Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Italian fleet menaces the Vigorous convoy

A Martin Baltimore based on Malta was on a maritime reconnaissance mission when the crew spotted the Italian fleet leaving Taranto at 6:45pm on 14 June 1942. The battleships were misidentified as Cavour class, when they were actually the faster Littorio class. The harbor at Taranto was photographed by a reconnaissance aircraft at 8pm. The photographs showed that the Cavours were still at Taranto, so that meant that the battleships that the Baltimore saw were Littorios. Admiral Vian could see, by 11pm, that he might be intercepted by the Italian fleet in the morning. At Admiral Harwood's orders, they continued west until 2am and then turned east. Right after this, the cruiser Newcastle was torpedoed by a motor torpedo boat, but was able to continue at 24 knots. A bit later, the destroyer Hardy was torpedoed and had to be sunk. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

14 June 1942: the Vigorous Convoy

During the day on 14 June 1942, the Vigorous Convoy was in range of shored-based fighter cover. Late in the afternoon, they passed out of range so that only long-range Kittyhawks and Beaufighters were providing cover. Between 4:30pm and 9:15pm, seven different air attacks were mounted by Ju-87's and Ju-88's. At about 6pm, the merchant ship Bhutan was hit and sunk. The merchant ship Potaro was damaged but stayed with the convoy. As the sun set, the destroyer Pakenham had a near miss from a submarine-fired torpedo. A little while later, six motor torpedo boats were seen. After sunset, aircraft dropped flares to help the submarines and torpedo boats.

Earlier on 14 June, the main Italian fleet sortied from Taranto, intending to attack the convoy. The fleet was substantial: two battleships, 2-8-inch gun cruisers, 2-6-in gun cruisers, and 12 destroyers. They were on course to intercept the convoy at 9am on 15 June. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Decoy Convoy

A day-and-a-half ahead of the Vigorous convoy, 11 ships sailed with an escort as a DecoyConvoy. The idea was to draw the Italian fleet to the decoy convoy and keep them away from the main body of the Vigorous Convoy that sailed later. The Decoy Convoy had an escort consisting of the old cruiser Coventry and 8 destroyers. Early in the game, the merchant ship, City of Calcutta, was bombed and had to be sent into Tobruk. They rendezvoused with the main body on 13 June 1942. One more merchant ship, the Elizabeth Bakke, was not able to maintain the speed of the convoy. That left the Decoy Convoy with 9 merchant ships. Early on 14 June, the Dutch ship Aagtekirk was also left behind as the ship was not able to steam the convoy speed. The Aagtekirk and her escort were attacked by 40 aircraft. The Aagtekirk sank about 12 miles from Tobruk. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Allied air power in support of the Vigorous convoy

A torpedo striking force was based at Malta and on the Libyan border in Egypt. Torpedo-armed Wellingtons and Beauforts were at Malta. More Beauforts were based just inside Egypt from Libya. American B-24 Liberators from the Halverson Detachment were based at Fayid. they had raided Rumania on 12 June 1942 and then were kept in the Middle East for use against the Italian fleet. There was also fighter cover for part of the run to Malta. The short range fighters based behind the front would provide cover at the beginning of the voyage and then Kittyhawks with external fuel tanks and Beaufighters would provide air cover when the Vigorous convoy was beyond the range of the short range fighters. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official history.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Vigorous convoy: June 1942

In parallel to the Harpoon convoy in the west, the Vigorous convoy was commenced from the east. Admiral Harwood and Air Marshal Tedder commanded from shore. Rear-Admiral Philip Vian commanded at sea. Rear-Admiral Vian had commanded the convoy in March and intended to generally follow the earlier plan. This time, the convoy and escort were both larger than before. The escort consisted of the former battleship Centurion, armed only with AA guns, seven cruisers, one AA cruiser, 26 destroyers, four corvettes, two minesweepers, four motor torpedo boats, and two rescue ships. There was also a screen of nine submarines that would defend the convoy to the north and would move with the convoy. There were also about forty aircraft available. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Harpoon Convoy arrives at Malta

By the late afternoon on 15 June 1942, the Italian surface force had turned for home. They were low on ammunition and were in danger of attack by Malta-based aircraft. There was a further air attack, but no ships were damaged. The escort as well as the two surviving merchant ships arrived at Malta. In the confusion about what channel to take to enter Malta, five ships were mined. One, the Polish Kujawiak, sank. Still, 15,000 tons of stores had arrived at Malta. A heavy price had been paid to get them there, though. Two destroyers were sunk, a cruiser was damaged, as were three destroyers and a minesweeper. Late on 16 June, the convoy escort sailed for Gibraltar where they arrived late on 17 June. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More British ships lost

As noted, the British were very fortunate that the Italian commander, with the two cruisers, had broken off the action. He could have easily destroyed the survivors. This all was happening on 15 June 1942. The Italians, later in the day, swept through the scene of the previous encounter and found the destroyer Hebe, all by itself. The British commander turned back with the cruiser Cairo and three fleet destroyers. When the British could see the Italians in the distance, the Italians turned to engage some unseen targets. These would almost certainly have been the destroyers Partridge and Bedouin. The Partridge had been able to tow the Bedouin. They were headed for the coast of Tunisia, hoping to elude the Italians. Italian aircraft found them and torpedoed the Bedouin, sinking her. They also probably sank the tanker Kentucky and the cargo ship Burdwan about this time. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Harpoon convoy loses two ships

The Ju-87 attack at about 9:30am disabled the tanker Kentucky. The minesweeper towed the Kentucky, but the convoy was now reduced to 6 knots. The merchant ship Chant was sunk in the attack. The convoy was very fortunate that the Italian cruisers had left, as they could easily have destroyed the convoy. Still, the convoy was without air cover, except for a period when long range Spitfires were present and repelled an air attack. Another air attack at 11:20am disabled the merchant ship Burdwan. The convoy was reduced to two merchant ships, Troilus and Orari, as the convoy commander, Captain Hardy, decided to have the Kentucky and Burdwan sunk, as they were a burden on the convoy, being disabled. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

15 June 1942: a desperate fight

By 7am, the British had two fleet destroyers disabled: the Bedouin and Partridge. The British destroyers had disabled one Italian destroyer, the Vivaldi. The Italian admiral sent his three other destroyers to help the Vivaldi, leaving the two cruisers to fight the remaining British ships. The cruiser Cairo and the Hunt class destroyers were able to shield the convoy, but were unable to join the action at this point. The Cairo and destroyers headed back towards the convoy and laid down smoke to shield the merchant ships. By 8:40am, the Italian admiral ordered a withdrawal and the Harpoon convoy survived for a while longer. The convoy had maneuvered, however, and that had slowed progress by three hours. When the AA defence ships had been drawn into the surface battle, that left the convoy exposed to air attack. That came in the form of 8-Ju-87 divebombers. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Harpoon convoy runs towards Malta

While the Harpoon convoy had a quiet night on the night of 14/15 June 1942, they would face a strong Italian surface force the next morning. A fast surface force had been sent to intercept the convoy. The VII Division consisted of the cruisers Eugenio di Savoia and Montecuccoli (named after the 17th Century Austrian general Raimondo Montecuccoli), with five destroyers. The Harpoon convoy was 30 miles south of Pantelleria when they heard that the Italian ships were close. The AA cruiser Cairo only had 4inch guns, so the fight was left to the fleet destroyers with 4.7in guns and 21inch torpedoes. The Italians opened fire at 6:40am on 15 June. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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