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MALTA SHORT OF FUEL
The transport ship Breconshire failed to arrive at the expected time today, causing concern to the Island’s high command. As a fast-moving supply ship, she has become a lifeline for the Island. She is capable of carrying 5000 tons of oil as well as other essential goods.
The operations of Force K from Malta have placed a heavy demand on stocks of fuel oil. Regular deliveries are vital to keep the ships at sea but the nearest source is a thousand miles away, through hostile waters policed by increasing numbers of German U-boats.
Breconshire is reported to have left Alexandria on Monday, escorted by three cruisers and eight destroyers under Admiral Vian. Three vessels turned back. Yesterday, six destroyers and two light cruisers set out from Malta to meet the supply ship and cover her final journey to Grand Harbour.
FIRST BATTLE OF SIRTE
At daylight this morning as the two forces reached the rendezvous point, British submarines reported the presence of Italian warships nearby. The Allied convoy was crossing paths with an Axis convoy en route to Tripoli.
Admiral Vian’s force had already been spotted by an enemy reconnaissance pilot and Axis aircraft had attempted an engagement, without success. By late afternoon the two opposing Naval forces were in sight of each other. As a precaution, Breconshire was detached from the main convoy for protection, accompanied by two destroyers.
After a few minutes of largely defensive fire which produced only minor damage to two British destroyers, the Italian warships moved away, returning to formation to protect their convoy. A possible sea battle had been avoided and Breconshire is reported as heading for Malta.
But the threat to the Island’s naval forces is not yet over. (To be continued)
GERMAN MINES EXPLODED
A German attempt to blockade the entrance to Grand Harbour has been foiled. Mines were located today during one of the regular minesweeping operations on all approaches to the Harbour. The TMA mines were laid by Kriegsmarine S-Boats on Monday night. The drifter HMS Swona, adapted for minesweeping duties, exploded two of the mines. Located in the direct path of ships leaving Grand Harbour, they could have severely damaged part of Malta’s Strike Force and possibly blocked harbour approaches with damaged or sunken vessels.
AIR RAIDS 17 DECEMBER 1941
0905-0924 hrs; 1324-1327 hrs; 1537-1550 hrs Air raid alarms; raids do not materialise.
2252-2331 hrs Air raid alarm. One enemy aircraft approached from north. Heavy Ack Ack fired three immediate barrages. Bombs near Attard, Poorhouse and south of Marsa.
OPERATIONS REPORTS WEDNESDAY 17 DECEMBER 1941
ROYAL NAVY Neptune, Kandahar and Jaguar sailed at 1500 on operations. Four Swordfish located a tanker with destroyer escort, and hit the former with two torpedoes.
AIR HQ Arrivals Five Blenheims and eight Beaufighters from Gibraltar.
HAL FAR Night 16/17 Five Albacores 828 Squadron despatched to attack Catania aerodrome. 4940 lbs High Explosive and 300 lbs incendiaries dropped including thirteen delayed action bombs. Opposition exceptionally intense and accurate at all heights.
LUQA S/D Flight Two Wellingtons special shipping search. 69 Squadron Three Marylands on special search, one shadowing fleet. Photo-reconnaissance (PR) Unit 2 One PR Taranto, one PR Sfax. 18 Squadron Three Blenheims special search, one for merchant vessel. Two Blenheims SF 1 patrol. 107 Squadron Two Blenheims attacked transport between Pisida and Zuara. Two Blenheims attacked transport between Sorman and Zuara. P/O Keene failed to return.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB Reported 4; dealt with 1 (German 50kg).
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