RSS

Operation Pedestal: Commander’s Report to Admiralty 25 August 1942

Report on Operation Pedestal

The following Despatch was submitted to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty on the 25th August, 1942 by Vice-Admiral E N Syfret, CB, Flag Officer Commanding, Force F.

HMS NELSON, 25th August, 1942

Be pleased to lay before the Board the following report on Operation “Pedestal” which included Operations ‘Berserk’, ‘Bellows’ and ‘Ascendant’.

1.  In compliance with Admiralty instructions I disembarked from HMS CANTON at Takoradi on 7th July, and accompanied by my Staff Officer (Operations), Commander A H Thorold, OBE, RN, proceeded by air to the United Kingdom, arriving on 13th July.

2.  On arrival at the Admiralty, discussions regarding the planning of the Operations ‘Pedestal’, ‘Berserk’ and ‘Ascendant’ were held with Rear-Admiral A L St G Lyster, CB, CVO, DSO, Rear-Admiral H M Burrough, CB, DSO, and the Naval Staff.

3.  On the return of NELSON and RODNEY from Freetown my flag was transferred to NELSON and I joined that ship at Scapa on 27th July.  This enabled me to convene a conference on 29th July of Flag and Commanding Officers of those naval forces (2) destined for ‘Pedestal’ which were then assembled at Scapa, at which the orders for the operation were gone through in detail.

4.  On 31st July the Rear-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers, Home Fleet sailed from Scapa in VICTORIOUS with ARGUS, SIRIUS and destroyers to rendezvous with EAGLE and CHARYBDIS from Gibraltar and INDOMITABLE and PHOEBE from Freetown, for Operation ‘Berserk’.  ‘Berserk’ was subsequently carried out according to plan and was of the utmost benefit in exercising fighter direction and co-operation between the three carriers.

5.  The convoy under a bogus WS* name escorted by NIGERIA (flag of Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron (4), KENYA and destroyers sailed form the Clyde during the night 2nd/3rd August and joined my flag the following morning.

6.  Just prior to sailing, but after the ‘normal’ convoy conference, Rear-Admiral Burrough held a meeting with the Masters of the MT ships on board his flagship at which the whole plan was explained to them in detail.  A meeting with radio operators of the MT ships was also held when all details regarding fleet communications and procedure were fully explained.  These two meetings were invaluable.

7.  Personal messages signed by the First Lord of the Admiralty wishing the Masters “God Speed” and contained in envelopes marked “Not to be opened until 0800/10th August” were handed to the Masters.  This act of courtesy and encouragement was very highly appreciated.

8.  Shortly before leaving Scapa the Admiralty decided that FURIOUS should carry out Operation ‘Bellows’, to reinforce Malta with Spitfires, concurrently with ‘Pedestal’.  The necessary additions and amendments to the Operation Orders were made and subsequently distributed to all ships and authorities concerned.

9.  Owing to technical difficulties connected with the aircraft’s propellers, and FURIOUS’s humped flying deck, FURIOUS was unable to sail with the main body.  She later proceeded at high speed with MANCHESTER and joined my flag on D minus 3.

10.  The passage of the convoy from the United Kingdom to the rendezvous with the aircraft carriers west of the Straits was wholly successful, though there were many alarms over U-Boat contacts en route.

11.  The convoy was repeatedly exercised in anti-aircraft gunner, in emergency turns and in changing from one cruising disposition to another, using both flags and short range W/T.  The risk to security in breaking W/T silence was accepted and as a result of these excercises the convoy attained an efficiency in manoeuvring comparable to that of a fleet unit.

12.  Unfavourable weather conditions coupled with unsuitable equipment and an inexperienced crew in ABBEYDALE prevented all the ships taking part in ‘Berserk’ completing with fuel at sea.  This entailed sending additional large and small ships into Gibraltar on the night of D minus 2 and D minus 1, thus throwing further heavy commitments on the already complicated organisation required from the Vice-Admiral Commanding, North Atlantic. 

13.  It gives me great pleasure to record the excellent way in which these heavy commitments were met by the Vice-Admiral Commanding, North Atlantic, and all concerned at Gibraltar.

14.  During the afternoon of D minus 1, the dummy air attacks on the force, followed by a fly-past for identification purposes, were carried out and proved to be of the utmost benefit, for exercising the radar reporting and fighter direction organisation and for giving everyone an opportunity for studying the characteristics and markings of our own aircraft.  They did, of course, entail a great volume of W/T and R/T traffic which must have been very apparent to enemy or enemy-controlled listening stations.  This risk to security was considered acceptable when balanced against the benefit to be derived from the practices.

15.  At 1330 when INDOMITABLE joined my flag it is believed to have been the first occasion when five of HM aircraft carriers have ever operated in company at sea simultaneously.

16.  The passage of the Straits and D1 (10th August) were uneventful.  Fishing boats and one merchant vessel were passed at close quarters, but aided by a moonless night and indifferent visibility it is improbable that the force was sighted from the shore.  Reports received later showed, however, that the enemy was fully cognisant of our passage of the Straits.

17.  D2 (11th August) was marked by the following important occurrences:

(a)  The successful completion of the large fuelling programme, thanks very largely to the extreme efficience shown by DINGLEDALE and BROWN RANGER.  In previous similar operations it has not been necessary to provide for so large an oiling programme since ships going to Malta have been able to fuel there.  In this case Malta had no oil to spare.  The problem of oiling 3 cruisers and 26 destroyers at sea, under enemy observation and in U-Boat infested waters, was an anxious one, failure of which could have seriously upset the whole plan.

(b) The tragic sinking of EAGLE which, quite apart from the loss to the fleet of a well-tried and valuable carrier, at once bereft the force of 25 per cent of its fighter strength. 

(c) The large number of sightings and reportings of torpedoes and U-Boats, a proportion of which may well have been actualities.

(d)  The successful execution of Operation ‘Bellows’ whereby 37 much needed Spitfires reached Malta safely. (5) 

(e)  The continuous snooping throughout the day despite all our fighters could do to prevent it; and the heavy, but fortunately unsuccessful, air attack at dusk.  Our fighters competed manfully at great height against he snoopers but the speed and the height of the JU 88s made the fighters’ task a hopeless one.  It will be a happy day when the fleet is equipped with modern fighter aircraft.

D3 12th August

18.  As the force moved east it was to be expected that the U-Boat and air threat would progressively increase.  Additional anti-submarine measures were taken to counter the marine measures were taken to counter the U-Boat concentration which was believed to have been disposed in an area near Galita and our vigilant A/S screen had the satisfaction of achieving a ‘kill’ of one Italian submarine.(6)  HMS ITHURIEL delivered the coup de grace to this submarine by ramming it and in doing so badly damaged herself and put her asdic gear out of action.  The submarine when it came ot the surface after being depth charged was obviously ‘all in’ and I thought the expensive method chosen by the Commanding Officer, HMS ITHURIEL, to sink it quite unnecessary.  Moreover, I was disturbed at the resulting absence of ITHURIEL from the screen when an air attack was impending.

19.  Throughout the day the force was under continual observation by aircraft which were protected, progressively more strongly, by fighters.  During the day the force was subjected to three very heavy air attacks; whilst Force X, after parting company, was attacked at dusk by bombers and torpedo bombers.

20.  During daylight hours our fighters, though frequently greatly outnumbered, continued their magnificent work both in reporting approaching raids and in shooting down enemy aircraft.  Success also attended our [Anti-Aircraft] guns though more from their deterrent effect than from the accuracy of their fire.

21.  In their daylight attacks, the enemy employed every form of air attack, including minelaying ahead of the fleet which, so far as I know, has not been used before by the enemy.

22.  Despite the great numbers of aircraft employed in the four heavy attacks on the fleet up to 1900 hrs on D3, it is gratifying to record that the only casualties were one MT ship with her speed reduced by a near miss, one destroyer torpedoed but afloat (though later sunk by own forces), and the INDOMITABLE put out of flying action but capable of steaming at 28½ knots.

23.  I had intended that Force Z should turn to the westward on reaching the entrance to the Skerki Channel at 1915 hrs and had warned the fleet accordingly.  The damaged INDOMITABLE, on fire forward and aft, caused me however to advance this time by twenty minutes, and at 1855 hrs I ordered Force Z to turn and Force X to proceed to Malta.  The withdrawal of Force Z was apparently unnoticed by the enemy and its separation fr4m Force X not discovered by him until about 2030 hrs.

25.  In view of the magnitude of the enemy’s air attack ant 1830 to 1850 hrs it seemed improbable that a further attack on Force X on any great scale would be forthcoming before dark, and having reached Skerki Banks, it was hoped that the submarine menace was mostly over.  The dangers ahead of Force X seemed to lie principally in attacks by E-Boats during the night and by aircraft the following morning.

25.  Thus the enemy’s successful submarine attack at 2000 hrs when NIGERIA, CAIRO and OHIO were torpedoed was unexpected and its effect far reaching.  The time was a critical one, for the change from four columns to two columns was being made and for this manoeuvre the cruisers were much needed as leaders of columns.  The torpedoing of HM Ships NIGERIA and CAIRO, the temporary non-effectiveness of HMS ASHANTI (Captain (D), 6th Destroyer Flotilla) while embarking Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron, and the detachment of four Hunt destroyers to stand by the damaged cruisers, deprived (a) Force X temporarily of hits Commander, (b) two columns of their leaders, (c) the convoy of nearly half its escort and (d) the force of its two Fighter Direction ships.  On hearing that NIGERIA and CAIRO had been torpedoed I ordered CHARYBDIS, ESKIMO and SOMALI to reinforce Force X.   From about 2035 to 2100 hrs, the convoy was subjected to a very severe dusk air attack by dive bombers and torpedo bombers.  ASHANTI and PENN laid a smoke-screen to cover the light western horizon, but this did not prevent the attack being effective.  EMPIRE HOPE and GLENORCHY were both bombed and sunk, the latter blowing up with no survivors.

A separate torpedo bomber attack sank DEUCALION at 2130 hrs near the Cani Rocks when under escort of BRAMHAM.

The Commanding Officer, HMS KENYA, describes the state of the convoy subsequent to these misfortunes as chaotic.  I think this may be an exaggeration for though necessarily the convoy was in a confused state there is no evidence to show that any ship of the convoy was steaming other than in the correct direction.  Furthermore we know that 11 of the convoy got safely, though some not undamaged, as far as Kelibia (7) by early morning.

D4 13th August

26.  The attenuated line of merchant ships and the reduced number of escort ships provided easy opportunities for attacks by the E-Boats which were lying in wait off Kelibia.  Here three of the merchant ships which failed to reach Malta were torpedoed.  Of these the WAIRANGI, it is believed, was hit in the engine room and was permanently disabled, but the ALMERIA LYKES was hit before the bulkhead of No 1 hold and could well have continued steaming to Malta.

27.  In the early morning MANCHESTER was torpedoed, supposedly by an E-Boat or possibly mined and after the ships company had abandoned her in the ship’s boats and Carley rafts she was scuttled by order of her Commanding Officer.

28.  The E-boat attacks during the night added further to the disorganisation of the convoy and at daylight the scattered ships were comparatively easy prey for enemy aircraft.  Three MT ships were hit by bombs and sunk.  The remaining five MT ships reached Malta.

29.  That these five ships did make their goal is a magnificent tribute to the resolution shown by all concerned, and a special word of praise is due to the gallant Master of the OHIO (Captain D W Mason), to PENN (Lieutenant-Commander J H Swain, RN), LEDBURY (Lieutenant-commander R P Hill, RN) and BRAMHAM (Lieutenant E F Baines, RN), to the Malta Local Forces, and to the Royal Air Force based on Malta.

30.  Having turned over his charges to the Malta Escort Force, Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron with Force X less HM Ships PENN, LEDBURY and BRAMHAM withdrew at 1600 hrs D4.

31.  HMS NIGERIA and three Hunts had already started back, as had HM Ships ESKIMO and SOMALI who had been sent by Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron to help HMS MANCHESTER.  HMS TARTAR, who had sunk HMS FORESIGHT at 0955 hrs D4, was also on her way back to Gibraltar. 

32.  Throughout D4 Force Z continued to the westward, apparently unobserved by the enemy, turning to the eastward at 2300 hrs D4, when HM Ships RODNEY and INDOMITABLE with five destroyers were detached to Gibraltar.

D5 14th August

33.  During D5 I was uncertain of the position of Force X and how it was faring though, from intercepted manoeuvring and radar reporting signals, it was clear that they were being subjected to air attacks to the west of Galita Island.  In fact they were undergoing severe attention from the enemy’s air forces but fortunately they came through unharmed.

34.  With the object of being near at hand if support was required, Force Z cruised to the northward of Algiers until about 1500 hrs D5, when I was relieved to receive a signal from Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron, giving his noon position, course and speed as 37 degrees 21 mins North, 06 degrees 27 mins East, 272 degrees, 20 knots.  Course of Force Z was then set to make contact.

35.  An Albacore was sent to establish a visual link with Force X and at 1800 hrs D5 Force Z and Force X met and the combined forces withdrew to Gibraltar, arriving at 1800 hrs D6.

36.  Of the remainder of the forces at sea, HMS FURIOUS and screen arrived Gibraltar at 1900 hrs D3; HM Ships NIGERIA, TARTAR and three Hunts at 0010 hrs D6; and HM Ships ESKIMO and SOMALI at 0530 hrs D6.

37.  Force R cruised in the western basin until it was certain that they would not be required to fuel Force X, when they were ordered to return to Gibraltar, arriving AM D7.

38.  HM Ships PENN, LEDBURY and BRAMHAM arrived at Malta with SS OHIO at 0755 hrs D6.  They sailed for Gibraltar at 2030 hrs D9 and arrived there at 0715 hrs on 21st August.

39.  During the return passage of HMS FURIOUS from Operation ‘Bellows’, HMS WOLVERINE, one of her escort, detected, rammed and sank a U-Boat (8) in position 37 degrees 18 mins North, one degree 55 minutes East at 0050 hrs D3.  There were no survivors.  HMS WOLVERINE severely damaged her bows and was escorted part of the way back to Gibraltar by HMS MALCOLM, who later reinforced HMS NIGERIA’s screen.

40.  HMS NIGERIA was shadowed continuously on D4 and was attacked by three torpedo bomber aircraft at 1515 hrs.  She successfully combed the tracks and was not further molested by aircraft.  When five miles south of Alboran, at 1644 hrs D5 she avoided torpedoes fired by a U-Boat.  Prior to this attack her screen had been reinforced by four Western Approaches destroyers despatched by Vice-Admiral Commanding, North Atlantic.

41.  HM Ships ESKIMO and SOMALI were attacked by a JU 88 and a torpedo bomber aircraft when west of Galita pm on D4, and a near miss on HMS SOMALI caused her to lose steam and stop for five minutes.

42.  Force Y sailed ffrom Malta at 2030 hrs D1.  Though aircraft flew over them on D2, their Italian deck markings seemed to nonplus the enemy’s observers.  Off Cape Bon on the night of D2, Force Y encountered and was fired on by a darkened Vichy minesweeper and on D3 was shadowed occasionally by single aircraft who remained mystified.  No incident occurred subsequent to noon on D3 and the force arrived safely at Gibraltar at 1000 hrs D5.

General Remarks

43.  Planning and assembly:  It was a great advantage that the planning could be done at the Admiralty for the following reasons:

(a)  Early decisions could be obtained and questions answered, thus saving signals.

(b)  Communications were better and there was less chance of loss of security.

(c)  General views on policy could be obtained.

(d)  Experts in all branches were readily available.

(e)  The advice and help of the Naval Staff was always at hand.

44.  Assembling and sailing of ships at Scapa Flow not only enabled me to discuss the operation with the majority of Commanding Officers of ships taking part, but also gave many advantages from the security point of view.  The use of a telephone, fitted with a scrambler, was invaluable as it enabled many points of detail to be cleared up, up to the moment of sailing.  I am sure that the decision to bring NELSON and RODNEY from Freetown to Scapa was fully justified.

It was some disadvantage from the co-operation point of view that INDOMITABLE and EAGLE and their attendant ships should have had to start from Freetown and Gibraltar respectively; from the security point of view, however, this was probably advantageous.

45.  Surprise:  Our attempt to pass the convoy into the Mediterranean without the enemy’s knowledge resulted in a very complicated fuelling programme during dark hours at Gibraltar in the days preceding D1.  Operation ‘Berserk’, invaluable in itself, was a further source of embarrassment from the fuelling point of view.  With the efficient intelligence service which it appears the enemy now has in the Gibraltar area it may be argued that the small chance of effecting any surprise is not worth the complications and difficulties of attempting to do so.  I think, however, it would be wrong to take this line.  Until the enemy’s reconnaissance forces actually see us in the Mediterranean, he cannot be sure his intelligence is correct, and any uncertainty we can create in his mind must be all to our benefit.

46.  Re-fuelling destroyers on D2:  The re-fuelling of CAIRO and 24 destroyers between 0600 hrs and 2030 hrs on D2 was an accomplishment redounding very greatly to the credit of BROWN RANGER and DINGLEDALE.  But the Masters of these ships would be the first to admit that fortune favoured us.  The weather was good and a light easterly wind enabled the desired course to be maintained whilst fuelling was in progress.

47. Such fortune cannot be expected on all occasions, more particularly in winter months, and the failure or partial failure of fuelling plans must be provided for.

48.  Furthermore one must always have in mind the possibility of the oiler(s) being damaged or sunk by enemy action.  Hitherto the oilers have borne a charmed life, though on this occasion they experienced alarms on account of both enemy aircraft and submarines.

49.  Co-operation by other Commands:  Information I received showed that part of the enemy’s forces which attacked the fleet on D2 and D3 were operating from Trapani and recently had been based at Heraklion.  It seems probable, therefore, that the enemy moved some air squadrons from Greece, and possibly also from Crete, for the occasion.

50.  The diversionary convoy from Haifa and Port Said was planned by Commander in Chief, Mediterranean, with a view to dissuading the enemy from any such redisposition of his air forces, and I had hoped that the Army would have helped to further this end by staging an attack in Egypt.  In this hope I was disappointed.

51.  The attacks on Sardinian and Sicilian aerodromes by bomber forces from Malta and Egypt were valuable contributions to our plan and it is believed they achieved effective results.

52.  The losses suffered by Force F were regrettably heavy and the number of merchant ships which reached Malta disappointingly small.  But I have no fault to find with the personnel of the fleet because better results were not achieved.  On the contrary, Commanding Officers, generally, have praised the fine bearing and spirit shown by their ships’ companies, many of whom were very young and to whom battle was a new experience.  I am proud to associate myself with these tributes, and in particular give credit to those whose duties kept them below decks during submarine, air and E-Boat attacks.

53.  The constant A/S vigilance shown by the destroyers under the leadership of Captain R M J Hutton (Captain (D), 19th Destroyer Flotilla) and Acting Captain R J Onslow (Captain (D), 6th Destroyer Flotilla) for a period extending over 14 days is deserving of much praise.  It is true that the submarine which sank HMS EAGLE was undetected but I am very sure that their watchfulness foiled many another attack.

54.  That 27 emergency turns were made on passage to the Straits and 48 during D1, D2 and D3, consequent on warnings given by the A/S screen, is an illustration of the value of their work.  Besides this, their defence of the fleet against torpedo bomber attack was so successful that only one torpedo bomber aircraft managed to get past them.

55.  The work of the aircraft carriers (HMS INDOMITABLE, Captain T H Troubridge, and HMS VICTORIOUS, Captain H C Bovell) under the command of Rear-Admiral Lyster, was excellently performed, while that of their fighters was magnificent.  Flying at great heights, constantly chasing the faster JU 88s, warning the fleet of approaching formations, breaking up the latter, and in the later stages doing their work in the face of superior enemy fighter forces, they were grand.  The fact that 39 [enemy aircraft] certainties were shot down by them and the probability that at least the same number were incapacitated is a remarkable measure of the success of the carriers, their teamwork and their fighters and of the able and inspiring leadership of Rear-Admiral A L St G Lyster, CB, CVO, DSO.

56.  Tribute has been paid to the personnel of HM Ships but both officers and men will desire to give first place to the conduct, courage and determination of the Masters, officers and men of the merchant ships.  The steadfast manner in which these ships pressed on their way to Malta through all the attacks, answering every manoeuvring order like a well trained fleet unit, was a most inspiring sight.  Many of these fine men and their ships were lost but the memory of their conduct will remain an inspiration to all who were privileged to sail with them.

57.  The task of Force X was always difficult and hazardous.  Unhappily a serious disaster befell them almost at once and heavily tipped the scales in favour of the enemy.  Nevertheless they continued undaunted and determined, and fighting their way through many and heavy attacks by U-Boats, E-Boats and aircraft, they delivered five of their charges to Malta and then fought their way back to Gibraltar.  In doing this they showed a display of fortitude and determination of which all may be proud and particularly their courageous and resolute leader, Rear-Admiral H M Burrough, CB, DSO.

58.  In conclusion I think I am speaking for all in saying that we are disappointed at not doing better but we should like to try again.

(Signed) E N SYFRET

Vice-Admiral, Flag Officer Commanding, Force F

 

NOMENCLATURE OF FORCES TAKING PART

 

Force as a whole                                                                                   Force F

Convoy and Escort.  UK rendezvous                                                        Force P

VICTORIOUS, ARGUS and escort.  UK rendezvous                                  Force M

EAGLE and escort.  Gibraltar rendezvous                                                Force J

INDOMITABLE and escort.  Freetown rendezvous                         Force K

Aircraft carriers and escort (after rendezvous for Operation ‘Berserk’)          Force G

BROWN RANGER and DINGLEDALE (Fleet oil tankers) and escort           Force R

ABBEYDALE (Fleet oil tanker for Operation ‘Berserk’) and escort              Force W

Naval forces escorting convoy to Malta                                                     Force X

Force F, less Force X                                                                             Force Z

Convoy and escort.  Malta-Gibraltar                                                         Force Y

 

COMPOSITION OF FORCES

 

Force Z

Battleships: NELSON (Senior Officer, Force F) and RODNEY. Aircraft carriers:  VICTORIOUS (Rear-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers, Home Fleet), INDOMITABLE and EAGLE.  (Also FURIOUS for Operation ‘Bellows’.). Cruisers:  PHOEBE, SIRIUS and CHARYBDIS. Destroyers:  LAFOREY (Captain (D), 19th Destroyer Flotilla), LIGHTNING, LOOKOUT, QUENTIN, ESKIMO, TARTAR, ITHURIEL, ANTELOPE, WISHART, VANSITTART, WESTCOTT, WRESTLER, ZETLAND and WILTON.

 

Force X

Cruisers:  NIGERIA (Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron), KENYA, MANCHESTER and CAIRO. Destroyers:  ASHANTI (Captain (D), 6th Destroyer Flotilla), INTREPID, ICARUS, FORESIGHT, FURY, PATHFINDER, PENN, DERWENT, BRAMHAM, BICESTER and LEDBURY.

 

Convoy WS21S

MT ships (15 knots):  EMPIRE HOPE, DORSET, WAIRANGI, ROCHESTER CASTLE, WAIMARAMA, BRISBANE STAR, PORT CHALMERS, ALMERIA LYKES, SANTA ELISA, CLAN FERGUSON, GLENORCHY, MELBOURNE STAR, DEUCALION. Oil tanker (15 knots): OHIO

 

Additional escort for convoy WS21S (UK to Straits of Gibraltar):

Destroyers:  KEPPEL, MALCOLM, AMAZON, VENOMOUS and WOLVERINE.

 

Force Y

MT Ships (14 knots): TROILUS and ORARI. Escort:  Destroyers MATCHLESS and BADSWORTH

 

Force R

Fleet oil tankers:  RAF BROWN RANGER and DINGLEDALE

HM Tugs:  JAUNTY and SALVONIA

Escort:  Corvettes JONQUIL, GERANIUM, SPIREA and COLTSFOOT.

 

DIARY OF EVENTS

PART I

Passage of Straits of Gibraltar to detaching of Force X and commencement of Force Z’s withdrawal

 

Monday 10th August (D1)

Cape Spartel was passed at midnight 9th/10th.  During the passage through the Straits of Gibraltar a large number of fishing boats was passed between Malabata and Tarifa and also two neurtral steamers steaming to the westward.

2.  At 0245 hrs fog was encountered.  The visibility was at times down to one cable.  The fog cleared at 0500 hrs.  At 0840 hrs the force proceeded eastwards at 13½ knots in Cruising Disposition No 16.

3.  During the day, ships which had been detached to refuel at Gibraltar rejoined, and at 1600 hrs the force was complete with the exception of WRESTLER who, owing to a mechanical defect, was later replaced by AMAZON.

4.  The day was uneventful except that alarms were caused through the IFF of several of the Hudson aircraft provided by Vice-Admiral Commanding, North Atlantic, for A/S patrol, not showing.  This on one occasion caused the ‘duty section’ of four fighters to be flown off from VICTORIOUS to intercept and entailed the breaking of W/T silence on radar reporting and fighter direction waves. 

5.  At dusk a diversionary convoy was due to be sailed from Port Said to rendezvous at 0800/D2 with a similar convoy which was to sail from Haifa at 0400/D2.  These convoys were to be escorted by cruisers and destroyers and were due to turn back at dark D2.  It is believed that these movements took place as arranged though no information was received by me to that effect.

 

Tuesday 11th August (D2)

6.  At 0645 hrs, ASHANTI (Captain D6), LEDBURY, ZETLAND, WILTON, BARMHAM, BICESTER, FORESIGHT and DERWENT made contact with Force R and commencing fuelling, having been detached at 2130 hrs the previous night.  SIRIUS, PHOEBE and Tug JAUNTY joined from Force R at 0845 hrs.  JAUNTY reported his maximum speed as being 12½ knots.  Captain (D), 6th Destroyer Flotilla remained with Force R in charge of the oiling until relieved by Captain (D), 19th Destroyer Flotilla at 1800 hrs.  Thanks to the excellent arrangements on board the oilers, CAIRO and 24 destroyers had been fuelled by 2030 hrs.  

By the end of the day, BROWN RANGER was down to 100 tons and 1000 tons of oil were transferred from DINGLEDALE on the morning of D3. 

7.  At 0800 hrs/11th, COLTSFOOT, one of the corvettes screening Force R, reported that two torpedoes had been observed to break surface in position 37 degrees 56 mins north, 1 degree 40 mins east.  There were indications that Force F may have been reported by Italian U-Boats at 0815 hrs when south of Formentera Island.

8.  At 1055 hrs I [SYFRET] received Vice-Admiral Commanding, North Atlantic’s 0902hrsA/II informing me that an aircraft sighting report of Force F at 0620hrsZ/II had been broadcast by Rome to “all units and stations”.  This followed a previous warning from Vice-Admiral Commanding, North Atlantic (his 0732A/II) that German reconnaissance aircraft were active in the Western Meditteranean. 

The first radar contact was obtained at 0815 hrs, and from then onwards there was continuous ‘snooping’ of the force by enemy aircraft.  Two sections of four fighters each were kept in the air throughout the day, being reinforced as necessary.  The enemy machines (JU 88s) were flying at 20,000 feet or more and difficulty was experienced by our fighters in intercepting them.  Five interceptions were made resulting in one JU 88 shot down and two damaged.  One Hurricane and one Fulmar were lost but the crews of both were recovered.

9.  At 1128 hrs three distant disturbances on the surface of the sea, as of torpedo discharges, were seen in both NELSON and CHARYBDIS, bearing 200 degrees, about 3 miles.  They were described by a submarine officer in NELSON as exactly similar to the torpedo discharges of a carelessly handled submarine, and by CHARYBDIS as a torpedo ‘break surface’.  It seems probable that a U-Boat attempted to attack the convoy at this time.

 

Operation ‘Bellows’

At 1218 hrs FURIOUS, screened by LIGHTNING and LOOKOUT moved out to the port quarter of the convoy for Operation ‘Bellows’.  The first Spitfire took off at 1229 hrs.  Two flights of eight Spitfires were flown off before delay was caused by emergency turns following the sinking of EAGLE.

The third, fourth and fifth flights were flown off between 1350 and 1450 hrs.  In all 38 Spitfires were flown off of which one, with a defect, landed on INDOMITABLE.  I was informed later in the day by Vice-Admiral, Malta that 37 had arrived in Malta. 

 

Sinking of EAGLE

11.  At 1315 hrs in position 38 degrees 5 mins north, 3 degrees 2 mins east, EAGLE was hit on the port side by four torpedoes, all within an interval of about 10 seconds.  At this time EAGLE was stationed to the quarter of the starboard wing column of the convoy, speed 13 knots, and on the starboard leg of zig-zag No 10, mean line of advance 90 degrees.

12.  EAGLE heeled rapidly over to port and sank in about eight minutes.  No torpedo tracks were seen and it seems probable that the attack was carried out by a German U-Boat which dived under the screen, passed between columns 3 and 4 and attacked EAGLE at very short range with electric torpedoes.  There were thirteen destroyers on the screen at this time and none obtained a contact.

13.  LOOKOUT, who was screening FURIOUS for ‘Bellows’, and LAFOREY were ordered to stand by EAGLE.  Tug JAUNTY also proceeded immediately towards EAGLE and joined LOOKOUT in picking up survivors.  Neither LOOKOUT nor CHARYBDIS, who steamed over the probable position of the U-Boat, obtained a contact.  927 survivors, including the Commanding Officer, were picked up by LAFOREY, LOOKOUT and JAUNTY.

14.  For about one hour and a half after the sinking of EAGLE numerous sightings of submarines and torpedoes and asdic contacts were reported but there is no conclusive proof of a second U-Boat being in the vicinity during this period.

15.  At 1429 hrs, KEPPEL (Senior Officer), MALCOLM, AMAZON, VENOMOUS, WOLVERINE and WRESTLER were sighted by Captain (D), 19th Destroyer Flotilla, and ordered by him to carry out an A/S search of the area.  After picking up survivors, LAFOREY (Captain D19) and LOOKOUT rejoined Force F.  KEPPEL, MALCOLM, VENOMOUS, WOLVERINE and WRESTLER joined at 1545 hrs, AMAZON having been ordered to take JAUNTY under his orders and join Force R.

I then ordered survivors in LAFOREY to be transferred to KEPPEL, those in LOOKOUT to VENOMOUS, and those in JAUNTY to MALCOLM.  This was completed by 1830 hrs when the five destroyers formed screen on FURIOUS, who parted company and returned to Gibraltar.

16.  At 1420 hrs  enemy aircraft approaching from the starboard beam were detected by radar.  They passed directly over the force at a great height at 1430 hrs, NELSON and RODNEY opening fire in barrage for a few minutes.  These aircraft were not seen but it seems possible that a photographic reconnaissance was being carried out by the enemy.  This formation remained in the vicinity for some time but no attack developed. 

17.  At 1545 hrs Rear-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers, informed me that one of our aircraft had force-landed, bearing 22 degrees, 23 miles away.  WESTCOTT was ordered to proceed to search for the pilot and join Force R before dark.  The pilot was recovered and WESTCOTT then joined Force R as directed. 

18.  Paravanes were streamed by battleships, cruisers and M.T. ships at 1635 hrs.

 

The Dusk Attack on the Force

19.  From about 1700 hrs until the attack developed at 2045 hrs,  Force F was continuously snooped by three or more enemy aircraft and the fighters were kept extremely busy. 

20.  At 1634 hrs  I received Vice-Admiral Commanding, North Atlantic’s 1446A/II warning me that the enemy would probably make a JU 88 attack at dusk.  The fleet was by now in the second degree of HA readiness and at 1854 hrs I ordered Captain (D), 6th Destroyer Flotilla (then the Senior Officer of destroyers in the absence of Captain (D), 19th Destroyer Flotilla, who was oiling) to station Hunt class destroyers close to the flanks of the convoy as in Cruising Disposition No 17 by sunset; also that the screen were to increase their distance from the convoy to 6000 yards in the event of an attack.

21.  Radar reports made it evident that a raid was coming in at 2030 hrs, and not many minutes later sighting reports of enemy aircraft were received from the screen.  The last destroyers to oil, which included LAFOREY (Captain D 19), joined at this time, thus bringing the force up to full strength.

22.  At 2056 hrs, 15 minutes after sunset, firing began from destroyers on the port bow followed almost immediately by the cruisers and battleships.

23.  The attack was by a number of JU 88s which dived form about 8000 feet to 2-300 feet and by some torpedo bombers; the latter did not press home their attack though some tracks were seen and avoided.  The attack lasted until about 2130 hrs and the barrage put up by the force was most spectacular.  Three enemy aircraft were shot down for certain by ships’ gunfire.

Force R to the south’ard also came in for attention, one JU 88 dropping two bombs, one of which fell between the oilers and the escort, another diving on JAUNTY who was about seven miles to the westward endeavouring to join.  She claims to have damaged it with Oerlikon fire.  No damage was done to any ships in these attacks. 

A number of friendly fighters were in the area throughout but were unable to locate the enemy in the failing light.  They had to be landed on after dark, and in doing so some were fired on by our own ships. 

24.  During the above air attack, QUENTIN in position A on the screen confirmed an asdic contact, carrying out three depth charge attacks before rejoining at 2140 hrs.

25.  No further incident occurred during the night and force proceeded to the eastward unmolested.

At dusk Beaufighters from Malta attacked Elmas and Decimomannu aerodromes with results reported by Vice-Admiral, Malta as having been highly satisfactory.

By night two Liberators from the Middle East, operating from Malta, bombed Decimomannu aerodrome.

 

Wednesday 12th August (D3)

26.  Radar reports of enemy snoopers began to come in at first light and all ships went to the first degree of readiness for HA and LA (9) at 0530 hrs.  Twelve fighters were flown off at 0610 hrs, and this number was maintained in the air throughout the day, being reinforced as necessary.  There were few moments when neither aircraft, submarines, torpedoes nor asdic contacts were being reported.  Cruising Disposition No 17 was formed at 0600 hrs.

27.  Information having been received of a probable concentration of U-Boats in the area to the northward of Galita, I ordered Captain (D), 19th Destroyer Flotilla, as an additional A/S measure, to reduce the distance apart of destroyers in the ahead and wing positions on the screen while shortening the distance of the screen ahead of the convoy and lengthening the distance apart of destroyers in the beam and quarter positions.

28.  The first raid of the day by about 20 high level bombers approached at 0907 hrs.  They were engaged by 16 of our fighters who were observed to shoot down one.  The aircraft came in over the fleet from right ahead at 0914 hrs, dropped their bombs and were away in about six minutes.  Two JU 88s were observed to be shot down and a third retired to the south’ard on fire fore and aft and losing height.  Our fighters shot down eight certain, three probable and two damaged.  No damage was done to any ship.

29.  FURY on the starboard wing of the screen confirmed an asdic contact at 0935 hrs and was joined in the hunt by FORESIGHT.  This was about 12 minutes after LAFOREY in position B had counterattacked a confirmed contact and it is possible that a U-Boat having escaped from LAFOREY, by diving under the convoy, was detected by FURY.

Soon there were four destroyers investigating contacts on the starboard side and at 0940 hrs all destroyers were ordered to rejoin by Captain (D), 19th Destroyer Flotilla, as the U-Boat, if there was one there, was no longer a danger to Force F.

30.  In order to fill gaps in the screen due to destroyers falling out for asdic contacts two Hunts form the convoy close screen were stationed astern of positions B and P to act as reserve destroyers.

31.  Meanwhile spasmodic firing by the screen at snoopers which came within range continued and, of course, the carriers and their ‘chickens’ were, as always, extremely busy.

32.  PATHFINDER in position C (port bow) confirmed an asdic contact and heavily attacked it.  She was assisted in the hunt by ZETLAND who was in the spare position.  The hunt lasted from 1135 until 1150 hrs when both ships lost contact and rejoined.  Seven minutes later the destroyer in position H (on the port quarter) investigated a contact and carried out an attack but reported non-sub.  This sequence of events makes it appear possible that a U-Boat attempted to break through the port screen but was foiled by PATHFINDER.

33.  At 1200 hrs a raid was reported coming in from ahead.  It was intercepted by fighters.  One was shot down, the smoke of which could be seen from the fleet.  The aircraft were sighted by ASHANTI at 1210 hrs and cruisers and destroyers in the van opened fire one minute later.  This formation was of at least nine aircraft which dropped parachute mines in the path of the fleet.  An emergency turn of 90 degrees to port was executed to avoid these.  Several explosions some distance to the south-eastward at about 1229 hrs were probably these mines detonating.  One minelayer was probably shot down by destroyer.  No damage was sustained by any ships.

34.  This attack was followed by a large number of torpedo bombers which came in in formation of five or six on the port bow, port beam and finally on the starboard quarter.  None of these attacks were pressed home and no aircraft penetrated the destroyer screen.

35.  All dropped their torpedoes well outside the screen and outside range of the convoy.  Several destroyers on the port side were near missed by torpedoes.  One torpedo bomber was probably shot down by ships’ gunfire. 

36.  The torpedo attack was closely followed by attacks by a large number of JU 88s which dive-bombed and also dropped small canisters with small black parachutes.  DEUCALION was near missed and had her speed reduced.  BRAMHAM was detailed to stand by her.  She reported that No 1 hold was half flooded and No 2 completely flooded, but later added that she could steam at 10 knots.  I ordered BRAMHAM to escort her via the coastal route to Malta.  NELSON, RODNEY, CAIRO and several MT ships were very near missed.  One JU 88 was probably destroyed by gunfire and several damaged.

37.  At 1345 hrs two Italian Reggione fighter-bombers dived on VICTORIOUS.  After releasing their bombs, one of which glanced off the flight deck without exploding, they flew low over the convoy.  As VICTORIOUS was flying on at the time, these were taken for friendly fighters and they got away practically unfired at.  The bombs were estimated at about 100 lbs.

38.  Meanwhile TARTAR on the starboard quarter reported a submarine in sight and carried out a depth charge attack.  No further report was received.

39.  At 1417 hrs ZETLAND was seen to alter course and steam to the south’ard at high speed.  He reported “submarine on the surface on the horizon, bearing 200 degrees”.  This submarine was no danger to the force and ZETLAND was ordered back to her station.  The information was passed to BRAMHAM who, with DEUCALION, was near the bearing.  The submarine was not seen in NELSON.

40.  The following two hours, until the next air attack developed, brought innumerable reports of submarine sightings and asdic contacts.  As an additional A/S measure, at Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron’s suggestion, I had ordered Captain (D), 19th Destroyer Flotilla to arrange for a depth charge to be dropped by a destroyer on each side of the screen every ten minutes between 1400 and 1900 hrs.

41.  At 1616 hrs PATHFINDER in position C (on port bow) reported a confirmed asdic contact which she heavily attacked with two patterns in quick succession.  ZETLAND who had joined PATHFINDER remained until the contact was no longer a danger when she rejoined at 1641 hrs.

42.  At 1649 hrs ITHURIEL in position I (port quarter) sighted a periscope and part of a conning tower on her starboard bow and immediately attacked.  She obtained contact at 900 yards and carried out a counter-attack by asdics.  This attack brought the U-Boat to the surface and ITHURIEL opened fire, turned and finally rammed it.  This U-Boat sank before anything of value could be removed from her, although the boarding party managed to reach the conning tower.  The U-Boat was the Italian Cobalto: three officers (including the Captain) and 38 ratings were taken prisoner.  It is probable that this submarine was the one which PATHFINDER so heavily attacked.

43.  Meanwhile at 1640 hrs TARTAR in position U (starboard quarter) reported “torpedo in sight starboard” and immediately counter-attacked.  A few minutes later LOOKOUT in the next position astern of TARTAR (position V) reported submarine in sight.  Both these ships obtained asdic contact and hunted until the U-Boat was no longer a menace, each ship having made two deliberate attacks.

44.  At 1726 hrs  I ordered WILTON to join Force X as BRAMHAM was detached escorting DEUCALION and at 1813 hrs I informed the force that Force Z would turn to the westward at 1915 hrs.

45.  Reports of small formations of enemy aircraft were coming in and it became evident before long that the enemy might be expected to make an air attack on a considerable scale.  Our fighters made contact with enemy formations at about 1736 hrs and reported that they were heavily escorted by fighters.

46.  At 1749 hrs, ITHURIEL, who had not yet rejoined after picking up prisoners and shoring up his foremost collision bulkhead after ramming COBALTO, was attacked by four JU 88s and one CR42 fighter-bomber.  She sustained no further damage but her speed had been reduced to 20 knots by the ramming and her A/S had been put out of action.

47.  Course was altered in succession to 121 degrees at 1800 hrs, this being the course to pass through the Skerki Channel. 

48.  At 1830 hrs the first enemy formation was sighted.  It is believed now that there were from 100 to 120 enemy aircraft in the vicinity, many of them fighters.  Against them we had 22 fighters in the air, who continually harassed and broke up the enemy formations.

49.  The first attack commenced at 1835 hrs and comprised at least 13 torpedo bombers; simultaneously an unknown number of high level bombers, dive bombers and minelaying aircraft attacked.  An emergency turn was made to avoid the mines and torpedoes which had been dropped outside the starboard screen.

Very soon after this 40 torpedo bombers were reported ahead, followed immediately by a Stuka attack on INDOMITABLE, who became obscured by splashes and smoke.

The net result of these series of severe attacks was FORESIGHT torpedoed aft, INDOMITABLE three hits by large bombs and several near misses, causing two large fires and putting the flight deck out of action.  There were many near misses elsewhere in the force but no other ships suffered damage.

The casualties to enemy aircraft are uncertain but INDOMITABLE’s fighters shot down nine certain, two probable and one damaged, for the loss of two fighters, one pilot being saved.  One JU 87 was probably shot down by ships’ gunfire. 

50.  TARTAR proceeded to FORESIGHT’s assistance and subsequently took her in tow. 

51.  INDOMITABLE reduced speed and turned to the west away from the wind.  CHARYBDIS closed her and some of Force Z destroyers were ordered to form a screen on her.  As the time was now 1855 hrs and the attack apparently over, Force Z was turned to the westward and Force X was detached.

52.  At 1914 hrs LOOKOUT was ordered to close INDOMITABLE to pump water on the fires but soon INDOMITABLE reported “situation in hand” and, at 1927 hrs, that she could steam 17 knots.  Shortly afterwards her steering gear became temporarily disabled but by 2030 hrs she was in all respects ready to proceed at 20 knots and shortly after reported able to make 28½ knots.

53.  Force Z withdrew to the westward at 18 knots, speed being restricted to this by boiler tube defects reported by RODNEY.

 

PART II

Detaching of Force X until their rejoining Force Z  

The following account of proceedings of Force X from the time of their detachment at 1900 hrs/D3 until rejoining my flag at 1800 hrs/D5 has been compiled from the reports of Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron and Commanding Officers of ships concerned.  In the circumstances prevailing, discrepancies, differences and uncertainties are bound to arise in the recording of incidents.

 

Wednesday 12th August (D3)

2.  At about 1956 hrs, as Cruising Disposition No 21 was being taken up, HMS NIGERIA leading the port column was hit, supposedly by a torpedo, and within a few minutes HMS CAIRO, SS OHIO and another MT ship (probably SS BRISBANE STAR) were also hit.

3.  Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron is of the opinion that all these casualties were from torpedoes fired by one or more U-Boats, though the possibility of the damage being caused by mines cannot be excluded.

4.  No detection of U-Boats by visual, asdic or radar was made.  The time intervals between the explosions were such as to make it improbable as being the work of one U-Boat. 

5.  Whatever the facts, however, HMS NIGERIA at once assumed a list to port of 13 degrees and circled to starboard.  By 2010 hrs the ship was under control and at 2015 hrs was stopped to transfer Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron and his staff to HMS ASHANTI.  Very prompt damage control measures had by this time reduced the list to 5 degrees and by 2030 hrs the ship was able to proceed at 14 knots for Gibraltar, despite her being 11 feet down by the head.  HM Ships BICESTER and WILTON proceeded as escort, later in the night to be joined by HMS DERWENT.

6.  SS OHIO and BRISBANE STAR were temporarily brought to a stop but, soon after, gallantly proceeded on their way to the southward.

7.  HMS CAIRO, whose stern was blown off and engines disabled, was sunk by our own forces as soon as the survivors had been taken off.

8.  The effect of this series of disasters was to cause the convoy to become scattered, though they continued on their course for Cape Bon. 

9.  Meanwhile, Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron in HMS ASHANTI proceeded to close and direct the convoy.  Whilst doing so, HMS ASHANTI with HMS PENN endeavoured to protect the convoy from an impending air attack by laying a smoke screen against the light westerly horizon.

10.  At 2038 hrs, some 25 minutes after sunset, a severe dive bomber and torpedo bomber air attack developed and lasted until 2100 hrs.  In this attack several MT ships were hit and two, SS EMPIRE HOPE and GLENORCHY, blew up or were later sunk.

11.  At 2112 hrs, HMS KENYA was hit on the fore foot by a torpedo fired by a U-Boat which she saw.  One other torpedo passed under her and two more narrowly missed her stern.  She was able to proceed, however, and soon after rejoined HMS MANCHESTER.

12.  After these attacks, 11 merchant ships were proceeding on their way of which, however, only three or four were in visual touch with HM Ships MANCHESTER, KENYA and ASHANTI in the van.

The three TSDS destroyers were ahead: HMS PATHFINDER rejoining from HMS CAIRO, and HMS PENN from her rescue work, were overtaking astern.

13.  At 2130 hrs, SS DEUCALION, who had been proceeding separately with HMS BRAMHAM, sank after having been torpedoed by a torpedo bomber aircraft near the Cani Rocks.  Having picked up survivors, HMS BRAMHAM proceeded to overtake Force X.

 

Thursday 13th August (D4)

14.  At 2354 hrs the leading ships of Force X passed Cape Bon, and 40 minutes later two E-Boats were detected by rader on the port beam and engaged by all ships.  Further running fights with E-Boats occurred until near Kelibia Light and again at 0330 hrs when some twenty miles from position R, during these attacks HMS MANCHESTER at 0120 hrs and three MT ships, SANTA ELIZA, ALMERIA LYKES and WAIRANGI, were hit.  HMS ASHANTI reports that near Kelibia Light two horned mines, possibly cut by the TSDS destroyers ahead, were passed within 10 feet.  The possibility exists, therefore, that one or more of the above casualties may have been caused by mines and not by torpedo.

15.  These E-Boat attacks did not go unpunished, at least one and possibly two E-Boats being destroyed.  VHF (10) conversations in Italian intercepted in HMS ASHANTI confirmed this.

16.  At about 0140 hrs, HMS PATHFINDER went alongside HMS MANCHESTER and after discussion with the Captian embarked about 150 of the ship’s company and then proceeded to join Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron as he had been ordered to do.

17.  Subsequently, the Commanding Officer, HMS MANCHESTER decided to abandon and sink his ship.  The last of the ship’s company left the ship at about 0245 hrs and at about 0550 hrs the ship was seen to sink.

18.  At 0245 hrs  HM Ships CHARYBDIS, ESKIMO and SOMALI joined Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron.

19.  SS WAIRANGI was hit in the engine room and SS ALMERIA LYKES before No 1 hold.  Both ships were abandoned and their crews picked up some hours later by HM Ships ESKIMO and SOMALI.  Neither ship was seen to sink though both are reported as left in a sinking condition.  Commanding Officer HMS ESKIMO reports that he did not complete the sinking of the ships because he thought there might be an opportunity later for salving them.  SS SANTA ELIZA was sunk later in a bombing attack.

20.  At dawn D4, Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron in HMS ASHANTI had in company with him HM Ships KENYA, CHARYBDIS, INTREPID, ICARUS, FURY, ESKIMO, SOMALI and the MT ships MELBOURNE STAR, CLAN FERGUSON and ROCHESTER CASTLE.  HMS LEDBURY with SS OHIO was five miles astern, HMS PATHFINDER and HMS BRAMHAM with SS PORT CHALMERS were 10 miles to the north-west, while HMS PENN was observed beyond SS PORT CHALMERS standing by an MT ship – probably SS WAIMARAMA – which was on fire and shortly afterwards blew up.  Later SS DORSET was sighted to the northward and ordered to join the convoy.

21.  It was learned later that SS BRISBANE STAR spend the night and part of the day in the Gulf of Hammamet.  Whilst in territorial waters his ship was boarded by the French authorities who, after protest, behaved well and took a seriously wounded man ashore to Susa.  SS BRISBANE STAR eventually reached Malta at 1430 the following day, 14th August.

22.  At 0712 hrs, Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron ordered HM Ships ESKIMO and SOMALI to return and stand by HMS MANCHESTER.  On their way to do so they picked up survivors of SS ALMERIA LYKES and WAIRANGI and at 1040 hrs off Kelibia they recovered about 150 of MANCHESTER’s ship’s company from Carley floats.  They were then only half a mile from the coast and were able to see several hundreds of, apparently, HMS MANCHESTER’s ship’s company being marched away.  Having recovered all survivors, HM Ships ESKIMO and SOMALI proceeded for Gibraltar.

23.  At 0810 hrs, the first of a series of air attacks was experienced by Force X, JU 88s delivering a dive-bombing attack, mostly directed at SS CLAN FERGUSON, second ship of HMS CHARYBDIS’s column.  SS CLAN FERGUSON received a direct hit and blew up.  Her next astern passed through the flames apparently unscathed.  HMS CHARYBDIS reports seeing two aircraft diving on SS CLAN FERGUSON and only one coming out of the dive, the other presumably being destroyed by the explosion.

24.  Further attacks by Stuka dive bombers accompanied by Italian aircraft laying parachute mines ahead and on the flanks of the convoy occurred at 0925 hrs.  The Stukas made a set at SS OHIO who sustained several near misses.  One Stuka which was shot down by the combined efforts of HMS ASHANTI and SS OHIO dived into SS OHIO’s side.

25.  The Malta Beaufighters and Spitfires were now in sight of Force X and seemed to be making contact with the enemy at times.  Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron reports that, observing they had no fighter direction aid from Force X, he considered the fighters performed a magnificent job of work throughout the day. 

26.  At 0941 hrs,  HMS KENYA was near missed by further dive bombers, and at 1017 hrs and 1050 hrs similar combined dive bombing and minelaying attacks occurred.  In these SS DORSET, who was rejoining, and SS OHIO, were both near missed and stopped.  HM Ships PENN, LEDBURY and BRAMHAM stood by SS OHIO and DORSET.  The latter was eventually sunk at 2014 hrs after being set on fire by more air attacks.

27.  At 1120 hrs, Italian torpedo bombers carried out an attack combined with the dropping of parachute mines or circling torpedoes.  Torpedoes were dropped at long range and except for one which became entangled in SS PORT CHALMERS’ paravane (subsequently cleared safely) none appeared to endanger the force.

28.  Beaufighters and long-range Spitfires were observed to shoot down at least four enemy aircraft in the distance but unfortunately one Spitfire was engaged by merchant ships during a dive bombing attack and crashed, the pilot being killed.

29.  By 1230 hrs, Force X was with range of Malta’s short-range Spitfires and thereafter was unmolested.

30.  At 1430 hrs, the Malta Escort Force under the Senior Officer, Minesweepers, in HMS SPEEDY, reinforced the escort and at 1600 hrs Force X, less HM Ships PENN, BRAMHAM and LEDBURY, who continued to stand by SS OHIO and DORSET, retired to the westward.  SS PORT CHALMERS, MELBOURNE STAR and ROCHESTER CASTLE were turned over to the local escort and eventually entered harbour at Malta safely at 1825 hrs.

 

Friday 14th August (D5)

31.  After an epic struggle by her gallant Master and escorts, SS OHIO entered Grand Harbour at 0755 hrs. 

32.  Force X’s withdrawal was uneventful in the initial stages.  When off Cape Bon at 0130 hrs they were attacked by E-Boats.  These were engaged and an explosion was seen which was believed to be an E-Boat blowing up.

33.  At 0450 hrs when off Fratelli Rock a U-Boat attacked the force, HMS ASHANTI being just missed.  HMS KENYA sighted the submarine and made an attempt to ram but the submarine was inside her turning circle.

34.  At daylight the force was south south-east of Galita Island and shortly afterwards the first snoopers appeared. 

35.  At 0912 hrs the first of a long series of air attacks commenced with a number of JU 88s.  HMS KENYA was near missed at 0942 hrs and a small fire in A boiler room entailed a short reduction in speed. 

36.  From 1000 to 1300 hrs attacks were almost incessant, and included dive bombers, high level bombers, torpedo bombers and dropping of mines or circling torpedoes by low-flying aircraft.  Fortunately, however, Force X came through untouched and at 1800 hrs joined Force Z in position 37 degrees 29 mins north, 3 degrees 25 mins east.

    

(1)  Operation ‘Berserk’ – an aircraft carrier co-operation exercise (paragraph 5)

Operation ‘Bellows’ – a reinforcement of RAF at Malta by Spitfires (paragraph 9)

Operation ‘Ascendant’ – the sailing of a small convoy from Malta to Gibraltar under the cover of Operation ‘Pedestal’ (paragraph 43)

(2)  For composition of these forces see Appendix A.

(3)  WS convoys were normally those from UK to Suez via Cape of Good Hope.

(4)  Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron – Rear-Admiral H M Burrough, CB, DSO. 

(5)  The distance from Malta at which these Spitfires were flown off from FURIOUS was 584 to 555 miles.

(6)  This was the Italian submarine COBALTO.  Her destruction on this occasion has been confirmed.

(7)  Kelibia – some 20 miles south of Cape Bon in Tunis.

(8)  This was the Italian submarine DAGABUR.  Her destruction on this occasion has been confirmed.

(9) HA – High Angle armament; LA – Low Angle armament.

(10)  VHF – very high frequency radio telephone.

 

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