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ROYAL, DOMINION & ALLIED NAVIES in WORLD WAR 2

14. ATLANTIC, RUSSIAN & MALTA CONVOY BATTLES, RAID on DIEPPE, BATTLES of MIDWAY, ALAMEIN and GUADALCANAL

June - October 1942

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

on to November 1942 - January 1943

 

Map - Malta Convoy Operation 'Pedestal' (see August 1942)

 

...1942

JUNE 1942

ATLANTIC - JUNE 1942

United States - Winston Churchill flew to Washington DC for another series of meetings with President Roosevelt. They agreed to share nuclear research and concentrate the work in the United States. The resulting 'Manhattan Project' was put under military control in September 1942. Agreement did not come so easily on the question of where to open a Second Front in 1942. The Americans wanted to land in France to take pressure off the Russians, but the British considered this impossible at present and proposed the invasion of French North Africa. The President did not come to accept this until July. Planning then started on what became Operation 'Torch'.

17th - As destroyer "WILD SWAN" headed for Gibraltar/UK convoy HG84 she was attacked and sunk off south west Ireland by German Ju88s, but not before she had shot down a number of them. The convoy lost five ships to U-boats.

21st - Ex-US submarine "P-514" on passage around the coast of Newfoundland from Argentia to St Johns was rammed and sunk in error by Canadian sloop "Georgian".

Russian Convoys - PQ17 and QP13 set sail towards the end of the month.

Battle of the Atlantic - In the first six months of 1942, Axis submarines worldwide sank 585 ships of over 3,000,000 tons, mostly in the Atlantic - and a large proportion of these in American waters, where losses remained high in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. At the same time the 108 new U-boats entering service far outweighed the 13 sunk in the Atlantic in this period.

Monthly Loss Summary: 128 British, Allied and neutral ships of 650,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 1 destroyer and 1 submarine; - 2 U-boats by US forces off Cuba and Bermuda

EUROPE - JUNE 1942

Czechoslovakia - Reinhard Heydrich, German 'Protector' of Czechoslovakia died from wounds after an assassination attempt in May. In part-reprisal, the village of Lidice was wiped out and its people murdered.

Eastern Front - Towards the end of the month the Russians started to evacuate Sevastopol and by early July all the Crimea was in German Hands. By this time the Germans had started their Spring attack in the South with the aim of taking Rostov-on-Don and pushing further South towards the vital oilfields of the Caucasus. Meanwhile, from the area of Kursk and Kharkov, a second army group would move on Stalingrad to protect the left flank of what was initially the main thrust to the south. Stalingrad later dictated the outcome of the entire campaign.

Monthly Loss Summary: 5 British, Allied and neutral ships of 3,000 tons in UK waters. 

MEDITERRANEAN - JUNE 1942

Malta Supply - Early in the month carrier Eagle ferried over 50 Spitfires to Malta in two operations. By now the Germans had transferred many of their aircraft to Russia. This, together with the arrival of yet more RAF fighters, eased the terrible burden Malta had suffered for so long.

North Africa - After more than two weeks of fierce attack and counter-attack, British forces pulled out of 'Knightsbridge'. Tobruk was surrounded by the 18th and three days later surrendered. Another two days and the Axis forces were back in Egypt. Mersa Matruh fell on the 28th and Eighth Army prepared to make its last stand at El Alamein, just 60 miles from Alexandria and behind there the vital Suez Canal. With this threat to Suez and the Mediterranean Fleet's main base, warships and supplies started to withdraw from the immediate danger area. 2nd - Attacks on Allied shipping making for Tobruk before its fall brought further losses to both sides. Aircraft of FAA 815 Squadron and RAF No 203 Squadron damaged "U-652" off Sollum on the Egyptian/Libyan border. She was scuttled by a torpedo from "U-81". 12th - Ten days after the loss of "U-652" and further east off Sidi Barrani, escort destroyer "GROVE" was sunk by "U-77" as she returned to Alexandria from escorting supply ships to Tobruk.

12th-16th, Malta Convoys 'Harpoon' from Gibraltar, 'Vigorous' from Alexandria - Six escorted merchantmen passed through the Strait of Gibraltar covered by battleship Malaya, carriers Argus and Eagle, cruisers Kenya, Charybdis, Liverpool and destroyers - this force comprised Operation 'Harpoon'. Attacks by Italian aircraft on the 14th led to the first merchant ship going down south of Sardinia. "Liverpool" was also damaged and had to return. Later that day at the entrance to the Strait of Sicily, the big ship cover force turned back. In the morning of the 15th, south of Pantelleria, an Italian two-cruiser squadron in conjunction with Italian and German aircraft attacked the by now lightly defended convoy. The five escorting fleet destroyers headed for the Italians, but "Bedouin" and "Partridge" were disabled by gunfire. Three more merchantmen were lost to bombing attacks and Italian torpedo aircraft finished off "BEDOUIN". Later that evening, as the seriously depleted convoy approached Malta, it ran into a minefield. Two destroyers and the fifth supply ship were damaged, but Polish escort destroyer "KUJAWIAK" was sunk. Just two of 'Harpoon's' six ships reached Malta for the loss of two destroyers and serious damage to three more and a cruiser.

Meanwhile the Operation 'Vigorous' force of 11 ships and their escorts sailed from Haifa and Port Said, and were met on the 13th off Tobruk by Adm Vian with seven light cruisers and 17 destroyers. By the 14th, two ships had been lost to air attack and two more damaged. That evening Vian learnt an Italian battlefleet with two battleships, two heavy and two light cruisers plus destroyers had sailed south from Taranto. The chances of driving them off were slim. Early on the 15th the first of five (1-5) course reversals were made as 'Vigorous' tried to break through to Malta. As the convoy now headed back (1), German E-boats from Derna launched torpedo strikes. Cruiser Newcastle was damaged by "S-56" and destroyer "HASTY" sunk by "S-55". Around 07.00, when the Italian fleet was 200 miles to the northwest, the convoy turned back for Malta (2). Attacks by Malta-based aircraft were made on the main Italian fleet without serious effect, although they disabled heavy cruiser "TRENTO" which was finished off by submarine "Umbra". Between 09.40 and noon on the 15th, two more course reversals (3 & 4) were made so that once again the convoy was bound for Malta. All afternoon air attacks were mounted; and south of Crete, cruiser Birmingham was damaged and escort destroyer "AIREDALE" sunk by Ju87 Stukas. The convoy was now down to six ships when Australian destroyer "Nestor" was badly damaged. That evening 'Vigorous' finally turned back for Alexandria (course reversal 5). Now into the early hours of the 16th, cruiser "HERMIONE" was torpedoed and sunk by "U-205" and "NESTOR" scuttled. At this time, as the Italian fleet headed back for Taranto, a RAF Wellington from Malta torpedoed and damages battleship "Littorio". None of the 'Vigorous' ships reached Malta. One cruiser, three destroyers and two merchant ships had been lost in the attempt.

Monthly Loss Summary: 16 British or Allied merchant ships of 60,000 tons

INDIAN & PACIFIC OCEANS - JUNE 1942

Midway and the Aleutians - Adm Yamamoto, with over 130 ships in a number of separated groups, set out to seize Midway island, occupy the western Aleutians, attack the eastern end, and draw out the Pacific Fleet for destruction. At the heart of the armada was the First Carrier Fleet (Adm Nagumo) with four of the Pearl Harbor attack carriers. The Americans had far fewer ships, but these included carriers "Enterprise", "Hornet" and "Yorktown" barely repaired after the Battle of the Coral Sea. Battle of Midway - On the 3rd, Dutch Harbor, close to Alaska, was attacked from two light carriers. But the main battle was far to the south off Midway between the carrier aircraft of both sides. On the 4th/5th in the close run battle, all four Japanese carriers - "AKAGI", "HIRYU", "KAGA" and "SORYU" went down. "YORKTOWN" was badly damaged and finished off by a Japanese submarine on the 7th. The Japanese forces retreated, Midway was spared, and the Allies had their first major strategic victory of World War 2. However, the Japanese Navy remained strong, with more carriers in the Pacific than the Americans. The occupation at this time of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians was of little consequence.

Australia & New Zealand - The US Pacific Fleet was reorganised in June. Task Force 44 was allocated to Australian and New Zealand waters with Australian cruisers "Australia", "Canberra" and "Hobart", and the American "Chicago" under Rear-Adm V. A. C. Crutchley RN. Until the arrival of the British Pacific Fleet in early 1945, Australian and New Zealand ships were almost the only representatives of the White Ensign in the Pacific.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 18 merchant ships of 90,000 tons; Pacific Ocean - 6 merchant ships of 31,000 tons

 

JULY 1942

ATLANTIC - JULY 1942

27th June-28th July, Destruction of Russian Convoy PQ17 - Convoys PQ17 and return QP13 both set out on 27th June. PQ17 left Reykjavik, Iceland with 36 ships, of which two returned. The close escort under Cdr J. E. Broome included six destroyers and four corvettes. Two British and two US cruisers with destroyers were in support (Rear-Adm L. H. K. Hamilton), and distant cover was given by the Home Fleet (Adm Tovey) with battleships Duke of York and the US "Washington", carrier Victorious, cruisers and destroyers. The British Admiralty believed the Germans were concentrating their heavy ships in northern Norway. In fact pocket battleship "Lutzow" had run aground off Narvik, but this still left battleship "Tirpitz", pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer" and heavy cruiser "Admiral Hipper" - all formidable adversaries, which reached Altenfiord on the 3rd. At this time PQ17 had just passed to the north of Bear Island, after which German aircraft sank three merchantmen. Fear of attack by the German ships led the First Sea Lord, Adm Pound, far away in London, to decide the fate of the convoy. In the evening of the 4th the support cruisers were ordered to withdraw and the convoy to scatter. Unfortunately Adm Hamilton took the six escorting destroyers with him. The merchantmen were now to the north of North Cape. Thirty-one tried to make for the isolated islands of Novaya Zemlya before heading south for Russian ports. Between the 5th and 10th July, 20 of them were lost, half each to the aircraft and U-boats sent to hunt them down. Some sheltered for days off the bleak shores of Novaya Zemlya. Eventually 11 survivors and two rescue ships reached Archangel and nearby ports between the 9th and 28th. In fact "Tirpitz" and the other ships did not leave Altenfiord until the morning of the 5th, after the 'convoy is to disperse' order. They abandoned the sortie that same day. History suggests the vital decision on the future of PQ17 should have been left to the commanders on the spot. The US reacted strongly to the Royal Navy apparently leaving its merchantmen to their fate. Meanwhile all went well with QP13's 35 ships from Murmansk, until the 5th. Approaching Iceland through the Denmark Strait they ran into a British minefield. Escorting minesweeper NIGER and five merchant ships were lost. The rest got in. No more Russian convoys ran until September 1942. ("Coxswain in the Northern Convoys",  Convoy PQ 17)

3rd - "U-215" sank an escorted ship south of Nova Scotia and was lost in the counter-attack by British armed trawler "Le Tiger" (or Free French trawler "Le Tigre" according to some sources). 11th - Northwest of the Canaries, UK/West Africa convoy OS.33 was attacked and "U-136" sunk by frigate "Spey", sloop "Pelican" and Free French destroyer "Leopard". 14th - Damaged in action with the cutter "Lulworth" and other escorts, Italian submarine "PIETRO CALVI" was scuttled south of the Azores. 24th - Canadian destroyer "St Croix", with the Canadian C2 group escorting UK/North America convoy ON115, sank "U-90" off Newfoundland. 31st - In mid-Atlantic, Canadian destroyer "Skeena" and corvette "Wetaskiwan" of the C3 group (see below for "C" designation) with ON113 sank "U-588". 31st - On passage out, "U-213" stumbled across a convoy west of the Bay of Biscay, where she was sunk by the escort including sloops "Erne", "Rochester" and "Sandwich".

Battle of the Atlantic - Pending the setting up of support Escort Groups later in the year, vessels allocated mainly to convoy protection were designated by their nationality - "A" for American, "B" for British, "C" for Canadian. The American convoy system was now being extended into the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, and merchantmen sinkings went down as U-boat losses started to mount. Nevertheless, with 140 operational U-boats out of a total of 330, the Germans had more than enough to continue the offensive in the North Atlantic as well as maintain concentrations off Sierra Leone, Venezuela and Brazil. For some months to come it was again the tankers that lost heavily off the coasts of Venezuela and Trinidad. On the 1st of the month, the Change of Operational Control (CHOP) line was introduced for Atlantic convoys. Shipping to the east of 26W (approximately south of Iceland) was controlled by the British Admiralty and to the west by the US Navy from Washington. In November 1942 it was moved to 47W (approximately south of Greenland). 

Monthly Loss Summary, including Russian Convoys: 101 British, Allied and neutral ships of 511,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes; 11 German and 1 Italian U-boats, including 2 by RAF Bay of Biscay patrols; 1 by RCAF off Nova Scotia; and 3 by US forces in the Caribbean and off the east coast of America.

EUROPE - JULY 1942

Air War - The first USAAF aircraft joined RAF Bomber Command in an attack on occupied Europe. They were not yet ready for missions over Germany

Eastern Front - In the South the German Spring Offensive continued with the taking of Rostov-on-Don. After crossing the Don River they pushed on into into the Caucasus. Meanwhile the protective left flank army group was approaching Stalingrad. The German advance into the Caucacus came at a critical time for the North African campaign, opening up the possibility of a German link-up in the Middle East. The loss of the region's oil and the potential for a German-Japanese meeting in India would have proved fatal for the Allies.

Monthly Loss Summary: 9 British, Allied and neutral ships of 23,000 tons in UK waters.

MEDITERRANEAN - JULY 1942

North Africa - In the First Battle of El Alamein, Rommel's German and Italian army started its assault on the British defences on the 1st. In three weeks of tough fighting, British, Australian, New Zealand, South African and other units of Eighth Army managed to hold on. Both sides then dug in.

9th - Two Italian submarines were lost on patrol against Allied shipping off Beirut, Lebanon. On the 9th, "PERLA" was captured by corvette Hyacinth, the second time an Italian boat had ended up in British hands. 11th - Two days after the capture of "Perla", "ONDINA" was sunk by South African armed trawlers "Protea" and "Southern Maid" working with a Fleet Air Arm Walrus flying boat of 700 Squadron.

Malta - Carrier Eagle again flew off Spitfires for Malta. Shortly after, "Unbroken" was the first 10th Flotilla submarine to return to the Island.

Monthly Loss Summary: 3 British or Allied merchant ships of 6,000 tons

INDIAN & PACIFIC OCEANS - JULY 1942

Papua, New Guinea - After failing to take Port Moresby by sea at the time of the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese planned to land on the north coast at Buna and Gona and advance overland by way of the Kokoda Trail. They landed on the 21st and moved south just as the Australians were preparing to defend Kokoda itself and push north on Buna. The Japanese captured Kokoda on the 29th, and throughout August slowly pushed the Australians back south towards Port Moresby.  

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 9 merchant ships of 47,000 tons; Pacific Ocean - 6 merchant ships of 32,000 tons

 

AUGUST 1942  

ATLANTIC - AUGUST 1942

3rd - On anti-U-boat patrol between the Shetlands and Norway, submarine "Saracen" torpedoed "U-335" on passage out.

5th-10th, Attacks on Halifax/UK convoy SC94 - In the space of five days slow Halifax/UK convoy SC94 (33 ships) was attacked by a total of 17 U-boats and lost 11 merchantmen. Southeast of Greenland two U-boats were sunk by ships of the Canadian C1 group. On the 6th, Canadian destroyer "Assiniboine" shelled and rammed "U-210". Two days later on the 8th, British corvette "Dianthus" also with C1 group, depth charged and rammed "U-379" to destruction. Four more U-boats were damaged attacking the convoy.

Brazil - The sinking of five Brazilian ships off their own coast in the middle of the month finally drove Brazil to declare war on Germany and Italy on the 22nd August. Bases in the country extended Allied control over the South Atlantic.

28th - "U-94" attacked Trinidad/Cuba convoy TAG15 off Jamaica. Damaged by a US Navy Catalina, she was finished off by Canadian corvette "Oakville".

Battle of the Atlantic - For some time aircraft of RAF Coastal Command had used the Leigh light searchlight in conjunction with ASV radar to illuminate and attack U-boats at night on the surface. The Germans now introduced the Metox detector which enabled U-boats to pick up the 1.5m wavelength transmissions of the existing ASV sets in time for them to submerge. They thus moved one step ahead of the Allies in the scientific war. The RAF's important Bay of Biscay patrols accordingly lost effectiveness.

Monthly Loss Summary: 106 British, Allied and neutral ships of 544,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 1 US destroyer by collision off Nova Scotia; 9 U-boats including 1 by RAF Bay of Biscay patrols, 3 by US aircraft in Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and off Iceland, 1 Italian by unknown causes, possibly by RAF Bay of Biscay patrols.

EUROPE - AUGUST 1942

19th, Raid on Dieppe: Operation 'Jubilee' - Unable to open a Second Front in Europe, the Western Allies decided to mount a large-scale raid on the French coast to take some of the pressure off the Russians. The plan was for a largely Canadian force supported by British commandos to assault the defended port of Dieppe in northern France. Over 200 ships and landing craft, including escort destroyers and coastal forces under the command of Capt J. Hughes-Hallett sailed with 6,000 troops from south coast of England ports on the 18th. The attempted landings took place early on the 19th against heavy defensive gunfire. One flanking attack by commandos achieved some success, but the other and the frontal assault with tanks were total failures. By noon the decision was taken to withdraw. This went ahead under constant air attack and escort destroyer "BERKELEY" was bombed and sunk. Others were damaged. Canadian casualties in dead, wounded and prisoners were high, and Dieppe proved an expensive but important lesson on the problems of landing in occupied Europe at a defended port.

Eastern Front - The South continued to be the main focus of this long and bitterly contested front and remained so until January 1943. In the Stalingrad area the German reached the River Volga and were within a few miles of the city at the start of the Battle of Stalingrad. They broke into the suburbs in September 1942 and fighting increased in intensity as the Russians struggled to hold on to the west bank of the Volga. Further South still, the German invaders reached the Caucasus mountains, but thereafter made slow progress.

Monthly Loss Summary: For the first time since September 1939, no merchant ships were lost in UK waters in August 1942.

MEDITERRANEAN - AUGUST 1942

4th - Two more Axis submarines were lost at the far east end of the Mediterranean, this time off Palestine. The first was "U-372" sunk near Jaffa on the 4th by destroyers "Sikh" and "Zulu", 'Hunts' "Croome" and "Tetcott" and a RAF Wellington of No 203 Squadron. Back in June, "U-372" had sunk the valuable submarine depot ship "Medway" off Alexandria. 10th - The second loss was Italian. As they continued to mount special forces underwater operations and submarine "SCIRE" prepared to launch human torpedoes against Haifa in Palestine, armed trawler "Islay" found and sank her.

6th - Submarine "THORN" attacked a tanker off southwest Crete and was presumed sunk in the counter-attack by Italian escort destroyer "Pegaso".

10th-15th, Malta Convoy, Operation 'Pedestal' (see map above) - For Malta to survive another convoy had to be fought through, and the biggest operation ever was mounted from the Gibraltar end. A total of fourteen merchantmen, including two American and the British-manned tanker "Ohio" (Capt D. W. Mason) had a massive escort. Close in under Rear-Adm Harold Burrough were cruisers Nigeria, Kenya, Manchester and Cairo and 12 destroyers. Covering were three fleet carriers Eagle, Indomitable and Victorious each with their accompanying cruisers Charybdis, Phoebe and Sirius respectively, battleships Nelson and Rodney, and another 12 destroyers. Eight more destroyers sailed with the force - to give a total of 44 major warships. The opportunity would be taken for carrier Furious to fly off 38 Spitfires for Malta and the Mediterranean Fleet would try to distract the enemy at the other end of the Mediterranean. In overall command of 'Pedestal' was Vice-Adm E. N. Syfret.

The convoy passed Gibraltar on the 10th and from the next day was subjected to increasingly intense attacks by submarines, aircraft and later coastal forces. Early on the afternoon of the 11th, "Furious" sent off her Spitfires and later that day headed back for Gibraltar. On the 12th one of her escorting destroyers "Wolverine", rammed and sank Italian submarine "DAGABUR" off Algiers. Still on the 11th and now north of Algiers, EAGLE (right - NavyPhotos) was torpedoed four times by "U-73" and went down. Air attacks took place later that day and early on the 12th, but not until noon, south of Sardinia, did they gain their first success. Italian and German aircraft slightly damaged Victorious and hit a merchantman which later sank. More submarines then appeared and the Italian "COBALTO" was rammed by destroyer "Ithuriel". Once the convoy was north of Bizerta, Tunisia, submarine, aircraft and Italian MTB (MAS) attacks came fast and furiously. At 18.30, still on the 12th, aircraft badly damaged Indomitable putting her out of action and destroyer "FORESIGHT" was torpedoed by an Italian bomber and scuttled next day. The main Royal Navy cover force next turned back at the entrance to the 100 mile wide Strait of Sicily. The convoy carried on, still with 13 of the original 14 merchantmen afloat and its close escort of four cruisers and 12 destroyers.

Disaster struck soon after 20.00 to the northwest of Cape Bon. Three of the four cruisers were put out of action by Italian submarines. "Axum" and "Dessie" hit Nigeria and "Cairo" and the vital tanker "Ohio", and "Alagi" torpedoed Kenya. CAIRO was scuttled and "Nigeria" headed back to Gibraltar. Around this time aircraft sank two transports. Cruiser "Charybdis" and two destroyers left the the main cover force and returned east to replace the lost ships. In the early hours of the 13th, the convoy was hugging the coast south of Cape Bon when Italian MTBs attacked. Four merchantmen were sent to the bottom and the last of the original close escort cruisers MANCHESTER was hit and scuttled. Air attacks later that morning accounted for one more merchantman and disabled another which was finished off in the evening. And to add to the torpedo hit, "Ohio" loaded with its highly inflammable cargo was now damaged by bombs and a crashing Ju87 Stuka. Including her, just five ships were left. Now into the afternoon of the 13th, three reached Malta. The fourth struggled in next day, but the crippled "Ohio", lashed to destroyer "Penn", only made port on the 15th. (Capt Mason was awarded the George Cross). By now the close escort had just returned to Gibraltar.

Earlier, an Italian cruiser force set out to add to the convoy's miseries, but turned for home. North of Sicily on the 13th it was sighted by submarine "Unbroken" (Lt A. C. G. Mars) and heavy cruiser "Bolzano" and light cruiser "Attendolo" were torpedoed and damaged. Only five out of fourteen transports had got through to Malta for the loss of one aircraft carrier, two cruisers and a destroyer sunk, and a carrier and two cruisers badly damaged. But the supplies delivered - and especially "Ohio's" oil - were enough to sustain Malta as an offensive base at a time critical to the coming Battle of El Alamein. More was still needed however, and only two days after "Ohio's" arrival, Furious flew off more Spitfires while submarines continued to make supply trips.

22nd - Italian torpedo boat "CANTORE" was lost on mines laid by submarine "Porpoise" northeast of Tobruk.

North Africa - Just as Gen Montgomery assumed command of Eighth Army, Rommel made his last attempt to get round the El Alamein defences. In the Battle of Alam Halfa, the German-Italian attack broke on the ridge of that name 15 miles behind the main lines. By early September he was back to his starting position. 29th - As escort destroyer "ERIDGE" returned from bombarding Axis positions west of El Alamein, she was torpedoed and badly damaged by a German E-boat. Back in port, she was declared a constructive total loss.

Monthly Loss Summary: 13 British or Allied merchant ships of 110,000 tons

INDIAN & PACIFIC OCEANS - AUGUST 1942

Guadalcanal, British Solomon Islands - The Japanese were now extending their hold in the southern Solomons and building an airfield on the island of Guadalcanal. From there they could move against the New Hebrides, New Caledonia and other islands along the supply routes to Australia and New Zealand. After the Japanese presence was discovered, the US 1st Marine Division was landed on the 7th, soon capturing the airstrip which was renamed Henderson Field. Close cover was provided by a force of American and Australian cruisers. 9th, Battle of Savo Island - In the early hours of the 9th a Japanese force of seven cruisers and a destroyer headed for Savo Island to the north of Guadalcanal to get at the US transports. Instead they stumbled on five patrolling cruisers. Taken completely by surprise, heavy cruisers CANBERRA and the American "ASTORIA", "QUINCY" and "VINCENNES" were hit by a torrent of gunfire and torpedoes and sank in an area soon known as lronbottom Sound. The fifth cruiser "Chicago" escaped. Australian cruisers Australia and Hobart were close by but take no part in the action. The transports were untouched. From then on, as both American and Japanese forces tried to bring in supplies and reinforcements, numerous naval battles were fought in and around the southern Solomons. Battle of the Eastern Solomons - On the 24th, Japanese and American carrier groups covering supply operations to Guadalcanal were in action to the east of the Solomons island chain. Japanese light carrier "RYUJO" was sunk and the American "Enterprise" damaged. From now on the Japanese relied increasingly on 'Tokyo Express' destroyers to bring in supplies by night down 'The Slot' - the waters between the islands of the Solomons.

Indian Ocean - Adm Somerville's Eastern Fleet carried out diversionary moves in the Indian Ocean at the time of the Guadalcanal landings, but he was continually losing ships to other theatres and by month's end was down to battleships Warspite, Valiant, carrier Illustrious and a few cruisers and destroyers. There were also few escorts. By this time Japanese submarines were appearing in the Indian Ocean and taking a steady toll of Allied shipping. Until the end of 1944 they would be joined for various periods by German U-boats, sometimes direct from Europe and at other times operating out of Penang on the west coast of Malaya.

Papua, New Guinea - In their move on Port Moresby, Japanese troops landed at Milne Bay at the extreme southeast tip of Papua on the 25th. The mainly Australian resistance was strong and by the 30th, the invaders were starting to evacuate. By early September they had gone - the first major setback Japanese forces had experienced on land. 29th - Japanese submarine "R0-33" attacked Australian troop reinforcements bound for Port Moresby and was sunk off the harbour by Australian destroyer "Arunta".

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 1 merchant ship of 5,000 tons; Pacific Ocean - 3 merchant ships of 1,500 tons

 

SEPTEMBER 1942

ATLANTIC - SEPTEMBER 1942

2nd-26th, Russian Convoy PQ18 and Return QP14 - PQ18 left Loch Ewe in Scotland on the 2nd with over 40 merchantmen. The hard learnt lessons of PQ17 and previous convoys were not forgotten. Close escort was provided by 17 warships plus escort carrier Avenger and two destroyers. Two separate forces were in support - close cover was given by AA cruiser Scylla and 16 fleet destroyers under Rear-Adm R L Burnett, and further out by three heavy cruisers. More distant cover was by Vice-Adm Sir Bruce Fraser with battleships Anson and Duke of York, a light cruiser and destroyers to the northeast of Iceland. Submarines patrolled off the Norwegian Lofoten Islands and northern Norway. Over 40 major warships were involved. German heavy ships moved to Altenfiord but did not sortie. Instead the attacks were mounted by bombers and torpedo aircraft as well as U-boats. On the 13th, aircraft torpedoed nine ships, but next day "Avenger's" Hurricanes ensured only one more ship was lost to air attack. In total over 40 German aircraft were shot down by the convoy's defences. U-boats sank three merchantmen but lost three of their number to Adm Burnett's forces. Destroyers "Faulknor", "Onslow" and "Impulsive" sank "U-88", "U-589" and "U-457" respectively between the 12th and 16th in the Greenland and Barents Seas. (Some sources reverse the identity of "U-88" and "U-589"). Escort carrier "Avenger's" Swordfish from 825 Squadron helped with the destruction of "Onslow's" U-boat on the 14th. Of the original 40 ships, 27 reached Archangel on the 17th. Meanwhile return convoy QP14 with 15 ships sailed on the 13th to gain the protection of "Avenger" and Adm Burnett's AA cruiser and destroyer force. On the 20th, to the west of Bear Island, minesweeper LEDA was sunk by "U-435" and support group destroyer "SOMALI" torpedoed by "U-703". After struggling for four days in tow towards Iceland a gale blew up and she foundered to the north. Three merchant ships were lost to U-boats and the survivors reached Loch Ewe on the 26th. In late 1941, escort carrier Audacity closed the Gibraltar air-gap for the first time. "Avenger" had now done the same for the Russian route. However, further convoys had to be postponed as ships were transferred in preparation for the North African landings. ("Coxswain in the Northern convoys", The Road Back with QP 14)

3rd - "U-162" attacked destroyer "Pathfinder" north of Trinidad, but was sunk by her and accompanying destroyers "Quentin" and "Vimy". 11th - Canadian corvette "CHARLOTTETOWN" on passage with a minesweeper in the Gulf of St Lawrence was sunk by "U-517". 14th - "U-91" sent Canadian destroyer "OTTAWA" to the bottom, east of Newfoundland. She was with the Canadian C4 group protecting UK/North American convoy ON127, which lost seven ships to U-boats. 26th - U-boats attacked convoy RB1 of Great Lakes steamers bound for the UK. In mid-Atlantic, escorting destroyer "VETERAN" was lost to "U-404". There were no survivors and only postwar-captured German records revealed her fate.

"Laconia" Incident - Off West Africa on the 12th, "U-156" sank liner "Laconia" loaded with 1,800 Italian POWs. The CO called for assistance in clear and other U-boats came to the rescue. An American aircraft made an attack and Adm Doenitz subsequently forbade U-boats to help ships' survivors. He was indicted for the 'Laconia order' at the Nurnberg trials.

German Raiders - After sinking just three ships, German raider "STIER" encountered American freighter "Stephen Hopkins" in the South Atlantic on the 27th. The "Hopkins" was sunk, but not before her single 4in gun damaged the raider so severely she had to be abandoned.

Battle of the Atlantic - U-boats continued to operate off Sierra Leone, West Africa and the northern coast of South America where Allied losses remain high. Off Trinidad alone 29 ships of 143,000 tons went down in September. However, the interlocking convoy system was well on the way to being established off the Americas, and was increasing in effectiveness. In September the western termini for Atlantic convoys were moved from the Canadian ports of Halifax, Nova Scotia and Sydney, Cape Breton down to New York. Pressure on the port became so great, some convoy starts moved back to Halifax in March 1943. A long felt need started to be met when Adm Noble formed the first convoy support groups. These highly trained flotillas were used to reinforce the escorts of convoys under heavy attack, and although called Escort Groups should not be confused with the groups of 1941, which were often temporary in nature and with a diversity of ship types. Some of the new Escort Groups were formed around the escort carriers now entering service - the first since Audacity lost in December 1941. Unfortunately none of them would be available to fight the Battle of the Atlantic for another six months: they were needed for the invasion of French North Africa.

Monthly Loss Summary: 102 British, Allied and neutral ships of 531,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 5 escorts; 1 German raider and 9 U-boats including 3 by US and RAF aircraft in the North Atlantic, 1 by RAF Bay of Biscay patrols, 1 on an RAF-laid mine in the Bay of Biscay

EUROPE - SEPTEMBER 1942

Monthly Loss Summary: 1 merchant ship of 2,000 tons in UK waters.

MEDITERRANEAN - SEPTEMBER 1942

13th/I4th, Raid on Tobruk: Operation 'Agreement' - To help relieve the pressure on Eighth Army in the Alamein area, a combined operations raid was planned on Tobruk to destroy installations and shipping. An attack would be launched from the landward side by the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) while simultaneously destroyers "Sikh" and "Zulu" together with coastal forces craft would land Royal Marine and Army units from the sea. AA cruiser "Coventry" and 'Hunts' provided cover. In the night of the 13th/14th, a few troops got ashore but "SIKH" was soon disabled by shore batteries. She went down off Tobruk early in the morning of the 14th. As the other ships withdrew, heavy attacks by German and Italian aircraft sank cruiser COVENTRY and destroyer "ZULU" to the northwest of Alexandria. The land attack also failed.

Mid-September - Submarine "TALISMAN" left Gibraltar on the 10th with stores for Malta. She reported a U-boat off Philippeville, eastern Algeria on the 15th, but was not heard from again - presumed mined in the Strait of Sicily.

Monthly Loss Summary: 4 British or Allied merchant ships of 800 tons

INDIAN & PACIFIC OCEANS - SEPTEMBER 1942

Madagascar - Britain decided to occupy the rest of the Vichy French island. Starting on the 10th, British, East African and South African troops were landed through the month at points in the northwest, east and southwest. By the 23rd the capital, Tananarive, was captured but fighting continued into October. The Vichy French did not surrender until early November, by which time they had been driven down into the extreme southeast corner of the large island.

Papua, New Guinea - In mid-month the Japanese reached their furthest point down the Kokoda Trail, within 30 miles of Port Moresby. Australian troops now went over to the attack and slowly drove north towards Kokoda.

Guadalcanal, British Solomon Islands - As the two sides struggled to build up their forces, more fighting took place for possession of Henderson Field. An old friend of the Royal Navy and Malta was lost when US carrier "WASP" was torpedoed by submarine "I-19" on the 15th, yet another casualty of the attempts to reinforce the island. Only carrier "Hornet" remained operational in the South Pacific, but she was joined by the repaired "Enterprise" in October.

British Gilbert Islands - After a brief stay in December 1941, Japanese forces reoccupied and started fortifying the atoll of Tarawa.

23rd - Australian troops were carried to the occupied island of Timor by Australian destroyer "VOYAGER" to strengthen the Sparrow Force guerrilla unit. She ran aground on the south coast, was bombed by the Japanese and had to be destroyed.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 6 merchant ships of 30,000 tons; Pacific Ocean - 1 merchant ship of 3,000 tons

 

OCTOBER 1942

ATLANTIC - OCTOBER 1942

2nd - Off northwest Ireland the 81,000-ton liner "Queen Mary", sailing as a fast unescorted troopship met Western Approaches escort AA cruiser CURACOA and accidentally rammed and sank her with the loss of over 300 men.

8th - "U-179" torpedoed and sank a merchantman off Cape Town, South Africa and was then depth-charged and rammed by destroyer "Active". Four other U-boats had preceded "U-179" to South African waters and in just four weeks sank over 20 ships.

15th/I6th, Attacks on Halifax/UK Convoy SC104 - The convoy with 47 ships escorted by the British B6 group lost eight merchantmen to U-boats. However, in mid-Atlantic on the 15th, destroyer "Viscount" rammed and sank "U-619", and next day destroyer "Fame" accounted for "U-353", also by ramming. (Note: the identity of "U-619" is sometimes reversed with "U-661" sunk in the vicinity by the RAF.)

Early October - Submarine "UNIQUE" on passage from Britain to Gibraltar was last reported on the 9th off Land's End, south west England. She was never heard from again.

23rd - Two U-boats were on patrol off the Congo Estuary. "U-161" torpedoed and badly damaged cruiser "Phoebe" on passage to French Equatorial Africa.

Battle of the Atlantic - Losses continued high in the North Atlantic, many in the air-gaps on the transatlantic routes which aircraft could not reach from Newfoundland, Iceland and Northern Ireland. Also on the routes to and from Sierra Leone which were remote from Gibraltar or Freetown. For example, Atlantic convoys HX212 and SC107 lost six and fifteen ships respectively, and Sierra Leone convoy SL125 around thirteen. Apart from escort carriers, more very long range (VLR) aircraft were needed by RAF Coastal Command. Only No 120 squadron was equipped with the VLR B-24 Liberators. In October there were nearly 200 operational U-boats out of a total of 365. German losses were increasing as the effectiveness of Allied air and sea escorts and patrols improved, but nowhere near enough to offset new construction.

Monthly Loss Summary: 82 British, Allied and neutral ships of 548,000 tons in the Atlantic from all causes, 1 cruiser; 15 U-boats including 6 by RAF in North Atlantic, 1 by RAF Bay of Biscay patrols, 1 by RAF-laid mine in the Bay of Biscay, 2 by RCAF off Newfoundland, 1 by US aircraft off French Guiana, 1 by unknown causes, possibly by US aircraft

EUROPE - OCTOBER 1942

14th - German raider "KOMET" attempted to pass down the English Channel on the way out for a second cruise. A force of British escort destroyers and MTBs attacked off Cherbourg, and in spite of a strong escort, she was torpedoed and sunk by MTB.236.

Eastern Front - Still concentrating on the South, the Germans made little progress in the Caucasus. By November they were being worn down and the Russians started to go over to the offensive. Hitler decided to take Stalingrad and major attacks were started in October and then November. Neither attacks succeed in merciless factory-to-factory, house-to-house, room-to-room fighting.

Monthly Loss Summary: 6 British, Allied and neutral ships of 13,000 tons in UK waters.

MEDITERRANEAN - OCTOBER 1942

French North Africa - In preparation for Operation 'Torch', US Gen Mark Clark landed in Algeria from submarine "Seraph" to help persuade the Vichy French authorities to support the coming Allied landings. Gen Giraud was to be smuggled from unoccupied France, again in "Seraph", to head pro-Allied Frenchmen.

19th - South of Pantelleria, submarine "Unbending" attacked an Axis convoy bound for Tripoli, sinking a transport and Italian destroyer "DA VERAZZANO".

North Africa - With the Second Battle of El Alamein, Gen Montgomery started the last and decisive British campaign against Axis forces in Egypt. On the night of the 23rd a massive bombardment preceded the advance of first infantry and then armour through the German and Italian lines in the centre. Progress was at first slow and the battle became a straight slogging match. Australian troops played an important part with a thrust in the north near the sea. In the build-up to the battle, Royal Navy submarines and RAF aircraft, especially those based in Malta, were sinking more than a third of Axis supplies setting out for North Africa. As the offensive got underway, the Inshore Squadron continued to support and supply Eighth Army along its right, seaward flank.

Malta Supply - At the end of the month, carrier Furious flew off Spitfires to Malta. The island was even now short of supplies and the little getting through was carried by submarines and cruiser-minelayers.

30th - Destroyers "Pakenham", "Petard" and "Hero", escort destroyers "Dulverton" and "Hurworth" and RAF aircraft of No 47 Squadron sank "U-559" north of Port Said.

Monthly Loss Summary: No Allied merchant ships were lost in October 1942

INDIAN & PACIFIC OCEANS - OCTOBER 1942

Burma - In the First Arakan Campaign a limited offensive was launched from India to take Akyab. By year's end the British and Indian forces were still short of their objective.

Papua, New Guinea - The Australians continued to push up the Kokoda Trail against the usual bloody Japanese resistance. US troops took a parallel track to reach the coast south of Buna. Allied landings also take place on the north coast up from Milne Bay in preparation for the coming assault on Buna and Gona.

Guadalcanal - As the struggle continued for the island's one airfield, supply and support operations led to two more major naval battles. Battle of Cape Esperance - Off the north tip of Guadalcanal on the night of the 11th/12th, a US cruiser force was in action with a similar Japanese force. Both sides lost a destroyer, and the Japanese a heavy cruiser. Battle of Santa Cruz - From Truk, a large Japanese carrier and battleship task force approached the southern Solomons to support a major land attack on Henderson Field. On the 26th they were in action with a much smaller US carrier group north of the Santa Cruz Islands. "HORNET" was lost and "Enterprise" put out of action in exchange for heavy damage to the carrier "Shokaku". The damaged "Enterprise" was now the only US carrier in the South Pacific. Adm King, US Navy Commander-in-Chief, asked for the loan of a fleet carrier from the Royal Navy. Anglo-US relations were strained when problems arose about the need to re-equip with US aircraft, but Victorious was ordered out in December.

Monthly Loss Summary: Indian Ocean - 11 merchant ships of 64,000 tons; Pacific Ocean - 2 merchant ships of 14,000 tons

 

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revised 24/12/10