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

 

 

     
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CHAPTER XVI

Operation 'Torch' - The Landings In North Africa: November - December 1942

References
Patrolgram 15 War patrols during North Africa Landings
Map 35 Submarines during North Africa Landings 8-11 Nov 42
Map 36 Operations in the Mediterranean after North Africa Landings Nov-Dec 42

IN JULY, THE BRITISH AND UNITED STATES Governments decided that the best offensive action they could take in 1942 was to land in French North Africa. For the steps which led up to this decision, the reader must consult other histories and here we only have room to say that Operation 'Torch' was the first large scale Allied amphibious operation during the Second World War. Some four army divisions were to be landed, initially at Algiers, Oran and on the Atlantic coast of Morocco and were to be followed up by a considerably larger army. It has always been an important principle of naval warfare that an overseas amphibious operation should not be embarked upon without command of the sea. Command of the sea still, in the minds of many high naval authorities, meant superiority in capital ships. The new battleship Roma had just joined the Italian Fleet and altogether they now had six battleships operational. The French, who now had to be counted as potential enemies as we were invading their territory, had three capital ships making Axis strength nine battleships in all. The British, after the loss of Prince ofWales and Repulse in the Far East and of Barham in the Mediterranean and the disabling of Queen Elizabeth and Valiant in Alexandria, were seriously reduced in numbers. They had also to watch Tirpitz and Scharnhorst in Home waters and so could only spare three capital ships for Operation 'Torch'. The Americans, after Pearl Harbour, were short of capital ships too and could only provide three more, two of which were elderly. The Allies could therefore actually be inferior in battle fleet strength and it was essential to redress the balance by some means, notably by providing as many submarines as possible.

Submarines were also required to co-operate in several other ways. Firstly there were a number of clandestine comings and goings by senior American and friendly French Officers to try and secure French co-operation and if possible to land without opposition. Secondly it was hoped to use submarines for reconnaissance of the beaches where the landings were to take place and subsequently to act as navigational beacons to lead in the amphibious forces. They were also needed, especially on the Moroccan coast, to send back weather reports. Thirdly, as explained above, they were required to watch for reactions by the Italian and French Fleets. In the eastern Mediterranean, where the Eighth Army was attacking at El Alamein, submarines were needed to continue their campaign against the Axis communications with North Africa.

In August, A(S) estimated that he could reinforce the Mediterranean submarine flotillas for Operation 'Torch' to a strength of twenty-four operational boats. This was in addition to two older submarines employed carrying supplies to Malta, and two Greek submarines fit only for limited operations. He also hoped to be able to lend another eight operational submarines from Home waters provided that no convoys were run to North Russia and that the German ships in Norway made no hostile move. Negotiations had also been in progress with the United States Navy for some of its submarines to be used in European waters. It had already been decided to send Subron50, consisting of the tender Beaver and six boats of the Gato-class. The original intention had been to base them at Londonderry for patrols in the Bay of Biscay. In the end this unit became absorbed into Operation 'Torch', and five of its submarines were used to co-operate with the Western Naval Task Force that sailed directly from America.

By the end of October, there were ten submarines in the Eighth Flotilla at Gibraltar, thirteen at Malta in the Tenth Flotilla and six at Beirut in the First Flotilla. There were five more submarines on their way to the Mediterranean from the United Kingdom, as well as the supply and Greek submarines mentioned above. Five submarines of the US Navy were also on their way across the Atlantic. The grand total was therefore forty-three. For Operation 'Torch' it had been decided to place all maritime operations in a wide area under the Allied Naval Commander of the Expeditionary Force (Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham) who would answer to General Eisenhower, the Allied C-in-C. The area under his control not only included the western approaches to Gibraltar and Morocco, but also the Mediterranean as far as the Sicilian narrows. Submarine operations were to be controlled west of the longitude of 8 degrees east, which passes just west of Sardinia, by Captain(S) Eighth Flotilla at Gibraltar, and to the east of this longitude by Captain(S) Tenth Submarine Flotilla at Malta1 who also controlled the area to the east as far as 19 degrees East which included most of the Ionian Sea, but for this he answered to the C-in-C Mediterranean in Alexandria. East of 19 degrees East was the business of Captain(S) First Submarine Flotilla at Beirut2.

We have seen in Chapter Fifteen how normal submarine operations in the Mediterranean continued until after the middle of October but that then most of the boats returned to their bases, except some of the First Flotilla, in order to prepare for Operation 'Torch'. The first sortie in connection with the landings was by P219 (Lieutenant NLA Jewell RN) who left Gibraltar early in October for the Algiers area. In the original plans for 'Torch', all the beaches at Oran and Algiers were to be reconnoitered by Combined Operations Pilotage Parties (COPPs), who would be landed from submarines in folbots, not only to discover what defences had to be surmounted but also to check the beach gradients, the firmness of the beaches for vehicles and also the beach exits. These reconnaissances were really only of use in the planning stages before it had been decided where to land. In 'Torch', in which the whole operation was planned in great haste during August and September, the landing areas had already been decided upon, so October was really too late. There was also a fear that the COPPs, if captured, would compromise the whole operation. P219's reconnaissance was therefore restricted to a periscope survey of the landing beaches in the Algiers area. As soon as she returned to Gibraltar, she was selected for an important special operation also in the Algiers area. The Americans still had diplomatic relations with the French Vichy Government and had a Consul General in Algiers. The Consul General sent a message to say that if a Senior American Officer could visit certain French Officers, there was a chance that the landings would be unopposed. P219 left Gibraltar on 19th October with Lieutenant General Mark Clark, the second in command to General Eisenhower, and four other senior American Officers on board. She also had a party of the Special Boat Section with folbots to land them. On 21st, P219 landed the General at Churchill Point, 75 miles west of Algiers in a rough sea. Next night she returned to the beach to re-embark the party and closed to within four cables in five fathoms of water. The sea was even rougher this time but fortunately went down before dawn, and the party were recovered very wet and having lost some of their personal gear. On 24th, rendezvous was made with a Catalina flying boat and General Mark Clark and his staff officers were flown to Gibraltar.

P219 was only two days in harbour before she was off again on another clandestine operation. This time it was to pick up the French General Giraud from the south of France, who, it was hoped, would be able to sway opinion in French North Africa to the Allied cause. In order to give the operation an American flavour, she flew American colours and Captain Wright of the US Navy, who was on board, was nominally in command. General Giraud was embarked successfully off La Fosette about twenty miles east of Toulon, with his son and three staff officers. P219's wireless transmitter then broke down but nevertheless on 7th November she managed to meet a Catalina flying boat sent to collect the General and fly him to Gibraltar.

At the end of October and early in November, twenty-one submarines sailed from Gibraltar and Malta for their positions for Operation 'Torch'. The five US Submarines that had crossed the Atlantic went straight to their positions off the Moroccan coast. Eight submarines were positioned to lead in the landing forces to the beaches, and thirteen were to take up positions to protect the operation from the Italian and French Fleets. Ursula (Lieutenant RB Lakin DSC RN) and P54 (Lieutenant CE Oxborrow DSC RN) were stationed off the Oran landing beaches and P221 (Lieutenant MFR Ainslie DSC RN), P48 (Lieutenant ME Faber RN) and P45 (Lieutenant HB Turner RN) off those near Algiers. On the Moroccan coast, the US Submarine Shad (Lieutenant Commander EJ MacGregor USN) was to lead in the Northern Attack Group at Mehedia, Gunnel (Lieutenant Commander JS McCain USN) the Center Attack Group at Fedhala and Barb (Lieutenant Commander JR Waterman USN) at Safi.

The Italian battlefleet, as already mentioned, consisted of six capital ships, having just been joined by the brand new Roma. They were based at Taranto and their policy was not to operate beyond shore based fighter cover. Italian cruisers were stationed at Messina, Naples, Palermo and Navarino. The concentration of shipping at Gibraltar alarmed the Axis high command and twelve German U-boats already in the Mediterranean were sent into the western basin and were reinforced by seven more from the Atlantic and twenty one Italian U-boats. There were over 800 Axis aircraft in Sardinia and Sicily, and of these 115 were German bombers and 50 were Italian strike aircraft. All these forces posed a serious threat to the Allied landings.

The French battlefleet at Toulon had three units of which two were fast and modern (Dunkerque, Strasbourg and Lorraine). They were probably not in very good shape, and all were survivors of the British attack at Oran and were certainly not pro-British. As it was French territory that was being attacked by the Allies, they might well attempt to intervene. There were also two modern French battleships in West Africa. One at Casablanca and the other at Dakar, but they were incomplete and not fit for sea although they might be used for harbour defence. French cruisers were also stationed at Casablanca and Dakar.

The plan to protect the expedition from these dangers, in which submarines were an important part, was far reaching. Air reconnaissance of the enemy bases was flown from Malta, Gibraltar and the Middle East and for Toulon, from the United Kingdom. A covering force consisting of three capital ships (Duke of York, Rodney and Renown) was stationed south of the Balearic Islands. It included two fleet carriers with 56 fighters and 27 torpedo planes. Although powerful, this force could have been opposed by nine capital ships and 165 strike aircraft, not to mention the forty U-boats, so the support of the British Mediterranean submarines was more than welcome. The greatest threat was from the Italian Fleet at Taranto and so Una (Lieutenant CP Norman RN) and Utmost (Lieutenant JWD Coombe RN) were stationed south of Messina and P35 (Lieutenant SLC Maydon RN), P37 (Lieutenant ET Stanley RN) and P43 (Lieutenant AC Halliday RN) to the north and north west of the Straits. A patrol line of five submarines was disposed ten miles apart north west of Cape St Vito in Sicily in the order P44 (Lieutenant TE Barlow RN), P46 (Lieutenant JS Stevens DSC RN), P211 (Commander B Bryant DSC RN), P212 (Lieutenant JH Bromage DSC RN) and P247 (Lieutenant MGR Lumby DSC RN).

Two more submarines, lent from the First Flotilla, Parthian (Lieutenant MB St John RN) and Turbulent (Commander JW Linton DSO DSC RN), were placed southeast from Cavoli in Sardinia so further blocking the passage between Sicily and Sardinia. If the Italian Fleet should attempt to attack through the Sicilian narrows, this patrol line could be moved south and, in addition, there were a number of torpedo planes based in Malta. A feature of these dispositions was that the small U-class were stationed inshore where it was considered they could cope more effectively with the expected heavy enemy antisubmarine measures, and the larger submarines were stationed in the open sea where they might be able to surface and use their superior speed if they had to be redisposed. The French Fleet at Toulon was to be covered by three submarines from Gibraltar. These were P222 (Lieutenant Commander AJ Mackenzie RN), P51 (Lieutenant MLC Crawford DSC RN) and P217 (Lieutenant EJD Turner DSC RN), disposed close south of the port. As it was hoped that Admiral Darlan at Algiers might persuade these ships to join the Allies, the three submarines had orders to report, but not to attack any French warships that put to sea. On the Atlantic coast, the US Navy had provided its own covering force based on the modern battleship Massachusetts, which was more than able to deal with any opposition in this area. The submarine Herring (Lieutenant Commander RW Johnson USN) was, however, sent to patrol off Casablanca and Blackfish (Lieutenant Commander JJ Davidson USN) off Dakar in case the French cruisers in those places put to sea. It will be seen that not all of the available submarines were deployed at first and that a number were kept back in harbour as reliefs including three sent temporarily to the Tenth Flotilla from the First Flotilla at Beirut3.These submarines on their way to Malta were also used to run in supplies.

THE FIVE BRITISH SUBMARINES which were to lead in the landing forces at Oran and Algiers arrived in position several days before the landings were to take place. To avoid compromising the operation they had orders not to attack any ships below cruisers or U-boats and then only if they were in a good position and practically certain to hit. They were occupied making periscope reconnaissances of the beaches for the benefit of special pilot officers who were on board and who were to land with the amphibious forces. They also made closer reconnaissances by folbot. All went well except that Ursula and P221 were harassed by the presence of French fishing vessels, and on 4th November a sudden storm drove P221's folbot, which was on reconnaissance, out to sea. It was picked up, with its crew exhausted, by a French trawler and taken to Algiers where fortunately their cover story was believed, and the operation was not compromised. On the night of 6th/7th November, due to an error in staff work, one of the amphibious convoys for Algiers passed through P54's area, but fortunately without more than surprise on both sides. On the night of 7th/8th November, the five submarines took up their positions about five miles to seaward of the beaches to act as beacons. They were all successfully contacted by motor launches leading in the convoys and the pilots were transferred to them4. The folbots from the submarines having taken up their positions close in to the beaches to signal in the landing craft, the submarines themselves withdrew. They made their way to seawards to allow unrestricted anti-submarine operations to begin in the amphibious areas.

On the coast of Morocco, the three American submarines also arrived on station a few days before the landings. They had slightly more flexible orders and were allowed to attack enemy vessels provided that the accomplishment of their primary mission was not thereby jeopardised. They also made periscope reconnaissances of the beaches and disembarkation ports, and took still and motion pictures too. An important part of their duty was to report the weather especially the swell on the beaches that was known to be bad on four days out of five. On 6th November they reported a heavy swell but on 7th the sea was calm and the swell moderate. When acting as beacons off the coast, infra-red lamps were used but the destroyer Rowe, sent ahead of the Northern Attack Forces could not find Shad. Fortunately Rowe was fitted with SG radar and. she pressed on in and established her position with it only finding Shad on her way out to meet the convoy. Shad had no opportunity to transfer her photographs to the landing force. Gunnel off Fedhala was successfully contacted in her beacon position by the destroyer Boyle but subsequently met an American cruiser at close range and submerged for the rest of the day. At Safi, Barb had special orders to report the surf and outlying rocks and to send in a rubber boat with scouts to establish a beacon off the breakwater. Unfortunately she released the rubber boat too far out to sea and it arrived exhausted and too late to be of use. The enemy also fired on it.

Herring off Casablanca was not able to attack the French ships that sortied as soon as it was light. They turned close along the coast towards the landings at Fedhala and were intercepted by the American covering and bombarding forces. Herring then sank the Vichy Ville de Havre of 5083 tons, but it is difficult to understand what this achieved at a time when the Allies were trying to get the French to come over to their side. Far to the south, Blackfish, off Dakar, detected no movement of the surface forces there. Next day she attacked a Vichy convoy off Point Alemadies and probably damaged a ship and the counter attack proved ineffective. Shad, Gunnel, Herring and Barb were then withdrawn from the coast to form a patrol line between Madeira and the coast of Africa to protect the landings from the French ships at Dakar, Blackfish remaining off the port. On 14th November all five submarines were ordered to proceed to the Clyde where their tender Beaver was waiting for them at Rosneath. All the submarines, which had left New London on l9th/20th October, had engine trouble. Gunnel broke down off the coast of Spain and was reduced to a speed of five knots. She was, however, found by a British escort vessel and brought into Falmouth.

P222, P51 and P217 blockading Toulon detected no sign of movement by the French Fleet. Before the landings in North Africa took place, P217 was ordered to embark more members of General Giraud's staff, first from Bormes Roads and then from off the Cros de Cagnes. Six officers and a lady were picked up on 8th November and the submarine sailed for Algiers, which by then had fallen into the Allies' hands. The submarines disposed to intercept any interference by Italian warships had been on patrol since 5th November. They had orders not to attack convoys until 11th, but three of them encountered U-boats and fired torpedoes. On 5th, P43 off Stromboli fired a full salvo of four torpedoes at a range of 2300 yards at an Italian U-boat and missed. Next day, P46 off Palermo also fired four torpedoes in a snap attack at another Italian U-boat at a range of 3000 yards but it was on a late track, and she missed astern. She sighted another U-boat shortly afterwards but it was out of range. She could not have attacked anyway as she had orders to keep a salvo for heavy ships. She also had to let a tanker escorted by two destroyers go by. On 7th November, Utmost, south of Messina, fired yet another salvo of four at a U-boat but the range was less than 300 yards and it is probable that the torpedoes had not picked up their depth and she too failed to secure a hit. On the night of 7th/8th November, as the landing forces were approaching the beaches, the new Italian light cruiser Attilio Regolo with six destroyers had been sent to lay mines off Cape Bon. The group passed through the submarine patrol line north west of Sicily after dark on its outward journey without being seen. Next day in daylight the force was seen by air reconnaissance and reported as returning to Palermo. P46 (Lieutenant JS Stevens DSC RN) received this report and almost at once sighted the Italian ships approaching from the south. The enemy altered course towards her and she was able to fire four torpedoes at a range of 2100 yards from inside the screen and secured a hit right forward on Regolo. It blew off her bows and stopped her. P46 had now expended all her torpedoes and was unable to finish her off. She managed, however, to shake off a counter attack lasting an hour and a half with forty depth charges and, after five hours, was able to surface and report by wireless. P44 (Lieutenant TE Barlow RN), the next submarine on the patrol line, heard the explosion and closed in, sighting the damaged cruiser some three hours later. P44 went deep and increased to full speed submerged in a series of fifteen-minute dashes to close. When she next looked, however, she saw that the enemy was being towed stern first by two tugs and that she had been heading her off in the wrong direction. There were now ten destroyers and torpedo boats protecting her but P44 got away two torpedoes at a range of 7000 yards in a glassy calm from practically right astern and not surprisingly missed. P211 (Commander B Bryant DSC RN) the next submarine in the patrol line had sighted the smoke from P46's attack but decided that P44 was better placed to intervene and that he should remain in his patrol position. At 1700 the cruiser was reported to be still afloat and at 1740, P211 was ordered by the Captain(S) Ten, to give chase and try to intercept off Cape Gallo. P211 surfaced and set off at full speed. It was a dark night but she was soon forced to dive again by one of the many destroyers in the vicinity. P211 surfaced again as soon as she could but was put down several times by patrols and Regolo got into Palermo. She was, however, out of action for six months.

The main reason for the failure of the Italian Fleet even to try to prevent the landings in North Africa was a crippling shortage of oil fuel. Already the major ships had given up a third of the fuel in their tanks, and the older battleships had practically been emptied to supply the convoy escorts. Nevertheless by the 9th November the Germans had begun to occupy Tunisia and the Italians decided to move up some fleet units closer to the scene of action so as to be able to intervene if enough fuel could be scraped together. The three cruisers and six destroyers at Navarino were the first to move and were spotted by air reconnaissance steering westwards across the Ionian Sea. Una (Lieutenant CP Norman RN) and Utmost (Lieutenant JWD Coombe RN), who were south of Messina, were at once moved to cover Augusta, for which place the enemy was thought to be bound. The Italians had just altered the characteristics of the light houses in Sicily and both submarines were badly out of position. At dawn on 10th, Una sighted the enemy and fired a full salvo of four torpedoes at a range of 4000 yards but on a very late track and missed. Within a few minutes, Utmost fired four more torpedoes at 7000 yards from the quarter and also missed, and the enemy entered Augusta safely. At midday, some six hours after the attack on the cruisers, Una sighted an Italian U-boat that passed close. Inexplicably Una had only reloaded one torpedo tube and that at the last moment. She fired it at 600 yards from right astern and missed5. Next day the cruiser squadron slipped out of Augusta and by hugging the coast avoided Una. Utmost had no torpedoes left and was already on her way back to Malta. The enemy therefore reached Messina without being attacked again.

When the submarines stationed off the beaches at Oran and Algiers were withdrawn, P54 and Ursula on 9th and 10th November respectively, they were recalled to Gibraltar. P221, P45 and P48 were ordered to positions in the Marittimo area, west of Sicily, to back up the patrol line to the north. On 9th November success against a U-boat was at last achieved. P247 (Lieutenant MGR Lumby DSC RN), at the western end of the patrol line, sighted the Italian submarine Granito on the surface on a westerly course. She fired six torpedoes at a range of 800 yards scoring three hits and sinking her. This was the second U-boat sunk by P247 since commissioning during the summer6.On 11th Ursula (Lieutenant RB Lakin DSC RN), on her way to Gibraltar, was not so lucky. She encountered U73 and fired six torpedoes at her at a range of 5200 yards unfortunately without success. Later the same day she again sighted the same U-boat and attacked her with gunfire but again without result.

On 9th November, German aircraft landed in Tunisia and on 11th the first convoy of two transports escorted by five destroyers sailed for Tunisia, arriving at Bizerta next day. The convoy carried a thousand Italian soldiers and 1800 tons of ammunition, equipment and supplies. On 11th too, a British brigade was landed at Bougie, and next day British commandos and parachute troops arrived at Bone, the intention being to forestall the Axis forces arriving in Tunisia. At noon on 11th November the Naval Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force issued orders for all the submarines under his command to be re-disposed to cut the Axis communications from Italy to Bizerta, Tunis and the east Tunisian ports. He also indicated that it was no longer necessary to guard against the movement of the Italian Fleet from Taranto to the westwards. Captain(S) Ten then broke up the concentration of submarines north and south of the Straits of Messina, and the patrol lines between Sardinia and Sicily. Utmost and P46 were already returning to Malta having expended all their torpedoes. P211 and P212 were ordered to transit the Sicilian narrows to the Gulf of Hammamet and a position off Kerkenah respectively, while Una and P44 were recalled to Malta. The remaining submarines, Parthian, P37, P43, P247, P221, P45 and P48 were re-disposed between Palermo and Bizerta. Orders were issued that only southbound supply ships were to be attacked, and that warships and northbound ships were to be left alone. P35, who had commandos on board, was ordered to land them to disrupt the railway line in the Gulf of Euphemia as troops for Tunisia might well be using it. Turbulent, from the south east coast of Sardinia was ordered to the Naples area.

No sooner had these orders been issued than the three Littorio-class battleships left Taranto with their escorting vessels for Naples, proceeding at moderate speed to save fuel. It was twenty-four hours before air reconnaissance established that they had left Taranto, by which time they were approaching the Straits of Messina. As we have seen, Una had also been recalled to Malta and only P35, north of the Straits, was able to get into an intercepting position. She sighted the battle squadron and fired four torpedoes at a range of 4000 yards allowing for a speed of 29 knots, which the revolutions counted by asdic, seemed to confirm. The speed was actually 16 knots and all the torpedoes missed far ahead. It does not seem that the enemy even realised that they had been attacked and the screen made no counter attack. There was, however, one more chance; Turbulent was closing Naples from the southwest. However, the Italian battleships increased speed and passed ten miles ahead of her during the night and entered Naples safely.

With the Axis landings in Tunisia and the collapse of French resistance on 10th November, the whole strategic situation changed. From an amphibious operation to establish Allied forces in North Africa, it became a race to Tunisia to get there first if possible and if not, to get there in greater numbers and throw the enemy forces out. On 11th November as well, the Germans invaded Unoccupied France and the Italians landed in Corsica. With Admiral Darlan at Algiers, invitations were sent to the French Fleet to join the Allies and it was no longer considered a threat to the North African landings. On 14th November the patrols south of Toulon were abandoned. Little had happened in this area. P51 was depth charged by a patrol on 13th but otherwise it was quiet. P228, Sturgeon and Tribune, which had relieved P51 and P222, were ordered south to the Naples area to blockade the Italian battlefleet that had arrived there7.

THE WHOLE SUBMARINE FORCE had now, therefore, returned to the work it had been doing for two years and resumed its war of attrition against Axis shipping. The geography of the campaign had, however, changed substantially. The main enemy traffic now passed from ports in the Tyrrhenian Sea direct to Tunisia and the old route by Messina was no longer used. The Eighth Army had broken out at El Alamein on 4th November and the Axis forces were in full retreat. They were pursued across the Egyptian frontier on 11th November and by the 13th the British entered Tobruk unopposed. All the enemy traffic by sea to Cyrenaica then ceased and only a trickle of supplies for the Axis armies arrived through Tripoli. Already by 11th November, the submarines of the covering forces had been released by their operation orders from the restrictions on what targets they could engage. P44 (Lieutenant TE Barlow RN), north of Marittimo on that day, made a submerged attack on a small merchant vessel and although the range was only 900 yards and she fired two torpedoes, she missed. Turbulent (Commander JW Linton DSO DSC RN) when still southeast of Sardinia and before she moved to Naples, sighted a naval auxiliary northbound for Cagliari. She fired two torpedoes at a range of 1800 yards hitting her aft with one of them and sinking her. This was Benghazi of 1554 tons, an ex Danish ship converted by the Germans into a U-boat depot ship and carrying forty torpedoes as well as other valuable stores and spare gear. Next day, P45 (Lieutenant HB Turner RN) sighted an Italian U-boat but her adversary dived before she could get into a position to attack.

The main scene of operations now became the area between the west end of Sicily and the north coast of Tunis and it was here that the enemy concentrated their air and surface anti-submarine forces. The passage could be made in a single night and this was often when the submarines were trying to re-charge their batteries on the surface. To increase their problems, the weather always seems have been bad in November with poor visibility and heavy seas. Although the cryptographers had given us the positions of the minefields, there was a southerly current which pushed the submarines towards the Sicilian mine barrier and there were few navigational marks to help except off the coasts of Sicily and Tunisia. This area, a rectangle about 100 miles long and 20 miles wide between Marittimo and the Cani Rocks could be entered from Malta at either the Cape Bon end, or the Sicilian end. Captain Simpson was apprehensive about sending his submarines in and decided that only the agile U-class were likely to survive a patrol there. What was worse was that there was no direction in which to withdraw if the opposition was found to be too strong. On 17th November, Utmost (Lieutenant JWD Coombe RN) was sent to Cape Bon to patrol off Bizerta. She then worked her way northeastwards along the rectangle and on 23rd reported that she had expended all her torpedoes, that one attack had been successful and that she was returning to Malta. It seems from post war research that she attacked and missed the minelayer Barletta escorted by the torpedo boat Ardente on that day. On the morning of the 25th she was sighted by an aircraft and bombed north west of Marittimo and this attack was followed up by the torpedo boat Groppo, who was escorting another convoy. She was sunk with all hands including her Commanding Officer, three other officers and 29 men8.

On 13th, two attacks were made on traffic on the Tunisian route. In the forenoon, P48 (Lieutenant ME Faber RN) fired three torpedoes at a large merchant ship at a range of 5400 yards but missed astern and during the afternoon Parthian (Lieutenant MB St John RN) fired four torpedoes at a supply ship escorted by a destroyer and two aircraft, but at 4000 yards she missed too, although she thought she had hit at the time. Next day four submarines were in action. P48 again attacked and this time it was a small supply ship at a range of 1800 yards. She fired three torpedoes but the enemy saw them coming and combed the tracks. P45 (Lieutenant HB Turner RN) fired four torpedoes at a small ship but the range was 5500 yards, the submarine broke surface on firing and all of them missed too. Later on in the afternoon she fired a single torpedo at 1000 yards at a supply ship but missed yet again. The same happened when P37 (Lieutenant ET Stanley RN) fired another three torpedoes at a small ship at a range of 3000 yards but finally P212 (Lieutenant JH Bromage DSC RN) off Kerkenah stopped a ship by gunfire, and sank her with a single torpedo at 750 yards. This was the 1580-ton Scillin and to P212's horror she found that she had 800 British prisoners of war on board. She was only able to rescue 26 of them. She also picked up 35 Italians but was then forced to dive and withdraw by an anti-submarine vessel.

On 15th November there were two more misses. P45 (Lieutenant HB Turner RN) fired a single torpedo at a merchant ship at 1200 yards without result and Turbulent off Naples attacked a large tanker escorted by a destroyer at night. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 2500 yards but the range was probably much greater. There was no doubt that our submarines were well placed strategically as they were meeting plenty of targets, but they seemed to have great difficulty in hitting. On 16th they did slightly better in the six attacks they made that day. At 0907, P247 (Lieutenant MGR Lumby DSC RN) missed a merchant ship with three torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards and just over half an hour later, P221 (Lieutenant MFR Ainslie DSC RN) did the same with four torpedoes at 2300 yards aimed at a large supply ship, although she thought she had obtained two hits at the time. A few minutes later P228 (Lieutenant ILM McGeoch RN), when 25 miles south west of La Spezia, fired a full salvo of six torpedoes at a German U-boat but the range was 5500 yards and she failed to secure a hit. The same day she sank a 300-ton schooner by gunfire after boarding it and capturing confidential books. This was followed an hour later by Parthian (Lieutenant Commander DSt Clair Ford RN) who attacked a large ship with four torpedoes at a range of 6000 yards without result. Lastly on 16th, P43 (Lieutenant AC Halliday RN) off Marittimo, made a night-submerged attack in moonlight on a supply ship, which she hit with one out of four torpedoes fired at 1000 yards. The vessel was badly damaged but was beached and survived.

On arrival in the Gulf of Hammamet, P211 (Commander B Bryant DSC RN) closed Sousse submerged and sank the 400-ton brigantine Bice by gunfire. She was then ordered eastwards to the Gulf of Sidra on signal intelligence to intercept a petrol carrying ship bound for Benghazi. She surfaced and proceeded at full power in daylight flying the Italian ensign and on arrival off Ras Ali sighted a northbound ship. She tried to work ahead on the surface ignoring many aircraft sighted that were probably not on anti-submarine patrols. Eventually the enemy ship turned back for Ras Ali and P211 was forced to dive by an anti-submarine aircraft. After dark on 16th November she closed Ras Ali in water too shallow to dive and fired two torpedoes at a range of 2200 yards at a ship at anchor, hitting and sinking her. This proved to be the landing craft depot ship Hans Arp of 2645 tons. She also exchanged fire with some well-armed Siebel ferries. There had, however, been no petrol explosion and next day she fired a single torpedo from submerged into Ras Ali at a range of 4500 yards. This time there was a heavy explosion followed by a conflagration among barges at the pier. The same night she fired another single torpedo at a 450 ton three masted schooner at anchor in Marsa el Brega and sank her. On 21st, after two more gun actions against small craft, she fired yet another single torpedo at a large tank landing craft at a range of 3500 yards but it ran under. P211 now, out of ammunition and very short of fuel, made for Malta arriving on 24th. Off the north coast of Sicily on 17th November, P37 encountered a large passenger ship escorted by a torpedo boat. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards but the target saw the tracks and altered course away. Later P35 (Lieutenant SLC Maydon RN) sighted what was probably the same ship and fired two torpedoes, which were all that she had left, and hit with one of them at a range of 3000 yards. This was Piedmonte of 15,209 tons but she saved herself by beaching and was afterwards refloated. On 18th, P37 attacked a convoy but she was put deep by the target and only managed to get a single torpedo away after the convoy had passed and it missed. Turbulent, after her patrol off Sardinia and Naples, made her way back to Beirut by the north coast of Africa, and bombarded the shore near Sirte on 22nd November.

WE MUST NOW TURN to study what had been happening in the eastern Mediterranean during the North African landings. When the Eighth Army opened its offensive on 23rd October, it will be recalled that most of the submarines, which had been attacking the Axis supply lines, had been withdrawn to prepare for the landings in French North Africa. Only five were actually on patrol and two of these, P35 and P212 in the Ionian Sea were soon on their way back to Malta. This left Taku, Traveller and Thrasher working in the southern Aegean. Traveller and Thrasher too were back in Beirut by the end of October leaving only Taku on station. The Greek submarine Nereus (Plotarkhis A Rallis) made a short patrol off Rhodes at the end of October and landed a party with stores on Euboea on 3rd November. On 1st November, Taku was ordered that only southbound tankers and ships of over 5000 tons were to be attacked, and that no attacks were to be made after dawn on 4th November. These restrictions were lifted on 8th November after the landings in North Africa. Clyde and Rorqual, as we have already noted, ran supplies, which included the all-important submarine torpedoes, into Malta arriving early in November. Traveller, Porpoise and Rorqual were lent to the Tenth Flotilla as well as Turbulent and Parthian. Only Taku and two Greek submarines were then left in the eastern Mediterranean.

The attack on the Axis communications during the twelve days struggle at El Alamein was, of course, of great importance and it was fortunate that, with the submarine campaign virtually at a standstill in the area, that the RAF were able to do conspicuously well. In this period they were able to sink a tanker and four ships carrying cased petrol to Cyrenaica that contributed greatly to the enemy's defeat. Taku (Lieutenant AJW Pitt RN) did her best to help, and had sunk Arca already mentioned on 26th October. She also attacked a naval auxiliary on 8th November firing a single torpedo from almost right astern at a range of 1100 yards, which missed.

On 20th November, the Eighth Army entered Benghazi and practically the whole of Cyrenaica with its airfields fell into British hands. On 21st, British and US forces of the First Army made contact with the Germans who had landed, at Medjez el Bab, about thirty miles west of Tunis. The rival forces in Tunisia were of about the same size, that is of two divisions and the build up, and so the attack on the Axis sea communications was therefore of the utmost importance. The enemy supply lines from the Aegean and west coast of Greece to Cyrenaica were, of course, no longer in use and the maritime arena stretched from the Tyrrhenian Sea by the west end of Sicily to Tunisia and to a small extent, on to Tripoli. Small coasting vessels were also trying to get supplies forward to Rommel's army along the coast from Tripoli. On 21st November, too, the Admiralty, at the request of the Naval Commander of the Expeditionary Force extended the 'Sink at Sight' zone to include practically the whole Mediterranean except, of course, Turkish territorial waters and an area off the Spanish coast to allow trade to develop between Spain and Algiers in the future.

On 20th November, a much-needed convoy from the east reached Malta safely9 and this was followed by a number of other ships. The island at the time had only a few days' supplies remaining and this may be taken as the end of Malta's long siege. Over the period of nearly two and a half years, the island had been sustained by ten Malta convoys and by supplies brought in by a few warships10. Altogether submarines made twenty-two storing runs. They began in August, 1940 when Pandora and Proteus had brought in material and maintenance personnel from Gibraltar for the Hurricane fighters. Store carrying started in earnest in May 1941, with the arrival of Cachalot from the United Kingdom and thereafter no opportunity was missed to use any submarines visiting the island to carry mail and personnel, as well as the all important submarine torpedoes. The minelaying submarines were probably the most useful as they could carry cargo in place of their mines, but Clyde carried most when she landed one of her battery sections and could take over 100 tons of ammunition or stores, as well as a similar weight of fuel in her tanks. The large submarines of the O, P and R- classes were valuable too. Clyde made four trips, and Rorqual and Cachalot three. The total amount of cargo landed by submarines must have been over 4000 tons including at least 300 torpedoes. Small though this may seem (it could have been loaded into a single merchant ship) it was valuable and was transported at a time when it was desperately needed and could not be carried in any other way. Three submarines were lost on these duties; Cachalot on her way back to Alexandria sunk by a torpedo boat, Pandora bombed in harbour, and Olympus mined off Valetta.

On 20th November there were sixteen submarines on patrol in the central Mediterranean. Tribune, Sturgeon and P228 were off Naples or in the Tyrrhenian Sea, while P54 and Ursula had just left Gibraltar for the Genoa area. Una, P42, Utmost and P221 were north of Tunis and off Marittimo while P247 was in the vicinity of Lampedusa. P212 was north of Tripoli and P44 and P46 had arrived in the Gulf of Sirte to relieve P211, Turbulent and Porpoise. On 20th, P228 (Lieutenant ILM McGeoch RN) when fifteen miles south west of Naples, fired a full salvo of six torpedoes at an Italian U-boat but the range was 3500 yards and she missed, probably under estimating the speed. She had now expended all her bow torpedoes and only had a single torpedo left in her stern tube. This she expended on an Italian destroyer escorting a convoy that passed her at 700 yards. A hit was obtained on this target, which was Velite, but she was only damaged and was towed in to harbour. On 22nd, on her way back to Gibraltar, P228 sighted a convoy and reported it by wireless. The RAF attacked it and the supply ship Luigi Favorita of 3576 tons was damaged. Having no torpedoes left, P228 sank her by gunfire. Her adventures were still not at an end and P228 was attacked but fortunately missed by a U-boat when on her way home. On 18th, P44 (Lieutenant TE Barlow RN) arrived in the western end of the Gulf of Sirte. She was told to investigate Burat el Sun where a supply dump was being built up for Rommel's retreating army by coasters and U-boats. Almost at once on 21st, P44 sighted a U-boat and fired a full salvo of four torpedoes at a range of 2600 yards, but the speed was badly over estimated and she missed ahead. This U-boat was definitely running supplies to Rommel's army that on 23rd turned at El Agheila to try and make a stand. P44 tried to attack the same U-boat again at night in Burat harbour but ran aground. After refloating herself, P44 engaged a schooner also in the harbour with her gun and obtained twelve hits before her gun jammed. Finally on 23rd, P44 made a night attack with her gun on some small ships which, however, turned out to be anti-aircraft barges. Her gun jammed again and she had to dive and was depth charged by an E-boat after hitting the bottom at 200 feet. On the same day off the north coast of Sicily, P42 (Lieutenant ACG Mars RN) attacked a convoy of two merchant ships with four torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards. Although the targets were overlapping, she fired on the swing and missed. P42 was then harassed by anti-submarine vessels and bombed by aircraft. On her way back to Malta she followed a new route heading directly from the Skerki Bank for Pantellaria along the enemy convoy route.

Porpoise (Lieutenant LWA Bennington DSC RN) made a short patrol from l6th-2lst November off the coast of Libya. On 18th she sighted a barge tanker on fire lying stopped and which had been severely damaged by the Fleet Air Arm. Early next morning she closed in to 600 yards and sank her with a single torpedo. The ship was GuilioGiordani of 10,534 tons and she was carrying petrol. While returning to Malta and off Kerkenah, Porpoise sank the Italian Fertilia of 223 tons by gunfire. Ursula (Lieutenant RB Lakin DSC RN) and P54 (Lieutenant CE Oxborrow DSC RN) arrived to patrol in the area of the south of France and in the Gulf of Genoa before the end of the month. Both submarines ran into very bad weather and suffered damage from flooding. P54 had a serious accident in the Gulf of Lions on 25th, when she surfaced with her main vents open and her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Oxborrow and two ratings were washed overboard and drowned. Ursula had on board a detachment of the Special Boat Section and had instructions to make as much nuisance of herself as possible to try to attract anti-submarine measures away from the escort of convoys to Tunisia. She reached the French coast off Hyeres on 27th, and although she met a number of eastbound ships, they were all in ballast and the sea was too rough to set the torpedoes shallow enough to hit them. She reconnoitered Savona on 30th and that night landed her commandos in folbots to try to blow up a railway tunnel. The railway was, however, well guarded and they could not get near the tunnel. They were able, however, to blow up the track in the open before re-embarking. This substantially decreased the traffic on this busy stretch of line. As Ursula was withdrawing she encountered the antisubmarine schooner Togo and engaged her with her gun. The enemy abandoned ship and Togo was boarded and her confidential books were captured before she was sunk.

There were four more attacks by other submarines before the end of November. On 26th, P44 in the Gulf of Sirte made a submerged night attack in bright moonlight on a large supply ship escorted by two torpedo boats but they zigged away and the two torpedoes fired after them missed at a range of 5000 yards. On 27th, Una (Lieutenant JD Martin RN) in a night submerged attack in bright moonlight north of Tunis in a calm sea, fired three torpedoes at 1800 yards at a southbound supply ship and hit with the first one. She had intended to fire four but was able to withhold the fourth when the first one hit. The ship, which has not been subsequently identified, blew up. She reported the attack, and our surface forces later sank the ship. At mid day on 27th, Una, still north of Tunis, made an attack on a medium sized troop ship. She fired four torpedoes at 1200 yards but they all missed. The fourth attack was by P219 (Lieutenant NLA Jewel RN), who had arrived in the Skerki Channel. On 29th she fired three torpedoes at two small merchant ships in a night attack, but the range was 5000 yards and, although she claimed to have hit at the time, the torpedoes ran wide.

The Greek submarines from Beirut were also active during November. Triton (Plotarkhis E Kontoyannis) sailed from Port Said on 10th November to land agents in Euboea and to patrol in the Aegean. She attacked a convoy on its way from the Piraeus to the Dardanelles intercepting it in the Doro Channel on 16th. Triton was detected by the German destroyer Hermes and was counter attacked by the German manned UJ2102, which dropped a number of patterns totalling 49 depth charges and forced her to the surface. Triton gallantly manned her gun but was rammed and sunk. Her Captain and 32 of her crew were rescued and made prisoners of war. Papanicolis (Ypoploiarkhos N Roussen) left Beirut on 21st November and landed agents and stores on Euboea on 27th. On 30th she torpedoed and sank a large cargo steamer in Alimnia Bay, north west of Rhodes and then returned to Beirut with a number of defects.

There is no doubt that during November, the strategic positioning of submarines was successful. They were very much in the right places at the right times, and cryptography was mainly responsible. They made a total of forty-three attacks firing 127 torpedoes. The results, however, were to say the least, disappointing. Seven of the attacks firing 29 torpedoes were directed at German and Italian U-boats and all missed except one, which sank Granito. Another seven attacks firing 25 torpedoes were on Italian surface warships in which one hit was scored, severely damaging the new light cruiser Attilio Regelo, but the other six attacks missed. The remaining thirty-three attacks firing 61 torpedoes were directed against naval auxiliaries and supply ships but only sank three ships of 5775 tons and a schooner of 450 tons, and also some barges alongside a pier. They also damaged two ships of 18,209 tons and shared another three of 18,111 tons with aircraft and surface ships. To these can be added two small ships sunk and one damaged by gunfire. Eleven torpedo hits out of 127 torpedoes fired cannot be claimed to be good shooting. During November the Italian Navy transported 42,005 tons of war material and 21,731 tons of fuel to Libya with a boss of 26% and 30,731 tons to Tunisia with 13,300 men without loss. The Allied attempt to seize Tunisia by a coup de main, and to prevent Axis forces establishing themselves there by a sea blockade therefore failed. Most of the casualties caused to the Axis were by aircraft, which succeeded in sinking twelve ships of 42,649 tons throughout the Mediterranean, and these were all on their way to Libya or Cyrenaica. There were good reasons for the poor showing of the submarines during November. The first, as we have already noted, was the very bad weather in the middle of the month. Rough seas made depth keeping and a periscope watch difficult by day and the work of the lookouts at night almost impossible. It also affected the running of the torpedoes, especially their depth keeping. The concentration of submarines among the minefields of the Sicilian narrows meant that navigation was of extreme importance, and took precedence over tactics and torpedo control in the minds of the Commanding Officers. Furthermore the short sea trip of only 130 miles from Trapani to Tunis meant that at this time of year, practically the whole voyage could be made in darkness often when the submarines were concentrating on charging their batteries. It was also possible for the Italians to concentrate strong air and surface anti-submarine forces in this small area.

WE MUST NOW TURN to the introduction of a new weapon into the Mediterranean theatre. Even before the failure of the attack on Tirpitz by Chariots in late October, it had been decided that the best area in which to deploy them was the Mediterranean. The cold water in winter in Norway meant that they could only be used in summer and the distances from the sea of the German Fleet bases in such places as Trondheim and Alten Fjord were too great for Chariots to dive in all the way to attack. The use of the fishing boat Arthur solved the problem in October, but this method was now compromised and could not be used again. The best way to take Chariots to their objectives was obviously that used by the Italians, which is to carry them there in large submarines. It had therefore been decided that the attacks on Tirpitz, important though they were strategically, must be left to X-craft and that the Chariots should be used against the Italian battle fleet in the Mediterranean. These practical problems were not the only reason for this decision. There were important strategic reasons too. The weakness of the Royal Navy in capital ships in the Mediterranean, which we have already studied, was the most urgent and originally it was hoped to destroy the Italian battleships before the landings in North Africa, but in spite of intense efforts, this was not possible. The Chariots, although the same diameter as a torpedo, had large breakwaters behind which the drivers sat and which prevented them from being washed off and these made them too large to go down a submarines' torpedo hatch and be carried inside. Pressure tight cylinders, several feet in diameter and nearly twenty feet long, had therefore to be clamped on to the casing of the submarine, each carrying one Chariot. The submarine Trooper was fitted with three of these cylinders, one forward and two aft and P311 and Thunderbolt with two. To launch the Chariots, the submarine had to surface, open hatches to open up the cylinders to extract the Chariots that would then be floated off with the divers in control. Apart from such a hazardous launching procedure in which the submarine had to lie stopped with hatches open, and many men on deck in dangerous waters, the existence of the cylinders rendered the submarines vulnerable. They substantially increased the silhouette and made the submarines difficult to handle submerged and seriously decreased their seaworthiness on the surface. The submarines fitted to carry chariots could not therefore be used for normal offensive patrols while the cylinders were on board. In spite of these disadvantages, P311, Trooper and Thunderbolt arrived in the Mediterranean in late November with a detachment of nine chariots under the command of Commander GM Sladen DSO RN and all went on to Malta. A single chariot for trials had already been transported from Gibraltar to Malta in a container on board P247 during October. The plan was to mount an attack on the three modern Italian battleships in Taranto, but before much progress had been made these three ships sailed for Naples. Nevertheless it was decided to go ahead with the preliminary reconnaissance in case they returned there. On 28th November, Traveller (Lieutenant Commander DSt Clair Ford RN) left Malta for this purpose. Traveller never returned and was lost with all hands and it is probable that she struck a mine near Taranto. She went down with her Commanding Officer11, five other officers and 59 men including some chariot personnel. Whatever the cause of her loss, the employment of the chariots was now in some doubt.

IT WAS DURING THIS PERIOD, when studying the operation orders for 'Torch' that the Prime Minister (The Right Hon Winston S Churchill PC MP) took exception to submarines being numbered rather than named. In a minute to the First Lord in early November he expressed his opinion that all new and existing submarines now known by 'P' numbers should be named. To the Admiralty's protests that it would be difficult to find enough names, especially beginning with 'U', he offered to help with his dictionary. The Prime Minister felt that names instead of numbers were important for morale. There is little doubt that submarine crews in general preferred names, although it must be admitted that the numbering of submarines throughout the First World War posed no problems and numbers such as Horton's E9 and Nasmith's E11 assumed an identity. It was, perhaps, the use of the signal pennant numbers such as P311 for our latest T-class submarine that upset the Prime Minister. In any case he was going to have his way and he was hastening the Admiralty on the subject in December.

IN DECEMBER, BOTH SIDES PREPARED to renew the conflict with vigour. Already at the end of November, the Royal Navy had established surface striking forces both at Malta and Bone to attack the Axis traffic. The air striking forces at Malta were increased and Motor Torpedo Boats were sent to the island. At the same time aircraft from Cyrenaica as well as from Algeria could now reach the area. With the loss of only one submarine in November and the arrival from Home waters of Tigris, submarine strength had been maintained. Although control of the Tenth Flotilla at Malta had reverted from the Naval Commander of the Expeditionary Force to the C-in-C Mediterranean on 15th November, its submarines were wholly employed against the Axis traffic to North Africa and the First Flotilla at Beirut continued to lend boats to Malta for this purpose. With the scuttling of the French Fleet at Toulon on 27th November, moreover, the Eighth Flotilla was relieved of this anxiety. When, after a heavy air raid on Naples by Liberators of the Ninth US Air Force from Egypt, in which the cruiser Attendolo was sunk and other ships damaged, the Italian Fleet moved to La Spezia and Maddalena, allowing the submarines to concentrate on the Tunisian route without distraction.

On 1st December there were nine submarines on patrol and five more on passage to and from their patrol areas. Tribune, P217 and P228 were in the Tyrrhenian Sea, the first two off Naples. P42, P43, P219 and P45 were to the west of Sicily, P42 off Marittimo, P43 north of Tunis, P219 in the Skerki Channel and P45 in the Gulf of Tunis itself. P37 was in the Lampedusa area, west of Malta while Ursula was in the Genoa area as a diversion. P35 had just left Malta for Tunisia; P222 had just left Gibraltar for the Naples area while Sturgeon and P54 were nearing their bases on their return passages. Papanicolis was still on patrol in the Aegean.

On 2nd December, just after midnight, P219 (Lieutenant NLA Jewell RN) in the Skerki Channel sighted a transport and fired three torpedoes at a range of 5000 yards, hitting and damaging Puccini of 2422 tons. Three hours later, P45 (Lieutenant HB Turner RN), north of Tunis, sighted a torpedo boat and fired a single torpedo at her at a range of 1600 yards but missed. Unknown to P45 at the time, the torpedo went on and hit and sank the hospital ship Citta di Trapani of 2470 tons, which the torpedo boat was escorting. On this same night, Force Q from Bone had put to sea and, guided by aircraft using radar and flares destroyed a whole convoy about sixty miles north east of Bizerta including Puccini, damaged earlier by P219. The next night early in the morning, P45 fired single torpedoes on two occasions at schooners at ranges of 1500-1800 yards, but missed on both occasions. Meanwhile Force K, consisting of four destroyers from Malta, had made a sortie to the Kerkenah area to follow up the damaging of a convoy by the Fleet Air Arm, and destroyed the rest of it and one of its escorts. Later on, on 3rd December, five more attacks were made by submarines. P48 (Lieutenant ME Faber RN) fired a full salvo of four torpedoes at a barge merchant ship escorted by five destroyers at a range of 1800 yards but missed. At about the same time, P37 (Lieutenant ET Stanley DSC RN) off the east Tunisian coast took a very long shot (at 9000 yards) at a convoy with four torpedoes and she missed probably because the target was out of range. P45 then encountered a torpedo boat and fired a single torpedo at 1500 yards, but the enemy saw the track and altered course and went on to full speed successfully avoiding being hit. Finally on this day, far to the north off the French coast, Ursula met the ex-French St Marguerite of 1855 tons in German hands bound for Naples from Marseilles. She sank her with a combination of gunfire and a demolition charge after a single torpedo fired at 800 yards was seen to run under. Ursula, on 2nd, had already successfully bombarded the railway line at Santa Lorenzo, east of Savona and the oil tanks at Oneglia at a range of 1500 yards. On her way back to base on 4th December, pretending to be a German U-boat, she boarded a Spanish schooner. It will be recalled that Ursula had been sent to this area as a diversion to try to lure anti-submarine measures away from the Tunisian route. The Naval Commander of the Expeditionary Force commended her for her efforts. P35 (Lieutenant SLC Maydon RN) on 3rd, north of Mahedia on the east coast of Tunisia sighted a northbound ship. She attacked with gunfire at close range and stopped her. Her destruction was completed, as soon as she had made certain that there were no prisoners of war on board, by gunfire. This was Sacro Cuore of 1097 tons. P35 found some Luftwaffe personnel on board and took them prisoner, returning to Malta to land them.

So far, December had started well and attacks continued almost daily. On 4th December, P219 fired a full salvo of six torpedoes at a large merchant vessel at a range of 3000 yards. She claimed a hit at the time but this has not been confirmed. In the afternoon of the same day she attacked a smaller merchant ship and fired her single stern tube which, at a range of 3400 yards understandably missed. Next day, the 5th, P217 (Lieutenant EJD Turner DSC RN) in the Tyrrhenian Sea, fired four torpedoes at two medium sized merchant ships in convoy but the range was 6000 yards and they ran wide. This was a pity as one of the targets was Ankara, which was one of the few ships capable of lifting heavy tanks. A few minutes later, P48 in the same general area, fired her last four torpedoes at a barge merchant ship escorted by a torpedo boat and aircraft. She fired at a range of 3000 yards and missed again. Early next morning while it was still dark Tigris (Lieutenant Commander GR Colvin RN) from Home waters off Bone and on passage in the western Mediterranean, sighted an Italian U-boat. This was Porfido and Tigris sank her with one of two torpedoes, picking up four survivors. Later the same day, P45 in the Kerkenah-Kuriat area missed a small tanker in ballast with two torpedoes at 1200 yards. The day before, when closing Hammamet, she had run hard aground and was stuck for some hours. She got off before daylight by slipping her drop keel. She then sighted a coaster hugging the coast with an air escort. She fired three torpedoes at a range of 4500 yards at the enemy, which was Suelberg of 1700 tons. She hit her and she blew up and sank12.

Rorqual (Lieutenant Commander LW Napier RN) laid 25 mines off Cani Rocks on the coast of Tunis on 8th December and these sank the German steamer Grad of 1870 tons. On 14th she fired three torpedoes at a range of 4000 yards at a merchant ship but they were fitted with the new Duplex non-contact pistols and two of them exploded prematurely and the third missed. Rorqual then went on to the Tyrrhenian Sea and laid 25 mines north of Ischia on 17th. The next day she made a submerged attack by moonlight with three torpedoes on a merchant ship escorted by two E-boats and claimed a hit13.

On 10th December, Captain(S) Eighth Submarine Flotilla with the depot ship Maidstone, moved from Gibraltar to Algiers. This advanced the base over 400 miles closer to the operational areas and greatly decreased time spent by submarines on passage. He also took over operational responsibility for the whole western basin up to the line Sicily to Cape Bon. He still answered for this area to the Naval Commander of the Expeditionary Force. The eastern basin remained under Captains(S) Ten and One at Malta and Beirut, both of whom now came under C-in-C Mediterranean. The system of command, however, remained flexible and submarines operated across the lines of responsibility when necessary and were lent from one flotilla to another as required. In December the armies in Tunisia became literally bogged down with heavy rain and mud after a desperate effort to take Tunis in the middle of the month. In Libya, the Eighth Army had dislodged the enemy from the position at El Agheiba but at the end of the year was held up by another position 230 miles east of Tripoli at Buerat. Supplies and reinforcements were the key to success on both fronts and the campaign against enemy shipping across the Mediterranean was still of vital importance.

The Italian Navy was badly shaken by the destruction of a whole convoy by Force Q early in December and decided that in future all troops that went by sea rather than air, should cross at night in destroyers at high speed. The bombing of the harbours in Sicily forced them to use departure ports for their convoys farther north, such as Naples and Leghorn, with correspondingly lengthened voyages. The Allied domination of the air in the central Mediterranean also forced them to use submarines to run supplies across especially to Tripolitania. The Italians felt that the convoy route to Tunisia was fairly well protected on its southeast side by the existing minefields in the Sicilian narrows. They now started to reinforce the fields on the northwest side and this work was mostly done at night by cruisers and destroyers as well as by the minelayer Barletta.

The general disposition of the Allied submarines remained the same for the rest of December. In the Naples-Genoa area, except for one short period, strength on patrol varied from one to four boats. P54, P42, Rorqual, Turbulent, P222 and P247 all visited this area. Submarines from Malta operated south west of Sicily and in the Gulf of Tunis. P44, Ursula, P51, P48 and P37 worked here. The Malta submarines also patrolled on the east coast of Tunisia and on the coast of Tripoli. P211, Una, P46, P212 and P45 were employed in these areas. Finally Taku visited the Aegean from Beirut.

P222 left Gibraltar on 30th November to patrol off Naples. She had cause to make a signal on 7th December and was sighted by P247 on 10th, but was not heard of again. Post war research reveals that she was sunk by depth charges dropped by the Italian torpedo boat Fortunale when attacking a convoy south east of Capri. She was lost with all hands including her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander AJ Mackenzie RN, three other officers and forty-two men. On 13th December, P35 (Lieutenant SLC Maydon RN) off Sousse fired two torpedoes at a small ship escorted by aircraft at a range of 1800 yards but missed. She had another chance an hour later and this time hit Macedonia of 2875 tons with a single torpedo fired at 1100 yards. With a deck cargo of motor transport she sank in shallow water. An hour or so later, P35 tried to finish her off while she had a torpedo boat alongside. The single torpedo, however, fired at 4100 yards ran wide of the mark.

On 14th, an important convoy of three ships escorted by two torpedo boats and by aircraft began to cross from Sicily to Tunisia. There were three submarines in its path in the 'rectangle' and P228 (Lieutenant ILM McGeoch RN), north of Cape Bon, sighted the enemy first. She found herself between the columns of the convoy and fired four torpedoes from her bow tubes at one ship at 1000 yards and one torpedo from her stern tube at another. She went deep at once and heard explosions but there was no counter attack. She had, in fact, hit and sunk Sant Antioca of 5048 tons, which was carrying munitions, and she blew up. The surviving two ships of the convoy with its escorts went on south and three hours later was sighted by both P212 (Lieutenant JH Bromage DSC RN) and P46 (Lieutenant JS Stevens DSC RN), who seem to have got rather close to each other. At 1350, P212 fired five torpedoes at a range of 1900 yards and hit and sank Honestas of 4960 tons. The torpedoes that missed ran close to P46 who heard them pass. P46 fired three torpedoes at 1800 yards at the surviving ship hitting her amidships and stopping her. Two hours later she was able to fire a single torpedo at 6000 yards, sinking this ship too, which was Castelverde of 6665 tons. By this series of submerged attacks, the last two being an unintentional but very effective pack attack, the whole convoy of three valuable ships on their way to Tunisia, was destroyed. Next day, P46 attacked another southbound convoy consisting of a tanker and a merchant ship. She fired four torpedoes at 4000 yards and claimed to have damaged the tanker. She was skillfully counter attacked by one of the escort who dropped sixty-five depth charges over a period of five hours causing damage, which fortunately was not serious. P46 was able to break contact and get away after dark.

Away in the Aegean, Taku (Lieutenant A.JW Pitt RN), after passing through the Kaso Strait, sank Delfin of 5322 tons escorted by an armed yacht off the north coast of Crete. The range was 750 yards and she used two torpedoes. The counter attack was accurate and heavy but she escaped undamaged. The 14th December was therefore a red-letter day for our submarines who sank four ships of well over 20,000 tons. P54 (Lieutenant J Whitton RN), off Genoa, however, did not share the good marksmanship or good luck of her colleagues. During the afternoon of 14th December, she fired four torpedoes at a barge ship at a range of 2500 yards and missed with all of them.

Next day, P46 off the Tripolitanian coast, found her luck had run out. She fired four torpedoes at a supply ship at 4000 yards without result, although she claimed two hits at the time.

With the concentration of the convoys by the enemy on the short routes across the Mediterranean, dispersion was not possible and so contacts continued to be frequent. On 16th December, P44 (Lieutenant JCY Roxburgh DSC RN), off the Skerki Bank, fired four torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards at two overlapping ships in convoy but without result. She encountered strong anti-submarine activity and next day was ordered to the north coast of Sicily, where opposition was less intense. On 17th too, P228, who had as we have seen, had been patrolling off Cape Bon, was ordered to the northwestward of Skerki Bank. Here she met a large supply ship escorted by destroyers. She was a long way off track and closed with two long bursts of speed. She got away a full salvo of six torpedoes at a range of 4000 yards which missed the merchant ship, but two of which were intercepted by the destroyer Aviere, and they sank her. This was a mixed blessing as the target was Ankara again carrying a cargo of tanks. On the same day, P247, north of the Gulf of Tunis met the same ship and fired four torpedoes. The range, however, was 6500 yards and she also missed. On 19th, P54, still in the Gulf of Genoa, attacked a merchant ship with three torpedoes at a range of 5200 yards without result. Next day in a night attack she fired her last torpedo at a large merchant ship and although the range was only 800 yards, she failed to secure a hit. On the same day, P212 on the Sicily-Tunis route missed a coaster with two torpedoes at 1200 yards so she surfaced and engaged with her gun. The presence of air patrols, however, forced her to break off the action and dive. Later the same day, as it was getting dark, she caught up with the same coaster and fired another torpedo at 800 yards but missed again. The visibility was poor and the enemy was difficult to see against the land. Finally on 20th, P228 south of Cagliari sighted an Italian U-boat and fired a single torpedo, which was all that she had left in her bow tubes. The range was 3000 yards and the U-boat saw the track and avoided it.

On 21st December, P44, now back north of Tunis, made a night attack on what she took to be a large destroyer. She fired two torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards before she realised that her target was a torpedo boat and they missed or ran under. The torpedoes she used in this attack were a Mark IV and a Mark II of First World War vintage. Apart possibly from explaining the miss, this shows the state of torpedo supplies at Malta at this time. The next night P44 encountered a large merchant ship escorted by two destroyers and four E-boats. She was forced to dive by one of the escorts before she could fire and a depth charge was dropped very close. Nevertheless she got away two torpedoes aimed by asdic and, although she was only 4-500 yards away, they missed. This pair of torpedoes was also one Mark IV and one Mark II. This was P44's first patrol with a new Commanding Officer. She had been sent by the usual route through the Sicilian mine barrage, and her patrol was intended to be in the northeastern end of the 'rectangle'. Although she achieved no results, she sighted no less than twenty-five destroyers and many other anti-submarine vessels and aircraft. She was kept submerged for thirty-six hours and had to rest on the bottom, which illustrates the intensity of operations in this area.

To the south in the Gulf of Hammamet P211 (Commander B Bryant DSC RN) was still on patrol. She hit and blew up the schooner Esperia of 80 tons with gunfire on 18th and on 20th north of Sousse, she drove the tanker Constantine of 1345 tons ashore with her gun. P211 had to dive when attacked by a Ju88 aircraft but next day was able to confirm that Constantine was a total wreck. On 22nd she engaged an auxiliary magnetic minesweeping schooner after dark with her scoring 41 hits; but the wooden Rosina S of 297 tons refused to sink and had to be despatched with a torpedo. Twelve survivors were rescued and P211 returned to Malta to land them and get more ammunition. Una (Lieutenant JD Martin RN) had left Malta on 12th December for the Kerkenah and Kuriat area to intercept traffic to Sfax and Tripoli. She sighted many aircraft and on 20th fired four torpedoes at a small steamer escorted by two aircraft at a range of 3000 yards but there was a heavy swell and the torpedoes failed to hit. P48 (Lieutenant ME Faber RN) left Malta to patrol north of Tunis by the Cape Bon route on the 21st December. When north west of Zembra Island in the Gulf of Tunis, she attacked a convoy and just missed the destroyer Lampo and was counter attacked by the torpedo boat Perseo. On Christmas Day, she was depth charged and sunk by the Italian torpedo boats Audace, Ardente and Ardito, which were escorting a convoy from Palermo. They detected her before she fired torpedoes and dropped 48 depth charges. She was lost with all hands including her Commanding Officer, three other officers and thirty men.

P219 (Lieutenant NLA Jewell RN) left Algiers on 21st December to make a reconnaissance of Galita Island14. When making this reconnaissance, her periscope was sighted from the shore and fired upon. After dark on 23rd December, she sighted a U-boat fine on her starboard bow coming towards her. Both submarines then dived and collided head on at 60 feet. P219 sustained considerable damage putting her starboard torpedo tubes out of action. She surfaced and then sighted the other submarine's periscopes and dived again but made no further contact that day. On the following night in the same general vicinity she sighted the U-boat yet again and fired three torpedoes at a range of 4-500 yards claiming a hit with a torpedo that failed to explode. Subsequent research indicates that her opponent was the Italian submarine Alagi, which survived both encounters. P219 put into Bone to be made seaworthy but had to return to the United Kingdom for permanent repairs. P51 (Lieutenant MLC Crawford DSC RN), patrolling in the 'rectangle' which she entered from the Marittimo end, penetrated towards the Gulf of Tunis and attacked a convoy on 24th December firing four torpedoes at 2500 yards without success. She attacked another on 28th, this time firing three torpedoes at 2000 yards but missed again. During this patrol she was attacked three times by aircraft. P42 (Lieutenant ACG Mars DSO RN), in the Naples area, had a quiet Christmas Day but on 26th met two French ships taken over by the Germans with an Italian escort. She fired four torpedoes at 1300 yards and blew off the bow of Djebel Dira of 2835 tons but the rest of the ship was towed into Naples. Next day P42 bombarded the railway line north west of Policastro. On this same day, Taku in the Aegean on her way back to Beirut fired four torpedoes at a small ship at a range of 1000 yards but missed. She then launched a parting shot of one torpedo from right astern, which had no better luck.

However, an eventful patrol having made a reconnaissance of Leros, being sighted by patrol craft and hunted for thirty-six hours on l7th-l8th December. On 20th she landed Greek agents on Skiathos and on 22nd engaged a large caique by gunfire and left her abandoned and on fire. The same day she bombarded Port Kumi hitting a small merchant ship, some caiques and some warehouses. On 28th December, early in the morning, Ursula (Lieutenant RB Lakin DSC RN) off Marittimo encountered a large steamer escorted by two destroyers. She got into a submerged firing position at a range of 700 yards in moonlight and launched three torpedoes all of which hit and sank Gran of 4140 tons, an ex Norwegian ship in German hands. Ursula then moved on to Cape St Vito and on 30th made another submerged moonlight attack on a convoy of three ships escorted by four destroyers. She got too close and was run down by one of the merchant ships damaging both her periscopes and standards. She decided not to attempt a transit of the Sicilian mine barrage without any periscopes, and headed for Algiers instead of Malta where she arrived safely. The day before, the 29th December, three submarines made attacks. P45 (Lieutenant HB Turner RN) in the Kerkenah-Kuriat area had already engaged a large southbound schooner accompanied by two small craft in moonlight off Mahedia with her gun. The enemy returned the fire, killing one of the gun's crew and the action had to be broken off. Early on 29th a southbound merchant ship was sighted and four torpedoes were fired at 800 yards from submerged in the moonlight. The torpedoes missed probably because of an underestimation of range and allowing for too high a speed. A counter attack followed from one of her escorts but was shaken off. On 31st also in the Mahedia area she made another submerged moonlight attack on the three masted Maddalena of 345 tons. She had intended to fire two torpedoes but the periscope was dipped after launching the first. Nevertheless this torpedo hit at a range of 1500 yards and sank the target, two survivors being picked up.

On 27th, P211 (Commander B Bryant DSC RN), who was out again off the Tripolitanian coast at Zuara, destroyed the schooner Elenora Rosa carrying 100 tons of petrol to Tripoli. She blew up after five rounds and burned out. On 29th soon after daylight, P211 sighted a ship but it went into Zuara. It left again at dusk and P211 pursued all night, getting into position for a dawn attack. Four E-boats and an aircraft by now escorted the ship.

P211 fired three torpedoes at a range of 4000 yards from the quarter and was bombed by the air escort as she fired, shaking her up considerably but one of the torpedoes hit and sank Torquato Gennari of 1012 tons. This pursuit and attack extended over a period of 27½ hours after which P211 returned to Malta. This eventful patrol had also included a search for a crashed aviator off Pantellaria, a plan to blow up a railway line near Sousse and being hunted by five torpedo boats. Finally on this same day, Turbulent (Commander JW Linton DSO DSC RN) off Cavoli in Sardinia fired two torpedoes at 1300 yards at an escorted ship of medium size. One of them hit and sank Marie of 5290 tons, which was a very satisfactory conclusion to the 1942 submarine campaign in the Mediterranean.

The results of the submarine offensive in December were a great improvement on the previous month. There were fifty attacks in which 135 torpedoes were fired and together with two minefields and a number of gun actions they sank a destroyer, a submarine and fourteen ships of 47,770 tons. Another destroyer and two ships of 5710 tons were damaged, one of 2422 tons was shared with other forces and four small vessels of 1277 tons were also disposed of. Other forces also did well, aircraft sinking another ten ships of 37,055 tons, while three surface ships of 8,058 tons and another three of 10,761 tons were shared. On 14th December, Rommel's tanks, out of fuel, had come to a standstill for a time in the desert. For the second half of the month little got through to Tripoli, and the port was virtually closed. Nevertheless enough got through to continue the build up in Tunisia and prevent the total collapse of the Axis army in Libya. Fuel and supplies totalling 58,763 tons got across to Tunisia with a loss of 23% but only 6151 tons with a loss of 52% arrived in Libya. This was the first month of what the Italian Official Naval Historian has called the 'Third Battle of the Convoys', which was to prove the hardest fought and most bitter of the three.

Although submarines sank a greater tonnage during December than in October, the marksmanship, in fact, was not so good. The percentage of successful attacks against merchant ships in October was 48% while in December it was only 34%. It was, however, far better than in November which worked out at 22%. During November and December, five Allied submarines were lost in the Mediterranean15. Four of these were sunk by depth charges dropped by enemy torpedo boats or anti-submarine vessels and the fifth by a mine.

THE POINT HAS NOW BEEN REACHED when it is appropriate to summarise and comment upon the part played by Allied submarines in Operation 'Torch'. The thirty-two British submarines of the total Allied force of forty-three gathered together for Operation 'Torch' represented the largest number yet concentrated by them during the war in one theatre for a single operation. In the three roles in which they were employed in assisting the amphibious forces, that is for clandestine operations, for beach reconnaissance and as beacons, they proved of mixed value. British submarines had plenty of experience in minor landings in the Mediterranean and were able to put General Mark Clark ashore in Algeria successfully and retrieve General Giraud from the south of France. It would have been difficult to succeed in these operations using any other method than the submarine. The C-in-C of Combined Operations in the United Kingdom had developed the important function of beach reconnaissance in the form of Combined Operations Pilotage Parties (COPPs). These parties were to be landed in folbots to obtain details of the beaches but were not used to the full extent as there was no time to do so. As already pointed out it really needed to be done in the planning stage of an operation when deciding where and when to land. This function clearly had a future.

The use of submarines as navigational beacons, although not new16, was first used on a large scale in Operation 'Torch'. In general submarines proved of considerable value in this role. It is of interest to compare the British and American methods. The British took the beach pilotage officers in to look at the beaches through the periscope and then transferred them, before the landings, to motor launches that led in the amphibious forces. The Americans employed more sophisticated equipment such as films taken through the periscope and infra-red beacons but it was difficult to transfer the films to the amphibious forces in time to be of use. New radar sets such as the British type 271 and the American SG were also found to be valuable to find the beaches, and these were expected to replace beacon submarines in the future.

The use of submarines to protect the amphibious forces from attack by enemy surface ships was not really put to the test. The Italian Fleet was practically immobilised by lack of fuel, and the main French Fleet was in no state to put to sea. Our submarines were not therefore called upon because of the inactivity of the enemy. Only one sortie was made to attack the landings, and that was by a French cruiser and destroyers at Casablanca. The US submarine Herring, placed there for just such an eventuality was too far out and did not see them. The only success was by the British patrol line north west of Sicily which intercepted and severely damaged the light cruiser Attilio Regelo which, in fact, was unaware of the landings and on her way home after a minelaying operation. Such movements that were made by units of the Italian Fleet after the landings were redispositions between their bases, and not sorties to attack. That three of these were intercepted and torpedoes fired shows that our submarines were in the right places, but no hits were obtained. All the interceptions were made by the small U-class with salvoes of only four torpedoes because it was thought that they could stand up to anti-submarine measures more successfully than the larger submarines. The powerful T-class, designed to attack modern capital ships and about the only submarines capable of sinking them, never seem to have been in the right place to achieve results against large enemy warships. Greater emphasis seems to have been put on utilising their endurance which allowed them to work for longer in the Adriatic and Aegean than the U-class, as well as to use the smaller submarines where antisubmarine measures were strongest, and these places were also those where the enemy battle fleet was most likely to be met17. It was bad luck that the Naval Commander of the Expeditionary Force ordered submarines to attack the traffic to Libya when he did, as this resulted in only one small submarine being able to intercept the Italian battlefleet as it passed north through the Straits of Messina18.

The final use of submarines was to try to prevent the enemy landing in Tunisia before our forces could get there and in this they failed, mainly because the submarine of those days could never completely command the sea and could only take a toll of the traffic that passed, and this could only achieve results by attrition over a considerable period. This was in spite of the fact that information was extremely good and the submarines were well placed. We knew the sailing of practically all the convoys to Africa in advance, but the problem was to use this important information. Its greatest value to submarines was that it gave us the precise position of the enemy minefields in the Sicilian narrows and made it possible for them to operate north of Tunisia. There is no doubt that signal intelligence was of more value to air and surface forces than to submarines as their mobility and flexibility was so much greater. It was also of priceless value in the land war. However it is doubtful if, even if submarine marksmanship had been good during November, that the effect in Tunisia would have turned the scales there.

A number of decorations were awarded for the intense submarine operations during 'Torch' and in November and December. Commander Bryant of P211 was given a bar to his Distinguished Service Order, as was Lieutenant Maydon of P35. Distinguished Service Orders went to Lieutenant Commander Colvin of Tigris and Lieutenant Lumby of P247 for sinking U-boats as well as to Lieutenant Stevens of P46 for torpedoing the cruiser Attilio Regolo and Lieutenant McGeogh of P228 for sinking the destroyer Aviere and other ships. Lieutenant Lakin of Ursula also received a Distinguished Service Order for his exploits during this period, and Lieutenant Commander Napier of Rorqual for his minelaying and for his storing trips to Malta. Finally Lieutenant Jewell of P219 received an MBE for his clandestine trips before Operation 'Torch', notably for picking up General Giraud from the south of France.

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