French Navy in the Mediterranean -
3rd July 1940 - Action at Oran (Operation ‘Catapult’) - Adm Somerville arrived with Force H off the French Algerian base of Mers-el-Kebir near Oran. French Adm Gensoul was offered a number of choices to ensure his fleet with its four capital ships stayed out of Axis hands. All were turned down and, at around 18.00, Force H opened fire on the anchored ships. “BRETAGNE” blew up and the “Dunkerque” and “Provence”, together with other ships, were badly damaged. Battlecruiser “Strasbourg” and some destroyers managed to break out in spite of attacks by aircraft from “Ark Royal”, and reached Toulon in the south of France. Three days later the damaged “Dunkerque” was torpedoed at her moorings by Ark Royal’s Swordfish. The tragic and unhappy episode was over as far as Oran was concerned.
4th July - A more peaceful solution to the French naval presence was found at Alexandria . Adm Cunningham was able to reach agreement with Adm Godfrey on the demilitarisation of battleship “Lorraine”, four cruisers and a number of smaller ships. No action was taken against the French warships at Algiers and Toulon . For the Royal Navy was unhappy but in British eyes, necessary duty had been carried out against their former French allies. French anger and bitterness was understandably considerable.
5th July - Obsolescent torpedo-carrying Swordfish from carrier “Eagle’s” squadrons flew from land bases on successful attacks against Tobruk and area. On the 5th, Swordfish torpedo carrying aircraft of 813 Squadron sank Italian destroyer “ZEFFIRO” and a freighter at Tobruk. The success was repeated two weeks later.
9th July - Action off Calabria or Battle of Punto Stila
- On the 7th July , Adm Cunningham sailed from Alexandria with battleships “Warspite”, Malaya", Royal Sovereign", carrier “Eagle”, cruisers and destroyers to cover convoys from Malta to Alexandria and to challenge the Italians to action.
Next day 8th July - two Italian battleships, 14 cruisers and 32 destroyers were reported in the Ionian Sea covering a convoy of their own to Benghazi in Libya. Italian aircraft now started five days of accurate high-level bombing (also against Force H out of Gibraltar) and cruiser “Gloucester” was hit and damaged. Rotal Navy Mediterranean Fleet headed for a position to cut off the Italians from their base at Taranto.
On 9th July , Eagles aircraft failed to find the Italians and first contact was made by a detached cruiser squadron which was soon under fire from the heavier Italian ships. “Warspite” came up and badly damaged Italian battleship “Giulio Cesare” with a 15 inc hit from 26.000 m range. As the Italian battleships turned away, the British cruisers and destroyers engaged, but with little effect. Royal Navy Mediterranean Fleet pursued retreating Italian vessels to within 50 miles of the south west Italian coast off Calabria before withdrawing.
As Adm Cunningham covered the by now delayed convoys to Alexandria, “Eagle’s” Swordfish attacked Augusta harbour, Sicily on the 10th July . Destroyer “Pancaldo” was torpedoed by Eagle’s Swordwish torpedo aircraft, but later re-floated and re-commissioned.
11th July - Force H, which had put to sea on receiving reports of the Italian fleet, was now returning to Gibraltar, when screening destroyer “ESCORT” was sunk by the Italian submarine “Marconi”.
16th July - Submarine “PHOENIX” attacked an escorted tanker off Augusta and was lost to depth charges from Italian torpedo boat “Albatros”.
19th July - Action off Cape Spada - Australian cruiser “Sydney” and destroyers “Hasty”, “Havock”, “Hero”, “Hyperion” and “llex” on a sweep into the Aegean Sea were sent to intercept two reported Italian cruisers. Off Cape Spada at the north west tip of Crete, “BARTOLOMEO COLLEONI” was stopped by Sydney’s gunfire and finished off with torpedoes from the destroyers. “Bande Nere” managed to escape.
20th July - Carrier “Eagle’s” Swordfish continued their strikes against Italian targets around Tobruk. In the nearby Gulf of Bomba, 824 Squadron was responsible for sinking destroyers “NEMBO” and “OSTRO” and another freighter.
Monthly Loss Summary
2 British, Allied and neutral ships of 7,000 tons