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18 December 1941: Loss of HMS Neptune and Kandahar

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The supply ship Breconshire arrived at Malta at 1500 hrs today to deliver her much needed load of fuel oil and stores, accompanied by the ships of her protective force.

After yesterday’s encounter with the Italian Navy, the two British forces separated, as destroyers from Force B and Force K took on the task of escorting Breconshire safely to Malta.  Admiral Vian turned with his fleet towards Alexandria.  The Italian convoys also divided: three ships setting course for Tripoli and one for Benghazi.  This afternoon the Tripoli-bound vessels were located and a Malta Strike Force of three cruisers and four destroyers was assembled in pursuit. 

The official report from the Royal Navy War Diary for Malta relates what happened next…

HMS Neptune

“HM Ships Neptune (Captain R O’Connor, Senior Officer), Aurora, Penelope, Kandahar, Lance, Lively and Havock were despatched…18th December to intercept an important Italian convoy which had been sighted earlier, heading for Tripoli.  It was appreciated that if the convoy was not delayed it was likely to be at the entrance to Tripoli before our force could intercept, but it was hoped that attacks by torpedo bomber and bomber aircraft, which were arranged to take place during the night, would have the usual effect of delaying the enemy.

A special Wellington was co-operating to lead our air and surface striking forces to the enemy.  The enemy’s convoy and escorting warships were discovered and reported by the Wellington split into groups and covering many miles of water to the eastward of Tripoli.

Albacores and Swordfish aircraft were sent to attack.  Although it is believed that only one ship was damaged by them, their attack had the expected effect of disorganising and slowing up the Italian convoy.  As a result, and also probably because of mines which had been laid in the entrance to the harbour, the convoy did not enter Tripoli till late the following day.

Unfortunately, the information regarding the position of the convoy did not reach Neptune before disaster had overtaken our force.  Having proceeded at maximum speed towards a point east of Tripoli they had just eased down on reaching the 100 fathom line when Neptune struck a mine and was brought to a stop.  The remaining ships sheered off to port and starboard and then turned back to get clear of the minefield.  Whilst engaged in getting clear, Aurora and Penelope both struck mines but were able to steam.

Aurora, who was fairly badly damaged, set course for Malta at her best speed of 16 knots, escorted by Havock and Lance, whilst Penelope stood by to tow Neptune when she had drifted clear of the minefield.  Kandahar entered the minefield and attempted to close Neptune to take off personnel, but, whilst engaged in this, struck a mine and had her stern blown off.  Neptune meanwhile had drifted down onto more mines and, when the third or fourth mine exploded under her, she turned turtle and sank.

Nothing could be done to approach Kandahar through the minefield and Penelope with Lively reluctantly returned to Malta.” (1)


Only 30 members of Neptune’s crew of nearly 800 survived the sinking.  Their lifeboat was spotted five days later by an Italian torpedo boat: only one of its occupants was still alive.  Maltese casualties from HMS Neptune  were Steward Angelo Falzon, Steward Emanuel Montanaro, Malta Port Division.


0835-0854 hrs  Air raid alarm.  No engagement.

2311-0250 hrs  Air raid alarm.  Eight enemy aircraft raided Island.  Bombs were dropped in the sea and on land near Attard, Mgarr, Birkirkara and on Luqa aerodrome hitting a Wellington; one of crew was killed, another seriously injured.  Hal Far was machine-gunned and mines were possibly laid off Grand Harbour.  Ack Ack engaged enemy aircraft.

Military casualties  Sergeant pilot Frank Sunley, Sergeant Thomas Clarke, Royal Air Force.

Enemy casualties  Sottotenente Antonio Galati, pilot, 259a Squadriglia, 109o Gruppo, 36o Stormo, S84 crashed into the sea.  Maggiore Goffredo Gastaldi, 109o Gruppo, 36o Stormo, crewman on a S84, crashed into the sea.


ROYAL NAVY  Upright returned from patrol having sunk certainly one and probably two northbound merchant vessels in Gulf of Taranto.  Forces K and B, Decoy, Havock and Breconshire arrived.  Neptune, Aurora, Penelope, Lively, Lance, Havock and Kandahar sailed.  Six Albacores attacked a convoy of three cruisers and three merchant vessels approaching Tripoli and fired four torpedoes, hitting two merchant vessels.  One Albacore did not return.  Five Swordfish left to attack same convoy, but failed to locate target.  One Swordfish crashed on landing.  Crew hurt.

AIR HQ  Departures  Seven Beaufighters for 108 MU.

HAL FAR  Night 17th/18th  Four Swordfish 830 Squadron despatched on a shipping search, located a tanker 4-5000 tons with destroyer escort.  Two hits claimed on tanker and an explosion followed by a subsequent fire was seen.  Four Hurricanes 185 Squadron engaged three BR 20s forty miles south south west of Filfla.  One enemy aircraft observed to be hit in wings and fuselage.  One of own aircraft “K” hit in the tail.  All aircraft landed safely.

LUQA  S/D Flight one Wellington on special shipping search.  69 Squadron  Four Marylands special search.  Photo-Reconnaissance (PR) Unit 2  PR Palermo, Tripoli; one Maryland PR Tripoli Harbour and Castel Benito.  18 Squadron  One Blenheim special search Keliba-Kerkennah; six Blenheims attacked two schooners near Kuriat.  107 Squadron  One Blenheim special search Kerkennah-Kuriat; three Blenheims despatched to attack merchant vessel (no sightings made).  104 Squadron  Seven Wellingtons attacked Tripoli and mined harbour.

2nd BATTALION THE DEVONSHIRE REGIMENT  0025 hrs  One enemy aircraft machine gunned Hal Far area but no damage was done.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB  Reported 1; dealt with 4 (1 x 250kg HE; 1 x Thermos; 1 x incendiary; 1 x anti-personnel).

(1)  See also Neptune Association


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Posted by on December 18, 2021 in 1941, December 1941


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4 October 1941: Malta Urgently Needs Air Transport Links

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Regent sailed to attack convoy

Regent sailed to attack convoy


From: Governor & C in C Malta                          To:  War Office

I request the following may be taken up with the Air Ministry and Admiralty:

  • The necessity for some regular form of communication to and from Malta, either by sea or air, has been recognised for several months. It has been accepted that any regular form of sea communication is out of the question for the present. Transport by air is thus the only solution, but I have not made proposals previously as I had been informed that the types of aircraft needed for this service were all required for more important work.
  • The necessity for air transport is:
  • To provide a means of moving personnel either east or west. At the present time communication with England is most irregular and very infrequent. A very considerable number of personnel have been awaiting transport from Egypt for many months.  Their number is quite beyond the capacity of the present movements of aircraft or submarines from that country.  Many instances have occurred of officers required urgently in England and the eastern Mediterranean being held up here for six weeks or more owing to the lack of transport.
  • The offensive operations from this base frequently necessitate certain stores for operational purposes being moved here as quickly as possible. Air is the only solution. At the present time the quantity of these stores exceeds the capacity of transport available.
  • For the prompt despatch and receipt of mail. The lack of this at the present time is leading to many long and detailed cypher telegrams which have to be sent since no other sure means of transmission is available. Again, the absence of news from home caused by the very infrequent mail service has, in these difficult times, an adverse effect on the morale of the Garrison.  This is further aggravated by the impossibility for the men to send letters home in any confidence that they will arrive in a reasonable time.
  • For the sake of the efficiency of this Fortress, the need for a regular and reliable air service is very great indeed, and has a direct bearing on our ability to conduct offensive operations for the reasons I have given above. Such a service would be of immense value to use but, on the other hand, it is not possible for us to judge here whether commitments in other parts of the world are more important than our own. I feel, however, that a stage has now been reached where I must represent the great necessity for this service to responsible authorities in order that it may be considered carefully in relation to commitments elsewhere.  Heads of Services agree with this telegram.

From: War Office                                                         To: Governor & C in C Malta

Your request is under urgent consideration here. The necessity for a regular air transport service is fully appreciated but the provision of an adequate number of aircraft of a suitable type is our chief difficulty at present.


Weather  Fine, some cloud.

AM  Air raid alert for six enemy aircraft heading towards Malta from the north. Eight Hurricanes 185 Squadron are scrambled and circle over the Island.  The raiders turn away without crossing the coast and there is no engagement.  One fighter of P/O Veitch crashes into the sea one mile from Benghaisa Point.  The rescue launch conducts a search and finds only wreckage.  It is thought the crash may have been caused by a failure in the oxygen supply.

1547-1610 hrs  Air raid alert for 15 enemy aircraft approaching the Island. 13 Hurricanes (two 185 Squadron and eleven 249 Squadron) are scrambled but the raiders retire towards Sicily and there is no engagement.

1613-1620 hrs  Air raid alert for the same formation which turns back towards Malta before circling away again.

1747-1758 hrs  Air raid alert for a single enemy aircraft approaching the Island. 13 Hurricanes (two 185 Squadron and eleven 249 Squadron) are scrambled but the raiders turn away before any interception.

0200 hrs  Summer time ends.  All clocks put back one hour. 

0310-0400 hrs  Air raid alert for two enemy aircraft which approach the Island singly. One crosses over Gozo, dropping bombs in the sea.  The second crosses the coast of Malta and drops 50kg high explosive bombs between on the Safi area causing damage to civilian property and four civilian casualties.  Two Malta Night Fighters are scrambled.  One of the raiders is spotted by moonlight at 800 yards range but retreats rapidly and there is no engagement.

0512-0523 hrs  Air raid alert for a single enemy aircraft which approaches and drops bombs in the sea south of the Island. Searchlights illuminate the raider but it stays away from the coast and guns do not engage.

Military casualties  Leading Aircraftsman Duncan MacMillan, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve; Pilot Officer Peter J B Veitch, Royal Air Force, 185 Squadron.


ROYAL NAVY  Upright returned from patrol off Rasocolino, where she sank a small destroyer and sighted two U boats. Regent sailed at short notice to intercept convoy east of Tripoli. Sokol also sailed at short notice to search for the crew of a missing Blenheim.  Two Swordfish carried out an anti-submarine patrol for enemy submarines reported in vicinity of Malta, but without result. 

AIR HQ  Departures 1 Beaufighter, 4 Blenheim, 1 Maryland. 38 Squadron 11 Wellingtons attacked a convoy in the south Ionian Sea. 69 Squadron Marylands photoreconnaissance Tripoli, patrols central Ionian Sea, east Sicilian coast and special search for a convoy. 107 Squadron 8 Blenheims attacked Zuara  Sgt Hamlyn (with Sgt Latter and Sgt Williams) was attacked by Italian CR 42 fighters and ditched in the sea.  An air and sea search has been mounted. 830 Squadron Fleet air Arm 7 Swordfish attacked a convoy off the coast of Tripoli leaving two merchant vessels sinking and a damaging a third.   

NORTHERN INFANTRY BRIGADE  Storms wash up several mines on the coast which are rendered safe.

11th Bn LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS  A mine was found floating dangerously close to a Battalion defence post; the post was evacuated but the mine disappeared during the night and the post was reoccupied.


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Posted by on October 4, 2021 in 1941, October 1941


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11 June 1941: One Year On Malta Defenders Destroy 215th Raider

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In the year since Italy has entered the war, Malta defences including fighter planes and anti-aircraft guns have brought down 155 enemy planes and 60 others badly damaged.


Mail for Malta from the UK may have to be delayed if the Island is to receive urgently needed stores, the War Office warned the Governor & C in C today.  Following severe delays in mail deliveries at the end of last year, a new system has been operating by which most first class postal matter and all postcards have been despatched to Malta direct by Wellington service aircraft.  However, the recent urgent need for special supplies to the Island can only be met using the same aircraft capacity.  As a result, Lt Gen Dobbie will have to decide whether such deliveries must take precedence over the mail.  However, any decision will have to take account of the fact that the total allowed on Welllingtons from Gibraltar to Malta and the Middle East is limited to 100lbs per aircraft.

HMS Unique

HMS Unique


Report to the British War Cabinet to 8th June

On 3rd June HM Submarine Unique sank a laden 1000 ton merchant vessel in Lampedusa Harbour.  Early on the morning of 28th May a party from Upright carried out a landing four miles south-est of Punto Stilo Light, Calabria, and blew up the railway line.

On the night 7-8th June, seven Swordfish of the Feet Air Arm, operating from Malta, laid mines in Tripoli Harbour; as a diversion a bombing attack was also carried out, as a result of which several large fires were started at the west end of the harbour.  On the following night, Swordfish dropped flame floats, as it was thought the harbour might be covered with inflammable oil as a result of the sinking of MV Barmania, but no fires resulted; bombs were also dropped and a merchant vessel was fired.

Successful reconnaissances over the Ionian Sea and off the Eastern Tunisian Coast were carried out by Marylands from Malta. There are indications that the German air forces in Sicily have been drastically reduced. 

The enemy carried out a series of small night raids on Malta and some damage was caused to Luqa aerodrome; Ta Qali and Hal Far were also attacked by day. On the night 5-6th June, a HE 111 was held by searchlights and probably destroyed by a Hurricane; on another night two BR 20s were shot down into the sea.  Four Hurricanes intercepted four SM 79s fifty miles south of Malta, two of which they destroyed and badly damaged the others.  Another SM 79 with an escort of ME 109s attempted a reconnaissance of the Island and was also shot down into the sea 


Weather  Strong winds.

0620 hrs  Air movement monitoring picked up two enemy aircraft patrolling four miles to the south of Malta. Hurricanes are scrambled and attempt to intercept; no claims.

0845-0930 hrs Air raid alert for an Italian SM 79 bomber on reconnaissance, escorted by ten ME 109 fighters approaching the Island from the north, then turning to cross the coast over Kalafrana towards Hal Far. Heavy anti-aircraft guns engage heavily, breaking up the formation.  The ME 109s sheer off northwards and take no further part in combat.  Hurricane fighters are scrambled and engage the SM 79 bomber to the east of Filfla.  In the engagement, one Hurricane and the SM 79 crash into the sea close to one another off Benghaisa.  An extensive search recovers only one body, that of the Italian airman.  Pilot F/Lt Burnett of 46 Squadron is missing.

1407-1420 hrs; 1436-1453 hrs; 1540-1612 hrs; 1623-1640 hrs  Air raid alerts triggered by a total of 22 enemy aircraft in five formations patrolling 30 miles north of the Islands. Hurricanes are scrambled on each occasion and the raiders turn back before engaging or reaching the Island.

0200-0230 hrs  Air raid alert for three unidentified enemy aircraft which approach from the north east to Zonqor Point. Two raiders cross the coast.  20 bombs are dropped off St Thomas’ Bay, in the sea two miles east of Kalafrana and also to the north west of Anchor Bay.  Nine red Very lights are seen fired from the sea east of Delimara Point.

0319-0338 hrs  Air raid alert for a single unidentified enemy aircraft which approaches from the north east and crosses the coast over St Paul’s Bay, dropping bombs between Ta Qali and Mosta, as well as eight east of Valletta.

0352-0410 hrs  Air raid alert for a single enemy aircraft which approaches the Island but turns back before reaching the coast.

Military casualties  Flight Lieutenant Norman Whitmore Burnett, pilot, Royal Air Force, 46 Squadron; Squadron Leader Michael L Watson, Royal Air Force, 82 Squadron.


AIR HQ  General Haining and party passed through Malta. Arrivals 1 Sunderland. Departures 1 Beaufighter, 1 Sunderland, 1 Cunliffe Owen Flying Wing.  69 Squadron  4 Marylands on reconnaissance.  1 Hurricane on photo-reconnaissance of Gerbini aerodrome, revealing 12 ME 109s and 3 SM 79s; also Catania aerodrome, identifying 20 twin-engined aircraft and 10 Italian fighters. 82 Squadron 2 Blenheims attack convoy; 1 shot down.

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  A demonstration was given on the use of Italian hand grenades.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 1.

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  A practical demonstration at Ghain Tuffieha of Italian grenades revealed them to be a poor weapon.   


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Posted by on June 11, 2021 in Uncategorized


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