British and Allied Submarine
Operations in World War II
Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Hezlet KBE CB DSO* DSC

 

 

     
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CHAPTER XI

The First Battle of the Convoys in the Mediterranean: June - December 1941

References
Patrolgram 9 S/M War Patrols in the Mediterranean - second half of 1941
Map 20 The Sicilian mine barrage
Map 21 The Mediterranean in the second half of 1941

BY JUNE 1941, THE STRATEGIC SITUATION for the Allies in the Mediterranean and Middle East had greatly deteriorated. With the loss of Greece, Crete and Cyrenaica, the British Mediterranean Fleet was pinned in the eastern end to the coasts of Egypt and Palestine and the Axis controlled not only the Adriatic but also the Ionian and Aegean Seas. Furthermore there was the possibility that Axis parachute troops might take pro-Vichy Syria, and after the invasion of Russia there was the spectre of a German Army appearing in Iraq through the Caucasus. However all was not lost. The Italian East African Empire was nearly all in our hands and a pro-Axis revolt in Iraq had been crushed in May by prompt action. An appreciation by the Chiefs of Staff in London, however, pointed out that the Axis were now able to use a new supply route to Africa by the west coast of Greece direct to Cyrenaica and urged that the tanks delivered by the 'Tiger convoy' should be used without delay to push Rommel's army back so that our aircraft could reach and attack it. The Mediterranean Fleet, already mauled by its encounter with the Luftwaffe during the invasion of Crete, was now busy supplying Tobruk and was quite unable to join in the attack on the enemy supply line to Africa.

The submarines of the First Flotilla at Malta and Alexandria had been reinforced during the last few months and had more than made up for losses. There were now seventeen of them operational. A steady stream of new construction submarines was planned to arrive throughout the summer and autumn. Furthermore it had been decided that the submarines of the Eighth Flotilla at Gibraltar should operate in the Mediterranean instead of doing convoy duty in the Atlantic. The adverse strategic situation, which made operations by surface ships so difficult, did not affect submarines to the same degree. Their bases at Gibraltar, Malta and Alexandria remained intact and their passages to their operational areas were made submerged by day in any case and were unaffected by the proximity of the enemy air bases. Malta was now spared the heavy air attacks by Fliegerkorps X, which had moved first to Greece and then to Russia. The main purpose of all the submarines was still to interfere with the enemy traffic to Libya but some attention was also given to the tankers passing through the Aegean from Rumania. On occasion, submarines were used for other purposes adjudged at the time to be worth diverting them from their primary task. The Italian Navy at this time was stretched to meet all its commitments. There was not only the route to North Africa to be guarded but also the traffic to Greece and Yugoslavia that was as great as ever, and then there was the tanker route from the Dardanelles, which, with the conquest of Greece, could now be used again. The period which is covered by this chapter is called by the Official Italian Naval Historian1 the 'First Battle of the Convoys' and was the first time that the Axis were really worried about the traffic to Libya. Their concern, of course, was not just with an attack by submarines, but by air and later surface ships too. Although they did not realise it, the situation was even worse for them because of the breaking of their ciphers by the British cryptographers.

The first patrol in the Mediterranean by a submarine of the Eighth Flotilla at Gibraltar had already been carried out in April and May This was by Pandora (Lieutenant Commander JW Linton DSC RN), who left on 29th April to patrol off Naples. On 5th May, as we have already seen, she sighted an Italian eight inch gun cruiser, but she was out of range and heading north. She missed a small tanker on 11th May at a range of 3000 yards with four torpedoes, one of which failed to run. This attracted Italian anti-submarine forces to her vicinity. However they failed to make contact and on 15th, Pandora returned to Gibraltar. It had originally been decided, it will be recalled, that the River-class submarines were too large for the Mediterranean and were not able to dive deep enough. Nevertheless for a patrol that did not have to cross the Sicilian barrage the restriction was lifted and Clyde (Commander DC Ingram DSO RN) sailed from Gibraltar on 28th May for the east coast of Sardinia. On 1st June off Cavoli Island in a flat calm she fired three torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards at the southbound San Marco of 3076 tons. Two of the torpedoes hit and sank her. Later on the same day she fired three more torpedoes at a merchantman with an aircraft escort, but the track was broad and the range 4500 yards, and she failed to hit. Next day she sighted a small transport escorted by a destroyer leaving Terranova. The transport altered course just before the sights came on and so she fired three torpedoes at the escort at very close range and they probably ran under the target. Clyde then spent two days off Naples and on 8th June she started an attack on a large destroyer off the Bocca Piccolo but she had an escorting aircraft and in the calm sea the torpedo tracks would certainly have been seen, so she broke off the attack. On 8th June she missed another fleet destroyer with two torpedoes at a range of 650 yards. They probably ran under but they hit and sank Sturla of 1195 tons, which she was escorting. Clyde then reconnoitred Palermo and, closing to 5000 yards she sighted a six-inch gun cruiser in the harbour and reported its presence by wireless after she had left patrol for Gibraltar. On 14th June she met the schooner Gugliemi of 990 tons and sank her by gunfire. During this patrol Clyde made an involuntary dive to 275 feet and suffered structural damage aft to the pressure hull. Her operational diving depth had thereafter to be limited to 250 feet.

The next submarine to patrol in the western Mediterranean was the Netherlands O24 (Luitenant ter zee 1e Kl O de Booy) and she left Gibraltar on 7th June for the Genoa area. On arrival there she sighted two convoys too far away for a torpedo attack but on 12th she sighted a large unescorted tanker. Her first salvo of torpedoes missed mainly because one of them broke surface and warned the target. O24, however, was able to surface and engage with her gun securing a number of hits and stopping the enemy. Another single torpedo missed too, but a third from her upper deck training tubes hit and sank the tanker, which was Fianona of 6660 tons. The same day she stopped a 500-ton schooner and sank her with a demolition charge. O24 then moved to the Spezia area and missed another tanker on 17th. She again moved, this time to the Gulf of Lions, where she had no success and returned to Gibraltar on 23rd June. Overlapping this patrol, Severn (Lieutenant Commander ANG Campbell RN) left Gibraltar on 14th for Naples. On 20th off Palermo she fired four torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards at a large merchant vessel and, as she was uncertain of the enemy's course and speed, followed it up with two more but all missed. On 22nd off Naples she sighted an Italian U-boat and, as the firing range was only 900 yards, she sought to economise in torpedoes and only fired two. The result was a miss. An auxiliary anti-submarine vessel subsequently hunted her, but on 20th June she sighted Polinnia of 1292 tons bound from Naples to Cagliari. She had only four torpedoes left and fired one at 1500 yards that hit and stopped the enemy. She then closed in to 1000 yards and fired another, which also hit, and Polinnia sank. Finally, on 28th in the Gulf of Creed in Sardinia, she fired one of two remaining torpedoes at a range of 2500 yards at Ugo Bassi of 2900 tons, which hit and she blew up with a very heavy explosion and sank.

The last patrol from Gibraltar in June was by O23 (Luitenant ter zee 1e Kl GBM van Erkel), who sailed on 25th for the Leghorn area. On 30th she encountered the southbound laden tanker Capacitas of 5371 tons and hit her with three torpedoes out of a salvo of four, which caused her to capsize and sink. O23 then developed an oil leak and was hunted by Italian destroyers but fortunately was able to shake them off. She was forced to withdraw to the Gulf of Lions where she emptied the leaking tank but she had no further contacts during this patrol.

The intervention of the Eighth Flotilla in the Mediterranean in June2 was a substantial success. Not only were six ships of 20,490 tons sunk but also it enabled much of the traffic to Libya to be attacked that passed through this area before transiting the Straits of Messina or rounding the western end of Sicily. As a result the already overstretched Italian Navy was forced to provide escorts for all traffic in the area as well as for the normal coastal traffic and passages to Sardinia and Sicily.

In the central Mediterranean, the submarines from Malta persevered on the Tunisian coast, off Sicily and Calabria and off Tripoli, and made one sortie into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Their aim was, as usual, to interfere with the Axis supply routes to North Africa. It was particularly important to make an effort early in June as the British Army offensive, Operation 'Battleaxe', to relieve Tobruk and recapture some of the lost ground, was due to begin on 15th. At the beginning of June, Unique and Utmost were off Lampedusa and in the Gulf of Hammamet respectively. On 3rd June, Unique (Lieutenant AF Collett RN) fired two torpedoes into Lampedusa harbour, sinking Arsla of 735 tons. Later the same day she sighted three cruisers but was too far off to attack3. These boats were relieved by Urge (Lieutenant EP Tomkinson RN), who sighted three convoys on 4th, 5th and 6th but the first two were out of range and, although she fired three torpedoes at close range at the third, she missed. Unique, Upright and Union were out again in the middle of the month. On 20th, Unique, when attacking a convoy in a flat calm, was seen before firing and was counter attacked with twelve depth charges. She was seen again when attacking another convoy and was again subjected to an attack by depth charges, some of which were uncomfortably close. Upright (Lieutenant JS Wraith RN) saw nothing, but Union (Lieutenant RM Galloway RN), after sighting convoys out of range on 10th and 20th, attacked a third on 22nd firing three torpedoes at a range of 1200 yards and sinking Pietro Querini of 1004 tons.

Ursula (Lieutenant AJ Mackenzie RN) was on patrol off Tripoli at the beginning of June but she returned empty handed after missing merchant ships on 27th and 31st May at 2500 and 1500 yards with two torpedoes fired from the quarter at each of them. In the Ionian Sea, Upholder (now Lieutenant AR Hezlet RN) was sent to patrol a focal point where the routes from Messina to Benghazi and from Taranto to Tripoli intersected, but she only saw a hospital ship4. Unbeaten (Lieutenant EA Woodward RN) patrolled the east coast of Sicily in the middle of the month and on 16th she sighted a large liner5 southbound at high speed and carrying out a continuous slow zigzag. Four torpedoes were fired at a range of 4500 yards, but they missed this difficult target. On 23rd June, a signal was first decrypted in time to be acted upon. It revealed that four liners full of troops were about to leave Naples for Tripoli by the Straits of Messina. Urge was already on patrol south of Messina and Upholder (again Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn RN) and Unbeaten were at once sailed from Malta to join her. As the convoy emerged from the Straits it was heavily attacked by aircraft from Malta and turned back to Messina. Only Upholder caught a glimpse of it as it retired, and she could not get into a torpedo firing position6. Upholder was then recalled to Malta. As soon as she had gone, the convoy sailed again and passed Urge, who was engaged in an operation against the railway line at Taormina, and reached Tripoli safely. Urge landed her Commandos under Captain Taylor in folbots7 on 27th and they succeeded in blowing up a train in a tunnel near Cape San Alassio. Captain Simpson believed that these attacks on the Italian railways were of considerable value. For a small effort on our part, the Italians were forced to guard some 800 miles of coastal track and this would need a large number of troops. Urge also sighted two heavy cruisers with four destroyers on 29th June. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 5000 yards but with no result. She was counter attacked by the escort but was undamaged8. On 2nd July, before returning to Malta, Urge sighted a merchant ship escorted by what she thought was an armed merchant cruiser. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards and heard one hit but both ships continued on their way apparently undamaged. Subsequently one of these ships, the ex Norwegian Brarena of 6696 tons, was sunk by air attack on her way from Palermo to Tripoli.

On 17th June, as already told. Utmost (Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley RN) sailed from Malta to pass the Sicily minefields and patrol in the Gulf of Eufemia. Her purpose was to blow up the railway on the western side of the Italian peninsula. By 22nd she was off Stromboli and on the night of 23rd/24th she landed her Commandos, under Captain Schofield, in folboats, to blow up the railway line to Reggio. The fuzes failed at first necessitating a second landing to repair them. Utmost then visited the northern approach to Messina and sighted two convoys that passed out of range. On 28th she was able to fire three torpedoes at a range of 1200 yards at Enrico Costa of 4080 tons, which she sank. Another attempt to land Commandos had to be abandoned when the submarine was sighted from the shore.

The larger submarines at Alexandria divided their patrols between Benghazi, the Gulf of Sirte and the Aegean. The patrols off Benghazi were well placed to intercept traffic from Italy to Africa down the west coast of Greece and those in the Gulf of Sirte to stop coastal traffic to Benghazi from Tripoli, which was still the main disembarkation port. In the Aegean, there was not only the important tanker traffic from the Dardanelles but also the enemy sea communications with Crete, the Dodecanese and the Greek Aegean islands, many of which now had military garrisons. There were also two other uses for submarines, the first of which was to carry supplies to Malta, which now, with the loss of Crete, was virtually cut off from the east as well as from the west. The second task was to assist in the Syrian campaign that was now in progress.

Taku (Lieutenant Commander EFC Nicolay RN) left Alexandria on 1st June for Benghazi and on 7th engaged a tug, lighter and an anti-submarine trawler by gunfire but the action had to be broken off when her gun jammed. Nevertheless the gunboat Valorosa and two small vessels totalling 489 tons sank as a result of this action. She landed a reconnaissance party on Gharah Island that night and re-embarked them next day. On 11th she looked into Benghazi and fired a torpedo at a range of 2300 yards at a ship alongside, hitting Tilly L M Russ of 1600 tons, which blew up and sank. Next day she attacked a convoy early in the morning with two torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards sinking Silvio Scaroni of 1367 tons. She was relieved in this area by Regent (Lieutenant Commander HC Browne RN) but she had a completely blank patrol between 19th June and 5th July. Triumph (Commander WJW Woods RN) left Alexandria on 26th June and soon sighted the Italian submarine Salpa coming straight for her. Fearing she would miss with torpedoes, she surfaced and engaged with her gun obtaining three hits out of 33 rounds fired, after which the U-boat stopped down by the stern. Triumph then fired two torpedoes at a range of 500 yards hitting with one of them and sinking her. Triumph reached the Benghazi area on 4th July and next day engaged the coaster Ninfea of 607 tons by gunfire and sank her. On 8th she severely damaged the anti-submarine trawler De Lutti of 266 tons but was forced to withdraw by a shore battery, which hit her and damaged her forward. De Lutti then caught fire and sank. Triumph was later ordered to proceed to Malta for repairs.

In the Syrian campaign, some cruisers and destroyers from the Mediterranean Fleet were detailed to work on the coastal flank of the army. Parthian (Commander MG Rimington DSO RN) was added to this force to patrol off Beirut, where some large Vichy destroyers were based. On 25th June, Parthian sighted the Vichy submarine Souffleur on the surface, but she dived before an attack could be completed. Parthian, however, managed to keep track of her adversary and after three hours Souffleur surfaced again. Parthian was then able to fire four torpedoes at a range of 2600 yards hitting with one of them and blowing the enemy into two halves, which sank. She had a night encounter with another Vichy submarine on 28th but the two were so close together that nothing could be done before the enemy dived. Subsequently the Vichy submarines Caiman and Morse escaped to Bizerta. On this day intelligence was received that Syria was to be reinforced by a convoy from France, which was expected to approach by keeping to Italian, Greek and Turkish waters before slipping in to Beirut. Two patrol lines of submarines were established to intercept this convoy. The first group consisted of Urge, Union. Upright, Unique and Upholder, south of Messina, and the second of Triumph, Perseus and Torbay off Cape Malea. Nothing was seen by either group, which were dispersed when it was discovered that the French convoy was to sail from Salonika9.

Four British submarines and two Greek patrolled in the Aegean during June. The patrol by Parthian has already been described in Chapter IX. Torbay (Lieutenant Commander ACC Miers RN) sailed from Alexandria on 28th May and passed through the Scarpanto Strait on her way to the Dardanelles. She met two caiques, one of which was carrying petrol and sank them by gunfire. On 6th June off Cape Helles she encountered the French tanker Alberta of 3360 tons and hit her with a single torpedo fired from right astern at 1000 yards. The tanker then anchored in shallow water and an hour and a half later, Torbay fired another torpedo at a range of 3300 yards, which hit her in the engine room but still did not sink her. Torbay then had to withdraw with the arrival of some Turkish motorboats. The next day she sent a boarding party to set fire to and scuttle the ship but they failed. On 9th June a Turkish ship made an attempt to tow Alberta away and Torbay fired another torpedo, this time at 1200 yards, which missed but caused the tow to be slipped and the tanker to be abandoned. Finally next day Torbay surfaced and fired forty rounds of four-inch shell into her and she was left on fire off Lemnos, but still obstinately afloat. Undeterred by this a convoy of six ships approached and she fired three torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards but missed, and a destroyer of the escort counter attacked with depth charges Two hours later Torbay came upon the tanker Guiseppini Gheradi of 3319 tons straggling from the convoy, and hit her with two torpedoes out of three fired at 700 yards and sank her. A destroyer then returned and dropped depth charges but desisted after half an hour. On her way back to Alexandria while still in the Aegean, Torbay sank another caique and also a schooner. She was relieved by Tetrarch (Lieutenant Commander RMT Peacock RN) who left Alexandria on 6th June and entered the Aegean by the Anti Kithera Channel and went on to the Dardanelles by the Zea and Doro channels arriving on 14th June. She patrolled in her area until the 22nd and sighted nothing except for a small schooner on 25th, which she attacked unsuccessfully. While she was there, it was known from our representatives in Turkey that nine ships had passed through the Bosphorus bound for the Aegean. It was clear that Tetrarch had patrolled too far north even though there was plenty or information available to show where the shipping routes passed. The Commanding Officer was relieved on return by the orders of the C-in-C and sent in Rover to refit at Singapore. Perseus (Lieutenant Commander PJH Bartlett RN), also had an uneventful patrol in the southern Aegean from 22nd June to 10th July. The Greek submarines Triton (Andypopleiarkhos Zepos) and Nereus (Plotarkhis Livas) saw nothing in patrols off Kastelorizo.

As has already been indicated, with the isolation of Malta, it was found necessary to run supplies in to the island by submarine. The first of these trips had been done in May by Cachalot when she joined the station from the United Kingdom. On 5th June, Rorqual (Lieutenant LW Napier RN) left Alexandria with 24 passengers, 147 bags of mail, two tons of medical stores, 62 tons of aviation spirit and 45 tons of kerosene. She arrived on 12th June and unloaded, and at once embarked 17 passengers, 146 cases of four-inch submarine ammunition for the First Flotilla at Alexandria, 10 tons of miscellaneous stores for the fleet and 130 bags of mail. She arrived at Alexandria on 21st and at once loaded a similar cargo to make another trip sailing on 25th10. Osiris (Lieutenant Commander TT Euman RN), who had arrived at Gibraltar after refitting in the United Kingdom, left for Malta also on 25th with a cargo of petrol, stores and mail. She managed to sink two caiques on her way, and arrived on 3rd July. A fourth trip was made during the month and this was by Cachalot (Lieutenant HRB Newton DSC RN), who left Alexandria on 12th June and arrived in Malta on 19th.

The month of June had been a very successful one for our submarines, which suffered no losses. Signals of congratulation were received from both C-in-C Mediterranean and the Admiralty. They made twenty-seven attacks expending some 74 torpedoes and sinking thirteen ships totalling 35,955 tons. However only three of these, of some 3107 tons, were actually carrying supplies to North Africa and in this month the Italians landed a record 125,000 tons. Although the 'Battleaxe' offensive by the British army in the middle of June was repulsed, General Rommel complained that he was not receiving enough supplies at the front. This, however, was not because sufficient supplies wore not getting across the Mediterranean so much as that the land transport system could not get them forward. He was demanding that more should be landed at Benghazi rather than Tripoli, which was some five hundred miles closer to the front. It could be argued that the British submarine campaign did not concentrate sufficiently on the southbound traffic to North Africa, and instead wasted effort off Sardinia and in the Aegean on empty ships returning to Italy. However it was at this time that the Italians first began to worry about their losses as a proportion or their total carrying power in the Mediterranean. Losses were now greater than their shipbuilding programmes, and the size of their merchant fleet was beginning to decline. The British submarine operational policy of sinking anything they could find wherever it was, and whatever it was doing, probably was the best in the long run.

DURING THE FIRST PART OF JULY, submarine operations continued much as before, but in the second part they were absorbed in operations to pass an important convoy to Malta from the west. On 1st July there were sixteen submarines at sea in the Mediterranean. In the western basin, Severn and O23 from Gibraltar were still in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and Utmost from Malta was north of Messina. Osiris and P38 were on passage to Malta from Gibraltar, and Thrasher was on passage from Malta to Alexandria. Upholder, Upright, Urge, Unique and Union were on patrol in the area south of Messina and off the Calabrian and Sicilian coasts, while Triumph was in the Gulf of Sirte. Torbay and Perseus were on patrol in the southern Aegean and Parthian was still off Beirut, with the Greek submarine Nereus off Kastelorizo. Most or these submarines had returned to base or reached their destinations by the middle of the month, and some others had put to sea to relieve them. By the time the Malta convoy sailed from Gibraltar on 20th July, some fourteen attacks had been carried out. On 1st July Upholder (Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn RN), on her tenth patrol, fired three torpedoes at an armed merchant cruiser escorting a convoy at very close range (300 yards) without result and it is probable that the torpedoes ran under. On 3rd, she sighted a convoy of three ships escorted by destroyers. She fired three torpedoes at a range of 1800 yards, two of which hit and sank Laura Cosulich of 5870 tons. She was then counter attacked with nineteen depth charges. In the southwest Aegean, Torbay (Lieutenant Commander ACC Miers RN) was at work again. She had already sunk a caique by gunfire on 30th June, and on 2nd July she attacked a convoy of two ships escorted by a destroyer with an aircraft overhead in the Zea Channel. She fired a salvo of six torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards hitting and sinking the leading ship, which was Citta di Tripoli of 2935 tons. She was then forced deep by the escort. On 5th July, after sinking another caique by gunfire in the Doro Channel, she sighted the Italian submarine Jantina off Mykoni Island. She fired another six torpedoes at a range of 1300 yards, more than one of which hit, and the U-boat sank. Finally on 10th she encountered the tanker Strombo of 5230 tons escorted by a destroyer and an aircraft. The escort forced her deep 'missing the DA', but she caught it up and fired four torpedoes on a very broad track and obtained two hits. Strombo was a total loss but did not actually sink until over a month later.

Unbeaten (Lieutenant EA Woodward RN) sailed for patrol on 8th July for a position off Lampedusa. She then moved south to the Marsa Zuaga Roads west of Tripoli, and here she sank a large schooner on 15th by gunfire. Taku (Lieutenant Commander ECF Nicolay RN) left Alexandria for the Benghazi area also on 6th July. On 13th off the port she sank the motor vessel Caldea of 2705 tons obtaining three hits out of four torpedoes fired at 1700 yards. Two days later she sighted an armed tug and a schooner but the weather was unfavourable to use her gun. She followed them hoping for an opportunity to use a folbot to destroy them when they anchored for the night. The folbot, however, was involved in an accident, and so she resorted to the gun forcing both the tug and schooner to beach themselves. After boarding the schooner, she was sunk by gunfire. On 21st July an attempt was made to raid Benghazi harbour in the folbot, but after the crew had attached their charges to a ship, they were seen and captured. Osiris (Lieutenant Commander TT Euman RN) left Malta on 9th July to patrol off Argostoli. On 14th July she fired tour torpedoes at a large merchant ship at 1500 yards without result, one torpedo having a gyro failure. Next day she attacked a supply ship at long range and missed with three torpedoes. The new submarine P33 (Lieutenant RD Whiteway Wilkinson DSC RN), after arriving from the United Kingdom, sailed from Malta on 11th July first for the Lampedusa area, and then the Gulf of Hammamet where it was hoped to carry out a special landing operation. On 15th however, she made contact with a large convoy of five ships escorted by six destroyers, south bound off Pantellaria. She had been put on to this valuable target by signal intelligence. She closed to 2000 yards, penetrated the screen and fired three torpedoes obtaining two hits and sinking Barbarigo of 5205 tons. She was heavily counter attacked with fifty depth charges putting her steering gear and hydroplanes out of action. She made an involuntary dive to 330 feet causing leaks and distortion of the pressure hull, necessitating her return to Malta without carrying out the special operation. Tetrarch (Lieutenant Commander GH Greenway RN) sailed for the Aegean from Alexandria on 12th July and carried out a landing operation in the Gulf of Petali on 17th. She remained on patrol in the Aegean during the passage of the convoy to Malta In the second half of July. One storing trip to Malta from Alexandria was made by Cachalot (Lieutenant HRB Newton DSC RN), sailing on 10th July and arriving on 16th. On 14th July Union (Lieutenant RM Galloway RN) left Malta for a patrol in the Gulf of Hammamet. She unsuccessfully attacked a small convoy twenty-five miles south-southwest of Pantellaria on 20th July. She was leaving an oil slick and was sunk in a counter attack by the torpedo boat Circe of the escort. She was lost with all hands including Lieutenant Galloway, her Commanding Officer, with three other officers and twenty-eight men.

Since the loss of Usk in May there had been doubts about the safety of the Cape Bon route past the Sicilian mine barrage, and these had been increased by two merchant ships striking mines in the 'Tiger convoy', also in May11. At the same time, more submarines from Malta were being used to patrol in the Tyrrhenian Sea, necessitating passage through the mine barrier. Captain Simpson decided to use a new route on the Sicilian side in which the submarines would dive under the mines, proceeding for 55 miles at a depth of 150 feet until they were clear. To ensure accurate navigation, the ends of this new route had to be in sight of the coast, so that a good fix could be obtained before going deep. The new route stretched from ten miles south west of Cape San Marco to ten miles south west of Maritimo on a course of 300/120 degrees. This route had the additional advantage that it was a shorter way to the Tyrrhenian Sea than round by Cape Bon. Utmost (Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley RN) volunteered and was given the dubious honour of pioneering the new route, and left Malta on 17th July. She had no difficulty and was required to report her safe arrival on the other side12. From now onwards this was the way submarines traversed the Sicilian mine barrier. Utmost was followed by Upholder and Urge, all being on their way to take up covering positions for the convoy to Malta.

The convoy to Malta was called Operation 'Substance' and sailed from Gibraltar on 20th July. It consisted of six fast merchant ships carrying reinforcements for the garrison and the anti-aircraft defences, so as to give the island a good chance to hold out if an attempt was made to capture it by a seaborne invasion, or an assault by parachute troops. The convoy was to be escorted through the western basin by Force H, reinforced by units of the Home Fleet, and through the Sicilian narrows by a force of cruisers and destroyers. The opportunity was taken to send some empty ships to Gibraltar independently. Although there were no units of the Luftwaffe to oppose the operation, the Regia Aeronautica was strong and the Italian Navy had five battleships ready at Naples. It was therefore considered necessary to deploy eight submarines to protect the convoy during its passage. O21 and Olympus left Gibraltar on 16th July to patrol south east of Sardinia and off Naples respectively, while the new submarine P32 on passage to Malta was ordered to patrol off Cavoli Point in Sardinia. Utmost from Malta, as we have seen, left on 17th July to patrol north of the Straits of Messina and Upholder and Urge followed her to patrol off Marittimo and Palermo respectively. Finally Upright and Unique were sent to patrol south of the Straits of Messina. In addition to these eight boats specially deployed, there were another six submarines at sea on their normal patrols. Ursula was south of Lampedusa; Parthian had just left Alexandria on passage home; Taku was about to be relieved by Regent in the Gulf of Sirte and Thrasher was on her way to the Aegean, where Tetrarch was already stationed. Part of the plan was for the Mediterranean Fleet to make a diversion during the passage of the convoy and it sailed from Alexandria on 23rd July, but having shown itself to enemy reconnaissance aircraft it reversed course as soon as it was dark. Perseus and Regent were then used to make wireless signals on its original line of advance to confuse the enemy.

Operation 'Substance' was a success and five of the merchant ships arrived safely In Malta. The troopship Leinster, however, ran aground leaving Gibraltar and had to be left behind. The destroyer Fearless was sunk, and a cruiser and two destroyers were damaged and had to return to Gibraltar with some troops still embarked. To bring those troops to Malta a second operation by fast warships called Operation 'Style' was mounted. It left Gibraltar at the end of the month and some submarines remained in their patrol positions to cover it. The Italians were confused by the British movements, and assessed the operation as one to fly in air reinforcements. They opposed the convoy with aircraft, submarines and motor torpedo boats, but the battlefleet did not put to sea,

During and immediately after Operation 'Substance', our submarines continued their general attack on enemy shipping throughout the Mediterranean. On 20th July, Utmost (Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley RN), in her billet north of Messina, made a night attack on a large merchant ship firing two torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards. The second torpedo ran crooked and she missed. Utmost then landed her Commandos to make another attempt to blow up the railway near San Eufemia, but the operation was initially foiled by a moonlight bathing party. Later a train was successfully blown up bringing down the overhead power lines. On 28th in the same area she fired two torpedoes at a range of 700 yards, hitting and sinking Federico of 1465 tons. On 24th July, Urge (Lieutenant ER Tomkinson RN), off Palermo, fired two torpedoes at a merchant ship at a range of 1100 yards and missed astern, while Upholder (Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn RN), off Cape St Vito, attacked and damaged a supply ship of 4984 tons escorted by a destroyer, scoring one hit out of three torpedoes fired at a range of 5000 yards. This was followed by a dive to 150 feet and a counter attack of nineteen depth charges. Four days later in the evening when off Marittimo, she sighted a southbound force of two six-inch gun cruisers with two destroyers as escort13. She fired a full salvo of four torpedoes from periscope depth at a range of 4400 yards, hitting the rear cruiser, Garibaldi, which was seriously damaged but managed to get back to her base where she was out of action for four months. This success was followed by a counter attack of thirty depth charges. Next morning, Upholder fired her last torpedo at a convoy of four ships, but the range was 2200 yards and it failed to score a hit14.

Olympus (Lieutenant Commander HG Dymott RN), off Naples, had on 21st July attacked a convoy at long range, firing two single torpedoes, which missed. Two days later a troop convoy of large liners passed and she intended to fire a salvo of four at one of them. Two torpedo tubes, however, misfired and a third ran half out of its tube and the last torpedo ran wide of the target. This was a serious missed opportunity at a range of 3000 yards and an indication of this submarine's need of a refit. That night the torpedo gunner's mate dived over the side and, working under water, remedied matters to a certain extent. Olympus also suffered from the peeling off of her anti fouling paint, leaving her with patches of a light grey colour. She was sighted submerged by an aircraft on 28th July and bombed damaging her battery, and she was subsequently hunted by an auxiliary anti-submarine vessel, but fortunately without further damage. On her way home, having tried to intercept the cruiser force reported by Upholder she was at last rewarded, and off the coast of Sardinia fired a single torpedo at a range of 800 yards at Monteponi of 747 tons which was in convoy and sank her.

Tetrarch (Lieutenant Commander GH Greenway RN), who had relieved Torbay in the Aegean in the middle of July, sighted several ships out of range. On 20th she was forced deep by the escort of a large merchant ship as she was about to fire, and subsequently only got away one torpedo after the target. This was from right astern at a range of 4000 yards and missed, and she drew a counter attack on to herself. On 22nd she looked into Port Vathi but there was nothing to attack, but at Karlovassi she engaged some caiques with her gun, obtaining a number of hits before gunfire from the shore drove her off. On her way home she missed a German ship off Gaidero Island on 25th July. The range was 1800 yards, but the first torpedo ran crooked and the second missed due to a periscope fault. Finally on 27th she sank a caique full of German soldiers off Nio Island. South of Messina on the 24th July, Upright (Lieutenant JS Wraith RN) sighted a floating dock, which was being towed from Taranto to Palermo. She fired only two torpedoes as the third tube misfired and one of these hit the towrope. She was heavily counter attacked, fortunately without damage, although she did dive involuntarily to 340 feet causing some leaks. She was therefore unable to renew the attack and the floating dock escaped. Unique (Lieutenant AF Collett RN), also in this area, landed a train wrecking party south of Messina on the night of 29th/30th July, which was successful. Another landing the following night, however, was not a success as the fuzes failed.

Two other submarines left for patrol during or after the 'Substance' convoy had arrived. Regent (Lieutenant WNR Knox DSC RN) left Alexandria on 20th July for the Gulf of Sirte and saw nothing until 31st when she sank the schooner Igen of 160 tons off Benghazi by gunfire. The schooner was carrying petrol, stores and ammunition. Thrasher (Lieutenant Commander PJ Cowell DSC RN) left Alexandria on 22nd July for her first patrol with orders to reconnoitre beaches in Crete at Limni, which she did on the night of 26th/27th. She made contact with remnants of the army in hiding and the next night embarked 62 British soldiers, five naval ratings and eleven Greeks, returning to Alexandria immediately afterwards.

On 26th July. Cachalot (Lieutenant HRB Newton DSC RN) at Malta left for Alexandria carrying 25 passengers and full of stores. On 30th when north of Benghazi she sighted a destroyer and dived. Intelligence indicated that this destroyer was probably the escort of a tanker, and an hour later Cachalot surfaced and set off in pursuit. After three quarters of an hour, what was thought to be the tanker was sighted at about 1600 yards. After a further pursuit lasting twenty minutes, she decided to engage with her gun. After eleven rounds the enemy seemed to be hit, and there was a lot of smoke, but it was difficult to see as Cachalot had no flashless propellant and those on the bridge were blinded. It was suddenly realised that the 'tanker' was in fact a destroyer at a range of 800 yards approaching at full speed and engaging with her main armament. Cachalot could not dive as the gun tower hatch was jammed, and the range was so close by the time it was cleared that the Commanding Officer, believing the destruction of his submarine was inevitable, ordered the ship to be abandoned. The Italian destroyer General Achille Papa then decided that she was likely to get the worst of a collision and went full astern. Collision could not be avoided, however, but the submarine's pressure hull was not ruptured. She then tried to escape on the surface but Papa opened fire and, with most of the crew on the upper deck, Cachalot had to be scuttled. All except one of her crew and passengers, seventy strong, were rescued by the Italians and made prisoners of war15. In fact Papa was not escorting a tanker or any other ship, but was on anti-submarine patrol. The first she knew of Cachalot's presence was when she was fired upon. The loss of this fine submarine should never have happened. It was caused partly by the lack of operational experience due to her employment on store carrying, and partly due to a laudable desire to take offensive action against the enemy.

On 25th July a new form of attack menaced the submarine base at Malta. Since May, air raids had been relatively light. The new form of attack was by explosive motorboats and human torpedoes. The attack by six explosive motor boats was, however, directed on the Grand Harbour against the newly arrived merchant ships of convoy 'Substance', and was detected by radar while approaching and was repulsed by the close range artillery defences. One of two human torpedoes was, however, to have attacked the submarine base on Manoel Island but fortunately broke down and was unable to penetrate into the harbour.

During the month of July, in spite of the diversion of submarines for Operation 'Substance', a reasonable return was yielded for their patrols. In twenty three attacks, 69 torpedoes were fired damaging the cruiser Garibaldi, sinking the U-boat Jantina and seven ships of 24,160 tons, while one ship of about 6000 tons was damaged A number of smaller vessels were also sunk by gunfire. Again, as in June, only three ships were actually carrying supplies to North Africa but, in this month, the RAF sank four ships of 19,467 tons on their way there. The result was that the cargo transported to North Africa fell to 50,700 tons with a loss of 12% on the way, and the fuel delivered fell to 12,000 tons with a loss of 41%. The Italian Navy was now seriously worried. They complained that British submarines were now operating on all their convoy routes. They began to use small merchant ships, singly and unescorted, sailing only at night and lying up by day in such places as Pantellaria or Lampedusa on the western route, or ports in western Greece, or at Suda Bay on the eastern route. During July too, the Italian submarines Zoea, Corridoni and Atropo began to run supplies from Taranto direct to Bardia making five trips during the month. Two of our submarines, Union and Cachalot, were lost during July, both falling victims to Italian destroyers, but against this three reinforcements had arrived (P32, Osiris and Talisman) It was, however, becoming necessary to send home submarines due for refit, and Parthian left the station during the month. It had also been decided, for the second time, that the River class Severn and Clyde were not suitable for Mediterranean patrols, and both were employed west of Gibraltar from now on. Total operational submarine strength in the Mediterranean on 31st July stood at twenty-five boats, three of which were Dutch, and also five Greek submarines16.

ON 1ST AUGUST, there were ten submarines at sea throughout the Mediterranean. Utmost was still north of Messina and Unique was to the south while Unbeaten was about to return to Malta from the Lampedusa area. Regent was off Benghazi, Parthian was in the vicinity of Malta on her way home to refit, and Rorqual had just left Alexandria on a storing trip to Malta. There were four submarines in the western basin; O24 was patrolling on the north west coast of Italy and O21 was south east of Sardinia. Olympus was returning to Gibraltar from the east coast of Sardinia, while the new submarine Talisman was combining a storing trip with her passage to Malta and Alexandria, and bringing in 6500 gallons of aviation spirit. Patrols during this month concentrated rather more on the traffic to North Africa and less on the Aegean, where only two patrols were carried out.

On 2nd August, O21 (Luitenant ter zee le KI JF van Dulm) missed a barquentine with torpedoes south of Cagliari and engaged with her gun, but had to break off the attack because of the bright moonlight and the proximity of the land. Nevertheless her target sank. O24 (Luitenant ter Zee 1e Kl O de Booy) torpedoed and sank Bombardiere of 613 tons off the mouth of the Tiber on 6th August, and next day sank the schooner Margherita Madu of 295 tons by gunfire. Also on 6th August, but off the coast of Africa, Regent (Lieutenant WNR Knox DSC RN) ran aground while bombarding the pier at Apollonia and had to release her drop keel to get off. Subsequently after her return to Alexandria on 10th, she had to go to Malta dockyard for repairs. Lastly on 14th August when nearing Alexandria, the newly arrived Talisman detected the hydrophone effect of what she took to be a U-boat and fired three torpedoes, fortunately missing as this was Otus bound for Malta with petrol and stores.

O23 (Luitenant ter zee 1e Kl GRM van Erkel) left Gibraltar on 2nd August to patrol in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and had a blank patrol except for an attack using Dutch torpedoes at no less than 15000 yards, which missed. Urge and Ursula patrolled south of Messina without success. On 6th August, P33 was sent to patrol off Tripoli, an area that had not been visited for a little while and she was joined by P32, who sailed on 12th. Torbay (Lieutenant Commander ACC Miers RN) left Alexandria on 2nd August to patrol off Benghazi and in the Gulf of Sirte. On 12th she fired four torpedoes at long range (6000 yards) at a convoy escorted by destroyers, motor anti-submarine boats and aircraft, but missed. Four days later she sank a schooner using demolition charges and was then ordered to Paximadia Island in Messara Bay in Crete to rescue a number of British troops in hiding there. On the night of 18th/19th she embarked 28 soldiers and 12 Greeks. The Greeks had to be forcibly landed next night to take another 92 soldiers, after which Torbay set course for Alexandria. Thrasher (Lieutenant Commander PJ Cowell DSC RN) patrolled in the Aegean from 6th-25th of the month. She made one attack on an escorted merchant ship on 16th, in which she fired four torpedoes at the very long range of 8000 yards without success. Tetrarch (Lieutenant Commander GH Greenway RN) left Alexandria on 11th August for the Gulf of Sirte, and on 16th she fired two torpedoes into Benghazi harbour aimed at the destroyer Perseo but they exploded in the torpedo nets. On 19th she attacked a convoy in very shallow water with three torpedoes at a range of 1000 yards, but she was sighted by an aircraft and forced deep before the sights came on. She fired by asdics but the torpedoes missed. On 22nd in similar conditions she let a convoy pass and pursued it on the surface after dark. Next day she fired two torpedoes at 500 yards at two large schooners sinking Fratelli Garre of 413 tons. The day after, she found two schooners at anchor and fired a single torpedo at each of them at a range of 3000 yards. One torpedo hit and sank Francesco Garre of 395 tons. Tetrarch, when returning to Alexandria was bombed and machine gunned by one of our own aircraft after making a mistake with the recognition procedure, but was fortunately undamaged.

The convoy of large Italian liners had been running a shuttle service to Tripoli since April. Except for the sinking of Conte Rosso at the end of that month they had operated without loss. They had used different routes for each succeeding trip. Signal intelligence lead to an attempt to intercept them in June without success, and they had been attacked and missed off Naples by Olympus on 23rd July, but had otherwise proved elusive. In mid August, decrypts of Italian naval ciphers revealed that a convoy of four large liners was again to make the voyage from Naples to Tripoli with troops. This time, however, they were to pass west of Sicily and down the Tunisian coast. On 16th Unique (Lieutenant AR Hezlet RN) was despatched from Malta to reinforce P32 and P33, which were already off Tripoli. Urge (Lieutenant EP Tomkinson RN) and Unbeaten (Lieutenant Commander EA Woodward RN) were sent out from Malta on 18th to patrol south west of Pantellaria. Of the other submarines on patrol at the time, Upholder was on the north coast of Sicily, but was unable to intercept, and Ursula was south of Messina, and so could only have been of use if the convoy had gone that way. Information of the convoy's progress in the Tyrrhenian Sea was obtained by RAF reconnaissance, and an enemy report was sent out to the submarines. On 19th August both Urge and Unbeaten sighted the convoy of four liners escorted by six destroyers. Urge, however, was seen submerged by an aircraft and forced deep, being counter attacked by destroyers for over an hour. Unbeaten fired three torpedoes, the fourth tube misfiring, at the long range of 6500 yards, but without result in the rough sea.

Unique, on arrival off Tripoli on 18th, made contact by asdic signals with P32 but could not get in touch with P33. It is probable that P33 had already struck one of the mines recently laid off Tripoli. She was lost with all hands including her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant RD Whiteway Wilkinson DSO RN, with three other officers and 28 men. Unique was able to get into position by watching the minesweepers sweeping the channel to seawards. She then sighted the liners Oceania, Neptunia, Marco Polo and Esperia escorted by six fleet destroyers, a torpedo boat, and two MAS boats with three flying boats overhead. At 1019 she fired four torpedoes at a range of 650 yards from inside the screen at the rear ship in the port column. An MAS boat passed over her fore casing just before she fired. Three torpedoes hit and sank Esperia of 11400 tons in sight of Tripoli. Of 1170 troops on board, however, 1139 were saved. P32 (Lieutenant DAB Abdy RN), to the eastwards of Unique, while she was actually attacking the same convoy, struck a mine and was sunk. She had tried to dive deep under the shallow minefield that she had been warned about, but on coming to periscope depth to fire torpedoes, struck a mine forward. She sank to the bottom in 210 feet; eight men were drowned but 24 survived the explosion. It was decided to attempt to escape using the Davis Apparatus, two doing so successfully through the conning tower, but the rest, using the engine room escape hatch, were all drowned. Her Commanding Officer and one rating who had escaped by the conning tower, were picked up by the Italians and made prisoners of war, but three other officers and 26 men were drowned. Unique, after her attack, was not directly counter attacked although a destroyer passed overhead soon after firing. She worked her way to seawards but later in the day was seen submerged, and bombed by a small flying boat causing an oil fuel leak, which meant that she had to return at once to Malta. Credit for this interception and sinking of an important troopship is due therefore not only to a submarine but also to the cryptographers and indeed also to air reconnaissance. Cryptography, in addition to its successes in being responsible for actual interceptions, was also of great value in building up a picture of convoy routes and in revealing the enemy's needs for supplies and his shortages.

On 29th August, Urge (Lieutenant EP Tompkinson RN), patrolling off Capri, sighted the troop convoy on its next trip. It consisted of Neptunia, Oceania and Victoria. She fired three torpedoes at a range of 4000 yards claiming one hit but in fact the convoy continued on its way undamaged. Upholder and Ursula were at once ordered to sea from Malta to intercept, and Ursula (Lieutenant AJ Mackenzie RN) sighted one of the liners outside torpedo range on 30th. Upholder (Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn RN) attacked early next morning firing four torpedoes at extreme range (6-7000 yards). It was flat calm and the torpedoes were almost certainly seen approaching, and were avoided.

At the same time as these moves against the Italian troop convoys were being made, Force H carried out an operation in the western Mediterranean. It was primarily a minelaying sortie by the fast surface minelayer Manxman, who penetrated north of the Balearics and Corsica to lay a large field south of Leghorn. Force H supported her by Fleet Air Arm raids on Sardinia as diversions. At the time there were only two British submarines in the area: Upholder was off Cape San Vito on the north coast of Sicily and Triumph was north of Messina. Two more submarines, Ursula and Unbeaten, were south of Messina and the Utmost was off Taranto. Manxman left Gibraltar on 21st August, and laid her mines unobserved on 24th while Force H sailed separately the same night. The Italians knew of the departure of Force H from their agents in the Gibraltar area, but not of the movement of Manxman. They believed that another Malta convoy was about to pass through the Straits and two squadrons put to sea. A force including battleships was sent to a position south west of Sardinia and a cruiser force to the vicinity of Galita Island. Both were to keep within fighter range of their shore air base. Air reconnaissance from Malta sighted the Italian battleships thirty miles south of Cagliari in the forenoon of 24th. At the same time Upholder, north west of Trapani, sighted the cruiser force. She only had two torpedoes left, and during the attack lost trim and was blind for ten minutes. She fired her two torpedoes on a late track at the rear cruiser at a range of 7500 yards but without success. She then suffered a 48charge counter attack while at 150 feet, but was able to surface after two hours and make an enemy report. This force returned to the northern entrance to Messina on 26th and was intercepted by Triumph (Commander WJW Woods RN). The enemy was zigzagging, the visibility was poor and the range long, but Triumph got away her only two Mark VIII torpedoes in her tubes, which had sufficient range to reach the target. There were several aircraft overhead and the screen were dropping depth charges indiscriminately. One of the torpedoes, however, hit the heavy cruiser Bolzano damaging her, but she managed to reach Messina. Triumph had difficulty in getting an enemy report through. Finally Utmost (Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley DSO RN), still on patrol in the Taranto area, landed Commandos who successfully blew up a bridge at Tribesacce and two days later, in the morning, sighted two Cavour-class battleships escorted by destroyers and aircraft. They were a long way off and out of range, and the presence of the aircraft kept Utmost deep. She experienced difficulty in transmitting an enemy report as well, and did not get it through until after midnight.

At the same time as the operations were in progress against the Italian liner convoys and in support of Force H's foray in the western basin, our submarines continued their war of attrition against shipping. Upholder, in her position north west of Sicily sank Enotria of 852 tons off Cape St Vito on 20th August firing two torpedoes at 1100 yards hitting with one of them. Two days later she met a convoy of three tankers escorted by two destroyers, and sank the naval auxiliary Lussin of 3988 tons. This time she fired four torpedoes at a range of 4000 yards hitting with two of them. She then suffered a heavy and accurate counter attack but escaped serious damage. In fact, Upholder, in this her twelfth patrol arrived in her allotted patrol area with all torpedoes expended. Before leaving for Malta, She landed Commandos east of Palermo at Sciacca to blow up the railway, but they failed to find it and got involved in a fire-fight and were lucky to escape17. On completion of a storing trip to Malta, Rorqual (Lieutenant LW Napier RN) embarked a full load of mines and laid them off Zante on 26th August. This field sank a small Italian steamer. On 28th August she attacked a convoy and fired three torpedoes at a range of 1100 yards at Cilicia of 2747 tons, hitting with all three and sinking her. In trying to manoeuvre to attack a second ship with another three torpedoes at a range of 400 yards, she was run down and both her periscopes were smashed, and she missed into the bargain. However she was able to return to Alexandria without further mishap.

Talisman (Lieutenant Commander M Willmott RN), who sailed from Alexandria on 21st to relieve Tetrarch in the Gulf of Sirte, fired three torpedoes on 23rd at a small supply ship at a range of 1400 yards. One torpedo, however, had a gyro failure and circled, near missing Talisman herself. There was a drill failure in firing one of the other torpedoes and the result was that she missed this otherwise easy target. She redeemed herself somewhat by sinking a caique by gunfire on 30th before returning to Alexandria. On 27th August, Urge (Lieutenant EP Tomkinson RN), in the Naples area, made a long-range attack on a convoy with four torpedoes. One torpedo stuck in the tube and she broke surface. Nevertheless she scored a hit on the tanker Aquitania of 4971 tons and damaged her, and was subjected to a noisy but ineffective counter attack. On 28th August, Utmost off Cape Colonne fired two torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards at a large merchant ship, but missed. On the same day at about the same time, Unbeaten (Lieutenant Commander EA Woodward RN), south of Messina, sighted a large Italian U-boat. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards but also missed. Next day she encountered three schooners and, from their behaviour, she rightly deduced that they were auxiliary anti-submarine craft. She managed to get within 700 yards of one of them and fired two torpedoes hitting and sinking Alfa of 373 tons.

As well as her success against Bolzano, Triumph had other adventures north of Messina. She had been sent to this area to land a larger party of Commandos than usual at the mouth of the Torrente Furiano to blow up an important railway viaduct thirty miles west of Messina. Twelve men were to be landed under Lieutenant Schofield of the Royal Fusiliers in eight folbots, carrying five hundredweight of explosives. A large submarine was required for this expedition and Triumph had also to disembark her reload torpedoes to make room for all this impedimenta. She had made a periscope reconnaissance on 22nd April, but the swell was too heavy to land, and then she was required to intercept the Italian cruiser force. Subsequently she had to land the Commandos on the night of the 27th/28th but a small fishing boat had to be disposed of which was in the way. The Commandos were able to land the next night, but two folbots were damaged and only eight men got ashore. Nevertheless they blew up two of the seven spans of the bridge. Although Triumph searched for two days, fog prevented the Commandos being recovered and the enemy captured them all. She regretfully left the area to return to Malta on the last day of the month.

The month of August was a successful one for our submarines. In twenty attacks firing 62 torpedoes, they had sunk five ships of 19,430 tons and had damaged the heavy cruiser Bolzano and two other ships totalling 28.571 tons. Although only two of these ships were carrying troops and supplies to North Africa, these included the troopship Esperia. In this month the RAF and Fleet Air Arm sank seven ships of 20,981 tons to swell the total. The Italians only succeeded in getting 46,755 tons across and lost 20% on the way. However they transported 37,201 tons of petrol with a loss of only one per cent. During August, supplies continued to be run in to Bardia by the Italian submarines Zoea, Corridoni and Atropo. The Allied successes owed a great deal to the work of their cryptographers. To the submarine successes must be added a number of operations against coastal railways which, it was hoped, would mean more coastal shipping would have to be used, as well as diverting troops to guard vulnerable bridges and tunnels near the sea. During August, the U-class submarines from Malta achieved nearly all the successes. Rorqual, Osiris, Otus and Thunderbolt made four storing trips to Malta during the month. Two submarines were lost during August, which were P32 and P33, both newcomers to the station and both lost on new Italian minefields off Tripoli. Two submarines arrived from Halifax as reinforcements, Talisman and the Thunderbolt, but against this, Taku left the station to refit,

ON 1ST SEPTEMBER, THE SUBMARINES AT MALTA were organised into a separate flotilla under the command of Captain GWG Simpson who had recently been promoted. The new flotilla was numbered the Tenth, and remained based ashore on Manoel Island in Sliema Harbour. Its name ship was Talbot and the old monitor, Medusa (exM29), which was used by the submarines as a fuel barge, was renamed accordingly. Operations, however, continued to be co-ordinated under C-in-C Mediterranean by Captain(S) First Submarine Flotilla in Medway at Alexandria. In practice this made little difference. Captain Raw had, in fact, never interfered with the operation of the Malta submarines. Air raids in Malta had, by this time, fallen to one in every twenty-four hours and were made almost exclusively at night. They caused little disruption and no damage. Reinforcements of Hurricane fighters had also been flown in from aircraft carriers during the summer. Tunnelling at Lazaretto had continued during the summer, and by October the plans to put vital facilities underground had been half completed.

September proved an even more successful month than August. Operations were spread throughout the Mediterranean and included patrols in the Aegean and the Adriatic. On 1st September there were twelve submarines on patrol. From the Eighth Flotilla at Gibraltar, O21 was south east of Sardinia and O24 off the Italian Riviera. From the Tenth Flotilla at Malta, Upright was on the north coast at Sicily while Urge was returning to Malta from the Naples area: Unbeaten was south of Messina and Upholder and Ursula were off Tripoli. Of the First Flotilla at Alexandria, Talisman was in the Gulf of Sirte and Thunderbolt was on her way to the same area to join her; Perseus was in the Aegean; Triumph was returning to Malta from the Tyrrhenian Sea and Rorqual was on her way back to Alexandria from the west coast of Greece. Most of these submarines were back in harbour before the middle of the month, but not before some had achieved results. O21 (Luitenant ter zee 1e K1 JF van Dulm), in the Tyrrhenian Sea made no less than five torpedo attacks on various ships but all missed except one18. On 5th September she sank Isarco of 5738 tons carrying phosphates from Tunisia to Naples rescuing twenty-two men of her crew, and taking them back to Gibraltar. O23 (Luitenant ter zee 1e Kl GBM van Erkel), patrolling off the Italian Riviera missed a three masted barque with torpedoes, but surfaced and sank her by gunfire. This was Carla of 347 tons. Near Elba on 9th, she encountered two ships in convoy and sank Italo Balbo of 5114 tons with torpedoes. O23 then set course round the north of Corsica, and was narrowly missed by torpedoes from an MAS boat before returning to Gibraltar. In the early part of the month Otus (Lieutenant RM Favell RN) and Osiris (Lieutenant CP Norman RN), which were in Malta after bringing in supplies, made their way to Alexandria carrying mail and passengers. Osiris carried a spare destroyer stem piece lashed to her casing. She was ordered to bombard Appolonia airfield on her way, which she did, surprisingly without any return fire from the shore. On 3rd September, Otus sighted a Ramb-class merchant ship escorted by a destroyer, probably on her way to the Dodecanese. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards, but the destroyer got in the way and caused her to miss. Perseus (Lieutenant Commander ECF Nicolay RN), in the Aegean on 5th September, attacked a convoy and fired four torpedoes hitting and sinking Maya of 3865 tons at the long range of 5000 yards. One of the salvo also hit a tanker in the convoy and it stopped. A fifth torpedo was fired at this ship an hour later but it missed. Thunderbolt (Lieutenant Commander CB Crouch DSO RN), newly arrived in the Mediterranean, was off Benghazi on 5th September where she was harassed by anti-submarine vessels. On 7th, however, she encountered the escorted merchantman Sirena of 975 tons and sank her. This was a remarkable attack since although it started in the normal way, the target altered course stern on at a range of 2000 yards, and the single torpedo fired overtook and hit her. Thunderbolt then moved her patrol position to the Gulf of Sirte and on 9th bombarded Fort Baroli. Next day she sank the schooner Svan I of 388 tons by gunfire in the anchorage at El Auejai and during this action shore batteries engaged her. On 11th she attacked a convoy of two ships escorted by two destroyers, firing three torpedoes at a range of 1200 yards, hitting and sinking Livorno of 1829 tons. Two days later she attacked a minelayer of the Crotone-class escorted by aircraft and minesweepers, and expended three torpedoes at a range of 3200 yards, but without result. Finally next day she fired four torpedoes at a large escorted supply ship at a range of 4600 yards. Although she claimed a hit at the time, there is no record that the enemy was sunk although she may have been damaged.

During the early part of September after four submarines had returned from patrol, the Tenth Flotilla had only Unique at sea and she was off Capri. The others were preparing for Operation 'Halberd', which was another Malta convoy. Unique (Lieutenant AF Collett RN) had left Malta on 5th for the Tyrrhenian Sea, and on 14th sighted a large tanker of the Oceana-class off Capri but could not get within range. It is now clear that this ship was bound for Naples, from which port a large troop convoy was about to sail. Cryptography revealed its times of arrival and departure and its destination as Tripoli. It also gave its route as through the Straits of Messina and the central Ionian Sea, making its landfall at Ras el Hanra on 19th. This intelligence was to lead to a major success for the cryptography/air reconnaissance/submarine combination. Air reconnaissance revealed that the convoy had left Naples, and Captain(S) Ten at Malta at once decided to set an ambush with five submarines that were available there. Upholder (Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn DSO RN), Upright (Lieutenant JS Wraith DSC RN) and Unbeaten (Lieutenant Commander EA Woodward RN) were despatched on 16th September to form a patrol line some fifty miles north east of the expected landfall of the convoy on the African coast. They would then be able to make a night attack and be certain to avoid the period around dawn when it would be difficult to decide whether to attack on the surface or submerged. Ursula (Lieutenant AR Hezlet RN) was sent to patrol close in off Ras el Hamra to attack submerged after daylight. Urge, who had only just got in from patrol, did not take part19. All four submarines were in position shortly after midnight 17th/18th September, and the submarines on the patrol line checked their relative positions using asdics. At this point Upholder's gyrocompass failed which was a setback. It was a dark but clear night and the submarines had not long to wait. At 0307 Unbeaten sighted the enemy eight miles to the northward and, as she was obviously too far off track to attack, she made an enemy report first by asdic and when this did not get through, by wireless. Upright received the message at 0331 and Upholder at 0340. Unbeaten then followed up the enemy to deal with any ships damaged by the other two. Upholder sighted the convoy at 0350 at a range of six miles, and closed at full speed on the surface. At 0408 she fired a full salvo of four torpedoes at the long range of 5000 yards with a track angle of 115 degrees. With no gyrocompass the submarine was yawing badly but the torpedoes were sighted individually at two ships that were overlapping. Two of the torpedoes hit, one striking Oceania and the other Neptunia. Neptunia sank; Oceania stopped dead in the water and the third ship, Vulcania, increased to her full speed of 21 knots and continued on her course. While the six large Italian destroyers of the escort were busy rescuing survivors, Upholder dived and closed in while she reloaded her torpedo tubes. Upright ran south on receiving the enemy report but Vulcania passed north of her. After daylight, an Italian destroyer passed within range of Upright but could not be attacked as she was armed with Mark IV torpedoes, the depth setting of which could not be altered in her torpedo tubes. By 0650 both Upholder and Unbeaten had sighted the stopped Oceania, and were closing in submerged from the same side to finish her off. Upholder had to go deep to avoid a destroyer, and dived under Oceania then turned and at 0851 fired two torpedoes at a range of 2100 yards from the other side, both of which hit and sank her,

Ursula arrived in her position off Ras el Hamra before dawn and dived. As soon as it was light she sighted the torpedo boat sent out from Tripoli to guide the convoy in. She was working stealthily round to the northeast when the Vulcania was heard on asdic and came in sight earlier than had been expected. At 0705 Ursula fired four torpedoes at a range of 3500 yards. The target speed, however, was set at 17 knots, which was anticipated as the convoy speed, and the torpedoes missed astern. At the time a hit was thought to have been obtained, and this seemed to be confirmed as Vulcania went on her way with a list to starboard.

This great success for the Tenth Flotilla, in which the part played by cryptography and air reconnaissance must not be forgotten, was achieved by the torpedoes of Upholder, who had already sunk Conte Rosso. Some 6500 men were being transported in Oceania and Neptunia, and the Italian Navy succeeded in rescuing all but 384, most of whom were killed by the torpedo explosion in Neptunia. This was the last of these troop convoys, four of the liners having been sunk by our submarines. Troops from now on were transported mainly in destroyers, which crossed at night at high speed. Vulcania, after disembarking her troops, returned without delay to Italy using the route west of Sicily. Utmost was on her way to the north coast of Sicily at the time and was ordered to a position off Marittimo to intercept. On 20th September she sighted the liner on a course for Naples, but was too far off to attack.

Although the 'Substance' and 'Style' convoys had successfully supplied Malta during August, it was considered necessary to run another convoy in September to build up stocks there. It was decided to run this convoy towards the end of the month when reinforcements for Force H from the Home Fleet would be available. The Italians still had five battleships operational with which to contest the passage of this convoy, and it had only been found possible to bring Force H up to a strength of three capital ships. It was therefore considered essential to deploy a strong force of submarines in support of this convoy, which was code named 'Halberd'. This was not only for reconnaissance but to attack the Italian battlefleet should it sortie. Nine submarines were made available. Utmost was already north of Sicily and was ordered to patrol north of Messina, and O21 had just arrived to patrol south east of Sardinia. Upright, Upholder and Urge were sent to take up positions off Cape Rosso Colmo on the west coast of Calabria, off Marittimo and north of Palermo respectively, while Ursula and Unbeaten were sent to patrol south of the Straits of Messina. Finally Trusty and the Polish Sokol, on passage in the western Mediterranean to join as reinforcements, were ordered into the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily. This time some units of the Italian Navy put to sea to oppose the passage of the convoy. They were unable to use all five battleships as they were by now too short of fuel. Two forces were used; the first consisted of Littorio and Vittorio Veneto with eight destroyers, preceded by a second force of four cruisers and another eight destroyers. The Italian Fleet was restricted by instructions only to engage forces that were inferior, and to keep within the umbrella of fighter aircraft from the shore. They were unable to obtain enough information from air reconnaissance to compare the relative strengths, but nevertheless cruised to the east of Sardinia during the 27th and 28th September before returning to base. The only contact made with any of our six submarines in the Tyrrhenian Sea was by Utmost, who sighted three cruisers returning to Naples. She attacked but was forced to dive deep to avoid being rammed by one of the escorts and did not get her torpedoes away. Operation 'Halberd' was a success and eight of the nine merchant ships arrived in Malta safely although the battleship Nelson was damaged by an aircraft torpedo.

Immediately before, during and after 'Halberd' and for the rest of September, the usual submarine patrols continued. On 24th, Urge (Lieutenant EP Tomkinson RN) fired a single torpedo at a small merchant vessel off the west coast or Calabria but it had a gyro failure and circled, then dived to the bottom, and exploded uncomfortably close. That night in the Gulf of Gioja, she attempted to recover an agent landed by Utmost in April but was disturbed by an MAS boat. She tried again next night but one or her officers who went ashore in a folbot was killed by fire from the shore, and Urge was forced to make a rapid withdrawal by the arrival of a destroyer at high speed. It seems that the enemy obtained information from the agent and had set a trap. This confirmed Captain Simpson's dislike of these special operations that could so easily lead to the loss of a submarine20. Before returning to Malta, Urge bombarded the railway with her 12-pd. gun but without effect. Torbay (Lieutenant Commander ACC Miers RN) sailed again for the Aegean on 6th September, and although she made six attacks firing fourteen torpedoes she failed to score a single hit. On 10th she sighted a merchant ship escorted by destroyer, and fired three torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards after first being thwarted by the escort. The first torpedo was seen and the target evaded the salvo. She pursued submerged all day and caught up with her quarry in Candia harbour by the evening. She fired another torpedo at her stern, which was sticking out from behind the breakwater but it missed. On 18th three more torpedoes missed a small escorted merchant ship at a range of 2000 yards, probably because of an error in the estimation of her speed. Next day in an attack on two ships in convoy with four torpedoes at a range of 4000 yards she was forced deep by he escort and counter attacked, and the torpedoes missed again. Then on 21st two torpedoes fired at an escorted Romanian ship at a range of 300 yards also failed to hit, probably because they ran under. Finally on 23rd she encountered a small coaster towing a lighter with a destroyer and an aircraft as escort. Two torpedoes at a range of 1600 yards missed yet again and an exasperated Torbay returned to Alexandria on 26th September.

Thrasher, (Lieutenant Commander PJ Cowell DSC RN) left Alexandria to patrol off Benghazi on 12th September. She plotted the courses of the Italian local patrols and so verified the positions of the minefields off the port. On 23rd in the early hours she sighted three darkened ships and fired three torpedoes at a range of 1000 yards. One torpedo ran crooked but a second ran right under one or the enemy ships which were now seen to be destroyers, and not supply ships as at first thought. Two days later, also at night, she sighted a convoy of two ships escorted by two destroyers and fired five torpedoes at a range of 3500 yards, but all missed. Thrasher then went on to Malta arriving on 1st October. Tetrarch (Lieutenant Commander GH Greenway RN) left to patrol in the Aegean on 14th September to relieve Torbay. She began by landing two army officers near Port Surtari in Crete to round up troops in hiding and then patrolled for two days off Suda Bay. She then went on to the Gulf of Athens and left the troops to be taken off by Osiris (Lieutenant RS Brookes DSC RN), who made a special trip from Alexandria for the purpose. The operation, however, failed and it was clear that the Germans had got wind of it and Osiris returned to Alexandria empty handed. Tetrarch meanwhile, on 26th, sighted a convoy off Gaidaro Island but being in a bad position to attack, she worked ahead during the night and next morning fired two torpedoes at a range or 1500 yards hitting and sinking Citta di Bastia of 2499 tons. She was counter attacked but shook off the enemy, and two hours later reached a new firing position and fired two more torpedoes at the rear of the convoy, but the range was 6500 yards and she missed. Later in the day she sank a caique full of Italian troops by gunfire. On 28th she fired another pair or torpedoes at a large ship in convoy in a night attack south of Gaidaro Island. She was forced to dive by the escort and actually fired by asdic sinking the commandeered Greek ship Yalova of 3755 tons at a range of 2500 yards.

Triumph (Commander WJW Woods RN) left Malta on 16th September for the Adriatic carrying a party of British and Yugoslav officers for a special operation. On 18th off Cape Rizzuto she fired three torpedoes at the tanker Liri of 6000 tons with a deck cargo of motor transport. One torpedo hit at a range of 3500 yards, which only damaged her, and she was towed into Crotone. On 20th Triumph landed her party at Peljesac which she had some difficulty in identifying. On 23rd she sank the German Luwsee of 2373 tons with one hit from a salvo of three torpedoes fired at 3600 yards. Next day off Ortona she fired three more torpedoes at a large tanker at a range of 2500 yards hitting with two of them but only damaging her. Triumph then surfaced and engaged with her gun firing six rounds at a tug, and 35 at the tanker, but was forced to dive again by shore batteries. She also sank a small pilot cutter. She then expended another four torpedoes to try and finish off the tanker, but they missed and the enemy managed to make port on fire with a heavy list and upper deck awash.

Perseus (Lieutenant Commander ECF Nicolay RN) also patrolled off Benghazi leaving Alexandria on 22nd September, but had not achieved anything by the end or the month. Talisman (Lieutenant Commander M Willmott RN) followed Tetrarch in the Aegean, leaving Alexandria on the 20th. She reconnoitred the Kaso Strait, and Santorin, and then Tenedos without seeing anything, and then returned to the Zea Channel by the end of the month. The Greek submarine Triton (Plotarkhis Kositogianni) also carried out a patrol north of Crete from 18th September, but had to return prematurely after a fire in her engine room. On 27th, Upright (Lieutenant JS Wraith DSC RN), north of Messina, was approached by a torpedo boat that circled her position twice. On the second time round, Upright fired two torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards and hit and sank her. The torpedo boat was Albatros. This was a remarkable shot at so small a target at such a range, and was most satisfactory as it was Albatros who was responsible for the destruction of Phoenix in 1940. On the same day, however, Upright attacked a small escorted merchant ship with two torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards but missed.

During this month of September, our submarines sank a greater tonnage than ever before. In twenty five attacks by British submarines firing 74 torpedoes, and seven attacks by Netherlands boats firing some fifteen to twenty torpedoes, they sank the torpedo boat Albatros and nine ships of 51,135 tons and damaged two more of approximately 15,500 tons. A number of smaller ships were sunk by gunfire as well. Four of these, of 41,534 tons, were actually carrying men and supplies to North Africa. Aircraft again did well and sank six ships of 23,031 tons. Early in the month there was a particularly effective attack by torpedo planes on a southbound convoy, which sank one large ship and damaged another. Again in the middle of the month, aircraft sank three ships of over 15,000 tons. Military cargoes landed in Africa fell to 54.000 tons, 29% being lost on the way, and fuel delivered was only 13,400 tons and 24% never arrived. Furthermore these results had been achieved without losing any British submarines, and although O23 had left the station to refit in the United Kingdom, no less than five reinforcements had arrived in the Mediterranean21. One of these submarines, Proteus, had been fitted with a type 250 radar set22.

The Italian Navy was now seriously worried and General Rommel was declaring that he could not contemplate any further advance or even an attack on Tobruk without an improvement in the supply situation. It is true that General Rommel was more interested in decreasing the length of his land supply route than increasing the volume, and continued to demand that Benghazi should be used as the main point of disembarkation rather than Tripoli, and that even Derna should be used by ships as well as submarines. The cryptographers revealed those enemy difficulties to us. The Italian Navy again complained that the British had developed effective co-operation between aircraft and submarines, and that each was guiding the other to the attack or calling in the other to finish off damaged ships. They do not seem to have had an inkling that we were reading their ciphers. They also complained that British submarines were now infesting all the convoy routes, and bewailed the sinking of the large liners used as troopships. To try to meet the Afrika Korps needs, small fast warships and submarines, as we have seen, were used to carry supplies to ports nearer the front. The ships crossed and unloaded at night, and the Italian submarines approached submerged and left again before dawn. At the some time Mussolini was trying to get the Luftwaffe to return to neutralise Malta, but all Hitler would do was to order the Luftwaffe in the eastern Mediterranean to cease its offensive operations against Tobruk, Egypt and the Canal, and to concentrate on the defence of the convoys to North Africa. Six Italian destroyers also laid mines south east of Malta in mid September. The German Navy desired to help, and planned to pass minesweepers and E-boats through the French canals to the Mediterranean. More important, however, was the diversion of German U-boats from the Atlantic, and some of these had already begun to arrive through the Straits of Gibraltar. The Royal Navy, too, planned to step up its attack on the routes to Libya with surface forces. The Mediterranean Fleet, busy supplying Tobruk, had no ships to spare and so others were found from the Home Fleet and would shortly arrive.

September 1941 was unquestionably one of the high points of the British submarine campaign In the Mediterranean. Admiral Weichold, the German Navy's representative in Rome, reported that 'the most dangerous Allied weapon is the submarine'. He stated that between mid-July and the end of August, there had been thirty-six submarine attacks of which nineteen were successful. Eight ships had actually been sunk just outside Axis harbours. He also pointed out that the sunken ships could not be replaced, and there would be a crisis in the not too distant future. Admiral Raeder agreed with him. Also in September, Hitler's headquarters noted that 'Enemy submarines definitely have the upper hand'. Almost simultaneously, the British C-in-C Mediterranean was signalling to the Admiralty that 'every submarine that can be spared is worth its weight in gold'.

GEOGRAPHICALLY THE STRATEGIC SITUATION in the Mediterranean at the beginning of October remained the same. The British Mediterranean Fleet was still pinned in the eastern end on the coasts of Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Cyprus, and in the west the British held only Malta and Gibraltar. Militarily the strategic situation showed an improvement. Throughout the summer reinforcements and supplies had been arriving in the Middle East from Britain round the Cape, and by the Takoradi air route, as well as direct from India and the Antipodes. Many of these had to be diverted to build up a front in Syria and Iraq against a possible German break-through from the Caucasus. There was, however, enough to plan an offensive in the western desert for November to relieve Tobruk and retake Cyrenaica. The attack on the enemy supply routes across the Mediterranean was therefore now of paramount importance. Malta had been re-supplied, especially with Hurricane fighters, and there were now thirty-two Allied operational submarines available23 none of which at present needed to be diverted to run in supplies to the island. On 1st October, thirteen of these were at sea on patrol. O21, Upholder, Utmost and Urge were in the Tyrrhenian Sea: Proteus, Upright. Ursula and Unbeaten in the Ionian Sea: Perseus and Thrasher off the North African coast; Tetrarch and Talisman in the Aegean and Triumph in the Adriatic. Some of these submarines were already on their way back to base but, in the early days of October, ten attacks were made. O21 (Luitenant ter zee 1e KI JF van Dulm) had left Gibraltar on 21st September to patrol off the south east coast of Sardinia. She met some anti-submarine patrols and on 8th October torpedoed a ship in the 'Sink at Sight' zone, which proved to be the Vichy French Oued Yquem of 1370 tons. On 1st October, Talisman (Lieutenant Commander M Willmott RN) in the Zea Channel in the Aegean fired three torpedoes at a merchant vessel escorted by a destroyer and an aircraft at a range of 2500 yards. She missed and was subjected to a heavy counter attack of 37 depth charges. Two days later she fired two torpedoes at a beached merchant ship on the west side of St Giorgio Island hitting with one, but the other had a gyro failure. On 4th October, Talisman torpedoed and sank the French liner Theophile Gautier of 8194 tons south east of the Doro Channel. She fired four torpedoes at 1000 yards, and the escort of three destroyers counter attacked her with another 37 depth charges over a period of half an hour. Finally on 7th October she attacked a convoy of two ships escorted by two destroyers off Suda Bay. The range was 2500 yards and although she claimed a hit at the time, all three torpedoes missed24. On 1st October as well, Proteus (Lieutenant Commander PS Francis RN) off Zante fired three torpedoes at 2800 yards at a merchant ship in a glossy calm and missed. Proteus suffered serious defects in her telemotor system on this patrol and had to return to Alexandria prematurely. Then on 2nd October off Benghazi, Perseus (Lieutenant Commander ECF Nicolay RN) fired two followed by three more torpedoes at two ships at ranges of 2500 and 3500 yards, hitting and sinking the German Castellon of 2086 tons. She was counter attacked by the two Italian destroyers of the escort with forty depth charges. Next day while it was still dark, she attacked a large ship escorted by two destroyers bound for Italy. She fired two torpedoes at the long range of 5000 yards and no hits resulted. On 2nd October, Utmost (Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley DSO RN) made a night attack on a three ship convoy off Marittimo. She was only able to fire the first torpedo of a salvo of three as an escort saw her and fired an illuminant forcing her to dive. Nevertheless she hit and sank Ballila of 2470 tons. On 2nd October, Urge (Lieutenant Commander EP Tomkinson RN), on the west side of Calabria, fired four torpedoes at an Italian U-boat at a range of 1300 yards but one torpedo had a gyro failure and circled, and the others missed. Urge bombarded the coastal railway line before returning to Malta. On 3rd October, Ursula (Lieutenant AR Hezlet RN) missed a large merchant vessel in ballast escorted by a destroyer with three torpedoes at long range in a heavy swell south of Messina.

For the greater part of a second month running there were no casualties among the British and Allied submarines while on patrol in the Mediterranean. Rorqual, however, followed at the end of the month by Tetrarch, left the station to refit in the United Kingdom. Tetrarch (Lieutenant Commander GH Greenway RN) left Malta for Gibraltar on 26th October but never arrived. She communicated by asdic with P34 in the secret channel under the Sicilian mine barrage, and exchanged bearings and distances, but that was the last that was heard of her. She was ordered to patrol off Cavoli Island on 29th where we now know that the Italians had laid mines in late 1940. It is probable that she fell victim to this minefield or possibly a mine in the Sicilian barrage. She was lost with all hands, including her successful Commanding Officer, another seven officers (some on passage) and 54 men. Three new submarines, Thorn, P31, and the Polish Sokol25 arrived as reinforcements as well as Porpoise from the Home Station after a refit. Porpoise tried out a new type of container for carrying aviation spirit in her mine casing26 and also brought a small quantity of stores and some passengers from Gibraltar to Malta. Thorn (Lieutenant Commander RG Norfolk RN), in her passage encountered an enemy convoy west of Sicily, and in the fading light on 8th October fired four torpedoes at the long range of 6000 yards, but without result. She aimed two torpedoes at the merchant ship being escorted, and two at the destroyer escorting. The Admiralty, when they received Thorn's patrol report, made one of their very rare comments on the way submarines were operated, and said that it would have been better to have fired all four torpedoes in a single salvo at one target instead of dividing it. Rorqual left the station with a flourish. Before sailing, she had embarked fifty mines at Port Said and laid them in the Gulf of Athens on 8th October close to St Giorgio. This field sank the Italian torpedo boats Altair and Aldebaran on 20th/21st October. At Malta she embarked fifty more mines and, on her passage to Gibraltar, laid them off Cavoli and Cape Ferrato in Sardinia.

Unique (Lieutenant AF Collett RN), who left for patrol east of Kalibia on 9th October, came upon a merchant ship on 14th escorted by an armed merchant cruiser and fired four torpedoes at a range of 4500 yards, claiming a hit at the time. Subsequent investigation shows, however, that she missed. On 14th October, the cryptographers revealed that three large destroyers were about to leave Port Augusta for North Africa. A patrol line was established off Cape Murro di Porco at the southeast corner of Sicily by Upright, Urge and Unbeaten from Malta. The destroyers were not sighted and only a hospital ship was seen. This patrol line was withdrawn on 16th October. On this same day, the cryptographers gave information that a convoy was to pass west of Sicily on its way to Tripoli, and air reconnaissance reported it as forecast in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Rorqual (Lieutenant LW Napier RN) who was still on her way home at the time was given a patrol position to intercept, and Ursula and P34 were sailed from Malta for positions in the Lampedusa area. Rorqual and P34 saw nothing, but Ursula (Lieutenant AR Hezlet RN), on parting from her escort south of Filfola, set a course to intercept and proceeded at full speed on the surface all night. At dawn on 18th she dived and was at once aware of the approach of the convoy by the Italian practice of dropping 'scare' charges intermittently. She then sighted smoke and mastheads, and it was clear that she was a long way off the convoy's track. She ran in submerged at full speed in several bursts and closed the range by approximately five miles, which just put her within torpedo range. She fired four torpedoes at 6000 yards27 and hit Beppe of 4859 tons and damaged her. Beppe, however, although she fell out of the convoy, was able to reach Tripoli.

For the rest of October the war of attrition on Axis shipping continued, submarines leaving for another twenty odd patrols. From Gibraltar, O24 sailed on 1st October for the Tyrrhenian Sea returning on 21st. From Malta, Sokol, Upholder, Urge, Utmost and P34 patrolled to the east of Tunisia, and Upright was off Marittimo. Ursula patrolled south of Messina while Unbeaten was off Augusta. Sokol was then sent on 23rd on this her second patrol to a position off Ischia in the Tyrrhenian Sea. From Alexandria, Regent left for the North African coast on 4th October followed by Torbay on 7th and later on by Thrasher and Talisman. Thorn and Trusty patrolled on the convoy route off the west coast or Greece, while Thunderbolt. Triumph and Proteus went to the Aegean and Truant to the Adriatic.

Of these submarines, Upholder (Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn DSO RN) and Sokol (Kapitan B Karnicki) had blank patrols off the east coast of Tunisia. Upholder only saw two ships; one was a hospital ship and the other French. The other submarines at sea, however, saw plenty of action. O24 (Luitenant ter zee 1e Kl O de Booy) at first found nothing east of Sardinia, but later attacked but missed an escorted tanker, She then landed some saboteurs between Genoa and La Spezia, but the enemy captured them. Urge (Lieutenant Commander EP Tomkinson RN) on 23rd off Lampion fired three torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards at the Maria Pompei of 1405 tons. She missed, but the ship stopped and abandoned ship into one of the escorting auxiliary anti-submarine vessels. Urge was then able to fire a fourth torpedo that completed the ship's destruction. Later on the same day, she found Marigola of 5598 tons at anchor off Kuriat, and fired a single torpedo at a range or 3700 yards, which hit. Marigola settled on to the bottom but did not sink altogether. Ursula (Lieutenant AR Hezlet RN), after her attack on the convoy south of Lampedusa on 18th, returned to Malta and replenished with torpedoes going onto patrol south of Messina. In this general area she found no targets and had to be content with a bombardment of a railway bridge south of Cape Bruzzano, which temporarily blocked the line. She exchanged small arms fire with the Italian Army and an armoured car before being forced to dive by the arrival of an aircraft. Unbeaten (Lieutenant Commander EA Woodward RN) off Augusta sighted an Italian U-boat on 27th early in the morning. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 3400 yards, but they missed. After returning to Malta. Unbeaten left again to patrol between Marittimo and Cape St Vito, and saw nothing, but was lucky to survive as she scraped past the wires of some moored mines offshore. Sokol in the Tyrrhenian Sea attempted to attack an unescorted ship off Capri on 27th, but was unable to fire partly due to bad weather, and partly to intervening rocks. Next day she had better luck and attacked a convoy of a small liner and four cargo ships escorted by two destroyers. She broke surface during this attack but got away three torpedoes one of which had a gyro failure, but another hit and damaged Citta di Palermo of 5413 tons at a range of 6000 yards. She survived the counter attack that followed and was still on patrol at the end of October.

The Alexandria submarines saw plenty of action too. Thunderbolt (Lieutenant Commander CB Crouch DSO RN) in the Aegean, after sailing on 5th, reconnoitred Sudsuro Bay in Crete, and landed a party with difficulty in bad weather on 9th. She then made for the Kaso Strait and sank a caique carrying military stores on 10th. Next day she looked into Suda Bay, but the boom defences protected all possible targets. She landed a second party on 13th on Megalo Island in the Petali Gulf. Two days later she sighted an escorted convoy and fired three torpedoes at 650 yards at a large tanker. The torpedo pistols, which were of the new Duplex non-contact type, did not go off and the escort damaged Thunderbolt in a counter attack. She was able, however, to continue on patrol. On 18th she fired three more torpedoes at a convoy but was put deep by one of the escorting destroyers and missed. Regent (Lieutenant WNR Knox DSC RN), sent to Khoms early in the month to intercept a convoy revealed by radio intercepts, failed to sight it and then moved to Benghazi. Here between 8th and 18th she saw ships laying mines, and after plotting the fields she withdrew to watch the northern approaches to the port. On the night of 17th/ 18th she attempted to attack a convoy, but lightning revealed her to the escort and she had to dive. On 21st she sighted four destroyers and made a snap attack firing six torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards. The speed was probably underestimated and the tracks were almost certainly seen and avoided. Torbay (Lieutenant Commander ACC Miers DSO RN) was also off the coast of Cyrenaica to the north east of Regent, and she landed a party at Ras Amer on 7th. Torbay's area was off shore and she sighted nothing and had to be content with a bombardment of Apollonia on her way back to Alexandria.

Patrols off Benghazi were not easy. The land was low and navigation was difficult; the water was shallow and the anti-submarine measures were strong. Thrasher (Lieutenant HS Mackenzie RN) was the next submarine in this area, and on 28th fired a torpedo at a large schooner full of cased petrol at a range of 550 yards. She missed but surfaced and sank the target, which was Esferia of 385 tons, by gunfire. Thorn (Lieutenant Commander RG Norfolk RN) and Trusty (Lieutenant Commander WDA King DSO DSC RN) left Malta in the middle of the month to intercept traffic to Africa by the west coast of Greece, and took up positions off Argostoli and Cephalonia. A large convoy was predicted by radio intelligence and expected to leave Taranto for Benghazi at this time, and on 20th these two submarines were joined by Truant (Lieutenant Commander HAV Haggard DSC RN), on her way to the Adriatic, to form a patrol line to intercept. Nothing however was seen, and Thorn went on to Alexandria and Truant to the Adriatic. On 25th, Trusty fired six torpedoes at a range of 5000 yards at two large merchant ships in convoy without success, although hits were thought to have been obtained at the time. On 30th she sighted another convoy that had come from the Corinth Canal. She set off that night in pursuit on the surface but after moonset she was unable to make contact again.

Truant passed through the Straits of Otranto on 23rd October and sighted a convoy of three ships escorted by an armed merchant cruiser. She fired two torpedoes at 800 yards hitting and sinking Virginia S of 3885 tons. The armed merchant cruiser stood by the sinking ship and Truant hit her too with a single torpedo fired at a range of 2000 yards. The target was only damaged, however, and was able to get back to harbour. Next day a small, unescorted ship in ballast was sighted and a single torpedo was fired at 1000 yards but it ran wide. The economy in the use of torpedoes was deliberate, but it is debatable whether it was not a false one. However Truant surfaced and engaged with her gun and set the ship on fire before being forced to dive by an aircraft. The ship was Padema of 1598 tons and she burned for seven hours. Her charred hull was eventually towed in to port. On 26th, Truant reconnoitred Ancona and next day landed a party who blew up the railway on the main line between Brindisi and Milan and returned safely. She then crossed to the Yugoslavian coast but met no success there, and so returned and on 31st attacked a convoy in shallow water off Ortona. She fired four torpedoes at the convoy, which was spread from 1400 to 2000 yards range, and she obtained a hit on the tanker Meteor of 1635 tons. Two of the torpedoes from her external bow tubes probably stuck in the mud, and Truant herself grounded with only 25 feet over her periscope standards. She survived a counter attack by the escort and was able to withdraw after it got dark that evening. Meteor was later salved and towed to Trieste for repairs. Truant then returned to Alexandria and it is of interest that after this adventurous patrol she still had half of her outfit of torpedoes left.

Triumph (Commander WJW Woods RN) left Alexandria on 16th October for the Aegean. She landed a party near Cape Stavros in Crete on 21st, and then proceeded to the Doro Channel and sank two caiques flying the German flag by gunfire. Next day she fired three torpedoes at a range of 700 yards at a small Spanish steamer but missed. On 26th she attacked a convoy with five torpedoes at a range of 3500 yards hitting and sinking Monrosa of 6705 tons. She was then near missed by bombs from the air escort and heavily depth charged, but survived with only minor damage. Patrol was maintained between Naxos and St Giorgio until 29th. Another submarine from Alexandria, Talisman (Lieutenant Commander M Willmott RN), was used for a special operation. This was to land Commandos to make a reconnaissance in the Ras el Hilal area with the aim of attacking General Rommel's headquarters in November as soon as the army offensive was launched. Talisman made a periscope reconnaissance on 24th and landed a party under Captain Radcliffe that night. The party did not return, and she left for Alexandria on 20th.

Towards the end of the month two submarines from Malta fired torpedoes. P34 (Lieutenant PRH Harrison RN) missed an unescorted merchant ship on 26th with two torpedoes at a range of 4500 yards in the Lampedusa area, and Utmost (Lieutenant JD Martin RN) came upon the grounded wreck of Marigola, damaged by Urge the week before. She fired a single torpedo at a range of 3000 yards and missed in very shallow water. She then surfaced and fired fifty rounds from her 12-pdr gun at a range of 400 yards, to try and finish her off, setting her on fire.

In October, VA(S), Sir Max Horton, made a tour of the Mediterranean submarine flotillas arriving first in Gibraltar to visit the Eighth Flotilla, going on to Malta to see the Tenth, and ending up in Alexandria with the First Flotilla. He was able to see for himself the high morale of the submarines, and to take back much information for material improvements. He was able to discuss the employment of submarines with C-in-C Mediterranean and Vice Admiral (Malta). He stated that it was his intention that an operational 'tour' by the submarines in the Mediterranean should only last a year, but that the implementation of this policy depended on the building programme and the completion of refits. In October, too, there was a brief visit from the Polish General Sikorsky on his way to see his troops in Tobruk, and he decorated Boris Karnicki of Sokol with the Virtuti Militari.

During October, British and Allied submarines made thirty two attacks firing 94 torpedoes sinking seven ships of 26,430 tons, and damaging an armed merchant cruiser and four ships of 20,268 tons. Rorqual laid 100 mines, which sank the torpedo boats Altair and Aldebaran. One ship of 1598 tons and four smaller craft were also sunk by gunfire. Of these casualties, however, only two ships of 7305 tons were carrying supplies to North Africa, but the RAF succeeded in sinking another five ships of 20,160 tons so employed. Even so the result was that only 61,660 tons of supplies reached the Axis armies in Libya losing 20% on the way, and only 11,950 tons of fuel losing 21% while in transit. The Italian submarines Saint Bon, Cagni and Atropo however, continued to run fuel and ammunition into Bardia, but the situation for the enemy was still very serious. The Axis forces were unable to take the offensive in Cyrenaica, and had difficulty in maintaining their forward positions. Furthermore the attack on the Axis supply routes across the Mediterranean was about to enter a new phase, On 21st October a surface striking force, known as Force K, consisting of the cruisers Aurora and Penelope and the destroyers Lance and Lively, had arrived at Malta from the west and was now only waiting for an opportunity.

ON 1ST NOVEMBER there were seven British and Allied submarines on patrol. Truant was still in the Adriatic, Thrasher in the Gulf of Sirte, Trusty and P31 in the Ionian Sea. Proteus relieved Triumph in the Aegean and Sokol was off Capri. The rest were in harbour preparing for a major effort to coincide with the Eighth Army offensive due to start in the middle of the month. Before returning to base some of these submarines saw action. Thrasher (Lieutenant HS Mackenzie RN) made a night attack on 1st November on a convoy, and fired three torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards but without success. Two days later she fired two torpedoes at a Crotone-class minelayer at a range of 1450 yards and again missed. On her way back from patrol, Sokol (Kapitan B Karnicki) made a night attack on an unescorted merchant ship. She fired three torpedoes at close range, but the enemy saw the tracks and abandoned ship. She fired her last two torpedoes, but one of them had a gyro failure and the other missed. She then engaged with her gun firing 50 rounds and leaving her adversary sinking25. A few hours later, she sighted a U-boat at a range of 2000 yards, but having no torpedoes or ammunition left had to let her go. Proteus (Lieutenant Commander PS Francis RN), who had just arrived in the Gulf of Athens had reconnoitred Candia and Suda Bay on the way and then took up a position south west of the Doro Channel. On 3rd November she intercepted the tanker Tampico of 4958 tons escorted by two destroyers. She was westbound and fully laden and Proteus fired three torpedoes at 1000 yards securing one hit. One of the escorts passed close astern just before firing. Tampico did not sink, although she was seen later low in the water. Proteus was unable to complete her destruction due to the actions of the escort who made a heavy and accurate counter attack. She then moved across to St Giorgio Island and on 9th after dark, when she was on the surface, picked up a convoy using her new radar set. It was decided to shadow and to make a submerged attack after the rising of the moon. She shadowed successfully for over six hours, and then dived and made a submerged attack by moonlight. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 600 yards and hit Ithaka of 1773 tons with more than one of them and sank her. This attack, apart from its success, is of great interest. It was the first time that radar was used in action by a British submarine, and was also a notable use of the moon to make a submerged attack at night.

Three submarines sailed on patrol early in the month. The first was Olympus (Lieutenant Commander HG Dymott RN) from Gibraltar. It had for some time been apparent that there was considerable trade between Italy and. Spain, and she was sent to patrol close to the Franco-Spanish border off Cape Creus and in Rosas Gulf. The task was difficult as it was necessary to identify enemy ships from neutrals before attacking. The patrol was conducted in rough weather and too far off shore, and achieved little. On 9th November a ship, thought to be enemy, was encountered at night but attempts to stop her by gun and the firing of four torpedoes, one of which hit, were unsuccessful and she escaped inshore. Glaucos (Plotarkhis Aslanoglos) also left Alexandria to patrol in the Aegean, and succeeded in torpedoing and damaging a ship of 2392 tons. The third submarine, which sailed early in November, was Regent (Lieutenant WNR Knox DSC RN). She left Alexandria on 7th November on passage home and to refit in the United States. She was used for a storing trip at the same time. Her own fourteen torpedoes were her most important cargo, and they were unloaded for use by the submarines at Malta. During November, Porpoise (Lieutenant Commander EF Pizey DSO RN) also made a storing trip to Malta from Alexandria.

Early in November, the cryptographers revealed that two convoys were about to sail for North Africa, one from Naples through the Straits of Messina for Tripoli, and the other from Brindisi for Benghazi. There were three British submarines in the Ionian Sea at the time. Unique was off Benghazi, Ursula off Misurata and Regent on passage from Alexandria to Malta. Upholder, Urge and P34 were sailed from Malta between 6th and 8th November to form an intercepting patrol line in the Ionian Sea some 120 miles east of the island. Force K had also been waiting in Malta for a chance to get into action. The Italian Navy was aware of its presence and had provided two heavy cruisers to protect the convoys, although this had not been revealed in the decrypted messages. Both convoys were sighted and accurately reported by RAF Maryland reconnaissance planes. On arrival in position on 8th, Upholder (Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn DSO RN), when on the surface before dawn, sighted an Italian U-boat, no doubt running stores to North Africa. Upholder dived and in a submerged attack in moonlight, fired four torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards but inexplicably without success.

Force K intercepted the convoy from Messina in the early hours of 9th November and, with the priceless advantage of radar, but nevertheless in a brilliant night action, destroyed all seven ships and the destroyer Fulmine, leaving the destroyer Libeccio disabled and two others damaged. This was done under the noses of the powerful escort of Trento and Trieste and four destroyers, who with no radar, were virtually blind. Furthermore it was done without damage or casualties in Force K. The interception was just north of the submarine patrol line, and Upholder watched the whole action. Later in the morning, she closed and sank Libeccio who was lying stopped, firing a single torpedo at 2000 yards. Later still Upholder sighted the two Trento-class cruisers and their escort, and fired her last three torpedoes at them at a range of 2500 yards. They were steaming at 25 knots, however, and one of the torpedoes had a gyro failure and the other two were seen and avoided. Upholder returned to Malta for more torpedoes and was relieved by Upright on the patrol line. The patrol line remained in place as signal intelligence informed us that two more convoys were on the way. The convoy from Brindisi to Benghazi was attacked by the RAF but got through to North Africa. Nevertheless a crisis in the provision of supplies to the Axis armies in Cyrenaica arose. Limited quantities of supplies continued to reach Libya in small ships sailing independently and others by submarine directly to the front line, but it was found necessary to transport cased petrol in cruisers, which was extremely dangerous. Two more convoys, however, did get through to Benghazi on 16th and 18th November in spite of air attacks and our advance information about them. The second of these was in fact attacked at long range by both Urge (Lieutenant Commander EP Tomkinson RN) and Upright (Lieutenant JS Wraith RN) on 17th, firing three and four torpedoes respectively at 5000 yards and both missing. The submarine patrol line was withdrawn on 18th when cryptography indicated that there was no more traffic for the moment. The only other attack of this period in the central Mediterranean was by Ursula (Lieutenant AR Hezlet RN) off Misurata, who fired three torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards at a coastal convoy of small ships and missed, being counter attacked with fourteen depth charges.

As is clear from the narrative, submarines and aircraft and surface forces all owe their great success at this time to cryptographers. The position of Malta athwart the Axis convoy routes to North Africa, and the considerable advance notice obtained of enemy movements, coupled with the fact that the departure ports were well to the north gave even the slow U-class submarines time to get into position. Nevertheless cryptography was of greater value to ships and aircraft with their higher speed and ability to intercept right across the Ionian Sea. It is interesting too that Force K, in a single interception using signal intelligence, sank seven ships and one escort whereas submarines in the same period made three contacts but were only able to sink one escort. Cryptography, however, yielded much more than intelligence of convoy movements. At this time it revealed the enemy anxieties, and that sailings would be to Benghazi in future rather then Tripoli, and that the route down the west coast of Greece and from the Aegean would be used. All this helped to decide where best to send submarines to patrol.

On 18th November, Operation 'Crusader', the Eighth Army's offensive to relieve Tobruk and retake Cyrenaica began. Two submarines of the First Flotilla, Torbay and Talisman, were used directly to assist the offensive. They embarked forty men of No 11 (Scottish) Commando under Lieutenant Colonel OC Keyes and landed them on the night of 17th/18th November near Appolonia to attack a house where it was thought that General Rommel had his headquarters. They reached their objective and attacked, but General Rommel was not there and in the hand-to-hand fight Colonel Keyes was killed. With the start of the offensive, the Axis need for supplies became more urgent. Eight ships were loaded and waiting in Italy and Greece ready to cross. It was decided by the Italian Navy that the best strategy was to divide the eight ships into four convoys, two would sail from Naples by Messina to Tripoli, and would be heavily escorted by five cruisers and seven escorts; while two convoys with only three destroyers as escorts would slip across to Benghazi from Taranto and Navarino respectively. At the time there were eight British and Allied submarines on patrol in the central Mediterranean. O21 was west of Naples on the convoy route to Sardinia, Utmost was south of Messina; Sokol was off Navarino and Unbeaten off Tripoli. P31, Upright, Thunderbolt and Trusty had just been spread, using signal intelligence, on a patrol line across the southern Ionian Sea. The Italian convoys all sailed together on 20th November being followed next day by the cruiser Cadorna from Brindisi with a cargo of petrol in drums for Benghazi. One ship from the eastern group broke down and had to return to base. RAF reconnaissance aircraft sighted the Naples convoys while still in the Tyrrhenian Sea and Utmost (Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley DSO RN), north of Messina, sighted a convoy bound for Taranto but was too far off to attack. That night she decided not to recharge her battery, which had plenty left in it, but to lie stopped on the surface listening with her asdic, as it was a very dark night. This tactic paid off. Hydrophone Effect was heard just before midnight and shortly afterwards she sighted three cruisers and three destroyers of the covering forces. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards and hit Duca D'Abruzzi in the forward boiler room. The flash of the explosion illuminated the whole scene and Utmost had to dive hurriedly. A counter attack did not develop for some time, but the cruiser although severely damaged, was able to reach Messina. The two convoys from Naples had by now joined together but they had been reported by Utmost and RAF Wellingtons from Malta, and heavy air attacks were made from the island. A Fleet Air Arm torpedo hit the cruiser Trieste, but she also got back to Messina. This was too much for the Italian high command, and they ordered the convoy to abandon its mission and to make for Taranto. Sokol (Kapitan B Karnicki) was invited to enter Navarino Bay and attack one of the other convoys that were sheltering there. She was told that there were no net defences She complied on 19th and almost at once got tangled in indicator nets. She shook them off with difficulty and one periscope was damaged. On 21st she fired three torpedoes at two destroyers at anchor 4200 yards away (set to run shallow over the nets) and damaged the destroyer Avieri. That night she fired another three torpedoes at a convoy at very long range. She claimed a hit at the time but it is doubtful whether her torpedoes ever reached the target. On 22nd, Upright (Lieutenant JS Wraith DSC RN) sighted Cadorna on her way south but she was too far off to attack. Of the eight supply ships in the four convoys, only three reached Benghazi as well as Cadorna with her cargo of petrol.

The supplies reaching North Africa was now less than half the tonnage required by the Axis armies and fuel was very short. The Italian Navy redoubled its efforts to get more across and decided, not realising that their ciphers were being broken, that the best strategy was to continue to run as many small convoys simultaneously as possible and to keep them widely separated. Within a few days operations of this type were again in progress. While Cadorna was returning from Benghazi, the merchant ship Adriatico was routed from Reggio for Benghazi unescorted and three single supply ships each with one escort were sailed, two to Benghazi and one returning to Brindisi. Another ship with two destroyers left Trapani for Tripoli by the Tunisian coast, and finally two ships, Maritza and Procida with two torpedo boats, sailed from the Aegean for Benghazi. There were six Allied submarines in the central Mediterranean at this time. Trusty was off Argostoli, P31 in the middle of the Ionian Sea, Sokol about to leave a position off Navarino, Thrasher approaching the Straits of Otranto, Osiris north of Crete and Unbeaten off Misurata. RAF reconnaissance aircraft, guided by the cryptographers, spotted all of the Italian movements and Force K from Malta put to sea to intercept the Maritza convoy. Force K was sighted and reported by the Italian submarine Settembrini, but nevertheless it sank Maritza and Procida although the escorts escaped. On 25th Thrasher (Lieutenant HS Mackenzie RN) off Brindisi fired four torpedoes at a range of 1900 yards, hitting and sinking Atilio Defenu of 3540 tons. One ship arrived safely at Benghazi and another at Tripoli.

At the very end of November, the Italian Navy tried again. The same strategy of using a number of small convoys or single escorted ships sailing simultaneously on widely separated routes was used, but this time a cruiser covering force was sent to the middle of the Ionian Sea and another force, including a battleship, was sailed in support. The British had also strengthened the forces available for attack and Force B consisting of the cruisers Ajax and Neptune with two destroyers had arrived at Malta from the eastern Mediterranean. There were eight British submarines on patrol in the central Mediterranean at the time. Thrasher was south of the Straits of Otranto, Trusty was off Argostoli, Perseus off Zante, Upholder, P31 and Thunderbolt formed a patrol line south of Taranto, Talisman was off the Kithera Channel, while P34 had just arrived off the south east coast of Calabria. Thanks to the cryptographers, they were therefore well placed to intercept the enemy convoys.

On 29th November the Italian forces and convoys put to sea. Of the two ships that sailed from Brindisi, the RAF sank one and so badly damaged the other that she had to put in to Argostoli. A tanker from Navarino was also damaged by the RAF and had to turn back. Force K with four cruisers was now superior to the Italian cruiser force, and made at high speed for a ship that had sailed from Taranto for Benghazi but they first fell in with another that had left Argostoli and sank it. The last ship left Trapani for Tripoli by the Tunisian coast, and she was damaged by torpedo bombers from Malta and finally destroyed with her escort by Force K after a long high-speed chase. In the end only one ship arrived at Benghazi.

The submarines had a disappointing part in these successes, the laurels for which went to the RAF, the Fleet Air Arm and Force K. Upholder (Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn DSO RN), off Cape Spartivento and on her way to her patrol position had, on 27th, attacked and missed a tanker escorted by two destroyers. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 2800 yards and her miss was probably due to an inaccurate estimation of the speed, and the enemy appeared to be unaware of the attack. Trusty (Lieutenant Commander WDA King DSO DSC RN) had to abandon an attack on an escorted tanker on 27th as a torpedo ran hot in the tube and nearly asphyxiated the crew. Next day she tried to attack three destroyers but she was unable to turn fast enough and they got away. On 29th, P31 (Lieutenant JBdeB Kershaw RN) sighted the Italian cruiser force, consisting of Attendolo, D'Aosta, Montecuccoli and three destroyers steering south. She fired a full salvo of four torpedoes at a range or 4300 yards and, although explosions were heard and she thought she had hit at the time, this was not so. Upholder sighted the Italian cruisers coming north again in the early morning of 1st December while it was still dark. She attacked on the surface but was too close and was forced to dive by one of the escorts. Upholder completed the attack at a depth of 70 feet by firing four torpedoes by asdic but she failed to secure a hit. The enemy appeared to be unaware that they had been attacked, and Upholder was able to surface 50 minutes later and make an enemy report.

The Crusader 'Offensive' had resulted in two weeks of heavy and confused fighting in the desert. The British army had not relieved Tobruk as yet and certainly had not retaken Cyrenaica. The Axis were still in the Egyptian frontier area but had not captured Tobruk as they had hoped to do. For two months, however, the German and Italian armies had received only half the supplies that they needed and their reserves, especially of fuel, were almost used up. They had been kept going by the Italian Navy shipping essentials in warships and submarines to Derna and ports near the front, and to a certain extent by capturing supplies from the British. Without substantial supplies and reinforcements they had little hope of taking Tobruk or indeed of taking the offensive at all. If something was not done to restore their supply lines, defeat stared them in the face.

The Axis losses in November were nothing less than disastrous. They had tried to send 79,208 tons of supplies and fuel to North Africa and only 29.843 tons had arrived. The losses amounted to 62% and thirteen cargo ships and three destroyers were sunk, as well as two cruisers seriously damaged. The Italian Navy had transported all of the meagre 2471 tons of fuel that did get across in warships and submarines. Nine ships of 44,539 tons were sunk by surface ships, three of 5691 tons by aircraft, one of 5996 tons by submarine, and another of 2826 tons by other causes. From a campaign of attrition the operations now began to look more like a blockade.

The reason for the somewhat disappointing showing of submarines in these operations was not for want of trying. Aided by cryptography plenty of submarines were deployed on the enemy routes, but the plain fact is that Force K and aircraft of the RAF and Fleet Air Arm got there first. On 18th November, at the start of the Eighth Army offensive, C-in-C Mediterranean laid down where submarines were to patrol. The First Flotilla at Alexandria was to keep a submarine off Benghazi, one off Misurata, one in the Adriatic and two in the Aegean, while Porpoise was to be used for minelaying. The Tenth Flotilla from Malta was to keep one submarine south of Messina and a patrol line in the Ionian Sea to intercept convoys for Benghazi. At the time there were ten submarines in each flotilla and so it was not possible to keep all these positions filled. Nevertheless submarines were used elsewhere than on the routes to North Africa and obtained results that kept their total average sinkings nearer normal. Both Thunderbolt and Thrasher have been mentioned in operations in the central Mediterranean, but Thunderbolt spent some of her patrol in the Aegean and Thrasher in the Adriatic. Thunderbolt sank a schooner by gunfire north west of Cape Malea on 25th while Thrasher after sinking Attillio Defenu off Brindisi on 25th fired a single torpedo at a stopped ship but she went ahead as the torpedo was fired and it missed. Thorn (Lieutenant Commander RO Norfolk RN) left Alexandria on 10th November and passing through the Kaso Strait, landed stores and a party on a small island of the Paros group on 15th. She sighted a convoy off Gaidoro but it was out of range, and then made a night attack on a lighted ship. She fired two torpedoes from right astern and fortunately missed as it was a Turkish Red Crescent relief ship. On 20th she had to give up an attack on a small convoy, and later picked up 21 escapers from the Pares Islands. Triumph (Lieutenant JS Huddart RN) also patrolled in the Aegean and on 24th, after landing an agent near Cape Plaka in Crete, fired two torpedoes into Candia Harbour at a range of 4000 yards hitting and sinking the salvage tug Hercules of 630 tons. In the afternoon she bombarded Heraklion airfield and shore batteries replied.

As we have already noted, the sea transport situation was seen by both the Italian and German high commands as a matter of extreme concern. Mussolini again asked Hitler for a return of the Luftwaffe to neutralise Malta. The Italian Navy redoubled its efforts to get fuel and other supplies across by submarine. During December they used twelve boats, which made nineteen trips between then mostly to Bardia and some to Derna, Benghazi and Tripoli. They transported a total of 1758 tons. The German Navy had already taken steps to assist. During the autumn the Italians had accepted a German offer to send some twenty U-boats into the Mediterranean. They began to arrive during September and on 14th November, U81 and U205 torpedoed and sank the aircraft carrier Ark Royal east of Gibraltar. Ten days later U331 torpedoed and sank the battleship Barham in the eastern Mediterranean. The arrival of these U-boats was a serious business but the Netherlands submarine O21 (Luitenant ter zee 1e Kl JP van Dulm), which had been on patrol west of Naples and was on her way back to Gibraltar, was able to redress the balance to some extent. She sighted U95 in bright moonlight just after midnight on 28th November. The U-boat made the challenge as other U-boats were about, and O21 replied with a torpedo at a range of 2000 yards, which missed. A second torpedo fired by O21 hit U95 and sank her. O21 picked up U95's Captain and eleven of her crew.

The total successes in the whole Mediterranean by submarines during November were the destroyer Libeccio, U95 and four ships of 8415 tons sunk and the cruiser Duca D'Abruzzi and a ship of 4958 tons damaged. This result was achieved in twenty-one attacks firing 64 torpedoes and was in line with previous results during the summer of 1941. There were no losses of British or Allied submarines during the month and, In fact, no new submarines joined either. Total strength stood at twenty-three British, two Netherlands, one Polish and five Greek submarines.

ON 1ST DECEMBER THERE WERE no less than fifteen Allied submarines on patrol throughout the Mediterranean. In the western basin, Clyde and O24 had been sent from Gibraltar to patrol off Oran to intercept a ship reported to be taking a cargo of rubber to Europe. The ship, however, was not sighted: Clyde returned to Gibraltar and O24 went on to patrol off Naples. From Malta, P31 was in the middle of the Ionian Sea. P34 was on the south east coast of Calabria. Unique was south of Messina and Upholder south of Taranto. From Alexandria, Truant was passing along the north coast of Crete on her way to Argostoli. Thrasher was between Cape Ste Maria di Leuca and Cephalonia, Trusty was off Argostoli. Proteus and Talisman were patrolling the Kithera Channels and Triumph and Thunderbolt were off Navarin while Porpoise was approaching the same area to relieve Thunderbolt. The enemy convoy routes to Cyrenaica were therefore strongly patrolled. On 5th, P34 (Lieutenant PRH Harrison DSC RN) sighted a convoy and fired three torpedoes at a range of 5000 yards, probably damaging a ship and was counter attacked with 31 depth charges. On 5th also, Talisman (Lieutenant Commander M Willmott RN) sighted an Italian U-boat in rough weather at night. She fired seven torpedoes at point blank range (1000 yards) from the quarter and all missed. Thee days later she fired three more torpedoes at a range of 400 yards at night at what she thought was another U-boat but it turned out to be a destroyer which she also missed, the torpedoes probably running under. When returning to base on 14th December, Talisman did encounter the Italian submarine Galatea on the surface at night. Both submarines fired torpedoes and tried to ram and Talisman opened fire with her gun but both submarines emerged unscathed. On 3rd, Trusty (Lieutenant Commander WDA King DSO DSC RN) met a destroyer and fired three torpedoes at 600 yards, but the torpedoes probably ran under and she missed too. Next day she fired another three torpedoes at a range of 1000 yards at another destroyer that was escorting a convoy. One torpedo had a gyro failure and nearly hit Trusty herself, and she was subjected to a heavy counter attack into the bargain. One of her torpedoes, however, did hit and sink the merchant ship Eridano of 3585 tons in the convoy. On 7th off Suda Bay, Truant (Lieutenant Commander HAV Haggard DSC RN) attacked a ship of the Ramb-class with three torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards hitting and stopping her with one of them. Truant was unable to finish the job because of the presence of the escort and a seaplane. She then returned to Suda Bay on a report of transports and warships gathering there. On 11th she sighted a tanker escorted by a torpedo boat and an aircraft. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 3500 yards hitting both of them. The torpedo boat Alcione was sunk and Truant saw the tanker low in the water and on fire. Italian records, however, do not confirm the sinking of this tanker and it is probable that she was only damaged. Two days earlier, Porpoise (Lieutenant Commander EF Pizey DSO RN) off Navarin fired four torpedoes at a range of 1600 yards at Sebastiano Venier of 6310 tons escorted by a torpedo boat and hit her. She was, however, beached and did not sink. An attempt two days later to complete her destruction failed when both torpedoes of a salvo of two broke surface and ran crooked. However on 15th Torbay (Lieutenant Commander ACC Miers DSO RN) arrived and fired two torpedoes at 1500 yards and, although one of them ran crooked, the other hit and completed the ship's destruction. Perseus (Lieutenant Commander ECF Nicolay DSO RN), which had been refitting at Malta since October, was north of Zante on 6th December. She struck a mine and was lost. One of her crew made a remarkable escape from 170 feet using the Davis Apparatus and swam ten miles to land, where he was cared for by the Greeks and subsequently rescued. Her Commanding Officer, four other officers and 53 men of her ships company were drowned.

During the same period, two submarines left Malta for Gibraltar to refit, one in the United Kingdom and the other in the United States. These were Ursula and Regent.

It is of interest that torpedoes were so short at Malta at the time that they were only allowed to take two each, Regent's pair being Mark II and of First World War vintage. On 1st December off Marittimo, Regent (Lieutenant WNR Knox DSC RN) sighted Erico of 2550 tons, and in a night surface attack fired both her elderly missiles at 800 yards but unhappily without result. She then opened fire with her gun and damaged her target but it escaped in the darkness. Ursula (Lieutenant AR Hezlet DSC RN), on arrival at Gibraltar, was given a full salvo of torpedoes and sent to patrol off Alboran Island to try and catch a German U-boat as O21 had done. After a day or two, however, she was recalled to operate in the Bay of Biscay against Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in Brest.

In this early part of December, the Italians were preparing another major effort to get supplies across to north Africa and in the meantime were using the cruiser Cadorna, destroyers and submarines to transport essential supplies to Benghazi and Derna, and in the case of submarines, as far forward as Bardia. This was done in a period of very bad weather, Cadorna, with her deck cargo of petrol, having to shelter in Argostoli on 8th December. Our submarines, as has been told, caught glimpses of these ships but did not sink any of them. On 9th, however, the enemy attempted to run canned petrol across west of Sicily in the cruisers Barbiano and Guissano. Cryptography gave them away, but after being sighted by aircraft and not wishing to face an attack with such a dangerous cargo on board, they turned back. They sailed again and off Cape Bon on 13th were intercepted by a force of four Allied destroyers on passage to join the Mediterranean Fleet and both were torpedoed and sunk. By 13th the three convoys of the next major Italian move, sailed. These consisted of only five ships but they were all large with important cargoes. They were heavily escorted by eight destroyers, and the two principal convoys also had a battleship, two cruisers and three destroyers in support. However, intercepted wireless messages led the Italian High Command to believe that the whole Mediterranean Fleet had left Alexandria to attack them and all were ordered back to Italy. In fact the British had only despatched the 15th Cruiser Squadron from Alexandria, which it was intended should join Force

K. When returning to base, the German U-boats scored another success when U657 torpedoed and sank Galatea.

Although some of the submarines on patrol at the beginning of the month had returned to base, a number had put to sea to replace them. Between the 1st and 9th December, Unique, Upright, Unbeaten and Utmost had left Malta to patrol south of Messina and to form a patrol line south of Taranto. On 11th December, ninety miles south of Cape Matapan,

(Lieutenant Commander M Willmott RN) fired five torpedoes at a range of 2300 yards and sank Calitea of 4015 tons on her way from Argostoli to Benghazi. On 12th, Upright, Utmost and Unbeaten, which formed the patrol line south of Taranto, were ordered to close north to intercept a convoy along the coast. Unbeaten (Lieutenant Commander EA Woodward RN) interpreted her orders too literally and claims to have seen the glow of a sentry's cigarette on the breakwater, and she stirred up anti-submarine measures. Utmost (Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley DSO RN) sighted the convoy at night and fired four torpedoes at very long range and claimed a hit but in fact she missed. At 0207 on 13th, less than an hour later, Upright (Lieutenant JS Wraith DSC RN) also sighted the convoy and fired a full salvo of four torpedoes at a range of 4500 yards all of which hit. Three torpedoes sank one of the ships and one torpedo the other. These were the brand new sister ships Carlo Del Greco and Fablo Filzi of 6835 tons on their way to Taranto to load for North Africa. The convoy's powerful escort of destroyers counter attacked with 51 depth charges, and were in contact for the rest of the night, a period of eight hours. Upright had to remain submerged all next day with her battery very low and on surfacing the next night she was again put down by destroyers dropping 20 depth charges very close, and forcing her to dive involuntarily to 300 feet. She managed to shake them off but her wireless and asdic were put out of action, some battery cells were broken and her pressure hull distorted. Not being able to make any signals, Upright remained on patrol in the Gulf of Taranto until her pre-arranged time to return to Malta, where she was received with relief. She had failed to answer several signals from Captain(S) Ten to report her position and was feared lost.

The Italian misfortunes were not at an end even now28. They had decided that their two modern battleships, Vittorio Veneto and Littorio, should move their base from Naples back to Taranto where they could intervene more effectively in supporting convoys to North Africa. As they emerged from the southern end of the Straits of Messina, zigzagging at 20 knots and escorted by four destroyers, they were intercepted by Urge and Unique. Urge (Lieutenant Commander EP Tomkinson DSO* RN) fired a full salvo of four torpedoes from submerged at 3000 yards and hit Vittorio Veneto under the foremost turret. Unique (Lieutenant AF Collett DSC RN) also sighted the force but it passed her out of range. Vittorio Veneto reached Taranto under her own power but was out of action for three months.

On 7th December, General Rommel, after hearing that he could not hope for reinforcements for some time, and after further advances by the Eighth Army, decided to retire to the Gazala line, so giving up half of Cyrenaica. On 10th December he raised the siege of Tobruk, but left some of his army behind at Bardia and on the frontier at Halfaya. As a result, the Italian Navy redoubled its efforts to get supplies across, and had planned another convoy to be escorted and covered by the whole Italian Fleet. Simultaneously the British were planning to get more fuel to Malta as Forces B and K had run the stocks low. This was to be sent in Breconshire escorted by cruisers and destroyers who would meet Force K half way and hand her over to them. There were insufficient destroyers to allow the British battleships to put to sea. On 15th December and during these fleet movements there were eleven Allied submarines at sea in the central Mediterranean. O24 was off Naples, Upright and Urge were still south of Messina. Unbeaten and Utmost were off Taranto while P31, P34, Upholder and Sokol formed a patrol line across the middle of the Ionian Sea. Torbay was off Navarin, Truant off Argostoli and Porpoise was on her way back to Alexandria. Using signal intelligence, the submarines were disposed almost entirely in the Ionian Sea, and there were none of them patrolling off the African coast at all. On 16th when nothing had been seen by dawn, new dispositions were ordered. P31 went to relieve Upright off Cape Colonne, P34 returned to Malta and a new patrol line was ordered south of Taranto consisting of Unbeaten, Sokol and Utmost with Upholder to the southwards. This redisposition was in progress when the Italians put to sea from Taranto. Next day P31 sighted an Italian U-boat but it dived before she could attack. Simultaneously on 16th the British force sailed from Alexandria. While the Italians were leaving Taranto, the submarine patrol line in the Ionian Sea was ordered to move north. The British submarines caught glimpses of the Italians as they came south, Unbeaten and P31 sighted a cruiser and destroyers but they seemed to turn back. Utmost fired a very long-range salvo (at 8000 yards) of four torpedoes at a cruiser in a night surface attack, but without result. Her wireless report, however, gave the first visual indication that the Italian fleet was on the move. Air reconnaissance soon revealed the opponents to each other, but whereas the British knew the Italian intentions correctly from cryptography, the Italians thought that the British were at sea solely to try to destroy the Axis convoy. The surface forces met late on 17th December in what became known as the 'First Battle of Sirte', and both succeeded in protecting their convoys. Breconshire got to Malta and one Italian ship arrived safely at Benghazi and three off Tripoli. Here the RAF laying mines delayed their entry, and an attempt by Force K to intercept them was disastrous. Force K ran into a minefield, Neptune and Kandahar were sunk, and Aurora and Penelope were damaged. The three Italian merchant ships then entered the port safely. P31 (Lieutenant JBdeB Kershaw RN) got into a firing position on 19th as the Italians returned to base, on a force of three cruisers, and launched four torpedoes at 1000 yards range. She was, however, put deep by the destroyer screen and missed. Unbeaten also sighted this force but was out of range. At mid-day Sokol (Kapitan B Karnicki) sighted a squadron of ships but was too far off to attack. Heavy seas and bad visibility hampered all these submarine operations.

The Allied submarine part in this action was disappointing and was not for want of trying. Using the available signal intelligence they were well disposed to intercept the enemy and at one point, all nine boats of the Tenth Flotilla were at sea together. Nevertheless this operation was hailed by the Italian Navy as a great success and the turning point in what they called the 'First Battle of the Convoys'. Certainly the blockade of North Africa was broken, and the supplies received allowed the Axis armies to withdraw in good order and stand at El Agheila. On the day the Italian convoy entered Tripoli and Force K was destroyed, another disaster befell the British in Alexandria itself. Here the Italian submarine Scire launched three 'human' torpedoes, which severely damaged the battleships Valiant and Queen Elizabeth and put them completely out of action.

By Christmas, all except one submarine of the Tenth Flotilla had had to return to Malta to replenish and rest, and they achieved nothing more during 1941. At the end of the year the Italians were able to take advantage or this lull in operations to run two more convoys through to North Africa. Even Upholder had a blank patrol between 12th and 21st December off Cape Spartivento where her only excitement was to be hunted by enemy air and surface anti-submarine forces. At the same time German E-boats laid 73 ground mines off Valletta increasing the hazards for our submarines.

Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, operations by the submarines of the First and Eighth Flotillas had continued. On 20th December, Torbay (Lieutenant Commander ACC Miers DSO RN), who had been off Navarin during the 'First Battle of Sirte' and had seen nothing, fired a single torpedo at a destroyer in Navarin Bay but its gyro failed and it circled to starboard. Three days later she tried again and this time the torpedo ran correctly but the range, at 2000 yards, was very long and the inclination of the destroyer fine, and although a hit was claimed at the time there is no post war confirmation of this. Towards evening she tried yet again the target then being a merchant ship, but the torpedo exploded short in the harbour entrance, probably in the net defences. Thorn (Lieutenant Commander RO Norfolk RN) left Alexandria on 16th December and passed through the Kaso Strait and was known to have been sighted by the enemy off Cape Drepano on 22nd. On 20th a small tanker was attacked at a range of 2000 yards with three torpedoes, but one ran crooked and the other two missed. She then surfaced and opened fire with her gun and obtained several hits but the tanker was faster than Thorn and escaped. Two days later another tanker bound from Patras to Taranto was attacked at 1400 yards, and this time she used a salvo of six torpedoes, three of which hit and sank Campina of 3030 tons off the coast of Cephalonia. Proteus (Lieutenant Commander FS Francis RN) left Alexandria on 22nd December for the west coast of Greece, and on 30th fired three torpedoes at Citta di Marsala of 2480 tons escorted by a destroyer at a range of 2000 yards. One torpedo hit her, but she was towed into Argostoli and beached. Proteus was still on patrol at the end of the year.

Osiris (Lieutenant RS Brookes DSC RN) also left Alexandria on 22nd to patrol north of Crete and was sighted and hunted on 20th and 30th. She then suffered serious breakdowns in both engines, lying stopped and helpless for four hours. Patrol was then abandoned and she returned to her base. Thunderbolt (Lieutenant Commander CB Crouch DSO RN) left Alexandria at the same time as Osiris to patrol off Navarin, but saw nothing before the end of the year when she was still on patrol. Olympus (Lieutenant Commander HG Dymott RN) made a storing trip from Gibraltar to Malta during the second half of December, carrying petrol and mails but above all a full outfit of fourteen torpedoes of which Malta was becoming very short.

Aided by cryptography, December was a month of substantial success for the Allied submarines in the Mediterranean. In twenty-five attacks they had expended 82 torpedoes and had sunk the torpedo boat Alcione and six ships of 30,610 tons. They had also damaged the battleship Vittorio Veneto and another six ships or approximately 20,000 tons. Furthermore five of the six ships sunk were transporting supplies to North Africa, two of which were carrying tanks. They also sank considerably more than Forces B and K (two ships of 12,516 tons) or had aircraft (one ship of 1235 tons). Although the Italian Navy now claimed to have broken the blockade and virtually that the 'First battle of the Convoys' had ended in their favour, only 39,000 tons of fuel and supplies were landed during December and 18% were lost on the way. These results were obtained for the loss of one submarine. Indeed only two submarines had been lost during the last four months, both of which had struck mines and these casualties were not due to aircraft or surface anti-submarine vessels. Three submarines had left the station to refit (O21, Ursula and Regent) but four (P35, P38, P39 and Una) were on their way out as reinforcements. The Greek submarines were still in a bad state of repair, as were the elderly British survivors of the O, P and R-classes and these last were in urgent need of refit. Olympus was out of action for over a month at Gibraltar in November and December, but as has been told, completed a storing trip to Malta in the latter month. The breakdown of Osiris on patrol, already noted, is also relevant.

On 7th December, the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbour and on 22nd the Admiralty ordered C-in-C Mediterranean to send 'two good submarines' to Singapore as soon as possible. Trusty and Truant were chosen and left for the Far East at the end of the year.

IN THE SEVEN MONTHS of the 'First Battle of the Convoys' the supplies landed in North Africa fell from 125,076 tons in June to 39,000 in December29. The crisis came in November when the amount landed fell to only just over half the minimum required to support the Axis armies in Africa. The effect was that, having reached the Egyptian frontier, General Rommel was unable to advance further or to mount a decisive attack on Tobruk. When the British 'Crusader Offensive' began, he was seriously handicapped by a shortage of supplies and this was one of the reasons he had to retreat and give up the whole of Cyrenaica. The Italian Navy's claim that the 'First battle of the Convoys' ended in their favour can scarcely be supported, as in December they still landed less than was needed. What is true is that they staved off total defeat and landed enough for the Axis forces to retreat and stand at El Agheila. During the seven months they lost sixty-two ships of 270,386 tons sunk; twenty-eight of 108,820 tons by submarine, eleven of 57,055 tons by surface ships and three of 4015 tons by other causes. The minor crisis in September was largely caused by air attacks and the major crisis in November by Force K, while submarines exerted a steady pressure throughout the whole seven months. All these sinkings were largely made possible by the success of the cryptographers. The casualties noted above, however, were only those which were southbound with supplies for North Africa, and submarines also sank a number of empty northbound ships and ships in the Adriatic, Aegean and Tyrrhenian Seas not taking supplies to Libya. These amounted to an additional thirty-one ships of 99,439 tons with yet another sixteen of 91,797 tons damaged. On top of this they sank five destroyers or torpedo boats, and two U-boats and damaged a battleship and three cruisers30.

The above figures are of interest as they call attention to an important question of submarine strategy. In particular, whether the whole effort should not have been concentrated on the southbound laden traffic to North Africa, and not dissipated on empty northbound traffic, and on ships in other areas, notably the Aegean and the Adriatic. It seems doubtful, however whether a simple ban on attacking northbound ships would have meant that more laden southbound ships would have been encountered. It would only help if submarines were running out of torpedoes by expending them on northbound ships, and then meeting southbound ships which they would not be able to attack. This was certainly not the case. Few submarines returned from patrol having expended all their torpedoes31. Such a ban would simply have meant that fewer ships would have been sunk. Undoubtedly the concentration of submarines on the routes to North Africa rather than sending them to the Adriatic or Aegean would have meant that more ships running supplies to North Africa would have been sunk, but whether the overall total would have been greater, or even the same, is open to doubt. An advantage of sending some submarines to patrol in the Adriatic and Aegean was that it forced the traffic in those areas to be escorted, and this meant that anti-submarine protection of the convoys to North Africa was weakened. Traffic in the Adriatic and Aegean was not, in any case, of no value to Italy's war effort. It seemed obvious, for example, with the chronic shortage of fuel that the Italian tanker traffic from the Dardanelles was of exceptional importance. On the other hand the fuel shortages can now be seen as not caused by transport difficulties, but by the heavy expenditure in the Russian campaign and by the amount available at source, and how much the Germans were prepared to let the Italian Navy have. In fact all of what the Germans made available could be transported by rail. The Aegean traffic included supplies to the Luftwaffe in Crete and the German garrisons in the Greek Archipelago. The Adriatic traffic included supplies to the Italian army in Greece and Yugoslavia, and the Tyrrhenian Sea traffic supplies to the Regia Aeronautica in Sardinia. It can also be argued that the submarine campaign should not simply be directed against these military cargoes, but against Axis shipping in the Mediterranean as a whole, and that ships should be sunk wherever they could be found and whatever they were doing. The size of the Italian merchant marine available in the Mediterranean at the outbreak of war was 548 ships (over 500 tons) of 1,749,441 tons to which could be added 56 German ships in Italian ports of 203,512 tons. By the end of 1941, total losses amounted to 201 ships of 779,409 tons, which was far more than were being built. A considerable number of ships were under repair after being damaged in action. Nevertheless, although a progressive shortage of shipping for all purposes would be caused by this method it would, at a rate of sinking of 500,000 tons a year, take another two years to reduce the Italian merchant marine to impotence. There is no doubt that the policy of attacking cargoes obtains results more quickly than the policy of attacking shipping as a whole. It seems on balance that a greater concentration on the southbound routes to North Africa would have had a marginally greater effect, but probably not enough to change the course of the war in the Mediterranean.

Another point of strategy was that the concentration of the small submarines at Malta, although for good reasons, and the large submarines at Alexandria, meant that the eleven attacks on Italian heavy fleet units were, with one exception, made by U-class submarines with the weak four torpedo salvo rather than by the T-class, of which there were eight on the station, with their powerful ten torpedo salvoes. For example during the 'First Battle of Sirte', the large submarines were disposed to intercept merchant ships, and the small disposed to intercept fleet units. The result was that out of eleven attacks on these targets, only four obtained hits at all, and these only damaged and did not sink the enemy. The argument that the U-class were used in shallow water where the larger submarines were at a disadvantage is not valid. The T-class were employed to a large extent off Benghazi and in the Gulf of Sirte, which were shallow, and the U-class were often used in patrol lines in the Ionian Sea where it was deep. The argument, that all depended on endurance, is not valid either. Both the T-class from Alexandria and the U-class from Malta could operate in the Ionian Sea where most of the attacks on the Italian heavy units took place.

By the end of 1941, the strategic situation in the Mediterranean was, geographically, much improved. The recapture at Cyrenaica gave airfields that could cover the central Mediterranean. Convoys to Malta would now again be possible from the east. The planners were even discussing whether it would be possible to eject the Axis from North Africa altogether. From the naval point of view, however, the strategic situation was little short of disastrous. The arrival of the German U-boats and the exploits of the Italian human torpedoes had put the Mediterranean Fleet battle squadron totally out of action, and German mines laid by Italian cruisers had destroyed Force

K. It was only the shortage of fuel, which kept the powerful Italian battlefleet in harbour that saved the situation. Even Force H at Gibraltar had lost its aircraft carrier and was unlikely to get another for some time. Furthermore Japan's entry into the war meant that forces of all kinds were being taken from the Middle for the Far East. Two T-class submarines, as has already been told, were being sent. Now the Allied submarines in the Mediterranean with a strength of nineteen efficient operational units, with their bases and depot ships at Gibraltar, Malta and Alexandria intact became, with the Allied air forces, the most important units left to dispute the command of the sea with the Axis powers. The spectre of Fliegerkorps II, now arriving in Sicily in strength was, however, becoming apparent and the future looked grim32.

During the seven months covered by this chapter, submarine casualties in the Mediterranean were moderate. Six boats were lost, two sunk by destroyers but four by mines, which in this period proved the most dangerous counter measure. In spite of the fact that submarines could be seen submerged down to sixty feet, there were no casualties from aircraft, and the British tactics of always remaining submerged by day paid off although time on passage was almost doubled thereby.

The awards for the period covered by this chapter included the first Victoria Cross to be conferred on a submarine officer during the Second World War. Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn of Upholder had already received the Distinguished Service Order and since then had sunk another five ships of 45,445 tons, bringing his total to over 80,000 tons. He had also sunk the destroyer Libeccio and had damaged the cruiser Garibaldi and another merchant ship. The citation mentioned both his sinking of the liners Oceania and Neptunia in September, and also his attack on Conte Rosso in May. This last attack was particularly noticed for Lieutenant Commander Wanklyn's gallantry in staying at periscope depth to complete the attack when inside the screen, and when he could hardly see the escorting destroyers in the failing light or hear them as his asdics were out of action. Two Commanding Officers received the Distinguished Service Order and a Bar for their exploits during this period. These were Commander WJW Woods of Triumph, who had sunk the Italian U-boat Salpa and seriously damaged the heavy cruiser Bolzano, as well as sinking four ships of 9530 tons; and Lieutenant Commander EP Tomkinson of Urge who had torpedoed and damaged the battleship Vittorio Veneto and three other ships, as well as sinking two of 6570 tons during 1941. The award of a bar to the Distinguished Service Order was in fact given before the attack on Vittorio Veneto for which, at his own request, he was given two years seniority instead of a decoration. Bars to the Distinguished Service Order also went to Commander MC Rimington of Parthian for sinking the Vichy submarine Souffleur, and for seven patrols; and to Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley of Utmost for torpedoing and damaging the cruiser Abruzzi and sinking three more ships amounting to 8015 tons during eight patrols. Altogether another seven decorations were awarded for patrols during this period. Lieutenant Commander HAV Haggard of Truant, who had sunk no less than eleven ships totalling 44,274 tons in North Norway and the Bay of Biscay as well as the Mediterranean, and second only to Lieutenant Commander Wanklyn in the 'tonnage stakes', at last received a Distinguished Service Order. His successes in the Mediterranean had included the sinking of the torpedo boat Alcione and two ships of 5570 tons, as well as damage to three others. Lieutenant Commander ACC Miers of Torbay had sunk the Italian U-boat Jantina and five ships of 15,085 tons and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. The Captains of the Netherlands submarines O21 and O24 were also given Distinguished Service Orders. Luitenant ter zee 1e Kl van Dulm for sinking U95 and three ships of 7725 tons, and Luitenant ter zee 1e Kl de Booy for sinking five ships of 12,817 tons. Two more Distinguished Service Orders went to Lieutenant JS Wraith of Upright for sinking the torpedo boat Albatros and the two ships of 13,670 tons off Taranto, and Lieutenant Commander ECF Nicolay first of Taku and later Perseus for sinking five ships of 11,620 tons. Lastly, Lieutenant AR Hezlet, a spare Commanding Officer temporarily in command of Unique received a Distinguished Service Cross for sinking Esperia of 11,400 tons. Lieutenant AF Collett, the actual Commanding Officer of Unique also received the Distinguished Service Cross 'for services in the Mediterranean'. Lieutenant Commander GH Green-way of Tetrarch had sunk four ships of 7063 tons, but was lost with his submarine without any award. He was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches.

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