16 July 1941: Malta Submarine Solo Battle With Axis Convoy

16 Jul

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Malta-based submarine P33 ended her first war patrol today, arriving on schedule despite being damaged in action.  Commanded by Lt R D Whiteway-Wilkinson, DSC, RN, the submarine was alerted yesterday afternoon that an enemy convoy which had left Tripoli the day before was proceeding northwards to Naples. The five merchant ships were escorted by four destroyers and six torpedo boats with additional aircraft cover.

P33 closed on the convoy and when at 2500 yards off released four torpedoes aimed at the Italian merchant ship Barbarigo, registering two hits on target.  The merchant vessel immediately began to sink.  However, the torpedo tracks had been spotted by a destroyer which immediately dropped depth charges, and other destroyers followed suit.  While one torpedo boat stopped to pick up survivors from Barbarigo, two others detached from the convoy to hunt the submarine, while the Cant aircraft searched from above. 

In a counter-attack lasting over an hour, some 116 depth charges were dropped towards the submarine but only one set came close to her, damaging some lights. P33 dived but control of the submarine was temporarily lost and was 300 feet down before it could be righted.  She suffered some damage as a result of the steep dive and was forced to return to Malta.


Weather  Very hot and humid.

0950-1004 hrs  Air raid alert for 20 enemy aircraft which head towards the Island but split up while still 40-50 miles north. While the remainder turn back, ten raiders approach to 20 miles from Malta.  Hurricanes are scrambled and the enemy aircraft retreat.

0416-0445 hrs Air raid alert for two enemy aircraft which cross over Grand Harbour and drop bombs on Fort St Angelo. Two Hurricanes are scrambled but are forced to land due to weather closing in.  Searchlights illuminate the raiders but anti-aircraft guns cannot open fire while Hurricanes are approaching.

Enemy casualties  Tenente Mario Massini, 10o Stormo, pilot of SM 79 bomber shot down and died.


ROYAL NAVY  P33 arrived on time at 1230, having suffered hull damage during counter attack of 116 depth charges, and being forced deep after obtaining two hits on northbound convoy. HM submarine Cachalot arrived from Alexandria with stores for Malta.  830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm 4 Swordfish attacked Tripoli, hitting one tanker with torpedo and causing explosion on Spanish Quay.

AIR HQ  Departures 1 Wellington. 69 Squadron Marylands reconnaissance Palermo, Messina, Catania, Augusta, Syracuse, Trapani, Catania and Reggio, and Tripoli. 148 Squadron 4 Wellingtons bombing attack on Tripoli Harbour by moonlight, dropping 12250lbs of bombs, achieving many hits and causing a large explosion on Spanish Quay plus damage to a merchant ship alongside.

HAL FAR  Two Fulmars on ‘intruder operations’ patrolled Catania and released four 20lb bombs which started a fire.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 8; dealt with 4 (15kg HE).


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


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