Thursday, December 31, 2009

More air fighting over Harpoon on 14 June 1942

As noted, when the Harpoon convoy got within 150 miles of Sicily, the main body was attacked by Ju-88s and a few Ju-87s. the old aircraft carrier Argus managed to maneuver and avoid torpedoes from the SM-79 torpedo bombers. The FAA fighters fought valiantly, although 7 were lost on 14 June 1942. The Italians and Germans lost 17 aircraft to AA fire and British fighters. After dark, the convoy picked up a Beaufighter escort from Malta. The main escort force turned back when the convoy reached the Skerki Channel and the much smaller Force X (AA cruiser Cairo, 9 destroyers, 4 minesweepers, and 6 minesweeping motor launches) were the sole escort in the final run to Malta. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The first air attack on the Harpoon Convoy: 14 June 1942

The Italians were known to have 20 bombers and 50 torpedo bombers based on Sardinia. The Harpoon convoy was within range by dawn on 14 June 1942. The British had the disadvantage of having the wind from the rear, which meant that the Argus and Eagle would have to turn to launch aircraft. The first wave of attackers consisted of "two groups of Italian fighter-bombers" at 10:30am. At 11am, the convoy was attacked by 28 SM79 torpedo bombers and 10 Cant bombers. The cruiser Liverpool took a torpedo as did the Dutch merchant ship Tanimbar. The Tanimbar quickly sank. The Liverpool had sustained an engine room hit and was reduced to 3 or 4 knots. The Liverpool was towed by a destroyer and escorted by another. The plan was to send her back to Gibraltar. The convoy was not attacked until evening. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Harpoon Convoy Ships

The Harpoon convoy consisted of the American tanker Kentucky, the British merchant ships Troilus, Burdwan, Orari, the American merchant ship Chant, and the Dutch merchant ship Tanimbar. The main covering force, which would not go all the way to Malta, consisted of the battleship Malaya, the aircraft carriers Eagle and Argus, the cruisers Kenya, Liverpool, Charybdis, and 8 destroyers. The main covering force would turn back at the Skerki Channel, leaving just the AA cruiser Cairo (an old C-class cruiser converted as an anti-aircraft ship), 5 destroyers, and 4 Hunt class escort destroyers to accompany the convoy to Malta. There were also 4 minesweepers and 6 "minesweeping motor launches" to clear the way into Malta. Another tanker, the Brown Ranger, sailed independently to refuel the escorts to Malta. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Harpoon convoy sails

The operation to run the two convoys to Malta was designed to put the western convoy, Harpoon, the day before the Vigorous convoy arrived. They plan envisioned bombing the Axis seaports and air fields before the convoys sailed. The fast minelayer Welshman was to run more ammunition to Malta, and would sail independently upon reaching the narrows. The Harpoon convoy consisted of six ships with a heavy escort, including the battleship Malaya and aircraft carriers Eagle and Argus. The Harpoon convoy was eventually intercepted by Italian surface forces on 15 June 1942. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Air forces to support the Harpoon and Vigorous convoys

A note in Vol.III of the Official History lists the squadrons available in Malta and Egypt to support the Harpoon and Vigorous convoys being run to Malta in June 1942:

Malta Egypt
Albacore No.830 (FAA) Nos. 821 and 826 (FAA)
Baltimore No.69
Beaufort No.217 No.39
Blenheim Nos.203 and 13 (Hellenic)
Hudson No.459 (RAAF)
Maryland No.203
Spitfire No.2 PRU
Sunderland No.230
Swordfish (A.S.V.) No.815 (A.S.V.)
Wellesley No.47
Wellington (torpedo) No.38
Wellington (A.S.V.) No.221 (Detachment) No.221

There were also 95 Spitfire fighters on Malta after 9 June 1942
divided between Nos.126, 185, 249, and detachments from Nos.601 and 603 squadrons.
There were also night fighter Beaufighters in No.1435 Flight
and a No.235 Squadron detachment from the U.K.

As we indicated, this is based on the notes in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The irony of Malta and June 1942

Tbe hope had been that the 8th Army would be victorious and move forward so that land-based aircraft could better support the defense of Malta. Instead, as the battle went badly for the army in June 1942, Malta had to support the defense of Egypt. The plan to resupply Malta was to run a convoy from either end of the Mediterranean Sea. The western convoy was called Harpoon and the eastern was Vigorous. A feature of the latest convoys was that there were more British maritime aircraft available. Malta had "six Baltimores, four Wellingtons fitted with A.S.V. and three P.R.U. Spitfires for reconnassaince". There were also six Wellingtons with torpedoes, a Beaufort squadron, and an Albacore squadron for anti-submarine work. There was also a larger maritime air force in Egypt. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The situation right before the 1st Battle of El Alamein

The navy had done a remarkable job, supplying the army at Mersa Matruh right up until the withdrawal took place. The situation rapidly shifted, as Rommel's intent was to roll over the British troops that were retreating to the east. That did not happen, first due to the core of the units remaining intact and the support of the air force and navy. The harbours at Sollum and Mersa Matruh were mined from the air on 23 June and 28 June 1942. The water storage facilities at Mersa Matruh were destroyed and the water was contaminated. The navy was prepared to do shore bombardment in support, as well, but the fighting took place too far inland for this to be useful. The action rapidly moved east to El Alamein, where Rommel was stopped from further advance. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Action in the air from 29 June 1942

The Desert Air Force had kept fighters forward at El Daba while 10th Corps withdrew on 29 June 1942. That night, "Wellingtons, Bostons and Blenheims" hit Sidi Barrani and transport on the roads. By 30 June, they put a large number of aircraft up in reaction to the Axis arrival at El Alamein. The 8th Army as providing little useful information, so the Desert Air Force had to rely upon their own reconnaissance to decide where to bomb. The commander, Air Vice-Marshal Conyngham was actually choosing targets for his bombers to hit. Baltimores and Bostons made a few attacks, but mostly it was the Kittyhawk fighter-bombers doing the work. Most of the attacks were against the 90th Light Division, to good effect. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The 10th Corps Plans breaks out

13th Corps had succeeded in withdrawing from Mersa Matruh, but 10th Corps had been left in a tenuous position, as the Axis forces had blocked the road to the east about 17 miles. The 13th Corps had already reached their withdrawal objectives on 28 June 1942, but that was when the 10th Corps breakout was to occur. 50th Division and the 10th Indian Division would breakout to the south, travel 30 miles, and then turn east to Fuka. 10th Corps broke out in brigade group size units. The brigade groups invariably ran across Axis leaguers in the night. The Indians suffered the worst losses in the breakout. The corps headquarters, with General Holmes, was sent back to command "Delta Force" on their arrival in the rear. 10th Indian Division and the 50th Division were in no position to execute Auchinleck's plan to use them at El Alamein. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

General Gott orders the withdrawal on 27 June 1942

General "Strafer" Gott was the 13th Corps commander in the Eighth Army. At 7:20pm on 27 June 1942, General Gott issued the pre-arranged code word to his units telling them to start the withdrawal from the Mersa Matruh vicinity. He reported the news to Eighth Army headquarters which promptly issued a similar code word to 10th Corps.

Brigadier Inglis decide to use his best unit, the 4th NZ Infantry Brigade, to lead the breakout. The rest of the New Zealand Division would follow. As luck would have it, Brigadier Inglis took the division headquarters and the 5th NZ Brigade on a separate route that took them into the 21st Panzer Division leaguer, causing chaos. The New Zealand Division headed east to their rendezvous, reaching it on 28 June. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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