16 April 1941: Malta Destroyers Sink German Convoy

16 Apr

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HMS Mowahk

HMS Mowahk


Destroyers Janus, Jervis, Mohawk and Nubian sailed from Malta this evening to intercept a German Afrika Korps convoy off Kerkennah, to the east of Tunisia.  The ships were operating on the basis of information from reconnaissance by a Maryland of 69 Squadron. Two Swordfish aircraft which were sent overnight to locate and shadow the convoy which consisted of five merchant ships escorted by three Italian destroyers.

As the enemy convoy manoeuvred through the shallow waters of the Kerkennah Islands, the Royal Navy destroyers closed in to attack. Three of the Axis merchant ships were sunk and the other two grounded on the Island shore.  One Italian destroyer ran aground and a second sank in shallow waters.  While herself already sinking, the lead destroyer Luca Tarigo launched two torpedoes at HMS Mohawk.

Ordinary Seaman Leslie Gardiner, serving aboard Mohawk, recalls what happened:    

“…we went searching for a convoy bound for Tripoli. Contact was made off the North African coast.  Soon a fierce exchange took place.  The noise was deafening.  Smoke and shell-splinters filled the air.  I remember our gunners worked furiously…The whole of the stern from the superstructure aft was destroyed; she was awash as far as X mounting. The crew of the Y gun were all dead.  Meanwhile the merchantman was set ablaze by A and B guns as HMS Mohawk lay still in the water, vulnerable to attack.”

Two more torpedoes then struck the stricken destroyer, hitting the port side between no’s 2 and 3 boiler rooms. The no 3 boiler burst, scalding dozens of men as the deck ripped open. 

“…Within a minute Mohawk was listing heavily to port and soon she was on her side with no time for us to launch lifeboats… We were two hours in the water before HMS Nubian picked up those who were left.  There weren’t many of us…” (1)

43 lives were lost aboard Mohawk.


Weather  Thick fog at first, then cold and rough.

0941-1000 hrs  Air raid alert; raid does not materialise.

1000 hrs  Southern Infantry Brigade sends out a message that three friendly destroyers are due.

1040-1100 hrs  Air raid alert; raid does not materialise.

0551-0616 hrs Air raid alert for a small formation of Messerschmitt 110 fighters which appear to the west of Malta as Wellington bombers are arriving. One Wellington is attacked by a ME 110 ten miles offshore.  Other Wellingtons counter-attack with two good bursts of machine-gun fire and is last seen diving into the dawn mist.  The attacked Wellington lands safely, with superficial damage.


ROYAL NAVY 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm Three aircraft in overnight operation against ships anchored off Tripoli with Wellington bombers of 148 Squadron but target ships swung bows on to the entrance making an attack impossible. Destroyers returned from night operation under cover of low cloud.  

AIR HQ 69 Squadron Maryland reconnaissance of Tripoli Harbour. Maryland reconnaissance Palermo Harbour and aerodrome. 148 Squadron 7 Wellingtons night bombing attack on Tripoli Harbour with 830 Squadron FAA. 

HAL FAR  PM Four aircraft 830 Squadron on operational flight; one returned after 30 minutes, remainder safely after mission completed.

SOUTHERN INFANTRY BRIGADE  Headquarters closed down at Luqa and opened at the Government Elementary School, Tarxien.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB reported 0; dealt with 6 (6 x 50kg).

(1) Stafford at War 1939-1945, Nick Thomas, Pen & Sword


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Posted by on April 16, 2021 in 1941, April 1941


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