Friday, February 26, 2010

The opening act of Vigorous

The Vigorous convoy consisted of 11 British and 3 American merchant ships. One wsa the fast tanker Ohio, which could make 15 knots. The convoy entered the Mediterranean on 10 August 1942. Axis reconnaissance aircraft were constantly following the convoy. The Furious launched her Spitfires in the early afternoon. A major mishap occurred at 1:15pm when the Eagle was torpedoded by U-73. The Eagle sank in only 8 minutes, although most of the crew was rescued. After the Furious had launched all her Spitfires, she turned back to Gibraltar. The destroyer Wolverine rammed and sank an Italian submarine Dagabur while en route to Gibraltar. This is based on the account in VOl.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Situation at Malta

The fighter strength at Malta had been reduced to 80 aircraft by the end of July 1942. Since the losses averaged 17 per week, the decision was made to fly in more aircraft on board the old Furious. The Furious was to be a secondary operation taking advantage of the main Pedestal convoy. Some of the lessons learned from Harpoon and Vigorous caused there to be two oilers and a fleet tug, all escorted by four corvettes. There were also 8 additional destroyers. These would be available to escorte the Furious back to Gibraltar. Force X also had a fleet tug attached. Submarines were positioned to attack any Italian surface warships. Malta had its air strength augmented for the Pedestal operation. The peak numbers available included: "100 Spitfires, 36 Beaufighters, 30 Beauforts, 3 Wellingtons, 2 B-24 Liberatorss, 2 Baltimores, 3 FAA Albacores and Swordfish". There were also reconnaissance aircraft: "5 Baltimores, 6 P.R.U. Spitfires and 5 Wellington VIIIs". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The forces for "Pedestal"

The next convoy to be planned was seen as the final hope for Malta. This was the "Pedestal" convoy. The British finally committed a large naval force to escort the convoy. The escort fleet consisted of the aircraft carriers Victorious, Indomitable, and Eagle, along with the battleships Nelson and Rodney. The cruisers earmarked for the convoy were the three Dido class ships, Sirius, Phoebe, and Charybdis, and the Nigeria, Kenya, and Manchester. In addition, the old C-class cruiser Cairo was along as an AA cruiser, with a total of 24 destroyers. The air contingent on the carriers were also significant:

Victorious: 16 Fulmars, 6 Hurricanes, and 14 Albacores
Indomitable: 10 F4F Martlets, 24 Hurricanes, and 14 Albacores
Eagle: 16 Hurricanes

This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More of the war at sea in late June and July 1942

Admiral Harwood had moved from Alexandria to Ismailia on 2 July 1942. A few days before, on 30 June, the submarine depot ship Medway had been torpedoed and sunk while on the way to Haifa. Haifa had seemed like a good possible submarine base. Not only was the Medway sunk, but the almost 90 torpedoes on board were lost. Fortunately, 47 were recovered from the wreck. As the navy grew to understand that Alexandria was going to be safe from attack by land for the near future, Admiral Harwood and his staff returned there by 8 August. A difficult situation had arisen when the British withdrew from Alexandria, as the French squadron stayed behind. He did not want to be attacked by his erstwhile allies, as other French squadrons had been. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Other events in June 1942

While the Harpoon and Vigorous convoys were at sea, the British withdrew from the Gazala line. Within five days after the convoys, Tobruk was taken by the Axis forces. There was the rapid advance after Tobruk fell so that the Axis forces had occupied Mersa Matruh by 28 June 1942. Admiral Harwood responded to those events by dispersing the fleet and moving merchant shipping and unneeded warships to the south of the Suez Canal. In the meantime, the Queen Elizabeth was repaired so that she could be moved out of drydock, before being moved further out of harms way before being sent to Norfolk, Virginia for permanent repairs. The extent of the danger from a further Axis advance was unclear, so perparations were made to block Alexandria, if necessary. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Malta resurgent in July 1942

The Axis air forces dropped more than 700 tons of bombs on Malta in July 1942. Most of the bombs were dropped in the first half of the month. They succeeded in destroying 17 aircraft and damaging many more. In that same first two weeks, Malta's defenders flew almost 1,000 sortees. Of the 136 Spitfires, 36 were lost from enemy action, but the enemy lost 65 aircraft during the same period. The defence was so strong that the Axis air forces had to send more escort fighters with the bombers. By late July, they were forced to resort to fighter-bomber attacks and forgo bomber attacks. On 15 July, Air Vice-Marshal Lloyd was replaced by Air Vice-Marshal Park as AOC Malta. He had served as AOC Malta for just over a year. He moved to Air Marshal Tedder's staff from Malta. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The failure of the June 1942 convoys

The operation to run two convoys to Malta in June 1942 was a failure. 17 merchant ships had been sent in two convoys, one from either end of the Mediterranean Sea, but only two ships arrived at Malta. Of the remainder, six were sunk and nine had turned back in the face of attacks by surface ships, submarines, and especially, aircraft. The main problem at Malta was fuel for aircraft. The continued air attacks were rapidly depleting the remaining stocks. Fortunately, the submarines Parthian and Clyde were able to bring in "aviation spirit, ammunition and special stores". In two operations, the aircraft carrier Eagle flew in 59 Spitfires. The fast minelayer Welshman, having a large internal volume for cargo, brought more "special stores". The situation had improved enough by late June that Admiral Harwood ordered the 10th Submarine Flotilla to return to Malta. One fruit of the Harpoon convoy was the presence of the minesweepers at Malta, and they were able to make headway on clearing mines. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Vigorous convoy returns to Alexandria

At 1:45pm on 15 June 1942, the Vigorous convoy and escort were still steaming eastward. At this time, the Italian fleet was still heading in their direction, apparently undamaged. The convoy escort was suffering heavily by this time. The cruiser Birmingham had been damaged by a near miss a couple of hours earlier. The Newcastle had been previously torpedoed by a motor torpedo boat and had a reduced speed. Admiral Harwood gave Admiral Vian discretion to do what he thought best by 2:20pm. The next lost came at about 3:20pm when the Hunt class destroyer Airdale was hit and had to be sunk. Good news came that the Italian fleet had apparently headed back to Taranto at 3pm. The problem was that the ships were running low on AA ammunition. The remaining Hunt class destroyers were reduced to "less than 30% of ammunition left". Admiral Harwood had hoped to send the fastest ships on to Malta, but ordered them back to Alexandria after receiving this status report. During the night, the cruiser Hermione was torpedoed and sunk by U.205. In the morning, the Australian destroyer Nestor had to be sunk after being hit during air attacks. The convoy escort and part of the convoy arrived at Alexandria late on 16 June. Admiral Vian had sent part of the convoy to Port Said. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Early on 15 June 1942: the Vigorous convoy

In the night and early in the morning, British aircraft mounted attacks on the Italian fleet. Wellingtons from Malta attacked with torpedoes at midnight, but were unsuccessful, partly due to an effective smoke screen. At 6am, Beauforts attacked, thinking that they hit the battleships, but they had stopped the cruiser Trento, instead. British submarines also attacked at about the time the Beaufort attack occurred. They missed the battleships, but the damaged Trento was sunk at 10am by P.35. B-24 Liberators attacked at 9am and scored one bomb hit n the Littorio, but she was not seriously damaged. A further attack by Beauforts was planned for the time of the Liberator attack, but they were intercepted by German fighters. Two were lost and five had to turn back. The remainder attacked, but had no success. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Amazon Ad