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





The Opening of the Attack on Convoys to North Africa: January - May 1941

Appendix IX Submarine Organisation 18 March 1941
Patrolgram 7 S/M War Patrols in Mediterranean during first half of 1941
Map 17 Opening of attack against Rommel's supply lines 1941

AT THE BEGINNING OF 1941 the situation for the Allies in the eastern Mediterranean was full of promise. The British Army in the western desert had already driven the Italians back across the Egyptian frontier with heavy losses and on 5th January took Bardia. The Greeks had also driven the Italians back into Albania and were contemplating an offensive to capture Valona. On 6th January, the Royal Navy began an operation to run an important convoy of four fast merchant ships through the Mediterranean with anti-aircraft guns and ammunition for Malta and vehicles and essential supplies for the Greeks. This convoy, called 'Excess', was supported by Force H and the whole Mediterranean Fleet. It was co-ordinated with convoys to and from Malta to the east and to and from the Aegean to Egypt. The Italian battlefleet was still at Naples and three submarines on passage in the western basin were diverted to form a patrol line south of Sardinia to protect the convoy as it passed. These were Triumph (Lieutenant Commander WJW Woods RN) and Upholder (Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn RN) both eastbound as reinforcements for the Mediterranean, and Pandora (Lieutenant Commander JW Linton RN) westbound for the United Kingdom to change her crew and refit before joining the new Eighth Submarine Flotilla at Gibraltar. These submarines were required by the operation orders for the convoy to patrol submerged with their wireless masts up continuously to try to intercept air reconnaissance reports direct. Captain Raw was outraged by this when he heard about it, and protested vehemently against such a practice which he considered 'near suicidal1. The Italian fleet did not intervene and Pandora, before continuing her passage, was able to torpedo and sink two merchant ships off the east coast of Sardinia on 9th January. The first, Palma of 2715 tons was hit by one torpedo of a salvo of two fired at 1400 yards and the second, Valdivagna of 5400 tons saw the first torpedo track and altered away. Pandora then showed plenty of periscope to encourage her to steady on a course directly away from her and fired a second torpedo from right astern that hit at a range of 2000 yards, which was a remarkable shot.

All the merchant ships of convoy 'Excess' and the convoys to and from Malta and the Aegean arrived safely but the British Mediterranean Fleet was viciously attacked in the vicinity of Malta by aircraft of the German Fliegerkorps X that had just arrived in Sicily. The aircraft carrier Illustrious was seriously damaged but staggered in to Malta and the cruiser Southampton was sunk. Two submarines had been placed in the lonian Sea to protect the convoys should the Italian fleet come through the Straits of Messina: Parthian (Commander MG Rimington DSO RN) off Cape Spartivento and Tetrarch (Lieutenant Commander RMT Peacock RN) off Cape Colonne. Our reconnaissance aircraft reported that two Italian battleships had arrived at Messina but they came no further. Tetrarch had a blank patrol in heavy weather and paid a visit to the Greek submarines at Piraeus before going on to Alexandria. Parthian had already made an unsuccessful long range attack on a convoy before the passage of convoy 'Excess' but on 9th January, south east of Sicily she fired three torpedoes at Carlo Martinolich of 4210 tons at a range of 1200 yards, two of them hitting and sinking her. Parthian then also visited Piraeus on her way back to Alexandria where she arrived on 21st January. Meanwhile Fliegerkorps X turned its attacks on Malta hoping to complete the destruction of the Illustrious. However the raids of seventy to eighty aircraft a day were directed mainly on the dockyard, and the three airfields so the submarine base escaped damage. Nevertheless Proteus and Perseus, refitting in the dockyard, although they escaped damage, had their programmes badly disrupted. On 22nd January Illustrious escaped from Malta under cover of darkness and arrived at Alexandria safely. During the 'Excess' convoy, six Italian destroyers laid another 360 mines north of Cape Bon. At the same time Wellington bombers from Malta attacked the Italian battlefleet in Naples damaging Cesare. Vittorio Veneto and Cesare then sailed for La Spezia to keep out of range.

Commander GWG Simpson RN arrived at Malta on 8th January in the destroyer Janus from Alexandria to take up his appointment as Senior Officer(Submarines). At Alexandria he had been given his instructions personally by the C-in-C. As part of the First Submarine Flotilla, he was to come under the overall command of Captain Raw but was to have a free hand to operate his submarines as he thought fit. Administratively he would answer to Flag Officer (Malta). His aim was to be to attack southbound traffic to Libya. The C-in-C recommended that, due to the shortage of torpedoes, empty northbound shipping should be left alone. He also recommended that, due to our heavy submarine losses in 1940, which were believed to be due to mines, he should operate his submarines as far as possible outside the 100-fathom line. Commander(E) SA MacGregor RN arrived at the same time in convoy 'Excess'. He found the submarine base on Manoel Island to consist of accommodation and storerooms in the Lazaretto and berths for the submarines at buoys with floating gangways to the shore, but little else. Torpedoes were serviced in the Torpedo Depot in Msida Creek; fuel was kept in the old monitor Medusa in Lazaretto Creek but there were no workshops except in the dockyard. Maltese tunnellers were available, however, and had already started to burrow into the rock behind Lazaretto to make shelters and then to put as many facilities including a workshop underground.

Throughout the passage of convoy 'Excess', the British army in the western desert continued to advance into Cyrenaica. Tobruk was captured on 22nd and Derna on 30th January. It was intended that Rover (Lieutenant Commander HAL Marsham RN) should co-operate by patrolling to the westwards to intercept any ships attempting to escape. Upright (Lieutenant ED Norman RN) was also ordered from her position off Kerkenah to patrol off the Libyan coast for the same purpose. On 7th January, Rover made a night attack on an escorted convoy of two transports at a range of 1500 yards. She intended to fire a full bow salvo but one tube misfired and a second torpedo dived straight to the bottom and exploded causing damage to the submarine's battery. The other torpedoes missed and Rover was counter attacked by the Italian torpedo boat Clio damaging the battery still more, and she had to leave patrol prematurely for Malta2. Regent (Lieutenant Commander HC Browne RN) was diverted on her way back to Alexandria to patrol off Tobruk in her place. Most of the other submarines in the Mediterranean concentrated their efforts on the traffic to Libya, which at this time was transporting the Italian Ariete Armoured Division, and the Trento Motorised Division to Africa. Three of the U-class from Malta, which had just arrived there, patrolled in succession off the Kerkenah Islands on the east coast of Tunisia and so, except for the blank patrol by Upright in December, first really attacked the main convoy route to Tripoli. It is of interest that in this area the depth of water is much less than 100 fathoms. Commander Simpson believed that the danger of mines except in the Sicilian narrows and off Italian ports had been overestimated. He did not believe, in any case, that moored mines were likely to last more than six months. On 22nd January, Unique (Lieutenant AF Collett RN) missed a ship at night partly because she failed to anticipate that she was about to make a navigational alteration of course, and partly because, to economise, she fired only one torpedo. Orders had been issued to economise as Malta was running very short of torpedoes.

The shortage of torpedoes was not only because of manufacturing difficulties but also because it was not easy to get any torpedoes that were available to Malta. It is known that 939 torpedoes were manufactured during 1940 but this figure includes those for cruisers and destroyers as well as for motor torpedo boats and aircraft. It seems probable that the total that had been ordered included the nine hundred odd submarine torpedoes of the additional reserve which it had been intended to order on the outbreak of war as well, as the 345 needed for the submarines building under the Emergency War Programme and possibly more for the additional new submarines ordered in the spring of 1940. These numbers were far greater than could be produced by the Torpedo Factories and most of these would be required to arm the new boats, and probably less than two hundred would be available to swell the reserves. As no less than 299 torpedoes had been fired in action at home and in the Mediterranean during the second half of 1940, the total reserve of torpedoes must have fallen to under a hundred. In the absence of reliable figures, this cannot be confirmed but it is certain that there was a serious submarine torpedo famine at this time. Energetic measures had, of course, already been taken to increase production and the reserve was added to by such measures as using the torpedoes that had been landed from submarines refitting.

The situation was aggravated at Malta because, when most of the submarines were withdrawn to operate in the North Sea in 1939, the greater part of the station reserve of torpedoes went with them and left for home in the depot ships Maidstone and Cyclops. The arrival of Medway with the Far East reserve of torpedoes kept the submarines at Alexandria supplied, but Malta had very few. In January there were sixty reserve torpedoes at Alexandria but the exact number at Malta at this time is not known. It is believed at one point to have been reduced to the torpedoes landed by Otus and Olympus refitting in the dockyard there. Stocks were augmented by taking the torpedoes out of submarines on passage to Alexandria and converting a stock of Mark IV destroyer torpedoes that were in the torpedo depot, for use in submarines. By these means an average reserve of about three torpedoes per submarine was available for the months covered by this chapter.

On 26th January, Upholder, off Kerkenah, heard hydrophone effect to the eastwards and made a night attack on a single ship escorted by a destroyer. She fired two torpedoes at a range of 2500 yards both of which missed. She then sighted two more ships and fired two more torpedoes after them but they missed also. Upholder then dived and there was no counter attack. The next night she sighted a convoy of three ships but they were in ballast and, to conserve torpedoes, she let them go. Then two days later in another night attack, she fired a salvo of two more torpedoes having closed to 900 yards, and hit the German Duisburg of 7389 tons with one of them. Duisburg was badly damaged and was seen stopped and down by the bow. Upholder again decided to conserve torpedoes and did not finish her off, as she seemed certain to sink.

She survived, however, and was towed to Tripoli where she was out of action for four months. On 30th January, whilst submerged, Upholder detected a convoy by asdic and, after sighting it through the periscope, fired her last two torpedoes at a large ship at long range (4000 yards) without success. Subsequently she suffered a 25 depth charge counter attack by the torpedo boat Aldebaran. Upholder then returned to Malta with all torpedoes expended.

At the beginning of the month, Truant (Lieutenant Commander HAV Haggard RN) was on patrol north of Tripoli but apart from two distant sightings, had no success. She was relieved in this area by Regent (Lieutenant Commander HC Browne RN) who left Malta on 5th January. Truant then returned to Alexandria spending five days off Khoms on the route to Benghazi without seeing anything. Regent had to withdraw to the north with defects on 9th and was relieved in her turn by Upright (Lieutenant ED Norman RN). Regent then attacked a merchant ship on 12th January with five torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards at night but missed due to a bad estimation of the enemy's course. However she made up for this three days later by an attack at close range with two torpedoes on Citta di Messina of 2475 tons escorted by the torpedo boat Centauro. One of her torpedoes hit and sank the merchant ship. Rorqual (Commander RH Dewhurst DSO RN) left Alexandria on 14th January for Malta to embark mines and was then sent to attack the Italian supply route to Albania in the Adriatic. In addition to the direct route across the Adriatic, the Italians were using another from Pola and Trieste down the Yugoslavian coast. This was out of reach of any other naval forces and Rorqual was ordered to lay fifty mines off Split, which she did on 28th January. On 30th January she fired two torpedoes at a range of 1800 yards at a merchant vessel but missed. Next day off Dubrovnik she sighted a large tug towing a floating battery. She attacked with her gun and sank the tug, but a single torpedo fired after the battery had stopped, malfunctioned and missed. The battery escaped and was towed in with thirty-five casualties.

The 'bag' in January of four ships of 14,800 tons sunk and one of 7889 tons damaged was an improvement on earlier figures. This improvement is often attributed to the arrival of the small U-class from home waters but it is interesting to note that the four ships sunk were all destroyed by the larger submarines Pandora, Parthian and Regent of the old guard. These results were obtained in eight attacks firing 22 torpedoes. The U-class damaged one ship in five attacks firing nine torpedoes. However the main enemy convoy route west of Sicily and down the Tunisian coast was now under attack, and this was largely due to the improvement in air reconnaissance by the Royal Air Force from Malta using Glen Martin Maryland aircraft that had joined the Sunderland flying boats. The Royal Air Force was also using Wellington bombers from Malta to attack Naples, Palermo, Messina and Tripoli. The only aircraft used to attack the convoys themselves were the Fleet Air Arm Swordfish torpedo planes from Malta. However they were of limited range and the convoys could often be routed out of their reach. During January, therefore, submarines were practically the only way to attack the convoys themselves.

BY THE 1ST FEBRUARY, Utmost, Upright, Ursula, Usk, Upholder and Unique had arrived at Malta. Nearly all had suffered from engine trouble but this had now mostly been put right, and they were ready for action. Usk's engines were in a particularly bad way and sabotage in the building yard was suspected3. She had made the passage to Malta direct from the Clyde arriving on 17th January and had not stopped at Gibraltar. She was out of action at Malta for some weeks. The U-class base on Manoel Island, although not directly attacked, was affected by the air raids, which were delivered from now on at night. Malta had still not got its full quota of anti-aircraft guns and had only one squadron of fighters instead of the four that had been considered essential. The U-class made short patrols, generally of eleven days, and most of them were in the Kerkenah area. It only took one night on passage to get there and this was still so if they were sent to the alternative area north of Tripoli. The enemy convoys were small, generally of three or four ships escorted by two or three destroyers or torpedo boats and by small flying boats when they neared the Libyan coast. Seven patrols were made by the U-class in the area east of Tunisia during February and one off Tripoli. Often there were two of them and on one occasion three on patrol at the same time. There were plenty of targets and these included the first two convoys carrying the German Afrika Korps to Tripoli. Thirteen attacks were made during the month firing 35 torpedoes but, except in one case, with very disappointing results. Upright (Lieutenant ED Norman RN) on 5th February off Kerkenah fired four torpedoes in a night attack at a range of 1200 yards on a merchant ship escorted by a destroyer. One torpedo had a gyro failure and the rest missed. Ursula (Lieutenant AJ Mackenzie RN) on 8th February off the east Tunisian coast fired four torpedoes at very long range (6000 yards) at three merchant ships, and as she fired from the quarter, it is not surprising that she too missed with all of them. Early next morning in moonlight, Ursula fired a single torpedo at a merchant ship from very close range. The torpedo ran under the target and Ursula was nearly run down. Undeterred, she fired another torpedo after the enemy, who altered away and this torpedo missed as well. Later the same day Utmost (Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley RN), patrolling to the south of Ursula, attacked a convoy of three merchant vessels and fired three torpedoes at a range of 800 yards. The enemy was zigzagging violently and none of the torpedoes secured a hit. On 9th also, Usk (Lieutenant Commander PR Ward RN), who had at last been got to sea and was off Tripoli, fired two torpedoes at a range of 3800 yards at a large merchant ship, but both torpedoes had gyro failures and missed. This convoy was also attacked by Truant as will be told later. Three days after this, Utmost got another chance and in a submerged attack in daylight, fired another three torpedoes at a convoy of three ships at a range of 1300 yards and hit with one of them. The ship, which was of 5463 tons, was sighted three hours later stopped and with her after hold awash but did not sink. Utmost was unable to finish her off, as she had no torpedoes left. On 11th February, Unique (Lieutenant AF Collett RN), patrolling between Utmost and Ursula in bright moonlight, fired a full salvo of four torpedoes at a range of 3500 yards at a large transport escorted by a torpedo boat. One of the torpedoes had a gyro failure and circled and the others missed. The next night, also in bright moonlight, she had another chance when she met a large merchant vessel and fired two torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards. Although she claimed a hit at the time, she, in fact, failed to score. Upholder (Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn RN) left Malta on her second patrol on 12th February and after dark sighted a submarine. Although she challenged three times without getting a reply, she withheld her fire, which was just as well as it was Truant returning from patrol. On 18th she reached her patrol area south east of the Gulf of Qabes and sighted a convoy of three small ships close inshore. She did not consider them worth a torpedo and withheld her fire. Early next morning she made a surface attack at a range of 1500 yards on a convoy of three ships escorted by three destroyers. She was forced to dive by the wing escort while she was firing the salvo and only got two torpedoes away and these failed to secure a hit. On 22nd February, Ursula (Lieutenant AJ Mackenzie RN) was out again patrolling the east coast of Tunisia. She encountered a large transport escorted by three torpedo boats and an aircraft, and fired three torpedoes. The range was 2400 yards and one of the torpedoes hit. The ship was seen two hours later with decks awash but from post war records it seems that the ship, which was of 5788 tons, was only damaged.

On 18th February, Upright left Malta on her fourth patrol. By now the enemy were laying acoustic ground mines off Valetta and she exploded one of them by firing her machine gun into the water a hundred yards ahead4. Upright looked in to Sfax Roads on 21st but saw nothing and then to the south east on 23rd she made a night attack on an unescorted tanker of 2500 tons with two torpedoes fired at 900 yards. One of them hit and the ship, which was carrying petrol, burst into flames. At the time she was thought to have sunk but post war research has no confirmation of this. On 5th-7th February, an important convoy was sent from Naples to Tripoli consisting of the liners Esperia, Conte Rosso, Marco Polo and the supply ship Calitea and it arrived safely. It made a second trip on 24th-26th February in which Calitea was replaced by the liner Victoria, and the cruisers Bande Nere and Armando Diaz covered it. The convoy again arrived safely but on 25th February at 0230, when it was very dark, Upright first heard on asdic and then sighted the two cruisers on a southerly course. This was the Italian Fourth Division that was also carrying cased petrol and important stores and personnel to Tripoli. At 0241 Upright fired four torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards on a fine track and at once dived. This was a model surface night attack scoring one hit and sinking Armando Diaz, a six-inch gun cruiser of 5008 tons. This was the greatest success obtained by any of our submarines in the Mediterranean so far.

Early in February the British Army in the western desert continued its advance. At the Battle of Beda Fomm it cut off the Italian Tenth Army and virtually destroyed it, capturing Benghazi on 6th. By 11th February the front had stabilised at Sirte and Misurata and the whole of Cyrenaica was firmly in Allied hands. Truant (Lieutenant Commander HAV Haggard RN) had left for patrol off Benghazi at the end of January, and remained off the port to intercept any ships leaving until it fell into our hands. On 3rd February off Sirte she attacked a small passenger ship but a hospital ship fouled the range and she had to wait until it was clear. She was then able to fire three torpedoes at a range of 2200 yards and at the time thought that she had missed. One torpedo, however, hit and sank Multedo of 1130 tons. Next day she fired another three torpedoes at a merchant ship, but one of them hit the bottom and exploded, and the others missed. She was seen by an aircraft and bombed and suffered some damage to her battery. Her patrol was then shifted to Tripoli and on 9th February she encountered the convoy unsuccessfully attacked by Usk and fired three torpedoes at it after dark, followed by another three. She was menaced by the escorts while firing, and not one of the torpedoes hit. On 11th she fired another three torpedoes in a submerged attack on a merchant ship, and this time one of them secured a hit. The target was seen to be down by the stern before the escorts began a counter attack. It seems, however, that the target was only damaged. Truant's battery was further damaged in the counter attack and she had to leave patrol for Malta arriving there next day. Her wireless had been put out of action too and she arrived off Malta unannounced just as Upholder, as already told, was sailing for her second patrol. Fortunately Lieutenant Commander Wanklyn identified her in time although he had started to attack. Truant was, at this time, by far the most successful of our submarines in the Mediterranean and had sunk as much as all the others put together. Regent (Lieutenant Commander HC Browne RN) from Alexandria relieved Truant off Tripoli and patrolled there in difficult conditions of flat calm with heavy enemy air and surface patrols. On 21st February she fired two torpedoes at a northbound convoy at a range of 2000 yards and hit and sank Silvia Tripcovich of 2365 tons. She was heavily counter attacked for five hours in which she dived to 380 feet and suffered some damage. On 25th she fired two more torpedoes at a southbound convoy at a range of 2500 yards but missed with both of them. She returned to Malta on 1st March for repairs but these were not easy to make with the frequent and heavy air attacks on the island.

There were no submarines available to co-operate with Force H in the western basin between 6th-11th February when it bombarded Genoa. This was a pity as the Italian battlefleet consisting of Vittorio Veneto, Doria and Cesare put to sea from La Spezia and an opportunity was missed. In the eastern basin, the strategic situation was now very favourable. The coastline from Corfu in the north to Sirte in the south was all under Allied or neutral control, and the Italian convoy route in the lonian Sea was confined to a narrow channel in the middle to try to avoid the British air bases in Greece, Cyrenaica and Malta. Submarine patrols were also continued south of Calabria. Rover (Lieutenant Commander HAL Marsham RN) left Malta on 5th February and off Cape Rizzuto attacked a convoy on 8th. She fired four torpedoes at long range (5000 yards) in a day-submerged attack but without result. Two days later she fired a full salvo at a range of 1500 yards at an Italian U-boat on the surface but one tube misfired and the other five torpedoes missed the target. Then on 14th February she met a large tanker and fired three torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards in another day-submerged attack. One torpedo hit and sank Cesco of 6160 tons. Triumph (Lieutenant Commander WJW Woods RN) had been despatched from Malta in the middle of the month on a special operation. This had been planned in the United Kingdom and was to recover a detachment of parachutists who were to be dropped to destroy an important aqueduct. They were to be picked up by Triumph on the west coast near the heel of Italy after the operation. The parachute troops were dropped by four Whitley bombers in the middle of February, but then a message made in low grade cipher by one of the aircraft compromised the rendezvous position off the Sele River with Triumph, who was at once ordered by the Admiralty to abandon the operation5. On 15th February on her way to carry out this special operation, Triumph, in a night attack at long range (5000 yards), fired five torpedoes at a large transport escorted by four destroyers. She had intended to fire a full salvo but one tube misfired. The rest of the salvo ran wide of the target. She then returned to Malta for more torpedoes, sailing again on 23rd February to relieve Rover on the Calabrian coast. On 26th February she missed a medium sized merchant ship at a range of 2000 yards with three torpedoes. Triumph was still on patrol in early March and later achieved some success, which will be related chronologically. During February both the Greek submarines Papanicolis and Nereus reported successful attacks in the Adriatic.

The only Axis territories now left in the eastern Mediterranean were the Italian Dodecanese Islands. Plans had been under consideration for some time to capture Rhodes and the position had now become urgent. The Luftwaffe in Sicily was now using the Dodecanese as a refuelling stop to bomb Egypt and to mine the Suez Canal. Submarines were used to help our forces with these operations. On 17th February, Parthian (Commander MG Rimington DSO RN) sailed from Alexandria to reconnoitre Kastelorizo before a landing on 24th February for which she acted as a navigational beacon. At the end of the month, Rorqual (Commander RH Dewhurst DSO RN) made a reconnaissance of Kaso and Scarpanto Island too, but shortly afterwards plans for landings had to be shelved.

Although the strategic position in the Mediterranean had been greatly improved by the capture of Cyrenaica, there were ominous movements and events occurring elsewhere. On 13th February the Greek offensive in Albania failed due to bad weather, and the fact that the Italians had now amassed an army of twenty-one divisions there. The German army had moved through Hungary into Rumania in January, and there was intelligence that their next move would be into Bulgaria from where they were expected to attack Greece. There were also indications that Hitler was negotiating with Spain for an attack on Gibraltar. During February there was intense diplomatic activity with Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia and the British strategy for the area was established as to hold Cyrenaica with as few troops as possible, and to build up a force in the Middle East ready to help Greece if she was to be attacked by the Germans. Unknown to us at the time, as told earlier, a more immediate and dangerous move had already begun. The German 5th Light Motorised Division had started to cross to Tripoli early in February and the movement continued throughout the month. General Rommel, who was to command the German troops known as the Afrika Korps, arrived in Tripoli on 12th February. No less than 79,183 tons of supplies were unloaded in Libya during February and only 1.5% was lost on the way. In spite of the improvement in the number of sinkings during 1941 by our submarines, therefore, their operations were still having little effect on the supply lines to Libya. Although the U-class submarines from Malta were now attacking the enemy's main traffic line down the east coast of Tunisia and achieving some results, the majority of the sinkings were still by the larger submarines. Over twice as many torpedoes were fired in February (74 instead of 31), in twice as many attacks but, except for the outstanding success in sinking the cruiser Diaz, there were fewer merchant ship casualties.

ON 4TH MARCH, THE TRANSPORT of the Expeditionary Force to Greece, consisting of British, Australian and New Zealand units, began, and this activity occupied practically the whole Mediterranean Fleet for some weeks. In the central Mediterranean the favourable strategic position, in which the Allies occupied both sides of the eastern basin, continued. Unfortunately the air bases in Greece, Crete and Cyrenaica, so favourably situated to attack the enemy traffic to Libya, could not be fully exploited due to a shortage of aircraft. The heavy bombing of Malta continued and there were particularly bad raids on 5th and 7th March, six Wellington bombers being destroyed on the ground. Although fighters flown direct from Cyrenaica reinforced the island's air defences, the remaining Wellington bombers and the Sunderland flying boats had to be withdrawn to Egypt. Fortunately the submarine base was not hit and continued to maintain the U-class and any other submarines that visited the island. It seems that the enemy were unaware that the submarines were based at the Lazaretto at this time.

Eight U-class patrols from Malta were carried out during March. Unique (Lieutenant AF Collett RN) left Malta on 27th February for the east coast of Tunisia. Her patrol was extended beyond the normal time as air reconnaissance of Tripoli showed a particularly heavy concentration of ships there. On 10th March in a dawn attack, she fired two torpedoes at a range of 2500 yards at Fenicia of 2585 tons in convoy and hit with one torpedo, which sank her. On 1st March, Utmost (Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley RN) carried out a special operation to pick up an army officer from a place called Shabka el Cazel in Tunisia, which was successful, subsequently returning to Malta. After only twenty-four hours in harbour, Utmost was sent out again to relieve Unique because of the concentration of ships in Tripoli. On 9th March at 1205 in the Gulf of Hammanet she sighted the same southbound convoy attacked by Unique and fired three torpedoes at a range of 1600 yards, hitting and sinking Capo Vita of 5685 tons with two of them. Calm weather, a bright moon and intense anti-submarine activity, made recharging the battery on the surface difficult and on 10th March, Utmost returned to Malta. From 3rd-l0th March, Upholder (Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn RN) patrolled off Tripoli. On 8th March she fired two torpedoes at a small merchant ship at a range of 1000 yards but missed. Fire was withheld on a northbound convoy also of small ships, as the shortage of torpedoes at Malta was now serious. Upright (Lieutenant ED Norman DSC RN) patrolled in the Tripoli area from 6th-l5th March and on 12th fired two torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards at a merchant ship after dark. One torpedo ran on the surface and the other missed. On 19th Utmost and Ursula both left Malta, one for Kerkenah and the other to patrol off Lampedusa. Ursula only spent one day off Lampedusa and was sent to the area north and east of Cape Bon to investigate convoy routes in that area, and from this to try and establish where the minefields were. On 24th before it was light, she attacked a large merchant ship firing four torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards but the enemy altered course and avoided them. She also sighted convoys on 26th and 28th but they were out of range. Ursula encountered heavy air and surface antisubmarine measures in this area but returned safely to Malta on 1st April having obtained much valuable information. On 28th March after dark, Utmost attacked a six-ship convoy escorted by two destroyers and carrying German troops. She fired four torpedoes at the long range of 4000 yards, one of which had a gyro failure but two of the others hit and sank Heraklea of 1930 tons and damaged another larger ship of 5954 tons, which was able to continue her voyage. The escorts were busy rescuing German soldiers and did not counter attack. Utmost returned to Malta on 1st April having spent thirty out of the last thirty-eight days at sea. Upright sailed again from Malta before the end of the month. On 31st she met a straggler from a southbound convoy and fired two torpedoes at a range of 1000 yards in a day-submerged attack obtaining one hit. There is no post war record of this ship being sunk and it seems that she got in to port. The escorts hunted Upright for some time, fortunately without damage.

Of the larger submarines, Triumph was still on patrol on 1st March off the south east coast of Calabria. On 2nd March she fired three torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards at a medium sized merchant vessel in a submerged attack but missed with all of them. Three days later, however, she sighted two ships that anchored off Melito. She closed in and fired three torpedoes singly and missed with one but hit both ships with the other two sinking Marzamami of 960 tons and Colomba Lo Faro of 900 tons. Truant left Malta on 5th March to patrol in the Gulf of Sirte. Three days later she reconnoitred Burat el Sun but it was so shallow that she ran aground at periscope depth. On 19th she saw the small tanker Labor enter the harbour and decided to make a surface attack that night. At 2025 she fired two torpedoes at 400 yards that ran under and exploded beyond the pier. Truant then had to turn using her screws before she could withdraw. She was close enough to exchange verbal insults with her quarry. After this exploit she returned to Alexandria. Tetrarch (Lieutenant Commander RMT Peacock RN) had an unsuccessful patrol off Tripoli from 14th-21st March and suffered from many defects. On 21st March in a night attack on the surface she expended a salvo of six torpedoes at what she took to be a U-boat but was actually a coastal vessel. Parthian (Commander MG Rimington DSO RN) took position off the Italian coast in mid March where experience in earlier patrols had led her to believe that convoys were routed well out to sea. On 11th, however, off Cape Spartivento, a convoy passed close inshore and she was unable to get close enough to attack. On 16th March, however, in a day-submerged attack south of Messina she fired six torpedoes at a convoy, three at a large tanker and three at a sizeable merchant ship. At the time she claimed hits on both ships but she suffered a heavy and accurate counter attack and post war research indicates that only one of the two ships, of 3141 tons, was hit and she did not sink. Regent (Lieutenant Commander HC Browne RN) left Malta on 18th March for the Adriatic to patrol the route along the Yugoslavian coast to Albania from Pola and Trieste. She patrolled off Split and Dubrovnik but achieved no results. The Greek submarine Triton, however, sank Carnia of 5450 tons in the southern Adriatic on 23rd March. Rorqual (Commander RH Dewhurst DSO RN) left Alexandria on 18th March for what proved to be a most successful patrol. She embarked mines at Malta on 22nd and passing through the middle of the minefields of the Sicilian narrows, laid a field off Cape Gallo near Palermo on 25th and 26th March. The tanker Verde of 1430 tons struck one of these mines and sank. Another ship of 1472 tons in the same convoy also struck a mine and the torpedo boat Chinotto as well. On 29th March in a night surface attack, Rorqual fired three torpedoes at a range of 1900 yards with a ninety degree angled shot, and sank the tanker Ticino of 1470 tons. On 30th March, in another night surface attack she fired two salvoes of two torpedoes each at a range of 1000 yards at the tanker Lauro Corrado of 3645 tons, missing with the first and hitting with one of the second pair. The enemy was finished off by gunfire with some difficulty as the gun flashes blinded the gunlayer5a. Next day Rorqual sighted the Italian U-boat Capponi on the surface north of Messina. She fired her last five torpedoes in an attack in which she did not even have to alter course, hitting and sinking her with two of them. Rorqual then returned to Alexandria calling at Malta on the way for more torpedoes.

On 27th March the Italian destroyers Crispi and Sella left Leros carrying a number of explosive motorboats to attack shipping in Suda Bay. They seriously damaged the cruiser York and a tanker. York had to be beached with all her electrical generators out of action. Rover was at once sent from Alexandria to help and supplied power from alongside from 29th March, and continued with this task for several weeks. At the end of March, Triumph was sent from Alexandria to reconnoitre the Dodecanese from where this attack had come, but saw no enemy forces.

During March, submarines had made fifteen attacks firing 51 torpedoes, 13 of which hit sinking an Italian U-boat and seven ships of 17,175 tons and damaging two others. Another two ships of 2902 tons and a torpedo boat were sunk by Rorqual's mines. Results were therefore twice as good as had been achieved during the previous month. The U-class at Malta had now begun to score, Unique sinking one and Utmost two.

March was a month of heavy troop movements by sea by all the belligerents. The British moved their Expeditionary Force to Greece, the Germans the Afrika Korps to Tripolitania, and the Italians substantial reinforcements to Albania. In general all were transported safely and without serious loss. A further movement of troops that was to affect the maritime situation in the Mediterranean was the advance during March of the German Twelfth Army of twenty divisions into Bulgaria. The reinforced Italian army in Albania attacked in the first part of March hoping to seize Greece before the Germans arrived, but its offensive failed. The German Fifth Light Motorised Division had all arrived in Tripolitania by the middle of the month, and the Fifteenth Panzer Division had begun to cross. By the end of March fifteen convoys had arrived carrying 25,000 troops, 8500 vehicles and 25,000 tons of supplies. The total supplies landed in Libya for the Italians as well as the Germans were 95,753 tons with a loss of 9%. The Allied attack on this traffic had been left almost entirely to submarines, the air and surface forces being busy elsewhere. The force of fifteen British submarines in the Mediterranean, although they were now attacking the main Italian supply route and doing better than before, was quite unable to stop or even seriously to hinder the transport of the Afrika Korps. Four convoys carrying the Afrika Korps got across without loss and also two Italian convoys, one of which consisted of the liners Conte Rosso, Marco Polo and Victoria.

The Germans had been urging the Italian Navy to attack the British traffic to Greece since the middle of February and towards the end of March the Italian fleet put to sea for this purpose. The British cryptographers who had been reading the Luftwaffe's cipher for some months then scored their first important success in the Mediterranean. Decrypts of the reconnaissances to be flown in the eastern basin coupled with traffic analysis of the Italian naval communications showed that some movement was afoot. Convoys to and from Greece were at once turned back and the Mediterranean Fleet put to sea leading to the Battle of Cape Matapan on 29th March. The British submarines were busy attacking the enemy traffic to Libya and took no part in this famous victory. There were eight submarines at sea at the time but only one was in a position to intervene. This was Rorqual on patrol north west of Sicily and she moved to the north of Messina but saw nothing6.

It was in March too, that the British cryptographers first made real progress into breaking the German naval cipher that used the Enigma machine. However it took a month to make sense of the first message by which time it was too stale to be of use. Nevertheless this was an advance of incalculable value.

ON 2ND APRIL, THE GERMAN AFRIKA KORPS and the Italian army in Tripolitania advanced into Cyrenaica. It was only by a rapid retreat that the weak British garrison was able to save itself. The advance was not brought to a halt until the Egyptian frontier at Halfaya Pass was reached on 20th April. Tobruk was cut off but held out against heavy attacks. Almost simultaneously the Germans declared war on and invaded both Greece and Yugoslavia7.The British campaign in Greece was, from the beginning, a retreat, ending in an evacuation, which was decided upon on 20th April and completed by the end of the month. The reverses in Greece and Cyrenaica were not the only troubles during April. In this month, Fliegerkorps X, now with a strength of over four hundred aircraft, dropped its heaviest weight of bombs on Malta. The crisis lead to calls, which became insistent and even peremptory from the Prime Minister and Government in the United Kingdom for greater efforts to cut the traffic to Libya.

The submarines from Malta did their best. Nine patrols were made by the U-class off the coast of east Tunisia during April, normally three of them being out at a time8. The results achieved, however, were very disappointing. Only four of their patrols made contact with the enemy at all. In the first few days of the month, a troop convoy of four liners crossed from Naples to Tripoli and returned without being attacked and an important convoy for the Afrika Korps did the same. On 8th April Upright (Lieutenant ED Norman DSC RN) sighted a north bound convoy at night and fired four torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards and missed with them all. Upholder (Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn RN), patrolling off Cape Bon, fired two torpedoes on 10th April at a large merchant ship in an Italian convoy of four ships in a day submerged attack at the very long range of 6400 yards, and from the quarter, and understandably secured no result. A few hours later she fired three torpedoes at another large merchant ship in convoy at 1850 yards but the torpedo tracks were seen and the target took avoiding action. Two Italian destroyers then hunted her unsuccessfully. On the night of 11th April in moonlight, Upholder fired her last three torpedoes at a merchant ship at 2000 yards but one had a gyro failure and another broke surface. She had to dive deep at once to avoid her own torpedo and the others missed the target. This ship was unescorted but Upholder had to stay deep to avoid the circling torpedo and so could not surface to use her gun. By this time, British destroyers had arrived at Malta to attack the convoys and Upholder, exasperated by expending all her torpedoes for no result, stayed on patrol in case she could be of assistance to them for reconnaissance. Unique (Lieutenant AF Collett RN), on her second patrol of the month off No 4 buoy, Kerkenah Bank, sighted a large southbound convoy on 11th April but could not get close enough to attack. On 12th April, Ursula (Lieutenant AJ Mackenzie RN) on patrol to the southward of Upholder sighted a large convoy and fired four torpedoes in a submerged attack at a range of 2500 yards but missed. Upholder sighted this same convoy of five large ships escorted by three destroyers and three aircraft. In full view of the aircraft, she surfaced and transmitted an enemy report and receiving no acknowledgment, tried again half an hour later. She then received orders to return to Malta but at the same time picked up an aircraft report of another convoy with which she made contact on the surface, it by this time being dark. She then 'turned' the convoy by firing starshell, hoping to help any British destroyers at sea. Destroyers from Malta did put to sea but did not make contact. Upholder left Malta again on 21st April to patrol off the Lampedusa channel. Here on 25th she sighted a large ship and in a submerged attack in daylight fired two torpedoes at a range of 700 yards. The first torpedo hit in time to check the firing of the third and fourth torpedoes of the salvo. The victim was Antonietta Lauro of 5430 tons and was the only success by the Malta submarines in April and a very welcome success for Upholder who had before this expended twenty torpedoes and only damaged one ship.

In spite of the Government's calls for greater action against the Libyan supply route, Utmost (Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley RN) was sent on two more special operations in Tunisia during April. Commander Simpson was not in favour of these diversions from the primary task of our submarines, and was reluctant to spare them for such purposes. Utmost's first mission was to land agents near Sousse and this was successfully accomplished on 19th April. During this operation she sighted a convoy to seawards but had to let it go. The second mission was to pick up an army officer9 in the Gulf of Hammanet from a boat that met Utmost in the open sea. This somewhat precarious arrangement, however, worked. Utmost also landed an agent near Castellamares in west Sicily. The danger to the submarine in the event of compromise in such operations was, however, considerable.

The larger submarines were not entirely employed in attacking the route to Libya either, and carried out some other tasks. Tetrarch (Lieutenant Commander RMT Peacock RN) was already in the Gulf of Sirte in the first day of the month and as General Rommel's advance began, she was well placed to interfere with his support by sea along the coast. On 4th April she fired two torpedoes into Burat el Sun at a small merchant vessel but one torpedo broke surface and the range being 5000 yards she had no success. She then attacked some local schooners off El Brega with her gun but had to desist when a shore battery opened fire. Tetrarch was relieved in this area in the middle of the month by Truant (Lieutenant Commander HAV Haggard RN) and took up a new patrol position forty miles to the north of Tripoli. Here on 12th April she met the 2475-ton Persiano and fired four torpedoes in a day submerged attack at a range of 4500 yards obtaining one hit and sinking her. On 17th April she sank by gunfire the barque Vanna of 279 tons carrying cased petrol along the coast. On the night of 20th/2lst April, the Mediterranean Fleet in response to the Prime Minister's calls for action entered Truant's area and bombarded Tripoli. The fleet was led in by Truant who took up a position as a navigational beacon. The fleet fired 530 tons of shells sinking one ship and damaging a torpedo boat. It also did a great deal of damage to the port and town, causing four hundred casualties. The fleet then departed at high speed leaving the area to Truant again. She had sighted another small tanker but had had to let it go, as she was still busy leading in the fleet. On 21st April, however, she encountered the Italian naval auxiliary Prometio of 1080 tons and missed with two torpedoes at a range of 2300 yards. The target however, in a desperate effort to escape, first ran herself ashore and then scuttled herself.

The most effective action against the Libyan supply route in April, in spite of the perseverance of the submarines, was taken by surface forces. On 11th April the Fourteenth Destroyer Flotilla arrived at Malta. On 12th and 13th they made an abortive sortie in which, as we have already seen, Upholder attempted to co-operate. On the night of l5th/l6th April, however, they intercepted a whole German convoy off Kerkenah sinking five merchant ships and three destroyers for the loss of the destroyer Mohawk. Next day 1248 of the 3000 troops embarked were rescued by the Italians. Air reconnaissance later reported that a destroyer and a merchant ship were aground on the Kerkenah Bank. Upholder was ordered to investigate and ran aground while doing so. On 26th April she boarded the wreck of the German Arta loaded with motor transport, and set her on fire. She was unable, however, to board the destroyer because it was too shallow to approach her. Fleet Air Arm Swordfish torpedo planes from Malta also sank a ship in a night attack on 13th April. In the middle of the month, in spite of the heavy air raids, the Wellington bombers were sent back to the island and resumed their bombing of ports, especially Tripoli. At the end of April a new force of Blenheim bombers arrived with the aim of making direct attacks on shipping at sea by day. In spite of all these measures, the enemy managed to transport 57,796 tons of supplies across to Libya during the month as well as 20,027 tons of fuel and their losses only amounted to eight per cent. General Rommel's logistic difficulties as he reached the Egyptian frontier were because his land transport could not cope and not to any lack of supplies arriving in Tripoli by sea.

The invasion of Yugoslavia by the Germans led to a request to take off the British Minister and his staff and Regent (Lieutenant Commander HC Browne RN) left Malta on 17th April to try to do so. She dived through the Otranto Strait on 21st and arrived off Kotor the following day. The port was already in Italian hands; Regent entered on the surface but had difficulty locating the Minister. Some negotiations were made with the Italians but at 1530, Regent was dive bombed by German aircraft, which fortunately missed although the submarine was badly shaken. Regent then had to leave without the Minister and without one of her officers who was ashore negotiating. She got back to Malta on 26th April. Of the four submarines of the Yugoslav Navy, one, the Nebojsca, managed to get to Suda Bay on 22nd April and subsequently joined the First Submarine Flotilla at Alexandria.

There were over a hundred air raids on Malta in both February and March and more in April. There was only one hit on the submarine base, which destroyed the sick bay, but the laying of mines from the air off the harbour entrances posed a serious danger to the submarines. These were ground mines with magnetic and acoustic triggers and there were no minesweepers in Malta capable of sweeping them. The main counter measure was to try and plot the position of each mine as it fell. Submarines were already degaussed, and by proceeding at slow speed on their electric motors and using a channel close to Valetta that seemed to be clear, they avoided casualties. By the end of April there were thirty or forty mines off the harbour entrances and it was almost impossible to find a safe passage.

All the other operations by British submarines during April were in the western basin. On 12th April Olympus (Lieutenant Commander HG Dymott RN) of the Eighth Flotilla at Gibraltar, arrived at Malta after a patrol off Oran to intercept the French battle cruiser Dunkerque, which was thought to be about to put to sea. It was intended that she should make a patrol in the Mediterranean, but her mechanical state was such that she had to be sent back to Gibraltar. On 23rd April the new submarine Torbay (Lieutenant Commander ACC Miers RN) left Gibraltar to patrol off Cape Ferrato on the south east coast of Sardinia. On 27th she encountered a merchant ship and made a submerged day attack at a range of 1000 yards. She 'missed the DA' but caught it up and fired one torpedo that ran wide of the target. She attacked again but only one torpedo out of an intended salvo of three was fired due to a drill failure, and this missed too. Torbay was subsequently routed direct to Alexandria without calling at Malta. On 26th April Taku (Lieutenant Commander EFC Nicolay RN) left Gibraltar to patrol off Cape Vaticano and to the north of the Straits of Messina and on 29th, Pandora (Lieutenant Commander JW Linton RN) also sailed from Gibraltar to patrol off Naples. The activities of these submarines in these patrols will be related chronologically later. Finally Rover, supplying power to York in Suda Bay, was near missed by a heavy bomb and severely damaged. She had to be towed to Alexandria by the destroyer Griffin and was subsequently towed to Singapore for repairs. On the night of l9th/2Oth April, a Commando raid was made on Bardia and Triumph (Lieutenant Commander WJW Woods RN) acted as a navigational beacon to lead them in.

During April, in the course of some fifteen patrols, our submarines had tried hard but they had only fired 28 torpedoes in ten attacks and had only sunk two ships of 7905 tons. A third ship had scuttled herself. This mediocre performance cannot be attributed to any one cause. The lack of contacts when air reconnaissance was improving is difficult to understand. In the later part of the month several convoys got across without being seen, and two of these had cruiser escorts to protect them from attack by the British destroyers from Malta. Of the actual attacks, two misses can be attributed to long range, one was avoided by the enemy, two were due to torpedo failure or bad drill and three were inexplicable and must be put down to bad shooting.

At the end of April, information reached the C-in-C that Field Marshal Kesselring, the German Commander in the Mediterranean, was staying in a hotel in Toarmin and he ordered the Senior Officer (Submarines) to 'eliminate' him. A detachment of Commandos had arrived in Malta and were attached to the submarines to make raids ashore as opportunity offered. A plan was therefore devised for Upholder to take three officers and twenty men of 'The First Submarine Foot' as the Commandos were nicknamed to Toarmin to carry out C-in-C's orders. The operation was delayed by a need to attack a convoy expected to sail shortly and by the Governor of Malta, who questioned the propriety of the operation. In the end, Field Marshal Kesselring left Toarmina and the plan died a natural death.

BY 1ST MAY THE CAMPAIGN IN GREECE was over and the British and Dominion forces had, except for a few scattered remnants, been evacuated. The whole Mediterranean Fleet had been used in this operation and the army had been taken either to Egypt or to Crete, which it was intended to hold at all costs. Tobruk was invested but was holding out, and the Afrika Korps and Italian army were being held on the Egyptian frontier where counter attacks were being planned. During the recent fighting in the desert, the German tanks were found to be better than ours, which were in any case largely worn out and having maintenance problems. Some 350 new tanks had already been embarked in five fast merchant ships in the United Kingdom, and had sailed intending to make the voyage round the Cape to Egypt. It was now decided that the situation in the Middle East was so serious that an attempt must be made to run these five ships through the Mediterranean saving some six weeks in passage time. This 'Tiger' convoy as it was known, had arrived at Gibraltar by 5th May and its passage involved full fleet operations from both ends of the Mediterranean. The operation also included the reinforcement of Malta's fighters and the use of long range Beaufighters from the island. The opportunity was taken to pass some other convoys and reinforcements for the fleet, and it was intended to bombard Benghazi with light forces. The Italians had only two battleships10 to oppose these moves, the others being still under repair since Taranto and Matapan.

The passage of the 'Tiger' convoy was a complete success. The heavy Italian units did not intervene and bad weather and low visibility as well as fighters from Malta and from Formidable protected it from attack. One ship was mined and sunk losing over fifty of the precious tanks but the other four arrived safely. Submarines did not come into action to assist this convoy but there were no less than twelve of them at sea during its passage. These submarines were, in general, going about their normal business but some of them were in good positions to cover the passage of the 'Tiger' convoy if it had been necessary. There were four submarines at sea in the western basin: Truant on her way home to refit had been diverted to patrol off Calvoni; Taku on passage from Gibraltar to Malta was patrolling north of Messina; Pandora of the Eighth Flotilla at Gibraltar was off Naples while Cachalot, also on passage from Gibraltar to Malta followed a day or two behind the convoy. Pandora (Lieutenant Commander JW Linton RN) sighted a heavy cruiser on 8th May when the convoy had reached the Sicilian narrows, but it was northbound and she was too far off to attack. In the central basin there were four of the U-class on the Libyan convoy route; Ursula and Upright off Kerkenah; Utmost in the Gulf of Hammanet and Undaunted off Tripoli. Unique, however, was well placed south of Messina. She sighted a southbound cruiser too far off to attack on 4th May before the 'Tiger' convoy sailed from Gibraltar. Further east, Tetrarch was off Benghazi and Torbay, on passage to Alexandria, was ordered to reconnoitre Navarin as the convoy passed to the southward. The twelfth submarine at sea was Rorqual and she was in the Aegean on her way to lay mines off Salonika.

The most important result of the arrival of the 'Tiger' convoy as far as the submarines were concerned, was that it included Gloxinia, a corvette capable of sweeping the mines off the Malta harbour entrances. Before her arrival an attempt was made to blast a passage through the mine-fields using depth charges but Gloxinia effectively exploded fifteen mines off the Grand Harbour and another eight off Sliema and the danger was over for the present.

In the early part of May and during the passage of the 'Tiger' convoy, submarines provided cover and also continued their general attack on Italian shipping. On 1st May, Upholder on patrol in the Lampedusa Channel sighted a convoy of five ships escorted by four destroyers. In a day-submerged attack in rough weather and at a range of 2800 yards, she fired four torpedoes hitting Arcturus of 2588 tons and Leverkusen of 7835 tons. Arcturus sank and Leverkusen was badly damaged. Upholder was able to follow her submerged for over seven hours, and before dark reached a new firing position at a range of 1200 yards launching two more torpedoes and sinking her. On this same day Usk, patrolling off Cape Bon and who had reported intense antisubmarine activity there, struck a mine and was lost with all hands including Lieutenant GP Darling RN, her Commanding Officer, three other officers and thirty men. Usk had arrived in the Mediterranean in January but had had a great deal of engine trouble and this was only her second patrol. It was, however, the first loss of an Allied submarine since Narval and Triton in December. In the middle of April, Italian light cruisers of the 7th Division, laid over a thousand mines in two operations east of Cape Bon and it was probably these mines which sank Usk11. On 2nd May Upright (Lieutenant ED Norman DSC RN) off the coast of Tunisia fired a single torpedo at very long range (6000 yards) at a merchant ship from the quarter with practically no chance of a hit and, of course, missed. On 4th May, Taku (Lieutenant Commander ECF Nicolay RN), a newcomer to the station and on passage from Gibraltar to Alexandria in the Tyrrhenian Sea missed a coaster with two torpedoes fired at a range of 3000 yards. The target sighted the torpedo tracks and altered course away. Two days later when south of Policastro, she had better luck and sank the Cagliari of 2320 tons with three torpedoes at a range of 700 yards all of which hit. Both of these attacks were made submerged by day. Two days earlier, Ursula (Lieutenant AJ Mackenzie RN) had missed a merchant ship off Tunisia at a range of 2000 yards with a salvo of four torpedoes also in a day-submerged attack. On 6th May Triumph (Lieutenant Commander WJW Woods RN) also missed an escorted merchant ship off the North African coast with four torpedoes at a range of 3600 yards fired from the quarter. She was counter attacked by the escorting destroyer, which was Climene, but suffered no damage. She had no better luck next day when she attacked a medium sized merchant vessel in ballast at a range of 1000 yards with three torpedoes that probably ran under. On 6th May too, Truant, with a parting shot as she left the Mediterranean, sank the 1715-ton Bengasi off Sardinia with two torpedoes fired at 1000 yards. On 11th May Pandora off Naples fired three torpedoes at a tanker at a range of 3000 yards, but one torpedo failed to run and the other two missed. A fourth torpedo fired a few minutes later also missed. On 13th May another of our submarines was lost. This was the newly arrived Undaunted, which struck a mine while on patrol off Tripoli. She was lost with all hands including her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant JL Livesey RN, three other officers and twenty-eight men12. On 14th May Unbeaten (Lieutenant EA Woodward RN) on her first patrol, arrived off Tripoli to relieve Undaunted. She at once attacked a convoy of four large schooners close to the coast. She fired three torpedoes at a range of 4500 yards, hitting and sinking one of them, which was of 1100 tons. She then made another attack on an 800-ton schooner at anchor in Khoms Roads. She approached submerged at periscope depth bumping along the bottom and then surfaced and engaged with her gun at a range of 1000 yards and sank the target. On 16th May she sighted two large westbound transports escorted by destroyers, but struck bottom at periscope depth when the nearest destroyer was 500 yards away and she was unable to fire torpedoes. Finally on 19th, attacking a large merchant ship escorted by a destroyer, in a depth of only 14 fathoms, she fired three torpedoes at a range of 3500, two of which hit the bottom and exploded and the third missed. She was then hunted in 76 feet of water for a period of eight hours by the destroyer, which dropped twenty to thirty depth charges. She survived by resting on the bottom until dark when she was able to slip away. On 18th May, Tetrarch, patrolling off Benghazi in a flat calm, fired four torpedoes at long range (6000 yards) at an escorted supply ship. The tracks of the torpedoes were seen but too late to avoid them and Giovinezza of 2360 tons was sunk.

The loss of Greece to the Allies meant that the Aegean Sea from being virtually a friendly area became enemy waters. The immediate effect was that the Italians were able to re-start their tanker traffic from Rumania by the Dardanelles. Their stocks of oil fuel were by now low and this was of great importance to them. Some oil fuel was reaching Italy overland by rail but there was a shortage of tank wagons and stocks were falling. The Aegean was now within the 'Sink at Sight' zone and there were no Greek territorial waters to worry about. It was therefore decided to use submarines to attack the oil traffic again in the Aegean. Rorqual (Commander RH Dewhurst DSO RN) after embarking a cargo of mines in the Bitter Lakes13 left Port Said on 5th May and on 7th passed through the Scarpanto Strait into the Aegean. She laid fifty mines off Atheride Point in the Gulf of Salonika and this field sank Rossi of 2000 tons14. On 12th May while on her way to reconnoitre the Dardanelles, she sank two local craft by gunfire that were carrying German soldiers.

On 20th May the Germans made their airborne attack on Crete. There was little our submarines could do to help to defend the island and so, during the dual struggle by land and at sea between the Mediterranean Fleet and the Luftwaffe, they continued their attack on shipping. By the end of the month, Crete had been evacuated and, this coupled with the loss of Greece a month earlier, made the strategic situation in the Eastern Mediterranean critical. The sea frontier, from the line Corfu to Benghazi had been pushed back as far as Cyprus to the Egyptian border. The Mediterranean Fleet had to withdraw the destroyers from Malta that were there to attack the convoys to Libya, and the campaign was left again to aircraft and submarines. The attack on the tanker route in the Aegean was continued and Perseus (Lieutenant Commander PJH Bartlett RN), after a very disturbed and unsatisfactory refit at Malta was sent to the Gulf of Nauplia on her way to Alexandria. On 28th May she fired two torpedoes at a merchant ship escorted by MAS boats15. The range was 3000 yards, a torpedo tube misfired and the submarine lost control and went deep on firing. It was calm and the tracks were probably seen, resulting in a miss. The MAS boats then hunted her for one and three quarter hours. She left patrol for Alexandria next day with many defects. Parthian (Commander MG Rimington DSO RN) left Alexandria on 23rd May for the Dardanelles. She sighted three eastbound tankers with a destroyer escort on 3rd June and attacked one of them that was straggling. She fired three torpedoes at long range (6000 yards) and secured a hit on the 5000-ton Strombo, which was, however, able to beach herself. Parthian was then hunted by two of the destroyers without success. On 8th June she reconnoitred the harbour at Mitylene and found two large schooners and a lighter there. She fired two 31 year old Mark II torpedoes from her stern tubes at them at a range of 3000 yards sinking all three. The Greek submarine Nereus, which had arrived at Alexandria in April, was also sent to patrol in the Aegean. She was off the Turkish coast from 26th May to 4th June but saw or rather heard nothing. Her report revealed that she had spent daylight hours at 90 feet relying entirely on her hydrophones. Such tactics would obviously protect her from being sighted from the air but whether her hydrophones were good enough to warn her of the approach of any ships in time to take offensive action is another matter.

The Italian traffic to North Africa continued to be attacked off Benghazi, Tripoli, the coast of Tunisia and also off Calabria and the east coast of Sicily. Triumph was off Benghazi at the end of May and on 30th she fired two torpedoes into the harbour at a range of 4000 yards, hitting and damaging Ramb Iii of 3667 tons. After a visit to Misurata, Triumph went on to Burat and sank two 250ton schooners (Frieda and Trio F) and the 340-ton trawler Valorosa by gunfire. On 8th June Triumph reconnoitred Gharah Island to evacuate some British personnel, but found that they had already been taken off by air. Off Tripoli, Ursula (Lieutenant AJ Mackenzie RN) on 27th May fired two torpedoes at a range of 2500 yards at a small merchant vessel and missed. On 31st May she fired two more at a larger ship escorted by a destroyer. Although the range was shorter (1500 yards) she missed again. Four submarines patrolled off the east coast of Tunisia during the second half of May. These were Urge, Union, Unique and Utmost. On 20th May, Urge (Lieutenant EP Tomkinson RN) on her first patrol in the Mediterranean16 sighted two cruisers screened by destroyers, which were covering a convoy, but they were out of range. Minutes later she sighted the convoy of four merchant ships escorted by five destroyers. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 1400 yards hitting two ships. Zeffiro of 5165 tons was sunk and Persio of 4800 tons was damaged. Urge herself was damaged by the explosion of her own torpedoes and by a counter attack of ten depth charges. Next day the cruiser force, which consisted of Abruzzi and Garibaldi, was sighted again returning northwards, and four torpedoes were fired at a range of 6000 yards. The enemy were proceeding at 22 knots and although a hit was claimed at the time, in fact the torpedoes missed. Union (Lieutenant RM Galloway RN) spent most of her first patrol trying to find damaged ships reported by air reconnaissance but without success. Utmost (Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley RN) carried out another of her special operations on 27th May, and on 29th missed a merchant ship with three torpedoes fired at a range of 4500 yards one of which had a gyro failure.

On the Italian coast, Upright (Lieutenant ED Norman DSC RN), towards the end of the month landed Lieutenant Schofield and five men of No.1 Special Service Commando on the east coast of Calabria and they succeeded in blowing up a train on the coastal railway. They used an unwieldy steel punt carried on the casing that was propelled by oars and had to be floated off. The Commandos were recovered as it was getting light. They were paddling out to sea having missed the submarine. The most successful patrol of this period was, however, carried out by Upholder (Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn RN). She left Malta on 18th May after suffering an accident with a torpedo in harbour in which one man was killed and another injured. She took up her patrol position on the east coast of Sicily and sighted a convoy out of range. On 20th May she sighted another convoy of three ships and fired three torpedoes at the very long range of 7000 yards and it is not surprising that there was no result. To make matters worse, she was counter attacked by the escort with depth charges. She also sighted a hospital ship and three days later she saw two southbound tankers off Taormin flying French colours. Clearly, however, they were in Italian employ and she fired three more torpedoes at a range of 2600 yards, one of which hit C.Damiani aft. This ship was, however, towed in to Messina and did not sink. Upholder was subjected to a long hunt in which depth charges put her asdic out of action and the hunt continued next day. The Italians had for some time been debating whether to continue to use their large passenger liners to transport troops to North Africa. On 24th May four of these ships, Conte Rosso, Marco Polo, Victoria and Esperia, set off for Tripoli by the Straits of Messina with a strong destroyer escort. They were sighted by Upholder, who had moved south down the coast since her last attack. Upholder only had two torpedoes left and her asdic were still out of action. In the growing darkness she had difficulty seeing the escorts through the periscope and with no asdic could not hear them. She was nearly rammed by one of them but returned to periscope depth and closed to 1600 yards and fired both torpedoes at Conte Rosso. Both of them hit the 17,880-ton liner carrying 3000 troops and she sank with heavy loss of life. Only 1432 soldiers were picked up by the escorts. Upholder was subjected to a heavy counter attack of some forty depth charges but was not damaged further. The Conte Rosso convoy was covered by the cruisers Bolzano and Trieste with three destroyers but they were not seen.

At the end of May, Commander Simpson decided to use his spare Commanding Officers to give some of the operational captains a rest. Ursula sailed on 26th May under the command of Lieutenant ILM McGeoch RN for the Tripoli area. She then moved to Zuara and sighted a supply ship with two escorts. An attack was frustrated by a navigational alteration of course. She nevertheless got away two torpedoes from almost right astern and they inevitably missed.

The sinking of Conte Rosso was, with the exception of the destruction of the light cruiser Diaz, the most notable achievement of our submarines to date in the Mediterranean. Indeed the results of the month of May showed a substantial improvement over the earlier part of the year. Sixty-six torpedoes were fired in twenty-two attacks sinking seven ships of 39,860 tons and damaging another of 4800 tons. Two submarines were lost in May18, both probably on mines but against this six submarines had arrived19 as reinforcements from home waters. This upturn in our fortunes, however, must be put in perspective. In this period20 82,491 men were landed in Africa with a loss of 5.1% and 447,815 tons of material arrived with a loss of 6.6%. Most important of all was the transfer of the Afrika Korps to Libya. The 15th Panzer Division had all arrived by the end of May in addition to the 5th Light Division. The German troops were all transported in German ships that were in Italian ports. There were some forty of these and the most suitable were used and they were organised in twenty-five convoys of three to four ships each. The ships employed totalled 130,000 tons of which twelve of 47,000 tons were sunk and five of 29,000 tons were damaged. Submarines were responsible in the period January to May 1941 for most of the casualties, Italian as well as German, and sank sixteen ships of 61,035 tons. Surface ships came next with nine ships of 21,367 tons while aircraft were only able, because of the heavy air attacks on Malta, to sink two ships of 5483 tons. Mines and other causes sank another three ships of 13,751 tons. Nevertheless the fact is that during the first half of 1941, the Afrika Korps was successfully transported and the monthly average of 89,563 tons of supplies were more than sufficient to keep the Italo-German army in Africa on the offensive.

Nevertheless the Italian Navy was worried by the British submarine attacks and by the efficient way aircraft and submarines co-operated. They noted that while losses in February and March had been insignificant, they rose to 32,000 tons of shipping in April and May out of totals of 143,000 and 112,000 tons employed. Furthermore convoys were frequently interrupted and delayed. Although the enemy did not realise it, by May the German naval cipher was being broken within four to six hours and at the same time the Italian naval machine cipher began to yield results. These two sources now gave extremely valuable intelligence of the convoys to and from North Africa, sometimes including the composition, times of arrival and departure and even the routes to be followed and the cargoes carried. It was, of course, of vital importance not to use this priceless information too freely or it would become obvious to the enemy and he would be likely to change his ciphers. It was therefore decided not to pass the intelligence out to submarines at sea but to use it to fly air reconnaissance flights in the right places. They would then be able to pick up the convoys whose position had been gleaned from signal intelligence - the enemy would then attribute subsequent contacts and sinkings to efficient air reconnaissance.

Another worry for the Italians was that in mid May, Fliegerkorps X was moved from Sicily to Greece in preparation for operations against Russia, so that Malta would no longer be subject to a heavy scale of air attack. On the night of 26th/27th May, however, four Italian torpedo boats laid mines east of Malta and the land transport problem was eased by using the Italian submarines Atropo and Zoea to run petrol and ammunition direct from Taranto to Derna. At about this time too, the Italian Navy compared its anti-submarine experimental work using acoustic echo detection apparatus with what had been achieved by the Germans. There was little difference between the two designs except that the German system was already in production, and so the Italians purchased sixty or so of the sets that they intended to install in their escorts. Italian personnel were also sent to Germany for training. In addition they designed and began to lay down a new type of anti-submarine corvette. In fact the tussle to control the routes to Libya during the five months covered by this chapter was really only preliminary. The main struggle was about to begin.

In the five months covered by this chapter, our submarines fired a total of 250 torpedoes in the Mediterranean. The supply of torpedoes gave cause for anxiety and in May the reserves at Alexandria were expended and the First Flotilla submarines had only their outfit torpedoes, which were on board. The Malta submarines were, surprisingly, better off and, by converting reserve Mark IV destroyer torpedoes for submarines, still had about three reserve torpedoes for each submarine. The converted destroyer torpedoes had the disadvantage that the depth setting could not be altered while in the tubes. Spare torpedoes had arrived at Gibraltar in Maidstone in March but these were needed to support her submarines operating in the Atlantic at the time. Strenuous efforts were also being made to send torpedoes to the Middle East in convoys round the Cape.

The awards conferred for the period of this chapter were much delayed and few were gazetted before the autumn. No doubt this was partly due to the recommendations having to go by sea mail round the Cape or being lost in Malta convoys. Commander RH Dewhurst of Rorqual led the field. He had been given a Distinguished Service Order in the New Year's Honours in January for sinking two ships of 7165 tons during 1940. In July he was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Service Order for five patrols in this period in which he sank a further five ships of 9545 tons by gun, mine and torpedo. Then in October he was given a second Bar for sinking the Italian U-boat Capponi. Next came Lieutenant ED Norman of Upright who also received the Distinguished Service Order for sinking the light cruiser Armando Diaz as did Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn of Upholder who had sunk four ships of 33,730 tons, which was the greatest tonnage sunk in the Mediterranean by a single Commanding Officer so far. Others awarded the Distinguished Service Order were Lieutenant Commander HC Browne of Regent for his attempt to rescue the British Minister at Kotor, Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley of Utmost for successful patrols in February and March in which he sank two ships of 7615 tons and carried out three special operations and finally Commander RG Mills of Tetrarch for his patrols since arriving in the Mediterranean. Lieutenant Commander HAV Haggard had left the station in Truant to refit in May. This year he had sunk four ships of 4204 tons and damaged another and had led the fleet in to the bombardment of Tripoli, and for these patrols he was decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross. He had also been commended by the C-in-C on leaving the station in which his operations were declared to be a 'model of daring and enterprise'. Truant had also sunk three ships of 18,180 tons during 1940 in the Mediterranean as well as a large ship in North Norway, and this must surely rate as one of the best earned Distinguished Service Crosses of the war. Also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross was Lieutenant Commander JW Linton of Pandora for sinking two ships of 8115 tons off Sardinia on his way home to refit. A proportion of the ship's companies of all these submarines were also awarded decorations or were Mentioned in Despatches.

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