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ITALIAN BOMBERS STALK ‘OPERATION SUBSTANCE’
Enemy aircraft launched a fierce attack on Malta’s vital supply convoy today as it passed through the western Mediterranean. Italian SM 79 bombers were reported shadowing the convoy early this morning and Fulmars took off from Ark Royal to drive off the raiders. While they were away from the convoy, a second group of SM 79 torpedo bombers dived down over the convoy from out of the sun and launched their torpedoes. The cruiser Manchester was hit in the engine room; with three of her four engines disabled she was forced to turn back for Gibraltar. The destroyer Fearless was badly hit and burst into flames; she then capsized and sank.
There were two further attacks this afternoon but neither caused any damage and the convoy proceeded as planned. With over 200 Italian bombers still operative in the Mediterranean, the decision was taken to steer the convoy through an unexpected route. Instead of hugging the coast of North Africa, the ships turned north east towards Sicily, navigating the Italians’ own mine-free channel en route to Malta.
Beaufighters sent out on a defensive patrol over the convoy attacked and sank an E boat east of Pantelleria; they also damaged a SM 79 bomber. One Beaufighter failed to return from the mission. The pilot has been named as Sgt W M Deakin of 272 Squadron.
Meanwhile, six supply ships sailed from Malta today in convoy MG 1A, also part of ‘Operation Substance’. The merchant ships Settler, Thermopylae, Amerika, Talabot, and Hoegh Hood, along with the supply ship Breconshire headed westwards through the Mediterranean, escorted by destroyer Encounter. A seventh merchant ship, Svenor, had a collision on leaving harbour and had to return to dock. They are expected to rendezvous with Force H of the Mediterranean Fleet, currently escorting a new supply convoy towards Malta, which will then cover the passage of MG 1A to Gibraltar.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 23 JULY TO DAWN 24 JULY 1941
Weather Sunny and hot.
No air raids.
Military casualties Pilot Officer Noel A C Cathles, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR), 110 Squadron; Sergeant William M Deakin, RAFVR, 272 Squadron.
OPERATIONS REPORTS WEDNESDAY 23 JULY 1941
ROYAL NAVY Convoy MG 1 escorted by Encounter and Gloxinia sailed at 0500. SS Svenor fouled the boom and rammed the breakwater. She returned to harbour and docked with damage to bow.
AIR HQ Arrivals 2 Maryland. Departures 1 Sunderland, 1 Wellington. 69 Squadron Marylands reconnaissance Taranto, Palermo, Trapani, Messina and Catania. 6 Marylands closing patrol Marittimo Island to Carbonara from dawn to dusk. 110 Squadron 4 Blenheims attacked merchant shipping in Trapani Harbour hitting two ships and bombing a nearby aerodrome. Sgt Cathles’ aircraft was damaged as he approached the target and crashed into a hillside in Sicily; the crew are believed killed. 11 Beaufighters escorted a convoy from near Bizerta towards Malta; Sgt Deakin failed to return.
1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT News is received of a large convoy of warships and merchant transport arriving tomorrow with reinforcements, stores and petrol. The Bn has to provide 3 platoons for working parties to unload the petrol. This will last at least one week.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB reported 1; dealt with 2 (1 x 100kg HE, 1 x 250kg HE).
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