Tuesday, July 24, 2007
14 to 17 December 1941
The 15th Cruiser Squadron, commanded by Rear-Admiral Vian, with cruisers Naiad, Euryalus, and Galatea had been sent to sea to intercept possible Italian convoys, but they were recalled on 14 December 1941. While approaching Alexandria, the Galatea was torpedoed by U-557 and sank. The remains of the 15th Cruiser Squadron, augmented by the old AA cruiser Carlisle, sortied later on 15 December. They hoped to make a run with the Breconshire to Malta, along with eight destroyers. Once Admiral Cunningham realized that the Italian battlefleet was at sea, he ordered the Carlisle to be sent back to Alexandria. Force K sortied from Malta early on 17 December, with cruisers Aurora and Penelope and with destroyers Lance and Lively. The cruiser Neptune and two more destroyers would join them at sea. Later on 16 December, the battleship Duilio, with three cruisers and "eleven destroyers" left the Italian naval base at Taranto with supply ships bound for Tripoli and Benghazi. Three more battleships, two heavy cruisers, and 10 destroyers provided cover on the east side. Admiral Iachino, in the Littorio, received air reconnaissance reports about the British movements. Reconnaissance aircraft mistook the tanker Breconshire for a battleship, so the Italians acted to try and protect their supply ships. Right before the sun went down on 17 December, Admiral Vian could see the Italian battlefleet on the horizon. Force K and the Neptune took the Breconshire into Malta, where they arrived at 3pm on 18 December. Late on 17 December, the Italians opened fire on Admiral Vian's force, but did no damage. On 18 December, the Italian battlefleet continued in distant cover for the supply ships and then withdrew. Malta was under heavy rain on 18 December, but "four Albacores attacked and damaged one of the convoy". The entrance to Tripoli was mined, so the supply ships had to anchor outside the harbour. While approaching Tripoli, the Aurora, Penelope, and Neptune were mined. The Neptune was disabled. While trying to reach the Neptune, the destroyer Kandahar was also mined and lost her stern. The Neptune and Kandahar had to be abandoned, the Kandahar being torpedoed. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.