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World War 2 at Sea

 

THE SUPPLY OF MALTA 1940-1942, Part 1 of 3

by the late Arnold Hague, Lieutenant Commander, RNR (Rtd) (c) 1995

 

Editing by Gordon Smith, Naval-History.Net

HMS Cairo, AA cruiser, lost 12 August 1942 (Navy Photos/Mark Teadham, click to enlarge)

on to Part 2

 
Part 1  Contents
 
 

Introduction

Support of Malta during the siege

Methods of supply

 

The convoys of 1940

 

The convoys of 1941, including:

Operation EXCESS

Operation TIGER

Operation SUBSTANCE

 

 

Operations MINCEMEAT, HALBERD

 

The convoys of 1942, including:

Operation HARPOON

Operation VIGOROUS

Operation PEDESTAL

Operation STONEAGE

Operation PORTCULLIS

Operation QUADRANGLE

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

 

Only original reports and official documents have been used in the preparation of this work. There are some discrepancies in, for example, the operation orders issued for some operations by C-in-C Mediterranean Fleet and his subsequent dispatches. These arise when, it appears, destroyers were transposed between the convoy, supporting screen and the main Fleet; however the participation of the ships is not in question.

 

 

It is in the submarine section that most problems arise. Not all the patrol reports for known store carrying passages are now available while many operational passage reports contain such anodyne phrases as "some stores", "miscellaneous stores". The absence of specific data somewhat lessens the impact of the effect that this means of supply had upon the Island's defence.

 

 

I am most grateful for the co-operation of A J Francis and M McAloon of the Naval Historical Branch for assistance in accessing so many official papers. The ability to gain access to the official "Malta Narrative" prepared by and in possession of the Air Historical Branch has also been of great value to me.

 

 


 

 

 

SUPPORT OF MALTA DURING THE SIEGE

 

 

There has been much publicity during 1992/3 on the issue by the Government of Malta of a commemorative medal relating to the Siege of Malta during 1940-43. While the population and the garrison were subjected to great privation and danger by enemy aircraft, and no doubt deserve local commemoration in this manner, the dates chosen are both arbitrary and incorrect.

 

The definition of "siege", according to Chambers Dictionary is "investment or beleaguering of a town or fortress"; an accurate description of the state of Malta after the declaration of war by Italy on 11 June 1940. However, the choice of varying dates by the Maltese Government and the George Cross Island Association for the ending of the siege have less validity.

 

If a siege can be said to be lifted when uninterrupted supplies re-commence, then the true date is the arrival of the STONEAGE convoy in Malta in November 1942 with all its merchant ships intact. Further, while some later convoys were attacked, none suffered loss to a merchant ship and the build up of supplies to Malta continued without delay. Therefore the date of 31 December 1942 has been taken as the cut-off date for this text, in support of this these quotations from the War Diary of the vice Admiral, Malta firstly for the month of November 1942:.

 

"With the successful unloading of convoy MW 12 the state of siege existing in Malta was considerably eased. This was achieved on 28th November, by which date the greater part of the cargoes of the four ships were dispersed or under rock...... The safe arrival of these four ships marked the start of a period of building up supplies of stores, ammunition and fuel, which is now in progress, and which it is hoped will place Malta in a position to take a foremost part in the attack on the enemy's southern flank when the time comes".

 

These are not the words of a Commander still in a state of siege, rather in the build-up phase prior to mounting an amphibious assault; Malta had always remained on the attack.

 

In his comments for December 1942 the Vice Admiral, Malta writes:

 

"During the month of December nine merchant vessels and two tankers were escorted to Malta from the East. 58,500 tons of general cargo, and 18,220 tons of oil fuel were discharged and the supply position, from being most precarious, became, in this one month, established on a firm basis. No serious attempt to stop the convoys from reaching port, or to interfere with their unloading was made...."

 

Finally, the success of these convoys in the eastern basin caused the Admiralty to abandon as unnecessary a proposed convoy of thirteen ships from the west. These ships, which included CITY OF EDINBURGH, CITY OF PRETORIA, CORRALES, EMPIRE KAMAL, FERRANGER, LANARKSHIRE and TILAPA, had been sent out in the Operation TORCH convoys and held at Gibraltar pending onward passage. They were now unloaded in Gibraltar and North African ports and returned to the UK. Supply from the west did not resume until after the occupation of Sicily and the establishment of regular trans-Mediterranean convoys from the UK to and from Port Said.

 

 


 

 

 

METHODS OF SUPPLY

 

Bearing in mind that Malta contained a considerable civilian population, a large garrison drawn from all three Services AND served as a very active operational base throughout the siege, it may be assumed that only the use of a considerable number of large merchant ships could support the demands for food, fuel and other supplies. Indeed, the great maritime/air battles that ensued around the convoys from east and west are usually seen as the means of supply. It is true that the failure of anyone of these operations would have made inevitable the surrender of the island, there was always a predicted (and variable) date by which the island must capitulate due to starvation. However, lack of ammunition for the defences, fuel for them and the population, and loss of aircraft could also have forced such an act prior to starvation itself.

 

The support of Malta therefore took a number of forms. Firstly the passage of heavily escorted convoys conveying bulk supplies of food, fuel and ammunition. Secondly, the provision of very scarce ("high value") items such as vital spares, ammunition, medical stores and concentrated food by fast warships. Thirdly, the delivery of similar items by submarines, either as part of an operational patrol or a dedicated supply trip by a partly converted vessel. Fourthly, the provision of fighter aircraft by using Fleet carriers to take them within flying range of the Island and, finally, by clandestine voyages by independent merchant ships.

 

Each of these methods will be dealt with in separate sections and in chronological order; this is solely to enable each facet of the whole operation to be properly studied and does NOT in any way imply any precedence or importance of one means over others. That is left to the judgment of the individual reader. For this writer, the failure of anyone of the first four categories above would have proved fatal to Malta; the fifth, although gallant, had little effect due to smallness of the operations and the loss or forcing back of almost all the ships on their inward passage.

 

 


 

 

 

THE CONVOYS

 

Malta could be supplied either from the east or the west so far as convoy was concerned, the decision being based on tactical considerations. From Gibraltar, the passage only became subject to air attack for (approximately) its latter half, and enemy surface force bases were somewhat more distant from that route. From the east, unless the North African desert was temporarily in British hands, air attack became probable very shortly after sailing and surface attack easier due to shorter distance. The eastern route, after the complete failure of one attempt, could only really be attempted when the enemy had been driven west of Benghazi. Both routes required very heavy escort, another factor that inhibited the eastern series due to the steady attrition of the Mediterranean Fleet.

 

While possibly confusing, all convoys are shown in chronological order; where two convoys (usually one inward and one outward from the island) occur together, the inward (loaded) convoy is given precedence. Convoys from the east are given the sailing date of the Alexandria ships, ships also came from Port Said and Haifa, their dates being 24 hours earlier than Alexandria; the escort was of course drawn from the Fleet base at Alexandria.

 

Problems arise with descriptions of the escort; like their North Russian counterparts there was frequently a close escort for the convoy, a covering force of cruisers and destroyers in the vicinity and the main Fleet at sea in support. Furthermore ships could, and did, move between, the three components of the escort during the passage. The entire escort, whichever force it belonged to, is listed for each convoy by type, alphabetically within type. Only if there are special circumstances is a distinction made between the components of the escort.

 

The freighter NOVASLI sailed from Gibraltar 5.6.40 and MASIRAH 7.6.40 from the same port. Both had probably arrived at Malta prior to the Italian declaration of war, or possibly on 11.6.40 itself, neither were attacked. In Malta they joined those ships in Valetta, and duly sailed in the first outgoing convoys listed below.

 

 

 

1940

 

 

Convoy MF 1

 

Sailing from Malta on 9.7 and arriving Alexandria 11.7 this convoy brought out evacuees (mainly British families) from Malta and also some Maltese dockyard employees to increase the skilled labour available at the Alexandria base. Merchant ships involved were EL NIL, KNIGHT OF MALTA and RODI.

 

 

Convoy MS 1

 

Sailing from Malta on 10.7, this slightly slower convoy arrived at Alexandria 14.7, and was formed from KIRKLAND, MASIRAH, NOVASLI, TWEED and ZEELAND.

 

The escort for both convoys was the battleships MALAYA, RAMILLIES, ROYAL SOVEREIGN and WARSPITE, the aircraft carrier EAGLE, cruisers CALEDON, CAPETOWN, GLOUCESTER, LIVERPOOL, NEPTUNE, ORION and SYDNEY and destroyers DAINTY, DECOY, DEFENDER, DIAMOND, HASTY, HAVOCK, HEREWARD, HERO, HOSTILE, HYPERION, ILEX, IMPERIAL, JANUS, JERVIS, JUNO, MOHAWK, NUBIAN, STUART, VAMPIRE, VOYAGER and WATERHEN.

 

These operations are also known by the Mediterranean Fleet operation name "MA5".

 

 

Convoy MF 2

 

Typical of the Mediterranean Fleet confusion over convoy titles, this second FAST convoy was in fact inward bound loaded to Malta, sailing from Alexandria 29.8 and arriving unmolested on 2.9. It consisted of CORNWALL, PLUMLEAF and VOLO being, respectively, a refrigerated cargo ship, an RFA oiler and a freighter. Escort was provided by the cruisers GLOUCESTER, KENT and LIVERPOOL and the destroyers DAINTY, DIAMOND, JERVIS and JUNO, only the destroyers went through to Malta.

 

During the passage of this convoy, reinforcements for the Mediterranean Fleet were passed through from Gibraltar to Alexandria, thereby acting as a diversion of attention from the convoy, and also as a cover had surface attack materialised.

 

In all, there was at sea from Alexandria, in addition to previously mentioned ships, the battleships MALAYA and WARSPITE, the carrier EAGLE, cruisers ORION and SYDNEY and destroyers DECOY, DEFENDER, GARLAND, HASTY, HEREWARD, HYPERION, ILEX, IMPERIAL, STUART, VAMPIRE, VENDETTA and VOYAGER. From Gibraltar sailed the battlecruiser RENOWN, battleship VALIANT and carrier ILLUSTRIOUS, cruisers CALCUTTA, COVENTRY (all for Alexandria) and SHEFFIELD, and destroyers ENCOUNTER, FAULKNOR, FIREDRAKE, FORESTER, FORESIGHT, FORTUNE, FURY, GALLANT, GREYHOUND, GRIFFIN, HERO, HOTSPUR, JANUS, MOHAWK, NUBIAN, VELOX and WISHART. Of these destroyers, GALLANT, GREYHOUND, GRIFFIN, HOTSPUR, JANUS, MOHAWK and NUBIAN were for the Mediterranean Fleet.

 

The two operations are frequently referred to as "HATS/MB", "HATS" being the operation name for the ships from Gibraltar, "MB" for the Mediterranean Fleet operations. The convoy was bombed on 31.8 and CORNWALL hit and set on fire. However, steering on main engines, she controlled the fire and duly arrived at Malta.

 

 

Convoy MF 3

 

Referred to by the C-in-C Mediterranean as a "troopship" convoy, four ships sailed from Alexandria 8.10 and arrived at Malta 11.10, CLAN FERGUSON, CLAN MACAULAY, LANARKSHIRE and MEMNON escorted on passage by the cruisers CALCUTTA and COVENTRY and destroyers STUART, VOYAGER, WATERHEN and WRYNECK.

 

The Fleet was already at sea, and acted as additional escort; it comprised the battleships MALAYA, RAMILLIES, VALIANT and WARSPITE, carriers EAGLE and ILLUSTRIOUS, cruisers AJAX, GLOUCESTER, LIVERPOOL, ORION, SYDNEY and YORK and destroyers DAINTY, DECOY, DEFENDER, DIAMOND, HASTY, HAVOCK, HEREWARD, HERO, HYPERION, ILEX, IMPERIAL, JANUS. JERVIS, JUNO, NUBIAN, VAMPIRE and VENDETTA. In addition, the destroyer MOHAWK came out from Malta to join the Fleet. During the operation IMPERIAL was mined and towed in to Malta.

 

 

Convoy MF 4

 

On the arrival of MF 3, this convoy of three ships, CORNWALL, PLUMLEAF and VOLO plus the gunboat APHIS, sailed from Malta escorted by the cruisers CALCUTTA, COVENTRY and destroyers WATERHEN and WRYNECK to proceed to Alexandria where they arrived safely on 16.10.

 

While not affecting the passage of this convoy, mention must be made of a night action on 12.10 in which the cruiser AJAX engaged three Italian warships and sank two, then later engaging two others without further result. Those sunk were the Italian torpedo boats AIRONE and ARIEL both of which blew up. A third ship, the destroyer ARTIGLIERE, was also hit and disabled; found later by the cruiser YORK she surrendered, being unable to resist, and was sunk.

 

 

Convoy MW 3

 

This convoy commenced a more logical coding system, MW signifying Malta Westward i.e. loaded inward to Malta, while the corresponding empty outward convoy to Alexandria was titled ME, Malta Eastward; the two normally crossing over on passage.

 

MW 3 sailed from Alexandria on 4.11 comprising DEVIS, PLUMLEAF, RODI, VOLO and WAIWERA, and was escorted by the AA cruisers CALCUTTA and COVENTRY and destroyers DIAMOND, VAMPIRE, VOYAGER and WATERHEN. The old minesweeper ABINGDON also accompanied the escort on passage to join the local forces at Malta. The convoy arrived at Malta on 10.11.

 

The operation, in conjunction with convoys to Greece and Crete and the outward ME 3, was known as "MB 8" and was covered by the main Fleet, the battleships MALAYA, RAMILLIES, VALIANT and WARSPITE, carrier ILLUSTRIOUS, cruisers GLOUCESTER and YORK and destroyers DAINTY DECOY, DEFENDER, GALLANT, HASTY, HAVOCK, HEREWARD, HERO, HYPERION, ILEX, JANUS, JERVIS, JUNO, MOHAWK, NUBIAN and VENDETTA.

 

During the passage of MW 3 the opportunity was taken to pass further ships, with troops and stores for the Malta garrison onboard, through from Gibraltar as reinforcements for the Mediterranean Fleet. Accordingly the battleship BARHAM, cruisers BERWICK and GLASGOW and destroyers GALLANT, GREYHOUND and GRIFFIN sailed from Gibraltar on 7.11 to arrive at Malta on 10.11.

 

 

Convoy ME 3

 

On 10.11 this convoy sailed escorted by ships of the Fleet which had entered Malta with MW 3, the battleship RAMILLIES, cruiser COVENTRY and destroyers DECOY and DEFENDER. The monitor TERROR and the destroyer VENDETTA also sailed with them. The convoy comprised the empty ships from MF 3, CLAN FERGUSON, CLAN MACAULAY, LANARKSHIRE and MEMNON and arrived at Alexandria 13.11.

 

MB 8 was a complex operation for, in addition to the activities described above, the covering Fleet also carried out the famous Taranto raid, covered Grecian and Cretan convoys and conducted a raid into the Otranto Straits.

 

 

Convoy MW 4

 

A further pair of convoys passed to and from Malta in late Nov, concurrent with a "through" convoy from Gibraltar to the eastern basin. In the east, the operation was entitled "MB 9", in the west, "Collar".

 

From Alexandria on 23.11 sailed the fast transport BRECONSHIRE, now a commissioned naval vessel, and the freighters CLAN FERGUSON, CLAN MACAULAY and MEMNON. These were to pass through to Malta, while the empty freighters CORNWALL, DEVIS, RODI, VOLO and WAIWERA went back to Alexandria.

 

To cover this pair of convoys a close escort of the cruisers CALCUTTA and COVENTRY and destroyers GREYHOUND, VAMPIRE, VENDETTA and VOYAGER sailed from Alexandria. The Fleet was at sea also, covering both this convoy and the complex operations reinforcing Suda Bay, and attacks on the Dodecanese.

 

 

Operation COLLAR

 

This operation by Force H from Gibraltar is included as it coincided with the preceding convoy, and the "returned empties" to Alexandria. COLLAR covered the passage of two freighters to Malta and one to Suda Bay, plus reinforcements for the eastern basin.

 

Passing through the Straits on 25.11, CLAN FORBES, CLAN FRASER for Malta, and NEW ZEALAND STAR for Suda Bay were escorted by the destroyers DUNCAN, HOTSPUR, VELOX, VIDETTE and WRESTLER and the corvettes GLOXINIA, HYACINTH, PEONY and SALVIA, of which VELOX and WRESTLER covered the passage of the Straits only. Meanwhile, the cruisers MANCHESTER and SOUTHAMPTON embarked troops for Malta who had been brought out in FRANCONIA to Gibraltar.

 

As escort to the convoy was Force H and reinforcements, the battlecruiser RENOWN, carrier ARK ROYAL, cruisers DESPATCH and SHEFFIELD and destroyers ENCOUNTER, FAULKNOR, FlREDRAKE, FORESTER, FURY, JAGUAR, KELVIN and WISHART. The battleship RAMILLIES and cruisers BERWICK, COVENTRY and NEWCASTLE, the latter from Malta, also proceeded as an additional squadron of the escort.

 

The intention was for the convoy to proceed close to the Algerian coast, ostensibly neutral, as far as possible from Sicilian air bases. The intervention of the Italian Fleet caused changes in the original plans, and what is now known as the Battle of Cape Spartivento eventually took place.

 

The convoy, with a small escort, proceeded while the main squadrons amalgamated and conducted a running action with the Italian Fleet which retired behind smoke. BERWICK was hit, as were at least two enemy ships while the convoy was unmolested.

 

Convoy MW 4 arrived at Malta on 26.11, as did the western ships; NEW ZEALAND STAR and the corvettes continued to Suda Bay together with the drifters FELLOWSHIP and LANNER.

 

 

Convoy ME 4

 

This convoy, comprising CORNWALL, DEVIS, RODI, VOLO and WAIWERA sailed from Malta 26.11 escorted by the cruiser CALCUTTA and destroyers VAMPIRE, VENDETTA and VOYAGER. The convoy arrived at Alexandria 29.11, with CORNWALL and RODI, VOLO detaching to Port Said.

 

During these later operations, the Mediterranean Fleet carried out strikes on Tripoli, and also covered the movements between Greece, Suda Bay and Egypt. Battleship MALAYA, carrier EAGLE, cruiser AJAX and destroyers HASTY, HAVOCK, HERO, HYPERION and ILEX were involved in addition to previously mentioned ships.

 

The next Fleet operation was titled MC 2 and had five objectives, the passage of two convoys to Malta and one from Malta, a southbound convoy from Piraeus to Alexandria and the passage of HMS ULSTER PRINCE with troops to Crete and Greece. Additionally, carrier aircraft were to raid the Dodecanese, there was to be a sweep by cruisers and destroyers into the Adriatic, and an aircraft strike and bombardment of the Albanian coast.

 

 

Convoy MW 5A

 

Consisting of the freighters LANARKSHIRE and WAIWERA escorted by the battleship MALAYA and destroyers DEFENDER, DIAMOND, NUBIAN and WRYNECK sailed from Alexandria pm 16.12 and, without loss, the two merchant ships arrived in Malta 20.12.

 

 

Convoy MW 5B

 

This convoy sailed in two sections, from Port Said on 15.12 the merchantmen PONTFIELD, RODI and VOLO initially, HMS ULSTER PRINCE was attached to this section.

 

From Alexandria early on 16.12 there sailed the freighters DEVIS and HOEGH HOOD escorted by the AA cruiser CALCUTTA and destroyer HAVOCK with the submarine PARTHIAN in company.

 

At sea, as cover for the entire operation, was the Fleet comprising battleships VALIANT and WARSPITE, carrier ILLUSTRIOUS, cruisers GLOUCESTER and YORK and destroyers DAINTY, GREYHOUND, HASTY, HEREWARD, HERO, HYPERION, ILEX, JANUS, JERVIS, JUNO and MOHAWK which sailed from Alexandria, while the cruiser ORION was at Piraeus and AJAX and SYDNEY were en route from there to Suda Bay.

 

The two sections of MW 5B made a rendezvous at 0800 17.12, HOEGH HOOD being detached to proceed independent of the convoy with HAVOCK as an escort due to her slowness. Both convoys MW 5A and MW 5B and the independent HOEGH HOOD arrived safely at Malta, the convoys on 20.12.

 

 

Convoy ME 5A

 

Formed from some of the empty ships at Malta for Alexandria, BRECONSHIRE, CLAN FERGUSON, CLAN MACAULAY and MEMNON sailed pm 20.12 escorted by the AA cruiser CALCUTTA, destroyer WRYNECK and corvettes HYACINTH, PEONY and SALVIA, and screened during the night by the main body of the Fleet. The convoy arrived unscathed at Alexandria am 23.12.

 

 

Convoy MG 1

 

This convoy, routed to Gibraltar, also sailed from Malta pm 20.12 and consisted of CLAN FORBES and CLAN FRASER accompanied by the battleship MALAYA and escorted by the destroyers HASTY, HEREWARD, HERO, HYPERION and ILEX.

 

The main Fleet, having seen ME 5A clear of potential surface attack, turned westward and made contact with MG 1 at 1500 on 21.12 until 1930 when MALAYA, the convoy and the five destroyers proceeded westward to meet Force H, and the Fleet turned back for Alexandria.

During the further passage, HYPERION was mined and later sunk by the destroyer JANUS which had been sent out from Malta with the 14th Flotilla on receipt of information of the mining.

 

Force H was at sea under the operation name "Hide" to meet MALAYA and MG 1 and consisted of the battlecruiser RENOWN, carrier ARK ROYAL, cruisers SHEFFIELD and destroyers FAULKNOR, FIREDRAKE, FORESTER, FORTUNE and FOXHOUND with a further destroyer force of DUNCAN, ENCOUNTER, ISIS, JAGUAR and WISHART.

Force H, MALAYA and convoy MG 1 arrived at Gibraltar during 24.12 thus concluding the 1940 convoy operations to and from Malta.

 

 

 

1941

 

 

The 1941 convoy season opened with a complex operation from both Alexandria and Gibraltar, the former under the operation title MC 4 covering the passage of a fast convoy to Malta where one ship would enter while the remainder continued eastward, a fast and a slow convoy from Malta to the eastward and two Aegean convoys, under the title Operation EXCESS for the first part of the passage. In fact, the entire set of operations is now conveniently referred to under that single title in most accounts.

 

The rationale behind such an operation was the success of the earlier operations which seemed to indicate that a passage through the length of the Mediterranean was possible, but unfortunately a new factor had entered the equation - the German Air Force. While EXCESS was a success in that all the merchant ships completed their passage undamaged, the cost to the Mediterranean Fleet was high and served notice that such future operations should not be repeated until there was a drastic change of circumstances i.e. the British occupation of North Africa and air superiority in the central Mediterranean. Such circumstances did not arise for another two years.

 

 

Operation Excess

 

This convoy of CLAN CUMMING, CLAN FRASER, EMPIRE SONG and ESSEX sailed westward from Gibraltar at 1600 on 6.1 escorted by the cruiser BONAVENTURE and destroyers DUNCAN, HASTY, HEREWARD and HERO. The whole force reversed course after dark, passed through the Straits and was then covered by Force H, the battlecruiser RENOWN, battleship MALAYA, carrier ARK ROYAL, cruiser SHEFFIELD and destroyers DUNCAN, FAULKNOR, FIREDRAKE, FORESTER, FORTUNE, FOXHOUND, FURY and JAGUAR.

 

The following day MALAYA, FIREDRAKE and JAGUAR joined the convoy proper, Force H proceeded ahead and to the north as cover. During 9.1, ARK ROYAL flew off five Swordfish reinforcements to Malta.

 

Contact was made with units of the Mediterranean Fleet during the forenoon of 9.1 when the cruisers GLOUCESTER and SOUTHAMPTON and destroyer ILEX joined the convoy. Force H, except for BONAVENTURE and JAGUAR who were to go through to Malta, detached and returned westward shortly before dusk that day.

 

At 0720 on 10.1, two Italian torpedo boats were sighted to port of the convoy. JAGUAR, to port, and BONAVENTURE, astern, challenged and then engaged being joined by the other ships of the escort. After a prodigious expenditure of ammunition in the dawn light (BONAVENTURE alone expended 600 rounds of 5.25") the torpedo boat VEGA was stopped, and then sunk by the destroyer HEREWARD after some forty minutes action; the second opponent escaped.

 

The convoy and reinforced escort, joined shortly after the action by the main Fleet, continued its passage of the Narrows during which the destroyer GALLANT was mined, lost her bows, and had to be towed in to Malta. BONAVENTURE, GRIFFIN and MOHAWK escorting, the ships reached Malta 11.1 having been preceded by the Malta freighter, ESSEX, which arrived escorted by the destroyer HERO late on 10.1. Her cargo included 4000 tons of ammunition, 12 cased Hurricane fighters and 3000 tons of seed potatoes for the island. The passage of the remainder of the convoy was in company with ME 5½ and is recorded under that heading.

 

Movements of the Mediterranean Fleet - At this point it is advisable to record the early movements of the Mediterranean Fleet in connection with the three Malta convoys in the eastern basin plus the "Excess" convoy.

 

The cruisers GLOUCESTER and SOUTHAMPTON and the destroyers ILEX and JANUS sailed from Alexandria 6.1 for Malta loaded with Army and RAF personnel. After disembarking these, and fuelling, on 8.1 all ships sailed and met the eastbound Excess convoy as previously related.

 

The main Fleet sailed from Alexandria before dawn on 7.1, battleships VALIANT and WARSPITE, carrier ILLUSTRIOUS and destroyers DAINTY, GALLANT, GREYHOUND, GRIFFIN, JERVIS, MOHAWK and NUBIAN for Suda Bay, arriving 1230 8.1, where the destroyers fuelled. Sailing again at 1400, accompanied by the cruiser SYDNEY and destroyer STUART, which were detached to Alexandria midday 9.1 when the Fleet proceeded to make a rendezvous with the Excess convoy, and the two eastbound Malta convoys.

 

Convoy MW 5½ - This convoy sailed from Alexandria at 1400 on 7.1 escorted by the AA cruiser CALCUTTA and destroyers DEFENDER and DIAMOND and consisted of the commissioned transport BRECONSHIRE and freighter CLAN MACAULAY. The group was not attacked, and arrived safely at Malta at 0800 on 10.1. Cover was provided by the complex movements of the Mediterranean Fleet throughout its passage.

 

Convoy ME 5½ - Made up of two empty freighters, LANARKSHIRE and WAIWERA escorted by the AA cruiser CALCUTTA and destroyer DIAMOND, these ships sailed from Malta immediately after the arrival of the inward convoy MW 5½. CALCUTTA was detached almost immediately to join the "Excess" convoy somewhat ahead of ME 5½. Thereafter the convoy proceeded to join the EXCESS convoy later in the day and stayed with it until the morning of the 12.1 when it detached to pass south of Crete to arrive at Alexandria on 13.1.

 

Convoy ME 6 - This convoy comprised the slower freighters DEVIS, HOEGH HOOD, RODI, TROCAS and VOLO and the tankers PLUMLEAF and PONTFIELD, which sailed from Malta also on 10.1 escorted by the three corvettes HYACINTH, PEONY and SALVIA. It was intended that the cruisers GLOUCESTER and SOUTHAMPTON and destroyer DIAMOND should also join this convoy, but other matters intervened before this could take place. In the event, the cruisers AJAX, ORION, PERTH and YORK joined the convoy from Suda Bay mid morning 10.1, AJAX detaching again at noon. At dusk ORION and PERTH also detached leaving YORK as the escort, the corvettes also having detached to Suda Bay. The destroyer NUBIAN joined at 0800 12.1 and YORK left at 1000, the convoy arrived unscathed at Alexandria on 13.1.

 

Air attack on the Fleet - Presumably acting on the principal that, if the main component of the escort be eliminated the destruction of the escorted ships becomes easier, the heaviest attacks after the departure from Malta was directed first at the main Fleet and then at a detached cruiser force.

 

Unlike the earlier attacks which were conducted by the Italian Navy and Air Force, these later, and most destructive efforts, were mounted principally by German aircraft. The battle opened with an attack by Italian torpedo aircraft just after noon, which was evaded, then very shortly afterwards a large formation of German dive bombers arrived and commenced determined and highly skilled attacks aimed solely at the carrier ILLUSTRIOUS. In a series of strikes 6 direct hits and three near misses disabled the carrier, starting serious fires, rendering the flight deck unusable, putting half the armament out of action and damaging her steering.

 

Out of control and later steering with her main engines, the carrier left the Fleet and headed for Malta screened by HASTY and JAGUAR, suffering a further attack and again being hit en route. She finally berthed at Malta shortly after 2200 10.1, although her fires were not extinguished until 0300 11.1; she lost 126 dead and 91 wounded.

 

A further dive bombing attack was made on the main Fleet at 1700, concentrated on the battleship VALIANT, but with no major effect. However, the next day the dive bombers returned and made the cruiser force their target, GLOUCESTER was struck by a bomb which failed to explode but SOUTHAMPTON suffered three major hits that started large fires. Although fought with some initial success the battle was in vain and the ship was abandoned late that evening and sunk by torpedoes from the cruisers GLOUCESTER and ORION. GLOUCESTER lost 9 dead and 14 wounded, SOUTHAMPTON 80 dead and 87 wounded.

 

Passage of ILLUSTRIOUS from Malta to Alexandria - Although not strictly part of the convoy action related previously, it is appropriate to include the passage of the damaged carrier here arising, as it does, from the convoy action.

 

ILLUSTRIOUS lay at Malta from arrival on 10.1 until 23.1 making such repairs as were possible to fit her for sea. During this time there were a number of attacks, the first on the 13.1 being ineffective. Two large scale dive bomb attacks were mounted on 16.1 during which the ship was hit aft, where most of the previous damage had been concentrated, and a further attack on 19.1 in which near misses caused underwater damage and flooding.

 

No speed could be predicted for ILLUSTRIOUS when she sailed from Malta at 1846 on 23.1 steering south to get as far away from Sicilian air bases, where the German dive bombers were then located, as possible. Speed was worked up to 25 knots for six hours, then dropped to 21 but resumed 23 knots later on 24.1 at which speed she proceeded to Alexandria arriving at 1300 25.1 with only 60 tons of fuel remaining.

 

The carrier was screened by the destroyers GREYHOUND, JANUS, JERVIS and JUNO from Malta, the destroyers having been sent from Suda Bay. For the final leg of the passage to Alexandria, the battleships BARHAM and VALIANT, cruiser PERTH and destroyers DIAMOND, GRIFFIN, HASTY, MOHAWK, NUBIAN and STUART provided cover. A cruiser force also at sea failed to find the carrier as her speed was considerably greater than had been expected.

 


 

 

Return of BRECONSHIRE and CLAN MACAULAY

 

These two ships having gone to Malta in convoy MW 5½ were now ready to return. Accordingly, during the transfer of troops to Malta (see surface warship section) both freighters sailed from Malta at dusk 20.2, BRECONSHIRE escorted by HAVOCK and CLAN MACAULAY by HOTSPUR.

 

BRECONSHIRE and her escort joined the main Fleet covering force during 21.2 detaching late that day and arriving at Alexandria 22.2.

 

CLAN MACAULAY and her escort were reinforced by the AA cruiser COVENTRY on 21.2 and were attacked that afternoon by German aircraft. Despite having a bomb pass through her funnel, CLAN MACAULAY was otherwise undamaged and she and her escorts also arrived at Alexandria 22.2.

 

 

Convoy MW 6

 

This convoy involved the passing of four freighters to Malta and took place under the operation title of MC 9. Three ships CITY OF MANCHESTER, CLAN FERGUSON and PERTHSHIRE sailed from Haifa 19.3 escorted by the destroyers GRIFFIN and HOTS PUR while CITY OF LINCOLN sailed from Alexandria escorted by GREYHOUND. The ships made their junction north of Alexandria and proceeded close to western Crete to take advantage of fighter cover from Maleme airfield.

 

The main Fleet, battleships BARHAM, VALIANT and WARSPITE, carrier FORMIDABLE and destroyers HAVOCK, HERO, ILEX, JAGUAR, JANUS, JERVIS, JUNO, MOHAWK and NUBIAN sailed from Alexandria to cover the convoy and made the junction just as an air attack developed at midday 21.3. The cruiser BONAVENTURE from Suda Bay had already joined the convoy. At 1600 the cruisers AJAX, GLOUCESTER, ORION, PERTH and YORK and destroyers HASTY, HEREWARD and STUART joined the main Fleet, later the cruisers CALCUTTA, CARLISLE and COVENTRY reinforced the escort with the destroyer HAVOCK. During the night, the battlefleet cruised to the north of the convoy with the main cruiser force to the north of the Fleet.

 

All ships remained in contact throughout the 22.3, the Fleet leaving at sunset detaching MOHAWK and NUBIAN to join the convoy escort replacing CARLISLE and COVENTRY. The convoy and escort arrived undamaged at Malta at 0700 23.3. Air attack on Malta commenced almost on arrival and CITY OF LINCOLN received minor damage while PERTHSHIRE was hit forward and set on fire.

 

 

Operations MD 2 and MD 3

 

These two operations were intended to supply Malta, retrieve empty ships in the island, and to create a diversion by bombarding Tripoli.

 

The operation commenced on 18.4 with the Fleet, consisting of the battleships BARHAM, VALIANT and WARSPITE, carrier FORMIDABLE, cruisers CALCUTTA and PHOEBE and destroyers DEFENDER, ENCOUNTER, GRIFFIN, HAVELOCK, HEREWARD, JAGUAR, KIMBERLEY and KINGSTON sailing from Alexandria for Suda Bay to fuel. Twelve hours behind the Fleet, BRECONSHIRE escorted by the cruiser PERTH and destroyer HOTSPUR also sailed. The Fleet fuelled at Suda Bay on 19.4, and sailed at 1630 south westward to meet BRECONSHIRE.

 

 

Convoy ME 7

 

At dusk on 19.4 this convoy sailed from Malta, consisting of the empty CITY OF LINCOLN, CITY OF MANCHESTER, CLAN FERGUSON and PERTHSHIRE escorted by the destroyers DIAMOND, JANUS, JERVIS and NUBIAN.

 

The Fleet was joined by the cruisers AJAX, GLOUCESTER and ORION and destroyers HASTY and HERO at 0800 on 20.4, at which time BRECONSHIRE and her escort also met the Fleet.

 

At noon that day the eastbound ME 7 was met, JANUS and JERVIS joined the Fleet and ME 7 continued to Alexandria escorted by CALCUTTA and PHOEBE and destroyers DIAMOND and NUBIAN, arriving without incident.

 

The Fleet continued westward without incident, detached BRECONSHIRE escorted by the destroyer ENCOUNTER to Malta at dusk, and then steered southward to bombard Tripoli at 0500 on 21.4. On completion the Fleet withdrew having met no opposition other than shadowing aircraft throughout the operation. JANUS and JERVIS were detached at dusk to return to Malta.

 

Finally, after a rapid unloading, BRECONSHIRE was sailed from Malta on 28.4 escorted by the cruiser DIDO, minelayer ABDIEL and destroyers IMPERIAL, JAGUAR, JERVIS and JUNO. After a quiet passage all ships arrived at Alexandria completing, so far as the warships were concerned, Operation SALIENT.

 

 

Operation TIGER

 

With the evacuation of Greece and Crete, while the Army had recovered many personnel through the efforts of the Mediterranean Fleet, almost all the heavy equipment had been lost. Accordingly, despite previous experience, the passage of a convoy of fast ships from Gibraltar to Alexandria was ordered by the government. Quite why this opportunity of also supplying Malta was ignored is not recorded in naval records. As the decision to mount the operation was entirely political it must be assumed that the needs of Malta were not even considered in the urgency of the time. Even one fast freighter to Malta would have made a major contribution to the island's supply situation, and it is difficult to follow the rationale of the London decision. As Malta contributed in the support of the convoy, it is recorded here as an example of a lost opportunity.

 

Five ships, CLAN CAMPBELL, CLAN CHATTAN, CLAN LAMONT, EMPIRE SONG and NEW ZEALAND STAR were sailed from the Clyde 28.4 with the Cape troop convoy WS 8A. These ships detached from the main convoy on 2.5 escorted by the battlecruiser REPULSE, cruiser NAIAD and destroyers HARVESTER, HAVELOCK and HESPERUS to proceed through the Straits to Malta and beyond. NAIAD was sent on ahead to make report on the state of the convoy as CLAN CAMPBELL had suffered serious defects that gave cause to believe she could not proceed beyond Gibraltar. In the event this was not the case.

 

In addition to the ships of the convoy, certain naval units were also to pass through to the east to reinforce the Mediterranean Fleet, the principal ship being the battleship QUEEN ELIZABETH which arrived at Gibraltar from Freetown on 30.4.

 

QUEEN ELIZABETH, FEARLESS, FORESIGHT, FORTUNE and VELOX sailed from Gibraltar westward at 1600 4.5 to relieve REPULSE and her destroyers with the five ship convoy, the destroyers proceeding to Gibraltar to fuel. Force H, the battlecruiser RENOWN, and cruisers FIJI and SHEFFIELD sailed later to meet the incoming convoy, while the destroyers KASHMIR and KIPLING carried out A/S sweeps in the Straits.

 

The convoy passed the Straits at 0130 and the main body of warships at 0430 on 6.5; organisation was as follows:

 

The convoy of five merchant ships escorted by destroyers FEARLESS, FORESIGHT, FORTUNE, KASHMIR and KIPLING while the warships were organised as the escort (Force H) RENOWN, ARK ROYAL and SHEFFIELD screened by HARVESTER, HAVELOCK and HESPERUS. The reinforcements for the east consisted of QUEEN ELIZABETH, FIJI, GLOUCESTER and NAIAD screened by FAULKNOR, FORESTER and FURY. The destroyers VELOX and WRESTLER provided local escort from Gibraltar.

 

GLOUCESTER with KASHMIR and KIPLING had been off Malta and should have joined the operation there. However, the harbour and adjacent anchorage was blocked and fouled by mines so that the three ships were ordered to Gibraltar, GLOUCESTER being bombed en route. Fortunately, the bomb failed to explode, merely making a 2' 6" hole in the quarterdeck and ship's bottom, a mine exploded in her paravane also caused some flooding of oil fuel tanks. Arriving at Gibraltar on 4.5, she was at once docked and remedial measures taken so that she could join the operation.

 

On 8.5 all forces concentrated on the convoy as it approached the danger area, the first shadowing aircraft arriving and reporting the ships just before noon and the first attack, by Italian torpedo bombers, commenced at 1345. It was repelled without damage to convoy or escorts. Further Italian bombing attacks during the afternoon were also without success. At 2015, RENOWN, ARK ROYAL, SHEFFIELD and the screen of HARVESTER, HAVELOCK and HESPERUS turned back for Gibraltar. As they did so another Italian torpedo attack developed, while it was avoided it was pressed home with great gallantry. During the action RENOWN suffered damage when her P3 4.5" mounting suffered a control failure and fired into the rear of P2 mounting, killing 6 and wounding 26 of the guns crew.

 

At this stage of Operation TIGER the participation of the eastern forces becomes crucial and TIGER becomes part of the overall Mediterranean Fleet operation MD 4.

 

Convoy MW 7A  - A four ship, 14 knot convoy, made up of the freighters AMERIKA, SETTLER, THERMOPYLAE and TALABOT escorted by the cruisers CALCUTTA, DIDO and PHOEBE and destroyers HEREWARD, HERO, ILEX and ISIS sailing from Alexandria on 6.5 and due at Malta 10.5 as the TIGER convoy passed the island.

 

Convoy MW 7B - A convoy of two 10kt tankers HOEGH HOOD and SVENØR escorted by the cruisers CARLISLE and COVENTRY, destroyers DECOY, DEFENDER and GREYHOUND, corvette GLOXINIA (which was equipped for magnetic minesweeping) and minesweeper SWONA sailing from Alexandria on 5.5 and due at Malta 10.5.

 

Both these convoys were covered by the Mediterranean Fleet of the battleships BARHAM, VALIANT and WARSPITE, carrier FORMIDABLE, cruisers AJAX, ORION and PERTH and destroyers GRIFFIN, HAVOCK, HOTSPUR, IMPERIAL, JAGUAR, JERVIS, JUNO, KANDAHAR, KIMBERLEY, KINGSTON, NAPIER and NIZAM. Accompanying the fleet were the fast minelayer ABDIEL with contact mines and the commissioned transport BRECONSHIRE with stores and fuels for Malta. The Fleet sailed from Alexandria on 6.5.

 

The eastern operations up to 10 May - Shortly after sailing, DEFENDER had to leave MW 7B due to defects and return to Alexandria.

 

At 1130 on 7.5 AJAX, HAVOCK, HOTS PUR and IMPERIAL were detached to carry out a bombardment of Benghazi that night both to inflict damage and as a diversion. This force carried out its task and rejoined the Fleet at 1700 8.5, reporting the probable destruction of two freighters off the port.

 

After dusk on 8.5 the five AA capable cruisers CALCUTTA, CARLISLE, COVENTRY, DIDO and PHOEBE were detached and sent ahead to join the TIGER convoy while BRECONSHIRE escorted by HAVOCK, HOTSPUR and IMPERIAL (all fitted with M/S gear) proceeded direct to Malta. Both the MW convoys arrived at Malta by noon 9.5 and at 1515 the Fleet met the TIGER convoy. The narrative must now consider the actions of those ships.

 

After the detachment of Force H, the TIGER convoy and supporting ships continued eastward with no problems until midnight on 8.5 when NEW ZEALAND STAR exploded a mine in her paravanes, within three minutes EMPIRE SONG had struck two mines, or exploded them close aboard in her paravanes, and was forced to leave the line and report a fire in the hold containing ammunition.

 

FORESIGHT and FORTUNE left the screen and stood by the EMPIRE SONG, FORESIGHT then going alongside and taking off her crew. After consideration it was decided that the ship might be saved and a volunteer party from FORESIGHT of RN and MN officers and ratings was sent over by whaler just as EMPIRE SONG blew up, distributing tanks, ammunition and portions of ship's structure over the area. The whaler was sunk, fortunately with the loss of only one life, and the two destroyers rejoined the convoy with FORESIGHT loaded with 130 survivors, she was ordered to Malta to land these and therefore left the convoy.

 

The cruisers DIDO and PHOEBE joined at 0600 9.5, and CALCUTTA, CARLISLE and COVENTRY at 0800 while the main Fleet was met at 1515.

 

On the eastward passage, destroyers were detached and carried out a further bombardment of Benghazi - 866 rounds of 4.7" being placed in the harbour area in 9 minutes. Operation TIGER was concluded by the convoy's arrival at Alexandria at noon 12.5 having suffered only the loss of EMPIRE SONG, the Army and RAF thereby receiving reinforcements in the form of 238 tanks, 64 Hurricane fighters and a considerable tonnage of ammunition etc.

 


 

 

Operation SUBSTANCE

 

This operation covers the delivery of convoy GM 1 to Malta, and the recovery of empty ships from Malta to Gibraltar, convoy MG 1. Confusion might arise through the use of these designations, GM 1 had been used in 9.39 as a convoy designation for liners from the Clyde to Port Said and beyond, while MG 1 was later used as an Operation title by the Mediterranean Fleet in 3.42 covering the passage of convoy MW 10.

 

The ships and forces from the UK sailed from the Clyde in convoy WS 9C on 11.7, the merchant ships being the freighters CITY OF PRETORIA, DEUCALION, DURHAM, MELBOURNE STAR, PORT CHALMERS, SYDNEY STAR and the small personnel ship LEINSTER bound for Malta plus the large personnel ship PASTEUR with troops for Malta to be trans-shipped at Gibraltar. Accompanying the merchantmen were the cruisers ARETHUSA and MANCHESTER, minelayer MANXMAN and destroyers COSSACK, LIGHTNING, MAORI, NESTOR and SIKH.

 

PASTEUR detached from the convoy 17.7 escorted by MANCHESTER, LIGHTNING and NESTOR, joined by AVON VALE, ERIDGE and FARNDALE sent out from Gibraltar and arrived at Gibraltar on 19.7.

 

LEINSTER also detached on 17.7 escorted by ARETHUSA, COSSACK, MAORI and SIKH and arrived at Gibraltar early am on 20.7. Unfortunately, on sailing the following day, she ran aground and was unable to take in further part in the operation.

 

MANXMAN also detached from WS 9C and arrived at Gibraltar on 19.7.

 

The operation commenced on 21.7 with the departure of the oiler BROWN RANGER escorted by the destroyer BEVERLEY to provide refuelling within the Mediterranean for the destroyers escorting the convoy. The ships of the convoy from WS 9C passed through the Strait at 0145 on 21.7 during a foggy, squally night escorted by the battleship NELSON, cruiser EDINBURGH, minelayer MANXMAN and destroyers AVON VALE, ERIDGE, FARNDALE, FURY and LIGHTNING and were met by ARETHUSA, MANCHESTER, COSSACK, MAORI, NESTOR and SIKH followed later that day by Force H, the battlecruiser RENOWN, carrier ARK ROYAL, cruiser HERMIONE and destroyers FAULKNOR, FEARLESS, FIREDRAKE, FORESIGHT, FORESTER, FOXHOUND and DUNCAN. The destroyers of the convoy fuelled as required during 22.7 from BROWN RANGER, ten ships in pairs, on completion of which the tanker and BEVERLEY returned to Gibraltar arriving on 23.7.

 

On 23.7, convoy MG 1A of BRECONSHIRE, AMERIKA, HOEGH HOOD, SETTLER, SVENØR, TALABOT and THERMOPYLAE sailed from Malta escorted by the destroyer ENCOUNTER. Unfortunately, SVENØR hit the breakwater on departure and had to return for repairs, the remaining ships steamed westward to meet the oncoming warships.

 

Shadowing aircraft reported Force H and the convoy on 23.7 and heavy air attacks developed at about 1000 during which the cruiser MANCHESTER and destroyer FEARLESS were both torpedoed. MANCHESTER was ordered back to Gibraltar accompanied by the destroyer AVON VALE, FEARLESS was beyond salvage and had to be sunk. Later in the day FIREDRAKE was also hit while minesweeping ahead of the convoy and had to be towed towards Gibraltar by ERIDGE. She eventually reached that base under her own steam on 27.7, escorted by AVON VALE and ERIDGE. Meanwhile WISHART, sent out from Gibraltar, had taken over the escort of MANCHESTER and sent AVON VALE to reinforce ERIDGE.

 

In the dusk of 23.7 the convoy now headed towards Sicily in a successful endeavour to avoid detection. In fact only two attacks, both by motor torpedo boats, were made on the convoy, although SYDNEY STAR was hit in the second she remained afloat and continued her passage to Malta after some 500 troops onboard had been taken off by the destroyer NESTOR; it is worthy of note that the Australian manned NESTOR already had crew and passengers of her own of 300 prior to this transfer.

 

Early on 24.7, ARETHUSA, EDINBURGH and MANXMAN left the convoy and went on at high speed to Malta to land troops and stores, arriving in the island at noon followed four hours later by the convoy. The cruisers, plus HERMIONE which brought in SYDNEY STAR sailed that evening to return to Gibraltar escorted by COSSACK, FOXHOUND, MAORI, NESTOR and SIKH, leaving FARNDALE at Malta with defects.

 

Convoy MG 1 - The six ships of this convoy, after clearing Maltese waters, split into three pairs dictated by their speed capability, with the destroyer ENCOUNTER escorting the second pair. All ships were attacked, and HOEGH HOOD damaged by an aerial torpedo, but survived and arrived at Gibraltar, BRECONSHIRE and TALABOT with ENCOUNTER early on 26.7, AMERIKA and THERMOPYLAE pm that day, SETTLER at 0230 on 27.7 with the damaged HOEGH HOOD at 0830, while the damaged SVENØR, after some swift work by Malta Dockyard, arrived alone on 28.7.

 

During SUBSTANCE, the Mediterranean Fleet sailed on 22.7 and feinted toward Malta to give the impression that the convoy was to be a repeat of TIGER. The Fleet remained at sea until 24.7 and then returned to Alexandria and Port Said.

 


 

 

Operation MINCEMEAT

 

In fact a minelaying operation off Livorno covered by Force H from Gibraltar, the events of this operation were used to provide cover for the return of two of the transports from the GM 1 convoy. The fast freighter DURHAM left Malta after dark 21.8 and, despite suffering mine damage forward, arrived at Gibraltar on 24.8. The freighter DEUCALION sailed on 26 Aug, accompanied by the destroyer FARNDALE which had been detained at Malta with defects; both ships arrived safely at Gibraltar on 26.8.

 

 


 

 

Operation HALBARD

 

Basically a repeat of SUBSTANCE, the passage of a Gibraltar to Malta convoy GM 2, and the recovery of three of the remaining four empty freighters at Malta under the convoy title MG 2.

 

Nine transports were scheduled for Malta, BRECONSHIRE, AJAX, CITY OF CALCUTTA, CITY OF LINCOLN, CLAN FERGUSON, CLAN MACDONALD, DUNEDIN STAR, IMPERIAL STAR and ROWALLAN CASTLE. Escort was to be provided by Force H, substantially reinforced from the Home Fleet, the preliminary movements getting under way on 11.9 when the cruiser EDINBURGH was sailed from Simonstown for Gibraltar.

 

On 12.9 the cruiser SHEFFIELD was sailed from the Clyde for Gibraltar with 300 personnel and a supply of Oerlikon guns and mountings to strengthen the AA defences of Force H, she arrived on 17.9.

 

The ships for Malta, and their Home Fleet escorts, sailed from the Clyde as convoy WS 11X also on 17.9. Again, there is a duplication of convoy titles here as WS 11X was also used for a large component of the WS 11 convoy, steaming in the Indian Ocean in 10.41. The convoy included all the transports previously named plus the liner STRATHEDEN (for two days only), the commissioned assault ships QUEEN EMMA, PRINCESS BEATRIX, ROYAL SCOTSMAN and ULSTER MONARCH and the transport LEINSTER. The four assault ships were destined for Freetown and LEINSTER for Gibraltar and took no part in the transit to Malta.

 

Escort for the convoy from the Clyde was the battleship PRINCE OF WALES, cruisers EURYALUS and KENYA, and destroyers GARLAND, ISAAC SWEERS, LAFOREY, LIGHTNING, ORIBI and PIORUN. From Gibraltar FORESIGHT, FORESTER, GURKHA, LANCE, LEGION and ZULU sailed on 18.9 and joined the escort the next day.

 

Commencing on 19.9 there began a complex shuffling of forces at Gibraltar, partly to fuel ships for the Mediterranean passage, partly to reinforce the convoy's escort on the approach to the Strait and also in an attempt to confuse enemy observers. Thus SHEFFIELD sailed on 19.9 to join the convoy, followed by the destroyer LIVELY at noon on 20.9. EURYALUS and KENYA arrived at Gibraltar after dark 22.9, fuelled and sailed before dawn to rejoin the convoy, the following day PRINCE OF WALES with LAFOREY, LIGHTNING and ORIBI did likewise, while the destroyers COSSACK, FARNDALE and HEYTHROP also sailed to join on 24.9 as additional escort. Finally, on 24 Sept the battleship RODNEY, on passage to the UK from Bermuda, arrived at Gibraltar at 0900 escorted by GARLAND, ISAAC SWEERS and PIORUN who were to fuel, and berthed close to NELSON. NELSON sailed later that day to join the convoy, with RODNEY's escort, leaving RODNEY in her berth flying the Admiral's flag and ostentatiously exchanging farewell signals in the hope it would be reported that the movement was a simple exchange of ships en route to the UK.

 

The cruiser EDINBURGH sailed at noon to join the convoy, FORESIGHT, FORESTER, GURKHA, LANCE, LEGION, LIVELY and ZULU called to fuel and sailed again after dark with the rest of Force H - RODNEY, ARK ROYAL, HERMIONE and destroyer DUNCAN. Finally, the oiler BROWN RANGER escorted by the corvette FLEUR DE LYS sailed at dusk to provide a fuelling rendezvous within the Mediterranean, and the rescue tug ST DAY on 26.9 to take up a waiting position in case of need. All ships that sailed during daylight on 24.9 steamed westward, only reversing course for the Strait after dark.

 

The convoy passed through the Strait at 0130 on 25.9 with the close escort formed of EDINBURGH, EURYALUS, HERMIONE, KENYA, SHEFFIELD and destroyers COSSACK, FARNDALE, FORESIGHT, FORESTER, HEYTHROP, LAFOREY, LIGHTNING, ORIBI and ZULU with the reinforced Force H of NELSON, PRINCE OF WALES and RODNEY, ARK ROYAL and screened by DUNCAN, FURY, GARLAND, GURKHA, ISAAC SWEERS, LANCE, LEGION, LIVELY and PIORUN.

 

After an initial rendezvous at 0900 on 25.9, the two groups of warships again divided and steamed separately until 27.9 when they would join for the most dangerous part of the passage. The ruse was successful and the Italian command was unaware of the full strength of the fleet or of its destination and it was not until early on 27.9 that the Italian Fleet was ordered to effect a concentration to intercept the convoy.

 

Air attacks commenced at 1300 by Italian torpedo bombers and continued for an hour with the result that NELSON was hit right forward, damage that limited her speed to 15 knots; fortunately this was the convoy speed also so that she remained with the covering force.

 

Shortly after NELSON was damaged the Italian Fleet was reported some 75 miles from the convoy. Accordingly the undamaged PRINCE OF WALES and RODNEY, cruisers EDINBURGH and SHEFFIELD escorted by six destroyers, were sent out to intercept, followed at her best speed by NELSON. ARK ROYAL also prepared an air strike. The Italian ships withdrew, however, and the projected strike by ARK ROYAL failed as the shadowers could not find the Italian ships. Accordingly the ships returned to the convoy and, at 1900, the main force turned west to return to Gibraltar while the convoy and its close escort continued its passage.

 

Torpedo aircraft continued to attack after dark, and finally succeeded in hitting the transport IMPERIAL STAR. Towing proving impossible, the destroyer HEYTHROP took off the 300 troops and crew and the ship was left sinking and burning after her scuttling charges were fired and she was shelled by ORIBI.

 

During the night the cruiser HERMIONE closed Pantellaria and carried out a bombardment, dropped smoke floats and generally behaving to create an impression that the convoy was passing the island, it was in fact well to the north.

 

No further attacks developed and at dawn fighters from Malta commenced continuous air cover. At 0830 EURYALUS, HERMIONE, KENYA and SHEFFIELD went on ahead of the convoy and arrived at Malta at 1120, guards and bands paraded, to cheers from immense crowds ashore. They disembarked their troops and stores and sailed again at 1830. The convoy, escorted by EDINBURGH and the destroyers, arrived early in the afternoon without further loss.

 

During this operation, the MELBOURNE STAR sailed from Malta alone on 26.9 and arrived at Gibraltar without incident on the 29.9. CITY OF PRETORIA and PORT CHALMERS sailed at dark 27.9, briefly with a local corvette escort, and then steamed together for Gibraltar. During the night PORT CHALMERS drove off a MTB attack. The ships separated at dawn and went on alone under French colours, PORT CHALMERS arrived at Gibraltar on the 30.9 without having been attacked, and was followed some hours later by CITY OF PRETORIA which had beaten off an attack by three torpedo bombers and evaded two probable submarine attacks.

 

The convoy escort, having sailed from Malta at dusk on 28.9, returned to Gibraltar along the North African coast and was attacked on several occasions by submarines. No damage ensued from these, other than the destruction of the Italian submarine ADUA by GURKHA and LEGION on 30.9.

 

The main body of the force returned to Gibraltar at various times during 30.9, remaining ships by 0830 on 1.10, and the reinforcements commenced their return to the UK that day.

 


 

 

Return of BRECONSHIRE to Alexandria

 

BRECONSHIRE, lying empty at Malta since arrival in MG 1, was ordered to Alexandria and sailed on 5.12 escorted by the destroyers KIMBERLEY and KINGSTON, cover being provided by the cruisers AJAX and NEPTUNE and destroyer LIVELY. The combined force was subjected to air attack on the 6.12, with no damage, and later that day the covering force separated from BRECONSHIRE and her escort. The cruisers CARLISLE, GALATEA and HOBART and destroyer HOTSPUR from Alexandria met the convoy on 7.12 and all ships arrived at Alexandria on 8.12.

 

 

Passage of BRECONSHIRE to Malta

 

BRECONSHIRE, escorted by the cruisers CARLISLE, EURYALUS, NAIAD and destroyers DECOY, HAVOCK, HASTY, JERVIS, KIMBERLEY, KINGSTON, KIPLING and NIZAM sailed from Alexandria on 15.12 for Malta. CARLISLE was detached late on 16.12, and Force K cruisers AURORA and PENELOPE and destroyers LANCE and LIVELY sailed from Malta, meeting the incoming ships at first light on 17.12.

 

Numerous air attacks were made during that afternoon, and reports were also received that the Italian fleet was at sea. Just before dusk the Italian ships were sighted, and BRECONSHIRE was ordered away from their approach escorted by DECOY and HAVOCK, the remainder of the escort preparing for a night action. In the ensuing brief action in the dark, touch with the enemy was lost, and contact between our own ships became fragmented, so that no close encounter took place. BRECONSHIRE, her escort and Force K, augmented by the cruiser NEPTUNE and destroyers JAGUAR and KANDAHAR, arrived safely at Malta on 18.12, while remaining ships returned to Alexandria.

 

 

Convoy ME 8

 

There was now considerable congestion at Malta with a number of empty vessels accumulated from previous convoys, and the opportunity was taken of the passage of DIDO and attendant destroyers to the east to clear the harbour.

 

On 26.12 the freighters AJAX, CITY OF CALCUTTA, CLAN FERGUSON and SYDNEY STAR were sailed escorted by the cruisers AJAX and DIDO and destroyers ARROW, FOXHOUND, GURKHA, LANCE, LIVELY and NESTOR. At the same time the cruiser CARLISLE and destroyers ISAAC SWEERS, MAORI, NAPIER and NIZAM were sailed from Alexandria. ISAAC SWEERS received weather damage and had to be detached to Alexandria later the first day, the remaining ships met the convoy at dawn on 28.12, at which point LANCE and LIVELY detached to return to Malta.

 

Air attacks on the convoy occurred throughout the 28.12 but with only minor splinter damage to some ships all of which arrived safely at Alexandria on 29.12, SYDNEY STAR being sent on to Port Said escorted by NIZAM.

 

This convoy concluded the 1941 operations, only BRECONSHIRE and ROWALLAN CASTLE remaining at Malta at the end of the year.

 

 

 

1942

 

 

Operation MF 2

 

The purpose of this operation was to pass the assault ship GLENGYLE to Malta with stores, and retrieve BRECONSHIRE from the island. The cruisers EURYALUS and NAIAD and destroyers FOXHOUND, GURKHA, KINGSTON, KIPLING and SIKH accordingly sailed from Alexandria on 6.1 escorting GLENGYLE, while the destroyers HAVOCK, JAGUAR, LANCE and LIVELY sailed from Malta the same day with BRECONSHIRE.

 

Rendezvous of the two forces was made at 1300 on 7.1 when BRECONSHIRE and HAVOCK joined the Alexandria force and GLENGYLE and SIKH that from Malta. Both forces then returned to their bases with their charges, no incidents occurring during either voyage.

 

 

Operation MF 3

 

Under this codename, two convoys MW 8A and MW 8B were to be passed through to Malta, both sailing from Alexandria at differing times on 16.1.

 

MW 8A consisted of the freighters AJAX and THERMOPYLAE escorted by destroyers ARROW, GRIFFIN, HASTY and HERO, and MW 8B of CITY OF CALCUTTA and CLAN FERGUSON escorted by GURKHA, ISAAC SWEERS, LEGION and MAORI. The covering force was, after last minute casualties when leaving harbour, the cruisers DIDO, EURYALUS and NAIAD and destroyers HAVOCK, KELVIN and KIPLING. Additionally, Force K, the cruiser PENELOPE and destroyers JAGUAR, LANCE, LIVELY and SIKH were ordered to sail from Malta on 17.1 to meet the convoy on 18.1.

 

During the passage of the two convoys, which were due to join on 18.1, GURKHA was torpedoed and set on fire. Very gallant action onboard, and by the Dutch destroyer ISAAC SWEERS, enabled a considerable number of survivors to be rescued.

 

Late on 17.1 THERMOPYLAE straggled due to inability to make the convoy speed and steering difficulties, she was therefore detached with the cruiser CARLISLE and destroyers ARROW and HAVOCK and ordered to Benghazi. The group was attacked at about 0930 on 19.1, THERMOPYLAE was hit and set on fire and had to be sunk by the escort ARROW, 207 survivors being taken into HAVOCK and 54 by ARROW of a total crew and passengers of 385.

 

The remainder of the convoys made their rendezvous with Force K at 1315 on 18.1, MAORI transferred to Force K for Malta and JAGUAR to the Alexandria force, and the escorts parted company at 1930. Although subject to air attack en route, all ships arrived safely at Malta by mid afternoon on 19.1.

 

 

Operation MF 4

 

This movement in late January was to exchange ROWALLAN CASTLE, the last of the 1941 ships held at Malta, and GLENGYLE with the loaded BRECONSHIRE from Alexandria.

 

The cruisers CARLISLE, DIDO, EURYALUS and NAIAD and destroyers ARROW, GRIFFIN, HASTY, ISAAC SWEERS, JAGUAR, KELVIN, KINGSTON and KIPLING sailed with BRECONSHIRE from Alexandria on 24.1. The cruiser PENELOPE and destroyers LANCE, LEGION, LIVELY, MAORI and ZULU sailed with GLENGYLE and ROWALLAN CASTLE from Malta on 25.1.

 

There were persistent air attacks on the BRECONSHIRE convoy during 25.1, and on the GLENGYLE convoy on 26.1, but no damage to either group.

 

The convoy met shortly after noon on 26.1 and the escorts exchanged the destroyers LANCE and KINGSTON, the latter to be refitted at Malta. There were further air attacks on both forces, but no damage, BRECONSHIRE reached Malta on 27.1 and GLENGYLE and ROWALLAN CASTLE Alexandria on 28.1.

 

 

Operation MF 5

 

This operation was to pass the loaded convoy MW 9 of three ships into Malta, and retrieve 4 empty ships in convoy ME 10. The possibility of success was much lower than in previous operations as the enemy had largely neutralised the Malta fighters and ejected the Army from western Cyrenaica, control of the air now rested with the German Air Force.

 

MW 9 sailed as two sections, MW 9A of CLAN CAMPBELL and CLAN CHATTAN escorted by the cruiser CARLISLE and destroyers AVON VALE, ERIDGE, HEYTHROP and LANCE and MW 9B of ROWALLAN CASTLE escorted by BEAUFORT, DULVERTON, HURWORTH and SOUTHWOLD, on 12.2 to proceed to the vicinity of Tobruk, there to combine and steam northward overnight to Malta. Cover was provided by the cruisers DIDO, EURYALUS and NAIAD and destroyers ARROW, GRIFFIN, HASTY, HAVOCK, JAGUAR, JERVIS, KELVIN and KIPLING sailing from Alexandria on 13.2.

 

MW 9A was attacked late on 13.2 as the two sections were making contact, and CLAN CAMPBELL received serious damage. As her speed was impaired she was ordered in to Tobruk escorted by AVON VALE and ERIDGE, the remaining two freighters continuing. The covering force joined the combined convoy at dawn on 14.2.

 

During 14.2 sporadic attacks were made on the force, just before dusk a single aircraft was fortunate to obtain a hit on CLAN CHATTAN starting a fire in a hold containing ammunition. SOUTHWOLD went alongside and took off 285 crew and passengers, while AVON VALE (returned from Benghazi) BEAUFORT and DULVERTON rescued those in the water.

 

Force K and convoy ME 10 from Malta approached the outward convoy as CLAN CHATTAN was burning, having itself escaped attack so far. The two escorts transferred ROWALLAN CASTLE, LANCE joined the Malta squadron, FORTUNE and DECOY the Alexandria ships and both forces went their separate ways.

 

Force K was again attacked at 1500, and the sole surviving merchant ship was hit and stopped. While ROWALLAN CASTLE's Master hoped to get her under way again and she was towed by ZULU while attempts were made, this had to be abandoned shortly after 1900 and all passengers were taken off by LANCE. After the wreck had been sunk, LIVELY, SIKH and ZULU were ordered to join the Alexandria squadron with the remainder of Force K returning to Malta at daylight on 15.2.

 

ME 10 was attacked frequently throughout 14 and 15.2, fortunately in a somewhat uncoordinated manner, and escaped damage. At 1030 15.2 BEAUFORT, DULVERTON, HURWORTH and SOUTHWOLD were detached to Tobruk; DECOY, LIVELY, SIKH and ZULU were sent on at high speed to Alexandria at 2000 and CARLISLE was sent to join CLAN CAMPBELL at midnight. In the forenoon of 16.2 FORTUNE, JAGUAR, JERVIS, KELVIN and KIPLING took AJAX, CITY OF CALCUTTA and CLAN FERGUSON on to Port Said while the remainder of the force and BRECONSHIRE entered Alexandria.

 

The end of this chapter of relative disaster was with the four Hunt class sent to Tobruk on 15.2 distributing survivors amongst the four ships and then escorting the damaged CLAN CAMPBELL towards Alexandria. Joined by CARLISLE early on 16.2 the small party arrived safely later that day.

 

 

Operation MG 1

 

Not to be confused with the 1941 convoy of this title from Malta to Gibraltar, this operation concerned convoy MW 10 to Malta from Alexandria in March, the last such operation planned by Admiral A B Cunningham prior to his leaving the Mediterranean.

 

Four ships were despatched to Malta, BRECONSHIRE, CLAN CAMPBELL, PAMPAS and TALABOT sailing am 20.3 escorted by the cruiser CARLISLE and destroyers HASTY, HAVOCK, HERO, LIVELY, SIKH and ZULU; CLEOPATRA, DIDO and EURYALUS with the destroyers JERVIS, KELVIN, KINGSTON and KIPLING followed later that day. Both forces met am 21.3 north of Tobruk, also joined at the RV by AVON VALE, BEAUFORT, DULVERTON, ERIDGE, HURWORTH and SOUTHWOLD from Tobruk; while PENELOPE and LEGION from Malta arrived with the force at 0800 22.3.

 

At 1410 22.3 the first sighting of the Italian fleet was made by EURYALUS and the scene was set for what is now referred to as the Second Battle of Sirte. CARLISLE and AVON VALE, detailed as smoke screen layers as well as AA ships, joined the convoy which came under heavy air attack. This was beaten off without loss, and the main cruiser force closed on the convoy as additional AA protection.

 

At 1630, in heavy seas and poor visibility caused both by weather and the effects of numerous smoke screens, the surface action between the British cruisers and destroyers and the Italian fleet commenced whilst the air attacks on the convoy continued. A spirited action ensued until 1900 with the British ships constantly laying smoke and threatening and making torpedo attack under its cover and engaging the Italian battle line at ranges down to 6000 yards. The effect on Italian ships was minor, 5.25" and 4.7" shell can make no impression on heavy armour and none of the 36 torpedoes fired actually hit. Nevertheless, the vastly superior Italian force was prevented from ever engaging the convoy which proceeded on its way to Malta unscathed by the surface forces.

 

The convoy meanwhile suffered four hours of continual air attack but without damage and the escort inflicted numerous losses on the attacking aircraft.

 

At dusk the Alexandria force turned east to return to base, PENELOPE and LEGION joined the convoy which continued towards Malta. At 0915 23.3 PENELOPE and TALABOT entered Grand Harbour followed shortly afterwards by PAMPAS who had been bombed, fortunately neither hits exploding. Good fortune now deserted the convoy, BRECONSHIRE being hit and disabled when only 8 miles off the harbour. Unable to proceed she eventually anchored off, while CLAN CAMPBELL was hit an hour later 20 miles off Malta and sank very quickly. The ferocity of the attacks in the last miles can be judged by the fact that CLAN CAMPBELL was hit by an aircraft flying at fifty feet despite being closely protected by ERIDGE.

 

Of the escorts, LEGION was damaged in the final hours and beached at Marsaxlokk, though taken in to Grand Harbour later she was sunk there by bombing on 26.3. BRECONSHIRE, towed in to Marsaxlokk on 25.3, was again bombed and finally sunk on 27.3; SOUTHWOLD was mined and sunk on 24.3 while standing guard over BRECONSHIRE.

 

The ultimate disaster occurred after the arrival of the two surviving ships, unloading was slow and the German Air Force reaction rapid and violent, both PAMPAS and TALABOT being heavily hit on 26.3 both being sunk (in the case of TALABOT scuttled due to the risk of explosion) and very little of their cargoes were unloaded. Some reports speak of 6,000 tons out of 26,000 tons despatched, this is a high figure in view of the brief time that the two survivors were worked on in harbour, unloading rates and time available indicate a more likely figure of 800 tons, which is the figure quoted by the AOC Malta! It is probable that the discrepancy can be accounted for by tonnage recovered from the wrecks over a period of time.

 

The weary Alexandria force, except LIVELY sent in to Tobruk after damage, arrived in Alexandria at noon 24.3 after an action that can only be described as "brilliant" in any circumstances.

 

 

 

Operations HARPOON and VIGOROUS

 

A critical situation in Malta, with supplies rapidly running out and the fighter situation desperate, led to a series of relief operations. The supply of the most modern fighters to Malta is described in the appropriate section, an appreciation of the double relief attempt from east and west must now be attempted.

 

The convoy operations were on a grand scale, the Eastern Fleet was stripped to provide sufficient forces for the convoy from the east which was to consist of eleven merchant ships, a lightly armed special service ship carrying cargo, eight cruisers, twenty six destroyers, four corvettes, two minesweepers, four MTBs and two rescue ships.

 

Despite this galaxy of talent, the record must commence by stating that the operation failed totally in face of heavy air attack, the convoy being ordered to retire when it was realised that the escorts had insufficient ammunition remaining to fight the remainder of the way to Malta, and little or no hope of replenishment on arrival.

 

To the west, from Gibraltar, six merchant ships were despatched accompanied by a battleship, two carriers, four cruisers, a fast minelayer, seventeen destroyers, two corvettes, four minesweepers and six motor launches. Of this armada, two merchant ships eventually arrived plus the fast minelayer with cargo for the island. As the convoys were timed to arrive on successive days, HARPOON followed by VIGOROUS, they will be dealt with in that order.

 

Operation HARPOON - Essentially a repetition of HALBERD and SUBSTANCE, the forces provided from home waters reflected the growing strain on naval resources. The five merchant ships sailed from the Clyde as convoy WS 19Z on 5.6, BURDWAN, CHANT, ORARI, TANIMBAR and TROILUS escorted by the cruisers LIVERPOOL and KENYA and destroyers BADSWORTH, BEDOUIN, BLANKNEY, ESCAPADE, ICARUS, KUJAWIAK, MARNE, MATCHLESS, MIDDLETON and ONSLOW. By dint of cutting corners, for some of the freighters could not make the scheduled speed of 14 knots, the convoy was on time passing through the Strait on 11.6, the escorts having fuelled at Gibraltar in relays. The sixth merchant ship, the American tanker KENTUCKY, had arrived at Gibraltar 2.6, been fitted with additional armament and scuttling charges, and joined the convoy as it passed through the Strait.

 

The oiler BROWN RANGER escorted by corvettes COLTSFOOT and GERANIUM sailed after dark on 11.6 to provide a refuelling rendezvous in the Mediterranean.

 

For the passage to Malta the naval escort was organised as Force W, battleship MALAYA, carriers ARGUS and EAGLE, cruisers CHARYBDIS, KENYA and LIVERPOOL screened by the destroyers ANTELOPE, ESCAPADE, ICARUS, ONSLOW, VIDETTE, WESTCOTT, WISHART and WRESTLER and close cover of Force X formed from AA cruiser CAIRO, destroyers BADSWORTH, BLANKNEY, BEDOUIN, ITHURIEL, KUJAWIAK, MARNE, MATCHLESS and PARTRIDGE, MIDDLETON, minesweepers HEBE, HYTHE, RYE and SPEEDY and motor launches 121, 134, 135, 168, 459 and 462. The minelayer WELSHMAN was attached for passage to Malta, loaded with stores.

 

It was the intention that the MLs, petrol engined Fairmile B launches fitted for minesweeping, should be towed by the merchant ships to conserve fuel. Unfortunately this proved impossible at the convoy speed of 13 knots despite continued efforts throughout the first two days due to the lightness of gear in the launches and unsuitable towlines.

 

The CAIRO and the destroyers fuelled on the 13.6, with some delay as BROWN RANGER was not correctly positioned, however the operation was completed if with some difficulty. The oiler then remained on station for the return passage, a decision fraught with danger given the submarine and aircraft menace, however she was not molested.

 

Air attacks commenced mid morning on 14.6 from Italian bombers and torpedo aircraft hitting the cruisers LIVERPOOL and the freighter TANIMBAR. The latter sank almost immediately, LIVERPOOL remained afloat and was towed westward by ANTELOPE screened by WESTCOTT. Several further torpedo attacks were made on the stricken cruiser and her escort both on 14 and 15.6 all of which were frustrated by fire from all three ships. During the afternoon of 15.6 the tug SALVONIA arrived and took over the tow at dusk, releasing ANTELOPE to join the screen, being joined on 16.6 by the destroyer PANTHER, corvettes JONQUIL and SPIRAEA, trawler LADY HOGARTH and ML 458. The entire formation arrived at Gibraltar at 1730 on 17.6.

 

Returning to the convoy, WELSHMAN was detached at high speed at 2000 on 14.6 to Malta where she delivered her cargo, and sailed to rejoin the merchant ships to provide air cover. Further details of her passage are contained in the surface warship section.

 

The Italian fleet intervened early on 15.6 when CAIRO sighted enemy cruisers at 0620. The convoy was screened by smoke and torpedo attacks made on the enemy line; meanwhile air attacks also commenced on the convoy sinking CHANT at 0630 and hitting KENTUCKY which continued in the convoy. A further air attack an hour later hit and immobilised KENTUCKY. Meanwhile the enemy cruisers and destroyers, after prolonged action by the CAIRO and screen, withdrew at 0930 leaving the damaged BEDOUIN in tow of PARTRIDGE, while HEBE took KENTUCKY in tow.

 

From 0930 fighter aircraft were present from Malta although there was a considerable problem in establishing radio contact due to incompatible equipment, and were successful in driving off a dive bombing attack at 1040. Unfortunately, a change of air cover from Beaufighters to Spitfires at 1120 coincided with a dual high level and dive bombing attack which crippled the freighter BURDWAN. After due consideration, the Senior Officer Force X decided to cut his losses by scuttling BURDWAN and KENTUCKY to enable the convoy to proceed on the last 150 miles to Malta at maximum speed.

 

At this point the damaged BEDOUIN rejoined the convoy, still in tow, and reported that she expected to get under way on one shaft very shortly. Accordingly, she and PARTRIDGE remained together and were ordered to rejoin as soon as possible, while the convoy drew away at 14 knots for Malta.

 

Unable to achieve steam on one shaft, the two destroyers then turned westward to head for Gibraltar, while BADSWORTH, HEBE and HYTHE endeavoured to sink the two crippled merchant ships. At this point the Italian cruisers reappeared and concentrated on BEDOUIN, though seriously worrying the minesweepers and BADSWORTH who were trying to sink the two cripples. The problems were conveniently solved when simultaneous torpedo attacks made on BEDOUIN and the two merchantmen sank all three, and the enemy ships concentrated on the sinking BEDOUIN. PARTRIDGE was unable to rescue her survivors, but reported that two Italian destroyers were on the scene and were recovering men from the water. In fact the major part of Bedouin's crew were rescued including the Italian pilot whose torpedo caused the final sinking. He had been shot down by BEDOUIN, picked out of the water only to abandon his target when she sank to be rescued by an Italian ship. PARTRIDGE meanwhile was ordered back to Gibraltar, BADSWORTH and the minesweepers headed back for the convoy which was now also supported by WELSHMAN returned from Malta.

 

All ships reached the entrance to the swept channel approach to Malta at dusk, unfortunately the events of the day had seriously upset the original plans which were that the sweepers were to ensure that the channel was in fact clear, and that the CAIRO and destroyers were not to enter harbour but return to Gibraltar. The large expenditure of ammunition in the air and surface attacks made it imperative that these ships should enter Malta to embark additional ammunition, and time did not permit night minesweeping to delay getting the surviving merchant ships alongside under cover of the Malta barrage. Accordingly, the ships were ordered to proceed inshore led by the MLs. On approaching the entrance CAIRO stopped and ordered in ORARI and TROILUS, the latter being mined only 400 yards from the breakwater. Fortunately the damage was confined to a single hold principally containing coal and she was able to complete her entrance and go to her berth. Of the warships BADSWORTH and KUJAWIAK were mined and damaged, the latter sinking, while HEBE and MATCHLESS were also mined in the final approach with ORARI.

 

CAIRO with BLANKNEY, ITHURIEL, MARNE and MIDDLETON sailed for Gibraltar in the evening of 16.6 and, despite air attack, met CHARYBDIS and KENYA on the evening of 17.6 and arrived safely at Gibraltar late the following day.

 

At Malta the most strenuous efforts had been made to prevent a repetition of the loss of ships after arrival in the island; as a potential 18 vessels could have been involved the most careful planning had been undertaken. The unloading berths were at once screened by smoke, the Dockyard had spent many weeks repairing lighters and concealing them from the persistent air attacks and all possible Maltese labour had been mobilised into stevedore gangs to work 12 hour shifts around the clock. To supplement the Maltese work force, considerable numbers of Army personnel had also been organised for stevedore work.

 

As only two ships had arrived, there was almost an overkill situation and both ships commenced working all holds simultaneously, except for the flooded hold in ORARI which had to wait until she was drydocked for the coal to be recovered. Such was the degree of planning that, when it was realised that an unexpected shortage of experienced winchmen was delaying unloading, additional specialists were flown in that night from Alexandria. Unloading rates, even by the inexperienced Army personnel, exceeded 3500 per 24 hours and within five days the entire cargo was unloaded and dispersed or stored in rock shelters, a magnificent achievement.

 

Operation VIGOROUS - From the east, as already stated, eleven merchant ships and a sizable escort were to attempt further supply, unfortunately the escort lacked the essential ingredient, a carrier, as there were none available. Rear Admiral Vian, so successful at Sirte, therefore had to hope that he could elude detection long enough to fight his way into Malta air cover with only his ship's guns as aerial defence.

 

The convoy, entitled ME 11, sailed in three sections, 11A from Haifa AJAX, CITY OF EDINBURGH, CITY OF LINCOLN, CITY OF PRETORIA and ELIZABETH BAKKE escorted by the destroyers HOTSPUR, INCONSTANT, NAPIER, NESTOR, NIZAM and NORMAN, from Alexandria 11B comprised the tankers BULKOIL and POTARO escorted by the destroyers FORTUNE, PAKENHAM and PALADIN while Port Said sailed 11C AAGTEKIRK, BHUTAN, CITY OF CALCUTTA and REMBRANDT.

 

The escorting forces were the cruisers ARETHUSA, BIRMINGHAM, CLEOPATRA, DIDO, EURYALUS, HERMIONE and NEWCASTLE, destroyers HURWORTH and TETCOTT of the AA capable Hunt class and the fleet destroyers GRIFFIN, HASTY, HERO, JAVELIN, JERVIS, KELVIN, SIKH and ZULU few of which had any great AA capability. Additionally there sailed the corvettes DELPHINIUM, ERICA, PRIMULA and SNAPDRAGON and minesweepers BOSTON and SEAHAM. The miscellaneous collection was completed by four MTBs, the rescue ships ANTWERP and MALINES and the disarmed battleship, CENTURION. The rationale for her inclusion was that a) she was crudely disguised as a unit of the KING GEORGE V class b) her pre W War I armour might afford her a better chance of survival than a merchant ship c) she carried 2000 tons of supplies, d) she was available and expendable. The combined convoy was intended for a mean speed of thirteen knots, an optimistic estimate as became clear quite early in the operation.

 

MW 11C was sailed ahead of the other two sections, on 11.6, and ordered to go as far east as Tobruk before turning back to join the other two sections. The plan was that this sortie, ostensibly to supply Tobruk, would lure the Italian fleet out of its bases, expose it to attack and drain its fuel supplies; the ruse did not succeed. Escorted by the AA cruiser COVENTRY and the destroyers AIREDALE, ALDENHAM, BEAUFORT, CROOME, DULVERTON, ERIDGE and HURWORTH joined by EXMOOR off Alexandria, the convoy had just turned to return to the rendezvous on the evening of 12.6 when it was attacked by dive bombers. CITY OF CALCUTTA was damaged and had to be sent in to Tobruk with CROOME and EXMOOR. The remaining ships returned eastward and made the junction with the balance of the convoy on 13.6 when the Hunt class destroyers were sent back to Alexandria to fuel.

 

Of the remainder of the convoy ELIZABETH BAKKE proved too slow and was ordered back to Alexandria, thus only nine ships and CENTURION moved on toward Malta. During the night of 13.6 the escort was also depleted as the weather proved too rough for the MTBs, who were being towed by merchant ships, and they were ordered to return arriving at Alexandria on 14 June less MTB 259 which foundered. The corvettes ERICA also developed defects and left the convoy while AAGTEKIRK proved too slow and was sent in to Tobruk, escorted by TETCOTT and PRIMULA, on 14.6. She did not arrive, attacked by dive bombers she was sunk off the port. On the credit side, the main escort joined the convoy and the two destroyers which had taken in CITY OF CALCUTTA rejoined.

 

During the afternoon of 14.6 air attack sank the BHUTAN and damaged POTARO which was however able to remain with the convoy, the two rescue ships picked up BHUTAN's survivors and then detached to Tobruk. A very near miss attempt on PAKENHAM was made by an unknown submarine, and shortly after sunset enemy MTBs tracked the convoy attacking at midnight but being driven off.

 

Rear Admiral Vian, aware that reconnaissance showed that he would meet the Italian fleet at dawn and that he stood no chance of repeating the action of Sirte over a period of fourteen hours in good weather, turned eastward at 0145 to delay the interception. During the turn, NEWCASTLE and other ships became separated from the convoy and in a subsequent MTB attack NEWCASTLE was damaged and the destroyer HASTY sunk by a torpedo from S 55.

 

The convoy turned for Malta once more at 0700 on 15.6 on orders from the C-in-C however, at 0940 it turned again to the east in response to orders when it was realised that, despite the loss of a cruiser to submarine attack, the Italian fIeet was proceeding with its attempted interception. Further air attacks developed during 15.6 in which the cruiser BIRMINGHAM received damage that put part of her armament out of action, with the destroyer AIREDALE receiving heavy damage and having to be sunk later in the day. NESTOR was hit, taken in tow by JAVELIN with BEAUFORT and ERIDGE as a screen, and commenced the return to Alexandria.

 

The C-in-C then received firm information that the Italian fleet was retiring and accordingly ordered the convoy to turn once again for Malta. Unfortunately, the order was received at the peak of a heavy air attacks and it was nearly 1900 before the situation could be assessed and fuel and ammunition reserves discovered. It became clear that, with NESTOR damaged in the latest raid, fuel in the destroyers low and under 30% ammunition remaining, to press on to Malta was impossible. The C-in-C concurred and the whole convoy headed back for Alexandria. During that night the cruiser HERMIONE was hit by U 205 and sank, the damaged NESTOR had also to be sunk and the bedraggled convoy and escort returned to Alexandria and Port Said on the evening of 17.6. AJAX and BULKOIL were escorted to Port Said by FORTUNE, GRIFFIN, INCONSTANT and PAKENHAM, the remaining merchant ships entering Alexandria. CENTURION, damaged and with a deep draught, had to anchor outside the Great Pass.

 

This concluded attempts to supply Malta by convoy from the east, until the Army succeeded in clearing North Africa thus giving the RAF the ability to provide air cover during the voyage.

 


 

 

The situation in Malta

 

The arrival of two supply ships from HARPOON extended the supplies available in Malta by eight weeks. This seemingly reasonable statement must be read in the context that the entire population was already on starvation rations, serious illness such as poliomyelitis was already afflicting rising numbers including even aircrew, that water and fuel for cooking could only be obtained with great exertion from specified distribution points, and that the reserves of essential supplies for defence, principally aviation fuel and ammunition, were extremely low. It was therefore essential to repeat the HARPOON operation on a larger scale and with arrival before the end of 8.42. It is of interest to quote comment by the then commander of 10th Submarine Flotilla in the island on a conversation with Mr Trench who was responsible for food distribution in Malta:

 

"Trench said that the present island-wide soup kitchen arrangements are fully organised and working well. The tinned and dehydrated ingredients are issued daily to the organisers, prepared on field kitchens and distributed from fixed points. These ingredients are the ideal for control and orderly administration but the last issue - the absolute last issue from island reserves - occurs in five days, on 15 August. After that we are down to the slaughter of horses and goats, once considered adequate for six months......The present census of animals in the island is estimated to last from five to ten days.

 

If in fact I chop and change between tinned supplies and slaughter WITHOUT CAUSING PANIC we might last until 25 August."

 

That is the measure of desperation in the island, the convoy known as Operation PEDESTAL arrived in Malta on 13, 14 and 15.81 The conversation is recorded in Rear Admiral G W G Simpson's autobiography "Periscope view" on page 249.

 

 

Operation PEDESTAL

 

This, the last heavily opposed supply convoy to Malta, was born of sheer necessity immediately following the arrival of HARPOON. The decision was hardly in doubt, any other would have been a total abandonment of the island, and very little time was wasted in commencing preparations. The chosen commander, Vice Admiral Syfret, was at sea on his way back to the UK from the invasion of Madagascar, he was ordered to land at Takoradi and was flown to London to commence planning on 13.7 together with Rear Admirals Burroughs and Lyster who were to be his deputies.

 

Basically, PEDESTAL was HARPOON without the eastern cooperation, and with greater resources, the Home Fleet being stripped for the operation. The plan followed the now familiar pattern the main force, Force Z, proceeding as far as the Narrows, Force X going through to the Malta approaches, a substantial minesweeping force to sweep the ships in, a carrier operation to supply additional Spitfires to Malta (Operation BELLOWS), a refuelling at sea force (Force R) and an adequate supply of spare destroyers to cover losses and any unexpected eventuality. The withdrawal of the two HARPOON merchant ships was also provided for, finally the Mediterranean Fleet was to carry out a dummy convoy deception in the eastern basin to divert attention and divide enemy resources.

 

By 27.7 the plans were finalised and Vice Admiral Syfret joined his flagship, NELSON, at Scapa Flow to hold a conference of Commanding Officers on 29.7 for detailed explanations. On 31.7 the carriers ARGUS and VICTORIOUS sailed escorted by the cruiser SIRIUS and destroyers FORESIGHT, FURY, ICARUS and INTREPID sailed from Scapa Flow to meet the other ships of the escort west of Gibraltar for a carrier exercise (Operation BERSERK) which would precede the convoy. This operation was to exercise three carriers which had not recently operated together in general cooperation and fighter direction.

 

Vice Admiral Syfret sailed from Scapa Flow on 2.8 in NELSON with RODNEY screened by the destroyers ASHANTI, ESKIMO, PATHFINDER, PENN, QUENTIN, SOMALI and TARTAR to join convoy WS 21S which left the Clyde on the same day. The convoy was composed of fourteen ships for Malta, ALMERIA LYKES, BRISBANE STAR, CLAN FERGUSON, DEUCALION, DORSET, EMPIRE HOPE, GLENORCHY, MELBOURNE STAR, OHIO, PORT CHALMERS, ROCHESTER CASTLE, SANTA ELISA, WAIMARAMA and WAIRANGI and was escorted by the cruisers KENYA and NIGERIA and, at various times, destroyers AMAZON, BICESTER, BLYSKAWICA, DERWENT, ICARUS, INTREPID, KEPPEL, LAMERTON, LEDBURY, MALCOLM, PENN, SARDONYX, VENOMOUS, WILTON, WISHART and WOLVERINE. The normal Convoy Conference had been held prior to sailing after which Rear Admiral Burroughs, who would command into the Malta approaches, held further meetings with both Masters and Radio Officers at which plans were explained in detail. During the passage of the convoy to Gibraltar many exercises were held using all forms of communication to produce a very high level of training amongst the merchant ships both in communication and manoeuvring.

 

Prior to BERSERK and the later passage of the Strait, many movements took place at Gibraltar. The carrier EAGLE, cruiser CHARYBDIS and destroyers VANSITTART, WESTCOTT and WRESTLER sailed for BERSERK on 5.8, KENYA and NIGERIA arrived to fuel very early on 7.8 and sailed by 0440 in darkness while the carrier INDOMITABLE and cruisers PHOEBE and SIRIUS with a local escort of LIGHTNING and LOOKOUT fuelled after dark on 8.8.

 

The 9 and 10.8 were even busier with the convoy passing through the Strait in dense fog in the early hours of the 10.8. Apart from fuelling numerous ships of all classes, an oiling force of BROWN RANGER and DINGLEDALE escorted by the corvettes COLTSFOOT, GERANIUM, JONQUIL, and SPIRAEA supported by the tugs JAUNTY and SALVONIA was sailed on 9.8. Malta was now so low on fuel oil that none of the ships at sea could be refuelled at the island, the oiling force had to remain on station throughout the operation to ensure that escorts were capable of returning to Gibraltar.

 

On 10.8 all ships having sailed and passed the Strait, the composition of the forces was as follows:

 

Force W battleships NELSON and RODNEY, carriers EAGLE, INDOMITABLE and VICTORIOUS, cruisers CHARYBDIS, PHOEBE and SIRIUS and destroyers ANTELOPE, ESKIMO, ITHURIEL, LAFOREY, LIGHTNING, LOOKOUT, QUENTIN, SOMALI, TARTAR, VANSITTART, WISHART and ZETLAND.

 

Force X cruisers CAIRO, KENYA, MANCHESTER and NIGERIA, destroyers ASHANTI, BICESTER, BRAMHAM, DERWENT, FORESIGHT, FURY, ICARUS, INTREPID, LEDBURY, PATHFINDER, PENN and WILTON and the tug JAUNTY.

 

Force R oilers BROWN RANGER, DINGLEDALE and corvettes COLTSFOOT, GERANIUM, JONQUIL and SPIRAEA.

 

Operation BELLOWS, referred to in the "Fighters to Malta" section, comprised the carrier FURIOUS and, when separated from the main body, destroyers from the "additional" force.

 

Additional destroyer force AMAZON, KEPPEL, MALCOLM, VENOMOUS, VIDETTE, WESTCOTT, WRESTLER and WOLVERINE.

 

The minesweeping force which was to meet the convoy and sweep it into Malta would consist of four ships HEBE, HYTHE, RYE and SPEEDY and MLs 121, 126, 134, 135, 168, 459 and 462.

 

Finally, Force Y, the merchant ships ORARI and TROILUS from Malta would be escorted by the destroyers BADSWORTH and MATCHLESS, all ships which had been detained at Malta after HARPOON.

 

Three cruisers and 26 destroyers fuelled from the oilers throughout 11.8 despite constant shadowing by enemy aircraft. FURIOUS left the main body at noon to commence Operation BELLOWS, half way through which EAGLE was torpedoed and sunk by U 73, 927 were rescued by LAFOREY and LOOKOUT and the tug JAUNTY. The subsequent operations of FURIOUS are described under the heading of BELLOWS.

 

In the failing light a combined dive bombing and torpedo attack developed, but with no loss to the escort nor the convoy, which closed the events of 11.8.

 

It was anticipated that 12.8 would be "busy" as from dawn onwards all forces would be well within range of enemy air bases from which it was estimated that some 600 operational aircraft could be launched, post war (conservative) figures indicate 334 bombers (90 of them torpedo bombers) and 273 fighters. Maximum operational strength at Malta was 36 Beaufighters (long range) and 100 Spitfires. The air defence of the convoy after the loss of EAGLE, comprised 34 Hurricane, 10 Martlet and 16 Fulmar fighters.

 

Air defence consisted of a constant air patrol of 12 fighters reinforced as needed, which commenced at 0600, the first air attack started shortly after 0900 and continued throughout the day finally scoring their first success after four hours when the freighter DEUCALION was hit and damaged. She was detached from the convoy escorted by BRAMHAM and routed towards Malta close to the Tunisian coast. Both ships were bombed during the afternoon without success but a torpedo attack shortly before dusk set DEUCALION on fire and she eventually blew up.

 

During the afternoon the convoy was also subjected to submarine alarms and at 1600 a combined attack by PATHFINDER and ZETLAND resulted in ITHURIEL finally bring the Italian COBALTO to the surface and sinking her by ramming.

 

A mass air attack, carefully co-ordinated, commenced at 1830 when almost 100 aircraft plus fighters approached from a number of directions. In the resultant desperate fighting the destroyer FORESIGHT was hit and disabled, later to sink, while INDOMITABLE was hit and her flight deck put out of action leaving VICTORIOUS as the only operational deck. When the attack ceased, the time had come for the main force to detach and Vice Admiral Syfret turned Force W westward at 1900 leaving Force X to continue to Malta.

 

Barely an hour later the first serious damage was inflicted on the convoy when the Italian submarine AXUM fired four torpedoes damaging the cruisers CAIRO and NIGERIA and the tanker OHIO. NIGERIA had to withdraw to Gibraltar and CAIRO had to be sunk thus depriving the escort of the only ships fitted for fighter direction. In consequence, with the convoy thrown into some disarray by the sinkings, when an air attack commenced about 30 minutes later the six Beaufighters overhead were powerless to intervene in the dusk. During this attack EMPIRE HOPE was bombed and abandoned, her survivors being picked up by PENN, CLAN FERGUSON was torpedoed and blew up, she was loaded with 2000 tons of aviation petrol and 1500 tons of explosives amongst other items, however 96 survivors reached the Tunisian coast to be interned by the French. The BRISBANE STAR was torpedoed and fell out from the convoy, she will be referred to later. Finally, to complete the evening's chaos the Italian submarine ALAGI fired four torpedoes at KENYA just after 2100, the cruiser almost avoided all of them, only one striking her on the forefoot so that she was able to remain with the convoy capable of 25 knots.

 

Hearing of the loss of two thirds of the cruiser force, Vice Admiral Syfret ordered CHARYBDIS, ESKIMO and SOMALI to rejoin the convoy but they were unable to do so until 0330 the following day. At midnight, MTBs lying in wait off Cape Bon commenced their attacks and just after 0100 on 13.8 two Italian boats torpedoed the cruiser MANCHESTER. Stopped, it was subsequently decided that she should be scuttled which was done at 0500, most of her survivors reaching the Tunisian coast and internment. Within an hour, the scattered merchant ships of the convoy, a number of which were straggling and trying to rejoin, were picked off by the small, fast MTBs ALMERIA LYKES, GLENORCHY, SANTA ELISA and WAIRANGI being sunk. Only ROCHESTER CASTLE, hit right forward, survived rejoining the convoy making 13 knots.

 

The situation at dawn on 13.8 was therefore that the convoy had as an escort the cruisers CHARYBDIS and KENYA, destroyers ASHANTI, ESKIMO, FURY, ICARUS, INTREPID, PATHFINDER and SOMALI with MELBOURNE STAR, ROCHESTER CASTLE and WAIMARAMA in company. The tanker OHIO escorted by LEDBURY could be seen astern overtaking the convoy, DORSET was afloat but unescorted somewhere astern, PORT CHALMERS with BRAMHAM and PENN was some ten miles off and BRISBANE STAR was hugging the Tunisian coast.

 

Meanwhile the surface threat from Italian cruisers had greatly diminished; lack of fighter cover (precedence being given to the bomber force) resulted in its withdrawal eastward and being harassed by reconnaissance aircraft from Malta. The final blow for the cruisers came when submarine UNBROKEN (Lieutenant Alastair Mars) damaged the heavy cruiser BOLZANO and blew the bows of the light cruiser MUZIO ATTENDOLO. No further threat was posed by Italian surface warships.

 

Events on 13.8 for the convoy commenced with air attacks just after 0800 when a bomb hit WAIMARAMA causing such an explosion that it destroyed not only the ship but the bomber responsible, LEDBURY rescued no fewer than 45 men from her. This was followed ninety minutes later by a most determined dive bombing attack by Stukas directed principally at the tanker OHIO now back with the convoy. She was near missed several times and actually struck by a Ju 87 which she shot down, her steering gear being disabled, an hour later more attacks further damaged and stopped her. At the same time DORSET was hit and stopped and PORT CHALMERS set on fire though she continued with the convoy. The final air attack came at 1130, with no further effect on the convoy; at 1230 the convoy came under short range air protection and proceeded without further problems.

 

BRAMHAM and PENN remained with the two crippled ships, LEDBURY was sent to search for MANCHESTER which was thought still to be afloat, while Force X went on toward Malta meeting the Malta minesweepers who had swept their way out and met the rump of the convoy at 1430 and took over MELBOURNE STAR, PORT CHALMERS and ROCHESTER CASTLE to bring them in to Grand Harbour at about 1800 on 13.8. Meantime, RYE and two MLs went out to search for OHIO while BRAMHAM, LEDBURY and PENN were ordered to join Force X at a rendezvous at 2030 while the force turned westward and commenced the passage back to Gibraltar.

 

One further air attack was carried out before dark in which DORSET was sunk and OHIO hit yet again. BRAMHAM, PENN and RYE, ordered back to the convoy, spent the rest of the night in futile efforts to tow the OHIO and were joined by LEDBURY at dawn. Efforts to tow were resumed on the hulk of the slowly sinking tanker with slightly more success, and the cortege (for one can call it little less considering its slow speed and the state of OHIO) was joined later in the forenoon by SPEEDY and two MLs. After a traumatic twenty four hours under the direction of Commander M/S Malta, OHIO was berthed in shallow water inside the Malta breakwater, and settled on the bottom with the majority of her fuel cargo intact and available.

 

BRISBANE STAR meanwhile had also arrived at Malta, hugging the Tunisian coast during 13.8 the Master intended to make a night dash for Malta. During the day, while not attacked he had to cope with intervention by French shore signal stations, a boarding by French officers who tried to persuade him to go into port and surrender, and a good deal of pressure onboard from survivors and his Medical Officer who also wished to enter port due to the condition of the wounded. Nevertheless the Master stuck firmly to his intentions, and brought his ship into Malta during the afternoon of 14.8.

 

The ships which arrived in Malta landed 32,000 tons of cargo and 15,000 tons of fuel, sufficient to supply Malta until 12.42 other than for aviation fuel.

 

Force X meanwhile continued its journey back to Gibraltar, suffering submarine attack in the early morning of 14.8 and two air attacks during the day. No damage was caused and the Force met Force Z at 1800 and arrived at Gibraltar at 1800 on 15.8. The damaged ships of Force Z, sent home earlier in the operation, also all reached Gibraltar safely except the destroyer FORESIGHT which had to be sunk by TARTAR who had tried to tow her in. Force R also returned safely to Gibraltar on 16.8, final arrivals were the three Hunts BRAMHAM, LEDBURY and PENN who had stopped briefly at Malta after their triumphal entry towing OHIO.

 

No further operations from the west were attempted in 1942, the sudden clearance of Egypt and Cyrenaica of the enemy by the Army rendered the eastern passage much the safest option after the end of October, and the siege of Malta was effectively lifted by the completion of Operation STONEAGE recorded next.

 


 

 

Operation STONEAGE

 

The first convoy to Malta following the commencement of the Army's advance after the Battle of EI Alamein, convoy MW 13, sailed from Suez on the morning of 16.11 and passed through the Canal to arrive at Port Said and proceeded straight to sea. The convoy was made up of four ships, BANTAM, DENBIGHSHIRE, MORMACMOON and ROBIN LOCKSLEY and was escorted by the cruiser EURYALUS and seven destroyers to the approaches to Alexandria. Here the destroyers were relieved by AA capable Hunt class ships of the 5th Flotilla and, led by EURYALUS, ALDENHAM, BEAUFORT, BELVOIR, CROOME, DULVERTON, EXMOOR, HURWORTH, HURSLEY, TETCOTT and the Greek PINDOS departed for Malta at 15 knots at 0700 17.11.

 

Early on 18.11 the convoy was joined by the cruisers ARETHUSA, CLEOPATRA, DIDO and ORION and seven destroyers which remained until 1730. During this period there was one air attack without effect.

 

Shortly after the main escort detached an explosion was heard and a signal received stating ARETHUSA had been torpedoed and that air attack was imminent. A single torpedo bomber made an abortive attack later in the evening to no effect. The following morning the cruiser and destroyer force again closed the convoy but, while it was apparent that aircraft were searching for the ships, no attack developed. The swept channel was entered at 2240 that day and, led by the minesweeper SPEEDY, the ships entered harbour.

 


 

 

Operation PORTCULLIS

 

The Army having achieved its initial object of moving far to the west in Libya, it was now possible for the ports of Benghazi and, more importantly, Tripoli to be used to supply the 8th Army from Alexandria. These convoys were also used to give protection to ships for Malta, the Maltese section being met by a heavy escort from Malta off Benghazi where the Tripoli ships turned south.

 

The first convoy to use this route travelled under the operation name of PORTCULLIS and the Maltese section consisted of the merchant ships AGWIMONTE, ALCOA PROSPECTOR, GLENARTNEY and SUFFOLK which sailed from Port Said on 1.12 as MW 14 escorted by the destroyers BELVOIR, BURSLEY, PAKENHAM, PETARD and QUEEN OLGA. The convoy was met off Alexandria 2.12 by the cruiser ORION and destroyers ALDENHAM, DULVERTON, EXMOOR, HURWORTH, PALADIN and PINDOS. HURWORTH had to return to Alexandria shortly after joining with defects.

 

Also on 2.12 it was decided to include the loaded tanker YORBA LINDA in the convoy, from Benghazi, and the destroyers CROOME and TETCOTT were sent from Alexandria to escort her. They duly brought the tanker into MW 13 at 1700 on 3.12. The minelayer WELSHMAN with stores for Malta joined the convoy at dawn and remained with it until dusk, then proceeding independently to Malta.

 

Met by the cruisers CLEOPATRA, DIDO and EURYALUS and the destroyers JERVIS, KELVIN and NUBIAN as additional escort, the convoy arrived at Malta unscathed on 5.12.

 

This passage commenced a regular service to Malta via the Tripoli convoy, usually of pairs of ships, which was to continue until mid 1943 when, following the opening of the Mediterranean throughout its length, the island's supply route became the responsibility of ships routed direct from the UK.

 


 

 

Operation QUADRANGLE

 

In fact a series of four convoys for Malta designated by the suffix A, B, C and D and numbered MW 15 to 18 inclusive, all of which used the Tripoli route, the inward escort being provided by ships based on Malta. MW 15 comprised AMERICAN PACKER and OZARDA sailed from Port Said 6.12 escorted by the minesweepers BOSTON, CROMARTY and WHITEHAVEN. The destroyers DULVERTON, HURWORTH and PALADIN joined from Alexandria 7.12 and the escort was reinforced by the destroyer BELVOIR from Tobruk on 10.12. On 10.12 also ORION and destroyers ALDENHAM, CROOME, EXMOOR and HURSLEY joined from Malta and delivered the convoy to the island at 2230 on 10.12.

 

MW 16 consisted of the merchant ships CLAN MACINDOE, ROBERT MAERSK and ERINNA escorted by BELVOIR and PALADIN from Alexandria, HURWORTH also with the convoy to take in the Benghazi ship. She duly rejoined the convoy 12.12. when PALADIN detached to Malta after dark. The convoy was met from Malta by ALDENHAM, CROOME, EXMOOR and HURSLEY on 13.12. The convoy arrived at Malta early am 14.12.

 

MW 17 comprised the FORT TADOUSSAC and OCEAN VOYAGER sailed from Port Said 12.12 escorted by DULVERTON, PINDOS and TETCOTT to Alexandria where the convoy was held until 17.12 when it sailed with the Benghazi ships escorted by BEAUFORT, DULVERTON, PAKENHAM PINDOS and TETCOTT. Met by ORION and BEAUFORT the convoy arrived at Malta 21.12. During this passage the C-in-C Mediterranean noted in his War Diary that as some fourteen ships, held loaded at Gibraltar ready to proceed to Malta, were not now required and were to be dispersed as the eastern supply line was now regarded as safe and adequate to supply the island.

 

MW 18, the last of the QUADRANGLE series, consisted of the DANIEL H LOWNSDALE and YORBA LINDA escorted by ALDENHAM, EXMOOR, HURSLEY, HURWORTH sailed from Alexandria 28.12 and was ordered into Benghazi on 30.12 due to an Italian battleship reportedly at sea. The convoy sailed again at 1900 and arrived at Malta 31.12 This arrival completed the December 1942 series of inwards convoys.

 


 

 

Outward convoys from Malta in December 1942

 

As Malta's harbour facilities were poor at this time, the waters being restricted by wrecks and the waterfront a shambles from two and a half years of air attack, the clearance of empty ships assumed considerable priority. Convoy ME 11 was therefore sailed from Malta on 7.12, referred to as Operation MH 2, consisting of the mobile survivors from PEDESTAL and the MW 13 ships, in all BANTAM, BRISBANE STAR, DENBIGHSHIRE, MELBOURNE STAR, MORMACMOON, PORT CHALMERS, ROBIN LOCKSLEY, ROCHESTER CASTLE and YORBA LINDA. They were escorted from the island by ORION and the destroyers ALDENHAM, BELVOIR, CROOME, DULVERTON, EXMOOR, HURSLEY, PAKENHAM, PETARD, TETCOTT and Greek PINDOS and QUEEN OLGA. The escort was partially exchanged at the Tripoli rendezvous to bring in MW 16, ORION, ALDENHAM, CROOME, EXMOOR and HURSLEY leaving. Later BELVOIR was sent in to Tobruk to fuel while DULVERTON and PINDOS took YORBA LINDA to Alexandria, the convoy arrived at Port Said 0700 on 11. 12.

 

ME 12 sailed on 17.12 escorted by ORION, ALDENHAM, BELVOIR, CROOME, EXMOOR, HURSLEY, HURWORTH, PETARD and QUEEN OLGA was made up from AGWIMONTE, ALCOA PROSPECTOR, GLENARTNEY and SUFFOLK. ORION detached at 0900 19.12 to join MW 17, PETARD and QUEEN OLGA detached off Alexandria, and the convoy arrived at Port Said at 2000 20.12.

 

The last eastward convoy of the year was ME 14 sailing 28.12 AMERICAN PACKER, CLAN MACINDOE, ERINNA and OZARDA escorted by EURAYLUS and destroyers BEAUFORT, DULVERTON, TETCOTT and PINDOS. The convoy was attacked by a submarine on 30.12 without damage, BEAUFORT being detached to hunt. EURAYLUS left the convoy to return to Malta at 1800 30.12, BEAUFORT rejoined 31.12 and the convoy arrived at Port Said 1.1.43.

 

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revised 4/12/10


 

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