Naval History Homepage and Site Search
 

 

ROYAL, DOMINION & ALLIED NAVIES in WORLD WAR 2
by Gordon Smith, Naval-History.Net

12. PEARL HARBOR ATTACKED, LOSS of 'REPULSE' & 'PRINCE OF WALES', SINGAPORE FALLS, 'CHANNEL DASH' by GERMAN BIG SHIPS

December 1941 - February 1942

HMS Prince of Wales, battleship, at Singapore, late 1941 (Maritime Quest, click to enlarge)

on to March-May 1942
 

 

"The Channel Dash" (see February 1942)

 

...1941

DECEMBER 1941

ATLANTIC - DECEMBER 1941

7th - Canadian corvette “WINDFLOWER“ with Halifax/UK convoy SC58 was lost in collision in fog with SS Zypenburg east of Newfoundland.

15th-21st, Battle for Convoy HG76: Closing the Gibraltar/UK Air-Gap - Gibraltar/UK convoy HG76 (32 ships) was escorted by the 36th Escort Group (Cdr F. J. Walker) with a support group including escort carrier “Audacity”. In advance of the convoy leaving Gibraltar, destroyers of Force H including the Australian “Nestor” located and destroyed “U-127” on the 15th. In the four days from the 17th, four more U-boats were sunk for the loss of two escorts and two merchantmen. The battle took place to the far west of Portugal, north of Madeira and the Azores 17th - “U-131” was sunk by destroyers “Blankney”, “Exmoor” and “Stanley”, corvette “Pentstemon” and sloop “Stork” together with Grumman Martlets flying from “Audacity”. 18th - “U-434” was accounted for by “Blankney” and “Stanley”. 19th - Destroyer “STANLEY” was torpedoed and sunk by “U-574”, which was then sent to the bottom, rammed by sloop “Stork”. 21st - The sole escort carrier AUDACITY was torpedoed by “U-751” and lost, but in the general counter-attack “U-567” was sunk by corvette “Samphire” and sloop “Deptford”. The sinking of five U-boats in exchange for two merchant ships was a significant victory for the escorts, and proved beyond any doubt the value of escort carrier aircraft against the submarine - as well as the patrolling Focke Wulf Kondors, two of which were shot down.

Russian Convoys - Three outward-bound convoys, PQ6, PQ7 and PQ7B and one return, QP4 set out in December with a total of 31 ships. All but PQ6 arrived at their destinations in January, with two ships returning and one lost to U-boats.

Monthly Loss Summary: 11 British, Allied and neutral ships of 57,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 1 escort carrier and 2 escorts; 5 German U-boats plus two transferring to the Mediterranean

EUROPE - DECEMBER 1941

Declarations of War - In a series of diplomatic moves, numerous declarations of war were made: 5th-6th - Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa declared war on Finland, Hungary and Rumania. 11th-13th - Germany, Italy, Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary against the United States. 28th December-14th January - Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa against Bulgaria.

26th - Old submarine “H-31” was overdue by the 26th, possibly lost on mines during Bay of Biscay patrol.

Lofoten & Vaagso Raids - Separate commando raids took place in northern Norway on the Lofoten Islands and further south on Vaagso Island. The aim was to destroy installations and sink and capture shipping. The first force was led by cruiser Arethusa with limited results. The second with cruiser Kenya was more successful. On the 27th, cruiser “Arethusa” was damaged in German bombing attacks.

Eastern Front - As the Germans halted outside Moscow, the Russians launched a major counter-offensive starting from near Leningrad in the North down to the Ukrainian city of Kharkov in the South. By April 1942 Russian forces had regained much lost territory, but few major cities. The siege of Leningrad continued.

Monthly Loss Summary: 19 British, Allied and neutral ships of 57,000 tons in UK waters. 

MEDITERRANEAN - DECEMBER 1941

North Africa - As fighting continued around Tobruk, Gen Rommel decided to pull back to Gazala. Besieged Tobruk was completely relieved on the 10th December. Under pressure, the German Afrika Korps withdrew to El Agheila and on the 25th, British forces entered Benghazi.  

1st - Malta-based Force K searching for Axis shipping encountered Italian destroyer “DA MOSTA” north of Tripoli. She was sunk by cruisers Aurora and Penelope and destroyer “Lively”. Force K had now been reinforced by cruisers Ajax and Neptune (soon lost) and two more destroyers.

6th - Submarine “PERSEUS” on patrol off the west coast of Greece was mined and sunk off Zante Island. Just one man made an amazing escape to the surface and reached the distant shore.

11th - Submarine “Truant” sank Italian torpedo boat “ALCIONE” north of Crete. On the same day escort destroyer “Farndale” on passage sighted and sank Italian submarine “CARACCIOLA” on a supply trip from Bardia on the Libyan side of the border with Egypt

11th - As more German U-boats transfered to the Mediterranean, two were lost. The first on the 11th when corvette Bluebell sank “U-208” as she left her Atlantic patrol area to the west of Gibraltar. 21st - The second sinking of the month in the Strait of Gibraltar was by Swordfish of 812 Squadron flying from Gibraltar which accounted for “U-457”. The Swordfish had managed to get away from the sinking Ark Royal a month earlier and now played an important part patrolling the waters in which the carrier went down.

13th, Action off Cape Bon, Tunisia - Destroyers “Legion”, “Maori”, “Sikh” and Dutch “lsaac Sweers” under the command of Cdr G. H. Stokes sailed from Gibraltar to join the Mediterranean Fleet at Alexandria. Off Cape Bon, Tunisia they sighted two Italian 6in cruisers, “DA BARBIANO” and “DI GIUSSANO” returning from an aborted mission to carry a deck cargo of petrol to Tripoli. In a short night action and without being seen, the destroyers quickly sank both cruisers with gunfire and torpedoes. Italian loss of life was heavy.

13th-20th, First Battle of Sirte and Related Actions - Italian convoy operations to Libya led to major Royal Navy losses over just a few days. An Axis convoy bound for Benghazi set out on the 13th, covered by an Italian battlefleet. On receiving the news, Rear-Adm Vian left Alexandria with a cruiser force to join up with Force K from Malta. On the evening of the 14th, submarine “Urge” torpedoed and damaged battleship “Vittorio Veneto” off the Sicilian Strait of Messina and the Italians cancelled that convoy operation. The cruiser forces returned to their bases but as they did, Adm Vian's GALATEA was hit by three torpedoes from “U-557” and went down off Alexandria that night. Adm Vian came out again late on the 15th to escort fast supply ship “Breconshire” from Alexandria to Malta. On the 17th they met Force K off the Gulf of Sirte, and shortly encountered Italian battleships covering a second convoy, this time to Tripoli. The two cruiser forces attacked and the Italians withdrew in what became known as the First Battle of Sirte. “Breconshire” reached Malta on the 18th and Force K left harbour to search for the second convoy still making for Tripoli. Early on the 19th off Tripoli, the British force ran into an Italian minefield. Cruiser NEPTUNE hit three or four mines and sank with only one man surviving. Aurora was badly damaged and Penelope slightly. Trying to assist “Neptune”, destroyer “KANDAHAR” was mined and had to be scuttled the following day. Out of a three cruiser and four destroyer force, only three destroyers escaped damage. 19th - That morning as Force K struggled to survive, three Italian human torpedoes launched from submarine “Scire” (Cdr Borghese) penetrated Alexandria harbour. Their charges badly damaged battleships Queen Elizabeth with Adm Cunningham on board and Valiant. Both settled to the bottom and the Mediterranean Fleet battle squadron ceased to exist. News of the sinking was kept from the Italians.

23rd - A sizeable number of German U-boats were now operating off the coasts of Egypt and Libya, attacking convoys with losses to both sides. On the 23rd, escorting destroyers “Hasty” and “Hotspur” sank “U-79” off Tobruk on the Libyan coast.  24th - The day after, but further east off the Egyptian port of Mersa Matruh, corvette “SALVIA” was lost to “U-568”. 28th - Four days later, destroyer “Kipling” sank “U-75” in the same area

Monthly Loss Summary: 9 British or Allied merchant ships of 37,000 tons

INDIAN & PACIFIC OCEANS - DECEMBER 1941

Declarations and Outbreak of War - Because of the International Dateline, events that took place on the 7th in Hawaii as far as Washington and London are concerned, were already into the 8th in Hong Kong and Malaya. By the 8th: Japan had declared war on Britain and the US; Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Holland, the United States and a number of Central American and Caribbean states had declared against Japan; China declared war against the Axis powers.

Using compass directions to outline the Japanese strategy of conquest, attacks in December 1941 proceeded as follows:

West, Hong Kong - The territory was invaded from mainland China on the 8th December, and within five days the defenders had withdrawn to Hong Kong Island. Fighting carried on until Christmas Day when the British and Dominion troops surrendered. Destroyer “THRACIAN” was bombed in defence of the colony and later beached and abandoned. She was re-commissioned into the Japanese Navy as a patrol boat.

South West, Thailand, Malaya, Burma - Japanese forces landed on the Kra Isthmus of Thailand and northeast Malaya on the 8th. From there they drove down the west coast of Malaya towards Singapore, outflanking the defences by land and sea. Follow-up landings took place later in the month and in January 1942. By the 13th December they had crossed from Thailand into the southern tip of Burma, but stayed there for the time being.

10th, Loss of “Repulse” and “Prince of Wales”, the Sinking of Force Z - By the 8th, the battlecruiser and battleship had assembled at Singapore as Force Z under the command of Adm Sir Tom Phillips. That evening they sailed with four destroyers to attack the Japanese landing on the northeast Malay coast. Fighter cover was requested but not readily available. In the evening of the 9th, Force Z was well up into the South China Sea. Japanese aircraft were spotted and Adm Phillips decided to return. Around midnight he received a false report of landings at Kuantan, further down the Malay Peninsular and set course for there. The ships had by now been reported by a submarine, and a naval aircraft strike force was despatched from Indochina. Attacks started around 11.00 on the 10th December, and in less than three hours PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE had been hit by a number of torpedoes and sent to the bottom. Nearly a thousand men were lost, but 2,000 were picked up by the destroyers. Following the Pearl Harbor attack, not one of the Allies' 10 battleships in the Pacific area remained in service.

South, Northern Borneo and Philippines Islands - The first landings in northern Borneo took place in Sarawak and Brunei on the 16th December, and continued through until late January 1942. In the Philippines, the island of Luzon was the main target. Between the 10th and 22nd, landings were made in the north of the island, in the south, and at Lingayen Gulf in the west. Japanese forces made a combined drive on the capital of Manila, which was declared an open city. They entered on 2nd January 1942 by which time preparations were being made to attack Gen MacArthur's US and Filipino troops now withdrawn into the Bataan Peninsular just to the west of Manila. The southern island of Mindanao was invaded on 20th December 1941.

East, Hawaiian Islands, Guam, Wake Island and British Gilbert Islands - On the morning of the 7th local time (shortly after the Malay landings) the Japanese Strike Force aircraft hit Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. In the Attack on Pearl Harbor, battleships “ARIZONA” and “OKLAHOMA” were total losses, three more sank but were later re-commissioned, and the remaining three damaged. Many were killed and a considerable number of aircraft destroyed. Although the Pacific battlefleet ceased to exist, the three priceless fleet carriers “Enterprise”, “Lexington” and “Saratoga” were fortunately absent and the large oil stocks and important repair installations left virtually untouched. By the 10th, Guam in the Mariana Islands was captured and Makin and Tarawa in the British Gilberts occupied. Tarawa was then abandoned until the following September 1942. Wake Island was attacked on the 11th December, but the Japanese driven off with the loss of two destroyers by the US Marine defenders. A later attempt on the 23rd succeeded.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 5 merchant ships of 800 tons; Pacific Ocean - 241 merchant ships of 432,000 tons

 

DEFENCE OF TRADE - January to December 1941

Total Losses = 1,299 British, Allied and neutral ships of 4,329,000 tons ( 361,000 tons per month)

By Location

Location

Number of British, Allied, neutral ships

Total Gross Registered Tonnage

North Atlantic 496 2,423,000 tons
South Atlantic 29 134,000 tons
UK waters

350

740,000 tons

Mediterranean

158

501,000 tons

Indian Ocean

20

73,000 tons

Pacific Ocean

246

458,000 tons

By Cause

Causes in order of tonnage sunk
(1. 4. ... - Order when weapon first introduced)

Number of British, Allied, neutral ships

Total Gross Registered Tonnage

1. Submarines

432

2,172,000 tons

4. Aircraft

371

1,017,000 tons

5. Other causes

272

421,000 tons

2. Mines

111 231,000 tons
6. Raiders

44

227,000 tons

3. Warships

40

202,000 tons

7. Coastal forces

29

59,000 tons

 

1942

JANUARY 1942

ATLANTIC - JANUARY 1942

Arcadia Conference - In late December and early January, Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt with their Chiefs of Staff met in Washington DC. They agreed to the setting up of a Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee and the defeat of Germany as the first priority. On 1st January the United Nations Pact embodying the principles of the Atlantic Charter was signed in Washington by 26 countries.

German Surface Warships - The German big ships gave the Admiralty much cause for concern. "Scharnhorst", "Gneisenau" and "Prinz Eugen" all now repaired, were ready for a possible break-out from Brest into the Atlantic. At the same time the new battleship "Tirpitz" moved to Trondheim in the middle of the month from where she could prey on the Russian convoys. In fact Hitler had ordered the Brest squadron back to Germany. By early February the Admiralty got wind of the proposed "Channel Dash" and prepared accordingly.

German Raiders - Raider "Thor" sailed from France for her second cruise. She was the only raider to do so successfully. Operations in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean continued until her loss in November 1942. No German raiders had been at sea since the previous November, and "Thor" was the first of three to break out in 1942. In the first six months of the year they sank or captured 17 ships of 107,000 tons.

15th - Destroyer "Hesperus" escorting convoy HG78 sank "U-93" north of Madeira. 31st - Canadian troop convoy NA2 sailing for Britain was attacked by "U-82" southeast of Nova Scotia and destroyer "BELMONT" lost with all hands. 31st - Ex-US Coast Guard cutter "CULVER", escorting Sierra Leone convoy SL93, was sunk by "U-105" west of the Bay of Biscay.

Russian Convoys - Destroyer "MATABELE" (right - NavyPhotos) escorting Iceland/Russia convoy PQ8 was sunk off Murmansk on the 17th by "U-454". Only two men survived. None of the eight merchantmen in the convoy were lost although one was damaged by a U-boat torpedo. In two return convoys in the month - QP5 and QP6 - 10 ships set out and arrived safely.

Battle of the Atlantic - U-boat strength was up to 250 with 90 operational. Two-thirds were spread across the Atlantic, nearly a quarter in the Mediterranean, and a few on patrol in the Arctic for Russian convoys. It was at this time that Adm Doenitz, with never more than 10 or 12 U-boats at a time, launched Operation' Paukenschlag' ('Drumroll') off the coasts of America. The U-boat commanders enjoyed their second 'Happy Time', especially against the unescorted ships sailing in virtually peace-time conditions off the United States coast. Warship patrols were started, but the USN found it hard to accept the long, hard-fought lessons of the Royal Navy and immediately establish convoys. Atlantic convoys still started and ended at Nova Scotia, so the first U-boats operated off the Canadian coast south of there. Over 40 merchantmen were lost in this area alone in January and February. By this time U-boats were also sinking many ships off the US east coast. On the weapons front, the forward-firing Hedgehog with its 24 A/S mortar bombs started to enter RN service. Its first success did not come until late in the 1942. 

Monthly Loss Summary, including Russian Convoys: 48 British, Allied and neutral ships of 277,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 3 escorts; 1 German U-boat.

EUROPE - JANUARY 1942

Air War - RAF Bomber Command carried on its offensive against Germany and occupied Europe. Attacks were made in January on Bremen, Emden and Hamburg and the big warships in Brest.

United Kingdom - The first United States troops landed in Northern Ireland.

War Crimes - The 'Final Solution' for the extermination of European Jews was presented to Hitler. As large-scale transportation got underway, a number of main camps, including Auschwitz, were prepared for this foul work. By war's end, 6,000,000 men, women and children had been killed.

Eastern Front - The Russian advance continued to make headway. In the Centre it reached to within 70 miles of Smolensk. To the south they drove a deep salient into the German lines south of Kharkov in the Ukraine. However German resistance grew as the Russians over-extended themselves.

Merchant Shipping War - E-boats and aircraft continued to attack British coastal convoy routes directly and with magnetic and acoustic mines. Convoy escorts and minesweepers fought back, supported by RAF Fighter Command, but they had their losses: 9th - Escorting a southbound East Coast convoy, destroyer "VIMIERA" was mined and sunk in the Thames Estuary.

Monthly Loss Summary: 14 British, Allied and neutral ships of 19,000 tons in UK waters. 

MEDITERRANEAN - JANUARY 1942

Early January - Submarine "TRIUMPH" sailed from Alexandria on 26th December for a cloak-and-dagger landing near Athens before patrolling in the Aegean. She reported the landing on the 30th, but failed to rendezvous back there on the 9th and was presumed mined off the island of Milo, southeast of the Greek mainland.

5th - Three Axis submarines fell victim to their RN counterparts in different patrol areas in January. The first was Italian "SAINT-BON" north of Sicily to Lt-Cdr Wanklyn's "Upholder". 12th - The second was German "U-374" off the east coast of Sicily to "Unbeaten" (Lt-Cdr E. A. Woodward). 30th - The third was Italian submarine "MEDUSA" torpedoed by "Thorn" in the Gulf of Venice, in the far north of the Adriatic.

17th - During the month, Malta was resupplied by three small convoys coming from the east. In the second, four fast transports left Alexandria covered by Adm Vian's Mediterranean Fleet cruiser force. On the 17th one of the close escorting destroyers, "GURKHA (2)", was torpedoed north of Sidi Barrani by "U-133" and scuttled. Next day the surviving ships were met by Penelope of Force K from Malta, and got in on the 19th. During this period the Italian Navy had escorted two substantial convoys to North Africa in time for Rommel's next offensive. Malta continued to be bombed heavily for many months by the German and Italian Air Forces.

North Africa - By the 6th the British advance had reached the German and Italian lines at El Agheila. Just two weeks later on the 21st, Rommel started his second campaign. The first of two phases took him as far as Gazala just to the west of Tobruk. El Agheila soon fell and Benghazi was occupied before the month was out. On 1st February Eighth Army withdrew to Gazala and within a week Rommel had come up. There he stayed until May 1942.

Monthly Loss Summary: 1 British or Allied merchant ship of 7,000 tons

INDIAN & PACIFIC OCEANS - JANUARY 1942

Allied Command - Early in the month, Gen Wavell was appointed to command ABDA (American, British, Dutch, Australian) forces responsible for holding Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.

West, Malaya and Burma - In their drive on Singapore, the Japanese captured Kuala Lumpur on the 11th. To the north they crossed into southern Burma from the Kra Isthmus on the 15th, and on the 20th started the invasion of Burma from central Thailand. Thailand shortly declared war on Britain and the United States. On the last day of January, the retreating British, Australian and Indian troops withdrew into Singapore Island, having been driven down the length of the Malay Peninsula. By then carrier "Indomitable" had flown off 48 Hurricanes for Singapore via Java. 27th - Two old destroyers, "Thanet" and Australian "Vampire" attacked well-protected troop transports off Endau, southeast Malaya. "THANET" was sunk by 5.5in cruiser "Sendai" and destroyers.

South, Philippines and Dutch East lndies - As the US and Filipino forces were slowly pushed into Bataan, the Japanese began the invasion of the Dutch East lndies from southern Philippines. First landings took place on the 11th at Tarakan in Borneo and in the Celebes. More followed later in the month, by which time they had reached the Moluccas in the drive south towards Java. 17th - Japanese submarine "I-60" tried to pass through the Sunda Strait for the Indian Ocean. She was located and sunk by destroyer "Jupiter" escorting a convoy to Singapore.

20th - Submarine "I-124" minelaying off Darwin, northern Australia, was sunk by Australian minesweepers "Deloraine", "Katoomba", "Lithgow" and US destroyer "Edsall".

Southeast. Bismark Archipelago - The first Japanese move towards the southeast took place on the 23rd with landings at Kavieng, New Ireland and Rabaul, New Britain. Rabaul became the major Japanese base in the South West Pacific and helped dictate the whole strategy of Allied moves in the next two years.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 13 merchant ships of 46,000 tons; Pacific Ocean - 30 merchant ships of 71,000 tons

 

FEBRUARY 1942

ATLANTIC - FEBRUARY 1942

2nd - As she attacked a damaged troopship sailing from the Azores, "U-581" was sunk by escorting destroyer "Westcott". 5th - "U-136" on patrol off Rockall sank two escorts. The first was corvette "ARBUTUS" detached with destroyer "Chelsea" from UK/Halifax convoy ONS63 to hunt for a reported U-boat. 6th - Returning from the American coast where she sank destroyer "Belmont", "U-82" encountered UK/Sierra Leone convoy OS18 north of the Azores and was destroyed by corvette Tamarisk and sloop "Rochester". 11th - "U-136's" second success was Canadian corvette "SPIKENARD" escorting Halifax/UK convoy SC67.

German Surface Warships - Following the "Channel Dash" (below), heavy cruiser "Prinz Eugen" sailed with pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer" to join "Tirpitz" in Norway. Off Trondheim, submarine "Trident" torpedoed and heavily damaged her on the 23rd.

Russian Convoys - In four convoys PQ9, PQ10, PQ11 and return QP7, 31 merchantmen arrived safely at their destinations without loss.

Battle of the Atlantic - U-boats extended Operation 'Paukenschlag' as far south as the Caribbean and started by shelling installations and sinking tankers off Aruba, Curacoa, Trinidad and other oil ports. However, they were still active elsewhere in the Atlantic, and east of Newfoundland a pack of five attacked convoy ON67 (36 ships). Eight ships were lost, of which six were valuable tankers. The Royal Navy suffered a major setback when U-boats in the Atlantic changed from the Enigma 'Hydra' code to 'Triton'. This was not broken until December 1942 - a ten month delay. But all was not lost as 'Hydra' was still used in European waters. This, together with signals traffic analysis and the vast amount of experience built up to date, meant that remarkably accurate pictures could be drawn of U-boat operations and intentions.

Monthly Loss Summary: 73 British, Allied and neutral ships of 430,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 2 corvettes and 2 US destroyers off Newfoundland and the US east coast; 2 German U-boats

EUROPE - FEBRUARY 1942

11th-13th, The Channel Dash (see map above) - The Brest Squadron (Vice-Adm Ciliax) with "Scharnhorst", "Gneisenau" and "Prinz Eugen", heavily escorted by air and other naval forces, left late on the 11th for Germany in Operation 'Cerberus'. The aim was to pass through the Strait of Dover around noon the next day. A number of problems conspired to prevent the RAF standing patrols detecting their departure. The first intimation of the breakout came with a RAF report around 10.45 on the 12th as the German force steamed towards Boulogne. This left little time for attacks to be mounted. Soon after midday the first was made by five motor torpedo boats from Dover and six Swordfish torpedo-bombers of 825 Squadron (Lt-Cdr Esmonde), but no hits were made. All Swordfish were shot down. Lt-Cdr Eugene Esmonde was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. From then on, events moved swiftly. At 14.30 off the Scheldt, "Scharnhorst" was slightly damaged by a mine. An hour later, torpedo attacks by six destroyers from Harwich were unsuccessful. Twenty minutes later a heavy attack by the RAF failed. The German ships carried on and in the early evening off the Dutch Frisian Islands, first "Gneisenau" and then "Scharnhorst" (for the second time) hit mines. Both were damaged, but together with "Prinz Eugen" reached German ports in the early hours of the 13th. The escape was an embarrassment for the British Government, but a tactical victory for the German Navy was also a strategic gain for the Royal Navy. The Brest Squadron no longer directly threatened the Atlantic convoy routes, both battlecruisers were damaged and ten days later "Prinz Eugen" was badly damaged. Two weeks later "Gneisenau" was damaged even more in a RAF raid on Kiel and never went to sea again. A start was made on repair but in early 1943 she was laid up.

Battle of Britain - Operation 'Sealion', the planned German invasion of Britain was finally cancelled.

Air War - Air Marshal Harris was appointed C-in-C RAF Bomber Command for the all-out bombing campaign against Germany. This became Britain's main weapon in the war on the German homeland until late 1944.

Bruneval Raid - Commandos carried out a raid on Bruneval in northern France to capture radar equipment. They were lifted off by Royal Navy coastal forces.

Monthly Loss Summary: 5 British, Allied and neutral ships of 11,000 tons in UK waters.

MEDITERRANEAN - FEBRUARY 1942

Malta Supply - Three escorted merchantmen covered by cruisers and destroyers left Alexandria on the 12th for Malta. One was disabled and the other two sunk by aircraft. There was little relief for the island. 12th - Heavy air attacks continued on Malta. Destroyer "MAORI" based on the island and at anchor in Grand Harbour, was bombed and sunk by German aircraft.

13th - Two Royal Navy submarines were lost and a third saved by the gallantry of her crew. The first was "TEMPEST" which torpedoed a supply ship off the Gulf of Taranto but was depth-charged by the escorts including Italian torpedo boat "Circe", brought to the surface and soon sunk. 16th - "Thresher" was also counter-attacked by the escorts of a convoy, off northern Crete. Two unexploded bombs lodged between the casing and hull, and with the likelihood of drowning should she have to submerge, two of the boat's crew managed to remove them. Lt Peter Roberts RN and Petty Officer Thomas Gould were awarded the Victoria Cross. 23rd - Ten days later "P-38" attacked a heavily defended convoy off Tripoli and was also lost to the escorts' counter-attack which again included Italian torpedo boat "Circe".

Monthly Loss Summary: 4 British or Allied merchant ships of 19,000 tons

INDIAN & PACIFIC OCEANS - FEBRUARY 1942

West, Malaya, Singapore and Burma - On the 8th, Japanese forces started crossing over to Singapore Island. Heavy fighting took place, but by the 15th Singapore surrendered and over 80,000 mainly Australian, British and Indian troops were doomed to captivity. Many did not survive as POW's. The Allies had lost the key to South East Asia and the South West Pacific. In Burma the Japanese pushed on towards Rangoon. 12th - Light cruiser Durban was damaged in bombing attacks off Singapore. 14th - Attempting to escape to Batavia, auxiliary patrol ship "LI WO" with a single 4in gun attacked a troop convoy south of Singapore and was soon sunk by a Japanese cruiser. Commanding officer Lt Thomas Wilkinson RNR was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

South, Dutch East lndies - The two-pronged advance on Java continued with airborne landings on Palembang in southern Sumatra on the 14th, followed up by landings from the sea next day by forces carried from Indochina. A few days later the islands of Bali and Timor were invaded from the Celebes and Moluccas respectively. The scene was set for the conquest of Java.

27th February-1st March, Battles of the Java Sea - ABDA's main naval force was commanded by Dutch Adm Doorman and consisted of a mixed squadron of cruisers and destroyers for the defence of Java: heavy cruisers Exeter and the US "Houston"; light cruisers Perth (Australian), "De Ruyter" and Java" (both Dutch); destroyers "Electra", "Encounter", "Jupiter", plus two Dutch and four American. They put to sea on the 26th on the news that invasion convoys were approaching. Failing to find them they headed back to Surabaya the next day, but before getting in, more reports arrived and the Allied force went out again towards a position to the northwest. The main battle started on the 27th at around 16.00 against the two heavy, two light cruisers and 14 destroyers covering the Japanese transports. Both Allied heavies opened fire at long range, but "Exeter" was soon hit and her speed reduced. In the resulting confusion one of the Dutch destroyers was torpedoed and sunk. As "Exeter" returned to Surabaya with the second Dutch destroyer, the Royal Navy destroyers went in to attack and "ELECTRA" was sunk by gunfire. Adm Doorman headed back south towards the Java coast and sent off the US destroyers to refuel. He then turned to the north with his remaining four cruisers and two British destroyers. By now it was late evening and "JUPITER" was lost, probably on a Dutch mine. "Encounter" picked up survivors from the first Dutch destroyer and shortly followed the Americans to Surabaya. The four cruisers, now without any destroyers, were in action sometime before midnight and both "DE RUYTER" and "JAVA" were blasted apart by the big Japanese torpedoes. "Perth" and "Houston" made for Batavia, further west along the north coast of Java. The next evening, on the 28th, "Perth" and "Houston" left Batavia and sailed west for the Sunda Strait to break through to the Indian Ocean. From Surabaya three of the US destroyers went east and eventually reached safety through the shallow Bali Strait. "Exeter's" draught was too great for this route and the damaged cruiser had to make for the Sunda Strait accompanied by destroyers "Encounter" and US "Pope".

28th/1st March, BattIe of the Sunda Strait - Late that evening PERTH and "HOUSTON" ran into the Japanese invasion fleet in the Strait and attacked the transports. They were soon overwhelmed by the gunfire and torpedoes of the covering cruisers and destroyers and sank in the opening minutes of the 1st March. A Dutch destroyer following astern suffered the same fate. Later on the morning of the 1st March EXETER, "ENCOUNTER" and "POPE" fought a lengthy action with a cruiser force to the northwest of Surabaya before they too succumbed. Of the entire Allied force, only three old US destroyers managed to get away.

Australia - Aircraft from four of the Pearl Harbor Strike carriers raided Darwin, Northern Territories on the 19th. One American destroyer and a number of valuable transports were lost.

South West Pacific - The ANZAC Squadron was formed in the South West Pacific from Australian cruisers Australia, Canberra and old light cruiser Adelaide, New Zealand light cruisers Achilles and Leander, and the American "Chicago".

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 18 merchant ships of 38,000 tons; Pacific Ocean - 54 merchant ships of 181,000 tons

 

on to March-May 1942
or return to Royal and Dominion Navies Contents

revised 24/12/10


 

if any ads offend, please contact Naval-History.Net