20 September 1941: Submarine Raid on Axis Troopship Threatens Libya Campaign

20 Sep

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Neptunia and Oceania

Neptunia and Oceania

Submarines of 10th Flotilla returned to base at Manoel Island today from their most successful attack to date on Axis convoys.  Flotilla Commander George W G Simpson received information on 17 September from British intelligence that a fast convoy of transport ships was heading out of Taranto towards Tripoli, carrying troop reinforcements for the German Afrika Korps.  Submarines Ursula, Unbeaten, Upholder and Upright were ordered to put out immediately. 

Early next morning off Misurata Unbeaten located the convoy of three 20000 ton troop ships, Oceania, Neptunia and Vulcania, escorted by five Italian destroyers. Upholder fired four torpedoes: two hit Neptunia tearing large hole in her side, and one hit Oceania, destroying her propellers. The submarine then dived to evade counter-attack.  While the escorting destroyers closed in to pick up survivors, Upholder withdrew to reload.  She returned to the damaged Oceania and launched another torpedo which finally sank her.  The troopship Vulcania was attacked by the submarine Ursula but escaped and managed to reach Tripoli escorted by the destroyer Usodimare.

Meanwhile Neptunia tried to make way with a destroyer in attendance but came to a shuddering halt. Upholder closed in and launched two more torpedoes which sank the stricken troopship within minutes.

It is reported that at least 400 of the German troops were killed in the engagement. The scale of the Axis losses in the Mediterranean has caused the Italian Foreign Minister to question the possibility of sustaining the military campaign in North Africa: “the Mediterranean situation is dark, and will become even more so because of the continued loss of merchant ships. Commander Bigliardi, who is in the know and is a reliable person, says that in responsible naval circles they are seriously beginning to wonder whether we shouldn’t decide to give up Libya, rather than wait until we are forced to do so by the complete lack of freighters…”


Weather  Fine and warm.

1029-1118 hrs  Air raid alert for three Macchi 200 fighters which approach the Island from the north and cross the coast over Grand Harbour at 23000 feet while three others circle 35 miles off the coast. Hurricane fighters are scrambled but the Macchis recede rapidly over Delimara evading engagement.


ROYAL NAVY Ursula, Unbeaten, Upholder and Upright returned from convoy interception east of Tripoli.  Upholder sank one ship of the Neptunia class and damaged a second whose fate is not known.  Ursula got one hit on Vulcania.

AIR HQ Arrivals 2 Wellington. Departures 1 Sunderland, 2 Wellington. 69 Squadron Photoreconnaissance Catania, Gerbini and Comiso. 105 Squadron 1 Blenheim reconnaissance east Sicilian coast. 107 Squadron 4 Blenheims attacked a merchant ship off Kerkennah Bank.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 2.


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Posted by on September 20, 2021 in September 1941


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