduced. These
would contribute significantly to the eventual defeat of
the U-boat and includd: (1) The first Auxiliary Fighter
Catapult Ships flying
the White Ensign and equipped with a single
'one-way' Hurricane were ready in April 1941. They shot
down their first Kondor in August. In May a Hurricane was
successfully launched from a Red Ensign Catapult Armed
Merchantman (CAM), but
they did not claim their first victim until November.
CAM-ships were eventually superseded in 1943 by Merchant Aircraft
Carriers (MACs) -
merchantmen with full flightdecks, but sailing under the
Red Ensign and also carrying oil or grain. (2) The final
step in the introduction of ship-borne aircraft into the
Battle of the Atlantic came in June when the first escort carrier
was ready for service. HMS Audacity,
converted from a German prize, had a short life, but
proved the great value of these vessels.
3rd - Leading up to
the capture of Massawa, capital of the Italian colony of
Eritrea, the surviving eight Italian destroyers and
torpedo boats were lost or scuttled. On the 3rd, five
seaworthy destroyers sailed to attack Port Sudan, Sudan
further north along the Red Sea shore. Shore-based
carrier "Eagle" sank "MANIN" and "SAURO".
Malta - In the
first week of April,
carrier "Ark Royal" escorted by Force H
sailed from Gibraltar and flew off 12 Hurricanes
for Malta. Three weeks later the operation was repeated
with 20 more aircraft. From the other end of the
Mediterranean, Alexandria-based battleships
"Barham", "Valiant" and
"Formidable" covered the
movement of fast transport "Breconshire" to
Malta. On the 21st they bombarded Tripoli on the return.
18th-28th - Hunt for the
"Bismarck" - Starting on the 18th, new German 15in battleship
"Bismarck" and heavy cruiser "Prinz
Eugen" sailed from Gdynia in the Baltic for the
Atlantic via Norway. A simultaneous sortie by the
battlecruisers "Scharnhorst" and
"Gneisenau" from Brest was fortunately
prevented by the damage inflicted by the RAF. 21st
- In the evening the German ships were sighted in a fiord
south of Bergen, Norway. Two of the Home Fleet's capital
ships, "Hood" and "Prince of Wales"
(still not fully completed and working up), sailed from
Scapa Flow towards Iceland to support the cruisers on
Northern Patrol. 22nd - "Bismarck" was
reported at sea and the main body of the Home Fleet
under Adm Tovey left Scapa Flow and headed west.
Battleship "King George V", fleet carrier
cruisers and destroyers were later joined by
battlecruiser "Repulse". "Victorious"
was also a recent addition to the Fleet and also working
up. 23rd - In the early evening, heavy cruisers
"Suffolk" and shortly "Norfolk"
sighted the German ships north west of Iceland and
shadowed them southwestwards through the Denmark Strait
separating Iceland from Greenland to the west.
"Hood" and "Prince of Wales" pressed
on to intercept west of Iceland. 24th - That
morning the big ships met and opened fire. Around 06.00,
after firing two or three salvos, "Bismarck"
hit "HOOD" which blew up with only three
survivors. Now it was "Prince of Wales" turn to be the target. After being
hit several times she turned away but not before damaging
"Bismarck" and causing her to lose fuel oil
to the sea. German Adm Lutjens decided to make for St
Nazaire in France and headed southwest and later south
out of the Denmark Strait. The two Royal Navy cruisers,
and for a while the damaged "Prince of Wales",
continued to shadow. Adm Tovey hurried west with the rest
of Home Fleet. With "Hood's" loss, Force H (Adm
Somerville) with battlecruiser "Renown", carrier
and cruiser "Sheffield" was sailing north from
Gibraltar. Battleship "Ramillies", released
from convoy escort duties, and "Rodney", then
to the west of Ireland, headed towards
"Bismarck's" expected track.
"Ramillies" played no part in later operations.
At 18.00, still an
the 24th, "Bismarck" feinted north towards her
shadowers for long enough to allow "Prinz
Eugen" to get away. Around midnight,
southeast of Cape Farewell, Swordfish from Adm Tovey's carrier
got one hit on "Bismarck" after she had resumed
her southerly course. The damage was negligible. Shortly
after, in the early hours of the 25th, she altered
course to the southeast for France and the cruisers lost
contact. At this point Adm Tovey's heavy ships were only
100 miles away. 25th - "Bismarck" held
her southeasterly course, but broke radio silence.
Unfortunately the British direction-finding service put
her on a northeasterly heading. Adm Tovey sailed
in that direction for a while before turning to the
southeast in pursuit. Now he was well astern of his
quarry. Only by slowing her down could destruction become
possible. In the meantime, Force H continued to sail
north to take up a blocking position between
"Bismarck" and her new goal of Brest.
26th - After a
30-hour interval, "Bismarck" was once more
sighted, this time by a RAF Catalina of No 209 Squadron,
and only 30hr from home. In the afternoon a Swordfish
strike from Force H's
carrier "Ark Royal"
"Sheffield" in error. They missed. A second
strike took place in the evening by 810, 818 and
820 Squadrons with 15 Swordfish led by Lt-Cdr Coode. They
torpedoed "Bismarck" twice and one hit damaged
her propellers and jammed the rudder. As
"Bismarck" circled, destroyers of the 4th
Flotilla (Capt Vian) came up around midnight, and
made a series of torpedo and gun attacks but with
uncertain results. Capt Vian's "Cossack",
"Maori", "Sikh", "Zulu" and
Polish "Piorun" had been detached from troop
convoy ("Winston's Special") WS8B, an
indication of the seriousness of the "Bismarck"
threat. By this time Adm Tovey's force of heavy ships had
lost "Repulse" to refuel, but been joined by
"Rodney". They now came up from the west but
did not attack just yet. 27th - "King George
V", "Rodney" and the still circling
"Bismarck" all opened fire around 08.45.
Only the German ship was hit and by 10.15 she was
a blazing wreck. Heavy cruiser "Dorsetshire",
having left convoy SL74 the previous day, fired torpedoes
to finish her off. "BISMARCK" sank at 10.36 to the southwest of
Ireland. Shadowing cruiser "Norfolk" was there
at the end..
Royal Navy Operations
in the Mediterranean - Early in the month, Force H
and the Mediterranean Fleet carried out another series of
complicated supply, reinforcement and offensive
operations. (1) Five fast transports sailed from Gibraltar
with tanks and supplies urgently needed for the Army of
the Nile (Operation 'Tiger'). Four arrived safely. (2) On passage they were accompanied
by battleship "Oueen Elizabeth" and two
cruisers sailing to join the Mediterranean Fleet. (3) Two small convoys were escorted
westward from Egypt to Malta. (4) Other units of the Mediterranean
Fleet shelled Benghazi, Libya on the night of the
7th/8th. (5) After covering the 'Tiger' convoy, carrier "Ark
Royal" joined by carrier "Furious", was
once again south of Sardinia and flying off a further 48
Hurricanes to Malta on
the 21st. Five days later, "Ark Royal's"
Swordfish were crippling the "Bismarck" in the
21st May-1st June - Battle for Crete - Most of the Mediterranean Fleet with
four battleships, one carrier, 10 cruisers and 30
destroyers fought the Battle. For the Navy there were two
phases, both of which took place under intense air
attack, mainly German, from which all losses resulted. Phase
One was from the German airborne invasion on the 20th
until the decision was take on the 27th to evacuate the
island. During this time the Mediterranean Fleet managed
to prevent the sea-borne reinforcement of the German
paratroops fighting on Crete, but at heavy cost. Most of
these losses happened as the ships tried to withdraw from
night-time patrols north of the island out of range of
enemy aircraft. On the 26th, carrier
"Formidable", accompanied by battleships
"Barham" and "Queen Elizabeth", flew
off aircraft from a position well to the south for an
attack on the Scarpanto Island airfields. In the
counter-attack "Formidable" and destroyer "Nubian"
were damaged. Phase Two was from
27th May to 1st June when over 15,000 British and
Dominion troops were evacuated. Ten thousand had to be
left behind and again the naval losses were heavy.
Throughout the two phases, losses included three cruisers
and six destroyers sunk, two battleships, one carrier and
five cruisers badly damaged.
Germany invaded Russia
Malta - With German
forces now in Greece and Crete the problems of supplying
Malta were even greater. From airfields in Crete as well
as Libya, the Luftwaffe and Italian Air force were as
close to the eastern convoy routes from Alexandria, as
Sardinia and Sicily were to the western ones through the
Strait of Gibraltar. Nevertheless the men and material
were fought through for the defence of Malta and its use
as an offensive base. In the one month of June alone,
carrier "Ark Royal" once on her own, at other
times accompanied by "Furious" or
"Victorious", flew off more than 140 aircraft
Middle East -
Concerned about German influence in Vichy French
Lebanon and Syria, British, Dominion and Free
French forces invaded on the 8th from points in
Palestine, Jordan and later from Iraqi territory. During
the campaign a Royal Navy cruiser and destroyer force
fought a series of actions with Vichy French warships as
well as German aircraft. A number of British destroyers
were damaged, but a French destroyer and submarine were
sunk including: 16th - Fleet Air Arm
torpedo-bombers flying from Cyprus sank the large
destroyer "CHEVALIER PAUL"
21st-24th - Malta Convoy, Operation
'Substance' - 'Substance'
set out from Gibraltar with six transports covered by
Force H with "Ark Royal", battlecruiser
"Renown", cruisers and destroyers. Battleship
"Nelson", three cruisers and more destroyers
reinforced Force H from the Home Fleet. On the 23rd,
south of Sardinia, continuous Italian air attacks
started. Cruiser "Manchester"
hit and destroyer
sunk by aircraft torpedoes. Next day the transports
reached Malta safely.
Russian Convoys - The first
Russian convoy, 'Dervish', sailed
from Iceland with seven ships and arrived safely. Carrier
"Argus" accompanied them to fly off Hurricanes
Battle of the Atlantic - Escort carrier "Audacity"
sailed with UK/Gibraltar convoy OG74. Her American-built
Martlet fighters shot down the first Kondor to fall
victim to an escort carrier, but U-boats still managed to
sink five merchantmen.
Malta - Carriers
"Ark Royal" and "Furious" between
them flew off over 50 Hurricanes for Malta in
24th-28th - Malta Convoy: Operation
'Halberd' - 'Halberd' sailed from Gibraltar with nine
transports. Force H (Adm Somerville), reinforced from the Home Fleet, included
"Nelson", "Rodney" and "Prince
of Wales" and the usual air cover from "Ark
Royal". On the 26th the Italians sailed to
intercept but returned to base next day. South of
Sardinia on the 27th, "Nelson"
was damaged by an Italian aircraft
torpedo, and at the end of the day Force H turned back
for Gibraltar. Convoy and escort went on to reach Malta
on the 28th minus one transport lost to air attack. By
now in 1941, three major convoys had reached Malta -
'Excess' in January, 'Substance' in July and now
'Halberd'. Nearly 40 merchantmen had got through with
only one sunk. The cost to the Royal Navy had been one
cruiser and a destroyer sunk, and a battleship, carrier
and two cruisers damaged.
3rd - The recently
completed fleet carrier "Indomitable" ran aground and was damaged off
Kingston, Jamaica. She was due to accompany capital ships
"Prince of Wales" and "Repulse" to
the Far East as a deterrent to Japanese aggression. Her
absence in December may have proved fatal to the two big
of the Atlantic - There was a considerable drop in U-boat sinkings in the
North Atlantic in the last two months of the year; again
the reasons were varied - the increasing number of
escorts, the help given by the US Navy, and the
increasing effectiveness of land-based aircraft. Escort
carrier "Audacity" was also proving her worth.
U-boats concentrations off Gibraltar led to the need to
strengthen the HG/SL convoy escorts. After the attacks on
HG75 in October, the next HG did not sail until December
when "Audacity" was available to close the
Britain/Gibraltar air gap.
13th - As Force H
returned to Gibraltar after flying off more Hurricanes
from "Ark Royal" and "Argus" for
Malta, the famous and much 'sunk' "ARK
ROYAL" was hit
by one torpedo from "U-81". Next day she
foundered in tow only a few miles from home. One man was
killed. "U-81" was one of four U-boats that had
just passed into the Mediterranean.
- Britain's limited naval deterrent to Japanese
expansion, capital ships "Prince of Wales" and
"Repulse" met at Colombo, Ceylon on the 28th,
en route to Singapore. Without the fleet carrier
"Indomitable" they had no ship-borne aircraft
Harbor Force - As US-Japanese talks dragged on
and the United States demanded the departure of Japan
from China as well as French Indochina, the Pearl Harbor
Strike Force sailed into the North Pacific. Vice-Adm
Nagumo commanded the fleet carriers "Akagi",
"Hiryu", "Kaga", "Soryu",
"Shokaku" and "Zuikaku", plus two
battleships, cruisers and destroyers.