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





The Mediterranean to the end of 1940

Patrolgram 5 S/M War Patrols in Mediterranean summer/autumn 1940
Map 14 Incidents in Mediterranean August-December 1940

WE LEFT THE MEDITERRANEAN on 1st August, after the loss of Oswald, with only five operational submarines. Of these Parthian was at sea on patrol and she was off the south east coast of Sicily. She had attacked two merchant ships on 27th July firing three torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards but had missed. She left patrol for Alexandria on 31st July. Osiris and Rorqual were at Alexandria resting between patrols and Proteus with Pandora were on passage in the western basin bringing stores and personnel from Gibraltar Malta for Hurricane fighters of the Royal Air Force. On 4th August Osiris and Rorqual sailed from Alexandria, Osiris (Lieutenant Commander JRG Harvey RN) to patrol in the Straits of Otranto and Rorqual (Lieutenant Commander RH Dewhurst RN) for Malta to embark mines. The Straits of Otranto were the only area where the tanker traffic from the Black Sea could be intercepted within the 'Sink at Sight' zone. On 16th August at night Osiris sighted a supply ship off the Albanian coast and fired two torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards and missed. She pursued and reached a new firing position and launched another pair of torpedoes at a range of 500 yards but these missed too. She persevered and engaged with her gun sinking the enemy, which was the 1970-ton Morea. Osiris was ordered to Malta where she arrived on 25th August. Rorqual embarked fifty mines at Malta and was sent first to patrol half way between Malta and Benghazi and arrived in position on 13th August. For two days she saw nothing and went on to lay her mines off Tolmeita close to her first field. These mines sank the 3300-ton Leopardi. On 20th August she attacked two transports escorted by the destroyer Papa. The destroyer forced her deep and when she returned to periscope depth the convoy was past her. Nevertheless she launched two torpedoes after the enemy at a range of 3500 yards but she failed to secure a hit. Perseus (Lieutenant Commander PJ Bartlett RN), the first of the reinforcements from the Far East, left Alexandria on 14th August and patrolled for a few days eighty miles south east of Messina in the hope of catching traffic to Benghazi. She was then sent to the Straits of Otranto to take the place of Osiris. Here she sighted several destroyers and on 26th August she missed the 3460-ton Filippo Grimani with four torpedoes fired at a range of 2000 yards. Expecting a counter attack she decided to seek cover below a density layer and dived deep. Bad leaks in her stern glands and a reluctance to use her ballast pump for fear of detection caused serious flooding aft and she ended up at 408 feet with a 35-degree bow up angle. Forced to pump, eventually she found the enemy destroyers had gone and she survived. Later in the same patrol she nearly ran ashore at night on Sazan Island near Valona.

Rorqual got back to Alexandria on 27th August. She had spent no less than 93 days at sea out of the 125 days that had elapsed since war with Italy began. Perseus arrived at Alexandria on 6th September after spending 23 days at sea, 13 of which had been on passage to and from her patrol areas.

At the beginning of the month, Captain SM Raw RN who had been the Senior Officer (Submarines) at Malta and had been promoted, relieved Captain GMK Keble-White RN in command of Medway and the First Submarine Flotilla at Alexandria. As he took over, his flotilla was reinforced by the arrival from the Far East of Rainbow, Regent and Regulus as well as Perseus and these boats were to be followed by Rover later. Captain Raw was relieved at Malta by Commander GWG Simpson RN but he did not arrive until January. Captain Keble-White had had a depressing time in command of the Fourth Submarine Flotilla. For the first nine months of the war his submarines had been used for raider hunting on the oceans and on boring patrols to intercept German merchant ships and raiders which never materialised. When his flotilla at last came into action in the Mediterranean, he lost half of it in a period of three months. He was appointed to command HMS OSPREY, the anti-submarine training establishment at Largs in Scotland.

During August, the Italians decided to take the offensive on land. On 3rd they invaded British Somaliland and throughout the month they made preparations to advance into Egypt from Cyrenaica, their aim being to capture the Suez Canal and open communications with Italian East Africa. This meant a heavy increase in convoys to Libya in support and these they routed from Naples and ports in the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west of Sicily and by the Tunisian coast to Tripoli. Coastal convoys along the North African coast continued to Benghazi. Early in the month their fleet had been reinforced by the two new battleships Littorio and Vittorio Veneto and shortly afterwards by the reconstructed Duilio. Their battlefleet was now superior to the British in the eastern Mediterranean. The Italian Navy also reinforced the minefields in the Sicilian narrows.

British counter measures were vigorous but still strategically defensive. The army in Egypt was reinforced from India, Australia and New Zealand by the Red Sea and from the United Kingdom by convoys round the Cape. Air reinforcements were flown across Africa by the Takoradi route. Inside the Mediterranean itself the Royal Navy intended to bring in important reinforcements for the fleet including the reconstructed battleship Valiant and the new aircraft carrier Illustrious. The operation1 was to take place at the end of August and was to be combined with convoys to and from the Aegean and the reinforcing of Malta from the east. Perseus was still on patrol in the Otranto area and the three submarines available at Alexandria, Rainbow, Regent and Parthian were sailed between 15th and 18th August to protect the operation's northern flank. Because of the recent heavy losses, the submarines were not placed close off the enemy bases but were used to form a patrol line across the Ionian Sea between Cape Spartivento and the island of Cephalonia. The operation was a complete success. The reinforcements successfully passed through the mine barrier in the Sicilian narrows close to Cape Bon,2 and Malta was reinforced from both east and west. The Italian fleet consisting of five battleships put to sea but failed to intervene effectively. The Italian battlefleet was not sighted by any of our submarines, which is understandable as they were a long way apart and the enemy could easily pass through the gaps between them. Regent (Lieutenant Commander HC Browne RN) saw nothing at all, but Rainbow (Lieutenant Commander JE Moore RN) at midday on 31st August sighted two heavy cruisers and five destroyers steering east at high speed. They passed out of range but she reported them. Three hours later, Parthian (Lieutenant Commander RMT Peacock RN) encountered the same formation that practically ran her down. She fired six torpedoes in a snap attack at 350 yards range. Two of the torpedoes exploded prematurely and the others missed. The escort made an ineffective counter attack. On 6th September as this patrol line was breaking up to return to base, the Italian battlefleet came out for a brief sortie in response to a movement by Force H3 at Gibraltar but no contacts were made. All these submarines were back in Alexandria by 12th September.

With the successful completion of Operation 'Hats', the submarines at Alexandria were able to turn their attention to the traffic to Libya. The need for this was emphasised when on 13th September, the Italian army in Cyrenaica advanced into Egypt taking Sidi Barrani on 16th. Osiris (Lieutenant Commander JRG Harvey RN) had already been despatched to the Otranto area again and here, on the day the advance into Egypt began, she attacked a convoy of three ships escorted by destroyers firing two salvoes of two torpedoes each at a range of 2000 yards regrettably missing. Next day early in the morning she fired a single torpedo at a range of 4000 yards at another convoy this time of four ships and again missed. We now know that these movements were part of the transfer of five divisions of the Italian army to Albania in preparation for their attack on Greece. Between 10th and 20th September, 40,310 men with 35,535 tons of supplies were transported across the Adriatic without loss. Osiris, however, did not return empty handed. On 22nd September off Durazzo she fired a full six-torpedo salvo at a range of 2000 yards at a convoy and sank the destroyer Palestro. Regulus (Lieutenant Commander FB Currie RN) had left Alexandria to patrol off Benghazi on 30th August and she was followed on 9th September by Pandora (Lieutenant Commander JW Linton RN). On 11th August Rorqual (Lieutenant Commander RH Dewhurst RN), after twelve days in harbour, left Alexandria for Malta to load mines to lay in the Benghazi area too. On 18th September, Regulus had a night encounter with a destroyer and was subjected to a counter attack with eleven depth charges, fortunately without damage. Pandora off Benghazi made a long-range attack on a convoy on 15th September. She fired two torpedoes at 5500 yards but they ran wide of the target. Pandora was able, however, by watching enemy minesweepers to plot the position of the searched channel into Benghazi. On 25th September, Regulus made a night attack on an unknown ship firing six torpedoes at a range of about 3000 yards but without result. Pandora left patrol on 27th September and off Ras Amer on 28th, she hit and sank the Famiglia of 813 tons with one of a two-torpedo salvo fired at a range of 2500 yards. The counter attack was heavy and was claimed by the destroyer Cosenz as successful but in fact was ineffective. On 12th September, Proteus (Lieutenant Commander RT Gordon Duff RN), on her way from Malta to Alexandria, made a night attack on an Italian U-boat. She was only able to get away a single torpedo and fired on the swing at a range of 1500 yards almost certainly missing astern. Rorqual was delayed at Malta, after loading mines, by defects. After they were remedied she got away and laid fifty mines off Benghazi on 4th October, arriving back in Alexandria on 17th. These operations against the Libyan supply route were of little effect. The Italians employed evasive routing in the Ionian Sea as well as the route west of Sicily. Most traffic, in any case, terminated at Tripoli rather than Benghazi. The Italians claim that by the end of September 148,817 tons of supplies and equipment had been transported to Libya without loss. In fact at the end of the month convoy shipments had to be temporarily suspended to allow land transport to clear the port of Tripoli. The Italian Navy was more concerned with the problem of escorts and the need to divert 35 destroyers, one third of their total strength, to escort convoys to Libya. Italian destroyers were able, however, to lay mines off Malta at the beginning of September.4 At the end of the month too, unescorted merchant ships sailing in pairs, began a trade in fertilisers from Sousse and Sfax in Tunisia.

In September, the First Submarine Flotilla received a substantial reinforcement from Home waters. Truant and Triad sailed from Gibraltar on 11th September to patrol in the Tyrrhenian Sea and then to go on to Malta. They were followed on 20th September by Tetrarch and Triton to patrol in the Gulf of Genoa also on their way to Malta. Truant (Lieutenant Commander HAV Haggard RN) spent four days off lschia and then moved to the Naples area.

Here on 22nd September, she sank Providenza of 8459 tons with two torpedoes at a range of 900 yards, both of which hit. She finished her off with a third torpedo. On 26th September, she fired four torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards after an ammunition carrier from fine on the quarter but the enemy saw the tracks and avoided the torpedoes. Truant passed the Sicilian minefields safely and arrived at Malta on 3rd October. Triad (Lieutenant Commander GS Salt RN) had arrived the day before, having made an unsuccessful attack on the way. Tetrarch (Lieutenant Commander RG Mills RN) also missed supply ships in two separate attacks on 27th September and 4th October. On the same day, Triton (Lieutenant GClSt BS Watkins RN) sank Franca Fassio of 1860 tons off Genoa and two days later she bombarded Vado and Savona with her four-inch gun. The shore batteries replied, but before leaving, Triton fired two torpedoes at a ship at anchor off the port at a range of 4000 yards and hit her with one of them. Triton arrived safely at Malta on 12th October. Another reinforcement was the Free French Narval, which had obtained a full crew of volunteers, not without some difficulty, from the French ships at Alexandria. On 9th September she was sent on her first patrol between Lampedusa and Kerkenah but saw nothing and returned to Malta on 7th October.

Admiral Cunningham had left Alexandria with the fleet on 29th September for an operation called MB5. It was designed to cover army and Royal Air Force reinforcements for Malta which were to be taken there in cruisers and was combined with the running of an Aegean convoy. In addition to the four T-class still in the western basin, six submarines were on patrol in the eastern basin at the time. Rorqual was approaching Benghazi to lay a minefield and Pandora was still on patrol off the port. Rainbow (Lieutenant Commander JE Moore RN) who had left Alexandria on 23rd September was in the Gulf of Taranto and Regent (Lieutenant Commander HC Browne RN) who sailed on 25th was on patrol ninety miles east of Cape Spartivento. Narval was west of Lampedusa while Proteus (Lieutenant Commander RT Gordon Duff RN) and Rover (Lieutenant Commander HAL Marsham RN) had put to sea to patrol south of the Straits of Messina and in the approaches to Taranto but were not due to arrive before 2nd October. The Italian fleet, five battleships strong, put to sea to oppose this operation and Regent intercepted part of it on 30th September. This enemy force of two battleships escorted by light cruisers and destroyers was proceeding at high speed. Regent was having difficulty in keeping periscope depth in the prevailing sea conditions and did not sight the enemy until the range of the rear battleship was 6500 yards. Furthermore she found herself right ahead of them. She ran out submerged and turned but the screen forced her deep and she missed the exact moment to fire. However she got away five torpedoes5 but on a very late track and all ran wide of the target. Regent broke surface after firing and was counter attacked by the escort, diving to four hundred feet while taking avoiding action and suffering damage aft to a tank inside the pressure hull. This series of mishaps, none of which ought to have happened, led to the loss of an opportunity seldom presented to our submarines during the war and Regent was lucky to survive. It was balanced by the Italian fleet's lost opportunity when it failed to engage the Mediterranean Fleet with a superiority of five battleships to two6.

On 3rd October, Regent and Rainbow were ordered to the Straits of Otranto to patrol the Italian route to Albania when intelligence had noted the build up of the Italian army. Regent was ordered to take the eastern billet and Rainbow the western. Early on 4th October while it was still dark, Rainbow attacked a convoy of three ships bound for Albania escorted by the auxiliary Ramb Ill. It seems that she got too close and was forced to dive, being run down and sunk as she did so by the 5900-ton Antonietta Costa. She was lost with all hands including her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander JE Moore RN, five other officers and 50 men. On 3rd October, Regent collided with a local sailing craft and damaged her fore hydroplanes. On 9th October she redeemed her reputation by attacking a convoy of three ships in daylight returning from Albania in a position twenty miles west of Durazzo. She was only able to fire one torpedo before being forced deep by the escort but it hit and damaged the same Antonietta Costa of 5900 tons, which sank later. Regent was subjected to a heavy counter attack with depth charges. On 11th October she was sighted by an Italian destroyer in the early morning and hunted again. On this same day she attacked a small tanker firing two torpedoes at a range of 1000 yards but missed. On 13th October her starboard forward hydroplane fell off and she set course for Malta arriving on 18th October. She was under repair in the dockyard there for a month.

While Regent was persevering in the Straits of Otranto, another operation to run a convoy to Malta took place supported by the Mediterranean Fleet, this time with four battleships. It was a complete success and there was no reaction from the Italians at all. After it was over, however, there was a cruiser and destroyer action east of Malta. During this operation there were six other submarines on patrol. Tetrarch and Triton were still in the Tyrrhenian Sea on their way to Malta, Rorqual was off Benghazi, Proteus south of Messina with Rover off Taranto. As the Italians made no move, of course, they saw nothing. Triad (Lieutenant Commander GS Salt RN) left Malta on 9th October for the Gulf of Taranto to patrol there on her way to Alexandria. In this area she made two unsuccessful attacks on merchant ships firing four torpedoes in all. On the night of l4th/15th October in bright moonlight when sixty miles south of Cape Colonne, she encountered the Italian submarine Enrico Toti returning to Brindisi from patrol. Triad seems to have sighted the Toti first and turned to attack. She was then seen by Toti, who turned sharply towards. Triad opened fire with her gun and fired a torpedo, which missed astern. However she scored two hits on Toti with her gun. Toti replied with her gun and light automatic weapons at very close range and hit Triad twice as she was diving. Toti then fired torpedoes one of which hit and sank Triad. She was lost with all hands including her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander GS Salt RN, four other officers including two holders of the Distinguished Service Cross and fifty-five men. Proteus and Rover had completely blank patrols and left for Alexandria on 20th October, Proteus having many defects.

On 12th October, Truant (Lieutenant Commander HAV Haggard RN) left for a short and uneventful patrol off the Libyan coast returning on 21st October. Parthian (Lieutenant Commander MG Rimington RN) left Alexandria on 9th October and three days later was nearly sunk by an Italian submarine off Ras el Hillal. She went on to the Cape Colonne area where she had another encounter with an Italian submarine on the night of 21st/22nd October in which she tried to ram her adversary. The rest of the patrol was blank and conducted in rough weather. Osiris (Lieutenant Commander JRG Harvey RN) also left Alexandria on 12th October and went straight to the Cape Colonne area but had no luck either and returned to Alexandria by the African coast on 31st October. Regulus (Lieutenant Commander FB Currie RN) left Alexandria on 11th October to patrol east of Sicily and Pandora (Lieutenant Commander JW Linton RN) on 14th October for the Gulf of Taranto. Pandora on the night of 16th/17th October, between Crete and Tobruk met two Italian submarines in bright moonlight. She fired two torpedoes at one of them and a single torpedo at the other, both at a range of 1500 yards. The first submarine dived and the second avoided the torpedo and so both escaped. Regulus and Pandora were back in Alexandria by 2nd November.

On 28th October, Italy invaded Greece from Albania and the whole strategic situation in the eastern Mediterranean changed again. Greece thereby became an ally and the whole Greek coastline, up as far as Corfu and including Crete, ceased to be neutral. This meant that the Aegean was now friendly, and the route from the Black Sea was denied to Italy completely. A base at Suda Bay became available to the Mediterranean Fleet and on 2nd November, British forces landed there. At the same time the Greeks placed the airfields at Eleusis and Tatoi at our disposal and Royal Air Force bombers were sent to them.

At the time of the Italian invasion, Pandora was on patrol in the Straits of Otranto, Regulus was south of Taranto and two Greek submarines were in the vicinity of the Ionian Islands. Arrangements were made without delay for the co-ordination of operations between the British and Greek submarines, of which there were six. The Greeks were given an area north and east of a line 123 degrees from the heel of Italy and then twenty miles off the Ionian Islands and thence to the coast of Morea. This allowed the Greek submarines to attack the traffic from Italy to Albania from their base at Salamis using the Corinth Canal.

By this time the air defences of Malta had been much improved and air raids on the island had practically ceased, the Regia Aeronautica being busy in North Africa and Greece. The C-in-C was therefore able to use it as a submarine base again and announced his intention to station there all new submarines of the T and U-classes arriving from the United Kingdom. On 27th October, Tetrarch (Lieutenant Commander RG Mills RN) left Malta to patrol off Benghazi. On 2nd November, she fired two torpedoes at night at a patrol vessel but missed. On 4th she made a day submerged attack on two ships in convoy firing seven torpedoes at a range of 5000 yards and sinking Snia Amba of 2534 tons. The counter attack by destroyers of the escort was not serious and she returned to Malta on 12th November. Triton (Lieutenant GCISt BS Watkins RN) sailed from Malta on 28th October to operate on the Bari-Durazzo route but on 3rd November was ordered to patrol in the Gulf of Taranto. She sighted a submarine early on the morning of 3rd November but did not fire as she was uncertain whether this target was Greek or Italian. Rorqual (Lieutenant Commander RH Dewhurst RN) left Alexandria on 29th October for Malta where she embarked mines on 3rd November. She sailed again and laid fifty mines on 5th off Ras Misurata in Libya. She went straight back to Malta for more mines which she laid near the first field on 9th November finally returning to Malta on 15th.

On 11th November aircraft from Illustrious attacked the Italian battlefleet at Taranto, sinking Cavour and badly damaging Littorio and Duilio. Vittorio Veneto and Cesare retired to Naples, which then became the base of the Italian Main Fleet. During the rest of the month other British surface operations took place through the Mediterranean. More army reinforcements were transported to Malta in warships joining the fleet at Alexandria and Argus attempted to fly more Hurricanes to the island8. The opportunity was taken to run convoys from the east to Greece and Malta. Towards the end of November a convoy of four fast merchant ships with important cargoes for Malta and Egypt was run right through the Mediterranean and this operation was supported by Force H and the Mediterranean Fleet. It led on 28th November to the indecisive action in the western basin between the Italian fleet and Force H off Cape Spartivento.

During all this surface activity in November, the submarines kept up a continuous watch on Benghazi. Rover (Lieutenant Commander HAL Marsham RN) was off the port from 9th-17th, Parthian (Lieutenant Commander MG Rimington RN) from 20th-28th and Pandora (Lieutenant Commander JW Linton RN) from 30th to 9th December. All these patrols were from Alexandria and were completely blank. Rorqual (Lieutenant Commander RH Dewhurst RN) was sent to the shallow waters of the western end of the Gulf of Sirte between 4th and 12th December also without result. Truant (Lieutenant Commander HAV Haggard RN) in the meantime had left Alexandria to patrol 25 miles to the east of Tripoli, an area thought to be mined. She was therefore ordered to keep more than 15 miles from the coast. She saw nothing except some Italian minesweepers and by plotting their courses established the position of the searched channel. She ignored her instructions and followed the channel to within seven miles of Tripoli but sighted no targets. Truant returned to Malta on 24th November now functioning as a submarine base again. This sustained effort by five submarines to sink traffic to Libya and along the North African coast failed because the traffic was taking the route west of Sicily to Tripoli. Only the Free French submarine Narval was in the right place. She had made a second patrol in the Kerkenah area from 25th October to 3rd November but it too was uneventful. Patrols were also maintained south of Taranto presumably to guard the flank of the various surface operations. Regent (Lieutenant Commander HC Browne RN), after repairs at Malta, sailed on 6th November and patrolled off Cape Colonne and then in a position some fifty miles south of Taranto. Otus (Lieutenant Commander ECF Nicolay RN), after her long refit in Malta, sailed on 12th November and followed Regent in the same areas, all without sighting anything. The Italian main fleet, as already noted, had moved to Naples and was not in Taranto anyway. Otus returned to Malta on 25th November and then transferred to Alexandria. The Greek submarines by this time were unable to keep the Otranto area occupied and Regulus (Lieutenant Commander FB Currie RN) left Alexandria on 18th November and Tetrarch (Lieutenant Commander RMT Peacock RN) sailed from Malta to patrol in the Adriatic north and south of 42º N to strike at the supply line of the Italian army attacking Greece. Tetrarch's orders were badly drawn and they confined her to a small area in which she saw nothing, while Regulus was never heard of again probably striking a mine in one of the many defensive fields in the area. She was lost with all hands including Lieutenant Commander FB Currie RN, her Commanding Officer, four other officers and fifty men. Triton (Lieutenant GCISt BS Watkins RN) sailed from Malta on 28th November for the same area and early on 6th December she attacked a convoy of two ships escorted by a destroyer on its way from Durazzo to Brindisi. She hit Olimpia of 6040 tons, which was probably sunk9. The destroyer, Riboty, made no counter attack. Triton did not return from this patrol and almost certainly struck one of the many mines in this area probably off Brindisi on 7th December. She was lost with all hands including her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant GCISt BS Watkins RN, four other officers and 49 men. Narval sailed again on 2nd December for the Kerkenah area and fell foul of a large minefield forty miles south west of Lampedusa and was sunk. She, like Regulus and Triton, was lost with all hands including her Commanding Lieutenant de Vaisseau Francois Drogou, who had brought her over to fight with the Free French Forces. These losses could be ill afforded, but fortunately more reinforcements were on the way. The twelve U-class ordered at the outbreak of war were now coming into service. Utmost, the first of them, was completed in under a year and sailed for the Mediterranean on 28th October.

Utmost, Upright and Ursula arrived at Gibraltar in the early part of November. Utmost (Lieutenant Commander JH Eaden RN) encountered Force H west of Gibraltar, was unable to identify herself in time and was rammed by the destroyer Encounter. She in fact got the better of the collision but was under repair in Gibraltar dockyard for a month. Ursula was found to have engine defects and had to be taken in hand by Gibraltar dockyard too. Upright (Lieutenant FJ Brooks RN) was therefore the first to arrive in the Mediterranean and left Gibraltar on 19th November to patrol off the north west coast of Sicily on her way to Malta where she arrived on 4th December. She was on patrol during the Battle of Cape Spartivento but saw nothing.

On 6th December the British Western Desert Force attacked and threw back the Italian army across the Egyptian frontier. In the middle of the month it was found possible to send the battleship Malaya and some merchant ships back through the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. The Italian Fleet did not interfere with this operation. Our submarine operations continued to try to molest the Italian traffic to Libya. Rover left Alexandria on 5th December to continue the blockade of Benghazi but saw nothing. This lack of success perturbed the C-in-C and it is clear that the fact that the route to Libya was west of Malta and that our submarines were in the wrong place had not yet been appreciated. Rover was relieved by Regent (Lieutenant Commander HC Browne RN) leaving Alexandria on 8th December. On 22nd she fired two torpedoes at a range of 2600 yards at a tanker in ballast and either missed or the torpedoes ran under. In the early morning next day she fired two more torpedoes in a night surface attack on a convoy of four ships also at 2600 yards but without result. Later the same day she fired yet another two torpedoes at a large merchant vessel escorted by a destroyer but could get no closer than 3200 yards and she missed again. At least Regent seems to have found the coastal traffic route and if any reason is sought as to why she so consistently missed, it is that she fired too few torpedoes in all these attacks. Truant (Lieutenant Commander HAV Haggard RN) left Malta early in December to patrol off the coast of Calabria and achieved much better results. On 13th December at night, she attacked an escorted merchant ship at a range of 2000 yards but the first torpedo she fired ran on the surface. She attained a second firing position at a range of 1500 yards firing four torpedoes obtaining two hits and sinking Sebastiano Bianchi of 1545 tons. Two days later in another night attack at a range of 2000 yards the first torpedo again broke surface and had a gyro failure too. The second torpedo was badly aimed due to a yaw but she closed in to 900 yards and fired two more torpedoes one of which hit and sank the tanker Bonzo of 8175 tons, a type of ship the Italians could ill afford to lose. Between the 18th and 24th December, Upright (Lieutenant FJ Brooks RN) from Malta was sent to patrol off the Kerkenah Islands off the coast of Tunisia. This was where the Italian traffic to Libya passed but on this occasion, Upright saw nothing. The year closed with a success followed by a loss in the Adriatic by the Greek submarines. On 22nd Papanicolis made an unsuccessful attack on a convoy but two days later sank a supply ship of 3952 tons. On 29th Proteus sank the large troopship Sardegna of 11,452 tons. Most of the troops on board were, however, saved and the torpedo boat Antares of the escort counter attacked and rammed and sank Proteus and she was lost with all hands.10

Two more U-class, Usk and Unique, arrived in the Mediterranean by the end of the year but it was decided to withdraw Otus, Olympus and Pandora to Gibraltar for duties in the Atlantic and they had left the Mediterranean by the end of December. Usk suffered from the same engine trouble as the others and was not ready for operations until the end of January. On the 31st December, therefore, the First Submarine Flotilla had a strength of fourteen boats. Of these Proteus and Perseus were in Malta for a dockyard refit while Ursula, Utmost and Usk were under repair and Osiris was about to return to the United Kingdom to refit. This left eight submarines11 available for operations. Triumph and Upholder were nearing Gibraltar from the United Kingdom as additional reinforcements.

During the five months covered by this chapter, we had lost another five submarines in the Mediterranean. The causes of their loss were different from the five boats destroyed in the first two months, which were all sunk by Italian destroyers or torpedo boats. Triad was sunk by an Italian submarine on the surface at night. Rainbow was run down by a merchant ship and the three other submarines were almost certainly the victims of mines. Considering the very large number of mines laid by the Italians, this is not surprising. The 'bag' over the same period, was the destroyer Palestro and nine ships of 34,559 tons. British submarines, however, sank a greater tonnage than aircraft or surface ships in the six months from the outbreak of war until the end of 194012. Nevertheless the Italian armies in Libya and Albania were supplied by sea with virtually negligible casualties. Some 690,000 tons of shipping sailed to North Africa in the six months June to December 1940 and lost only one per cent. Between June 1940 and January 1941, 47,000 troops were landed in North Africa without loss and 350,000 tons of supplies and material with a loss of only 2.3%. In Albania the figures for the same period were 623,000 troops with a loss of 0.05% and 704,000 tons of supplies with a loss of 0.2%. The reasons for this poor showing are often attributed to the size and condition of the O, P and R-class submarines and to their state of training. Attention has also been directed to the distance of Alexandria as a base from the area of operations. No doubt these reasons contributed to the poor performance but more important were the facts that for much of the time our submarines were not deployed against the traffic to Libya at all and that when they were, they were in the wrong place. It is fair to comment that the time on passage between Alexandria and the central Mediterranean was much increased by the policy of never surfacing by day. No doubt the fact that none of our submarines was lost by being attacked from the air or torpedoed by day by Italian submarines can be attributed to this policy. Nevertheless the time on passage was doubled. The total number of torpedoes fired in the Mediterranean from June to December was 124, and the total number of attacks was thirty-five for ten ships sunk. The figures are actually better than those of the British submarines in Home waters over the same period, and the belief that nothing was achieved until the arrival of submarines in the Mediterranean from Home waters cannot be sustained. Undoubtedly some submarine captains were better shots than others. For instance Truant in four attacks fired 17 torpedoes, six of which hit sinking three ships of 18,180 tons, while Regent in six attacks fired 14 torpedoes, one of which hit sinking one ship of 2534 tons. The average range of Truant's attacks was 1780 yards and of Regent's 2230 yards and the average number of torpedoes fired per attack was 4.25 for Truant, and 2.3 for Regent. Firing too few torpedoes was clearly a false economy although it must be admitted that the stock of torpedoes in the Mediterranean was giving cause for concern. The only decoration awarded during the period of this chapter in the Mediterranean was a Distinguished Service Order for Lieutenant Commander Dewhurst of Rorqual, in the New Year's Honours of 1941. He had sunk two ships of 7165 tons and had laid 200 mines. Lieutenant Watkins of Triton was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches after the loss of his submarine.

The Allied armies were generally doing well and the Western Desert Force was advancing into Cyrenaica. The Greek army was holding the Italians on the Albanian front and, as a result of Taranto, the British battlefleet was again superior. On 16th December units of the Mediterranean Fleet had bombarded Valona. Malta was again a submarine base and at the end of the year had fifty two aircraft13 stationed there, which, with a steady stream of new U-class submarines arriving, were all set to attack the supply route to Libya in 1941 with greater effect. At this point, when our fortunes were beginning to look up in the Mediterranean, we must turn again to Home waters.

The Royal Navy Submarine Museum Website