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NORTH AFRICAN CAMPAIGNS, including French North African Landings

Part 1 of 2 - 1940-1942

8th Army trucks near Sollum, Egyptian-Libyan border (Library of Congress, click to enlarge)

on to North African Campaigns,1943


Each Summary is complete in its own right. The same information may therefore be found in a number of related summaries

(for more ship information,  go to Naval History Homepage and type name in Site Search)




JUNE 1940

Italy Declared War - Italy declared war on Britain and France on the 10th. Two weeks later France was out of the war. Still on the 10th, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa declared war on Italy.

Strategic Situation - Mediterranean Seaboard of North Africa

In the western half of the Mediterranean, Britain and France between them controlled Gibraltar at the narrow entrance from the Atlantic, southern France, Corsica, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Malta at the centre was a British colony. In the eastern half, Britain maintained a hold on Egypt and the Suez Canal, Palestine and Cyprus. In the Levant, Lebanon and Syria were French.

Italy stood astride the central basin, with Italy itself, Sardinia and Sicily to the north and Libya with its provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica to the south. Albania on the Adriatic Sea and the Dodecanese Islands in the southern Aegean off Turkey were Italian.

The Neutral countries in the western Mediterranean were Spain, and in the east, Greece and Crete, Yugoslavia and Turkey.

Military and Maritime Circumstances

Even allied to France, Britain's position in the Mediterranean was not guaranteed. Gibraltar may be secure, assuming Spain's continued neutrality, but Malta was considered indefensible in the face of the Italian Air Force based in Sicily. As it happened, only the later arrival of the German Luftwaffe turned this threat into a near reality. However, Malta's well-equipped base had to be abandoned by the Mediterranean Fleet for the poorer facilities at Alexandria in Egypt.

A large Italian army in Libya (Tripolitania and Cyrenaica) threatened Alexandria and the Suez Canal, against which only a relatively small British and Dominion force could be fielded. Fortunately this had been reinforced earlier in the year by Australian and New Zealand troops. These threats to Malta and Suez depended on Italy taking and holding the initiative. She did not. Malta became a thorn in the side of Axis supply routes to Libya. Over the next three years, Malta above all was the pivot about which the whole Mediterranean campaign revolved - both the problem of its supply and its effectiveness as an offensive base. Later Axis plans to invade the island, so invaluable to the Allied cause come to nothing.

Major Naval Strengths

The Royal Navy maintained a small force of destroyers at Gibraltar, largely for Atlantic convoy work, but the Western Mediterranean was primarily the responsibility of the French Navy - although British reinforcements could soon be dispatched from the Home Fleet as shortly happened. The Eastern Mediterranean was in the hands of the Mediterranean Fleet and a small French squadron based at Alexandria. It was up to strength in major units but still weak in cruisers, destroyers and submarines when compared with the Italian Navy. This was partly offset by the presence of carrier “Eagle” to accompany battleships “Malaya”, “Ramillies”, “Royal Sovereign” and “Warspite”. What the Mediterranean Fleet lacked in numbers was more than made up by the aggressive fighting spirit of its Commander-in-Chief, Adm Sir Andrew B. Cunningham, his officers and men, and their training. The Italian Navy's overwhelming strength was in the Mediterranean:

Major Warship types

Western Med


Eastern Med

Eastern Med






































Defeat of France

17th - The French Government of Marshal Petain requested armistice terms from Germany and Italy

22nd - France capitulated and the Franco-German surrender document was signed. Its provisions included German occupation of the Channel and Biscay coasts and demilitarisation of the French fleet under Axis control.

24th - Later in the month Italian forces invaded southern France but with little success. A Franco-Italian Armistice was signed on the 24th, and included provision for the demilitarisation of French naval bases in the Mediterranean.

Strategic & Maritime Situation following the Fall of France

Britain's circumstances were transformed. From North Cape in Norway to the Pyrenees at the Spanish border, the coast of Europe was in German hands. In addition, the majority of French possessions on the Atlantic seaboards of Africa and the Americas were under the control of Vichy France, and thus denied to British forces. Worse still was the danger of their occupation by the Axis powers. The naval situation was similarly transformed. Not only was the French fleet denied to the Allies, but the great fear was it would be seized by the German and Italian navies and totally alter the naval balance of power. The French Navy refused to make for British ports and most of the modern ships sailed for French North and West Africa. The uncompleted battleships “Jean Bart” and “Richelieu” reached the Atlantic ports of Casablanca in Morocco and Dakar in Senegal respectively.  


With the fall of France, Italy continued to dominate the central Mediterranean. The situation in the western basin became difficult. Shipping between Gibraltar and Malta could no longer rely on Algeria and Tunis for protection. At the eastern end, Lebanon and Syria went over to Vichy France and in time endangered Britain's position in the Middle East. Fortunately the situation was also helped by the French Fleet staying neutral and out of Axis hands - that is, until its sovereignty was under attack when the French Navy fought back fiercely. The arrival of Force H at Gibraltar went some way to offsetting the loss of French naval power in the Western Mediterranean.

JULY 1940 

French Navy in North Africa

3rd - Action at Oran (Operation 'Catapult') - Adm Somerville arrived with Force H off the French Algerian base of Mers-el-Kebir near Oran. French Adm Gensoul was offered a number of choices to ensure his fleet with its four capital ships stayed out of Axis hands. All were turned down and, at around 18.00, Force H opened fire on the anchored ships. "BRETAGNE" blew up and the "Dunkerque" and "Provence", together with other ships, were badly damaged. Battlecruiser "Strasbourg" and some destroyers managed to break out in spite of attacks by aircraft from "Ark Royal", and reach Toulon in the south of France. Three days later the damaged "Dunkerque" was torpedoed at her moorings by Ark Royal's Swordfish. The tragic and unhappy episode was over as far as Oran was concerned.

4th - A more peaceful solution to the French naval presence was found at Alexandria. Adm Cunningham was able to reach agreement with Adm Godfrey on the demilitarisation of battleship "Lorraine", four cruisers and a number of smaller ships.

No action was taken against the new battleship “Jean Bart” laying at Casablanca, Morocco or the warships at Algiers.

For the Royal Navy an unhappy but in British eyes, necessary duty had been carried out against our former French allies. French anger and bitterness was understandably considerable.

5th - Obsolescent torpedo-carrying Swordfish from carrier "Eagle's" squadrons flew from land bases on successful attacks against Tobruk and area. On the 5th, aircraft of 813 Squadron sank Italian destroyer "ZEFFIRO" and a freighter at Tobruk. The success was repeated two weeks later

20th - Carrier "Eagle's" Swordfish continued their strikes against Italian targets around Tobruk. In the nearby Gulf of Bomba, 824 Squadron was responsible for sinking destroyers "NEMBO" and "OSTRO" and another freighter.


Malta - The decision was taken to reinforce Malta and carrier "Argus" flew off 12 Hurricanes from a position southwest of Sardinia. This was the first of many reinforcement and supply operations, often bitterly fought to keep Malta alive and in the fight against Axis supply routes to their armies in North Africa. In the middle of the month, Mediterranean Fleet battleships "Warspite", "Malaya" and "Ramillies" bombarded Italian positions around Bardia in Libya, just over the border from Egypt.

22nd - Land-based Swordfish from "Eagle's" 824 Squadron repeated their July success with another torpedo strike in the Gulf of Bomba near Tobruk. Just as she prepared for a human torpedo attack on Alexandria, submarine "IRIDE" and a depot ship were sunk.


Royal Navy in the Mediterranean - Reinforcements were sent to the Mediterranean Fleet in Alexandria right through until the end of the year.

North Africa - From bases in Libya, Italy invaded Egypt on the 13th. Sollum just over the border was occupied and Sidi Barrani reached on the 16th. There the Italian advance stopped. Neither side made a move until December.

17th - Units of the Mediterranean Fleet including battleship "Valiant" sailed with "Illustrious" for a raid on Benghazi. Swordfish biplanes torpedoed destroyer "BOREA" and mines laid by them off the port sank "AQUILONE". On the return to Alexandria, heavy cruiser "Kent" was detached to bombard Bardia, but was torpedoed and badly damaged by Italian aircraft.

30th - As Italian submarine "GONDAR" approached Alexandria carrying human torpedoes for an attack on the base, she was found by a RAF Sunderland of No 230 Squadron and sunk by Australian destroyer "Stuart".


2nd - Mediterranean Fleet destroyers "Havock" and "Hasty" sank Italian submarine "BERILLO" off Sollum the border town between Libya and Egypt.


North Africa - Gen Wavell launched the first British offensive on the 9th against the Italian forces in Egypt. Sidi Barrani was captured on the 10th and by the end of the month British and Dominion troops had entered Libya for the first time. The offensive continued until February by which time El Agheila, half way across Libya and well on the way to Tripoli, had been reached. Italian losses in men and material were considerable. Units of the Mediterranean Fleet including the small ship Inshore Squadron and the Australian Destroyer Flotilla played an important part in supporting and supplying the North African land campaign. On the 13th, cruiser "Coventry" was torpedoed by Italian submarine "Neghelli", but remained operational.

14th - Also operating in support of the land campaign, destroyers "Hereward" and "Hyperion" sank Italian submarine "NAIADE" off Bardia, Libya just over the Egyptian border.

Mediterranean Theatre after Seven Months - Mussolini's claimed domination of the Mediterranean had not been apparent. In spite of the loss of French naval power, Force H and the Mediterranean Fleet had more than held the Italian Navy in check. Malta had been supplied and reinforced, and the British offensive in North Africa was underway. Elsewhere, the Greeks were driving the Italians back into Albania and away to the south the Italian East African Empire was about to be wound up. However, it was now only a matter of months and even weeks before the Luftwaffe appeared in Sicily, Gen Rommel in North Africa and the German Army in Greece, followed by their Paratroops in Crete




Malta Convoy "Excess" - All merchantmen reached their destinations safely, but at a cost of a cruiser and destroyer sunk, and the loss of carrier "Illustrious'" vital air power.

North Africa - As the British advance into Libya continued, Bardia was taken on the 5th. Australian troops captured Tobruk on the 22nd and Derna, further west by the end of the month. The Royal Navy's Inshore Squadron played an important part in the campaign - bombarding shore targets, carrying fuel, water and supplies, and evacuating wounded and prisoners of war.

Air War - Hurricane fighters, transported to Takoradi in West Africa, started to arrive in Egypt after flying across the continent.


North Africa - British armoured forces crossed the Libyan desert to a point south of Benghazi and cut off the retreating Italians. The resulting Battle of Beda Fomm starting on the 5th inflicted heavy losses. Australian troops captured the major port of Benghazi at the same time, and by the 9th El Agheila was reached. There the advance stopped. Large numbers of British and Dominion troops were now withdrawn for transfer to Greece, just as the first units of the Afrika Korps under Gen Rommel arrived in Tripoli. 24th - Destroyer "DAINTY" escorting supplies to Tobruk with the Inshore Squadron, was sunk off the port by German Ju87 Stukas.

25th - On patrol off the east coast of Tunisia, submarine "Upright" torpedoed and sank Italian cruiser "ARMANDO DIAZ" covering a North African convoy from Naples to Tripoli.

MARCH 1941

North Africa - In command of German and Italian troops, Gen Rommel started his first offensive with the capture of El Agheila on the 24th. Within three weeks the British and Dominion forces were back in Sollum on the Egyptian side of the border.

Malta - Late in the month a small Malta convoy sailed from the east covered by the Mediterranean Fleet. These were the first supplies to arrive since the January 'Excess' operation. In the intervening two months Malta had been heavily attacked by the Axis air forces hoping to neutralise the island as a base for air and sea attacks against the supply routes to Libya.

31st - Cruiser "BONAVENTURE" with a Mediterranean Fleet cruiser force escorting a convoy from Greece to Egypt, was torpedoed and sunk to the southeast of Crete by Italian submarine Ambra

APRIL 1941

North Africa - Germans entered Benghazi on the 4th and by mid-month had surrounded Tobruk and reached the Egyptian border. Attacks on the British and Australian troops defending Tobruk were unsuccessful, and an eight-month siege began. This took place as the Germans invaded Yugoslavia and Greece, and a pro-German coup in Iraq threatened Allied oil supplies.

Action of Sfax, Tunisia - Capt P. J. Mack with destroyers "Janus", "Jervis", "Mohawk" and "Nubian" sailing from Malta intercepted on the 16th a German Afrika Korps convoy of five transports escorted by three Italian destroyers off Kerkennah Islands, east of Tunisia. All Axis ships were sunk including the destroyers "BALENO" (foundered next day), "LAMPO" (later salvaged) and "TARIGO". In the fighting "MOHAWK" was torpedoed by "Tarigo" and had to be scuttled.

MAY 1941

Late April/early May - Two submarines operating out of Malta against Axis shipping were lost, possibly due to mines - "USK" in the Strait of Sicily area and "UNDAUNTED" off Tripoli. "Usk" may have been sunk by Italian destroyers west of Sicily while attacking a convoy.

Royal Navy Mediterranean Operations - (1) Five fast transports sailed from Gibraltar with tanks and supplies urgently needed for the Army of the Nile (Operation 'Tiger'). Four arrived safely. (2) On passage they were accompanied by battleship "Oueen Elizabeth" and two cruisers sailing to join the Mediterranean Fleet. (3) Other units of the Mediterranean Fleet shell Benghazi, Libya on the night of the 7th/8th. (4) After covering the 'Tiger' convoy, "Ark Royal" joined by carrier "Furious" flew off more Hurricanes to Malta on the 21st.

North Africa - A British offensive started from the Sollum area on the 15th in an attempt to relieve Tobruk (Operation 'Brevity'). Two weeks later both sides were back to their original positions. The first of many supply trips to besieged Tobruk were made by Australian destroyers "Voyager" and "Waterhen" and other ships of the Inshore Squadron. 25th - Sloop "GRIMSBY" and the supply ship she was escorting on the Tobruk run were sunk by bombers northeast of the port.

Royal Navy Submarine Operations - "Upholder" (Lt-Cdr Wanklyn) attacked a strongly escorted North African troop convoy off the coast of Sicily on the 24th May and sank 18,000-ton liner "Conte Rosso".

JUNE 1941

Malta - With German forces now in Greece and Crete the problems of supplying Malta were even greater. Nevertheless the men and material were fought through for the defence of Malta and its use as an offensive base.

North Africa - Another unsuccessful British offensive to relieve Tobruk started from Sollum on the 15th (Operation 'Battleaxe'). Within two days the operation was called off. A heavy price had to be paid for the supply of besieged Tobruk by the Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy ships involved. All trips took place under continual threat of German and Italian aircraft attack. 24th - Sloop "AUCKLAND" was lost off Tobruk. 30th - Australian destroyer "WATERHEN" was bombed and sunk off Bardia.

27th - Submarine "Triumph" on patrol off the Egyptian coast sank the Italian submarine "SALPA".

JULY 1941

11th - On the Tobruk Run, destroyer "DEFENDER" was bombed by German or Italian aircraft and went down off Sidi Barrani.

20th - Two more British submarines fell victim to Italian anti-submarine forces during North Africa convoy attacks in July - the first was "UNION" to torpedo boat "Circe" off Pantelleria.

Malta Convoy, Operation 'Substance' - Six transports reached Malta safely at a cost of cruiser "Manchester" hit and destroyer "FEARLESS" sunk by aircraft torpedoes.

30th - The second Royal Navy submarine loss to Italian anti-submarine forces during convoy attacks was "CACHALOT" while on passage from Malta to Alexandria, rammed by torpedo boat "Papa".


18th - Submarine "P-32" was lost on mines off Tripoli as she attempts to attack a convoy entering the port. "P.33" was also lost around the same time in this area, possibly on mines.

27th - Covering the transport of troops into and out of besieged Tobruk, cruiser “Phoebe” was hit by an aircraft torpedo.

North Africa, East Africa & Near East - With the exception of small parts of Ethiopia, the whole of the Middle East with its vital oilfields and pipelines together with East Africa were now under Allied control. The battle for North Africa had nearly another two years to run.


10th Submarine Flotilla - was formed at Malta with the smaller 'U' class boats which were more suited to Mediterranean conditions. On the 18th, "Upholder" sank the 19,500-ton troop transports "Neptunia" and "Oceania". Between June and the end of September, submarines sank a total of 49 ships of 150,000 tons. Added to the losses inflicted by the RAF this represented a high proportion of Axis shipping bound for Libya.

Malta Convoy: Operation 'Halberd' - Eight transports reached Malta. The cost included damage to battleship "Nelson" by an Italian aircraft torpedo and one merchantman lost to air attack. By now in 1941, three major convoys had reached Malta and nearly 40 merchantmen had got through with only one sunk. The cost to the Royal Navy had been one cruiser and a destroyer sunk, and a battleship, carrier and two cruisers damaged.


Malta - Force K was formed at Malta as a Strike Force to add to the offensive against Axis North African shipping by submarines and aircraft. Under the command of Capt W. G. Agnew were cruisers "Aurora" and "Penelope", destroyers "Lance" and "Lively".

25th - Over a period of 10 days, cruiser-minelayers "Abdiel" and "Latona" transported troops and supplies to besieged Tobruk and carried out Australian units. On the last mission "LATONA" was bombed and sunk north of Bardia by Ju87s Stuka divebombers.


Action off Cape Spartivento, Southwest Italy - An RAF report of an Italian convoy in the Ionian Sea making for North Africa, led to Force K sailing from Malta. The convoy consisted of seven transports escorted by six destroyers, with a distant cruiser covering force. Early in the morning of the 9th, every one of the transports and destroyer "FULMINE" were sent to the bottom. Later, while rescuing survivors, destroyer "LIBECCIO" was sunk by submarine "Upholder".

North Africa -  A major British offensive (Operation 'Crusader') started on the 18th, again from the Sollum area and by January had reached El Agheila. Axis forces around Sollum and Bardia were by-passed in the drive on Tobruk. The first link-up with the besieged garrison was made by New Zealand troops on the 27th. 27th - Australian sloop "PARRAMATTA" escorting an ammunition ship on the Tobruk Run was sunk by "U-559" off the port. Since the siege started destroyers and other warships had been carrying in men and supplies almost nightly. As it came to an end the cost could be counted - 25 warships of all sizes and five merchantmen lost.

25th - Force K hunted for Italian convoys to North Africa supported by the Mediterranean Fleet with battleships "Barham", "Queen Elizabeth" and "Valiant". In the afternoon north of Sidi Barrani, "BARHAM" was hit by three torpedoes from "U-331" and as she slowly turned over and capsized, splits apart in an almighty explosion. Just before this tragedy, Force K had sunk two more Axis supply ships west of Crete. At this stage 60 percent of Axis North African supplies were being lost to attacks by British aircraft, submarines and warships.


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

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

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

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

19th - That morning as Force K struggled to survive, three Italian human torpedoes launched from submarine “Scire” (Cdr Borghese) penetrated Alexandria harbour. Their charges badly damaged battleships “Queen Elizabeth” with Adm Cunningham on board and “Valiant”. They both settled to the bottom and the Mediterranean Fleet battle squadron ceased to exist. News of the sinking was kept from the Italians.

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




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

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


Malta - Three escorted merchantmen covered by cruisers and destroyers left Alexandria on the 12th for Malta. One was disabled and the other two sunk by aircraft. There was little relief for the island.

23rd - Submarine "P-38" attacked a heavily defended convoy off Tripoli and was lost to the escorts' counter-attack which again included Italian torpedo boat "Circe"

MARCH 1942

11th - Adm Vian's cruiser force returned to Alexandria after searching for Axis North African shipping and covering the passage of cruiser "Cleopatra" from Malta. North of Sidi Barrani, flagship "NAIAD" was torpedoed by "U-565" and went down.

Second Battle of Sirte - Adm Vian sailed on the 20th from Alexandria with four fast supply ships for Malta escorted by cruisers "Cleopatra", "Dido", "Euryalus" and "Carlisle" plus destroyers. Seven 'Hunt' class escort destroyers came from Tobruk and as they carried out anti-submarine sweeps ahead of the convoy, "HEYTHROP" was sunk off Sidi Barrani by "U-652". The remaining six joined the convoy to bring the total number of destroyers to 16. In action with an Italian battlefleet on the 22nd, destroyers "Havock" and "Kingston's" were damaged by 15in hits. Unfortunately all four transports including the renowned "Breconshire" were lost to air attack, two off Malta and two in harbour before much of their cargo could be off-loaded. As the Hunt class "SOUTHWOLD" stood by "Breconshire" on the 24th, she hit a mine and sank off the island.

26th - Destroyer "JAGUAR" and the tanker she was escorting to Tobruk were both sunk by "U-652" off Sidi Barrani.

APRIL 1942

Malta - By now Malta had almost ceased to be of any value as a base for attacking Rommel's supply lines, and most of his transports were getting through. The German and Italian bombing led to the loss, directly and indirectly, of numerous ships including four destroyers and four submarines. They concentrated on cruiser "Penelope" in dry dock and destroyers "Havock" and "Kingston" both damaged in the Battle of Sirte.

14th - 10th Flotilla lost its most famous boat when "UPHOLDER" (Lt-Cdr Wanklyn VC) was lost. She attacked an Axis convoy northeast of Tripoli and was presumed sunk in the counter-attack by destroyer escort "Pegaso".

27th - By this time the 10th Submarine Flotilla had been ordered to left Malta. "URGE" sailed for Alexandria on the 27th, but failed to arrive.

MAY 1942

11th/12th - Destroyers "Jackal", "Jervis", "Kipling" and "Lively" left Alexandria to search for reported Axis shipping bound for Benghazi. There was no fighter cover. On being sighted they turned back, but north of Sidi Barrani (yet again) were attacked by a specially trained anti-ship group of German Ju88s. "KIPLING" and "LIVELY" were sent to the bottom that evening, and "JACKAL" was scuttled on the 12th. Only "Jervis" with 630 survivors reached Alexandria.

North Africa - From Gazala, Gen Rommel started the second phase of his advance towards Egypt on the 26th with a main attack around Bir Hakeim. Shortly afterwards, heavy fighting broke out between there and Gazala around the areas known as the 'Cauldron' and 'Knightsbridge'.

28th - "U-568" attacked Tobruk supply traffic, was hunted down and sunk by destroyer "Hero" and escort destroyers "Eridge" and "Hurworth".

29th - In a series of attacks on convoys bound for North Africa, submarine "Turbulent" (Cdr Linton) sank three transports in May and on the 29th torpedoed and sank escorting Italian destroyer "PESSAGNO" northwest of Benghazi.

JUNE 1942

United States - Winston Churchill flew to Washington DC for another series of meetings with President Roosevelt. Agreement did not come easily on the question of where to open a Second Front in 1942. The Americans wanted to land in France to take pressure off the Russians, but the British considered this impossible at present and proposed the invasion of French North Africa. The President did not come to accept this until July. Planning then started on what will be Operation 'Torch'.

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

Malta Convoys 'Harpoon' from Gibraltar, 'Vigorous' from Alexandria - Just two of 'Harpoon's' six ships reached Malta for the loss of two destroyers and serious damage to three more and a cruiser. All the 'Vigorous' ships were forced to turn back; one cruiser, three destroyers and two merchant ships had been lost in the attempt.

JULY 1942

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

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


Malta Convoy: Operation 'Pedestal' - This was the biggest operation ever mounted from the Gibraltar end. Only five out of fourteen transports got through to Malta for the loss of one aircraft carrier, two cruisers and a destroyer sunk, and a carrier and two cruisers badly damaged. But the supplies delivered - and especially tanker "Ohio's" oil - were enough to sustain Malta as an offensive base at a time critical to the coming Battle of El Alamein.

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


North Africa - By the 4th the Second Battle of El Alamein had been won by Eighth Army. Rommel's losses in men and material were so great he withdrew, first to Fuka and then Mersa Matruh. The British got there by the 7th. New Zealand troops entered Sidi Barrani on the 9th and two days later reached the Libyan border. As the remaining Axis troops continued to fall back, Eighth Army entered Tobruk on the 12th and Benghazi a week later. Rommel had moved back to the old 'start/finish' line of El Agheila by the end of the month. Montgomery halted Eighth Army after a 600-mile advance in 14 days.

French North Africa:

8th - French North African Landings: Operation 'Torch'

By July 1942 the Allies had accepted that a cross-Channel assault on German-occupied Europe was not yet possible, and instead opted to land an expeditionary force in French North Africa. For political reasons the main landing forces would be American. Their arrival would be timed to coincide with Eighth Army's offensive. Plans were formally approved in October, by which time the large amounts of shipping needed had been organised and assembled. To provide them, Russian convoys and those to and from Britain and Gibraltar/West Africa had been suspended and the Home Fleet stripped bare. The Allies' greatest concern was the hundred or more U-boats at sea. Outline order of battle was:

Allied Commander-in-Chief - US Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower

Allied Naval Commander Expeditionary Force - Adm Sir Andrew Cunningham 

Landing Areas:

Casablanca, Morocco



Forces landing:

35,000 US troops

39,000 US troops

33,000 US & British troops

Departure from: 

United States



Naval Task Forces:

Rear-Adm H K Hewitt USN

Cdre T H Troubridge

Vice-Adm Sir H Burrough

Other warship
Troopships, supply ships, tankers etc




Total Ships

105 USN

105 RN

91 RN

Most of the task force carriers were escort carriers, and the US totals included a heavy cover force. In the Mediterranean, British Force H reinforced by Home Fleet and under the command of Vice-Adm Sir Neville Syfret, covered the Algerian landings. Their main task was to hold off any attack by the Italian fleet. Strength included three capital ships, three fleet carriers, three cruisers and 17 destroyers. Various other forces added to the number of Allied ships in the area. Over 300 ships were therefore directly involved in what at that time was the greatest amphibious operation in history, and the forerunner of even greater ones to come before the war was won. Throughout October and early November convoys sailed for the landings on Vichy French soil in the early hours of the 8th. Negotiations with the French were not completed in time to avoid resistance. There was bloodshed on both sides.

Casablanca, Morocco - US troops landed at three points along a 200-mile stretch of Atlantic coastline. By the 10th they prepared to attack Casablanca itself, but this became unnecessary when the French forces stopped fighting. Before this happened the Western Task Force had fought a series of fierce actions with Vichy French warships. Battleship "Jean Bart" was seriously damaged and a cruiser and several destroyers and submarines sunk or beached.

Oran, Algeria - Within the Mediterranean, the landings to the west and east of Oran were followed by an attempt to smash through the harbour boom and land troops directly from ex-US Coast Guard cutters "WALNEY" (Capt Peters) and "HARTLAND". Both were disabled by ship and shore gunfire and soon sank. (+ Capt Frederick Peters RN of the "Walney" was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry. Five days later he was kiIled in an aircraft accident.) Cruiser "Aurora" (Capt Agnew) and destroyers fought off an attack by French destroyers outside the port. The large destroyer "EPERVIER" was driven ashore and "Tornade" and "Tramontane" disabled. In addition, destroyers "Achates" and "Westcott" accounted for submarines "ACTEON" and "ARGONAUTE". US troops fought their way into Oran, which fell on the 10th.

Algiers, Algeria - A similar opening attack was mounted old destroyers "Broke" and "Malcolm". The latter was badly damaged but "BROKE" eventually brokes through the boom to land her troops. Hard hit by shore batteries, she got away but foundered next day on the 9th. Algiers was soon in Allied hands and Adm Darlan, C-in-C Vichy French forces was captured. It was not Gen Giraud as originally intended, but Adm Darlan who broadcast the ceasefire on the 10th. Resistance was stopped, but confusion reigned for a number of days as the Vichy French authorities were pressurised by both the Allies and Axis. However, before long the forces of France were fighting on the Allied side in French North Africa. Adm Darlan was assassinated in late December and Gen Giraud took his place.

Tunisia - On news of the 'Torch' landings, the first German troops were flown across from Sicily to Tunisia on the 9th and within two days started a large build-up.

Spain -Throughout all these events Spain fortunately stayed neutral. There was therefore no threat to Gibraltar directly from Spanish troops, or from Germans passing through the country. And the Americans in Morocco were safe from attack by the Spanish in Spanish Morocco.

Warship Losses, 9th - Off Oran the corvette "GARDENIA" was lost in collision with armed trawler "Fluellen". 10th - In addition to the Atlantic approaches to Gibraltar, a large number of German and Italian submarines were concentrated in the Western Mediterranean to attack the 'Torch' follow-up convoys. Transports and escorting warships were sunk and damaged, but losses were never great, and seven Axis submarines (1-7) were sunk in exchange. On the 10th, destroyer "MARTIN" was sunk by "U-431" off Algiers and Italian submarine "EMO" (1) scuttled after an attack by armed trawler "Lord Nuffield" . 10th - Further Allied landings were made to the east of Algiers along the Algerian coast, where there was little air cover. Attacks by German aircraft on these and other Algerian targets sank or damaged a number of ships. On the 10th, sloop "IBIS" was hit by an aircraft torpedo and went down off Algiers.

Algeria - The first of the further Allied troop landings were made at Bougie and Bone on the 11th and 12th, well on the way to the Tunisian border.

Warship Losses - continued, 12th - "U-660" (2) was sunk by escorting corvettes "Lotus" and "Starwort" northeast of Oran. 13th - Next day "Lotus", this time with "Poppy" accounted for "U-605" (3) off Algiers. On the 14th and 15th respectively, "U-595" and "U-259" (4-5) were sunk by aircraft. 13th - "U-431" sent Dutch destroyer "lSAAC SWEERS" to the bottom northwest of Algiers. 17th - "U-331" (6) was damaged by RAF Hudsons of No 500 Squadron and tried to surrender. Aircraft of 820 Squadron from carrier "Formidable" torpedoed her in error off Algiers. 20th - Cruiser "Delhi" was damaged by bombs in Algiers Bay. 28th - North of Bone the Italian "DESSIE" (7) was sunk by destroyers "Quentin" and the Australian "Quiberon", now part of cruiser Force Q operating out of Bone.28th - Destroyer "ITHURIEL" in harbour at Bone was badly damaged in bombing attacks and not repaired.

The Relief of Malta - On the 17th a convoy of four ships, escorted by three cruisers and 10 destroyers, left Alexandria (Operation 'Stoneage'). Although cruiser "Arethusa" was badly damaged by German torpedo aircraft on the 18th and had to return with over 150 casualties, the convoy got through on the 20th. Its arrival effectively marksed the lifting of the long and bloody siege of Malta. Since Operation 'Excess' in January 1941, two aircraft carriers, four cruisers, 16 destroyers and five submarines had been lost in the many attempts to supply and reinforce the island, and in the heavy air attacks launched against the George Cross island.

French North Africa continued - After the Bougie and Bone landings in eastern Algeria, British paratroops were flown into the north of Tunisia and the advance began on Bizerta and Tunis. US paratroops further south moved on to Gafsa from where they threatened to take the coastal town of Gabes and cut Tunisia in half. Fighting took place as the Allies closed in, but by the time the main offensive started on the 25th, the Germans had built up their forces around both Bizerta and Tunis, and also occupied the east coast towns of Sousse, Sfax and Gabes. However by month's end, units of British First Army were within 12 miles of the Tunis.


French North Africa - German forces counter-attacked in the north of Tunisia, driving back the Allies. Much of the fighting took place in the Battle for Longstop Hill near Medjez el Bab. By the end of the year Axis forces had established strong defence lines around Bizerta and Tunis, and were holding on to the eastern half of the country. The Allies had lost the race for Tunis. Throughout January 1943 both sides attacked along the line, but without much success. As this happened more and more German and Italian troops were drawn into Tunisia. When the Axis command eventually surrendered in May 1943, it had drained Sicily and Italy of some of its best men.

Cruiser Force Q - Based in Bone, Force Q and a new Malta-based cruiser force took turns attacking Axis shipping bound for North Africa. On the 2nd, Force Q with "Aurora", "Argonaut", "Sirius" and two destroyers went into action in the Strait of Sicily. All four transports in a convoy and Italian destroyer "FOLGORE" were sunk by gunfire. As they returned, destroyer "QUENTIN" was lost to Italian torpedo aircraft north of Cape Bon. 14th - Two weeks after Force Q's success in the Strait of Sicily, cruiser "Argonaut" was badly damaged by Italian submarine "Mocenigo" northeast of Bone.

Royal Navy Submarine Operations - 6th - "Tigris" sank Italian submarine "PORFIDO" north of Bone, Algeria near the Tunisian border. 17th - North of Bizerta, Tunis, "Splendid" sank Italian destroyer "AVIERE" escorting a convoy to North Africa. 25th - As an Axis convoy headed into Tunis, "P-48" attacked and was sunk by Italian destroyer escorts "Ardente" and "Ardito".

Attacks off Algeria - Attacks on Allied shipping off Algeria led to more losses in return for the sinking of one Italian submarine. 9th - As destroyer "PORCUPINE" escorted submarine depot ship "Maidstone" from Gibraltar to Algiers, she was torpedoed and badly damaged off Oran by "U-602", and never repaired. On the same day corvette "MARIGOLD" was sunk by torpedo aircraft to the west of Algiers while escorting North Africa/UK convoy MKS3. 11th - Escort destroyer "BLEAN" sailing with fast North Africa/UK convoy MKF4 was lost to "U-443" west of Oran. 13th - Sloop "Enchantress" sank Italian submarine "CORALLO" off Bougie, Algeria. 18th - Porcupine's sister-ship "PARTRIDGE" was torpedoed by "U-565" while carrying out an A/S sweep with Force H, and went down off Oran.

North Africa - On the 11th, Gen Montgomery resumed Eighth Army's advance. Under direct and flanking attack, Rommel abandoned El Agheila and withdrew to defence lines at Buerat on the approaches to Tripoli. By now he had decided to make his main stand on the Mareth line in southern Tunisia. Eighth Army reached Buerat by year's end. 19th - Escorting a convoy to Benghazi, corvette "SNAPDRAGON" was bombed and sunk off the port by German aircraft.


on to North African Campaigns, 1943,
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revised 9/7/11