21 July 1941: Malta Supply Ships’ Captains Told ‘Convoy Must Go Through’

21 Jul

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The largest convoy ever mounted to carry supplies assembled at Gibraltar yesterday ready to begin its journey to Malta. The merchant ships City of Pretoria, Deucalion, Durham, Melbourne Star, Port Chalmers, Sydney Star and the small personnel ship Leinster were made ready, loaded and guided into the Mediterranean under the strictest security measures.

Admiral Sir James Somerville aboard Renown (c) IWM A3741

Admiral Sir James Somerville aboard Renown (c) IWM A3741

As they approached Gibraltar at noon yesterday, accompanying destroyers fired a rocket onto each merchant ships with a line attached. At the end was a message addressed personally to the Masters of each merchantman from the commander of Force H, Admiral Sir James Somerville, KCB DSO, which revealed their secret destination:

“For over twelve months Malta has resisted all attacks of the enemy. The gallantry displayed by the garrison and people of Malta has aroused admiration throughout the world.  To enable their defence to be continued, it is essential that your ships, with their valuable cargoes, should arrive safely in Grand Harbour. 

The Royal Navy will escort and assist you in this great mission; you on your part can assist the Royal Navy by giving strict attention to the following points:

  • Don’t make smoke. Don’t show any lights at night. Keep good station.  Don’t straggle.  If your ship is damaged, keep her going at the best possible speed.

Provided every officer and man realises that it is up to him to do his duty to the very best of his ability, I feel sure we shall succeed.

Remember that the watchword is THE CONVOY MUST GO THROUGH.”

The realisation of the importance of their voyage gave the Masters a feeling of determination but also warned them of the possible dangers to come.  The operation today began with the departure of the oiler Brown Ranger escorted by the destroyer HMS Beverley to provide refuelling within the Mediterranean for the destroyers escorting the convoy.  Unfortunately on sailing Leinster ran aground and was forced to leave the Operation.


Weather  Hot and sunny.

1010-1045 hrs  Air raid alert for one a single enemy aircraft crossing the Island on reconnaissance at 23000 feet with an escort of 20 fighters. The fighters split up into three formations.  Hurricane fighters are scrambled but do not engage as they do not gain sufficient height.

2130-2220 hrs  Air raid alert for four enemy aircraft which approach the Island from the direction of Catania. Two cross the coast and drop bombs on Marsa and between Luqa and Safi.  Searchlights do not illuminate the raiders and Hurricanes do not intercept.  


ROYAL NAVY  830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm 4 Swordfish left at 1910 to attack convoy but failed to intercept.

AIR HQ Arrivals 8 Beaufighter, 1 Sunderland. Departures 1 Sunderland, 5 Wellington 148 Squadron. 69 Squadron Marylands reconnaissance Sicily and Gulf of Taranto; shadowing of convoy. 

KALAFRANA  The Inspector General of the Royal Air Force, Sir Edgar Ludlow-Hewitt, visited the Station.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 2; dealt with 2 (1 x 100kg HE, 1 x 500kg HE).


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Posted by on July 21, 2021 in 1941, July 1941


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