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24 July 1941: Malta Convoy Enters Grand Harbour to Loud Cheers

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CONVOY GETS THROUGH DESPITE DETERMINED ENEMY ATTACKS

MV Sydney Star (1)

MV Sydney Star (1)

Civilians and servicemen lined the bastions of Grand Harbour this afternoon to welcome the ships of Malta’s largest supply convoy of the war to date. Melbourne Star, Sydney Star, City of Pretoria, Deucalion, Durham and Port Chalmers arrived with their escorting warships after an eventful night in the Mediterranean.

Having survived an air attack which sank one destroyer of their escort and damaged a second, the convoy ships progressed undisturbed until they were 150 miles from Malta. In the early hours of this morning monitors detected the sound of engines: the convoy had run into an eight-strong Italian E-boat patrol.  The convoy ships attacked the E-boats which immediately took evasive action.  In the confusion that followed, three E-boats were damaged but several convoy ships were also hit by friendly fire. Sydney Star was hit by a torpedo and was soon listing badly.

As the merchant ship slowed, the Master gave the order to abandon ship and 484 troops of 32nd Light Ack Ack Regiment went to the lifeboats. While the destroyer Nestor stood by to pick up survivors, the Sydney Star’s Master, Captain Horn, decided to stay on board with a skeleton crew to nurse the stricken ship slowly towards Malta. 

At daybreak she was spotted by two Italian SM 79 bombers which approached and circled the merchantman and Nestor.  With no trained gunners on board, Captain Horn asked for volunteers to man the Bofors guns.  Their erratic fire and the evasive action of both vessels was enough to deter the attackers who turned away. 

An hour later another air attack was driven off by fire from the destroyer Nestor.  However, the alert had been raised; fighters from Malta were scrambled to defend the ships and the battle cruiser Hermione also arrived to assist.  But by then the Regia Aeronautica was ready for a co-ordinated attack: five SM 79s and three dive bombers launched a determined attack. Hermione and Nestor’s guns put up an effective barrage while two Beaufighters from Malta attacked the dive-bombers.

By 10.00am Sydney Star was within sight of Malta when a formation of SM 79 torpedo bombers swooped down on the Navy ships while another formation bombed the merchantman.  They were followed by a third formation, of JU 87 Stuka dive-bombers.  While Beaufighters again counter-attacked and her crew fired round after round at the attackers, torpedo and bomb near-misses and shrapnel caused more damage to Sydney Star.  Captain Horn had to get into Malta quickly but his ship might capsize in the attempt.  He took a calculated risk and two hours later they were entering Grand Harbour.  He later received a message:  “The Royal Navy offer you their congratulations on a very fine piece of seamanship.” (2)

ITALIAN AIR COMMANDER KILLED IN ATTACK ON CONVOY

During the attacks on the convoy, 12 enemy aircraft were destroyed, two more were probably destroyed and two were damaged. Malta losses were six aircraft, of which four crews were rescued. 

According to military intelligence, one of the pilots shot down by Hurricanes today was Italian Air General Fedrighi. He was flying in one of six JU 87 Stuka dive-bombers which attacked the convoy just after ten this morning.  His aircraft was chased towards Sicily and shot down by Beaufighters patrolling over the convoy.  General Fedrighi was in command of the Italian Mediterranean airfields.

Among the Axis vessels which attacked the convoy, one enemy E-boat was sunk and another probably damaged, and a U-boat whose torpedoes narrowly missed Renown was attacked and possibly sunk by the destroyer Nestor.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 24 JULY TO DAWN 25 JULY 1941

Weather  Sunny and hot.

1015 hrs  Six JU 87 Stuka bombers attack a British convoy approaching Malta. Beaufighters are on patrol over the convoy; one chases the raiders half way to Sicily and shoots down one JU 87 in flames and another which crashes into the sea.

1400 hrs  A convoy enters Grand Harbour.

1739-1754 hrs  Air raid alert for two enemy aircraft heading towards Malta; they turn back before reaching the Island.

2154-2230 hrs  Air raid alert for three enemy aircraft which approach the Island singly. The first heads towards Gozo and circles south west of the Island before dropping bombs in the sea west of Mellieha.  The second crosses the coast near St Julians and drops bombs near Luqa.  The third crosses over St Paul’s Bay and recedes south east of Ghain Tuffieha, passes to the south of Filfla, turns and crosses the coast again and drops bombs near Nigret.  Hurricane fighters are scrambled.  Searchlights illuminate one raider but the Hurricanes are unable to close in time.

0015-0050 hrs  Air raid alert for a single enemy aircraft approaching the coast. Searchlights illuminate the raider and a Hurricane engages the raider, firing short machine-gun bursts; no results are seen.  The raider drops bombs in the sea and turns away. 

Military casualties  Fusilier John Millar, 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers

OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 24 JULY 1941

ROYAL NAVY Operation Substance arrived safely, less Leinster, who had run ashore at Gibraltar.  Sydney Star torpedoed, but arrived safely, drawing 40 feet forward.  Farndale remained behind with condenser trouble.  Captain Wright, Royal Navy, sailed for United Kingdom.  830 Squadron maintained continuous anti-submarine patrol over Operation Substance from daylight.  1 of 4 Swordfish on anti-submarine patrol force landed in the sea due to engine failure and was lost; the crew were rescued.  HM Submarine Upright attacked a floating dock which was proceeding in tow around Cape Spartivent to the westward.

AIR HQ  Departures 1 Wellington. 69 Squadron Maryland reconnaissance Taranto, Trapani, Palermo, Messina.  2 Fulmars patrolling Pantelleria to Sicily covering the convoy.  6 Marylands patrol Marittimo Island to Cape Carbonara from dawn to 1630 hrs covering convoy.  9 Beaufighters escorting British convoy from the west to Malta.

NORTHERN INFANTRY BRIGADE  Central Infantry Brigade formed out of 1st Bn Cheshire Regiment, 2nd Bn Royal West Kent Regiment and 11th Bn Lancashire Fusiliers.

4th Bn THE BUFFS (ROYAL EAST KENT REGIMENT)  30 Maltese recruits posted to Battalion for training.

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  The Battalion provided reception duties for HQ and 2 Companies of 11th Bn Lancashire Fusiliers.  They were moved into their billets by 1700 hrs. 

1st Bn DORSETSHIRE REGIMENT  60 other ranks arrived as reinforcements from UK.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  No 173 Tunnelling Coy (7 officers, 223 O.Rs) arrived and attached to Fortress Royal Engineers; billeted in Msida Bastion quarters.

11th Bn LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS  5 officers, 160 other rans billeted at Gharghur Schools in the sector of 2nd Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers.

MALTA SIGNALS COMPANY  62 other ranks disembarked ex UK.

ROYAL ARMY ORDNANCE CORPS  61 other ranks disembarked ex UK.

(1) www.bluestarline.org

(2)  Red Duster, White Ensign, Ian Cameron, Futura Publications 1975

 

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Posted by on July 24, 2016 in 1941, July 1941

 

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23 July 1941: Malta Convoy Ship Sunk by Bombers, Another Disabled

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HMS Fearless

HMS Fearless

ITALIAN BOMBERS STALK ‘OPERATION SUBSTANCE’

Enemy aircraft launched a fierce attack on Malta’s vital supply convoy today as it passed through the western Mediterranean. Italian SM 79 bombers were reported shadowing the convoy early this morning and Fulmars took off from Ark Royal to drive off the raiders.  While they were away from the convoy, a second group of SM 79 torpedo bombers dived down over the convoy from out of the sun and launched their torpedoes.  The cruiser Manchester was hit in the engine room; with three of her four engines disabled she was forced to turn back for Gibraltar.  The destroyer Fearless was badly hit and burst into flames; she then capsized and sank.

There were two further attacks this afternoon but neither caused any damage and the convoy proceeded as planned. With over 200 Italian bombers still operative in the Mediterranean, the decision was taken to steer the convoy through an unexpected route.  Instead of hugging the coast of North Africa, the ships turned north east towards Sicily, navigating the Italians’ own mine-free channel en route to Malta.

Helping Manchester's wounded (c) IWM A4890

Helping Manchester’s wounded

Beaufighters sent out on a defensive patrol over the convoy attacked and sank an E boat east of Pantelleria; they also damaged a SM 79 bomber. One Beaufighter failed to return from the mission.  The pilot has been named as Sgt W M Deakin of 272 Squadron.

Meanwhile, six supply ships sailed from Malta today in convoy MG 1A, also part of ‘Operation Substance’. The merchant ships Settler, Thermopylae, Amerika, Talabot, and Hoegh Hood, along with the supply ship Breconshire headed westwards through the Mediterranean, escorted by destroyer Encounter.  A seventh merchant ship, Svenor, had a collision on leaving harbour and had to return to dock.  They are expected to rendezvous with Force H of the Mediterranean Fleet, currently escorting a new supply convoy towards Malta, which will then cover the passage of MG 1A to Gibraltar.

HMS Fearless casualty list

HMS Manchester casualty list

AIR RAIDS DAWN 23 JULY TO DAWN 24 JULY 1941

Weather  Sunny and hot.

No air raids.

Military casualties Pilot Officer Noel A C Cathles, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR), 110 Squadron; Sergeant William M Deakin, RAFVR, 272 Squadron.

OPERATIONS REPORTS WEDNESDAY 23 JULY 1941

ROYAL NAVY Convoy MG 1 escorted by Encounter and Gloxinia sailed at 0500.  SS Svenor fouled the boom and rammed the breakwater.  She returned to harbour and docked with damage to bow.

AIR HQ Arrivals 2 Maryland. Departures 1 Sunderland, 1 Wellington. 69 Squadron Marylands reconnaissance Taranto, Palermo, Trapani, Messina and Catania.  6 Marylands closing patrol Marittimo Island to Carbonara from dawn to dusk. 110 Squadron 4 Blenheims attacked merchant shipping in Trapani Harbour hitting two ships and bombing a nearby aerodrome. Sgt Cathles’ aircraft was damaged as he approached the target and crashed into a hillside in Sicily; the crew are believed killed.  11 Beaufighters escorted a convoy from near Bizerta towards Malta; Sgt Deakin failed to return.

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  News is received of a large convoy of warships and merchant transport arriving tomorrow with reinforcements, stores and petrol. The Bn has to provide 3 platoons for working parties to unload the petrol.  This will last at least one week.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 1; dealt with 2 (1 x 100kg HE, 1 x 250kg HE).

 

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Posted by on July 23, 2016 in 1941, July 1941

 

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22 July 1941: Malta Convoy Attacked by Italian Submarine

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HMS Renown

HMS Renown

TORPEDOES AIMED AT ADMIRAL’S FLAGSHIP

The flagship of Force H Commander Vice Admiral Somerville, HMS Renown, narrowly escaped damage today when torpedoes were aimed at the battlecruiser by an Italian submarine. Renown was attacked in the western Mediterranean while leading the escort for the Malta convoy under ‘Operation Substance’. 

Measures had been taken to divert the attention of the Italian navy from the convoy. Since yesterday, ships of the Mediterranean Fleet operating out of Alexandria have been exchanging radio messages to suggest a major operation in the eastern Mediterranean.  However, the submarine Diaspro on patrol in the western sector spotted the convoy and launched her torpedoes which just missed Renown. 

The Malta convoy continued its progress eastwards without further disturbance today. Ten of the escorting Royal Navy ships were refueled successfully by RFA Brown Ranger which sailed yesterday from Gibraltar in advance of the main Malta convoy. Brown Ranger is now on her way back to port under the escort of the destroyer HMS Beverley.

RFA Brown Ranger

RFA Brown Ranger

AIR RAIDS DAWN 22 JULY TO DAWN 23 JULY 1941

Weather  Hot and sunny.

1105-1130 hrs  A formation of enemy aircraft is reported of Cape Passero, heading south. Hurricane aircraft are scrambled but the formation turns away.  As the Hurricanes head back towards Malta, a second formation of 25 enemy aircraft is reported heading for Malta.  Another flight of Hurricanes is scrambled.  The raiders approach to within 15 miles of Grand Harbour, then turn back northwards.  The Hurricanes set off in pursuit bur are unable to catch the enemy.

2117-2342 hrs Air raid alert for two enemy aircraft which approach from the north east individually, crossing the coast east of Salina Bay and Grand Harbour respectively. Bombs are dropped in the Marsa area.

Military casualties  Flight-Sergeant William H Sargent, pilot, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 110 Squadron.

OPERATIONS REPORTS TUESDAY 22 JULY 1941

ROYAL NAVY 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm 5 Swordfish left to attack convoy of 1 tanker 7000 tons, 1 destroyer, and 1 small merchant vessel intercepted south west of Lampion.  They hit the tanker with 2 torpedoes and claimed sunk, one hit with a torpedo on the stern of the destroyer was also secured.  All aircraft returned.

AIR HQ  Arrivals 1 Beaufighter. Departures 1 Sunderland, 4 Wellington 148 Squadron. 69 Squadron Marylands reconnaissance Taranto shot down a Cant seaplane on return.  Reconnaissance Naples, Messina, Palermo, Trapani; search patrol and night shadowing of convoy. 110 Squadron  4 Blenheim attacked a convoy and sank two ships; the Observer of one Blenheim was killed.  After inspecting the Command the Inspector General, Air Chief Marshal Sir Edgar Ludlow-Hewitt, and staff proceeded to the Middle East.  

4th Bn THE BUFFS (ROYAL EAST KENT REGIMENT)  240 first line reinforcements arrived for the Battalion: 5 officers, 100 men of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, 100 men of the Green Howard Regiment, 40 men of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Regiment.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 2.

 

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Posted by on July 22, 2016 in 1941, July 1941

 

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21 July 1941: Malta Supply Ships’ Captains Told ‘Convoy Must Go Through’

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‘OPERATION SUBSTANCE’ MAKES READY TO FACE A HOSTILE MEDITTERANEAN

The largest convoy ever mounted to carry supplies assembled at Gibraltar yesterday ready to begin its journey to Malta. The merchant ships City of Pretoria, Deucalion, Durham, Melbourne Star, Port Chalmers, Sydney Star and the small personnel ship Leinster were made ready, loaded and guided into the Mediterranean under the strictest security measures.

Admiral Sir James Somerville aboard Renown (c) IWM A3741

Admiral Sir James Somerville aboard Renown (c) IWM A3741

As they approached Gibraltar at noon yesterday, accompanying destroyers fired a rocket onto each merchant ships with a line attached. At the end was a message addressed personally to the Masters of each merchantman from the commander of Force H, Admiral Sir James Somerville, KCB DSO, which revealed their secret destination:

“For over twelve months Malta has resisted all attacks of the enemy. The gallantry displayed by the garrison and people of Malta has aroused admiration throughout the world.  To enable their defence to be continued, it is essential that your ships, with their valuable cargoes, should arrive safely in Grand Harbour. 

The Royal Navy will escort and assist you in this great mission; you on your part can assist the Royal Navy by giving strict attention to the following points:

  • Don’t make smoke. Don’t show any lights at night. Keep good station.  Don’t straggle.  If your ship is damaged, keep her going at the best possible speed.

Provided every officer and man realises that it is up to him to do his duty to the very best of his ability, I feel sure we shall succeed.

Remember that the watchword is THE CONVOY MUST GO THROUGH.”

The realisation of the importance of their voyage gave the Masters a feeling of determination but also warned them of the possible dangers to come.  The operation today began with the departure of the oiler Brown Ranger escorted by the destroyer HMS Beverley to provide refuelling within the Mediterranean for the destroyers escorting the convoy.  Unfortunately on sailing Leinster ran aground and was forced to leave the Operation.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 21 JULY TO DAWN 22 JULY 1941

Weather  Hot and sunny.

1010-1045 hrs  Air raid alert for one a single enemy aircraft crossing the Island on reconnaissance at 23000 feet with an escort of 20 fighters. The fighters split up into three formations.  Hurricane fighters are scrambled but do not engage as they do not gain sufficient height.

2130-2220 hrs  Air raid alert for four enemy aircraft which approach the Island from the direction of Catania. Two cross the coast and drop bombs on Marsa and between Luqa and Safi.  Searchlights do not illuminate the raiders and Hurricanes do not intercept.  

OPERATIONS REPORTS MONDAY 21 JULY 1941

ROYAL NAVY  830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm 4 Swordfish left at 1910 to attack convoy but failed to intercept.

AIR HQ Arrivals 8 Beaufighter, 1 Sunderland. Departures 1 Sunderland, 5 Wellington 148 Squadron. 69 Squadron Marylands reconnaissance Sicily and Gulf of Taranto; shadowing of convoy. 

KALAFRANA  The Inspector General of the Royal Air Force, Sir Edgar Ludlow-Hewitt, visited the Station.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 2; dealt with 2 (1 x 100kg HE, 1 x 500kg HE).

 

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Posted by on July 21, 2016 in 1941, July 1941

 

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9 July 1941: Security Breach Endangers Malta Convoy

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Naples bombed tonight

Naples bombed tonight

COMMUNICATIONS LEAK PLACES VITAL CONVOY UNDER THREAT

The most important convoy to Malta of the war to date, codenamed ‘Operation Substance’, has been placed in danger after a serious breach of security measures. In view of the risks in sending a major convoy through the dangerous waters of the western Mediterranean later this month, all communications on the subject have been subject to the greatest security.  The risks are believed justified to meet the urgent and growing needs for supplies, equipment and manpower in Malta which cannot be met quickly enough by a convoy through the long sea route via the Cape.

However, according to an urgent telegram despatched today from the War Office to Malta’s Governor and Commander in Chief via the Admiralty, two telegrams from the NAAFI in Malta to their Headquarters in London have been sent via unofficial channels.  In doing so, the NAAFI have ignored standing instructions that all communications on such secret matters must pass through official channels. According to the War Office, NAAFI Malta “have by their gross laxity probably compromised this most important operation.”

Lt Gen Dobbie has been asked to investigate the telegrams and put in place further measures to eliminate the danger of further compromise from Malta – and to report back immediately that this has been done.

Meanwhile, to mitigate the effects of the security breach, Lt Gen Dobbie is to inform the Head of the NAAFI Malta personally and for his information only that a cable is being sent from London to help cover the indiscretions. The contents of cable HQ1131 will be untrue but it will be circulated as if true to all those staff of NAAFI Malta who have become aware of the content of the previous two telegrams.

The bogus telegram reads:  “Your telegram of 25 June and 3 July not understood. No shipment of troops or stores to Malta direct is envisaged.  Should reinforcements for Malta be necessary, stores will accompany troops on the usual route via the Cape.”

FOUR MALTA BLENHEIMS MISSING AFTER ATTACK ON TRIPOLI

Crews of four Blenheim aircraft of 110 Squadron have been reported missing tonight after they failed to return from a mission over Tripoli. They were among a formation of seven sent to attack Tripoli harbour.  The Blenheims carried out low-level attacks, dropping several 500lb bombs on shipping and harbour facilities in the face of vigorous anti-aircraft fire.  One 500lb bomb hit the harbour Mole causing a massive explosion, two more struck a merchant ship offshore.  Several large fires were started and flames shot 400 feet into the air. 

One of the Blenheims was shot down over the harbour by anti-aircraft guns, crashing onto a torpedo boat which burst into flames. A second was blown up by an explosion.  Two Blenheims are believed to have alighted on the sea; the crew of one is believed safe but the other was some distance from the formation and the fate its crew is not known.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 9 JULY TO DAWN 10 JULY 1941

Weather  Hot and sunny.

AM  Four Hurricanes of 185 Squadron interrupt an enemy patrol of two seaplanes escorted by four Macchi 200 fighters ten miles off the coast of Sicily, probably a rescue party for the downed BR 20 bomber last night.  One Macchi and one seaplane are damaged.

1939-2010 hrs  Air raid alert for 12 enemy aircraft spotted 40 miles north of Malta. 14 Hurricanes are scrambled but the raiders turn back for Sicily before they can be engaged.

2350-0024 hrs Air raid alert for a single enemy aircraft which approaches the Island from the south west and drops four 100kg high explosive bombs on Hal Far. Heavy anti-aircraft guns fire two barrages; no claims.

Military casualties  Sergeant Ronald E Baird, Royal Air Force (RAF), 110 Squadron; Pilot Officer Walter H Lowe, RAF Volunteer Reserve (VR), 110 Squadron; Sergeant Harold Lummus, RAFVR, 110 Squadron; Flight Lieutenant Michael E Potier, pilot, RAF, 110 Squadron.

OPERATIONS REPORTS WEDNESDAY 9 JULY 1941

ROYAL NAVY  C308, St Angelo and Justified landed troops for a military exercise.

AIR HQ Arrivals 3 Blenheims, 1 Bombay, 1 Sunderland. Departures 2 Blenheim, 1 Bombay. 69 Squadron Marylands reconnaissance Tripoli, Syracuse.  F/O Warburton had a running fight with a Macchi 200 which was probably destroyed.  110 Squadron  6 Blenheims dawn attack on Tripoli; prevented by fog.  7 Blenheims made a low-flying attack on Tripoli Harbour with good results but 4 aircraft failed to return (S/Ldr Seale who landed in the sea, F/Lt Potier, P/O Lowe, Sgt Twist). 148 Squadron 9 Wellingtons night bombing raid on Naples; 3 returned owing to bad weather before reaching target.  6 bombers dropped 12000 tons of bombs and 2400 incendiaries on the Central Railway Station from 6500 feet.  Bombs were also dropped on warehouses near an aircraft factory, causing fires and explosions.   Ack Ack was slight and all aircraft returned safely.

HAL FAR  Lt Governor Sir Edward Jackson visited Hal Far with AOC Mediterranean. 185 Squadron 2 Hurricanes attacked sea planes in Syracuse at sea level and inflicted heavy damage.  4 Hurricanes attacked float planes at Syracuse, damaging 8.  A Fulmar patrolled the Catania area. 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm Swordfish despatched to attack Tripoli but returned without reaching objective due to low cloud and bad visibility.

2nd Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  ‘Exercise Asia’ continued throughout the day with simulations of continued bombing and parachute attacks.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 1; dealt with 2 (1 x 15kg HE, 1 x 250lb HE).

 

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Posted by on July 9, 2016 in 1941, July 1941

 

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