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ROYAL, DOMINION & ALLIED NAVIES in WORLD WAR 2

7. BRITISH REACTION to the FALL of FRANCE, BATTLE of BRITAIN, WAR in the MEDITERRANEAN

July-August 1940

HMS Edinburgh, light cruiser (Navy Photos, click to enlarge)

on to September-December 1940

 

Action off Calabria (see July 1940, Mediterranean)

 

...1940

JULY 1940

ATLANTIC - JULY 1940

1st - Corvette Gladiolus claimed the first success for the 'Flower' class when with the support of an RAF Sunderland, she sank “U-26” southwest of Ireland. 5th - Detached from a UK outward-bound OB convoy to search for a reported U-boat, destroyer WHIRLWIND was torpedoed by “U-34” and lost to the west of Land's End.

French Navy in the Atlantic - Carrier Hermes and cruisers Dorsetshire and Australian sister-ship Australia lay 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. No action was taken against “Richelieu’s” sister ship “Jean Bart” laying further north at Casablanca, Morocco. In the French West Indies, carrier “Bearn” and two cruisers were immobilised by mainly diplomatic means. (see also French Navy in Europe and Mediterranean below)

German Raiders - Only 11 months before Germany attacked Russia, “Komet” sailed for the Pacific through the North East Passage across the top of Siberia with the aid of Russian icebreakers. She operated in the Pacific and Indian Oceans until returning to Germany in November 1941, the last of the first wave of surface raiders to leave Germany. 28th - Off the coast of Brazil, German raider “Thor” badly damaged armed merchant cruiser “Alcantara” in a gun duel.

Battle of the Atlantic - Convoys were now being re-routed through the North Western Approaches to the British Isles instead of the south of Ireland and through the Irish Sea. North Channel and the sea lanes leading to it became a focal point for all shipping leaving or arriving in British waters. The following convoys continued: Liverpool out - OB; UK/Gibraltar- OG; Fast Halifax/UK - HX; Gibraltar/UK - HG; Sierra Leone/UK - SL. Thames-out OA convoys were now joining FN East Coast coastal convoys and passing around the north of Scotland before going out through the North Western Approaches. They stopped altogether in October 1940. Slow Sydney, Cape Breton, Canada to UK convoys started in August 1940 with SC1. The limits of the few escorts available were only now pushed out from 15W to 17W where they stayed until October 1940. U-boats were patrolling well beyond this range and many sinkings took place in unescorted convoys or when the ships had dispersed.

Monthly Loss Summary: - 34 British, Allied and neutral ships of 173,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes; 1 destroyer; - 1 German U-boat.

EUROPE - JULY 1940

Battle of Britain - Hitler decided that an invasion of Britain – “Operation Sealion” - was possible and ordered preliminary air attacks starting with English Channel shipping and ports. On the 16th, preparations got underway for landing and assault operations scheduled to start in mid-August. On the 19th July Hitler offered to make peace with Britain. Three days later his overtures were rejected.

French Navy in Britain - The two World War 1 French battleships "Courbet" and "Paris" and several destroyers and submarines, including the giant "Surcouf" were in British ports. On the 3rd they were boarded and seized, but not before there were casualties on both sides including three British and one French dead.

4th - Anchored off the SE breakwater within Portland Harbour, auxiliary AA ship FOYLE BANK (Capt H P Wilson) was attacked by 33 Ju87 divebombers and hit by a total of around 22 bombs. With one of the attackers shot down, she sank to the bottom with 176 men killed out of a total crew of 19 officers and 279 crew. + Leading Seaman Jack Mantle, gunner in the "Foyle Bank", continued in action although mortally wounded and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. According to one source she was sunk off Portland in attacks on Thames-out convoy 0A178 which also accounted for four merchantmen. Photographs of her hit and sinking confirm the Portland Harbour location.

6th - Home Fleet submarines carried out patrols off the coast of southwest Norway, but with heavy losses in July. Late on the 5th, SHARK was badly damaged by German aircraft and next morning on the 6th had to be scuttled off Skudenses. July - A few days later submarine SALMON was presumed lost on mines. Later still THAMES was also probably mined in the middle of the North Sea on passage to her patrol area.

16th - Cruiser Glasgow rammed and sank accompanying destroyer IMOGEN off the Pentland Firth, north of Scotland.

20th - Heavy German attacks continued on shipping and four destroyers (1-4) were bombed and sunk over the next few days to add to the losses already sustained. The first was BRAZEN (1) on convoy duty off Dover. 27th - Two more lost to air attack in British waters were WREN (2) off Aldeburgh on the English East Coast as she gave AA cover to minesweepers, and CODRINGTON (3) in Dover harbour. 29th - The fourth bombing loss was DELIGHT (4) escorting a Channel convoy off Portland.

26th - As the damaged "Gneisenau" made for Germany from Norway, submarine "Swordfish" carried out an attack and sank escorting torpedo boat "LUCHS".

Merchant Shipping War - With the Germans now so close to British shores, new coastal convoy routes had to be established and integrated with overseas convoys. The Thames/Forth FN/FS convoys between south east England and Scotland continued along the East Coast. Two additional routes were instituted: Forth/Clyde, EN/WN, around the north of Scotland between the east and west coasts; and Thames/English Channel, CW/CE, through the Strait of Dover to south and south west England. Channel losses were so heavy that CW/CE convoys were stopped for a while. On the 25th/26th, CW8 lost eight of its 21 ships to attacks by Stukas and E-boats. Four more merchantmen and two destroyers were damaged

Monthly Loss Summary: 67 British, Allied and neutral ships of 192,000 tons in UK waters.

MEDITERRANEAN - JULY 1940

East Africa - Italian forces from Ethiopia occupied British border posts in Kenya and the Sudan.

French Navy in the Mediterranean, 3rd, Action at Oran (Operation 'Catapult') - Adm Somerville arrived with Force H off the French Algerian base of Mers-el-Kebir near Oran. 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 Ark 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 concerned. 4th - A more peaceful solution to the French naval presence was found at Alexandria. Adm Cunningham was able to reach agreement with Adm Godfrey on the demilitarisation of battleship "Lorraine", four cruisers and a number of smaller ships. No action was taken against the French warships at Algiers and Toulon. For the Royal Navy an unhappy, but in British eyes, necessary duty had been carried out against her former French ally. French anger and bitterness was understandably considerable.

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 (see map above) - 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 was 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 came under fire from the heavier Italian ships before it could return fire itself. "Warspite" came up and damaged "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 "Pancaldo" was torpedoed, but later re-floated and re-commissioned. 20th - Carrier "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.

11th - Force H, which put to sea on receiving reports of the Italian fleet, was now returning to Gibraltar when screening destroyer ESCORT was sunk by Italian submarine "Marconi".

16th - Submarine PHOENIX attacked an escorted tanker off Augusta and was lost to depth charges from Italian torpedo boat "Albatros".

19th, Action off Cape Spada - Australian cruiser Sydney (right - NavyPhotos/Mark Teadham) and destroyers "Hasty", "Havock", "Hero", "Hyperion" and "llex" on a sweep into the Aegean Sea were sent to intercept two reported Italian cruisers. Off Cape Spada at the north west tip of Crete, "BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI" was stopped by "Sydney's" gunfire and finished off with torpedoes from the destroyers. "Bande Nere" managed to escape.

Monthly Loss Summary: 2 British, Allied and neutral ships of 7,000 tons

STRATEGIC & MARITIME SITUATION

ATLANTIC & EUROPE - Britain's circumstances were transformed. From North Cape in Norway to the Pyrenees at the Spanish border, the coast of Europe was in German hands. Norwegian bases threatened northern Britain. By occupying the Low Countries of Holland and Belgium, and northern France, the south and east coasts of England were now in the front line. From their new French Biscay ports German maritime forces dominated the South Western Approaches to the British Isles. The British occupation of Iceland took on a new and vital importance. The lack of bases in Eire became more evident. In addition, the majority of French possessions on the Atlantic seaboards of Africa and the Americas were under the control of Vichy France, and thus denied to British forces. Worse still was the danger of their occupation by the Axis powers. The naval situation was similarly transformed. Not only was the French fleet denied to the Allies, but the great fear was it would be seized by the German and Italian navies and totally alter the naval balance of power. The French Navy refused to make for British ports and most of the modern ships sailed for French North and West Africa. The uncompleted battleships “Jean Bart” and “Richelieu” reached the Atlantic ports of Casablanca in Morocco and Dakar in Senegal respectively.  

MEDITERRANEAN - With the fall of France, Italy continued to dominate the central Mediterranean. The situation in the western basin became difficult as shipping between Gibraltar and Malta could no longer look to Algeria and Tunis for protection. At the eastern end, Lebanon and Syria went over to Vichy France and in time endangered Britain's position in the Middle East. For now Greece and Crete remained neutral, otherwise enemy aircraft would dominate the Mediterranean Fleet as soon as it left Egyptian waters. This happened when they were occupied by the Germans. 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 came to dominate the Mediterranean over the next six months. Fortunately the situation was also helped by the French Fleet staying neutral and out of Axis hands - that is, until its sovereignty was under attack when the French Navy fought back fiercely. The arrival of Force H at Gibraltar went some way to offsetting the loss of French naval power in the Western Mediterranean.

 

 AUGUST 1940

ATLANTIC - AUGUST 1940

Radar - A British scientific mission carried details of many important developments to the United States. Amongst these was the recently invented cavity magnetron, vital for short wavelength radar and the eventual defeat of conventional U-boats.

10th - Two more ex-liners recommissioned as armed merchant cruisers of the Northern Patrol were lost to U-boat attack to the north of Ireland. "TRANSYLVANIA" was torpedoed and sunk by "U-56" on the 10th. 27th/28th - The second AMC was "DUNVEGAN CASTLE" to "U-46".

20th - Submarine "Cachalot "on Bay of Biscay patrol sank the returning "U-51" off Lorient, western France

24th - An attack by "U-37" on the first Slow Cape Breton/UK convoy SC1 to the southeast of Greenland led to the loss of a merchantman and sloop "PENZANCE".

Battle of the Atlantic - Long range Focke Wulf Kondor bombers started patrols off the coast of Ireland from a base near Bordeaux. 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 them.

Monthly Loss Summary: 39 British, Allied and neutral ships of 190,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 2 armed merchant cruisers, 1 sloop; 1 German U-boat.

EUROPE - AUGUST 1940

1st - Submarine SPEARFISH on patrol in the North Sea was torpedoed and sunk by "U-34". NARWHAL was paid off the same day. After leaving the English east coast Humber Estuary on 22nd July for a minelaying mission off Norway, she failed to return.

3rd - Mines laid off the German North Sea coast by RN destroyers continued to claim victims. "U-25" was lost as she headed out for Atlantic patrol.

Battle of Britain - The Luftwaffe switched its attacks from English Channel ports and shipping to RAF Fighter Command and on the 13th launched a major offensive - 'Adlertag' - especially against airfields. Damage to the airfields and installations, and losses in aircraft on both sides were heavy. Bombs dropped on London on the 24th led to RAF Bomber Command raiding Berlin the next night. By the end of the month the first possible date for 'Operation Sealion' had been put back to late September.

Royal Navy Codes - These were changed and for the first time operational signals were secure from German interception and decoding. It was another three years before the convoy codes were made safe from the German B-Service.

31st/1st September - Destroyers of the 20th Flotilla sailed to lay mines off the Dutch coast, but run into a German field northwest of Texel. ESK quickly sank, IVANHOE went down next day, and "Express" was badly damaged.

Eastern Europe - Germany started planning the invasion of Russia.

Monthly Loss Summary: 45 British, Allied and neutral ships of 163,000 tons in UK waters.

MEDITERRANEAN - AUGUST 1940

1st - Submarine OSWALD on patrol south of the Strait of Messina reported Italian Navy movements. She was detected and later rammed and sunk by destroyer "Vivaldi".

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 Ark Royal's aircraft to hit Sardinian targets. In the middle of the month, Mediterranean Fleet battleships Warspite, Malaya and Ramillies bombarded Italian positions around Bardia in Libya, just over the border from Egypt. ("The Supply of Malta 1940-1942", including the Malta Convoys)

22nd - Land-based Swordfish from 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 - Heavy mining in the Strait of Sicily by Italian surface ships led to the loss of destroyer HOSTILE on passage from Malta to Gibraltar. Extensive Italian fields in the 'Sicilian Narrows' sank and damaged many Royal Navy ships over the next three years.

East Africa - Italian forces from Ethiopia invaded British Somaliland. The capital of Berbera was evacuated on the 14th and the garrison carried across to Aden. Italians entered the town five days later just as a British mission went into Ethiopia to help organise uprisings against the Italians.

Monthly Loss Summary: 1 ship of 1,000 tons

 

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revised 24/12/10