19 December 1941: Loss of Navy Ships “Due to Rashness”

19 Dec

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A source close to the Governor today disclosed that questions have been raised over the tactics of the Commander of HMS Neptune, appointed to lead yesterday’s operation on the approaches to Tripoli:

HMS Kandahar

“…the Governor and I lunched on board. The Admiral told me that HMS Ajax has a gamé leg – in other words a damaged shaft which cannot be mended here. The thing must come out from England, which means 4 or 5 months out of action. I said, ‘Will they not transfer you to Neptune?’ To which he replied softly, ‘There is no Neptune.’

Three nights before, the whole force bar Ajax had gone out and run on to a minefield. HMS Neptune sank with almost all hands, HMS Kandahar also (…150 saved). HMS Aurora was damaged, and HMS Penelope (though I do not know how badly).

Such are the vicissitudes of Naval war: one day a powerful force capable of making it extremely hot for enemy shipping; next day a very different thing. When we see ships go out, we always wonder whether they will come back.

The Captain of Upholder has been given the VC. His boat has done marvellously. Since writing this I have been told what I had heard whispered earlier, that the loss of those ships was due to rashness. K Force were very happy in their work with complete confidence in their Senior Officer, Captain Nicoll. They then found themselves under Rory O’Connor of Neptune.

A convoy was being searched for, and it was felt that they had missed it, and should turn back. The SO insisted on pushing on at a terrific speed, so much so the Engineer-Commander of one ship refused to do the speed (it being more than his horse-power) unless his Captain gave him orders in writing. Some ship signalled: ‘Could we not do one knot less?’. Then they found themselves in the minefield. This is only Force K’s view of course.” (1)


From the War Diary of Vice-Admiral Malta:

“Today signals were received from Kandahar stating that she was still afloat, and she was also sighted by reconnaissance aircraft.  At nightfall Jaguar was despatched to endeavour to rescue survivors and, if conditions were favourable, tow Kandahar back to Malta.  In spite of the assistance of a special Wellington it was not until 0400hrs that Jaguar found and went alongside Kandahar, bow to bow.

By this time the sea had become very rough and after a very few moments it was apparent that this method of rescuing survivors must be abandoned.  Jaguar then lay off from Kandahar and the crew of the latter swam across.  Kandahar was then sunk by torpedo and Jaguar returned to Malta with eight officers and 157 ratings of her ship’s company including the Captain, Commander W G A Robson, DSO.” 

Maltese casualties from HMS Kandahar were L/Ck (O) Joseph Azzopardi, PO Std Joseph Bertuello, L/Std Andrew Schembri, Malta Port Division.


0259-0432 hrs  Air raid alarm. Enemy aircraft on intruder patrols.

0837-1717 hrs  Five air raid alarms were sounded for 22 enemy aircraft approaching the Island.  No bombs were dropped.  Hurricanes intercepted on two occasions, damaging two enemy aircraft.  One Hurricane was lost.  Ack Ack engaged raiders during one alert.

2150 hrs  Air raid alarm.  Two enemy aircraft approached from north and patrolled south of Island before crossing coast.  Incendiary bombs dropped north west of Kalafrana and in Mqabba.  Heavy Ack Ack engaged by immediate and height control barrage.

Military casualties  Sergeant Cedric Tyson Brown, Royal Australian Air Force; Sergeant Alfred McLevy, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, 203 Squadron; Pilot Officer Edward Elmer Steele,  Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve; Flying Officer Arthur Thomas Read, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 203 Squadron.

Enemy casualties  Leutnant Wilhelm Brauns, pilot of JU 88 bomber, shot down and taken prisoner; Obergefreiter Erwin Hesse, Air Gunner of JU 88 bomber, shot down and taken prisoner; Gefreiter Johannes Matuschka, Wireless Operator of JU 88 bomber, shot down and died.


ROYAL NAVY  Utmost returned from patrol in Gulf of Taranto, having obtained a hit on a Garibaldi class merchant vessel.  Aurora, Penelope, Havock, Lance, Lively arrived.  Penelope and Aurora both damaged by mines.  Neptune sunk 30′ off Tripoli and Kandahar sinking.  Jaguar sailed to rescue survivors.

HAL FAR  Night 18/19th  828 Squadron Fleet Air Arm Six Albacores despatched to attack convoy of six destroyers and three merchant vessels approaching Tripoli harbour.  Two hits claimed on 2000 ton merchant vessel.  One Albacore failed to return: the missing crew Lt Greenwood, pilot, and Lt Commander Langmore, observer.  830 Squadron  Five Swordfish despatched to continue attack on the convoy previously attacked by the Albacores.  The convoy was not sighted.  One Swordfish crashed on landing.  Crew unhurt.

LUQA  69 Squadron  Three Marylands special search.  Photo-reconnaissance unit 2 Tripoli.  18 Squadron  Two Blenheims special search; three Blenheims despatched to attack convoy off Tripoli.  107 Squadron  One Blenheim special search; three Blenheims despatched to attack convoy off Tripoli.  S/D Flight   One Wellington search to locate Kandahar.

CENTRAL INFANTRY BRIGADE  High Explosive bombs dropped on Luqa and Safi during raid lasting throughout the night.  Some damage to Signals installations.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB  Dealt with 1 (50kg).

(1) Extract from diary of Rev Reginald M Nicholls, Chancellor of St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Valletta.  Courtesy of website: Malta Family History

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1 Comment

Posted by on December 19, 2021 in 1941, December 1941, Uncategorized


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One response to “19 December 1941: Loss of Navy Ships “Due to Rashness”

  1. Rommelsriposte

    December 22, 2021 at 2:16 pm

    Some background on HMS Kandahar here:


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