Battle of Cape Matapan (see March
ATLANTIC - JANUARY 1941
German Heavy Warships
& Raiders - Pocket battleship "Admiral
Scheer" was hunting in the South Atlantic, while
battlecruisers "Scharnhorst" and
"Gneisenau" in Germany and heavy cruiser
"Hipper" in Brest, France prepared to sail. At
the end of the month the two battlecruisers headed out
into the Atlantic for two months operations before
returning to Brest. Six of the original seven raiders
were still at sea - "Orion" and
"Komet" in the Pacific, "Atlantis" at
the desolate island of Kerguelen in the southern Indian
Ocean, "Kormoran" in the Central and
"Thor" in the South Atlantic. Finally
"Pinguin" was in the Antarctic. All six moved
to different areas over the next few months. Until June
1941, German warships sank 37 ships of 188,000 tons and
raiders 38 ships of 191,000 tons. Thereafter neither type
inflicted many losses as worldwide convoys were organised
and the raiders' supply ships sunk.
7th - Italian
submarine "NANI" attacked a convoy west of North Channel and
was sunk by corvette "Anemone".
of the Atlantic - For
the next few months the U-boat's 'Happy Time' continued
in the Western Approaches against the poorly defended
convoys. Bad weather in January and February fortunately
kept the level of sinkings down. Approximately 22 U-boats
were operational out of the 90 in commission, and
long-range aircraft including the Focke Wulf Kondors
still roamed the waters off Ireland spotting for U-boats
and sinking ships.
Monthly Loss Summary: 59 British, Allied
and neutral ships of 273,000 tons in the Atlantic from
all causes; 1 Italian U-boat.
EUROPE - JANUARY 1941
Britain - The Blitz
on Britain continued with attacks on Bristol, Cardiff,
London and Portsmouth during the month.
15th - Cruiser minelayer
Adventure was damaged for the second time on a mine,
this time on passage from Milford Haven, southwest Wales
to Liverpool. The last time was off the Thames in
November 1939 - just 14 crisis-filled months earlier.
Shipping War - Losses
due to air attack and mines remained a major problem.
Aircraft and E-boats had now added acoustic to the
magnetic and moored contact mines in their armoury, but
they never matched up to the threat the magnetic mines
represented a year earlier.
Monthly Loss Summary: 15 British, Allied
and neutral ships of 37,000 tons in UK waters.
MEDITERRANEAN - JANUARY 1941
North Africa - As
the British advance continued into Libya, Bardia was
taken on the 5th. Australian troops captured Tobruk on
the 22nd and Derna, further west by the end of the month.
The Royal Navy's Inshore Squadron played an
important part in the campaign - bombarding shore
targets, carrying fuel, water and supplies, and
evacuating wounded and prisoners of war.
Air War - Hurricane
fighters, transported to Takoradi in West Africa, started
to arrive in Egypt after flying across the continent.
They too played their part in the North African
offensive. RAF Wellingtons raided Naples and damaged
Italian battleship "Giulio Cesare".
Malta Convoy "Excess"
- Another complex series of convoy and ship movements
revolving around Malta led to carrier
Illustrious (right - NavyPhotos) 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. On the 6th,
convoy 'Excess' left Gibraltar for Malta and Greece covered by
Gibraltar-based Force H. At the same time the Mediterranean Fleet from
Alexandria prepared to cover supply ships to Malta and bring out empty
ones. Mediterranean Fleet cruisers
Southampton carried troop reinforcements to
and then carried
on west to meet 'Excess'. Force H returned to Gibraltar.
By the 10th, 'Excess' had reached the Strait of Sicily and was
attacked by Italian torpedo boats. "VEGA" was 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 destroyer
hit a mine. Towed back to Malta, she was not re-commissioned and finally
wrecked by bombing over a year later in April 1942. Still west of Malta,
heavy attacks by German and Italian aircraft were launched.
"Illustrious" was 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
Alexandria. Sister-ship Formidable was sent
out to replace her via the Cape of Good Hope, but it was
some weeks before she reached the Eastern Mediterranean.
On the 11th, the empty return Malta/Alexandria
convoy was proceeding eastwards, with cruisers
"Gloucester" and "Southampton"
sailing from Malta to join up when they were attacked by
German aircraft to the east of Malta.
bombed and sunk, Gloucester damaged. All merchantmen reached
their destinations safely, but at the cost of a cruiser
and destroyer, and the loss of "Illustrious'"
vital air power.
19th - Destroyer
Greyhound, escorting a convoy to Greece, sank Italian
submarine "NEGHELLI" in the Aegean Sea
East Africa - The
British and Dominion campaign to drive out the Italians
from East Africa started. Eritrea in the north was
invaded from the Sudan by largely Indian forces, while
East African and South African troops attacked Italian
Somaliland from Kenya to the south.
Monthly Loss Summary: No British, Allied
or neutral merchant ships were lost in the Mediterranean.
ATLANTIC - FEBRUARY 1941
German Heavy Warships -
At the beginning of the month, heavy cruiser
"Admiral Hipper" sailed from Brest. On the 12th,
far to the west of Gibraltar, she sank seven ships from
slow unescorted convoy SLS64 bound for Britain from
Sierra Leone. Returning to Brest, in March she headed
back to Germany via the Denmark Strait and took no
further part in independent commerce raiding. On the
8th, battlecruisers "Scharnhorst" and
"Gneisenau" sighted convoy HX106 escorted by the lone battleship
Ramillies south of
Greenland, but declined to attack in case of possible
damage. Two weeks later, five unescorted ships were sunk
east of Newfoundland, before they headed for the Sierra
Leone routes. Meanwhile pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer" in the Indian Ocean operated successfully
off Madagascar before preparing to return to Germany.
22nd - Italian
submarine "MARCELLO" was believed sunk to the west of the
Hebrides by ex-US destroyer "Montgomery" and
other escorts of Liverpool-out convoy OB287. The convoy
was reported by Kondors which sank two and damaged four
merchantmen. No more U-boat attacks were made.
of the Atlantic - Adm Sir Percy Noble took over as
Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches, just as the
command moved from Plymouth to Liverpool.
Monthly Loss Summary: 69 British, Allied
and neutral ships of 317,000 tons in the Atlantic from
all causes; 1 Italian U-boat.
EUROPE - FEBRUARY 1941
Early February -
After leaving her escort off Lands End for patrol in the
Bay of Biscay, British submarine
SNAPPER was not heard from again. She
failed to rendezvous back on the 12th February, possibly
lost on mines.
25th - Escort
destroyer EXMOOR was the first of the 'Hunt' class
to be lost, torpedoed off Lowestoft, east coast of
England by German E-boat "S-30" while escorting
Thames/Forth convoy FN417.
Monthly Loss Summary: 26 British, Allied
and neutral ships of 51,000 tons in UK waters.
MEDITERRANEAN - FEBRUARY 1941
North Africa - British
armoured forces crossed the Libyan desert to a point
south of Benghazi and cut off the retreating Italians.
The resulting Battle of Beda Fomm starting on the
5th inflicted heavy losses. Australian troops captured
the major port of Benghazi at the same time, and by the
9th El Agheila was reached. There the advance stopped.
Large numbers of British and Dominion troops were now
withdrawn for transfer to Greece, just as the first units
of the Afrika Korps under Gen Rommel arrived in Tripoli. 24th
- Destroyer DAINTY escorting
supplies to Tobruk with the Inshore Squadron, was sunk
off the port by German Ju87 Stukas.
9th, Force H Attack in the Gulf of Genoa
Royal, Renown and
sailed right 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 contact.
25th - On patrol
off the east coast of Tunisia, submarine
"Upright" torpedoed and sank Italian cruiser "ARMANDO
DIAZ" covering a
convoy from Naples to Tripoli.
East Africa - In
the north the Indian advance into Eritrea was held
up for most of February and March in the Battle for
Keren. In the south, the Italian Somaliland
capital of Mogadishu was captured on the 25th, after
which British forces advanced northwest into Ethiopia.
The East lndies Command under Vice-Adm R. Leatham
continually supported the land campaign. 27th -
After breaking out of Massawa, Eritrea's Red Sea port,
Italian armed merchant cruiser "RAMB 1" was located off the Indian Ocean
Maldive Islands and sunk by New Zealand cruiser
Monthly Loss Summary: 2 British or Allied
merchant ships of 8,000 tons.
ATLANTIC - MARCH 1941
United States - The
Lend-Lease Bill was passed into law. Britain and her
Allies would be able to receive American arms and
supplies without immediate payment.
7th/8th - With
better weather the spring U-boat offensive started and 41
ships of 243,000 tons sunk. However, in the space of a
few days they suffered their first major defeat at the
hands of the escorts and lost five submarines (1-5) in the month, including three aces.
From then on, escort versus wolf-pack battles
predominated in the North Atlantic. Attacking
Liverpool-out convoy OB293, the first sinking was "U-70" (1) by corvettes "Arbutus" and
"Camellia" on the 7th. Continuing the hunt,
next to go was "U-47" (2) (Cdr
Prien who sank battleship Royal Oak in Scapa
Flow) to destroyer "Wolverine" on the 8th.
17th - Germany lost two more aces during operations
against Halifax/UK convoy HX112. "U-99"
Kretschmer) and "U-100" (4) (Lt-Cdr Schepke) were sunk by the 5th Escort
Group commanded by Cdr Macintyre. Destroyers
"Vanoc" and "Walker" were mainly
responsible. 23rd - The fifth of the month was "U-551"
(5) to armed trawler
"Visenda". All five U-boat sinkings took place
to the south of Iceland, the first German casualties
since November 1940 - four months earlier.
German Heavy Ships
- battlecruisers "Scharnhorst" and
"Gneisenau" were sighted by aircraft of battleship
Malaya escorting convoy SL67 off
the Cape Verde Islands. The German ships returned to the
Newfoundland area and on the 15th and 16th sank or
captured 16 unescorted ships. They returned to Brest on
the 22nd, having accounted for 22 ships of 116,000 tons,
but never again took part successfully in commerce
20th - Following
her earlier sighting of the "Scharnhorst" and
"Gneisenau", Malaya was now sailing with convoy SL68
off the west coast of Africa. Torpedoed and damaged by
"U-106", she became the first British ship
repaired in the United States under Lend-Lease
arrangements. The convoy lost seven merchantmen to the
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. These and numerous other matters were
to be dealt with as a matter of the very highest
priority. The survival of Britain depended on them.
Overall direction was to be exercised by a Battle of the
Atlantic Committee chaired by the Prime Minister himself.
Monthly Loss Summary: 63 British, Allied
and neutral ships of 365,000 tons in the Atlantic from
all causes; 5 German U-boats-including three of the most
EUROPE - MARCH 1941
Norway - A
successful Combined Operations commando raid was carried
out on the Lofoten Islands, off northwest Norway with
installations destroyed and shipping sunk. Escort was
provided by destroyers and cover by units of the Home
Eastern Europe and
Balkans - Bulgaria joined the Tripartite Pact
on the 1st March and German troops marched in. As of now,
only Yugoslavia in the Balkans retained national
Shipping War - Royal
Navy motor gun-boats (MGB's) were entering service to
combat E-boat attacks on East Coast convoys. Improved
motor torpedo boats (MTBs) were also being built to
attack German coastal shipping. This marked the first
step in the build up of Coastal Forces.
Monthly Loss Summary: 73 British, Allied
and neutral ships of 153,000 tons in UK waters.
MEDITERRANEAN - MARCH 1941
Greece - In the
space of three weeks in March, 60,000 British and
Dominion troops were carried from North Africa to Greece,
escorted by the Royal Navy (Operation 'Lustre'). 6th
- Italian submarine "ANFITRITE" attacked a troop convoy east of Crete and
was sunk by escorting destroyer "Greyhound". 26th
- At anchor in Suda Bay, northern Crete, heavy cruiser
YORK was badly damaged
by Italian explosive motor boats and beached. She was
later wrecked by bombing and abandoned when Crete was
evacuated in May. 31st - Cruiser
BONAVENTURE with a
Mediterranean Fleet cruiser force escorting a convoy from
Greece to Egypt, was torpedoed and sunk to the southeast
of Crete by Italian submarine Ambra.
28th - Mines laid
by submarine "Rorqual" west of Sicily on the
25th, sank two Italian supply ships the next day and
torpedo boat "CHINOTTO" on the 28th. 31st - Continuing her
successes, "Rorqual" torpedoed and sank
submarine "CAPPONI" off northeast Sicily.
28th, Battle of Cape Matapan
(see map above) -
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
and destroyers sailed from Greek waters for a position
south of Crete. Adm Cunningham with carrier
Formidable and battleships
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 "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 strike at around 15.00 hit and slowed "Vittorio
Veneto", but only
for a short while. At 19.30 a third strike
southwest of Cape Matapan stopped heavy cruiser
"Pola". All this time, RAF aircraft were
attacking without success. 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" 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, "POLA" was found, partly abandoned. After taking
off the remaining crew, destroyers "Jervis" and
"Nubian" sank her with torpedoes. The Royal
Navy lost one aircraft.
Yugoslavia - On the
25th Yugoslavia joined the Tripartite Pact, but two days
later an anti-Nazi coup toppled the Government.
North Africa - In
command of German and Italian troops, Gen Rommel started
his first offensive with the capture of El Agheila on the
24th. Within three weeks the British and Dominion forces
were back in Sollum on the Egyptian side of the border.
Malta - Late in the
month a small Malta convoy sailed from the east covered
by the Mediterranean Fleet. These were the first supplies
to arrive since the January 'Excess' operation. In the
intervening two months Malta had been heavily attacked by
the Axis air forces hoping to neutralise the island as a
base for air and sea attacks against the supply routes to
East Africa - British
forces were transported from Aden to Berbera in British
Somaliland on the 16th. From there, they advanced
southwest into southern Ethiopia. To the north, Keren
fell to the attacking Indian troops and the road was
opened to the Eritrean capital of Asmara and Red Sea port
Monthly Loss Summary: 2 British or Allied
merchant ships of 12,000 tons.
Aircraft Attacks, Atlantic and Europe -
April 1941, aircraft sank 116 ships
of 323,000 tons, the highest rate for any month of the
whole war. In the first six months of 1941 alone the
losses totalled 294 ships of 811,000 tons. These were not
only due to the long-range aircraft operating off Ireland
from bases in France and Norway, but to attacks in
coastal waters where the defences were still weak. More
AA weapons were needed for merchantmen, more and better
controlled shore-based fighters in coastal areas, and
ship-borne aircraft were vital out at sea. The needs were
recognised as the Battle of the Atlantic Directive made
clear, but would take many months to meet.
ATLANTIC - APRIL 1941
4th - Armed
merchant cruisers again suffered heavy losses at widely
scattered locations and in different circumstances. On
the 4th "VOLTAIRE" was sunk in a gun duel with German raider
"Thor" west of the Cape Verde Islands. 6th -
Only two days later, "COMORIN" caught fire and finally went down west of
Ireland - the rescue of her crew and passengers in raging
seas an epic in its own right. 13th - "RAJPUTANA" of the Northern Patrol
was lost in an attack by "U-108" in the Denmark
Strait separating Greenland and Iceland.
5th - Slow
Halifax/UK convoy SC26 was attacked by U-boats for two
days and lost 10 merchantmen. On the 5th, "U-76" was sunk by escorting destroyer
"Wolverine and sloop "Scarborough" south
of Iceland. 28th - Fast Halifax/UK convoy HX121
lost four ships but "U-65" was sunk in return by corvette
"Gladiolus", like "U-76", south of
German Raiders -
"Thor" now returned to Germany after an absence
of 11 months, having accounted for 11 ships of 83,000
tons plus AMC "Voltaire". Pocket battleship
"Admiral Scheer" also got back to Germany after
five months in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans credited
with 16 ships of 99,000 tons and the "Jervis
of the Atlantic - Over
the next few months a number of long awaited ship types
and weapons started to be introduced. These contributed
significantly to the eventual defeat of the U-boat. (1)
The first Auxiliary Fighter Catapult Ships flying the White
Ensign and equipped with a single 'one-way' Hurricane
was ready in April 1941. They shot down their first
Kondor in August. In May a Hurricane was successfully
launched from a Red Ensign
Armed Merchantman (CAM), but they did not
claim their first victim until November. CAM-ships were
eventually superseded in 1943 by
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. (3) New scientific developments
also started to play their part. In May the first high
definition, 10cm radar (Type 271) was installed in a
corvette. Later still, high frequency, direction finding
(HF/DF or 'Huff-Duff') was introduced to supplement the
work of the shore stations. It was many months before
either system was widely in service, and not until 1942
did they claim their first U-boats. (4) Inter-service
co-ordination was further improved when RAF Coastal
Command was placed under operational control of the
Monthly Loss Summary: 48 British, Allied
and neutral ships of 282,000 tons in the Atlantic from
all causes, 3 armed merchant cruisers; 2 German U-boats
EUROPE - APRIL 1941
German Heavy Ships -
The arrival of battlecruisers "Scharnhorst" and
"Gneisenau" in Brest led to a long series of
heavy RAF bomber raids. These did not end until the
Channel Dash in February 1942. During this time both
ships sustained varying amounts of damage. On the 6th
April "Gneisenau" was torpedoed and badly damaged by
an RAF Beaufort of No 22 Squadron, Coastal Command. Flg
Off Kenneth Campbell RAFVR, Canadian pilot of the
Beaufort, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
Monthly Loss Summary: 40 British, Allied
and neutral ships of 99,000 tons in UK waters.
MEDITERRANEAN - APRIL 1941
more areas in the region erupted in April: Yugoslavia and
Greece - Germany
invaded both countries on the 6th. By the 12th they had
entered Belgrade and within another five days the
Yugoslav Army surrendered. Greek forces in Albania and
Greece suffered the same fate. Starting on the 24th over
a period of five days, 50,000 British, Australian and New
Zealand troops were evacuated to Crete and Egypt in
Operation 'Demon'. The Germans occupied Athens on the
Africa - Germans
entered Benghazi on the 4th and by mid-month had
surrounded Tobruk and reached the Egyptian border.
Attacks on the British and Australian troops defending
Tobruk were unsuccessful, and an eight-month siege began. Middle
East - A
pro-German coup in Iraq on the 1st threatened
Allied oil supplies. British and Indian units were
entering the country through the Persian Gulf by the
middle of the month. The campaign continued through May.
East Africa - On
the Red Sea coast of Italian East Africa, the capture of Eritrea
was completed when Asmara was occupied on the 1st and
the port of Massawa on the 8th. Two days earlier, Addis
Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, had been taken.
Italian resistance continued mainly in the north of
Ethiopia. 3rd - Leading up to the capture of
Massawa, 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
Swordfish from carrier Eagle sank "MANIN" and "SAURO".
8th - Before the final
scuttling at Massawa, Italian MTB MAS-213 torpedoed and damaged cruiser
Capetown escorting a convoy off Massawa. Four
Italian submarines did manage to escape and eventually
reached Bordeaux, France after sailing right round
16th, Action of Sfax, Tunisia -
Capt P. J. Mack with destroyers
"Janus", "Jervis", "Mohawk"
and "Nubian" sailed from Malta to intercept a
German Afrika Korps convoy of five transports escorted by
three Italian destroyers off Kerkennah Islands, east of
Tunisia. All Axis ships were sunk including the
destroyers "BALENO" (foundered next day), "LAMPO" (later salvaged) and "TARIGO". In the fighting
MOHAWK was torpedoed by "Tarigo"
and had to be scuttled.
Malta - In the first week of April,
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
Warspite together with
carrier Formidable covered the movement of fast
transport "Breconshire" to Malta. On the 21st
they bombarded Tripoli on the return.
27th - As units of
the Mediterranean Fleet carried out the Greek evacuation,
WRYNECK rescued troops
from the bombed transport "Slamat", but were
then sunk by more German bombers off Cape Malea at the
southeast tip of Greece. There were few survivors from
the three ships.
Monthly Loss Summary: 105 British, Allied
and neutral ships of 293,000 tons from all causes
May 1941 included a
breakthrough in the capture of German Enigma coding
material, the hunt for and sinking of the
"Bismarck", the fearful Royal Navy losses
off Crete, continuing confirmation that Russia was
about to be attacked by Germany, further
deterioration in relations with Japan. One can only
imagine the thoughts and feelings of Prime
Minister Churchill and his senior advisers
as they responded day-by-day to these momentous
ATLANTIC - MAY 1941
8th - On patrol
north of the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, heavy
cruiser "Cornwall" found and sank German raider
"PINGUIN", the first raider to be hunted
down, after accounting for 28 ships of 136,000 tons.
9th, Capture of "U.110" and the
German Enigma - South
of Iceland, "U.110" (Lt-Cdr Lemp of the
"Athenia" sinking) attacked Liverpool-out
convoy OB318 protected by ships of Capt A. J.
Baker-Creswell's escort group. Blown to the surface by
depth charges from corvette "Aubretia" on the
9th, "U-110's" crew abandoned ship, but she
failed to go down. A boarding party from destroyer
"Bulldog", led by Sub-Lt Balme, managed to get
aboard. In a matter of hours they transferred to safety
"U-110's" entire Enigma package - coding
machine, code books, rotor settings and charts. The
destroyer "Broadway" stood by during this
hazardous operation. Two days later "U-110" sank on tow to Iceland, knowledge
of her capture having been withheld from the crew and
Lt-Cdr Lemp dying at the time of the boarding. The
priceless Enigma material represented one of the greatest
intelligence coup ever and was a major naval victory in
its own right. "U-110's" capture was far and
away the most successful of the attempts to capture
Enigma codes. In the March 1941 raid on the Norwegian
Lofoten Islands, spare coding rotors were found. Then two
days before the "U-110" triumph, a cruiser
force had tried to capture the weather trawler
"Munchen" off Iceland. At the end of the coming
June a similar operation was mounted against the
"Lauenberg". In both cases useful papers were
taken but the real breakthrough only came with
"U-110". Included with the material captured
were all rotor settings until the end of June 1941. A
number of codes were used with Enigma. The U-boat
one was 'Hydra', also used by all ships in European
waters. From the end of June, Bletchley Park was able to
decipher 'Hydra' right through until the end of the war.
Unfortunately the U-boats moved off this version to the
new 'Triton' in February 1942. The big ship 'Neptun' and
Mediterranean 'Sud' and 'Medusa' codes were also soon
13th - Armed
merchant cruiser "SALOPIAN" on passage to Halifax after escorting
convoy SC30 was torpedoed a total of six times by
"U-98". She eventually went down southeast of
Cape Farewell, the sad but appropriately-named southern
tip of Greenland.
18th-28th, Hunt for the
Phase 1 -
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. On the 20th, they were
sighted in the Kattegat by a Swedish warship. 21st
- In the evening the German ships were sighted in a fiord south of
Bergen, Norway. Two of the Home Fleet's capital ships,
Prince of Wales
(the latter not fully complete and still working up),
sailed from Scapa Flow towards Iceland to support the
cruisers on Northern Patrol.
"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 Victorious,
cruisers and destroyers were later joined by battlecruiser
Repulse. "Victorious" was also a
recent addition to the Fleet and still 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"
which blew up with only three survivors. Now it was
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, with its large
dry-dock, 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 Ark Royal and
cruiser Sheffield sailed
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,
long enough to allow "Prinz Eugen" to get away.
(The cruiser went south, later refueled from a tanker and
cruised for three days before reaching Brest on 1 June.
There she joined the two battlecruisers under heavy RAF
attack until the Channel Dash of February 1942.) Around midnight,
southeast of Cape Farewell, Swordfish from Adm Tovey's
"Victorious" 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 "Ark Royal" attacked
cruiser "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 "Bismarck's"
threat. By this time Adm Tovey's force of heavy ships had
lost "Repulse" to refuel, but had 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. 28th - The many warships deployed from
all parts of the North Atlantic returned to other duties.
As they did, heavy attacks by German aircraft sank
MASHONA off the west
coast of Ireland.
of the Atlantic - Total
U-boat strength was now over 100 with 30 operational and
the rest undergoing training or trials. Most were active
in the North Atlantic, but a small number were
concentrated against the weakly-defended shipping off
Freetown, Sierra Leone and between there and the Canary
Islands to the north. In this area "U-107"
(Lt-Cdr Hessler) sank 14 ships of 87,000 tons on one
patrol. Other U-boats did almost as well. Royal Navy
escort groups could provide cover from UK bases out to
18°W, and those from Iceland the mid-Atlantic gap to
35°W. With the opening of an Escort Force base at St
John's, Newfoundland by the Royal Canadian Navy, the rest
of the North Atlantic convoy routes could now receive
protection. However, continuous escort across the
Atlantic was not yet available. Then, around the 20th,
unescorted convoy HX126 from Halifax, Nova Scotia was
attacked at 40°W and lost heavily. Steps were
immediately taken to extend protection and HX129 sailing
at the end of the month was the first of the UK-bound
convoys to receive regular and continuous cover.
Monthly Loss Summary: 60 British, Allied
and neutral ships of 336,000 tons in the Atlantic from
all causes, 1 battlecruiser, 1 destroyer, 1 armed
merchant cruiser; German battleship "Bismarck" and
EUROPE - MAY 1941
Britain - Heavy
raids on Belfast in Northern Ireland, the Scottish Clyde,
Liverpool and especially London on the night of the
10th/11th marked the virtual end of the Blitz. The bulk
of the Luftwaffe was now transferring east for the attack
on Russia. RAF raids on Germany continued, and would grow
as a major plank in British and Allied strategy for the
defeat of Germany.
Germany - Rudolf
Hess, Hitler's deputy, flew to Britain on his
self-appointed peace mission. He was imprisoned in
Britain and disowned by Germany
Monthly Loss Summary: 99 British, Allied
and neutral ships of 101,000 tons in UK waters.
MEDITERRANEAN - MAY 1941
Late April/early May
- Two submarines operating out of Malta were lost,
possibly due to mines -
USK in the Strait of Sicily area and
UNDAUNTED off Tripoli.
"Usk" may have been sunk by Italian destroyers
west of Sicily while attacking a convoy.
2nd - Returning to Malta with
cruiser Gloucester and other
destroyers from a search for Axis convoys,
JERSEY was mined and sunk in the entrance
to Valletta's Grand Harbour.
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. Five fast transports sailed from
Gibraltar with tanks and supplies urgently needed for the Army of the
Nile (Operation 'Tiger'). Four arrived safely. On passage they were
accompanied by battleship
Elizabeth and two cruisers sailing to join the
Mediterranean Fleet. Two small convoys were escorted
westward from Egypt to Malta. Other units of the
Mediterranean Fleet shelled Benghazi, Libya on the night
of the 7th/8th. After covering the 'Tiger' convoy,
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 "Bismarck" in the North Atlantic!
Malta - The
transfer of many German aircraft from Sicily for the
attack on Russia brought some relief to Malta.
North Africa - A
British offensive started from the Sollum area on the
15th in an attempt to relieve Tobruk (Operation
'Brevity'). Two weeks later both sides were back to their
original positions. The first of many supply trips to
besieged Tobruk were made by Australian destroyers
"Voyager" and "Waterhen" and other
ships of the Inshore Squadron. 25th - Sloop "GRIMSBY" and the supply ship she was
escorting on the Tobruk run were sunk by bombers
northeast of the port.
18th - On patrol south of Crete,
AA cruiser Coventry was heavily attacked from the air.
+ Petty Officer Alfred Sephton continued to carry out his
duties in the director after being mortally wounded. He
was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
21st May-1st June, Battle for Crete -
On the 21st, in the opening stages
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 carrier,
10 cruisers and 30 destroyers fought the Battle for
Crete. 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. 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.
21st - In the
JUNO was sunk and cruiser
Ajax slightly damaged as they
withdrew southeast of Crete. Later that evening "Ajax", with
Orion and four destroyers,
savaged a German troop convoy of small craft. More such
vessels were sunk over the next few days off the north
coast. 22nd - Early that morning another force of
four cruisers and three destroyers swept to the north and was attacked
on their return. Cruisers Naiad
and Carlisle were damaged,
and as they reached their support force to the northwest, battleship
was badly hit. Later destroyer
GREYHOUND was caught on her
own in the same area and soon sent to the bottom. Other
destroyers went to rescue her survivors, covered by
cruisers "Gloucester" and "Fiji". As the cruisers withdrew, first
(right - NavyPhotos) was sunk
northwest of Crete by Ju87s and Ju88s. Three hours later
was surprised by a single Me109
fighter-bomber and sank to the southwest. All ships were
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 the south and
KELLY sunk. Over the next few days the
north coast sweeps continued and supplies and
reinforcements brought into Crete. 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.
27th - As
Barham covered a supply mission, she was
hit to the northwest of Alexandria.
28th - The decision to evacuate
was made, and cruisers and destroyers prepared to lift off the troops.
As they approached Crete, cruiser Aiax and destroyer "Imperial" were damaged to the southeast.
29th - Early in the
morning, 4,000 men were lifted off from Heraklion on the
north coast. As they did, the damaged
had to be
HEREWARD was hit and left behind to go down off the
eastern tip of Crete. Shortly after, cruisers
Orion were badly damaged to the
southeast. 30th - Early in the day, more troops
were lifted from the southern port of Sphakia by another cruiser force.
Well to the south, Australian cruiser
Perth was bombed and damaged.
June - As the last men were carried from Crete, cruisers "Calcutta"
sailed from Alexandria to provide AA cover.
was sunk north of the Egyptian
coast. Some 15,000 troops were saved but at a cost to the
Royal Navy of 2,000 men killed. Total warship casualties,
all from German and some Italian bombing were:
Navy Submarine Operations - "Upholder"
(Lt-Cdr Wanklyn) attacked a strongly escorted troop
convoy off the coast of Sicily on the 24th May and sank
18,000-ton liner "Conte Rosso". + Lt-Cdr
Malcolm Wanklyn RN was subsequently awarded the
Cross for this and other successful patrols in
Middle East -
British bases in Iraq were besieged as British and
Dominion forces advanced on Baghdad from Jordan and the
Persian Gulf. An armistice was signed on the 31st May and
Baghdad occupied the next day.
East Africa - The
remaining major Italian forces in northern Ethiopia
surrendered at Amba Alagi on the 19th. Some resistance
continued until November.
Monthly Loss Summary: 19 British or
Allied merchant ships of 71,000 tons.