Friday, July 27, 2007
A low point for the Mediterranean Fleet
The damage and losses that had occurred in December 1941 reduced the British Mediterranean Fleet to its lowest strength since the losses in the battle for Crete in May and June 1941. To further aggravate the situation, the Japanese attack in the Far East meant that ships had to be sent east, regardless of the needs in the Mediterranean. The losses had been severe: the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and the battleship Barham had been destroyed. The battleships Queen Elizabeth and Valiant were disabled and would need to be raised and repaired. With rising tensions in the Far East in October, two destroyers had been withdrawn and sent east. That had reduced the destroyer force to ten ships. To bring more ships to the eastern Mediterranean meant equipping Force H with Hunt class destroyers, which were much less capable than the Tribals, the J and K class, and L and M class ships. In late December, the cruiser Dido arrived at Alexandria, repaired since the Crete battle, along with four badly needed destroyers. Further destroyer reinforcements would be some of the smaller Hunt class ships. That left the battleship Malaya, with Force H, the only operational battleship in the Mediterranean. There was also the small and old carrier Argus. No fleet carriers could be spared. Force H also had the cruiser Hermione with some destroyers. The fleet at Alexandria was reduced to Admiral Vian's three small cruisers: the Naiad, the Dido, and the Euryalus. There were no heavy ships available to face the four operational Italian battleships. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.