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ENEMY VESSELS SUNK IN THIRD ATTEMPT TO CROSS MEDITERRANEAN
Four destroyers arrived in Malta today having survived an encounter with an Italian convoy in the Straits of Sicily, off Cape Bon, Tunisia. The two Italian cruisers Alberto di Guissano and Alberico da Barbiano, accompanied by the torpedo boat Cigno, were making their third attempt to run fuel supplies to North Africa. They had been forced to turn back on two previous occasions due to the presence of reconnaissance and attacking aircraft from Malta in the vicinity of their home port, Palermo. The two cruisers were carrying 2000 tons of aircraft fuel for Axis fighter aircraft in Libya.
HMS Sikh, Legion, Maori, and the Dutch destroyer HNLMS Isaac Sweers were steaming eastwards en route from Gibraltar when they were spotted by an Italian reconnaissance aircraft. The pilot’s information was intercepted by British intelligence and passed to the British destroyers, with the order to intercept the Italian convoy.
Meanwhile, Italian headquarters had decided their convoy was safely ahead of the British force and ordered the convoy to proceed. However, it seems the cruisers’ commanders thought otherwise. As the British destroyers rounded Cape Bon, they came upon the Italians making a turn northwards. The delay created by this manoeuvre proved critical.
At 3.25 am under cover of darkness the leading destroyer Sikh let loose her torpedoes at the first cruiser, and then her guns fired on the second. Taken by surprise, the Italians were barely able to respond before succumbing to the attacks. Petrol tanks on the decks of Alberico da Barbiano burst into towers of flame and both vessels sank, accompanied by at least one Italian Torpedo boat.
AIR RAIDS 13 DECEMBER 1941
0742-0807 hrs Air raid alarm. One enemy aircraft approached Island on shipping recce.
1840-1843 hrs Air raid alarm. Caused by return of own aircraft.
2225-0301 hrs Air raid alarm. One enemy aircraft approached from north over Mellieha Ridge. Bombs dropped in sea. Heavy Ack Ack fired one immediate barrage.
2345 hrs Air raid alarm. One enemy aircraft approached from north and dropped bombs St Paul’s Bay area. Heavy Ack Ack fired one barrage.
Military casualties Private Frederick James, 1st Battalion The Dorsetshire Regiment; Fusilier Charles Rees, 2ndBattalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers. 107 Squadron: Sergeant Ronald D Gracie, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR), Sergeant E Crossley, RAFVR (died 24 December 1941).
OPERATIONS REPORTS SATURDAY 13 DECEMBER 1941
ROYAL NAVY Sikh, Legion, Maori, Isaac Sweers arrived from Gibraltar, having sunk the Italian cruisers Alberto di Guissano and Alberico da Barbiano and probably one torpedo boat, and having heavily hit another torpedo boat.
AIR HQ Three Blenheims arrived from Gibraltar.
HAL FAR Night 12th/13th. Seven Swordfish 830 Squadron and three Albacores 828 Squadron despatched on a shipping sweep. Cape Bon – Pantelleria and 30 miles to the south: sighted nothing.
LUQA 69 Squadron Photo-reconnaissance Bizerte & Tunis, and special search Messina. One Maryland SF 9B patrol; one Maryland SF 10 patrol. 107 Squadron Six Blenheims attacked shipping at Argostoli. Sgt Crossley and Sgt Gracie failed to return. 18 Squadron Five Blenheims attacked shipping in Argostoli Harbour. Sgt Jury crashed in sea but crew were saved. 40 Squadron Eight Wellingtons attacked Benghazi, also mined harbour. P/O Easton failed to return.
TA QALI 0749-0809 hrs Air raid alarm for one enemy aircraft. Hurricanes airborne – no interceptions. Anti-aircraft fired. 1840-0645 hrs Five alerts, one for friendly aircraft, others for single raiders. Bombs in sea off Dingli and Delimara and on land near St Pauls Bay. No Hurricanes airborne – anti-aircraft engaged.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB Reported 1; dealt with 1 (German 50kg).
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