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12 April 1941: Malta Swordfish and Destroyers Pursue Axis Convoy

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HMS Mowahk

HMS Mowahk


Malta-based Fleet Air Arm Swordfish and destroyers launched a dual attack on an enemy convoy today off the Gulf of Hammamet, Tunisia. Maryland reconnaissance aircraft of 69 Squadron located  the southbound convoy which was proceeding southbound at 15 knots.  In view of the speed, Swordfish of Malta’s 830 Squadron were sent to intercept the convoy at dusk; one was deployed to shadow the vessels.  Meanwhile destroyers Jervis, Janus, Mohawk and Nubian left Malta heading to intercept the convoy. 

About 90 minutes after dark the convoy realised it was being shadowed by aircraft and turned north at high speed. At 2040 hrs the Swordfish attacked, one launching six 250lb bombs from 3000 feet which straddled the convoy, one scoring a hit or near miss on a merchant ship. The remaining Swordfish attacked with torpedoes but no other damage was reported.  The convoy ships launched a heavy counter-attack with medium and light anti-aircraft fire.  Two torpedo Swordfish were hit and forced to crash land near Hammamet.

The destroyer flotilla was unable to locate the convoy as it had changed course but at about 0230 hrs the enemy ships were spotted to the west of Pantelleria by the submarine Upholder who turned it back by firing star shell.  However, by the time the flotilla Captain received Upholder’s report that the convoy was turning back, his ships were on their way back to Malta. 

The Swordfish crews have been named as of A/Sub Lt A P Dawson with L/A A Todd, and P/O Airman C H Wines with L/A L M Edwards. They were all taken prisoner by the French authorities in Tunisia.

Petty Officer Charles Wines described the events in his logbook for the 12 April 1941:

Swordfish B L7689; passenger L/A Edwards: “Attacked [merchant] ship in northbound convoy in Gulf of Hammamet. Observed hit with torp[edo] under bridge.  Whilst taking evasive action [aircraft] was hit repeatedly in tanks and fuselage with ‘pom pom’ and small calibre gunfire from Italian destroyer escort and from [merchant] ships.  Made crash landing after engine had seized on beach at Hammamet, Tunisia…Interned in Tunisia..” (1)


Weather  Fine.    

0707-0738 hrs Air raid alert for two enemy aircraft which carry out a patrol to the north of the Island.

1935 hrs  Four destroyers leave Grand Harbour.

2307 hrs Air raid alert for nine enemy aircraft which approach the Island singly from the north and the south east. One raider machine-guns the Sergeants’ Mess at Kalafrana.  Bombs are dropped on St Paul’s Bay.  Anti-aircraft guns engage the enemy south east of St Paul’s Bay using predicted barrage.  One Hurricane is scrambled; no claims.

0030 hrs  Air raid alert as another single enemy aircraft crosses the coast and drops bombs on the Ta Qali area, breaking windows in the Station headquarters and the Pottery, as well as near Naxxar and by the salt pans at Salina Bay.  Anti-aircraft guns engage; no claims.  An unexploded bomb is reported at Naxxar.

0134 hrs  All clear.

0217-0355 hrs Air raid alert for four enemy aircraft which approach and patrol round the Island; no bombs are dropped. Anti-aircraft guns engage using predicted barrage and one Hurricane is scrambled; no claims.

0443-0615 hrs Air raid alert for several enemy aircraft (believed to be JU 88 bombers) which cross the coast and drop bombs on Luqa, Hal Far and Ta Qali airfields. Three bombs causing craters on the edge of Ta Qali aerodrome are found to be filled with concrete.  A large number of bombs falls in the area of B Company and headquarters 4th Bn The Buffs, causing severe damage to property and two casualties, one very serious.  24 unexploded bombs are later found in the area.  The bombers also attack four destroyers returning from enemy convoy patrol.  Anti-aircraft guns engage using visual and predicted barrages; no claims.


ROYAL NAVY  Submarine Olympus arrived at Malta to reinforce the Mediterranean submarines.

830 Squadron strike force attacked a fast enemy convoy located by reconnaissance aircraft off the entrance to the Gulf of Hammamet; no hits were scored and two aircraft were lost. The convoy turned north and retired at high speed, passing to the west of Pantelleria at 0230 hrs. Destroyers sent to attack were unable to locate the convoy. Upholder located, engaged and diverted the convoy but 14 Flotilla was already on the way back to Malta. 

AIR HQ 69 Squadron Maryland reconnaissance between Cape Bon and Trapani for enemy shipping: convoy located and a second Maryland sent to shadow it for a Swordfish operation at night.

HAL FAR P/O Sugden crashed on landing after an early morning flight; he was unhurt. PM Operational flight by 830 Squadron against Tripoli; two aircraft failed to return (pilots S/Lt Dawson and P O Wines).

2nd Bn KINGS OWN MALTA REGIMENT  One conscript joined the Battalion.

(1) The flying log book of Petty Officer Charles Wines


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Posted by on April 12, 2021 in 1941, April 1941


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