The best Italian bomber aircraft that the British had to deal with was the SM79 torpedo bomber. When that was augmented by Ju88 and Ju87 divebombers, the British quickly found themselves in trouble. In addition, the mining effort was a continuing danger. The Royal Navy in the Mediterranean Sea was as competent a force as any in world in dealing with air attacks. They had the advantage of having Admiral Cunningham as fleet commander. During early 1941, the Italian fleet, particularly the battlefleet was a danger. The British had nothing to compare with the new Italian battleships, such as the Vittorio Veneto. The rebuilt ships such as the Conte di Cavour and Andrea Doria were also a threat, even though they were not as strong.
The five Excess convoy ships stopped at Gibraltar, before making the run to Malta and Greece. They were delayed while repairs were made to the Renown. The Essex was the ship for Malta. The cargo included 12 Hurricanes in crates. On the night of January 1st, the Northern Prince was stranded as the result of a storm. The 400 troops were taken off and distributed to the AA cruiser Bonaventure and the destroyers. They ship was refloated, but had to turn back.
The Mediterranean Fleet had sailed from Alexandria in what became the standard pattern for running convoys through to Malta. They escorted to more ships bound for Malta, the Breconshire and Clan Macaulay. Concurrently, two convoys, one fast and one slow, had set sail from Malta headed east.
In a foretaste of what was to come, the Royal Navy was suffering under the new scale of air attacks. The cruiser Southampton was disabled and had to be scuttled with torpedoes on January 11th. The aircraft carrier Illustrious was damaged, and this would hamper the Royal Navy's ability to operate in the central Mediterranean. Still, the convoys all passed through without loss.