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

 

 

     
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CHAPTER XV

The Second Battle of the Convoys in the Mediterranean: July - October 1942

References
Patrolgram 14 War Patrols in the Mediterranean July - Oct 42
Map 34 The Mediterranean Jul - Oct 42

JULY SAW THE NADIR of the British submarine campaign in the Mediterranean when it came practically to a standstill. The cause was not a shortage of submarines but of their base facilities. The building up of a shore base at Haifa was being pursued with vigour but was not yet working at full efficiency1. It was anyway another two hundred and fifty miles from the area of operations. The new depot ship Adamant had arrived at Kilindini in East Africa, but had been requisitioned to maintain the fleet there. It is surprising that the Admiralty permitted such a diversion of her services when she was badly needed in the Mediterranean. Lucia had been repaired from the bomb damage sustained in April, but was now the depot ship for the Eastern Fleet submarines at Colombo. Maidstone at Gibraltar provided the only fully efficient submarine base in the Mediterranean. Here the Eighth Flotilla consisted of four boats. Clyde had been joined by Parthian back from refit in the United States, and P211 and P222, the first two of the new 1940 S-class. At the same time four of the new U-class destined for the Tenth Flotilla (P42, P43, P44 and P46) were temporarily based there, together with Utmost, who had returned from refit in the United Kingdom while P37, experienced in operations in Home waters, was on passage to Gibraltar. The First Flotilla at Haifa had five T-class (Turbulent, Taku, Thorn, Traveller and Thrasher) as well as Proteus and Porpoise and the non-operational Otus and Osiris. Four of the Tenth Flotilla (Una, P31, P34 and P35) were at Haifa or Port Said, and the Greeks had three of their submarines (Katsonis, Triton and Papanicolis) operational with the Nereus under repair. The total number of Allied submarines in the Mediterranean, therefore, stood at twenty-seven but nine were either non-operational, used for store carrying to Malta, under repair or awaiting a working up patrol.

On 1st July there were only three submarines actually at sea. Thrasher, as we have seen was on her way back to Alexandria, Turbulent was in the Gulf of Sirte, and Taku had just left to patrol off Derna and Appollonia. P46, P222 and Utmost left Gibraltar in the first few days of the month to carry out anti U-boat working up patrols off Alboran Island, Mellila and Cape de Gata respectively. When returning to base, Thrasher (Lieutenant HS Mackenzie DSO RN) fired three torpedoes at a German U-boat at a range of 3000 yards but missed and she was then attacked by one of our own aircraft and damaged, putting her out of action for a month. She arrived at Haifa on 6th July. On 4th July, Turbulent (Commander JW Linton DSC RN) attempted to attack a convoy of three ships but was prevented from doing so by the air and surface escort and was heavily bombed and depth charged for her trouble. On 14th, on her way back to base, she glimpsed a U-boat but she also did not get in a shot.

On 3rd July the Eighth Army managed to stop the enemy advance at El Alamein. The Axis forces were now very short of supplies but the problem was to get them from Tripoli, where there were plenty, to the front. Even Tobruk was now five hundred miles from the leading troops and coastal traffic eastwards became important to the Afrika Korps. That is why Taku had been sent there to try to interfere with it. She encountered very bad weather, however, and sighted nothing. The enemy survived mainly by using air transport planes to fly in supplies from Maleme airfield in Crete to Derna. In the middle part of July also, nine Italian submarines made fifteen transport trips across to North Africa. The only other British submarine to leave for patrol at this time was P211 (Commander B Bryant DSC RN) from Gibraltar, and she sailed on 4th July for the east coast of Sardinia. She first patrolled in the Gulf of Orosei and on 12th surfaced and engaged Adda of 792 tons by gunfire. She hit with nineteen rounds out of twenty at a range of 3000 yards, and stopped her and then sank her with a single torpedo picking up four survivors. This was the only sinking by any of our submarines in the Mediterranean during July. Three days later, just after sunset, she engaged a small steamer by gunfire at a range of 4000 yards. Her target stopped after eighteen hits, but then got under way again and took refuge in Gonome Harbour in the Gulf of Orosei, and beached herself under cover of shore batteries. A torpedo fired after dark at a light on the pier exploded but actually achieved nothing.

Malta, although still very short of supplies, was by now recovering fast. The Spitfires were re-establishing air superiority. During the month supplies were run in by Clyde (Lieutenant RS Brookes DSC RN) from Gibraltar, who took in 194 tons of stores including 88 tons of aviation fuel, and returned with 26 tons of lead and 49 passengers. Parthian (Lieutenant Commander DSt Clair Ford RN) also from Gibraltar took in 36 tons of aviation fuel and 47 tons of ammunition, but had to stay in Malta for a fortnight making good defects and was subjected to no less than seventy air raid alerts. She eventually returned with 44 passengers in August. Stores were also run in again from the east by Porpoise (Lieutenant LWA Bennington DSC RN). The care and maintenance party at the submarine base were working hard to rehabilitate it. Torpedoes and spare gear were being salved from the sunken submarines as well as being delivered by the submarines running storing trips. The Luftwaffe tried hard to neutralise Malta again in the first half of July dropping over 700 tons of bombs, but the fighters were kept up to strength by two ferrying trips from Gibraltar by Eagle. In the middle of the month Allied aircraft took the offensive and the Italian cruisers in Cagliari were heavily bombed and forced to retire to Naples. The battleships Doria and Duilio were also driven out of Messina to Taranto. By the middle of July the situation had improved sufficiently for Admiral Leatham to signal that it was safe for the Tenth Flotilla to return to Malta, and this was approved by C-in-C. The submarine base on Manoel Island had been restored to working order, and the buildings had been repaired to a certain extent and provided with tarpaulins to replace the roofs. However, conditions, although tolerable, were rugged. Food was very short, the sandflies that lived in the tunnels were irritating and there was an epidemic of scabies. On his arrival Captain Simpson found that he had a new assistant, Commander CH Hutchinson DSO RN, who had been appointed Commander(S). Most important, as already noted, had been the arrival of the minesweepers with the 'Harpoon Convoy', which had allowed the approaches to be swept by the middle of July. Captain Simpson had just been sent to Famagusta in Cyprus to see if it could be used as a base when he heard the good news.

P42 and P44 arrived in Malta from Gibraltar on 20th and 21st, and Captain(S) Ten and his staff by air from Cairo on 22nd. P31 and P34 arrived from Haifa on 30th July, and Una two days later. Una had patrolled off Crete on the way back without success. P43 and P35, from opposite ends of the Mediterranean, did not get in to Malta until early August. Three more U-class were still in the Gibraltar area working up at the end of July.

By now, in the eastern Mediterranean, it had been decided that it would be better to use the custom built French submarine base ashore at Beirut in the Lebanon, rather than to construct a new one at Haifa. Arrangements were being made to transfer the First Flotilla there as soon as possible. While the Tenth Flotilla was re-establishing itself in Malta, the First Flotilla at Haifa was doing its best in patrols against the enemy. Traveller (Lieutenant MB St John RN) sailed from Haifa for the Adriatic on 19th July. She went by the Kaso Strait, north of Crete to the Straits of Otranto. Here on 28th she fired four torpedoes at a range of 4500 yards at an unescorted merchant ship but missed. By 30th she had reached the northern end of the Adriatic, and next day off Pola encountered the ex Yugoslav cruiser Dalmicija, now in Italian hands and renamed Cattaro. She fired a salvo of six torpedoes at a range of 4000 yards, but one of them had a gyro failure and the others either failed to run correctly or missed. On 21st July, Thorn (Lieutenant Commander RG Norfolk DSO RN) left Haifa to patrol off Tobruk and attack the Axis coastal traffic supplying their army at El Alamein. She had orders to move to Cape Matapan at the end of the month but, as there were plenty of targets, requested permission to remain off Tobruk and this was granted. The Greek submarine Nereus left Haifa on 9th July and sank three sailing vessels off Scarpanto, and missed a large supply ship with torpedoes, returning by 28th. Papanicolis left Haifa on 25th to pick up 22 soldiers from Crete, which she did successfully. Proteus (Lieutenant RL Alexander RN) also sailed for the Aegean on 27th and, after landing agents and supplies, patrolled in the Gulf of Nauplia.

At the other end of the Mediterranean, P222 (Lieutenant Commander AJ Mackenzie RN) left Gibraltar on 15th July to relieve P211 off Sardinia. She was diverted, however, to intercept a French ship suspected of carrying cobalt in the Cape Palos area. The ship, Mitidja, was successfully brought to, but after a series of contradictory signals from the Flag Officer North Atlantic at Gibraltar and the Admiralty, followed by the intervention of French warships and aircraft, she had to let the ship go, subsequently returning to Gibraltar. These few patrols in the Mediterranean led to the firing of only 15 torpedoes in five attacks during July, sinking one small ship of 790 tons. Fortunately the RAF was getting into its stride again and sank four ships of 10,919 tons, and surface ships from Alexandria sank two more totalling 3,877 tons. This, however, only amounted to 6% of the cargoes that left Italy, and the enemy landed 67,590 tons of general military cargo and 23,901 tons of fuel during July. This was considered by the Italian Navy as a 'come back'; they claimed that the quantity landed was ample for the army's needs. The difficulty was still to get it forward to the front across the desert by land transport. General Rommel reported at this time that, although he had enough supplies to hold on at El Alamein, they were not sufficient for him to continue the offensive.

ON 1ST AUGUST THERE WERE five submarines on patrol. Proteus had just arrived in the southern Aegean, Taku had just left for the Libyan coast, Thorn was off Tobruk, Traveller was still in the Adriatic and the Greek Papanicolis was off the coast of Crete. Three other submarines were at sea; P42 had just left Malta for the Tyrrhenian Sea, Clyde was running stores to Malta from Gibraltar and Otus was in the eastern Mediterranean on passage home. On 1st P44 (now Lieutenant TE Barlow RN) sailed from Malta to patrol in the Linosa area. On 2nd in a night attack on a small supply ship she fired four torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards. She could have closed the range more, but decided to fire early as the moon was just rising and she was afraid of being seen. The attack, however, was from the quarter and she missed2. The next night she encountered a large supply ship escorted by a torpedo boat and fired another four torpedoes at a range of 2500 yards. The torpedoes were seen to run straight but there were no hits. With all torpedoes expended, P44 then returned to Malta. On the same day, Thorn (Lieutenant Commander RG Norfolk DSO RN) off Tobruk, as a result of signal intelligence, torpedoed and sank Monviso of 5320 tons that had been damaged by air attack3. On 6th August, Thorn had orders to proceed to an area off Cape Matapan but on the way, when about thirty miles southwest of Gavdhos Island, she met the Italian destroyer Papa during the night. She was sighted, depth charged and sunk and there were no survivors. She was lost with her Commanding Officer, four other officers and 54 men of her ship's company, amongst whom were four holders of the DSM and four who had been Mentioned in Despatches4.On the 6th too, P42 (Lieutenant ACG Mars RN), who had left Malta on 30th July, attacked Argentina of 5085 tons off Capri with three torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards and missed. On 8th she attacked Algerino of 1370 tons at 1000 yards, but only used a single torpedo, as she was required to keep a full salvo for heavy ships, and missed again. Meanwhile Traveller off Split in the Adriatic missed a merchant ship on 3rd with two torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards. On 5th in the northern Adriatic she encountered a U-boat and fired two torpedoes at 2300 yards but without success. She then surfaced and engaged with her gun, but the enemy dived and escaped. Traveller then started home and on 7th sighted another U-boat in the Straits of Otranto. She fired her last three torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards, but two of them failed to run so the attack failed also. During this patrol, Traveller fired a total of seventeen torpedoes, five of which failed to run correctly, and this illustrates the difficulties that submarines suffered at this time because of the lack of reliable base facilities.

Proteus (Lieutenant RL Alexander RN) in the southern Aegean sank two caiques carrying troops and fuel by gunfire on 4th August, sank another on 6th, and a schooner next day. On 7th, guided by information from the cryptographers, she fired four torpedoes at a range of 3300 yards off Milo at a large escorted merchant vessel, obtaining two hits and sinking her. This was the German Wachtfels of 8465 tons. The same day she missed a large escorted tanker with four torpedoes at a range of 5000 yards. Before leaving patrol next day, she sank yet another small caique. Porpoise (Lieutenant LWA Bennington DSC RN), after a long period of store carrying to Malta, embarked a full load of mines and left Haifa on 5th August. After patrolling off Ras el Tin, she laid her mines off Sollum to catch the enemy coastal traffic supplying their army at El Alamein. She was just too late to lay them in the grain of an advancing convoy. Almost as soon as she had laid her mines, which she did on the surface at night, she sighted a supply ship escorted by a destroyer. This ship had been expected because of good signal intelligence. She first fired a single torpedo at a range of 3000 yards that missed from almost right astern. Twenty minutes later, after overtaking the enemy, she fired another two torpedoes at a range of 600 yards hitting and stopping Ogaden of 4555 tons. Porpoise then dived and the destroyer made an inaccurate counter attack of eight depth charges.

The destroyer then stopped to stand by the torpedoed ship and Porpoise fired a torpedo at her, but it ran under, and then another at Ogaden which hit and sank her. She was then able to surface and reload her torpedo tubes and set off at speed to overtake the convoy that had escaped the minefield. Although she sighted it, she was bombed by an aircraft and forced to remain submerged and the convoy escaped.

The situation in Malta after the failure of the 'Harpoon' and 'Vigorous' convoys in June, demanded that another attempt should be made to re-supply the island in August. Civilian rations were already well below the level in the United Kingdom and the food stocks would only last until the middle of the month. The running in of supplies by submarine and the fast minelayer Welshman had helped but it was essential to send another convoy without delay. With the enemy holding the airfields in Crete and Cyrenaica, it was considered that this convoy must approach from the west. A dummy convoy to confuse the enemy would leave from the east, but would return to harbour almost at once. The plan for Operation 'Pedestal', as it was called, was for fourteen large and fast merchant ships to sail direct from the United Kingdom without stopping at Gibraltar. The battleships Nelson and Rodney would escort them from the Home Fleet, and the aircraft carriers Indomitable, Victorious and Eagle, which would provide protection with a total of 72 fighters. They would also carry a striking force of 28 torpedo planes. Nine submarines would be positioned to help the 'Pedestal' convoy, and five already on their normal patrols in the eastern basin might get a chance to attack if the enemy sortied to oppose the dummy convoy. Two submarines were to be north of Sicily; P211 off Palermo and P42 off Milazzo, and Una was to land a detachment of commandos to attack the airfield at Catania. The remaining six submarines, P222, P46 and Utmost from Gibraltar with P31, P34 and P44 from Malta were to form a patrol line south of Pantellaria in the area where the Italian cruiser force had attacked the 'Harpoon' convoy in June. In the eastern Mediterranean, Proteus was making for her new base at Beirut, P35 was on passage from Haifa to Malta, Turbulent was off Navarino, Taku and Porpoise were off Cyrenaica, while Traveller, having expended all her torpedoes, was returning to base.

The 'Pedestal' convoy passed through the Straits of Gibraltar on 10th August. The Italians were desperately short of fuel themselves, and were already having to remove it from their battleships to supply their escort forces. They planned to oppose the convoy with 784 aircraft (90 torpedo, 447 bombers and 247 fighters) mostly based in Sardinia and Sicily, and with twenty-one U-boats in the western basin. Eighteen motor torpedo boats would attack in the Sicilian narrows and a new minefield was laid off Cape Bon. They had sufficient fuel for two divisions of cruisers with destroyers to try and finish off what remained of the convoy south of Pantellaria. There is no space in this account to follow the details of the passage of the 'Pedestal' convoy but suffice it to say that German and Italian U-Boats sank the aircraft carrier Eagle and the anti-aircraft cruiser Cairo, and damaged the cruisers Nigeria and Kenya and the tanker Ohio. Motor torpedo boats sank the cruiser Manchester, four ships of the convoy and damaged another. Air attack, although successfully held off by the Fleet Air Arm fighters in the early stages, sank the destroyer Foresight and five merchant ships, and damaged the aircraft carrier Indomitable and two other merchant ships. In the end five ships got to Malta including Ohio, but three of them were damaged.

It now remains to study in more detail the part played by the British submarines during Operation 'Pedestal'. On her way to take up her position, P211 (Commander B Bryant DSC RN) sighted U205 fifty miles north of Algiers on the surface but was unable to get into a position to attack. Utmost (Lieutenant AW Langridge RN) on 10th August off Marittimo fired three torpedoes at a large merchant ship with an air escort but the range was 4500 yards and, although she claimed a hit at the time, subsequent analysis indicates that she missed. Also on 10th, P46 (Lieutenant JS Stevens DSC RN), in a waiting position off Marittimo, fired three torpedoes at a range of 2500 yards at a merchant ship, but she was put off by a flying boat and one torpedo had a gyro failure and the others failed to hit. The operations of P42 off Naples have already been noted, and on her way south when north of Longbardi in the Gulf of Eufemia, she opened fire at night at a range of 900 yards on a southbound goods train with her 3" gun5. The train was burning a headlight and was cut in half, destroying the engine, setting trucks alight and bringing down a considerable section of the overhead power line, all for the expenditure of ten rounds of ammunition. On 10th August, P42 was subjected to antisubmarine attacks by a tug and a small minelayer in which 53 depth charges were dropped. Offshore hydrophones or some other shore based detecting devices were suspected. It may seem odd that these submarines revealed their presence just before taking up positions for an important operation against the Italian Fleet, but the deterrent effect of their presence was believed to be important. Una (Lieutenant CP Norman RN) landed her commandos on the night of 11th/12th August, and their aim was to do as much damage to aircraft operating from Catania as possible so that they would not be able to attack the 'Pedestal' convoy. Nine commandos of the Special Boat Section under the command of Captain Duncan of the Royal Artillery were involved, and they were to land in a number of folbots. Two folbots, however, were damaged when embarking and only six men got ashore. They found the airfield floodlit and heavily guarded by German troops. All they could do was to blow up an electricity pylon supplying the airfield and withdraw. They managed to re-embark in their folbots but missed Una in the bad weather. They were rescued by an Italian fishing boat but were made prisoners of war.

When the convoy was approaching Cape Bon, air reconnaissance reported the III and VII Italian Cruiser Divisions, accompanied by eleven destroyers, in a position 60 miles north of Trapani steaming fast towards the western end of Sicily to attack the convoy just where the six British submarines were waiting in ambush. During the night, however, the Italian high command decided it could not provide fighter protection for them south of Pantellaria and ordered them instead to transit the Straits of Messina and to attack the dummy convoy in the Ionian Sea. Two destroyers were sighted out of range by P211 in the middle of the night when 15 miles north of Trapani, and next morning the force was intercepted by P42 west of the Lipari Islands6. She first heard the enemy force on her asdic and shortly afterwards sighted them approaching at high speed. She just had time to turn on to a firing course during which manoeuvre a destroyer of the screen passed over her fore casing. P42 then fired a full salvo of four torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards and in spite of the enemy's high speed of 25 knots, succeeded in hitting both Bolzano and Attendolo. She was then subjected to a heavy counter attack lasting eight hours and totalling 105 depth charges, fortunately without damage. Attendolo had her bows blown off but succeeded in getting in to Messina. Bolzano was seriously damaged, and had to be beached and was still under repair at La Spezia a year later. The patrol line of six boats south of Pantellaria, of course, saw nothing6a and the submarines in the eastern basin also drew blank as no Italian surface forces had enough fuel to put to sea in that area, and the surviving cruisers attacked by P42 did not emerge from the Straits of Messina.

After the completion of operation 'Pedestal', the submarines involved in it were dispersed. Una, P42, P34, P46 and Utmost returned to Malta. P31, P211 and P222 returned to Gibraltar, P211 patrolling off Sardinia on the way and P31 proceeding to the United Kingdom to refit. P44 went to patrol off Kuriat on the coast of Tunisia. On 16th, P211 damaged the sloop Giovannino of 158 tons by gunfire, and next day sank the schooner Ausonia of 220 tons by the same means. She was carrying ammunition and blew up after the fourth hit. On 18th while attacking the tanker Perseo of 4857 tons off Cagliari, a U-boat was also sighted. P211 fired three torpedoes at 750 yards at Perseo, stopping her with two hits and then, although harassed by patrols, she fired a final torpedo which sank her. On the same day when submerged south of Cagliari, she sighted the Italian U-boat Bronzo and fired a full salvo of six torpedoes at her at a range of 3500 yards. A tube failure caused her to break surface on firing, one of the torpedoes exploded prematurely and the enemy turned away. Nevertheless two torpedoes hit her but did not explode and she survived7.During the night of 17th/18th August, P44 received by signal intelligence a report of a ship damaged by the RAF south of Pantellaria. She closed the position and sighted the target, and then fired a single torpedo at fairly close range in a surface attack. The torpedo hit and Rosolino Pilo of 8325 tons blew up with a violent explosion. P44 was hit by a large piece of steel partly wrecking the bridge and steering gear and damaging her pressure hull. She had to return to Malta for repairs. Torpedo aircraft from Malta completed Rosolino Pilo's destruction.

The submarines that had not taken part in 'Pedestal' were used to continue attacks on enemy shipping. On 13th, Taku (Lieutenant Commander JG Hopkins RN) off Benghazi, who had been operating in a flat calm sea, attacked a supply ship with one surface escort and three aircraft. She fired three torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards but the tracks were seen and the attack was avoided. On the night of 14th/15th she sighted a large supply ship escorted by two torpedo boats and an aircraft. She was forced to dive by the escort but later surfaced and got into position to fire four torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards, which unfortunately failed to hit. On 15th August, Porpoise (Lieutenant LWA Bennington DSC RN), after patrolling off Derna, received a report originating from signal intelligence, of a convoy approaching. She succeeded in intercepting this convoy, which consisted of two large ships with four destroyers and two aircraft as escort. She fired two torpedoes at a range of 1100 yards and both hit and sank Lerici of 6070 tons8. The destroyers Circe and Sagitario made a heavy counter attack lasting two hours, and dropped sixty depth charges that damaged her hull and battery. Many cells were cracked and gave off chlorine gas. Some of her hatches jumped and leaked too, and by the time she was able to surface she had been submerged for seventeen hours. She was unable to dive again but escaped eastwards and was escorted in to Port Said by the destroyers Belvoir and Hursley with fighters overhead. On 22nd, the Italian torpedo boat Cantore struck one of the mines she had laid earlier in her patrol and sank.

On 16th, P43 (Lieutenant AC Halliday RN), who had arrived on patrol off Cephalonia from Malta, sighted Chisone of 6000 tons and fired four torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards. There was a considerable splash on discharge and the air escort saw this, and the torpedoes were avoided. The surface escort counter attacked dropping nine depth charges. On 17th Turbulent, still on patrol on the west coast of Greece, intercepted a northbound convoy of two large merchant ships and three destroyers. She fired four torpedoes, one of which had a gyro failure, but two others hit the 7137-ton Nino Bixio but she was only damaged and was towed into Navarino. Turbulent was then ordered to patrol off the south west corner of Crete and was relieved by P43. There were numerous air patrols in the area but on 19th, P43 sighted a southbound laden tanker off Levkos and fired four torpedoes at a range of 2200 yards hitting and damaging Pozarica of 1891 tons, but she was able to beach herself. P43 was counter attacked on this occasion by six depth charges and was relieved on patrol in this area by P35. On 27th, P35 (Lieutenant SLC Maydon RN) in the western approach to the Andikithira Channel and guided by signal intelligence, sighted a westbound convoy of two ships and fired three torpedoes hitting and sinking Manfredo Camperio of 5463 tons, and was counter attacked by the two destroyers of the escort, escaping without damage. Later the same day, P35 sighted another convoy but it made a navigational alteration of course and she had to fire at 3900 yards. One torpedo tube was defective and the three torpedoes fired missed the target. P35 was relieved in this area by Utmost (Lieutenant JW Coombe RN) who arrived on 29th August.

Rorqual (Lieutenant Commander LW Napier RN) had now returned from her refit in the United Kingdom and left Malta on 25th August to lay mines off Paxos and Anti Paxos south of Corfu. When she attempted the lay, 35 mines failed to release. Although she had a number of passengers on board, she attacked a convoy sighted on 30th and fired two torpedoes at a range of 3500 yards hitting Monstella of 5310 tons, which sank in shallow water. Rorqual was counter attacked by the escort with sixteen depth charges to the discomfort of the passengers but survived undamaged. With the few survivors of the 'Pedestal' convoy that got to Malta, only 32,000 tons of cargo was landed and submarines were still needed to run in supplies. In August, Clyde (Lieutenant RS Brookes DSC RN) left Gibraltar with 197 tons of stores for Malta and made the return voyage with 51 passengers. Otus on her way home, and Rorqual on her way out, also carried in supplies.

In August, therefore, the British submarines in the Mediterranean made a rapid recovery from their setbacks in being forced out of Malta and losing Medway. In spite of the diversions necessary for 'Operation Pedestal', they made twenty-eight attacks expending eighty-five torpedoes. In the splendid action by P42 with the Italian cruisers, although Bolzano and Attendolo were not sunk, they might as well have been as they were so badly damaged that they were not operational again before the Italian surrender. In addition to the torpedo boat Cantore mined in Porpoise's field, another eight ships of 48,365 tons were sunk9.On top of this the RAF sank another three ships of 12,020 tons and their mines yet another of 4894 tons. The result was that the Italians only landed 29,155 tons of general military cargo in North Africa, losing 25% on the way, and 22,500 tons of fuel losing 41% on the way. The effect was that the Axis army at El Alamein was seriously short of supplies, especially of fuel. Nevertheless, Field Marshal Rommel was determined to try and dislodge the Eighth Army. He knew that large reinforcements and supplies were arriving at Suez and that the single new German division, arriving mostly by air from Crete would shortly be outnumbered by British reinforcements by three to one. He therefore launched his attack at Alam el Haifa at the end of the month and was decisively repulsed. Although not wishing to detract from the Eighth Army's victory, it must be claimed that much of this success, which marked a turning point in the desert campaign, was due to the British submarines in the Mediterranean and to the Royal Air Force.

BY EARLY SEPTEMBER, the Axis authorities were seriously worried about the supply situation across the Mediterranean. Vice Admiral Weichold, the German Navy's representative in Rome, said that in August, of 114,000 tons gross that put to sea, 38,000 tons had been sunk which was 34%. Four thousand tons of fuel had been lost on passage with 420 motor vehicles. He declared that if such losses continued, the Axis forces in Africa would face a serious crisis. Field Marshal Rommel claimed that the main reason for the failure of his offensive at Alam el Haifa was the shortage of supplies, and that great efforts would have to be made to improve the situation at sea or he would be unable to hold on in Africa. The Italian Official Naval Historian says that at this time the Italian Navy continued 'to bleed away its strength in a bitter struggle to supply Libya'. At this time the main traffic route was still down the west coast of Greece or from the Aegean direct to Cyrenaica to try to avoid air attack from Malta. Tripoli and the Tunisian route were little used and even Benghazi was too far from the front. Coastal convoys along the Cyrenaican coast to Tobruk and even beyond to Bardia and Mersa Matruh were important. C-in-C Mediterranean was concerned at the difficulty of attacking this route and he asked for more submarines for the First Flotilla and that the S-class now being sent to Gibraltar should be transferred to Malta.

On 1st September, P35 was on patrol off Cephalonia, Thrasher and Traveller were on their way to the coast of North Africa while Turbulent was returning from the west coast of Greece, and Utmost had left Malta for Levkas. Three other submarines had sailed from Malta; P46 to patrol off Misurata, P42 for Crotone in the sole of the foot of Italy and Una for the Kithera Channel. From Gibraltar P222 was on her way to the Gulf of Genoa and from Beirut the Greek submarine Papanicolis was proceeding to patrol off Rhodes. Clyde and Rorqual were on storing runs to Malta from west and east respectively. On 2nd September, Utmost (Lieutenant JWD Coombe RN) attacked an escorted supply ship in a glassy calm and fired three torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards. The tracks were almost certainly seen by the air escort and the target avoided the torpedoes. Utmost was then subjected to a twenty depth charge counter attack. Our submarines had better luck in the Tobruk area. On 3rd Thrasher (Lieutenant HS Mackenzie DSO RN) off Derna received reports of a convoy approaching Tobruk. With the aid of aircraft flares she made an interception early in the morning of 4th, and fired three torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards, two of which hit and sank the Padenna of 1590 tons carrying cased petrol. Traveller (Lieutenant MB St John RN) who had just left the Tobruk area to move on to Benghazi made a snap attack on a convoy of which information had been received from signal intelligence. In the early hours of 5th September, she fired four torpedoes at a range of 1000 yards, two of which hit and sank the laden Albachiara of 1245 tons. That night after sunset she made a surface attack on another convoy firing two torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards but they missed. P34 (Lieutenant PRH Harrison DSC RN) patrolling south of Navarin on 7th September sighted a strongly escorted three-ship convoy, and in a submerged attack fired four torpedoes at the long range of 7000 yards. One torpedo exploded prematurely and the rest missed and she was subjected to a very heavy counter attack in which she dived to 270 feet. Her port main motor was put out of action necessitating her return to Malta. She was patched up but had to be sent back to the United Kingdom for repairs. Meanwhile P42 (Lieutenant ACG Mars RN) off the south coast of Italy had been very active. She had on board Captain Wilson and a detachment of the Special Boat Section with the intention of attacking shipping with a new kind of limpet mine. On the way a plan to torpedo a railway viaduct north of Toarmina had to be abandoned on 3rd September as the river up which the torpedoes were to run was dry. Captain Wilson and one commando were landed near Crotone on 5th, but were taken prisoner before they could place their mines. On 7th, P42 retaliated by bombarding the bridge over the Amendola River and hitting it with twelve rounds and repeated this on another bridge in the Gulf of Squillace on 8th. On 9th off Crotone she fired the two elderly Mark II torpedoes, intended for the railway viaduct, at a merchant vessel at a range of 4500 yards but the enemy made a navigational alteration of course while they were running and they missed. P42 was subjected to a four depth charge counter attack for her pains. On 10th September, Thrasher made a day attack on a northbound convoy off Tobruk firing three torpedoes at 4000 yards. One torpedo broke surface, however, and no hits were obtained. Una (Lieutenant CP Norman RN) on 10th in the Kithera Channel attacked a merchant vessel escorted by a destroyer in heavy seas and rain. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 1600 yards but, although she claimed a hit at the time, no sinking has been confirmed by post war research but she may have damaged her.

P44 (Lieutenant TE Barlow RN) left Malta on 6th September to patrol off Misurata and found the glassy calm conditions and mirage extremely difficult. On 13th September, she fired two torpedoes at a small merchant vessel at a range of 700 yards and one of them hit her forward and stopped her, but she did not sink. Another torpedo launched at her from 2500 yards missed. Off Khoms on 17th she encountered the salvage ship Rostro of 333 tons with an attendant schooner. She fired two torpedoes at a range of 850 yards one of which hit. Rostro was only damaged and anchored off the coast. That night P44 was able to close in to 900 yards and fire two torpedoes, one at the salvage vessel, and the other at the schooner that was Giovanina of 158 tons. Both hit and both ships sank. Taku (Lieutenant Commander JG Hopkins RN) who arrived off the North African coast on 13th September, failed to land a special party that night because of a heavy swell. Off Derna on 17th she sighted a convoy of two ships escorted by two destroyers. She attacked on the surface early next morning, firing four torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards but failed to secure a hit. The next day in a flat calm she attacked a large ship in convoy with a heavy escort. Three torpedoes were fired at 1500 yards but missed. Taku then moved on to take Traveller's place off Benghazi where she had no better luck. P222 (Lieutenant Commander AJ Mackenzie RN) who left Gibraltar on 1st September for the Gulf of Genoa saw nothing and only encountered small craft off Capraia Island before returning to base empty handed. P212 (Lieutenant JH Bromage DSC RN) who left Gibraltar on 6th September for the west coast of Sardinia had better luck. She sank the small schooner Ida of 24 tons by gunfire and demolition charge on 12th and fired a torpedo at a range of 2000 yards at the pier in Buggerru harbour damaging a number of small schooners and fishing vessels. She sank another small schooner on 15th before returning to base.

Talisman (Lieutenant Commander M Willmott DSO RN), a fully worked up submarine from Home waters, had been sent out to the Mediterranean as reinforcement during August. On her way to Gibraltar she was attacked and damaged by one of our own aircraft10 and was under repair there for the best part of a month. She sailed for Malta from Gibraltar on 10th September and reported a U-boat to the north of Cape Bougaroni on 15th but failed to arrive at Malta as scheduled on 18th. She was presumed lost with all hands including her Commanding Officer, four other officers and 58 men, amongst whom were the holders of a DSC, two DSMs and four Mentions in Despatches. P211 (Commander B Bryant DSC RN) who was also on passage from Gibraltar to Malta on loan to the Tenth Flotilla in response to C-in-C's request, arrived safely on 19th. Nevertheless doubts arose about the secret route normally used by our submarines to transit the Sicilian minefields and Utmost (Lieutenant JWD Coombe RN) who had sailed from Malta to patrol in the Tyrrhenian Sea, was held east of the mine barrier until the situation became clearer. It was thought that the appearance of German E-boats at Porto Empedocle may have had something to do with the problem, and Utmost was ordered to patrol in the vicinity of that place. There is little doubt with post war information that Talisman struck a mine on 17th September, but at the time the available intelligence indicated that she had been counter attacked and sunk off Marittimo. Utmost saw nothing but fishing craft off Porto Empedocle, but her orders to proceed to the Tyrrhenian Sea were cancelled and she was sent to the Gulf of Hammamet instead. Here she had a blank patrol seeing nothing. Three submarines subsequently transitted the Sicilian mine barrier safely before the end of September; Proteus and P34 westward to return to refit in the United Kingdom, and Parthian eastward to join the First Flotilla after refit. There was then less anxiety about the mine barrier that in fact we now know had not been added to or strengthened in this area. P34 (Lieutenant PRH Harrison DSC RN) made a short patrol off the west coast of Sardinia on her way to Gibraltar, but sighted nothing.

On 18th September, air reconnaissance acting on signal intelligence, sighted a tanker southbound from Naples making to round the west end of Sicily, and P46 (Lieutenant JS Stevens DSC RN) was sent out from Malta at full speed on the surface with a fighter escort to intercept her off the Tunisian coast. The tanker, however, put in to Palermo and P46 was directed to patrol off Kuriat. On 21st she sank the southbound auxiliary schooner Aquila of 305 tons by gunfire in a night action setting her ablaze after only eight rounds. She then sighted a ship with navigation lights burning steaming within Tunisian territorial waters. She pursued and fired two torpedoes at a range of 1000 yards in a surface attack. One of the torpedoes had a gyro failure but the other hit and sank the Vichy French Liberia of 3890 tons. The Vichy authorities had been warned that all ships travelling at night whether inside or outside territorial waters would be treated as hostile. The following night P46, guided by signal intelligence, tracked a darkened ship firing two torpedoes at 1000 yards which due to phosphorescence and an over estimation of speed, were avoided and missed ahead. P46 then opened fire with her gun but the return fire was so hot that she had to dive. She was able, however, to surface and shadow until after the moon set and make another surface torpedo attack before dawn. She fired three torpedoes at 1000 yards one of which hit and the target burst into flames. This was the 53-year-old Leonardo Palomba of 1110 tons carrying petrol and she sank later. Farther east on 24th September, the Greek submarine Nereus (Plotarkhis A Rallis) off Rhodes, sank Fiume of 660 tons by torpedo, and a small sailing vessel by ramming. P35 (Lieutenant SLC Maydon RN) had been sent from Malta on 23rd September to the west coast of Greece and arrived off Zante on 27th. Here, guided by the cryptographers, she attacked a heavily escorted convoy sighted the same day, firing a full salvo of four torpedoes at the very long range of 9000 yards on a rather late track. She hit and damaged Francesco Bartaro of 6343 tons and was counter attacked with both bombs and depth charges without suffering any damage. At sunset she was able to surface and follow up getting into a position for another very long-range attack in which she fired two torpedoes. She was further counter attacked but her target was hit and after floating for some hours, finally sank. P35 then returned to Malta having expended all her torpedoes. On 25th September, P44 (Lieutenant TE Barlow RN) left Malta for the south Calabrian coast. On 30th she attacked a supply ship escorted by two destroyers firing three torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards without success. She tried again with a single torpedo at 6000 yards from fine on the enemy's quarter but missed again.

There were four completely blank patrols during September in addition to those of P222 and Utmost already mentioned. P43 (Lieutenant AC Halliday RN) west of Crete and off Suda Bay early in the month saw nothing. Papanicolis off Rhodes also early in the month was equally unsuccessful. P48 (Lieutenant ME Faber RN) on her first patrol towards the end of September did not meet any enemy ships off Misurata or Sirte and Una (Lieutenant CP Norman RN) off Tunisia sighted only French ships. Turbulent (Commander JW Linton DSO DSC RN) too, off the southwest coast of Crete and off Tobruk and Benghazi, saw nothing before the end of the month. The storing trips by Clyde and Porpoise have already been referred to, as has the transit of the Mediterranean by Parthian (Lieutenant MB St John RN). Parthian combined her passage with store carrying both for Malta from Gibraltar and from Malta to Beirut. In addition to food, petrol, ammunition and torpedoes, they brought in a new cargo of smoke canisters to conceal the harbour during air raids. But apart from these diversions, the Mediterranean submarines were free throughout September to concentrate on the campaign against enemy shipping. Surprisingly they made fewer attacks than in the previous month. The total for September was twenty attacks firing fifty-seven torpedoes. In these they sank six ships of 14,840 tons one of which was French. Two ships of 5500 tons were claimed as damaged. This was substantially less than they sank in August when much of their patrol time was taken up covering the 'Pedestal' convoy. These somewhat disappointing results may have been just due to chance, as indeed may the good results in August too. Nevertheless the six blank patrols seem to call attention to the patrol positions to which our submarines were sent.

There is no doubt that signal intelligence and improved air reconnaissance by radar fitted aircraft and the use of photo reconnaissance Spitfires gave us a very good picture of the routes taken to North Africa, and it was known that this was mainly down the west coast of Greece and from the Aegean to Cyrenaican ports rather than by the Tunisian coast to Tripoli. There was therefore a strong case to concentrate everything on these routes in order to cut the supplies of the Axis armies in Egypt, an aim that was clearly paramount. It is true that the fitting of echo detection equipment in the Italian anti-submarine vessels, worried the submarines and it is noteworthy that no patrols were placed during the month off Taranto and other well defended localities. At the same time it was considered important to spread submarine patrols all over the Mediterranean to force the enemy to escort ships everywhere, and so spread their anti-submarine escorts thinly. Undoubtedly our low losses at this time point to the success of this strategy but in view of our comparatively low results, the reader may wish to ponder further on this interesting point of submarine strategy. Fortunately the RAF sank five ships of 20,984 tons and two more of 2737 tons were shared between the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. The result was that the enemy landed 46,165 tons of general military cargo in Africa, and 31,061 tons of fuel losing 20% on the way. Although this was an improvement for the enemy on August, the crisis for the Axis was certainly not over. The armies remained facing each other in stalemate at El Alamein, but while the Axis forces were progressively being starved of supplies and it was now a question of whether they could hold on at all and without a hope of passing to the offensive, the British and their Allies were steadily growing stronger.

SUBMARINE OPERATIONS IN OCTOBER in the Mediterranean were much affected by the preparations for the Anglo-American invasion of French North Africa scheduled to take place in early November. The throttling of the Axis supply lines across the Mediterranean was, however, as important as ever as the time was rapidly approaching when the Eighth Army was to attack Rommel's forces at El Alamein with the aim of driving them out of Africa altogether. On 1st October, fourteen submarines were at sea but six of these were running stores to Malta or were on passage11. Turbulent was off Benghazi and Taku was returning to Beirut from the same area. P35 was returning to Malta from the west coast of Greece, P44 was off the south coast of Calabria, Una off Kerkenah with P42 and P48 off Misurata and in the Gulf of Sirte. P211 (Commander B Bryant DSC RN) had just passed through the Straits of Otranto into the Adriatic. On 1st October P44 (Lieutenant TE Barlow RN) off the south coast of Calabria, was directed to a ship damaged by the RAF. She found her beached with a tug standing by. She fired two torpedoes separately and one of them hit and further damaged the ship, which was Ravenna of 1148 tons. She was, however, subsequently salvaged. Next day, P44 made a gun attack on a small steamer off Cape Colonne but had to desist due to fire from shore batteries. On 3rd Una (Lieutenant CP Norman RN) saw a 900-ton coaster in Lampedusa harbour, and fired two separate torpedoes at about 2000 yards. One torpedo failed to run altogether and the other ran fifteen degrees to the right and exploded on the rocks.

P211 had been given a fairly free hand in the Adriatic and had already made a plan to attack shipping in Gruz harbour north of Dubrovnik. She dived in between Kolocap and Garbini, but found no worthwhile targets. She dived out of the narrow channel stern-first, which was a remarkable feat of submarine seamanship. The day after this, P211 sank Veglia of 895 tons by gunfire and a single torpedo fired at 1000 yards in Zulgano Bay near Sibenik. Veglia ran ashore and exploded violently and she burnt for hours before finally settling on the bottom. This attack caused much anti-submarine activity. Two days later after crossing to the Italian side, P211 fired four torpedoes at Valentina Coda of about 5000 tons and missed. She then surfaced and attacked with her gun but was forced to dive by the return fire and this ship escaped. In this attack, which was made at 4400 yards, the target saw the tracks and altered course and one of the torpedoes in any case ran erratically. Next day, the 5th October, after returning to the Dalmatian coast, P211 surfaced and hit the small steamer Conto of about 600 tons by gunfire. She was carrying troops and ran herself ashore on the reefs off Trava Island near Sibenik. P211 fired a single torpedo at 1000 yards to finish her off but it ran crooked and missed. The shore batteries then made it impossible to complete her destruction. On 8th after a visit to the north without result, P211 returned to Sibenik where she fired three torpedoes at a range of 1000 yards at a convoy in a flat calm. She hit and damaged a 1500-ton steamer in spite of the presence of a torpedo boat, other anti-submarine vessels and a flying boat. She was counter attacked by the torpedo boat putting lights out and damaging her wireless transmitter and one of her periscopes. On 10th October, she intercepted another convoy between Dubrovnik and Kotor and fired another three torpedoes, this time at a range of 2000 yards and probably damaged a ship of 4000 tons. She was again counter attacked, this time for three and a half hours, diving to 390 feet and escaping without damage12. P211 had now expended all her torpedoes and ammunition and set course to return to base13. As she passed through the Straits of Otranto on the surface at night she was attacked but missed by torpedoes fired by a U-boat.

P46 (Lieutenant JS Stevens RN), patrolling off the north coast of Sicily on 4th October, fired two torpedoes at a range of 700 yards at a coaster and missed, probably because it was calm and the tracks were seen. She then moved over to the Italian mainland and on the 9th, after lying in ambush, engaged a southbound train at night with her gun at a range of 1000 yards near Cape Suvao in the Gulf of Euphemia and hit and stopped it. She then moved north to Capri and on 11th October attacked the southbound steamer Una of 1395 tons. She fired three torpedoes at 4000 yards, which missed and, after a pursuit, opened fire with her gun finishing her off with a single torpedo fired at 1500 yards. On 11th off Cape Gallo in Sicily, assisted by the cryptographers, she fired two torpedoes at a range of 1150 yards and hit and sank the eastbound Loreto of 1055 tons in ballast. P46 had now expended all her torpedoes too.

Meanwhile Turbulent (Commander JW Linton DSO DSC RN) on patrol off Benghazi, sighted a tanker on 2nd October too far off to attack, but on 6th she fired three torpedoes in a stern tube attack at a merchant ship in convoy at a range of 1100 yards and missed, probably because the track was very broad. On 8th, assisted by signal intelligence, she had another chance, and fired two torpedoes at 1200 yards at a convoy, one of which hit and sank Kreta of 2360 tons. To the south, P37 (Lieutenant ET Stanley RN), an experienced submarine from home waters, was on patrol off Tripoli and on 8th October she fired two torpedoes at a range of 800 yards at Lupa of 330 tons but they ran under this small target. She then surfaced and engaged with her 12pdr gun, finally disposing of her by boarding and scuttling her. Next day she sank a schooner carrying fodder, partly by gunfire but finishing her off by setting her on fire. Later in a night attack, also assisted by signal intelligence, she fired two torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards, one of which hit and sank Alga of 1850 tons. She was carrying petrol and burned fiercely before sinking. On the same day, Traveller (Lieutenant Commander DSt Clair Ford RN), in the southern Aegean, which she had just entered by the Andikithira Channel, fired four torpedoes at a range of 2500 yards at a large escorted tanker. She claimed two hits but this has not been confirmed by post war research. Two days later she fired two torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards at a large armed yacht in a snap attack in poor visibility, but the target altered away and she missed. On 15th she had another chance in a night attack and fired four torpedoes at 3000 yards at a convoy, but the submarine was yawing badly in the moderate sea and she missed again.

The 10th October was a day of great activity for our submarines. In addition to the attack by P211 in the Adriatic, four other submarines made torpedo attacks. P35 (Lieutenant SLC Maydon RN), who had just arrived in the southern Adriatic for a short patrol, fired three torpedoes at a range of 2200 yards at a large Italian destroyer. Unfortunately she underestimated her speed and missed astern. Just east of Gibraltar, P247 (Lieutenant MGR Lumby RN), on passage to join the Tenth Flotilla at Malta and full of stores for the island, fired a full salvo of six torpedoes at a German U-boat at a range of 2000 yards. P247 had already sunk U335 in Home waters on her working up patrol, but this time she missed, probably because of a very broad track. Clyde (Lieutenant RS Brookes DSC RN), soon after leaving Malta for Beirut after a storing trip glimpsed an Italian U-boat at very long range and got away two torpedoes from almost right astern and understandably missed. The fourth submarine to attack was, however, successful. This was P43 (Lieutenant AC Halliday RN), off Navarino and at midday she fired three torpedoes at a range of 600 yards at Enrichetta of 4655 tons. She was southbound and fully laden, all three of the torpedoes hit and she sank in two minutes. Utmost (Lieutenant JWD Coombe RN) had left Malta on 3rd October to patrol in the south Tyrrhenian Sea. She was to land agents in Lago di Licola near Naples. This was not easy as the water was shallow, but she succeeded on the night of 8th/9th in spite of the reluctance of the two agents and after being nineteen and a half hours submerged14. She had no time to recharge her batteries and she had to sit on the bottom all next day. All was for nothing as the agents were captured soon after landing. She then patrolled off Civita Vecchia and on 11th fired two torpedoes at a range of 1700 yards at the mail steamer to Sardinia but missed. Utmost then moved across to Sardinia and on 13th she fired four torpedoes at a range of 2500 yards at a tanker and, although one of them had a gyro failure, she hit and sank Nautilus of 2070 tons. P42 (Lieutenant ACG Mars RN) left Malta on 11th October to patrol off Lampedusa. On 17th she had moved on to Khoms and she fired three torpedoes separately at ranges between 4000 and 5000 yards at a large merchant ship aground with a salvage vessel in attendance, but they all missed probably due to an unexpected current. Una (Lieutenant CP Norman RN) was sent to patrol south of Messina on 12th October. Here she encountered intense anti-submarine measures. Nevertheless she landed a folbot party on the Sicilian coast north of Catania. On 18th she sighted a tanker in convoy with an escort of three destroyers and began a night attack. She was forced to dive by the escort and suffered an intense depth charge attack.

Signal intelligence received on 17th and 18th October indicated that an important convoy was about to sail from the Tyrrhenian Sea and west of Sicily to Tripoli. On the afternoon of 18th, this was confirmed when the RAF sighted this convoy west of Cape St Vito. Captain(S) Ten decided at once to dispose five submarines south of Pantellaria to intercept. P211 (Commander B Bryant DSC RN), after only a few days in harbour since returning from the Adriatic, was sent out from Malta to join four other submarines that were on patrol. P44 (Lieutenant TE Barlow RN) was already in the area. Utmost (Lieutenant JWD Coombe RN) was returning to Malta from the Tyrrhenian Sea, P37 (Lieutenant ET Stanley RN) was returning from Kerkenah while P42 (Lieutenant ACG Mars RN) was off Khoms on the coast of North Africa. Instead of disposing a patrol line across the convoy's path, Captain Simpson, as he had been given the actual route by the cryptographers, placed them in depth along the expected track south of Pantellaria. They were in the order, north to south, Utmost, P211, P37 and P42 and they were in position by 18th. P44 was further to the south with orders to work northwards to join the others. The convoy consisted of a large tanker and three cargo ships escorted by eight destroyers. At 0100 on 19th, it was reported by the RAF to be forty miles north of Pantellaria. Utmost sighted the convoy at 0840 but it passed her at long range. She fired two torpedoes (all she had left) at 6000 yards but they had little chance to hit. Utmost was, however, able to pass a valuable enemy report by wireless. The convoy passed P211 out of sight to the eastwards, except that she sighted its escorting aircraft. Commander Bryant realised what had happened, and as soon as it was dark he surfaced and set off in pursuit to the southwards. P37, twenty-one miles to the south, sighted the convoy at 1050 and was right ahead of it. At 1115, however, it altered course, putting P37 between the convoy and the port wing destroyers of the screen. P37 fired a full salvo of four torpedoes at a range of 1000 yards and secured two hits. One torpedo sank Beppe of 4460 tons and a second sank the large destroyer Da Verazzano. P37 then dived under the convoy and the counter attack by the other escorts was light and ineffective. P42, further to the south, received Utmost's enemy report at 1400 and sighted the convoy shortly afterwards. The sea was rough and she was a long way off track. She fired a full salvo of four torpedoes but the submarine was swinging and the range was 8000 yards. There was a seaplane overhead and a destroyer approaching and the torpedoes missed. The seaplane dropped a marker and P42 suffered a severe counter attack of two dozen depth charges, which badly damaged her battery. There were serious discharges of chlorine gas and her crew was badly affected. Fortunately the enemy did not persevere and she was able to surface and return to Malta but was lucky to survive. At 1540 the RAF reported that the convoy was in confusion, and that a damaged ship escorted by a destroyer was making for Lampedusa. P44 was now approaching from the south, but did not make contact until after dark when she was assisted in doing so by aircraft flares. She fired three torpedoes in the early hours of 20th at a range of 3500 yards, hitting and further damaging the tanker Petrarca of 3329 tons. P211 following up at full speed sighted a stopped ship about seventy miles south of Lampion with two destroyers standing by. She fired a torpedo at 6000 yards that missed, and then closed in to 1800 yards and fired another which completed the destruction of Titania of 5397 tons, which had been damaged by torpedo bombers of the Fleet Air Arm. The damaged tanker Petrarca got to Tripoli as well as the surviving cargo ship, but the whole operation was a great success for signal intelligence, the Tenth Flotilla, the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force, the co-operation between them being outstanding.

On 23rd October, the Eighth Army opened its attack on Rommel's forces at El Alamein, and for twelve days remained locked in combat. Submarine operations to keep the enemy short of supplies continued, although many of the submarines at sea had to return to base to prepare for 'Operation Torch', as the landings about to take place in North Africa, were called. On the same day that the Battle of El Alamein began, P35 (Lieutenant SLC Maydon RN), who had been sent out for the purpose on signal intelligence, located a large merchant ship unloading at Khoms. She had been damaged by the Fleet Air Arm, and was beached and being attended by a salvage vessel. Evading an anti-submarine trawler and two schooners, P35 fired a single torpedo at a range of 3200 yards at the salvage tug Pronto of 182 tons, hitting and sinking her. Then, a few minutes later, fired two torpedoes at the beached ship at 2500 yards and both hit. The target was Amsterdam of 8670 tons and she settled on the bottom in shallow water. Attempts to salvage her continued for several months but failed.

P212 (Lieutenant JH Bromage DSC RN) after arriving at Malta from Gibraltar on 9th October full of stores had sailed again on 16th for the Navarino area and she encountered heavy anti-submarine activity. On 22nd she met a small troopship escorted by a torpedo boat and two aircraft. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 4300 yards but the tracks were probably seen and the torpedoes avoided. Towards the end of October, all the submarines of the Eighth and Tenth Flotillas had been withdrawn to prepare for 'Operation Torch' and only a few boats of the First Flotilla were on patrol. Thrasher (Lieutenant HS Mackenzie DSO RN) had left Beirut on 6th October to patrol in the Aegean, and did not get back until 28th. She entered by the Scarpanto Channel and went on north through the Doro Channel, and tried to land two Greek agents on Skyros Island but the folbots capsized. She went on to the Gulf of Salonika where on 12th she sank two schooners by gunfire and demolition charges. On 18th she was back off Rhodes and sank the tug Roma by gunfire and on 20th fired four torpedoes at a range of 4000 yards at Lero of 1980 tons, hitting and sinking her although one of the torpedoes had a gyro failure. On 25th she met a two-ship convoy escorted by three destroyers and fired another salvo of four torpedoes at a range of 5000 yards but this time she missed. Taku (Lieutenant AJW Pitt RN) left Port Said for the Aegean on 21st October and also entered by the Scarpanto Strait. On 25th off Khios she made a night attack on a tanker escorted by a destroyer. Although she fired four torpedoes, the range was 4000 yards and she over estimated the speed and missed ahead. She set off in pursuit on the surface, however, and caught up her quarry and made a submerged attack next morning. She fired another four torpedoes, at 4000 yards again and this time secured a hit sinking Arca of 2240 tons. Later in the morning she also sank a caique by gunfire. On 28th she passed through the Doro Channel and sighted aircraft, going deep to avoid being seen by them. This was in fact the air escort of a northbound convoy. On 31st Taku fired three torpedoes at another convoy at a range of 6300 yards, but one of the salvo circled and the submarine began to break surface so a fourth torpedo was not fired. She believed she had secured a hit at the time but this has not been confirmed. Two hours later she sighted another convoy and fired two torpedoes at the long range of 6000 yards. Another torpedo circled and the third torpedo of the salvo was not fired due to a drill failure and so this attack failed too. The Greek submarine Nereus (Plotarkhis A Rallis) patrolled off Rhodes at the end of October and went on to land a party with stores on Euboea early in November.

In spite of the withdrawal of most of the submarines of the Eighth and Tenth Flotillas to prepare for Operation 'Torch', the Mediterranean submarines did extremely well during October. In thirty-nine attacks firing 109 torpedoes, they sank a destroyer and twelve ships of 32,565 tons15They damaged another four of some 10,000 tons16 as well as sinking another seven small vessels, attacking a train and carrying out three operations to land agents. These results were obtained in spite of a last attempt by the Luftwaffe to neutralise Malta by bombing in the middle of the month, and the diversion of Parthian, Clyde, Traveller and Thrasher to carry in aviation spirit, stores and torpedoes to the island. There were now a hundred Spitfires at Malta and the air defences, including a smoke screen over the dockyard and submarine base, which were effective, ensured that the renewed air attacks were repulsed. The Italians were also busy laying new minefields off Marittimo and Cape Bon during the month. The Allied air forces and the Fleet Air Arm also had a successful month and the enemy, although they made huge efforts, were only able to land 33,390 tons of supplies and 12,308 tons of fuel losing a staggering 44% on the way. The total tonnage of shipping that sailed during the month, which included six trips by submarines, was 95,000 gross tons of which only 58,000 reached Africa. Of the rest, 24,000 tons was sunk and 14,500 tons damaged. Considerable credit for the Eighth Army's victory at El Alamein, as already noted, must go to the air forces and submariners, which throttled the enemy supply lines. The Italian Official Naval Historian of this time writes that the Second Battle of the Convoys had been 'definitely and irretrievably' lost. He might have added that these results were obtained without the loss of a single allied submarine. This 'Second Battle of the Convoys' was won almost entirely by aircraft and submarines. Surface warships were hardly used at all. One or two Axis ships were sunk on the north coast of Cyrenaica by light surface forces from Alexandria, but an attempt by destroyers to intervene in the central Mediterranean met with disaster. Admiral Weichold, the German Navy's representative in Rome, states that in the period of the 'Second Battle of the Convoys', of the total casualties 33% was sunk by aircraft and 29% by submarines, while 29% was damaged by aircraft and 9% by submarines17It is also of interest that the battle was won when the Italians had a strong battlefleet, albeit short of fuel, while the British had no capital ships in the eastern Mediterranean at all.

During the summer, the cryptographers, with their signal intelligence, had been of the greatest value. Of the thirty-two ships sunk by submarines between June and October, advance information had been obtained on seventeen, or over half of them. The value of the information varied a great deal. Sometimes it gave ports and times of departure or arrival, and occasionally the actual route. On other occasions it only gave the cargo. Sometimes the messages were decrypted within hours and sometimes it took days. Submarines with their slow speed especially by day when they were submerged, took time to redeploy, and were not able to use signal intelligence as efficiently as ships or aircraft. The need to safeguard this priceless source of intelligence meant that it had to be used sparingly. It was never therefore passed out directly to submarines, indeed the submarine captains were not supposed even to know of its existence. Often no information was passed out to the submarines at all, for instance when they were already in the right place. The outstanding success of cryptography in this period was the attack by P211 and four boats of the Tenth Flotilla on a convoy south of Pantellaria in October in which two ships and a destroyer were sunk and a tanker damaged. The whole ambush was set up by signal intelligence and there was plenty of time to move the submarines to their positions. In seven other cases the destination or route was revealed in time to deploy submarines, but in the rest there was insufficient information. Nevertheless in these latter signals the information was valuable to build up a picture of the enemy's routes and to decide where best to order submarines to patrol in the future.

DURING THE MONTHS COVERED by this chapter, the Allies lost two submarines in the Mediterranean. Both were valuable T-class from the First Flotilla. Talisman struck a mine and Thorn was sunk by depth charges dropped by torpedo boats using the German echo detection apparatus. It is easy to understand that the very large number of mines laid by the Italians should have achieved some results, and also that the German echo detecting apparatus proved effective. It is less easy to understand why the clear water in the Mediterranean, in which submarines could be seen by aircraft down to sixty feet, should not have led to casualties. Enemy aircraft, however, did keep our submarines submerged, whether on passage or patrol. The result was that their passages took longer and they were denied the extra mobility they could achieve on the surface to make interceptions.

The recovery of the Mediterranean submarines during this period, after their setbacks in April and June, when they lost their base facilities, was an outstanding achievement. From sinking only one small ship in July to their virtual throttling of the supply line in October was a great success and it was made without serious loss. Its contribution to the victory at El Alamein was substantial. The decorations awarded for this period included a bar to the Distinguished Service Order for Lieutenant Commander Francis of Proteus for his patrols, and to Lieutenant Mackenzie of Thrasher particularly for his interception of the despatch vessel Diana off Tobruk. The Distinguished Service Order also went to Commander Bryant of P211, to Lieutenant Bennington of Porpoise, to Lieutenant Mars of P42 for his outstanding attack on Bolzano and Attendolo and to Lieutenant Norman of Una. Lieutenant Harrison of P34 received a bar to his Distinguished Service Cross, and Plotarkhis Rallis of Nereus received a Distinguished Service Cross.

THE TOTAL VOLUME OF SHIPPING available to the Axis in the Mediterranean had by this time been roughly halved. They had 1,750.000 tons available at the outbreak of war for the supply of North Africa, to which German ships of 200,000 tons in the Mediterranean were added. They had by now lost about 1,100,000 tons or roughly half of what they started with. Their building programme was small, about 300,000 tons completed so far to which must be added some foreign ships captured or purchased of about half a million tons. A very rough calculation therefore shows that at this time they had about 1,600,000 tons available altogether which was enough for their needs, but it was being sunk at the rate of 500,000 tons a year and only being replaced by building about 160,000 tons a year. At the same time some 200,000 tons of Axis shipping in the Mediterranean which had been damaged was under repair. A shipping crisis was therefore not very far away. The total tonnage of nearly all their ships would at this rate be halved in eighteen months and sunk in a period of three years18.The enemy now began negotiations with the Vichy Government under which they agreed to turn over to Germany and Italy 120,000 tons of their shipping. This, however, could not be ready for some time as most of it had been laid up and needed refitting. These figures are of interest because they show that a general attack on Axis shipping in the Mediterranean could have won in the end. The rival policy of concentrating on sinking cargoes for North Africa had achieved to date an overall success rate of about 14% and, except on occasions when it rose to 40% or so, had proved itself insufficient to win the war in Africa on its own. It was, however, of extreme value when combined with other operations such as the Eighth Army offensive at El Alamein in which the Axis forces were broken on 3rd November and began their long retreat which was to end with their being thrown out of Africa altogether.

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