MALTA WAR DIARY: OPERATION PEDESTAL – SANTA MARIJA – DAILY EVENTS ON MALTAGC70
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AIR RAIDS DAWN 12 AUGUST TO DAWN 13 AUGUST 1942
Weather Fine; visibility 10-15 miles. A beautiful sunny day, with calm seas.
0530 hrs Radar reports of enemy snoopers start to come in at first light and all ships go to the first degree of readiness.
0600 hrs Cruising Disposition No 17 is formed.
0610 hrs Air defence begins for the convoy. Twelve fighters are flown off in a constant air patrol to be maintained all day, reinforced as necessary.
0741 hrs HMS Kenya spots torpedo tracks and turns, avoiding three torpedoes.
Convoy barrage deters enemy
0907 hrs Air raid: 19 JU 88s are reported approaching at high level. The bombers come in over the fleet from right ahead, drop their bombs and are away in about six minutes. Two JU 88s are shot down and a third retires to the south’ard on fire fore and aft and losing height. 16 convoy fighters also engage, shooting down eight destroyed, three probable and two damaged. No damage was done to any ship; one convoy fighter is lost.
An Italian SM79 shadowing the convoy is shot down by two Fulmars from 884 Squadron soon afterwards. Other snoopers keep trying to probe the defences but are deterred by volleys from the destroyers main guns.
0920 hrs Laforey attacks a submarine which dives to escape; Fury detects her 12 minutes later and along with Foresight hunts her down, dropping several depth-charges. The Italian Submarine, Brin, evades the destroyers and escapes.
0940 hrs Captain (D), 19th Destroyer Flotilla orders all destroyers to rejoin the convoy, as the U-Boat, is no longer a danger to the convoy.
0800 hrs Sub-depot parties standing by in Malta, ready for the convoy.
0930-1055 hrs Eight Spitfires 185 Squadron Hal Far are scrambled. P/O Ogilvie destroys one Heinkel 111 sixty miles east of the Island – the Squadron’s 100th victory.
1135-1150 hrs Pathfinder confirms an asdic contact and attacks heavily, assisted in the hunt by Zetland. Both ships lose contact and rejoin the convoy.
Savoia-Marchetti SM 84
1210 hrs Ashanti reports at least nine enemy raiders approaching from ahead. Fighters intercept, shooting down one aircraft, the smoke of which can be seen from the fleet. Cruisers and destroyers in the van open fire: one aircraft probably destroyed. 10 SM 84 bombers drop motorised mines in the path of the convoy while Fiat Falcos mount a diversionary attack to divert destroyers’ fire: a few drop small bombs. The convoy executes an emergency turn of 90 degrees to port to avoid the mines: no damage to any ships.
Another wave of 33 SM 79s and 10 SM 84s approaches in formations of five or six some armed as torpedo-bombers, with a fighter escort of Re 2001s. A few SM 79s head for Nelson but all torpedoes are dropped well away from the convoy before they withdraw. One torpedo-bomber is shot down by ships’ fire.
1230-1240 hrs Air raid alert. Eight Spitfires 249 Squadron Ta Qali are airborne on patrol; they sight only friendly aircraft.
Nelson’s guns fire back
1300 hrs A third wave of 37 JU 88 bombers arrives in small groups at 10-15000 feet, too high for Hurricanes to intercept. Eight Fulmars do engage. The JU 88s dive-bombe the convoy and also drop canisters with small black parachutes. Nelson, Rodney, Cairo and several MT ships suffer very near misses. A stick of bombs falls around Deucalion; one pierces the ship but fails to explode; two are near-misses but the explosion of one damages the ship, reducing her speed. No 1 hold is half flooded and No 2 completely flooded. Bramham is detailed to stand by her and then to escort her via the coastal route to Malta. Convoy fighters pursue the enemy: one JU 88 is probably destroyed by gunfire and several damaged. Lt R Johnson of 806 Squadron is lost.
1345 hrs Two Italian Re2001 fighter-bombers dive on Victorious dropping 100lb bombs, killing six men and wounding two. One glances off the flight deck without exploding. The attackers fly low over the convoy and are taken for returning friendly fighters, so get away unscathed. Tartar reports a submarine and attacks with depth charges.
1417 hrs Zetland reports a submarine on the surface on the horizon and is seen to alter course and steam south at high speed, before being ordered back to her station as the submarine is not a danger to the convoy. The information is passed to Bramham who is near the location with Deucalion. After several more reports of submarine sightings and asdic contacts, convoy commander Syfret orders destroyers on the convoy flanks to release depth-charges on each side of the screen every ten minutes between 1400 and 1900.
1616-1641 hrs Pathfinder reports a confirmed asdic contact which she heavily attacks twice in quick succession. Zetland joins Pathfinder and remains until the contact is no longer a danger.
1640 hrs Tartar reports “torpedo in sight starboard” and immediately counter-attacks. A few minutes later Lookout, astern of Tartar, reports a submarine in sight. Both ships make two attacks, hunting the U-Boat until she is no longer a threat.
HMS Ithuriel comes in to ram Cobalto c IWM A11411
1649 hrs Ithuriel sights a periscope and part of a conning tower on her starboard bow and immediately attacks. She obtains contact at 900 yards and counter-attacks with asdics. The attack brings the U-Boat to the surface and Ithuriel opens fire, turns and finally rams it. The Italian U-Boat Cobalto sinks: three officers (including the Captain) and 38 ratings are taken prisoner.
1717-1747 hrs; 1754-1832 hrs Four Spitfires 185 Squadron at a time on patrol: nothing sighted.
1726 hrs Syfret orders Wilton to replace Bramham in Force X. Reports are coming in of small formations of enemy aircraft are coming in and expected to make an air attack on a considerable scale.
Survivors from Cobalto on board Ithuriel c IWM A11414
1749 hrs Ithuriel, still at a distance after picking up prisoners from Cobalto, is attacked by four JU 88s and one CR 42 fighter-bomber. She is undamaged but her speed has been reduced to 20 knots by the ramming and her A/S is out of action.
1757-2225 hrs Six Beaufighters 248 Squadron take off from Ta Qali to act as fighter escort to the incoming convoy.
1800 hrs The convoy alters course to pass through the Skerki Channel.
1813 hrs Syfret informs the convoy that Force Z will turn to the westward at 1915 hrs.
1830 hrs The first formation of enemy aircraft is sighted; reports suggest 100-120 enemy raiders, many of them fighters. Against them the convoy had 22 fighters in the air, who continually harass and break up the incoming enemy formations.
1835 hrs The first attack by 13 torpedo bombers as well as an unknown number of high level bombers, dive bombers and minelaying aircraft. The convoy makes an emergency turn to avoid the mines and torpedoes. 40 more torpedo bombers are reported ahead. They are followed in by a formation of twelve Stukas which attack Indomitable, who is quickly obscured by splashes and smoke from two large fires. One bomb hits the forward AA gun positions, killing more than twenty of the Royal Marines detachment. Another lands near the forward lift, penetrates the upper gallery deck and explodes above the main hangar deck. The wardroom, crowded with off-duty pilots and observers, is wrecked by a bomb, killing all the occupants. In all 50 men are killed and 59 wounded. Victorious is now the only aircraft carrier with a useable flight deck.
Indomitable hit; Charybdis stands by
Italian SM 79s attack Foresight: a torpedo hits the stern, breaking her back and bringing the ship to a halt. There are many near misses across the convoy but no other ships are damaged. Tartar goes to Foresight’s assistance and subsequently took her in tow. Indomitable’s fighters destroy nine enemy aircraft, plus two probables and one damaged, for the loss of two fighters; one pilot is saved. One JU 87 is probably shot down by ships’ gunfire.
1855 hrs With the damage to Indomitable Syfret orders Force Z to turn about immediately, 20 minutes sooner than planned, leaving Force X to head on for Malta.
1927 hrs Indomitable reports that fires are under control and she can steam 17 knots. Her steering gear becomes temporarily disabled but soon after 2030 hrs she is up to 28½ knots.
1910-2220 hrs Three Beaufighters 248 Squadron take off from Ta Qali on a mission to attack Pantelleria aerodrome. They fire several bursts at aerodrome on the ground: a fire is seen on the west of the aerodrome but it is too dark to see other results.
1955-2020 hrs Four Spitfires 249 Squadron are airborne on patrol: nothing to report.
1956 hrs Italian submarine Axum inflicts the first serious damage on the convoy, firing four torpedoes. Cruiser Nigeria is hit on the port side, flooding and listing to port. Two torpedoes strike the cruiser Cairo, destroying her stern and disabling engines.SS Brisbane Star is also hit but not badly damaged. The tanker Ohio is hit in the pump room; the ship is torn open and the main steering disabled; kerosene tanks burst into flames.
2010 hrs The Navy flashes that there are enemy aircraft overhead. Explosions are seen near the convoy ships and a large vessel is hit and begins to smoke heavily. VHF contact is lost and the Beaufighters are fired on by convoy ships.
Nigeria stopped and on fire
2015 hrs Nigeria is under control and is stopped to transfer Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron and his staff to HMS Ashanti. The ship is soon able to proceed at 14 knots and heads for Gibraltar, with HM Ships Bicester, Wilton and Derwent as escort. Cairo has to be sunk as soon as survivors have been taken off. The loss of Nigeria and Cairo leaves the convoy with no fighter-direction equipment. The convoy is scattered and in disarray. Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron in HMS Ashanti proceeds to direct the convoy. Ashanti and Penn put up a smoke screen against the western horizon to protect the convoy from an impending air attack.
Three Beaufighters of 252 and three of 248 Squadron Malta are despatched to carry out a dusk machine-gun and cannon attack on Pantelleria. Only three aircraft find the aerodrome; starting a fire in the west corner. A Wellington reconnaissance plane reports six separate fires burning on the aerodrome.
2038 hrs 25 minutes after sunset, a severe dive bomber and torpedo bomber air attack is launched on the convoy. 30 JU 88s and seven Heinkel torpedo-bombers escorted by six ME 110s attack from the north west, targeting the merchantmen. Brisbane Star is hit by a torpedo which blows a hole in both sides; she takes on water. Her master decides to keep inshore until morning.
2050 hrs Having suffered 18 near-misses, Empire Hope receives two direct hits on No 4 hold: ammunition and aviation fuel explode and her stern is on fire; her engines stop. The order is given to abandon ship and her survivors picked up by Penn before she is sunk. Glenorchy is bombed and explodes, with few survivors.
2102 hrs Clan Ferguson is hit by an aerial torpedo and blows up with her load of 2000 tons of aviation petrol and 1500 tons of explosives. 96 survivors reach the Tunisian coast where they are interned by the French.
2112 hrs The Italian submarine Alagi fires four torpedoes at Kenya which avoids all except one which strikes her on the forefoot. She is able to make 25 knots and remain with the convoy. Eleven merchant ships are still underway but only three or four are in visual touch with HM Ships Manchester, Kenya and Ashanti behind, while three destroyers are ahead. Syfret hears of the attacks on Force X and sends Charybdis, Somali and Eskimo as reinforcements.
2130 hrs Two torpedo bombers attack SS Deucalion out of the shadows near the Cani Rocks, where she had been proceeding separately with HMS Bramham. Deucalion‘s gunners fire back but one explosive hits the ship, which bursts into a mass of flames. The order is given to abandon ship before she sinks. Having picked up survivors, Bramham proceeded to overtake Force X.
2125-2130 hrs; 2215-2235 hrs; 2305-2340 hrs; 0105-0140 hrs Air raid alerts. Four enemy aircraft approach Malta singly: bombs are dropped on Gozo and in the sea.
Night Two Malta-based Wellingtons locate and attack an enemy naval force comprising four cruisers and eight destroyers heading to intercept the convoy in the Ustica-Cape San Vito area, course west, speed 20 knots. Eight 250lb bombs are dropped but are seen to overshoot: no hits claimed. The cruiser force seems to alter course immediately after the bombing, as when a single Wellington makes a second run over the ships 20 minutes they are heading towards Palermo. The Wellingtons make four runs in total over the cruisers, dropping flares each time. Each time the ships split up and break formation.
One Wellington makes two bombing sorties on Comiso Aerodrome and reports three explosions on target.
0034 hrs 40 minutes after the leading ships of Force X pass Cape Bon, two E-Boats are detected by radar on the port beam and engaged by all ships.
0120 hrs Two Italian Motor Torpedo boats torpedo the cruiser Manchester.
Manchester’s rescued crew covered in oil
0140 hrs HMS Pathfinder goes alongside Manchester and after discussion with the Captain embarks 150 of the ship’s company, proceeding under orders to join Rear-Admiral Commanding, 10th Cruiser Squadron. The Commanding Officer, HMS Manchester decides to abandon and sink his ship, the last of the ship’s company leaving at 0245 hrs.
0222-0634 hrs Two Albacores and one Swordfish of NAS, Malta are sent out to attack enemy cruisers between Pantelleria and Sicily. They are unable to locate the targets.
0330 hrs In further running fights with E-Boats three merchant ships, Santa Elisa, Almeria Lykes and Wairangi, are also hit. SS Wairangi is hit in the engine room and SS Almeria Lykes before No 1 hold. Both ships are abandoned and their crews picked up some hours later by HM Ships Eskimo and Somali. Neither ship is seen to sink though both are reported as left in a sinking condition. SS Santa Elisa is sunk later in a bombing attack. Only Rochester Castle is hit right forward but survives to rejoin the convoy. At least one and possibly two E-Boats were destroyed in counter-attacks.
0500 hrs It is decided to scuttle Manchester which is seen to sink. Most of her survivors reaching the Tunisian coast and internment.
Military casualties Nil. Civilian casualties Nil.
Operation Pedestal casualties CLICK HERE
OPERATIONS REPORTS WEDNESDAY 12 AUGUST 1942
ROYAL NAVY PRU Spitfire reported that the Italian Naval force had left Messina. Hythe swept P35 into Marsamxett. At 1730 Rye sailed to lay navigational marks, and P43 proceeded on patrol.
AIR HQ Reconnaissance photographs showed three aircraft burned out at Decimomannu aerodrome and one at Elmas. Three Beaufighters of 252 and three of 248 Squadron were despatched to carry out a dusk machine-gun and cannon attack on Pantelleria. Only three aircraft found the aerodrome; started a fire in the west corner but later a Wellington reconnaissance plane reported six separate fires burning on the aerodrome. One Liberator and one Wellington also attacked Pantelleria aerodrome; results unobserved.
Arrivals Two Hudsons, three Spitfires, two Beauforts, one Hudson from Gibraltar; one Liberator from Shallufa; three Baltimores from LG 98. Departures Two Hudsons to Gibraltar. Aircraft casualties One Beaufighter force-lands; crew uninjured. One Maryland’s hydraulic system fails; crew uninjured.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB Reported 5. Dealt with: 2 High Explosives (1 x 500kg; 1 x 250kg)
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