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





The Axis Counter Attack: The Bombing of Malta and the Loss of Medway

Appendix X Organisation of British and allied Submarines Mar-Apl 1942
Patrolgram 13 War Patrols in the Mediterranean Jan-July 1942
Map 32 The Mediterranean Jan-May 1942
Map 33 S/M covering operations for Malta Convoys 'Harpoon' and 'Vigorous'

THE STRATEGIC SITUATION in the Mediterranean at the close of 1941 has already been described at the end of Chapter XI. It will be recalled that the recapture of Cyrenaica by the Eighth Army gave the British a substantial geographical advantage while the Axis underwater offensive by U-boats, human torpedoes and mines had led to the loss or disablement of the whole British eastern Mediterranean battle squadron, as well as the sinking of Ark Royal and to a severe setback to Force K in Malta. The submarines were less affected by these developments except that Benghazi was now in our hands, and it was necessary to transfer more effort to the Tunisian coast along which enemy convoys were expected to sail in the future. Air attacks on Malta were, however, becoming serious, a thousand tons of bombs being dropped during January. It was now difficult to service and maintain ships and submarines. Furthermore, enemy aircraft and E-boats were laying mines round the islands and there was only one minesweeper left and she had to sweep at night. However all was not lost. The Maltese tunnellers had made it possible for all important parts of the submarine base, including a large workshop, to be put underground by the end of 1941. The base was now secure but the submarines themselves were now far from safe when in harbour. Upholder, at sea for exercises, was machine gunned by four German fighters and her temporary Commanding Officer (Lieutenant CP Norman RN) was wounded. He was just able to shut the conning tower hatch as the submarine dived. On 6th P31 was bombed while in dock; three of her crew were wounded, the pressure hull was holed in twenty-six places by splinters, and repairs took three weeks.

In the first days of 1942, nine submarines were at sea on patrol and another three were on passage between bases. Upholder had just arrived on the north coast of Sicily, P34 was off Augusta south of Messina and Urge was off Lampion on the Tunisian coast. Unique was south of Taranto while Proteus and Thunderbolt were on the west coast of Greece off Cephalonia. Triumph was in the Aegean with Thorn and Osiris north of Crete. Submarines on passage were P35 and Una on their way from Gibraltar to Malta and Talisman from Alexandria to Malta. A fourth submarine on passage sailed early in January from Gibraltar. This was P36 (Lieutenant HN Edmonds DSC RN) and she was routed by the south coast of France to land an important agent south of Miramas to organise operations in the area for the Special Operations Executive. Upholder (again Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn VC DSO RN) was forced to dive by enemy aircraft soon after leaving Malta and, after diving under the minefields of the Sicilian narrows, rounded Marittimo on 2nd running into more air activity. Next day off Cape Gallo she made a night attack in moonlight on a convoy of two westbound escorted ships. She fired two torpedoes at a range of 2600 yards on a track of 142 degrees and both missed. Early next morning she came upon the Italian Sirio of 5300 tons and attacked, but one torpedo ran hot in the tube and the other dived to the bottom and exploded, severely shaking her. Upholder gave chase and after dawn engaged with her gun and fired two more torpedoes, one of which hit amidships. Sirio returned fire with machine guns and Upholder finally had to let her go and dive, and the target escaped at a speed of nine knots. Upholder now had only one torpedo left and next morning early (5th January), she was sighted by the large Italian submarine Saint Bon in the moonlight. Saint Bon was difficult to see against the land and approached with her guns manned and opened fire. Upholder dived as soon as she saw her and fired her last torpedo by eye at a range of 800 yards which hit just forward of amidships and sank her. Upholder picked up three survivors confirming her success without any doubt. Within a few minutes of this exploit, Proteus, on the other side of the Ionian Sea, attacked Citta di Palermo of 5415 tons firing a stern salvo of two torpedoes at 600 yards, both of which hit and sank her.

The Italian Navy was determined to repeat the successful convoy that had arrived at Tripoli on 19th December. They still had not heard of their successes against the British battleships in Alexandria, and so intended to escort their convoys with their whole fleet. On January 3rd, a convoy of six large ships in three parts, escorted by a total of ten destroyers, sailed from Messina and Taranto with important military cargoes including 54 tanks for the Afrika Korps. A second smaller convoy sailed at the same time from Palermo to take the route by the Tunisian coast. A force of three battleships, six cruisers and thirteen destroyers covered both convoys, and both arrived safely in Tripoli. The cargoes were at once landed and conveyed to the front, and were in the hands of the army within a matter of days.

The arrival of these convoys was a serious setback for the British especially as the cryptographers had given warning that they were about to sail and had foretold their route. Furthermore there were five submarines at sea in the central Mediterranean. The reason for the failure was that the enemy covered the passage of the convoys by heavy air attacks on Malta1. These not only prevented any attack by the air striking forces based in the island, but also prevented any effective air reconnaissance and the convoys were not located until they were nearing their destination. Signal intelligence continued to be received during the month, but it could not often be acted upon. It showed that the coastal route from Tripoli to El Agheila was being used to get supplies forward but no submarines were sent there after Force K ran into mines in the shallow water off the North African coast. As has been pointed out before, it was imprudent to use signal intelligence directly for fear of compromise. The difficulties with air reconnaissance from Malta due to air attacks on the island often meant that signal intelligence could not be used at all.

Some information was received from air reconnaissance, however, which was of value to try to intercept the Italian fleet on its way back to Taranto. Unique was already on patrol off Taranto, P34 was moved there on 4th from the coast of Sicily and Thrasher from patrol off Cephalonia. Sokol and Unbeaten were sent straight to the area from Malta. P34 and Unique were given the inshore positions in the Gulf of Taranto and Unbeaten, Sokol and Thrasher were positioned on a patrol line farther out. Thrasher was, however, delayed by heavy weather and did not arrive in time. Just after midday on 5th, Unique (Lieutenant Commander AF Collett DSC RN) heard hydrophone effect and found herself right ahead of the battleship Duilio escorted by a cruiser, five destroyers and two flying boats. She went deep for one of the screen and by the time she was able to use her periscope again, she could only fire her four torpedoes at a range of 6000 yards from the quarter after the enemy had passed. Not surprisingly all the torpedoes missed. C-in-C was severely critical of this failure and pointed out that there was no need to go deep, as conditions were bad for air observation and such precautions against collision, necessary in peacetime exercises, were not warranted in wartime when risks must be run. The other submarines did not see the enemy force and the concentration were dispersed on 8th January.

Triumph, on patrol in the Aegean, had instructions to land a party near Piraeus to round up and rescue any army escapers they could find. While waiting to pick them up again she was given a patrol area south east of the Gulf of Athens and on 4th January she made an unsuccessful torpedo attack on the motor cutter Sofia south of Milo. She then moved to a position off Cape Sounion and on 9th January she attacked a large lighter under tow and missed again. She then almost certainly struck a mine in an antisubmarine field laid in this area by the Italian minelayer Barletta in December 1940. This time Triumph was sunk with all hands2 including her new Commanding Officer, Lieutenant JS Huddart RN, five other officers and fifty five men. Four of her officers and twenty of the ship's company of this most successful submarine had been decorated or mentioned in dispatches, and she was a great loss.

Porpoise (Commander EF Pizey DSO RN), after being employed on a number of store trips to Malta, embarked mines at Haifa on 5th January and laid them off Suda Bay on 11th. The torpedo boat Cantore struck one of them on 15th and was damaged. On 18th January, Porpoise attacked a strongly escorted convoy of three ships, firing a full salvo of six torpedoes at a range of 6000 yards and sinking Citta di Livorno of 2471 tons even though one of the torpedoes had a gyro failure. Thrasher (Lieutenant HS Mackenzie RN) from Taranto was sent to the Straits of Otranto and at night in heavy weather fired four torpedoes at a range of 600 yards sinking Fedora of 5015 tons, which was southbound and fully laden. Unbeaten (Lieutenant Commander EA Woodward RN) when she left the Taranto patrol line was sent to Cape Spartivento to the south east of Messina and on the forenoon of 12th January she first heard, and then sighted and attacked a German U-boat. She fired four torpedoes at 1500 yards from periscope depth and obtained two hits and sank U374. Unbeaten picked up one survivor. After this success, on 19th, she attacked a convoy at long range on a broad track with four more torpedoes, but without result. On return to Malta, Unbeaten was attacked and machine gunned by enemy fighters as she entered harbour but dived and there were no casualties. After this attack, submarines approaching Valetta were ordered to remain submerged until one mile off St Elmo, and were only to surface after checking that the red air raid warning flag at the Castile was not flying. Sokol (Kapitan B Karnicki) the last of the Taranto line was sent to patrol off Crotone but saw nothing.

Urge on the east coast of Tunisia, south of Lampion, was joined early in the month by Upright, but they saw nothing and these two submarines were relieved by P35 and Una in the middle of January. On 17th, P35 (Lieutenant SLC Maydon RN), who had been sent to reconnoitre Sousse, sank the salvage vessel Rampino of 301 tons, hitting with one of three torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards. Three days later she sighted a lighted convoy off the Tunisian coast and outside territorial waters. It was in the 'Sink at Sight' zone so she fired four torpedoes at very long range, which was also probably underestimated and scored no hits.

On 16th January, opportunity was taken to send a four-ship convoy to Malta and take advantage of our possession of airfields in Cyrenaica to give it fighter protection. It was also escorted by light forces from the Mediterranean Fleet, and by Force K from Malta. A submarine patrol line was established south of Taranto by Upholder and Unique from Malta, and Torbay, who had been on patrol off Crete. The convoy arrived after heavy air attacks on 19th and was violently attacked in harbour too, but 21,000 tons of supplies were safely unloaded. The Italian surface forces did not leave harbour, and these submarines saw very little. Upholder sighted a hospital ship and an escorted supply ship too far off to attack, and on 20th the patrol line was dispersed. On her way back to Malta, Unique sighted a U-boat on 21st in the half-light before dawn. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards on a late track and missed. The Italian Navy sent over another important convoy with a heavy surface ship covering force at this time. Torbay had been sent back to Taranto and was there when it left, and P36 and Urge had just arrived off Tripoli. Torbay (Lieutenant Commander ACC Miers DSO RN) sighted three cruisers with an escort of destroyers at midday on 22nd and fired six torpedoes at a range of 8000 yards on a track of 120 degrees. She was probably out of range and the torpedoes scored no hits. Early on 24th January Urge (Lieutenant Commander EP Tomkinson DSO* RN) saw aircraft flares as the RAF from Cyrenaica, and the Fleet Air Arm from Malta, heavily attacked the convoy, sinking the 13,000-ton liner Victoria with 1400 troops on board. Urge sighted the convoy and its cruiser escort but was unable to get within range. However she made an enemy report by asdic to P36. P36 (Lieutenant HN Edmonds RN) made contact and fired four torpedoes at a range of 4500 yards, claiming a hit and she was counter attacked with thirty depth charges. The remaining four ships of the convoy, however, reached Tripoli without further damage. Most of the troops were saved, and another 71 tanks were landed.

On 21st January, General Rommel, with a new lease of life from these convoys, attacked and drove the Eighth Army back. Benghazi fell on 29th but the army in the desert was able to stabilize the situation on the Gazala line some thirty miles west of Tobruk. This did not affect submarine operations except that patrols were required again off Benghazi and in the Gulf of Sirte but it became very difficult to run convoys to Malta from the east. P34 (Lieutenant PRH Harrison DSC RN) patrolled off Messina in the second half of January and on 25th she fired four torpedoes at a range of 5000 yards at an escorted southbound merchantman scoring one hit. This was Dalmatia L of 3320 tons and she remained afloat for some hours before finally sinking. The counter attack by her escort was ineffective. P34 was relieved by Urge south of Messina before the end of the month. Upright (Lieutenant JS Wraith DSC RN) was sent to patrol north of Sicily during this period but saw nothing. Thunderbolt (Lieutenant Commander CB Crouch DSO RN) followed Thrasher off the west coast of Greece and encountered very heavy weather. On 30th she attacked a convoy firing three torpedoes at a range of 2500 yards, but an escort sighted the tracks and the torpedoes were avoided. The Greek submarine Nereus (Ypoplaiarkhos A Rallis) patrolled off Suda Bay for ten days at the end of January but remained deep in daylight throughout and made no contacts, which was not altogether surprising. Thorn (Lieutenant Commander RG Norfolk RN) left Alexandria for the Adriatic on 17th January, passing through the Straits of Otranto on 22nd and spent some days trying to make two landing operations. One party was put ashore on 27th on the island of Mljet and on 28th off Sibernik she fired three torpedoes at a range of 800 yards at a merchant vessel and missed. She then surfaced and engaged with her gun setting the enemy on fire and stopping her, but not before she had been forced to dive by shore batteries. She then fired two more torpedoes, one circled but the other hit sinking Ninuccia of 4585 tons. During this action, she ran aground putting all three starboard bow tubes out of action. However she remained on patrol proceeding north to the Gulf of Quarnero where she had a substantial success. Here, off PoIa, on 30th she sighted the Italian submarine Medusa and fired four torpedoes at 3500 yards, hitting with one of them and sinking her.

The enemy managed to get 43,328 tons of supplies and equipment and 22,842 tons of fuel across during January with a loss of nine per cent. This was less than they would have wished but enough to mount the counter offensive which recaptured Benghazi. Submarines did nearly all the damage as the 669 tons of bombs dropped on Malta had made it very difficult for the RAF to attack shipping, or even fly adequate reconnaissance missions. The nucleus of Force K was still in the Grand Harbour but found it impossible to operate without air reconnaissance. Most of the air attacks on Malta were directed at the airfields and the dockyard and at Force K, but the maintenance and rest periods for submarines were bound to be affected. Nevertheless at sea, submarines kept up their sinkings during January. In nineteen attacks they fired 69 torpedoes and sank three enemy U-boats, a salvage vessel and five ships of 21,106 tons and damaged another of 5300 tons. The Italian naval historian, however, claims that most of these ships were sunk when returning to Italy and were empty. One submarine, Triumph, was lost and another, Utmost, left the station to refit. Two others had been sent to the Far East but two new T-class, Turbulent and Tempest had arrived at Gibraltar as well as the four new U-class already mentioned. All these submarines carried out short working up patrols from Gibraltar before making their passages to Malta or Alexandria.

THE SITUATION ON LAND in Cyrenaica, as already told, stabilised on the Gazala line in the middle of Cyrenaica in the early days of February. Both armies, however, wished to renew the offensive: the Axis to seize Tobruk and advance to the Egyptian frontier and the Allies to retake western Cyrenaica and then to advance into Tripolitania and drive the enemy out of Africa. Both depended on supplies and re-inforcements before either army could attack; those for the Axis having to cross the Mediterranean, and for the Allies having to come round the Cape or from India, Australasia or South Africa. The need to attack the Axis sea traffic was therefore as great as ever. On 1st February, six submarines were on patrol. Proteus had just arrived on the west coast of Greece; P34 and Upright were returning to Malta from Messina and the north west coast of Sicily respectively; Thunderbolt was off Cephalonia; Urge east of Sicily and finally Thorn was still in the Adriatic. In the first few days of February, another six submarines put to sea, all from Malta. P31 for the western approaches to Tripoli; Unique to patrol south east of Messina; Upholder for the north west coast of Sicily and Sokol, P35 and Unbeaten for the east Tunisian coast.

On 1st February, Urge (Lieutenant Commander EP Tomkinson DSO* RN) fired a long-range salvo of three torpedoes (at 7000 yards) at a convoy off the east coast of Sicily without result except that the destroyers of the escort counter attacked her with 29 depth charges. At almost exactly the same time, Thunderbolt (Lieutenant Commander CB Crouch DSO RN), on the other side of the Ionian Sea off Cephalonia, also attacked a convoy that was southbound. She fired three torpedoes at a range of 1000 yards and hit and sank Absirtea of 4170 tons. Two days later on 3rd February, P35 (Lieutenant SLC Maydon RN) in the Gulf of Hammamet, sighted Napoli of 6140 tons at anchor after the RAF had damaged her. She fired two torpedoes singly at 2500 yards obtaining one hit and sinking her but in shallow water. The RAF, trying to prevent her being salved, subsequently attacked this ship again. Meanwhile Upholder (now Lieutenant CP Norman RN) had left Malta under the command of the spare Commanding Officer, to patrol off Cape St Vito on the north coast of Sicily. On 4th February, six miles off Cape St Vito she took a shot in a rough sea at a Navigatori-class destroyer. She fired three torpedoes at 2000 yards but the tracks were seen, the torpedoes were avoided and she was counter attacked with ten depth charges, which fortunately did no damage. On 3rd too, Thunderbolt, now off Argostoli, damaged a trawler by gunfire and next day she sighted an Italian U-boat and fired a salvo of six torpedoes from 3000 yards. One of the torpedoes broke surface soon after being fired but does not seem to have been seen by the enemy, nevertheless all the torpedoes missed. Thunderbolt then surfaced and engaged with her gun and also fired her remaining two torpedoes from her amidships tubes but the enemy dived and escaped. Thorn in the Adriatic carried out a second landing operation near Mljet on 4th before returning to Alexandria. On 6th February, P31 (Lieutenant JBdeB Kershaw RN) in the approaches to Tripoli fired three torpedoes at a range of 5000 yards at a small merchant vessel escorted by an aircraft, but the aircraft saw the tracks and the torpedoes were avoided. On 12th, P31 suffered an accident with the operation of her main ballast tanks. She dived involuntarily and the Commanding Officer was knocked unconscious, an officer was drowned and there was serious flooding necessitating her immediate return to Malta. On 7th, Unbeaten (Lieutenant Commander EA Woodward RN), off Kerkenah fired four torpedoes at a range of 3500 yards at a convoy, but an aircraft of the escort probably saw the tracks and the torpedoes were avoided. She then suffered a counter attack of 29 depth charges by a destroyer of the escort. Between 5th and 7th, Upholder, still on the north west coast of Sicily, sighted traffic inshore off Cape Gallo and in Castellamare Bay. The weather was bad but she was hunted by air and surface patrols. On 8th at 1720 she attacked an eastbound convoy with three torpedoes at 1300 yards and hit and sank Salpi of 2710 tons and damaged Duino of 1334 tons. She was then counter attacked sharply by the escort over a period of fifteen minutes3. On 8th February, Proteus (Lieutenant Commander PS Francis RN), on the west coast of Greece, made a night attack on what she thought was a U-boat and fired two torpedoes at 700 yards from her stern tubes without result, probably because they ran under. Proteus turned to try again firing another torpedo at 1000 yards from the enemy's quarter. In a subsequent melee Proteus collided bow to bow with the enemy, which turned out to be the Italian torpedo boat Sagittario that had been escorting a convoy. Both ships were damaged, Proteus losing her port forward hydroplane as well as starting some rivets in her pressure hull. As a result she had to abandon her patrol and return to Alexandria.

On 6th February, it had been decided, in spite of the loss of western Cyrenaica, to attempt to send another convoy to Malta from the east. With no battleships left operational at Alexandria, the convoy had only light cruisers and destroyers as escort. Submarines therefore had an important role and were stationed south of Messina and across the Gulf of Taranto to report and attack any Italian heavy ships that left harbour. Convoy MF5 consisting of three large merchant ships, sailed on 12th February and the opportunity was taken to get four empty ships out of Malta. P36, Urge and Unique were stationed south of Messina and Una, Tempest and Upright formed the patrol line, ten miles apart, in the Gulf of Taranto. While approaching her patrol position, Una (Lieutenant DSR Martin RN) sighted and attacked a large tanker. She fired three torpedoes at a range of 2600 yards and hit and sank Lucania of 8106 tons. This was unfortunate as the ship had a safe conduct. Upright (Lieutenant JS Wraith RN) had, in accordance with her orders, already allowed her to pass unmolested. The mistake occurred as the markings agreed for the ship were difficult to see, and the Captain of Una had a high fever at the time. Nevertheless the British Government offered to replace the ship but this offer was not accepted4.The convoy to Malta failed to get through, all the ships being damaged by air attack, two having to be sunk by our own forces, and the third putting in to Tobruk. The empty ships from Malta reached Port Said safely. Four Italian cruisers and ten destroyers put to sea from Messina and Taranto to intercept the convoy. Warned of the presence of British submarines off Taranto by the attack on Lucania, the Italians sent out an anti-submarine hunting force. On 13th February the Italian torpedo boat Circe, recently fitted with German antisubmarine equipment5, after a six-hour hunt, located Tempest and, in an accurate depth charge attack, damaged her and forced her to the surface. Three officers and twenty men were rescued and taken prisoner of war and a party boarded the submarine. She sank, however, as soon as she was taken in tow. The casualties included her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander WAKN Cavanagh RN, one other officer and thirty-seven men. An hour after midnight on 15th P36 (Lieutenant HN Edmonds RN), south of Messina, sighted two cruisers southbound and escorted by destroyers. She fired a full salvo of four torpedoes in a surface attack. The range, however, was long (7000 yards) and the enemy speed was high and she failed to secure a hit. She made an enemy report and later air reconnaissance located the force, but a Fleet Air Arm attack from Malta failed to secure any hits either. Next day, P36 sighted the same force, which had been sent out from Messina to attack convoy MF5. She identified the main units as Gorizia and Trento. This time P36 got closer and fired another full salvo of four torpedoes. She again missed the large ships, which were steaming at 22 knots, but one torpedo hit and damaged the destroyer Carabinieri. Some of the seven other destroyers counter attacked for three and a half hours dropping 216 depth charges but without causing any significant damage. The others towed Carabinieri into harbour.

On 12th February, Sokol (Kapitan B Karnicki), who had been investigating the Gulf of Qabes, sank the three-masted schooner Guiseppina of 392 tons by demolition charge and on 13th fired three torpedoes at a destroyer at a range of 2500 yards, but the target did not even notice the attack6. On 15th February, P38 (Lieutenant RJ Hemingway DSC RN) torpedoed and sank Ariosto of 4116 tons off Cape Afrika, Tunisia. Unique (Lieutenant Commander AF Collett DSC RN) returned to Malta on 18th February after a blank patrol south of Messina. She ran hard aground while trying to find the harbour entrance and had to be towed off7. This was her last patrol before returning to the United Kingdom to refit. On 16th February, Thrasher (Lieutenant HS Mackenzie RN), who had left Alexandria on 13th and passed north of Crete, attacked an escorted supply ship off Candia. She 'missed the DA' on a 120-degree track but caught it up on a 160-degree track firing four torpedoes at 2000 yards. She claimed to have hit the target and was subjected to a very heavy and accurate counter attack from both the air and surface escort. No damage was noticed until she surfaced after dark when two 100 lb bombs were found lodged in the casing near the gun. The first was thrown over the side without difficulty, but the second had to be manhandled twenty feet before it could be disposed of. This was done by Lieutenant PWS Roberts RN and Petty Officer TW Gould, both of whom were subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross for their bravery. Lieutenant Mackenzie reported that the ships that counter attacked Thrasher were using echo detection equipment efficiently, although the depth charges caused no damage.

On 16th February, signal intelligence revealed that an important convoy of three large merchant ships was about to sail from Taranto for Tripoli and another three from Corfu to the same destination. Four submarines were at once ordered to form a patrol line north of Ras el Hamra to intercept them. These were P34 on her way to patrol off Kerkenah, P38 from the coast of Tunisia and P39 and Una from Malta. The patrol line was in position by 18th but further signal intelligence then indicated that the convoy had been delayed. The patrol line was therefore withdrawn sixty miles to seawards from its position close inshore for a period of forty-eight hours. It was back in position by dawn on 23rd. The Italian convoy from Taranto consisting of three large modern ships escorted by seven destroyers passed through the patrol line on the morning of 23rd. P34 (Lieutenant PRH Harrison DSC RN) sighted the convoy and fired a full salvo of four torpedoes at a range of 4500 yards but missed and was heavily counter attacked but fortunately without damage. P38 (Lieutenant RJ Hemingway DSC RN) was not so lucky. The torpedo boat Circe of the escort, obtained a hydrophone contact of her while she was making her attack and sighted her periscope. Circe assisted by the destroyer Usodimare then made an accurate depth charge attack and P38 was forced to the surface with an acute bow up angle. Other escorts opened fire but P38 submerged again and the other escorts joined in the depth charge barrage. Half an hour later she again broke surface and then dived steeply with her screws out of the water. This was followed by the appearance of oil, debris and large air bubbles. P38 was lost with her whole crew including her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Hemingway, three other officers and twenty-eight men. This was the second success by Circe with her German detecting apparatus in ten days and augured badly for the future. It had been hoped to reinforce the patrol line when the convoy was delayed and Upholder, Unbeaten, P36 and P35 left Malta on 21st February to join it. They did not arrive in time and after the convoy had passed, the patrol line was dispersed. P34 went back to Kerkenah, P39 to the Lampedusa area, Upholder remained north of Tripoli, Unbeaten to an area off Monastir, P35 to the south of Messina and P36 to the Gulf of Qabes while Una returned to Malta. On 27th February, after a number of sightings and being caught in a sandstorm, Upholder (again Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn VC DSO RN) sank the northbound and escorted Tembien of 5585 tons, unfortunately carrying some British prisoners of war. She obtained two hits with three torpedoes fired from 2800 yards and was counter attacked with eight depth charges. Of the 792 prisoners of war in this ship and in Ariosto sunk by P38 on 15th February, 582 were saved. On 28th, P35 (Lieutenant SLC Maydon RN) in a day submerged attack fired two torpedoes at a supply ship south of Messina, but one of them malfunctioned and the other missed at a range of 3500 yards.

Three submarines sailed for patrol from Alexandria in the second half of February, Torbay and Thorn for the west coast of Greece and Turbulent for the Aegean. The patrol by Thorn (Lieutenant Commander RG Norfolk RN) was uneventful but Torbay saw plenty of action, most of which happened during March and will be described later. On 27th, however, she made a night attack at the close range of 400 yards on an escorted tanker. She only fired one torpedo and a yaw caused it to miss. While diving, the Commanding Officer's pillow caught in the conning tower hatch7a. Fortunately the counter attack was slow to develop and not very accurate. Later in the day she was able to surface and sink the small coaster Lido by gunfire. Turbulent (Commander JW Linton DSC RN) was brand new and had brought torpedoes and stores through the Mediterranean while on passage. Her Commanding Officer, however, was experienced in the Mediterranean and he was given a roving commission in the Aegean. On 26th, he attempted to attack a three-ship convoy off Suda Bay without success but next day sank a caique by gunfire. From there he made for the Doro Channel and his exploits from now on took place in March and will be described later.

The failure of the February convoy to Malta increased the need for submarines to carry supplies there. The civilian rations had already been decreased below those in the United Kingdom and the expenditure of ammunition and aviation fuel in the many air raids was prodigious. During February, Porpoise (Lieutenant LWA Bennington DSC RN) ran a trip with petrol and personnel from Alexandria, and Olympus (Lieutenant Commander HG Dymott RN) and Pandora (Lieutenant RL Alexander RN) did the same from Gibraltar. During this month too there were countless raids dropping 1020 tons of bombs on the island. The destroyer Maori was sunk in the Grand Harbour but up to the middle of the month, most of the bombs were still aimed at the airfields and the dockyard. Force K and the air striking forces on the island were unable to achieve any results against the enemy convoys and nearly everything sunk during the month was by submarine. On 13th February, a very heavy raid, in which parachute mines were used, struck the submarine base on Manoel Island. It did a great deal of damage, demolishing a number of buildings including those of the mess decks and killing two men and wounding five others. There could have been heavy casualties but for the rock shelters under the base. The maintenance and repair of submarines was much hampered, not only by this attack but also by air raid alarms, and the crews could get little rest in harbour. Even the rest camp at Ghain Tuffieha was attacked. Nevertheless the base staffs persevered, and were just able to cope. The submarines now submerged by night and surfaced by day so that work could be done on them. At the end of February, the new arrival P39 was attacked by Me109 fighters as she entered harbour after her first patrol. In this same raid on 27th February, the submarine base, in spite of four Bofors guns that had been deployed on Manoel Island, was again heavily bombed and four officers were killed and the officer's quarters were destroyed. From now on all hands had to mess in the open and sleep in the over crowded shelters. During the month the Admiralty became alarmed at the scale of attack and suggested that the old submarine depot ship Lucia, now used in the Indian Ocean as depot ship for the Eastern Fleet submarines, should be sent to Alexandria to which place the Tenth Submarine Flotilla might have to withdraw. Captain Simpson, however, had no intention of being dislodged by the Luftwaffe and was determined to remain and continue to service and support his flotilla.

The results achieved by submarines during February were well up to previous performance. Twenty attacks were made firing 64 torpedoes and six ships of 30,825 tons were sunk as well as several small craft. Two destroyers were damaged as well as at least one ship of 1334 tons. Nevertheless Italian losses, as a percentage of the increased traffic in convoy now being sent, were small and the build up of their forces in Cyrenaica began. A sinister development was the loss of two submarines, Tempest and P38, by depth charge attack from asdic fitted escorts. Fortunately the German echo detection gear was greatly inferior to the British asdic, but the period in which the enemy ships had virtually no way to detect our submarines when they were submerged was over. Furthermore no new submarines arrived on the station during February to replace these losses.

IN MARCH, THE ARMIES IN THE DESERT remained in confrontation on the Gazala line, both building up their strength in the hope of taking the offensive. The main British strategic problem was to re-supply Malta. It was decided to run a convoy of four supply ships in from the east in the middle of March and also to fly in fighters from an aircraft carrier from the west. It was hoped that this would be sufficient to keep the island going until Cyrenaica could be retaken and convoys could be run in from the east more easily. Meanwhile the attack on the enemy supply lines to North Africa was as important as ever. However, submarine strength in the Mediterranean was falling and the total of twenty-five on paper was not available in practice. The Tenth Flotilla at Malta had the most boats, which was ten8 after the departure of Unique to refit in the United Kingdom. The First Flotilla, after the redeployment of Truant and Trusty to the Far East, the loss of Triumph and Tempest, the relegation of Otus and Osiris to non-operational duties and the use of Porpoise for store carrying, left only five operational boats9.Worst of all was the state of the Eighth Flotilla at Gibraltar which, with Clyde refitting, O23 on her way to the Far East and Olympus non operational, had no submarines fit for patrol at all. Maidstone at Gibraltar at this time was reduced to a staging post for new submarines joining the station and older ones passing to and from the United Kingdom to refit.

On 1st March there were nine submarines on patrol, four of which were from the First Flotilla and five from the Tenth. Thorn was off Taranto; Thrasher off Cephalonia and Torbay to the north of her off Corfu while Turbulent was in the Aegean. P31 was off Kerkenah and Unbeaten was about to return to Malta from the vicinity of Lampion. Upholder was north of Tripoli; P35 south of Messina and P36 was on her way back to Malta from Khoms. On 1st March, Unbeaten (Lieutenant JD Martin RN) attacked a convoy off Monastir in Tunisia firing four torpedoes at a range of 4000 yards and sinking the Vichy French tanker PLM2O of 3415 tons which was in German service. Unbeaten was counter attacked for an hour, and fifteen depth charges were dropped. Far away in the Aegean, Turbulent continued her roving commission. On 2nd March she sank three schooners by gunfire in the Gulf of Salonika and another one on 3rd. She let yet another one go, as it had many women passengers on board. Intelligence was then received that two enemy ships had left Istanbul for the south, and Turbulent moved across to Imbros. On 4th March, however, the ships passed out of range mainly because Turbulent was having navigational difficulties and was out of position. She pursued, however, and intercepted the two ships in the Doro Channel very early next morning. She made a night surface attack and fired four torpedoes at what she thought was a range of 4000 yards but they missed. The range was probably under estimated and was, in fact, much greater. After investigating the Gulf of Athens and Mykoni without seeing anything, Turbulent sank a 300-ton schooner by gunfire on 12th and yet another schooner also by gunfire on 13th March. She then headed for Alexandria with all her gun ammunition except one round expended. On 2nd March, Torbay (Lieutenant Commander ACC Miers DSO RN), off Corfu, approached a destroyer to attack with torpedoes. She was detected, however, before she could fire and was severely depth charged but was able to continue her patrol. On 4th March she sighted four troopships northbound but at too great a range to attack. They then entered the south channel between Corfu and the mainland. Lieutenant Commander Miers decided to follow them in and attack them in harbour. He was forced to dive by a patrol vessel shortly after midnight and met another when approaching for a dawn attack. It was glassy calm but it was soon apparent that the enemy had gone on and out through the northern entrance, but two supply ships were there at anchor. Torbay closed them and fired six torpedoes in pairs at a range of 3000 yards and sank Maddalena G of 5210 tons and probably damaged the other ship. Then after twenty hours in a defended enemy anchorage, Torbay made her way out to sea again. Lieutenant Commander Miers was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross for this and other outstanding patrols.

On 6th March, P31 (Lieutenant JBdeB Kershaw RN), off Lampion, carried out an attack on a large escorted ship also in a glassy calm. The attack was completed at a range of 800 yards without showing her periscope, which almost certainly would have been seen. Four torpedoes were fired by asdic, all hitting Maria Sanudo of 5080 tons, which sank in twenty minutes. Minor damage to P31 was caused by a fairly accurate counter attack of 38 depth charges during which she bottomed in 240 feet. This was a remarkable attack and the Commanding Officer's caution was amply justified by the recent loss of both Tempest and P38. Four days later there was an extensive anti-submarine sweep in the area by ships and aircraft but this was avoided and P31 returned to Malta on 12th March. Sokol (Podporucznik GC Koziolkowski) under the command of her First Lieutenant, patrolled in the Pantellaria area and sighted several ships but was unable to get into a position to attack with torpedoes. However she sank a tug off Lampedusa by gunfire and engaged a schooner. Una (Lieutenant DSR Martin RN), off Kerkenah, attacked a northbound convoy on 10th March but was seen by the escort and had to break off her approach and take avoiding action. On 13th, she sank the 250-ton schooner Maria Immaculata by gunfire, and next day she fired three torpedoes at a range of 5000 yards at the German supply ship Trapani but missed.

In March the air raids on Malta doubled in intensity and some 2000 tons of bombs were dropped. The Luftwaffe, while continuing its attacks on the airfields and the dockyard now gave more attention to the submarines. On 3rd March Upright, who was about to sail for home to refit, was near missed and had to be sent to the dockyard for repairs. She was got away on the 19th but was still not fully operational and was only fit for the passage. On 6th March the submarine base was again heavily attacked, and P39 was extensively damaged and had to be towed round to the dockyard for repairs. The flotilla's oil barge, which was the old monitor Talbot, was sunk, P36 suffered minor damage and Una was near missed. The air attacks were not only by bombers but also by fighters that harassed and strafed the base. The anti-aircraft batteries were now so short of ammunition that they could not always return the fire. Upright in the dockyard, however, claimed to have shot down an Me109 fighter at this time with her machine gun. The submarines had to be dispersed from the base on Manoel Island and only brought alongside one at a time at night for essential work to be done. By day they submerged in harbour and lay on the bottom. On 8th March, P35, while submerging with only a third of her crew on board, bottomed heavily on an obstruction and ruptured her pressure hull, flooding her torpedo tube compartment. In spite of these heavy air raids, on 3rd March the RAF were able to attack Palermo with Wellington bombers and blow up an ammunition ship, damaging another four supply ships and five escort vessels. Submarines were now in greater danger in harbour than at sea. As a British convoy was expected to sail from Alexandria to Malta before long, P34, P36, Upholder and Unbeaten were sent north to the coasts of Italy and Sicily where they would be ready to take up covering positions when required. On 13th March, P34 (Lieutenant PRH Harrison DSC RN), off the south coast of Calabria sighted an escorted supply ship but was unable to get close enough to attack. This was the only sighting of a large Italian supply operation in which three convoys sailed from Brindisi, Messina and Naples for Tripoli, and a return convoy from North Africa, all of which got safely across without loss. Shortly afterwards an Italian U-boat was sighted lying stopped on the surface. P34 crept up to within 2200 yards and fired four torpedoes hitting with two of them and sinking the large submarine Ammiraglio Millo of 1461 tons10. Fourteen survivors were picked up before machine gun fire from the shore forced her to dive. P34 returned to Malta to land her prisoners and replenish with torpedoes and was sent straight out on patrol again. On 12th March, Unbeaten (Lieutenant Commander EA Woodward RN) left Malta to patrol off Taranto. On 16th close to Cape Spartivento, she fired a full salvo of four torpedoes at a large merchant ship escorted by three destroyers and three aircraft. The range was 4500 yards but she succeeded in damaging the Pisani of 6339 tons and was counter attacked by the three destroyers. She escaped undamaged but was very nearly rammed by one of them when at periscope depth. Next day early in the morning she heard an Italian U-boat on her asdic and then sighted her. In a short attack lasting five and a half minutes, she fired her second full salvo of four torpedoes on the swing at 2000 yards hitting and sinking the medium sized submarine Guglielmotti. There were ten survivors in the water but the presence of an aircraft prevented Unbeaten from surfacing to rescue them. E-boats then arrived and dropped 24 depth charges. Upholder (Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn VC DSO RN) left Malta on 14th March to patrol in the southern Adriatic and was forced to dive by an E-boat off Valletta. Off Brindisi on 18th, risking the danger of mines, she closed the coast and sighted an Italian U-boat approaching the port just two miles off the harbour entrance. She fired a full salvo of four torpedoes at 550 yards and hit with two of them sinking the Italian submarine Tricheco. There was plenty of traffic in the area and next day she attacked two trawlers with her 12pdr gun, sinking one and damaging the other.

The Malta convoy, after a delay of some days, left Alexandria on 20th March. At this time there were seven submarines at sea on patrol. Unbeaten and P34 were south of Messina and P36, Proteus and Upholder were in the Gulf of Taranto11.The Italians received reports of the sailing of the convoy on 21st from two of their submarines in the eastern Mediterranean. Littorio with four destroyers left Taranto after dark on 22nd to attack the convoy. It was a very dark night but P36 heard the enemy force on her asdic set. Except for a possible glimpse of a destroyer, she did not sight anything but at 0400 she sent an enemy report by wireless estimating that the enemy force as one battleship, six cruisers and a destroyer flotilla steering to the southwards. This was the only warning received by the convoy and its escorts that the Italian fleet was at sea before the enemy came in sight. A cruiser force consisting of Gorizia, Trento, Bande Nere and four destroyers also put to sea from Messina. They were not seen by or detected by P34 or Unbeaten south of Messina because they hugged the coast of Calabria and passed clear to the north of both submarines. These movements led to the 'Second Battle of Sirte' in which Admiral Vian brilliantly defended the convoy with his light cruisers and destroyers. The Italian Fleet, not wishing to risk a night action with the British radar fitted ships, broke off the battle before dark on 22nd and set course for home. At this point an exceptionally heavy southeast gale began to blow, the Italian destroyers Scirocco and Lanciere foundered and the cruiser Bande Nere was damaged. The cruiser force again evaded P34 and Unbeaten south of Messina, this time by hugging the Sicilian coast but Littorio, her escort now reduced to two destroyers, was heard in the evening of 23rd by Upholder as she approached Taranto. Upholder closed at full speed in very bad weather and at 1735 caught a brief glimpse of the battleship. Four torpedoes were fired at a range of 4000 yards but the enemy, who was zigzagging, altered away and they missed. It is in any case doubtful whether the torpedoes could run correctly in such weather

Although three out of the four merchant ships of the British convoy reached Malta, most of their cargo was lost by air attack before they could be unloaded. Malta had therefore to rely on another three storing trips run by submarines during the month by Porpoise from Alexandria with petrol and personnel, and Olympus and Pandora from Gibraltar with similar cargoes.

Earlier in the month, after completing a short refit, Urge (Lieutenant Commander EP Tomkinson DSO* RN) had sailed for patrol in the Tyrrhenian Sea but had had to return with engine trouble. She sailed again on 23rd March at the same time as P31 (Lieutenant JBdeB Kershaw RN) with a similar destination. Urge patrolled off Naples and P31 was sent to an area south of Elba to advertise her presence and try to draw anti-submarine vessels away from the route to North Africa, but she sighted nothing before the end of the month. Urge on the night of 29th/30th March, landed Captain Wilson with a demolition party who blew up a train near Policastro, the engine being derailed and rolling down the embankment. No sooner had the landing party returned than Urge sighted a ship approaching in the darkness. She fired three torpedoes at a range of 3500 yards but missed. She then engaged with her gun but after scoring three hits had to desist due to the enemy's return fire. Proteus (Lieutenant Commander PS Francis RN) who had been off Taranto during the Second Battle of Sirte was ordered to the Straits of Otranto. On 27th she sighted a small patrol vessel and fired three torpedoes at 1000 yards but they probably ran under. On 28th after dark, she sighted a convoy of seven ships and, in a surface attack, fired six torpedoes aimed at three of them at ranges between 1000 and 2000 yards sinking Galileo of 8040 tons. On 30th course was set to intercept another convoy reported by signal intelligence and the RAF. Contact was made just after dark and two torpedoes were fired at 450 yards from her stern tubes from periscope depth by moonlight sinking Bosforo of 3648 tons.

By the end of March the Luftwaffe had virtually neutralised the air and surface striking forces based on Malta. What was left of Force K put to sea for the Second Battle of Sirte but was reduced to Penelope and one destroyer. Aurora, under repair in the dockyard since she was mined the previous December, was got away to Gibraltar on 26th March but Penelope was damaged again and had to be docked shortly afterwards. The air striking forces had attacked a southbound convoy on 10th March but obtained no success. Signal intelligence was still available and although its value was decreased, as it could not be followed up by air reconnaissance, it still helped to place submarines in the right patrol positions. In fact our submarines did practically all the damage to the enemy convoys during March. In fourteen attacks firing 55 torpedoes, they had sunk three more Italian submarines, five ships of 25,393 tons and half a dozen caiques and schooners and had damaged another two ships of some 12,000 tons. Over half of their attacks were therefore successful and their sinkings were up to their usual average in spite of the decrease in their numbers. The report by P36 of the enemy fleet leaving Taranto was also of major importance in the Second Battle of Sirte at a time when air reconnaissance was extremely difficult. Nevertheless in February and March, 67,000 tons of supplies and 40,000 tons of fuel got across to Libya with a loss of only 9%.

Although Eagle had flown in three loads of Spitfires to Malta from Gibraltar during the month, conditions there were very serious. On 17th March, Sokol was damaged by near misses when going alongside the submarine base, breaking many battery cells; during a passage round to the dockyard on 19th to replace them she was attacked by German Me109 fighters and hit by cannon and machine gun fire. On the arrival of the convoy on 24th March, raids became heavier and more frequent and on 26th March, a heavy bomb near missed P39 in the dockyard and exploded underneath her breaking her back. She had to be beached and became a total loss. Sokol, her battery just replaced, was damaged again on 31st breaking another 98 cells. Another danger was that German E-boats and aircraft were very busy laying mines off Valetta to the east of the island. Six small fields had already been laid and the minesweepers, suffering heavily in the air attacks, were no longer able to cope. Nevertheless the base personnel worked miracles and in spite of the bombing got ten submarines away on patrol during March and turned round three store carrying boats as well. In the middle of the month, Captain Simpson wished to introduce a scheme in which the submarine crews, including those of the submarines that had been damaged, were pooled to work a routine of ten days at sea followed by five in harbour. The scheme was badly received by most submarine Commanding Officers and only reluctantly accepted. It was stoutly opposed by Lieutenant Commander Tomkinson of Urge and in the end came to nothing.

APRIL BEGAN with a very substantial success. The Italian cruiser Bande Nere left Messina escorted by two destroyers on 1st April for La Spezia for repairs to damage received in the gale that followed the Second Battle of Sirte. Urge had moved south and was off the northern approaches to the Straits. She sighted Banda Nere and at 0854 fired a full salvo of four torpedoes at the long range of 5000 yards and although the enemy was steaming at 21 knots, secured two hits, which was fine marksmanship. Bande Nere sank rapidly and the escort were too busy rescuing her crew to mount an effective counter attack. Urge then left the area and after two days patrol off Cape St Vito, arrived at Malta on 6th April where matters had reached crisis point. In a heavy raid on 1st April, P36 received a direct hit from a Ju88 dive-bomber and sank alongside the submarine base. Pandora, just arrived from Gibraltar with supplies, was also dive bombed and sunk alongside Parlatorio wharf in the dockyard. Although there were no casualties when P36 and P39 were sunk, Pandora had decided to continue unloading during air raids and lost two officers and 25 men of her ship's company. Unbeaten, submerged in Lazaretto Creek, was near missed too and her torpedo tubes were damaged. She was patched up and sailed for the United Kingdom for repairs on 9th April. On 4th April the Greek submarine Glaukos was bombed and sunk in the submarine refitting berth in French Creek. Captain(S) Ten was still determined not to be bombed out of Malta by the Luftwaffe. He now had an additional reason for wishing to stay.

Intelligence now indicated that the enemy was preparing to invade Malta. Captain Simpson believed that an invasion would be supported by bombardments by heavy Italian warships and that the submarines were essential as a counter measure to them. He intended to keep submarines at sea as much as possible but, when in when in harbour to keep them dived by day. He intended to use the crews of the submarines that had been sunk to continue a cycle of ten days on patrol followed by five days in harbour to replenish and maintain them. The enemy, however, started systematically to bomb the harbour to try and hit submarines resting on the bottom and it was decided that they must in future dive in billets outside the harbour. Submarines unable to dive were covered with camouflage nets and moved daily to different berths. The Admiralty, however, was by no means so sure that the submarines could remain in Malta and on 5th April had raised again the proposal to move the Tenth Flotilla to Alexandria and to bring Lucia back from the Indian Ocean as its depot ship. The move was strongly opposed by Captain(S)Ten, who was supported by the Vice Admiral (Malta) and the temporary C-in-C Mediterranean. Vice Admiral Leatham at Malta, while he understood that the submarines might have to leave, wanted them to stay for the defence of the island should it be invaded. Admiral Pridham Whipple at Alexandria pointed out that if the Tenth Flotilla were moved, the endurance of the U-class would only allow them to be used in the Aegean and that their ability to interfere with the traffic to Africa would be lost. This matter was, however, settled by the damage to Lucia in Colombo caused by the Japanese carrier air strike of 5th April.

Shortly afterwards, however, the strategic question on the disposition of submarines already discussed in Chapter XII, arose. The Eastern Fleet had to withdraw to Kilindini in East Africa after the Japanese raid until reinforcements could be sent from home waters. As these would not be forthcoming for some time, requests were made by C-in-C Eastern Fleet and by C-in-C Ceylon for a strong submarine contingent to take the offensive and to watch the Malacca Strait. The Admiralty therefore asked C-in-C Mediterranean what the effect would be if the First Submarine Flotilla were to be sent to meet this need. C-in-C replied that if the First Submarine Flotilla were sent east, even if the Tenth was able to remain at Malta, the important Italy-Aegean and Italy-Benghazi routes would be left almost unmolested. If the Tenth Flotilla had to leave Malta as well, then submarine operations would cease except in the southern Aegean. He might well have pointed out that his fleet was now reduced to a squadron of light cruisers and some fifteen destroyers, while the Far East had two modern aircraft carriers and a squadron of battleships even though they were obsolescent.

In the end the Admiralty decided not to move the First Flotilla east as yet, and that the Eastern Fleet would have to be satisfied with the two T-class already sent with the three Dutch O-class from the Eighth Flotilla at Gibraltar and the four Dutch submarines which had escaped to Colombo from the East Indies. The new depot ship Adamant was already on her way round the Cape to join the Eastern Fleet and to maintain them.

Meanwhile submarine operations in the central Mediterranean, in spite of the difficulties, continued. One Commanding Officer actually remarked that he was glad when he was ordered to sea where it was much safer than to remain and face the danger of bombing in harbour. On 1st April, there were seven submarines at sea. Of the First Flotilla, Thrasher was in the Gulf of Sirte and Proteus was still in the Otranto area while Turbulent was in the Adriatic. Of the Tenth Flotilla, P35 was off Lampedusa while Urge and P31 were still in the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Dutch submarine O23 was also on passage through the Mediterranean bound for the Far East. P31 (Lieutenant JBdeB Kershaw RN), who was trying to advertise her presence off Elba, was not able to find an opportunity until 1st April when she met a small tanker escorted by four schooners off Civita Vecchia. She fired three torpedoes at 4000 yards but the first torpedo broke surface and the rest missed. The schooners then hunted her for nine hours. Next day she fired a single torpedo at a large three masted schooner, which was lying stopped, but the torpedo just missed ahead of her although the range was only 1400 yards. P31 was also able to plot the position of the swept channel in this area, which was of value. On 4th April, P35 (Lieutenant SLC Maydon RN), in a glassy calm off Lampedusa attacked a merchant vessel escorted by four E-boats and aircraft. She was put deep by the escorts but managed to come to periscope depth and fire a single torpedo from right astern, which, not surprisingly, missed. Una (Lieutenant CP Norman RN), south of Messina, sank Nineto G of 5335 tons in an escorted convoy with two hits out of a salvo of four fired at 3000 yards and the counter attack, although the enemy claimed to have sunk her, was negligible. P35 had another chance on 6th April but missed an escorted supply ship at 3200 yards with two torpedoes. She also sighted targets on 7th and 8th but was too far off to attack. Thrasher (Lieutenant HS Mackenzie RN), in the Gulf of Sirte, attacked a convoy of two ships on 9th April firing three torpedoes at each of them at a range of 2000 yards. She hit and sank the first ship, which was Gala of 1030 tons, but the second avoided the torpedoes. On 13th she was again successful in the Benghazi area and with three torpedoes fired at 1900 yards she sank Atlas of 2300 tons.

Meanwhile Turbulent (Commander JW Linton DSC RN) was busy in the Adriatic. She passed through the Straits of Otranto on 5th April and on 7th sank Rosa M of 271 tons by gunfire. Two days later off Sibenik, she attacked a supply ship, firing two torpedoes at 2500 yards but the target saw the tracks and altered course away. Next day off Ortona, she attacked another ship of about 3000 tons, firing three torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards and when these missed she fired another with no better luck. On 12th April she sighted a large Italian U-boat of the Ballila-class off Fiume but the target altered course at a critical moment and no attack was possible. Next day she inexplicably missed a merchant ship at 800 yards with her two external bow tubes. Returning to the Sibenik area on 14th she engaged two schooners with her gun, but had only succeeded in damaging one of them before she was forced to dive by shore batteries. On 15th, Dubrovnik was approached but the harbour was found to be empty. Next day off Monopoli she sank the unescorted Delia of 5404 tons, fully laden and southbound. Two torpedoes were used, both of which hit at 1000 yards. In spite of these successes early in April, the Italians got three convoys totalling six ships across to Tripoli without loss.

In Malta the bombing continued with increased fury and during April 6700 tons of bombs were dropped. The 7th and 8th April were two of the worst days, a great deal landing on the dockyard, which was put almost completely out of action. Raids were frequent and the average was nine alerts a day but the defences stoutly opposed them. Penelope escaped to Gibraltar on 8th but Havock was stranded and was lost off the Tunisian coast. The submarine base, with super human effort by the repair staff, continued to function and got five submarines to sea in this period; P34 to the heel of Italy, Urge to the Pantellaria area, P35 to Lampedusa, Una to Kuriat and Upholder to Tripoli. The policy was now to keep submarines at sea as much as possible and only to arrange for them to return to base for essential repairs and replenishment. These five submarines were to do short patrols. They were not in the best position but were close to Malta so that they could be recalled for the defence of the island if it should be invaded. Sokol, after fouling the boom, was also sailed for Gibraltar on 17th April with only one screw and one battery section in working order. Sokol's battery was giving off chlorine and she had difficulty in diving under the Sicilian barrage. She survived, however, and got to Gibraltar in this battered condition. On 12th April, Urge (Lieutenant Commander EP Tomkinson DSO* RN) attacked a convoy of two large ships escorted by destroyers and flying boats between Pantellaria and Lampedusa. She fired a full salvo of four torpedoes at a range of 5000 yards but an aircraft sighted the tracks, the convoy stopped engines and the torpedoes passed harmlessly ahead.

Upholder (Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn VC DSO* RN) who had sailed on 6th April for the Tripoli area on her twenty fifth patrol, carried out a special operation on the night of 9th/10th to land two Arab agents near Sousse. Captain Wilson landed them and was transferred next night to Unbeaten off Lampion Island for passage home to the United Kingdom. Signal intelligence was then received in Malta that a convoy was to leave Taranto for Tripoli in the near future. Upholder was given a position to patrol north east of Tripoli to intercept and Urge from the Lampedusa area with Thrasher from the Gulf of Sirte, were ordered to join her and form a patrol line. Only Upholder made contact with the enemy and she was sighted submerged by an Italian flying boat who summoned the torpedo boat Pegaso of the convoy's escort to the spot. Pegaso, using her German asdic set, made contact and attacked accurately with depth charges sinking her with all hands14 Urge and Thrasher heard the explosions of the depth charges but saw nothing. Upholder's outstanding Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn VC DSO* RN, was drowned together with three other officers and twenty seven men of her ship's company including the holders of two DSC's, six DSM's and three who had been mentioned in despatches. This was a major disaster not only for the Tenth Flotilla but for the Mediterranean Fleet and the submarine branch as a whole. Lieutenant Commander Wanklyn was, without question, the leading British submarine 'Ace' of the war and his indirect leadership of other submarine captains was of inestimable value. His loss was a serious blow to morale. Upholder, in her twenty-five patrols, had fired 98 torpedoes and 31 of these had hit sinking two J-boats, two destroyers and eleven transports and supply ships totalling 91,470 tons. She had also damaged the cruiser Garibaldi and carried out a number of special operations. The Admiralty kept her loss secret for a while but subsequently issued a statement saying, '..she was an inspiration, not only to her own flotilla but to the fleet...'

P42 (Lieutenant ACG Mars RN), a new submarine, had arrived at Gibraltar and, after a working up patrol off Spanish Morocco, was sent to patrol in the Gulf of Genoa. She landed four agents at Agay near Cannes and at Antibes on 20th and 24th and brought off a French resistance leader. She then attacked a large southbound steamer off Genoa with three torpedoes at the long range of 7000 yards but missed. On 26th she fired two torpedoes at 500 yards at a schooner but one of them dived straight to the bottom and the other missed ahead. On 1st May when returning to Gibraltar she made a night attack on a U-boat firing three torpedoes at 1000 yards but the U-boat saw the tracks and dived. She was able, however, to make an enemy report and surface vessels took up the chase.

The Greek submarine Triton (Plotarkhis E Kontoyannis) patrolled off Rhodes and Mykoni from 28th March to 6th April but sighted nothing until she was on her return passage when she saw a U-boat but it dived before she could attack. On 10th April, Una (Lieutenant CP Norman RN) off the south coast of Italy was put deep by aircraft and decided to remain there and rely on her asdic. Her asdic, however, was defective and when she returned to periscope depth she sighted a tanker at a range of 700 yards and was too late to get in an attack. P34 (Lieutenant JWD Coombe RN) off Taranto struck a mine on 12th April and was blown to the surface. All her torpedoes were jammed in the tubes, which were put out of action. Nevertheless she survived and got back to Malta15.

P31 (Lieutenant JBdeB Kershaw RN) who sailed to patrol off the Calabrian coast on 12th April had to return after five days due to a defect in her fore hatch caused by bombing in harbour. On 18th April, P35 (Lieutenant SLC Maydon RN) attacked a large escorted and northbound merchant ship off the Tunisian coast. She fired three torpedoes but at the long range of 6000 yards and she missed. Next day she encountered Assunta De Gregori of 4220 tons escorted by a torpedo boat and two aircraft. She fired two torpedoes at 1100 yards and both hit sinking the target and the counter attack was negligible.

There were particularly heavy raids on Malta on 19th, 20th, 22nd and 24th and the new Captain (S) First Submarine Flotilla (Captain P Ruck Keene) was sent by air to Malta by the Acting C-in-C to consult with Captain(S) Ten and Vice Admiral (Malta). Captain Ruck Keene brought advice from A(S) who was seriously worried by the submarine losses in Malta. Great hopes for a successful air defence of Malta had been put on the arrival of Spitfire fighters, but on 21st April most of these had been destroyed on the ground. Morale was still high with the granting of the George Cross to the Island on 15th. However the destruction of an anti-aircraft battery on Manoel Island with heavy casualties on 19th brought the deterioration of the air defence situation very close. Even Captain Simpson now had his doubts. He had other worries such as P34 fouling the boom when surfacing after being near missed by a heavy bomb. Furthermore the German mining campaign by E-boats in the approaches to Valetta was now a serious menace. Nine fields are known to have been laid during the month and these posed a threat to submarines arriving at or leaving Malta especially as what minesweepers were left were unable to cope. The C-in-C had reluctantly to accept the recommendation from the two Captains(S) and Vice Admiral (Malta) that the Tenth Flotilla should be withdrawn temporarily to Alexandria until the situation improved.

It is ironical that just as this decision was being made, Hitler came to the conclusion that Malta was neutralised and that there was no point in proceeding with plans to capture the island. Fliegerkorps II was ordered to Russia and the number of air raids began to decrease. P31 left for Alexandria on 26th April followed by Urge next day. Urge was sunk with all hands by a mine probably in the searched channel to the eastwards. She was lost with her outstanding Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Tomkinson, four other officers and 39 men, there being a number of passengers on board. Amongst her crew and passengers were the holders of four DSC's, 11 DSM's and six who had been mentioned in despatches. The loss of another 'Ace' in this month was hard to bear. Lieutenant Commander Tomkinson, so recently responsible for the destruction of the cruiser Bande Nere, was about, as was also Lieutenant Commander Wanklyn, to take his submarine home for refit. Urge had carried out eighteen patrols, hitting with 19 torpedoes out of a total of 61 fired in nineteen attacks. She had sunk a cruiser, damaged another, damaged a battleship and sunk or damaged 52,635 tons of shipping as well as wrecking two railway trains.

On 29th, P34 (Lieutenant JS Wraith DSO DSC RN) sailed from Malta and also Porpoise (Commander EF Pizey DSO RN), who had recently arrived on a storing trip. P34 made a slow passage with many defects. Una (Lieutenant CP Norman RN) left on 4th May carrying 40 passengers and when she arrived at Alexandria had been submerged on every day for the last three and a half months. P35, delayed by engine defects, sailed on the 10th May. Many of the base staff took passage in the submarines and only a care and maintenance party was left behind. The base was in ruins but Lieutenant Commander HAL Marsham RN was left in command to look after the store carrying submarines, and any others that should visit Malta for any purpose.

As soon as the submarines had gone, Captain Simpson and Commander MacGregor flew to Cairo in a Hudson aircraft of the RAF and went on to Medway in Alexandria. Captain Simpson's tenacity in holding on with the Tenth Flotilla in Malta was rightly viewed with admiration and his organisation in face of the vicious bombing was seen as exceptional. On 19th May he was gazetted a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services and at the end of June, Commander MacGregor and Lieutenant Commanders Marsham, Giddings and Tanner of the base and Tenth Flotilla staff were awarded the Order of the British Empire. With the value of hindsight, however, we may be permitted to wonder whether the Tenth Flotilla did not cling to its base at Malta for too long and whether this was not counter productive. Four submarines were lost as a result and three others so badly damaged that they had to return to the United Kingdom for repair.

The four that eventually retired to Alexandria were so in need of repair and maintenance that it was the best part of a month before they were operational again. There is little doubt that the Admiralty and A(S) were right in believing that the Tenth Flotilla should have left earlier. The fact that Lucia was not immediately available was not important. Medway had ample capacity to look after both the First and Tenth Flotilla submarines. The time to go was after the heavy air attack on the Lazaretto submarine base in mid February. The objection that this would bring all submarine operations to a halt in the central Mediterranean does not bear examination. Although the advantage of Malta's excellent geographical position would be lost, the U-class would still have been able to patrol from Alexandria in the southern Aegean, off the west coast of Greece and on the coast of Cyrenaica while the longer range boats of the First Flotilla could have taken over areas off Taranto, south of Messina and off the coasts of Sicily, Tunisia and Tripolitania. The Tyrrhenian Sea could have been left to any submarines available in the Eighth Flotilla at Gibraltar. In this way the submarine campaign against Rommel's supply routes across the Mediterranean could have been continuous and would not have suffered a complete break, as actually happened, during the summer. In war, however, matters are seldom as clear to the participants, who are denied the ability to see into the future, in the way that events are clear years later to historians.

Malta continued to receive stores by submarine while the operational boats were leaving. Clyde (Commander DC Ingram DSC RN) ran in stores to Malta in the middle of April from Gibraltar. She had had her foremost battery removed and by landing her reload torpedoes was able to carry 70 tons of ammunition as well as 88 tons of benzene and 30 tons of kerosene. With the lesson of Pandora recently learnt the hard way, Clyde and Porpoise (Commander EF Pizey DSO RN) too when she arrived on 26th, remained submerged on the bottom of the harbour all day and unloaded at night. When Clyde sailed next day she was loaded with copper ingots, no longer any use in Malta dockyard, and which came in handy as ballast. Before she got as far as Pantellaria, however, her after hydroplanes jammed and she had to return. They were lashed amidships and she set out to make the passage using her fore hydroplanes only. Her difficulties were still not at an end and she ran ashore when submerged off Sicily, but got off and reached Gibraltar after a very slow passage. Unbeaten at Gibraltar on her way home to refit was also sent back to Malta on a storing trip in the middle of April. Olympus (Lieutenant Commander HG Dymott RN) made another storing trip at the end of April arriving in Malta on 5th May. She sailed again on 8th with many passengers from the crews of P36 and P39 and had 11 officers and 87 men on board. She struck a mine six miles off St Elmo and sank. Twelve survivors swam ashore but her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Dymott and another nine officers amongst whom were Lieutenant N Marriott DSC RN, the captain of P39 and Lieutenant HN Edmonds DSC RN, captain of P36, and 75 men were drowned. The Greek Triton also arrived with 16 tons of stores and took the crew of Glaukos to Alexandria.

Una (Lieutenant CP Norman RN) was the last submarine to leave patrol when the Tenth Flotilla withdrew from Malta, but she saw no targets off Kuriat at all. At the end of the month there were only two submarines on patrol and these were from the First Flotilla. Proteus was off the west coast of Greece and Thorn in the Gulf of Sirte. There was also P42 from Gibraltar in the Gulf of Genoa. On 28th April, Proteus (Lieutenant Commander PS Francis RN) fired two torpedoes at a ship in ballast at 3-4000 yards but the submarine was swinging, lost trim and 'missed the DA' on a track of 135 degrees. She caught up the DA by 165 degrees but inevitably missed. On 2nd May, however, she attacked a convoy of two ships escorted by a destroyer and a trawler at a range of 2000 yards, firing five torpedoes and hitting Otto Leonhardt of 3682 tons with two of them. The ship, however, managed to beach herself and was subsequently salved. Thorn (Lieutenant Commander RG Norfolk RN) had a completely blank patrol and got back to Alexandria on 14th May. Torbay (Lieutenant Commander ACC Miers DSO* RN) sank an auxiliary minesweeper by gunfire on 9th April off Corfu and also a schooner, Gesu Crocifisso, of 137 tons. On 18th she fired two torpedoes at 5000 yards at Bellona of 1295 tons and hit with both of them, sinking her, which was remarkable shooting. She then left for Alexandria by Suda Bay. She pursued a convoy on 19th and on 21st sank a small tanker by gunfire firing two torpedoes at 800 yards during the battle and missing with both.

The dislodging of the Tenth Submarine Flotilla from Malta by the Luftwaffe's sustained bombing campaign and the minelaying by the E-boats and by aircraft, was a substantial victory for the Axis. With the surface and air striking forces already gone, the Italians were able to route their convoys evasively and to pass as close as fifty miles from the island. They seized the opportunity during April to run many more convoys and got across a record amount of supplies. These totalled 150,389 tons including 48,031 tons of fuel at a loss of less than one per cent. The result was that the Afrika Korps and the Italian Army on the Gazala line was well supplied and nearly ready to take the offensive while the Eighth Army saw no hope of being able to advance before June. Nevertheless the British submarines in April kept up their average rate of sinkings. During the month in 21 attacks firing 56 torpedoes they sank the cruiser Bande Nere and six ships of 19,585 tons although most of these were northbound and empty. Against this their losses were serious. Bombing in harbour had sunk four submarines, and two had struck mines off Valetta. Worst of all, however, was the loss of Upholder to a depth charge attack by the Italian torpedo boat Pegaso. Four of these losses were from the Tenth Flotilla, which was also reduced by the departure to refit of the damaged Sokol, Unique and Unbeaten. The Eighth Flotilla lost two boats and the Greeks one. The First Flotilla escaped casualties and was joined early in May by Taku from home waters. The new P42, as already mentioned, was intended for the Tenth Flotilla, but had been held at Gibraltar

DURING MAY the four surviving submarines of the battered Tenth Flotilla22 were licking their wounds in Alexandria and were unable to make any patrols at all. Medway was well able to cope with the Tenth Flotilla boats23 as with the departure of Torbay for home to refit, there were only six operational submarines left in the First Flotilla24. This was just as well as Lucia, earmarked in such a situation for the Tenth Flotilla, was still repairing bomb damage in Bombay. At the other end of the Mediterranean, reinforcements were beginning to arrive. In addition to P42, Traveller, P43, P44 and the first of the new 1940 S-class, P211, had joined the Clyde in the Eighth Flotilla at Gibraltar. Three of these were earmarked for the Tenth Flotilla but were held temporarily at Gibraltar25. The First Flotilla made all the submarine war patrols in the Mediterranean during May26. Proteus and Thorn completed their patrols in the Ionian Sea and in the Gulf of Sirte for which they had sailed in April: Thrasher left for the south Adriatic on 6th May and Turbulent for the Gulf of Sirte on 11th. Taku joined Turbulent later in May and the latter was relieved by Proteus.

On 10th May, the British learnt from their cryptographers that an important convoy was about to leave Taranto for Tripoli. Only Thrasher, who had left Alexandria for the Adriatic, was in a position to make contact and so four destroyers were sailed from Alexandria to intercept in the Ionian Sea. This movement ended in disaster. The destroyers could not be given fighter cover and had orders to turn back if they were sighted by enemy air reconnaissance. They were seen and at once turned for home, but Jackal, Kipling and Lively were all sunk by dive-bombers of Fliegerkorps X flying out of Crete, and only Jervis survived. The enemy convoy thereby escaped damage: it was not seen by Thrasher and arrived safely in North Africa.

Thrasher (Lieutenant HS Mackenzie RN) passed through the Straits of Otranto on the night of 15th/16th May and on 16th she fired three torpedoes at a large ship escorted by a destroyer. The range was 2500 yards; the enemy saw the tracks and the torpedoes were avoided.

On the night of 17th/18th she sighted a tanker but was first put down by the escort and then had insufficient speed to overtake and attack again. On 19th May off Monopoli, she fired three torpedoes at 900 yards in a day-submerged attack hitting and sinking Penelope of 1160 tons. Although recalled to base on 20th, Thrasher still had eleven torpedoes on board and decided to stay two more days. Although some targets were seen, none of them passed close enough to attack. Turbulent (Commander JW Linton DSC RN), on 14th off Ras el Hilal, sank two out of three schooners by gunfire but was then forced to dive by an aircraft. On arrival off Benghazi on 16th she found the air patrols troublesome. On 17th she sighted a convoy and after dark was able to surface and shadow it. In the early morning Turbulent had got into position and fired three torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards hitting Bolsena of 2385 tons with two of them and sinking her. Next day she was unable to find a convoy reported by the RAF and on 24th she was not fast enough to overhaul another. In a night attack on 26th she was forced to dive by the escort but on 29th May she sighted and shadowed another convoy. This consisted of two escorted merchant ships and she got into position before dawn and fired four torpedoes at a range of 1200 yards. One torpedo had a gyro failure and circled passing over Turbulent who had by now submerged. It continued erratically and eventually hit and sank the destroyer Pessagno. The rest of the salvo disposed of Capo Arma of 3172 tons. On her way home, Turbulent sighted U81 on the surface in daylight and fired a salvo of six torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards, which surprisingly missed. She got away another torpedo from almost right astern of the enemy, which had no better luck. Taku (Lieutenant Commander JG Hopkins RN), for her first Mediterranean patrol arrived in the Benghazi area on 26th May and patrolled for some days north of the port hoping to intercept a convoy which had been reported. She failed to find it but on 31st in an early morning submerged attack at long range (6000 yards) she fired three torpedoes at a large escorted merchant ship. She had intended to fire four torpedoes but one tube misfired. Although she claimed a hit at the time, this has not been confirmed by post war research. Proteus (Lieutenant Commander PS Francis RN) followed Taku two days behind for the Gulf of Sirte. On 30th she sighted and attacked the convoy for which Taku had been searching, firing three torpedoes at 2500 yards and sinking Bravo of 1571 tons. Next day she encountered a large single merchant ship carrying ammunition. It was a glassy calm and she fired two torpedoes at 1100 yards and they both hit, sinking Gino Allegro of 6835 tons. The same evening Taku, Proteus and Thorn were ordered to form a patrol line 150 miles north of Benghazi to intercept a southbound convoy. They were unsuccessful although Thorn sighted homing flares dropped by the RAF.

In April and May when Malta was neutralised and the British attack on the Axis routes to North Africa was at a low ebb, our cryptographers were doing well and there was plenty of intelligence. The problem was how to use it. During these two months we had information of all twenty-six Axis shipping movements to North Africa but air reconnaissance was only able to locate nine of them and there was too much risk of compromise to use signal intelligence directly without it. In fact only six sightings were in time to be of use to submarines. Air attacks by the RAF on shipping were difficult too and on 14th April a convoy was attacked eighty five miles south east of Malta but six aircraft were lost and no enemy ships were sunk. By the end of May the offensive against Axis shipping had practically collapsed and the Italian Navy was claiming victory.

The performance of the First Flotilla during May was, however, more than satisfactory. They succeeded in ten attacks in sinking the destroyer Pessagno and six ships of 18,700 tons as well as some schooners. They did this remarkably economically expending only thirty-three torpedoes. In the three attacks on convoys that missed, the reason in two and probably the third, was that the enemy sighted the torpedo tracks. This success by the First Flotilla during May occurred just after the departure of Captain SM Raw who was relieved in command of Medway and the First Flotilla after nearly two years during which time they had been based at Alexandria. Altogether forty-eight individual British and Allied submarines had come under his command and had operated in the Mediterranean26a. They had sunk a cruiser, five enemy destroyers, five U-boats and some seventy supply ships and had damaged another cruiser. In achieving these results, sixteen submarines had been lost. Captain Raw was to take up the appointment of Chief Staff Officer (Operations) to A(S) and had been appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year's Honours of 1942. He was relieved, as we have already noted, by Captain P Ruck Keene CBE RN, who had commanded the Third Submarine Flotilla in Home Waters in 1939-40 and had been Captain(S) First Submarine Flotilla when war broke out. He had come from the Western Approaches where he commanded the escorts based in Londonderry.

In spite of the efforts of the First Flotilla, however, the Italian Navy succeeded during May in landing a very large tonnage of supplies in North Africa totalling 86,439 tons including 18,581 tons of fuel with a loss of 7.2% on the way. On 26th May the Axis Army in Cyrenaica attacked with the object of capturing Tobruk and driving the British Eighth Army back to the Egyptian frontier. At first the attack was held and for nearly three weeks there was heavy fighting in the desert. At the time, the Royal Navy was busy with operations to relieve Malta. Convoys were to be run in from east and west simultaneously. More Spitfire fighters were to be flown in from the aircraft carrier Eagle and this was done on 3rd and again on 9th June. Practically all the British submarines in the Mediterranean were involved in these operations and attacks on traffic to Libya, although made whenever possible had become secondary.

The plan for the convoys to Malta from east and west during May was a major operation. The convoy from the west (code named 'Harpoon') consisting of six large merchant ships was to pass through the Straits of Gibraltar escorted by cruisers and destroyers, mostly from the Home Fleet. Its passage was to be covered by Force H, which consisted of the battleship Malaya, and the elderly aircraft carriers Eagle and Argus with 22 fighters and a striking force of 18 torpedo bombers. On arrival at the Sicilian narrows, the main units would turn back, and the convoy would be taken on by an anti-aircraft cruiser and destroyers that were under shore fighter protection from Malta. The convoy from the east (code named 'Vigorous') of eleven merchant ships would be escorted by destroyers and covered by Admiral Vian's light cruisers reinforced by two six inch gun cruisers from the Eastern Fleet. It would start with shore fighter protection from Egypt, and end with similar protection from Malta, but there would be a gap in the middle in which the ships would have to fend for themselves. Commandos were, however, landed to attack the airfield at Maleme by the Greek submarines Triton and Papanicolis. There was therefore only one capital ship on the British side whereas the Italians certainly had four and possibly five. This imbalance was to be redressed by the use of every available submarine to cover the two convoys and also by the use of air striking forces of shore based torpedo bombers in Malta and North Africa.The four submarines at Gibraltar were disposed in a line between Sardinia and Sicily to give warning of the approach of surface forces from Naples or which might come north through the Straits of Messina from Taranto or eastern Sicilian ports. These four boats, P211, P42, P43 and P44 were all brand new and three out of the four were on their first patrol. From Alexandria, nine submarines were available and they were to be used in a new way. Instead of being placed south of Messina and off Taranto as in former operations of this type, they were disposed in two patrol lines in the southern Ionian Sea just north of the convoy route. They would be moved as necessary to keep them in the best place to intercept the enemy. The reasons for this change seem to have been partly to avoid exposing submarines to the strong anti-submarine defences close to the enemy bases and partly because it was desired to use the submarines for attack rather than for reconnaissance. The enemy fleet generally left harbour after dark and the radar fitted reconnaissance aircraft now available were more likely to spot them than the submarines. The four boats of the Tenth Flotilla, Una, P31, P34 and P35, left Alexandria on 6th June to form the western patrol line and three submarines of the First Flotilla already on patrol, Proteus, Taku and Thorn, were joined by Porpoise and Thrasher to form the eastern patrol line29. It is not intended to follow the fortunes of these two convoys in detail except to say that both were heavily attacked from the air.

The attempts by the Italian Fleet to intercept are relevant to our subject, however, and will be described in more detail. It was not realised at the time, that the Italians were desperately short of fuel and they had practically run out except for what was actually on board the ships. They were reluctant therefore to commit more forces than were absolutely necessary. They intended to use two groups.

The first was the VII Cruiser Division (Savoia, Montecuccoli and three destroyers) which was at Cagliari and with which they hoped to intercept the fast minelayer Welshman which had been sent ahead independently with anti-aircraft ammunition to Malta. Italian air reconnaissance failed to spot Welshman, and it was decided to move the VII Cruiser Division to Palermo to be ready to attack the convoy in the Sicilian narrows after Force H had turned back. The Italian force was sighted and reported both by P211 (Commander B Bryant DSC RN) and P43 (Lieutenant AC Halliday RN). P43 got away a long range (7000 yard) salvo of four torpedoes without success, but P211 was too far off to fire at all. Subsequently when the Italian cruiser force left Palermo to attack the convoy, it passed inside Marittimo Island and the Italian minefields and was not within visibility range of P42 (Lieutenant ACG Mars RN) who was patrolling outside. P42, however, heard the enemy on her asdic set. In the action south of Pantellaria, Cairo and her destroyers brilliantly defended the convoy but three ships were sunk by air attack, and in the end only two ships got to Malta. The mastheads of the Italian cruisers were sighted by P42 as they withdrew northwards. In the eastern basin, the Italian battleships Littorio and Vittorio Veneto with four cruisers and twelve destroyers left Taranto on the afternoon of 14th June. They were sighted by air reconnaissance and attacked three times by Wellington and Beaufort torpedo bombers. The RAF hit and stopped the eight-inch gun cruiser Trento just before she passed right through the Tenth Flotilla's patrol line. Various units were sighted by P31 (Lieutenant JBdeB Kershaw RN), P34 (Lieutenant JS Wraith DSO DSC RN) and P35 (Lieutenant SLC Maydon RN). P34 saw the battleships but they passed too far away for an attack. P35 also sighted the battleships and was just getting into position to torpedo them when they made a violent alteration of course to evade an attack by RAF Beauforts. P35 did succeed in getting away a full salvo of four torpedoes at the battleships a short time later but only from broad on the quarter at some 5000 yards and they missed. This was a great disappointment as in her original position she would almost certainly have secured a hit. This act of mutual interference ought to have been avoided. All the forces involved, surface ships, submarines and the RAF were being controlled from a combined operations room at Alexandria. The official naval historian says that this was to conduct the intricate movements in intimate collaboration. Both Captains Ruck Keene and Simpson were in the operations room throughout. There was plenty to keep them busy but in co-ordinating the attacks of the torpedo bombers and the submarines they failed badly. It is true that the problem was not easy. The torpedo bombers wished to attack at dawn and by the time the position of the enemy had been predicted, it was too late to move the submarines30.It was, however, redressed by co-operation between submarines and the Beauforts shortly afterwards. Three submarines, P34, P35 and P31 closed in on the disabled Trento and it was P35 who got there first. She fired two torpedoes at 4000 yards and hit with both and sank her. The Italian battlefleet then turned east and passed south of the First Flotilla's patrol line. By this time the convoy had turned back to Alexandria and the Italian Fleet was recalled to wait for another chance should it occur. When it turned to the northwestwards it passed just east of the First Flotilla and was not seen by any of our submarines again. An RAF torpedo did however hit Littorio on her way to Taranto30.

The use of submarines in patrol lines close to the convoy route and at the same time as striking forces of torpedo bombers probably saved the convoy from destruction, but they did not get it through. Of the seventeen ships that set out for Malta in the convoys from east and west, two arrived, six were sunk by air attack and nine turned back. Only 15,000 tons of supplies were delivered extending food supplies for two months and this was supplemented by a storing trip by Clyde (Lieutenant RS Brookes DSC RN) from Gibraltar and Porpoise (Lieutenant LWA Bennington DSC RN) from Alexandria during the month. Of great importance was the fact that four modern minesweepers arrived at Malta with the convoy. The submarines of the three patrol lines were then dispersed, the four submarines in the western Mediterranean returning to Gibraltar and the four boats of the Tenth Flotilla in the Ionian Sea making their way back to Alexandria. Only Thorn and Thrasher had sufficient endurance to stay on patrol. Thorn (Lieutenant Commander RG Norfolk DSO RN) patrolled off Corfu and Argostoli without success until 21st June when she returned to Alexandria. Thrasher (Lieutenant HS Mackenzie RN) returned to the Tripoli-Benghazi route, on information obtained from signal intelligence, and on arrival on 22nd June she fired two torpedoes at a small merchant ship at a range of 800 yards but on a very broad track and missed. She was able, however, to surface as soon as it was dark and gave chase. She was forced to dive several times by aircraft but early next morning got into position and fired three torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards sinking San Antonio of 1480 tons. On 26th she moved to Appollonia where on 29th she narrowly escaped destruction from an aircraft that glided down moon with her engine shut off. Turbulent (Commander JW Linton DSC RN) had left Alexandria on 17th June and was now also in the Gulf of Sirte. On 22nd she missed a small escorted steamer with two torpedoes at a range of 1300 yards probably because she over-estimated its speed. Two days later, using signal intelligence, she intercepted and sank Regulus of 1085 tons with two torpedoes fired at 3000 yards. She had intended to fire three torpedoes but the submarine yawed and prevented the third from being properly aimed. On 24th June two of the U-class submarines on their way back to base encountered and attacked U-boats. P34 (Lieutenant JS Wraith DSO DSC RN) in the eastern Mediterranean fired four torpedoes on a late track and at 7000 yards and missed. P43 (Lieutenant AC Halliday RN) in the western basin fired a full salvo at a U-boat too, but the tracks were probably seen and the torpedoes avoided. P211 (Commander B Bryant DSC RN) also sighted a U-boat on her way back to Gibraltar. The U-boat was eastbound on the surface in full daylight and P211 attempted to overtake her also on the surface and gain a firing position. The U-boat, however, sighted her and dived.

While the 'Harpoon' and 'Vigorous' convoy operations were in progress, the Eighth Army in the desert suffered a severe reverse when making a counter attack and lost a large number of tanks. It was soon in full retreat towards the Egyptian frontier and on 21st June, Tobruk, which had been cut off behind the enemy lines, was attacked by Rommel and taken with the loss of a whole division of troops. The enemy wished to use Tobruk as a forward supply base as soon as possible and sent over 200 experts and technicians in the despatch vessel Diana of 1570 tons to open it up. The cryptographers revealed all to us, and Diana was intercepted by Thrasher, ordered to the spot from off Benghazi. She fired a full salvo of six torpedoes at her, hitting with four of them at a range of 700 yards, which sank her and drowned half of the experts. The British Army ashore, however, was forced back beyond the frontier and by the last days of June, the line was well to the east of Mersa Matruh. Plans had already been made to evacuate the fleet from Alexandria and on 29th Medway with the Greek depot ship Corinthia were sailed for Haifa. A strong escort of the light cruiser Dido and seven destroyers was provided but the asdic conditions were poor and early next day, U372 penetrated the screen and hit Medway with three torpedoes. All power was lost and she sank in seventeen minutes but fortunately only thirty out of a complement of 1135 officers and men were drowned. She took down with her a mass of submarine spare gear and stores and had 90 reserve torpedoes as deck cargo on board31.Forty-seven of these, however, floated clear and were picked up by the escort. The loss of Medway was a major disaster for our submarines in the Mediterranean. Captain Simpson witnessed her loss from the destroyer Sikh in which he was taking passage. Medway's ship's company lost no time in setting up a submarine base ashore at Haifa, which was at once named Medway II. The Tenth Flotilla submarines were sent to Port Said where a dock was available for their use.

As is clear from the events of June, the British submarines were mainly employed in operations designed to get supplies to Malta rather than to attack the enemy traffic to North Africa. Altogether they made eleven torpedo attacks over half of which were on enemy warships. Of the twenty-five torpedoes fired at these targets, ten were against large warships and fifteen against U-boats. The only success was the sinking of Trento by P35, a success that was shared with the RAF. Of the five attacks on supply ships firing fifteen torpedoes, three were successful sinking three ships of 4175 tons. The enemy, however, were not doing very well. The departure of Fliegerkorps II for Russia in May, meant that air attacks on their convoys increased and it is at this time that the Italian Official Naval Historian identifies the start of what he calls 'The Second battle of the Convoys'32. Although British aircraft during June only sank three ships of 16,701 tons, only 34,759 tons of supplies and 6760 tons of fuel left Italy and 23% and 17% respectively were lost on the way. The effect, however, was not immediate, as large stockpiles had been accumulated in North Africa in the preceding months.

THE PERIOD COVERED BY THIS CHAPTER is an interesting one for maritime strategists. The sinking or disablement of the whole British Mediterranean battle squadron, and the decimation of Forces B and K, meant that the Italian surface fleet was now vastly superior in capital ships. The building up of an Eastern Fleet against the Japanese meant that no replacements could be provided. This indeed led to the loss of the command of the sea in the central Mediterranean and only two merchant ships got through to supply Malta. It also meant that surface operations against Rommel's supply line across the Mediterranean came to a standstill. The loss of Ark Royal and the needs of the Far East meant that the only aircraft carriers available had to be used for ferrying fighters to Malta, and aircraft of all types to Takoradi for onward transit to the Middle East. What was left of the Mediterranean Fleet was mainly occupied in supplying the garrison of Tobruk. The arrival of Fliegerkorps II in the Mediterranean drove the strike aircraft out of Malta and made any operations by Force K impossible. The only attack on the supply lines that continued throughout the period was by submarines. They exacted a steady toll month after month but it was not enough. The Axis were able steadily to build up supplies, which enabled them to take the offensive and recapture most of Cyrenaica. Submarine casualties were heavy, nine boats being lost. Six of these were sunk in Malta or its vicinity by bomb or mine, and the three lost on operations against the enemy supply routes were all sunk by escorts using the recently fitted German echo detection apparatus. In addition three submarines were so badly damaged that they had to be sent home to the United Kingdom for repair, and the four survivors of the Tenth Flotilla that got away to Alexandria were in a poor state and their crews were exhausted. The submarine base they left behind was in ruins. The submarines therefore in the end were also, by mine as well as by bombing, driven out of Malta. The submarines, however, although they lost the geographical advantage of Malta, were still able to operate and, as has been discussed earlier, could probably have done so more effectively with smaller losses, had they left earlier32a.

In this period, submarines sank thirty-eight ships of 104,040 tons while aircraft disposed of six ships of 33,917 tons, some by bombing in harbour and surface ships only sank two small vessels of 810 tons33.That greater disasters did not befall the British was mainly due to the severe fuel shortage that kept the Italian Fleet in harbour, but also because they declined to fight at night without radar. Their operations were also restricted by a decision to keep within fighter cover from the shore, which was seldom forthcoming. On the other side the coin was the priceless advantage that the British had with their cryptography, which gave them the Italian convoy movements in advance.

The loss of Medway was the final blow to the submarine campaign. Not only were the complete base facilities for both the First and Tenth Flotillas removed at a stroke but also the temporary bases set up at Haifa and Port Said added two extra days passage time for every patrol for the First Flotilla and four extra days for the Tenth Flotilla. Effectively now, most submarine operational areas were some 900 miles away from their bases in the extreme eastern and western ends of the Mediterranean.

As we have already seen, there were three more Victoria Crosses conferred during the first half of 1942 in the Mediterranean. They went to Lieutenant Commander Miers of Torbay for his exploit in penetrating into Corfu and sinking a supply ship and to Lieutenant Roberts and Petty Officer Gould of Thrasher for removing an unexploded bomb from the submarine's casing. We have also noted the award to the two Flotilla Commanders, Captains Raw and Simpson, of the CBE. In addition, no less than nine submarine Commanding Officers received the Distinguished Service Order, three others were awarded a bar and two a second bar to the same order. The bar with a second bar to the DSO went to Lieutenant Commanders Wanklyn of Upholder and Woodward of Unbeaten. Lieutenant Commander Crouch of Thunderbolt also received a bar to his DSO which he had been awarded before he arrived in the Mediterranean. Distinguished Service Orders were awarded to Commander Linton of Turbulent and to Lieutenant Commanders Francis of Proteus and Norfolk of Thorn and also to Kapitan Karnicki of Sokol and Antipliarkhos Laskos of Katsonis. Lieutenants Mackenzie of Thrasher, Harrison of P34, Maydon of P35 and Kershaw of P31 also won it. All of these decorations were given for good work in Mediterranean patrols and attacks on convoys but included the sinking of six German and Italian U-boats and the destroyer Pessagno as well as the destruction of the cruiser Trento already seriously damaged by the RAF.

Finally Lieutenant Commander Tomkinson, who had been lost in Urge before any award came through for sinking Bande Nere, was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches34. Commander Ingram of Clyde was also Mentioned in Despatches for his store carrying activities to Malta.

The Royal Navy Submarine Museum Website