June - August 1941 , Royal Navy submarines in Mediterranean become active threats to Axis sea lanes

British and Allied Submarine Operations of World War II - Vice Admiral Arthur Hezlet

BY JUNE 1941, THE STRATEGIC SITUATION for the Allies in the Mediterranean and Middle East had greatly deteriorated. With the loss of Greece, Crete and Cyrenaica, the British Mediterranean Fleet was pinned in the eastern end to the coasts of Egypt and Palestine and the Axis controlled not only the Adriatic but also the Ionian and Aegean Seas. Furthermore there was the possibility that Axis parachute troops might take pro-Vichy Syria, and after the invasion of Russia there was the spectre of a German Army appearing in Iraq through the Caucasus. However all was not lost. The Italian East African Empire was nearly all in our hands and a pro-Axis revolt in Iraq had been crushed in May by prompt action. An appreciation by the Chiefs of Staff in London, however, pointed out that the Axis were now able to use a new supply route to Africa by the west coast of Greece direct to Cyrenaica and urged that the tanks delivered by the ‘Tiger convoy’ should be used without delay to push Rommel’s army back so that our aircraft could reach and attack it. The Mediterranean Fleet, already mauled by its encounter with the Luftwaffe during the invasion of Crete, was now busy supplying Tobruk and was quite unable to join in the attack on the enemy supply line to Africa.

The submarines of the First and Tenth Flotilla at Malta and Alexandria had been reinforced during the last few months and had more than made up for losses. There were now seventeen of them operational. A steady stream of new construction submarines was planned to arrive throughout the summer and autumn. Furthermore it had been decided that the submarines of the Eighth Flotilla at Gibraltar should operate in the Mediterranean instead of doing convoy duty in the Atlantic. The adverse strategic situation, which made operations by surface ships so difficult, did not affect submarines to the same degree. Their bases at Gibraltar, Malta and Alexandria remained intact and their passages to their operational areas were made submerged by day in any case and were unaffected by the proximity of the enemy air bases. Malta was now spared the heavy air attacks by Fliegerkorps X, which had moved first to Greece and then to Russia. The main purpose of all the submarines was still to interfere with the enemy traffic to Libya but some attention was also given to the tankers passing through the Aegean from Rumania. On occasion, submarines were used for other purposes adjudged at the time to be worth diverting them from their primary task. The Italian Navy at this time was stretched to meet all its commitments. There was not only the route to North Africa to be guarded but also the traffic to Greece and Yugoslavia that was as great as ever, and then there was the tanker route from the Dardanelles, which, with the conquest of Greece, could now be used again. The period which is covered by this chapter is called by the Official Italian Naval Historian the ‘First Battle of the Convoys’ and was the first time that the Axis were really worried about the traffic to Libya. Their concern, of course, was not just with an attack by submarines, but by air and later surface ships too. Although they did not realise it, the situation was even worse for them because of the breaking of their ciphers by the British cryptographers.

The first patrol in the Mediterranean by a submarine of the Eighth Flotilla at Gibraltar had already been carried out in April and May This was by HMS Pandora (Lieutenant Commander JW Linton DSC RN), who left on 29th April to patrol off Naples. On 5th May, as we have already seen, she sighted an Italian eight inch gun cruiser, but she was out of range and heading north. She missed a small tanker on 11th May at a range of 3000 yards with four torpedoes, one of which failed to run. This attracted Italian anti-submarine forces to her vicinity. However they failed to make contact and on 15th, Pandora returned to Gibraltar. It had originally been decided, it will be recalled, that the River-class submarines were too large for the Mediterranean and were not able to dive deep enough. Nevertheless for a patrol that did not have to cross the Sicilian barrage the restriction was lifted and HMS Clyde (Commander DC Ingram DSO RN) sailed from Gibraltar on 28th May for the east coast of Sardinia. On 1st June off Cavoli Island in a flat calm she fired three torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards at the southbound Italian merchant ship San Marco of 3076 tons. Two of the torpedoes hit and sank her. Later on the same day she fired three more torpedoes at a merchantman with an aircraft escort, but the track was broad and the range 4500 yards, and she failed to hit. Next day she sighted a small transport escorted by a destroyer leaving Terranova. The transport altered course just before the sights came on and so she fired three torpedoes at the escort at very close range and they probably ran under the target. HMS Clyde then spent two days off Naples and on 8th June she started an attack on a large destroyer off the Bocca Piccolo but she had an escorting aircraft and in the calm sea the torpedo tracks would certainly have been seen, so she broke off the attack. On 8th June she missed another fleet destroyer with two torpedoes at a range of 650 yards. They probably ran under but they hit and sank Italian light freighter Sturla of 1195 tons, which she was escorting. HMS Clyde then reconnoitred Palermo and, closing to 5000 yards she sighted a six-inch gun cruiser in the harbour and reported its presence by wireless after she had left patrol for Gibraltar. On 14th June she met the schooner Gugliemi of 990 tons and sank her by gunfire. During this patrol HMS Clyde made an involuntary dive to 275 feet and suffered structural damage aft to the pressure hull. Her operational diving depth had thereafter to be limited to 250 feet.

The next submarine to patrol in the western Mediterranean was from the Free Netherlands Navy O24 (Luitenant ter zee 1e Kl O de Booy) and she left Gibraltar on 7th June for the Genoa area. On arrival there she sighted two convoys too far away for a torpedo attack but on 12th she sighted a large unescorted tanker. Her first salvo of torpedoes missed mainly because one of them broke surface and warned the target. O24 , however, was able to surface and engage with her gun securing a number of hits and stopping the enemy. Another single torpedo missed too, but a third from her upper deck training tubes hit and sank the tanker, which was Fianona of 6660 tons. The same day she stopped a 500-ton schooner and sank her with a demolition charge. O24 then moved to the Spezia area and missed another tanker on 17th. She again moved, this time to the Gulf of Lions, where she had no success and returned to Gibraltar on 23rd June. Overlapping this patrol, HMS Severn (Lieutenant Commander ANG Campbell RN) left Gibraltar on 14th for Naples. On 20th off Palermo she fired four torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards at a large merchant vessel and, as she was uncertain of the enemy’s course and speed, followed it up with two more but all missed. On 22nd off Naples she sighted an Italian submarine and, as the firing range was only 900 yards, she sought to economise in torpedoes and only fired two. The result was a miss. An auxiliary anti-submarine vessel subsequently hunted her, but on 20th June she sighted Italian freighter Polinnia of 1.292 tons bound from Naples to Cagliari. She had only four torpedoes left and fired one at 1500 yards that hit and stopped the enemy. She then closed in to 1000 yards and fired another, which also hit, and Polinnia sank. Finally, on 28th in the Gulf of Creed in Sardinia, she fired one of two remaining torpedoes at a range of 2500 yards at Italan merchant ship Ugo Bassi of 2.900 tons, which hit and she blew up with a very heavy explosion and sank.

The last patrol from Gibraltar in June was by O23 (Luitenant ter zee 1e Kl GBM van Erkel), who sailed on 25th for the Leghorn area. On 30th she encountered the southbound laden tanker Capacitas of 5371 tons and hit her with three torpedoes out of a salvo of four, which caused her to capsize and sink. O23 then developed an oil leak and was hunted by Italian destroyers but fortunately was able to shake them off. She was forced to withdraw to the Gulf of Lions where she emptied the leaking tank but she had no further contacts during this patrol.

The intervention of the Eighth Flotilla in the Mediterranean in June was a substantial success for Royal Navu submarine operations. Not only were six ships of 20,490 tons sunk but also it enabled much of the traffic to Libya to be attacked that passed through this area before transiting the Straits of Messina or rounding the western end of Sicily. As a result the already overstretched Italian Navy was forced to provide escorts for all traffic in the area as well as for the normal coastal traffic and passages to Sardinia and Sicily.

In the central Mediterranean, the submarines from Malta persevered on the Tunisian coast, off Sicily and Calabria and off Tripoli, and made one sortie into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Their aim was, as usual, to interfere with the Axis supply routes to North Africa. It was particularly important to make an effort early in June as the British Army offensive, Operation ‘Battleaxe’, to relieve Tobruk and recapture some of the lost ground, was due to begin on 15th. At the beginning of June, HMS Unique and HMS Utmost were off Lampedusa and in the Gulf of Hammamet respectively. On 3rd June, HMS Unique (Lieutenant AF Collett RN) fired two torpedoes into Lampedusa harbour, sinking Arsla of 735 tons. Later the same day she sighted three cruisers but was too far off to attack. These boats were relieved by HMS Urge (Lieutenant EP Tomkinson RN), who sighted three convoys on 4th, 5th and 6th but the first two were out of range and, although she fired three torpedoes at close range at the third, she missed. HMS Unique , HMS Upright and HMS Union were out again in the middle of the month. On 20th, HMS Unique , when attacking a convoy in a flat calm, was seen before firing and was counter attacked with twelve depth charges. She was seen again when attacking another convoy and was again subjected to an attack by depth charges, some of which were uncomfortably close. *HMS Upright (Lieutenant JS Wraith RN) saw nothing, but HMS Union (Lieutenant RM Galloway RN), after sighting convoys out of range on 10th and 20th, attacked a third on 22nd firing three torpedoes at a range of 1200 yards and sinking Pietro Querini of 1004 tons.

HMS Ursula (Lieutenant AJ Mackenzie RN) was on patrol off Tripoli at the beginning of June but she returned empty handed after missing merchant ships on 27th and 31st May at 2500 and 1500 yards with two torpedoes fired from the quarter at each of them. In the Ionian Sea, HMS Upholder (now Lieutenant AR Hezlet RN) was sent to patrol a focal point where the routes from Messina to Benghazi and from Taranto to Tripoli intersected, but she only saw a hospital ship. HMS Unbeaten (Lieutenant EA Woodward RN) patrolled the east coast of Sicily in the middle of the month and on 16th she sighted a large liner southbound at high speed and carrying out a continuous slow zigzag. Four torpedoes were fired at a range of 4500 yards, but they missed this difficult target. On 23rd June, a signal was first decrypted in time to be acted upon. It revealed that four liners full of troops were about to leave Naples for Tripoli by the Straits of Messina. HMS Urge was already on patrol south of Messina and *HMS Upholder (again Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn RN) and HMS Unbeaten were at once sailed from Malta to join her. As the convoy emerged from the Straits it was heavily attacked by aircraft from Malta and turned back to Messina. Only HMS Upholder caught a glimpse of it as it retired, and she could not get into a torpedo firing position. HMS Upholder was then recalled to Malta. As soon as she had gone, the convoy sailed again and passed HMS Urge , who was engaged in an operation against the railway line at Taormina, and reached Tripoli safely. HMS Urge landed her Commandos under Captain Taylor in folbots on 27th and they succeeded in blowing up a train in a tunnel near Cape San Alassio. Captain Simpson believed that these attacks on the Italian railways were of considerable value. For a small effort on our part, the Italians were forced to guard some 800 miles of coastal track and this would need a large number of troops. HMS Urge also sighted two heavy cruisers with four destroyers on 29th June. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 5000 yards but with no result. She was counter attacked by the escort but was undamaged. On 2nd July, before returning to Malta, HMS Urge sighted a merchant ship escorted by what she thought was an armed merchant cruiser. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards and heard one hit but both ships continued on their way apparently undamaged. Subsequently one of these ships, the ex Norwegian Brarena of 6.696 tons, was sunk by air attack on her way from Palermo to Tripoli.

On 17th June, as already told. HMS Utmost (Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley RN) sailed from Malta to pass the Sicily minefields and patrol in the Gulf of Eufemia. Her purpose was to blow up the railway on the western side of the Italian peninsula. By 22nd she was off Stromboli and on the night of 23rd/24th she landed her Commandos, under Captain Schofield, in folboats, to blow up the railway line to Reggio. The fuzes failed at first necessitating a second landing to repair them. HMS Utmost then visited the northern approach to Messina and sighted two convoys that passed out of range. On 28th she was able to fire three torpedoes at a range of 1200 yards at Italian cargo ship Enrico Costa of 4.080 tons, which she sank. Another attempt to land Commandos had to be abandoned when the submarine was sighted from the shore.

The larger submarines at Alexandria divided their patrols between Benghazi, the Gulf of Sirte and the Aegean. The patrols off Benghazi were well placed to intercept traffic from Italy to Africa down the west coast of Greece and those in the Gulf of Sirte to stop coastal traffic to Benghazi from Tripoli, which was still the main disembarkation port. In the Aegean, there was not only the important tanker traffic from the Dardanelles but also the enemy sea communications with Crete, the Dodecanese and the Greek Aegean islands, many of which now had military garrisons. There were also two other uses for submarines, the first of which was to carry supplies to Malta, which now, with the loss of Crete, was virtually cut off from the east as well as from the west. The second task was to assist in the Syrian campaign that was now in progress.

HMS Taku (Lieutenant Commander EFC Nicolay RN) left Alexandria on 1st June for Benghazi and on 7th engaged a tug, lighter and an anti-submarine trawler by gunfire but the action had to be broken off when her gun jammed. Nevertheless the gunboat Valorosa and two small vessels totalling 489 tons sank as a result of this action. She landed a reconnaissance party on Gharah Island that night and re-embarked them next day. On 11th she looked into Benghazi and fired a torpedo at a range of 2300 yards at an Italian ship alongside, hitting Tilly L M Russ of 1.600 tons, which blew up and sank. Next day she attacked a convoy early in the morning with two torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards sinking Italian merchant ship Silvio Scaroni of 1.367 tons. She was relieved in this area by HMS Regent (Lieutenant Commander HC Browne RN) but she had a completely blank patrol between 19th June and 5th July. HMS Triumph (Commander WJW Woods RN) left Alexandria on 26th June and soon sighted the Italian submarine Salpa coming straight for her. Fearing she would miss with torpedoes, she surfaced and engaged with her gun obtaining three hits out of 33 rounds fired, after which the Italian submnarine stopped down by the stern. HMS Triumph then fired two torpedoes at a range of 500 yards hitting with one of them and sinking her. HMS Triumph reached the Benghazi area on 4th July and next day engaged the Italian coaster Ninfea of 607 tons by gunfire and sank her. On 8th she severely damaged the anti-submarine trawler De Lutti of 266 tons but was forced to withdraw by a shore battery, which hit her and damaged her forward. De Lu tti then caught fire and sank. HMS Triumph was later ordered to proceed to Malta for repairs.

In the Syrian campaign, some cruisers and destroyers from the Mediterranean Fleet were detailed to work on the coastal flank of the army. HMS Parthian (Commander MG Rimington DSO RN) was added to this force to patrol off Beirut, where some large Vichy destroyers were based. On 25th June, HMS Parthian sighted the Vichy French submarine Souffleur on the surface, but she dived before an attack could be completed. HMS Parthian , however, managed to keep track of her adversary and after three hours Souffleur surfaced again. HMS Parthian was then able to fire four torpedoes at a range of 2600 yards hitting with one of them and blowing the enemy into two halves, which sank. She had a night encounter with another Vichy French submarine on 28th but the two were so close together that nothing could be done before the enemy dived. Subsequently the Vichy submarines Caiman and Morse escaped to Bizerta.

Four British submarines and two Greek submarines patrolled in the Aegean during June. HMS Torbay (Lieutenant Commander ACC Miers RN) sailed from Alexandria on 28th May and passed through the Scarpanto Strait on her way to the Dardanelles. She met two caiques, one of which was carrying petrol and sank them by gunfire. On 6th June off Cape Helles she encountered the French tanker Alberta of 3.360 tons and hit her with a single torpedo fired from right astern at 1000 yards. The tanker then anchored in shallow water and an hour and a half later, HMS Torbay fired another torpedo at a range of 3300 yards, which hit her in the engine room but still did not sink her. HMS Torbay then had to withdraw with the arrival of some Turkish motorboats. The next day she sent a boarding party to set fire to and scuttle the ship but they failed. On 9th June a Turkish ship made an attempt to tow Alberta away and HMS Torbay fired another torpedo, this time at 1200 yards, which missed but caused the tow to be slipped and the tanker to be abandoned. Finally next day HMS Torbay surfaced and fired forty rounds of four-inch shell into her and she was left on fire off Lemnos, but still obstinately afloat. Undeterred by this a convoy of six ships approached and she fired three torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards but missed, and a destroyer of the escort counter attacked with depth charges Two hours later HMS Torbay came upon Italian tanker Guiseppini Gheradi of 3.319 tons straggling from the convoy, and hit her with two torpedoes out of three fired at 700 yards and sank her. A destroyer then returned and dropped depth charges but desisted after half an hour. On her way back to Alexandria while still in the Aegean, HMS Torbay sank another caique and also a schooner. She was relieved by HMS Tetrarch (Lieutenant Commander RMT Peacock RN) who left Alexandria on 6th June and entered the Aegean by the Anti Kithera Channel and went on to the Dardanelles by the Zea and Doro channels arriving on 14th June. She patrolled in her area until the 22nd and sighted nothing except for a small schooner on 25th, which she attacked unsuccessfully. HMS Perseus (Lieutenant Commander PJH Bartlett RN), also had an uneventful patrol in the southern Aegean from 22nd June to 10th July. The Greek submarines Triton (Andypopleiarkhos Zepos) and Nereus (Plotarkhis Livas) saw nothing in patrols off Kastelorizo.

HMS Torbay

HMS Torbay

HMS TAORBAY Anthony miers

As has already been indicated, with the isolation of Malta, it was found necessary to run supplies in to the island by submarine. The first of these trips had been done in May by HMS Cachalot when she joined the station from the United Kingdom. On 5th June, HMS Rorqual (Lieutenant LW Napier RN) left Alexandria with 24 passengers, 147 bags of mail, two tons of medical stores, 62 tons of aviation spirit and 45 tons of kerosene. She arrived on 12th June and unloaded, and at once embarked 17 passengers, 146 cases of four-inch submarine ammunition for the First Flotilla at Alexandria, 10 tons of miscellaneous stores for the fleet and 130 bags of mail. She arrived at Alexandria on 21st and at once loaded a similar cargo to make another trip sailing on 25th. HMS Osiris (Lieutenant Commander TT Euman RN), who had arrived at Gibraltar after refitting in the United Kingdom, left for Malta also on 25th with a cargo of petrol, stores and mail. She managed to sink two caiques on her way, and arrived on 3rd July. A fourth trip was made during the month and this was by HMS Cachalot (Lieutenant HRB Newton DSC RN), who left Alexandria on 12th June and arrived in Malta on 19th.

The month of June had been a very successful one for Royal Navy submarines in Mediterranean, which suffered no losses. Signals of congratulation were received from both C-in-C Mediterranean and the Admiralty. They made twenty-seven attacks expending some 74 torpedoes and sinking thirteen ships totalling 35,955 tons. However only three of these, of some 3107 tons, were actually carrying supplies to North Africa and in this month the Italians landed a record 125,000 tons. Although the ‘Battleaxe’ offensive by the British army in the middle of June was repulsed, General Rommel complained that he was not receiving enough supplies at the front. This, however, was not because sufficient supplies wore not getting across the Mediterranean so much as that the land transport system could not get them forward because Panzer Army Africa advanced too long , extended its rear logistical lines over ıbe coastal road too much under his command and now paying the price for it (Rommel and his later acolytes of course found no blame on themselves blamed Italian “supply inefficiency”). He was demanding that more should be landed at Benghazi rather than Tripoli but Tripoli had the bigger harbour larger docking and unloading facilities (a fact Rommel refused to aknowledge due to his inexpeience in logistics), which was some five hundred miles closer to the front. It could be argued that the British submarine campaign did not concentrate sufficiently on the southbound traffic to North Africa, and instead wasted effort off Sardinia and in the Aegean on empty ships returning to Italy. However it was at this time that the Italians first began to worry about their losses as a proportion or their total carrying power in the Mediterranean. Losses were now greater than their shipbuilding programmes, and the size of their merchant fleet was beginning to decline. The British submarine operational policy of sinking anything they could find wherever it was, and whatever it was doing, probably was the best in the long run.

DURING THE FIRST PART OF JULY, submarine operations continued much as before, but in the second part they were absorbed in operations to pass an important convoy to Malta from the west. On 1st July there were sixteen submarines at sea in the Mediterranean. In the western basin, HMS Severn and O23 from Gibraltar were still in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and HMS Utmost from Malta was north of Messina. HMS Osiris and HMS P38 were on passage to Malta from Gibraltar, and HMS Thrasher was on passage from Malta to Alexandria. HMS Upholder , HMS Upright , HMS Urge , HMS Unique and HMS Union were on patrol in the area south of Messina and off the Calabrian and Sicilian coasts, while HMS Triumph was in the Gulf of Sirte. HMS Torbay and HMS Perseus were on patrol in the southern Aegean and HMS Parthian was still off Beirut, with the Greek submarine Nereus off Kastelorizo. Most or these submarines had returned to base or reached their destinations by the middle of the month, and some others had put to sea to relieve them. By the time the Malta convoy sailed from Gibraltar on 20th July, some fourteen attacks had been carried out. On 1st July HMS Upholder (Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn RN), on her tenth patrol, fired three torpedoes at an armed merchant cruiser escorting a convoy at very close range (300 yards) without result and it is probable that the torpedoes ran under. On 3rd, she sighted a convoy of three ships escorted by destroyers. She fired three torpedoes at a range of 1800 yards, two of which hit and sank Italian supply ship Laura Cosulich of 5.870 tons. She was then counter attacked with nineteen depth charges. In the southwest Aegean, HMS Torbay (Lieutenant Commander ACC Miers RN) was at work again. She had already sunk a caique by gunfire on 30th June, and on 2nd July she attacked a convoy of two ships escorted by a destroyer with an aircraft overhead in the Zea Channel. She fired a salvo of six torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards hitting and sinking the leading Italian merchant ship, which was Citta di Tripoli of 2.935 tons. She was then forced deep by the escort. On 5th July, after sinking another caique by gunfire in the Doro Channel, she sighted the Italian submarine Jantina off Mykoni Island. She fired another six torpedoes at a range of 1300 yards, more than one of which hit, and Italian submarine sank. Finally on 10th , she encountered Italian tanker Strombo of 5.230 tons escorted by a destroyer and an aircraft. The escort forced her deep ‘missing the DA’, but she caught it up and fired four torpedoes on a very broad track and obtained two hits. Strombo was a total loss but did not actually sink until over a month later.

HMS Unbeaten (Lieutenant EA Woodward RN) sailed for patrol on 8th July for a position off Lampedusa. She then moved south to the Marsa Zuaga Roads west of Tripoli, and here she sank a large schooner on 15th by gunfire. HMS Taku (Lieutenant Commander ECF Nicolay RN) left Alexandria for the Benghazi area also on 6th July. On 13th off the port she sank Italian motor vessel Caldea of 2.705 tons obtaining three hits out of four torpedoes fired at 1700 yards. Two days later she sighted an armed tug and a schooner but the weather was unfavourable to use her gun. She followed them hoping for an opportunity to use a folbot to destroy them when they anchored for the night. The folbot, however, was involved in an accident, and so she resorted to the gun forcing both the tug and schooner to beach themselves. After boarding the schooner, she was sunk by gunfire. On 21st July an attempt was made to raid Benghazi harbour in the folbot, but after the crew had attached their charges to a ship, they were seen and captured. HMS Osiris (Lieutenant Commander TT Euman RN) left Malta on 9th July to patrol off Argostoli. On 14th July she fired tour torpedoes at a large merchant ship at 1500 yards without result, one torpedo having a gyro failure. Next day she attacked a supply ship at long range and missed with three torpedoes. The new submarine HMS P33 (Lieutenant RD Whiteway Wilkinson DSC RN), after arriving from the United Kingdom, sailed from Malta on 11th July first for the Lampedusa area, and then the Gulf of Hammamet where it was hoped to carry out a special landing operation. On 15th however, she made contact with a large convoy of five Axis supply ships escorted by six destroyers, south bound off Pantellaria. She had been put on to this valuable target by signal intelligence. She closed to 2000 yards, penetrated the screen and fired three torpedoes obtaining two hits and sinking Barbarigo of 5.205 tons. She was heavily counter attacked with fifty depth charges putting her steering gear and hydroplanes out of action. She made an involuntary dive to 330 feet causing leaks and distortion of the pressure hull, necessitating her return to Malta without carrying out the special operation. HMS Tetrarch (Lieutenant Commander GH Greenway RN) sailed for the Aegean from Alexandria on 12th July and carried out a landing operation in the Gulf of Petali on 17th. She remained on patrol in the Aegean during the passage of the convoy to Malta In the second half of July. One storing trip to Malta from Alexandria was made by HMS Cachalot (Lieutenant HRB Newton DSC RN), sailing on 10th July and arriving on 16th. On 14th July HMS Union (Lieutenant RM Galloway RN) left Malta for a patrol in the Gulf of Hammamet. She unsuccessfully attacked a small convoy twenty-five miles south-southwest of Pantellaria on 20th July. She was leaving an oil slick and was sunk in a counter attack by Italian torpedo boat Circe of the escort. She was lost with all hands including Lieutenant Galloway, her Commanding Officer, with three other officers and twenty-eight men.

HMS Upright 1

HMS Upright

hms uPRİGHT 2

Since the loss of HMS Usk in May there had been doubts about the safety of the Cape Bon route past the Sicilian mine barrage, and these had been increased by two merchant ships striking mines in the ‘Tiger convoy’, also in May. At the same time, more submarines from Malta were being used to patrol in the Tyrrhenian Sea, necessitating passage through the mine barrier. Commodore Simpson commander of 10th Submarine Flotilla in Malta , decided to use a new route on the Sicilian side in which the submarines would dive under the mines, proceeding for 55 miles at a depth of 150 feet until they were clear. To ensure accurate navigation, the ends of this new route had to be in sight of the coast, so that a good fix could be obtained before going deep. The new route stretched from ten miles south west of Cape San Marco to ten miles south west of Maritimo on a course of 300/120 degrees. This route had the additional advantage that it was a shorter way to the Tyrrhenian Sea than round by Cape Bon. HMS Utmost (Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley RN) volunteered and was given the dubious honour of pioneering the new route, and left Malta on 17th July. She had no difficulty and was required to report her safe arrival on the other side. From now onwards this was the way submarines traversed the Sicilian mine barrier. HMS Utmost was followed by HMS Upholder and HMS Urge , all being on their way to take up covering positions for the convoy to Malta.


A vital convoy to Malta was called Operation ‘Substance’ and sailed from Gibraltar on 20th July. It consisted of six fast merchant ships carrying reinforcements for the garrison and the anti-aircraft defences, so as to give the island a good chance to hold out if an attempt was made to capture it by a seaborne invasion, or an assault by parachute troops. The convoy was to be escorted through the western basin by Force H, reinforced by units of the Home Fleet, and through the Sicilian narrows by a force of cruisers and destroyers. The opportunity was taken to send some empty ships to Gibraltar independently. Although there were no units of the Luftwaffe to oppose the operation, the Regia Aeronautica was strong and the Italian Navy had five battleships ready at Naples. It was therefore considered necessary to deploy eight submarines to protect the convoy during its passage. O21 and HMS Olympus left Gibraltar on 16th July to patrol south east of Sardinia and off Naples respectively, while the new submarine HMS P32 on passage to Malta was ordered to patrol off Cavoli Point in Sardinia. HMS Utmost from Malta, as we have seen, left on 17th July to patrol north of the Straits of Messina and HMS Upholder and HMS Urge followed her to patrol off Marittimo and Palermo respectively. Finally HMS Upright and HMS Unique were sent to patrol south of the Straits of Messina. In addition to these eight boats specially deployed, there were another six submarines at sea on their normal patrols. HMS Ursula was south of Lampedusa; HMS Parthian had just left Alexandria on passage home; HMS Taku was about to be relieved by HMS Regent in the Gulf of Sirte and HMS Thrasher was on her way to the Aegean, where HMS Tetrarch was already stationed. Part of the plan was for the Mediterranean Fleet to make a diversion during the passage of the convoy and it sailed from Alexandria on 23rd July, but having shown itself to enemy reconnaissance aircraft it reversed course as soon as it was dark. HMS Perseus and HMS Regent were then used to make wireless signals on its original line of advance to confuse the enemy.

Operation ‘Substance’ was a success and five of the merchant ships arrived safely In Malta. The troopship Leinster , however, ran aground leaving Gibraltar and had to be left behind. The destroyer Fearless was sunk, and a cruiser and two destroyers were damaged and had to return to Gibraltar with some troops still embarked. To bring those troops to Malta a second operation by fast warships called Operation ‘Style’ was mounted. It left Gibraltar at the end of the month and some submarines remained in their patrol positions to cover it. The Italians were confused by the British movements, and assessed the operation as one to fly in air reinforcements. They opposed the convoy with aircraft, submarines and motor torpedo boats, but the battlefleet did not put to sea,

During and immediately after Operation ‘Substance’, British submarines continued their general attack on enemy shipping throughout the Mediterranean. On 20th July, HMS Utmost (Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley RN), in her billet north of Messina, made a night attack on a large merchant ship firing two torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards. The second torpedo ran crooked and she missed. HMS Utmost then landed her Commandos to make another attempt to blow up the railway near San Eufemia, but the operation was initially foiled by a moonlight bathing party. Later a train was successfully blown up bringing down the overhead power lines. On 28th in the same area she fired two torpedoes at a range of 700 yards, hitting and sinking Italian freighter Federico of 1.465 tons. On 24th July, HMS Urge (Lieutenant ER Tomkinson RN), off Palermo, fired two torpedoes at a merchant ship at a range of 1100 yards and missed astern, while HMS Upholder (Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn RN), off Cape St Vito, attacked and damaged a supply ship of 4.984 tons escorted by a destroyer, scoring one hit out of three torpedoes fired at a range of 5000 yards. This was followed by a dive to 150 feet and a counter attack of nineteen depth charges. Four days later in the evening when off Marittimo, she sighted a southbound force of two six-inch gun cruisers with two destroyers as escort. She fired a full salvo of four torpedoes from periscope depth at a range of 4400 yards, hitting the rearward Italian cruiser, Garibaldi , which was seriously damaged but managed to get back to her base where she was out of action for four months. This success was followed by a counter attack of thirty depth charges. Next morning, HMS Upholder fired her last torpedo at a convoy of four ships, but the range was 2200 yards and it failed to score a hit.

HMS Olympus (Lieutenant Commander HG Dymott RN), off Naples, had on 21st July attacked a convoy at long range, firing two single torpedoes, which missed. Two days later a troop convoy of large liners passed and she intended to fire a salvo of four at one of them. Two torpedo tubes, however, misfired and a third ran half out of its tube and the last torpedo ran wide of the target. This was a serious missed opportunity at a range of 3000 yards and an indication of this submarine’s need of a refit. That night the torpedo gunner’s mate dived over the side and, working under water, remedied matters to a certain extent. HMS Olympus also suffered from the peeling off of her anti fouling paint, leaving her with patches of a light grey colour. She was sighted submerged by an aircraft on 28th July and bombed damaging her battery, and she was subsequently hunted by an auxiliary anti-submarine vessel, but fortunately without further damage. On her way home, having tried to intercept the cruiser force reported by HMS Upholder she was at last rewarded, and off the coast of Sardinia fired a single torpedo at a range of 800 yards at Monteponi of 747 tons which was in convoy and sank her.

HMS Tetrarch (Lieutenant Commander GH Greenway RN), who had relieved HMS Torbay in the Aegean in the middle of July, sighted several ships out of range. On 20th she was forced deep by the escort of a large merchant ship as she was about to fire, and subsequently only got away one torpedo after the target. This was from right astern at a range of 4000 yards and missed, and she drew a counter attack on to herself. On 22nd she looked into Port Vathi but there was nothing to attack, but at Karlovassi she engaged some caiques with her gun, obtaining a number of hits before gunfire from the shore drove her off. On her way home she missed a German ship off Gaidero Island on 25th July. The range was 1800 yards, but the first torpedo ran crooked and the second missed due to a periscope fault. Finally on 27th she sank a caique full of German soldiers off Nio Island. South of Messina on the 24th July, HMS Upright (Lieutenant JS Wraith RN) sighted a floating dock, which was being towed from Taranto to Palermo. She fired only two torpedoes as the third tube misfired and one of these hit the towrope. She was heavily counter attacked, fortunately without damage, although she did dive involuntarily to 340 feet causing some leaks. She was therefore unable to renew the attack and the floating dock escaped. HMS Unique (Lieutenant AF Collett RN), also in this area, landed a train wrecking party south of Messina on the night of 29th/30th July, which was successful. Another landing the following night, however, was not a success as the fuzes failed.

Two other submarines left for patrol during or after the ‘Substance’ convoy had arrived. HMS Regent (Lieutenant WNR Knox DSC RN) left Alexandria on 20th July for the Gulf of Sirte and saw nothing until 31st when she sank the schooner Igen of 160 tons off Benghazi by gunfire. The schooner was carrying petrol, stores and ammunition. HMS Thrasher (Lieutenant Commander PJ Cowell DSC RN) left Alexandria on 22nd July for her first patrol with orders to reconnoitre beaches in Crete at Limni, which she did on the night of 26th/27th. She made contact with remnants of the army in hiding and the next night embarked 62 British soldiers, five naval ratings and eleven Greeks, returning to Alexandria immediately afterwards.

On 26th July. HMS Cachalot (Lieutenant HRB Newton DSC RN) at Malta left for Alexandria carrying 25 passengers and full of stores. On 30th when north of Benghazi she sighted a destroyer and dived. Intelligence indicated that this destroyer was probably the escort of a tanker, and an hour later HMS Cachalot surfaced and set off in pursuit. After three quarters of an hour, what was thought to be the tanker was sighted at about 1600 yards. After a further pursuit lasting twenty minutes, she decided to engage with her gun. After eleven rounds the enemy seemed to be hit, and there was a lot of smoke, but it was difficult to see as HMS Cachalot had no flashless propellant and those on the bridge were blinded. It was suddenly realised that the ‘tanker’ was in fact a torpedo boat at a range of 800 yards approaching at full speed and engaging with her main armament. HMS Cachalot could not dive as the gun tower hatch was jammed, and the range was so close by the time it was cleared that the Commanding Officer, believing the destruction of his submarine was inevitable, ordered the ship to be abandoned. The Italian torpedo boat General Achille Papa then decided that she was likely to get the worst of a collision and went full astern. Collision could not be avoided, however, but the submarine’s pressure hull was not ruptured. She then tried to escape on the surface but Papa opened fire and, with most of the crew on the upper deck, HMS Cachalot had to be scuttled. All except one of her crew and passengers, seventy strong, were rescued by the Italians and made prisoners of war. In fact Papa was not escorting a tanker or any other ship, but was on anti-submarine patrol. The loss of this fine submarine should never have happened. It was caused partly by the lack of operational experience due to her employment on store carrying, and partly due to a laudable desire to take offensive action against the enemy.

On 25th July a new form of attack menaced the submarine base at Malta. Since May, air raids had been relatively light. The new form of attack was by explosive motorboats and human torpedoes. The attack by six explosive motor boats was, however, directed on the Grand Harbour against the newly arrived merchant ships of convoy ‘Substance’, and was detected by radar while approaching and was repulsed by the close range artillery defences. One of two human torpedoes was, however, to have attacked the submarine base on Manoel Island but fortunately broke down and was unable to penetrate into the harbour.

During the month of July, in spite of the diversion of submarines for Operation ‘Substance’, a reasonable return was yielded for their patrols. In twenty three attacks, 69 torpedoes were fired damaging the cruiser Garibaldi , sinking the U-boat Jantina and seven ships of 24,160 tons, while one ship of about 6000 tons was damaged A number of smaller vessels were also sunk by gunfire. Again, as in June, only three ships were actually carrying supplies to North Africa but, in this month, the RAF sank four ships of 19,467 tons on their way there. The result was that the cargo transported to North Africa fell to 50,700 tons with a loss of 12% on the way, and the fuel delivered fell to 12,000 tons with a loss of 41%. The Italian Navy was now seriously worried. They complained that British submarines were now operating on all their convoy routes. They began to use small merchant ships, singly and unescorted, sailing only at night and lying up by day in such places as Pantellaria or Lampedusa on the western route, or ports in western Greece, or at Suda Bay on the eastern route. During July too, the Italian submarines Zoea, Corridoni and Atropo began to run supplies from Taranto direct to Bardia making five trips during the month. Two of our submarines, HMS Union and *HMS Cachalot , were lost during July, both falling victims to Italian destroyers, but against this three reinforcements had arrived (HMS P32 , HMS Osiris and HMS Talisman) It was, however, becoming necessary to send home submarines due for refit, and HMS Parthian left the station during the month. It had also been decided, for the second time, that the River class HMS Severn and HMS Clyde were not suitable for Mediterranean patrols, and both were employed west of Gibraltar from now on. Total operational submarine strength in the Mediterranean on 31st July stood at twenty-five boats, three of which were Dutch, and also five Greek submarines.


ON 1ST AUGUST, there were ten submarines at sea throughout the Mediterranean. HMS Utmost was still north of Messina and HMS Unique was to the south while HMS Unbeaten was about to return to Malta from the Lampedusa area. HMS Regent was off Benghazi, HMS Parthian was in the vicinity of Malta on her way home to refit, and HMS Rorqual had just left Alexandria on a storing trip to Malta. There were four submarines in the western basin; O24 was patrolling on the north west coast of Italy and O21 was south east of Sardinia. HMS Olympus was returning to Gibraltar from the east coast of Sardinia, while the new submarine HMS Talisman was combining a storing trip with her passage to Malta and Alexandria, and bringing in 6.500 gallons of aviation spirit. Patrols during this month concentrated rather more on the traffic to North Africa and less on the Aegean, where only two patrols were carried out.
On 2nd August, O21 (Luitenant ter zee le KI JF van Dulm from Free Dutch Navy) missed a barquentine with torpedoes south of Cagliari and engaged with her gun, but had to break off the attack because of the bright moonlight and the proximity of the land. Nevertheless her target sank. O24 (Luitenant ter Zee 1e Kl O de Booy) torpedoed and sank Bombardiere of 613 tons off the mouth of the Tiber on 6th August, and next day sank the schooner Margherita Madu of 295 tons by gunfire. Also on 6th August, but off the coast of Africa, HMS Regent (Lieutenant WNR Knox DSC RN) ran aground while bombarding the pier at Apollonia and had to release her drop keel to get off. Subsequently after her return to Alexandria on 10th, she had to go to Malta dockyard for repairs. Lastly on 14th August when nearing Alexandria, the newly arrived HMS Talisman detected the hydrophone effect of what she took to be a U-boat and fired three torpedoes, fortunately missing as this was her target was actually HMS Otus bound for Malta with petrol and stores.

O23 (Luitenant ter zee 1e Kl GRM van Erkel) left Gibraltar on 2nd August to patrol in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and had a blank patrol except for an attack using Dutch torpedoes at no less than 15000 yards, which missed. HMS Urge and HMS Ursula patrolled south of Messina without success. On 6th August, HMS P33 was sent to patrol off Tripoli, an area that had not been visited for a little while and she was joined by HMS P32 , who sailed on 12th. HMS Torbay (Lieutenant Commander ACC Miers RN) left Alexandria on 2nd August to patrol off Benghazi and in the Gulf of Sirte. On 12th she fired four torpedoes at long range (6000 yards) at a convoy escorted by destroyers, motor anti-submarine boats and aircraft, but missed. Four days later she sank a schooner using demolition charges and was then ordered to Paximadia Island in Messara Bay in Crete to rescue a number of British troops in hiding there. On the night of 18th/19th she embarked 28 soldiers and 12 Greeks. The Greeks had to be forcibly landed next night to take another 92 soldiers, after which HMS Torbay set course for Alexandria. HMS Thrasher (Lieutenant Commander PJ Cowell DSC RN) patrolled in the Aegean from 6th-25th of the month. She made one attack on an escorted merchant ship on 16th, in which she fired four torpedoes at the very long range of 8000 yards without success. HMS Tetrarch (Lieutenant Commander GH Greenway RN) left Alexandria on 11th August for the Gulf of Sirte, and on 16th she fired two torpedoes into Benghazi harbour aimed at the destroyer Perseo but they exploded in the torpedo nets. On 19th she attacked a convoy in very shallow water with three torpedoes at a range of 1000 yards, but she was sighted by an aircraft and forced deep before the sights came on. She fired by asdics but the torpedoes missed. On 22nd in similar conditions she let a convoy pass and pursued it on the surface after dark. Next day she fired two torpedoes at 500 yards at two large Italian schooners sinking Fratelli Garre of 413 tons. The day after, she found two schooners at anchor and fired a single torpedo at each of them at a range of 3000 yards. One torpedo hit and sank Francesco Garre of 395 tons. HMS Tetrarch , when returning to Alexandria was bombed and machine gunned by one of our own aircraft after making a mistake with the recognition procedure, but was fortunately undamaged.

The convoy of large Italian liners had been running a shuttle service to Tripoli since April. Except for the sinking of Conte Rosso at the end of that month they had operated without loss. They had used different routes for each succeeding trip. Signal intelligence lead to an attempt to intercept them in June without success, and they had been attacked and missed off Naples by HMS Olympus on 23rd July, but had otherwise proved elusive. In mid August, decrypts of Italian naval ciphers revealed that a convoy of four large liners was again to make the voyage from Naples to Tripoli with troops. This time, however, they were to pass west of Sicily and down the Tunisian coast. On 16th HMS Unique (Lieutenant AR Hezlet RN) was despatched from Malta to reinforce HMS P32 and HMS P33 , which were already off Tripoli. HMS Urge (Lieutenant EP Tomkinson RN) and HMS Unbeaten (Lieutenant Commander EA Woodward RN) were sent out from Malta on 18th to patrol south west of Pantellaria. Of the other submarines on patrol at the time, HMS Upholder was on the north coast of Sicily, but was unable to intercept, and HMS Ursula was south of Messina, and so could only have been of use if the convoy had gone that way. Information of the convoy’s progress in the Tyrrhenian Sea was obtained by RAF reconnaissance, and an enemy report was sent out to the submarines. On 19th August both HMS Urge and HMS Unbeaten sighted the convoy of four liners escorted by six destroyers. HMS Urge, however, was seen submerged by an aircraft and forced deep, being counter attacked by destroyers for over an hour. HMS Unbeaten fired three torpedoes, the fourth tube misfiring, at the long range of 6500 yards, but without result in the rough sea.

HMS Unique , on arrival off Tripoli on 18th, made contact by asdic signals with HMS P32 but could not get in touch with HMS P33. It is probable that HMS P33 had already struck one of the mines recently laid off Tripoli. She was lost with all hands including her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant RD Whiteway Wilkinson DSO RN, with three other officers and 28 men. HMS Unique was able to get into position by watching the minesweepers sweeping the channel to seawards. She then sighted the liners Oceania , Neptunia , Marco Polo and Esperia escorted by six fleet destroyers, a torpedo boat, and two MAS boats with three flying boats overhead. At 1019 she fired four torpedoes at a range of 650 yards from inside the screen at the rear ship in the port column. An MAS boat passed over her fore casing just before she fired. Three torpedoes hit and sank Esperia of 11400 tons in sight of Tripoli. Of 1170 troops on board, however, 1139 were saved. HMS P32 (Lieutenant DAB Abdy RN), to the eastwards of HMS Unique, while she was actually attacking the same convoy, struck a mine and was sunk. She had tried to dive deep under the shallow minefield that she had been warned about, but on coming to periscope depth to fire torpedoes, struck a mine forward. She sank to the bottom in 210 feet; eight men were drowned but 24 survived the explosion. It was decided to attempt to escape using the Davis Apparatus, two doing so successfully through the conning tower, but the rest, using the engine room escape hatch, were all drowned. Her Commanding Officer and one rating who had escaped by the conning tower, were picked up by the Italians and made prisoners of war, but three other officers and 26 men were drowned. HMS Unique , after her attack, was not directly counter attacked although a destroyer passed overhead soon after firing. She worked her way to seawards but later in the day was seen submerged, and bombed by a small flying boat causing an oil fuel leak, which meant that she had to return at once to Malta. Credit for this interception and sinking of an important troopship is due therefore not only to a submarine but also to the cryptographers and indeed also to air reconnaissance. Cryptography, in addition to its successes in being responsible for actual interceptions, was also of great value in building up a picture of convoy routes and in revealing the enemy’s needs for supplies and his shortages.

On 29th August, HMS Urge (Lieutenant EP Tompkinson RN), patrolling off Capri, sighted the troop convoy on its next trip. It consisted of Neptunia , Oceania and Victoria . She fired three torpedoes at a range of 4000 yards claiming one hit but in fact the convoy continued on its way undamaged. HMS Upholder and HMS Ursula were at once ordered to sea from Malta to intercept, and HMS Ursula (Lieutenant AJ Mackenzie RN) sighted one of the liners outside torpedo range on 30th. HMS Upholder (Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn RN) attacked early next morning firing four torpedoes at extreme range (6-7000 yards). It was flat calm and the torpedoes were almost certainly seen approaching, and were avoided.

At the same time as these moves against the Italian troop convoys were being made, Force H carried out an operation in the western Mediterranean. It was primarily a minelaying sortie by the fast surface minelayer HMS Manxman , who penetrated north of the Balearics and Corsica to lay a large field south of Leghorn. Force H supported her by Fleet Air Arm raids on Sardinia as diversions. At the time there were only two British submarines in the area: HMS Upholder was off Cape San Vito on the north coast of Sicily and HMS Triumph was north of Messina. Two more submarines, HMS Ursula and HMS Unbeaten , were south of Messina and the HMS Utmost was off Taranto. HMS Manxman left Gibraltar on 21st August, and laid her mines unobserved on 24th while Force H sailed separately the same night. The Italians knew of the departure of Force H from their agents in the Gibraltar area, but not of the movement of HMS Manxman . They believed that another Malta convoy was about to pass through the Straits and two squadrons put to sea. A force including battleships was sent to a position south west of Sardinia and a cruiser force to the vicinity of Galita Island. Both were to keep within fighter range of their shore air base. Air reconnaissance from Malta sighted the Italian battleships thirty miles south of Cagliari in the forenoon of 24th. At the same time HMS Upholder , north west of Trapani, sighted the cruiser force. She only had two torpedoes left, and during the attack lost trim and was blind for ten minutes. She fired her two torpedoes on a late track at the rear cruiser at a range of 7500 yards but without success. She then suffered a 48charge counter attack while at 150 feet, but was able to surface after two hours and make an enemy report. This force returned to the northern entrance to Messina on 26th and was intercepted by HMS Triumph (Commander WJW Woods RN). The enemy was zigzagging, the visibility was poor and the range long, but HMS Triumph got away her only two Mark VIII torpedoes in her tubes, which had sufficient range to reach the target. There were several aircraft overhead and the screen were dropping depth charges indiscriminately. One of the torpedoes, however, hit the heavy cruiser Bolzano damaging her, but she managed to reach Messina. HMS Triumph had difficulty in getting an enemy report through. Finally HMS Utmost (Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley DSO RN), still on patrol in the Taranto area, landed Commandos who successfully blew up a bridge at Tribesacce and two days later, in the morning, sighted two Cavour-class battleships escorted by destroyers and aircraft. They were a long way off and out of range, and the presence of the aircraft kept HMS Utmost deep. She experienced difficulty in transmitting an enemy report as well, and did not get it through until after midnight.

At the same time as the operations were in progress against the Italian liner convoys and in support of Force H’s foray in the western basin, our submarines continued their war of attrition against shipping. HMS Upholder , in her position north west of Sicily sank Italian merchant Enotria of 852 tons off Cape St Vito on 20th August firing two torpedoes at 1100 yards hitting with one of them. Two days later she met a convoy of three tankers escorted by two destroyers, and sank Italian naval auxiliary Lussin of 3.988 tons. This time she fired four torpedoes at a range of 4000 yards hitting with two of them. She then suffered a heavy and accurate counter attack but escaped serious damage. In fact, HMS Upholder , in this her twelfth patrol arrived in her allotted patrol area with all torpedoes expended. Before leaving for Malta, She landed Commandos east of Palermo at Sciacca to blow up the railway, but they failed to find it and got involved in a fire-fight and were lucky to escape. On completion of a storing trip to Malta, HMS Rorqual (Lieutenant LW Napier RN) embarked a full load of mines and laid them off Zante on 26th August. This field sank a small Italian steamer. On 28th August she attacked a convoy and fired three torpedoes at a range of 1100 yards at Cilicia of 2747 tons, hitting with all three and sinking her. In trying to manoeuvre to attack a second ship with another three torpedoes at a range of 400 yards, she was run down and both her periscopes were smashed, and she missed into the bargain. However she was able to return to Alexandria without further mishap.

HMS Talisman (Lieutenant Commander M Willmott RN), who sailed from Alexandria on 21st to relieve HMS Tetrarch in the Gulf of Sirte, fired three torpedoes on 23rd at a small supply ship at a range of 1400 yards. One torpedo, however, had a gyro failure and circled, near missing HMS Talisman herself. There was a drill failure in firing one of the other torpedoes and the result was that she missed this otherwise easy target. She redeemed herself somewhat by sinking a caique by gunfire on 30th before returning to Alexandria. On 27th August, HMS Urge (Lieutenant EP Tomkinson RN), in the Naples area, made a long-range attack on a convoy with four torpedoes. One torpedo stuck in the tube and she broke surface. Nevertheless she scored a hit on the tanker Aquitania of 4971 tons and damaged her, and was subjected to a noisy but ineffective counter attack. On 28th August, HMS Utmost off Cape Colonne fired two torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards at a large merchant ship, but missed. On the same day at about the same time, HMS Unbeaten (Lieutenant Commander EA Woodward RN), south of Messina, sighted a large Italian submarine. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards but also missed. Next day she encountered three schooners and, from their behaviour, she rightly deduced that they were auxiliary anti-submarine craft. She managed to get within 700 yards of one of them and fired two torpedoes hitting and sinking Alfa of 373 tons.

As well as her success against Bolzano , HMS Triumph had other adventures north of Messina. She had been sent to this area to land a larger party of Commandos than usual at the mouth of the Torrente Furiano to blow up an important railway viaduct thirty miles west of Messina. Twelve men were to be landed under Lieutenant Schofield of the Royal Fusiliers in eight folbots, carrying five hundredweight of explosives. A large submarine was required for this expedition and HMS Triumph had also to disembark her reload torpedoes to make room for all this impedimenta. She had made a periscope reconnaissance on 22nd April, but the swell was too heavy to land, and then she was required to intercept the Italian cruiser force. Subsequently she had to land the Commandos on the night of the 27th/28th but a small fishing boat had to be disposed of which was in the way. The Commandos were able to land the next night, but two folbots were damaged and only eight men got ashore. Nevertheless they blew up two of the seven spans of the bridge. Although HMS Triumph searched for two days, fog prevented the Commandos being recovered and the enemy captured them all. She regretfully left the area to return to Malta on the last day of the month.

The month of August was a successful one for British submarines. In twenty attacks firing 62 torpedoes, they had sunk five ships of 19,430 tons and had damaged the heavy cruiser Bolzano and two other ships totalling 28.571 tons. Although only two of these ships were carrying troops and supplies to North Africa, these included the troopship Esperia . In this month the RAF and Fleet Air Arm sank seven ships of 20,981 tons to swell the total. The Italians only succeeded in getting 46,755 tons across and lost 20% on the way. However they transported 37,201 tons of petrol with a loss of only one per cent. During August, supplies continued to be run in to Bardia by the Italian submarines Zoea, Corridoni and Atropo . The Allied successes owed a great deal to the work of their cryptographers. To the submarine successes must be added a number of operations against coastal railways which, it was hoped, would mean more coastal shipping would have to be used, as well as diverting troops to guard vulnerable bridges and tunnels near the sea. During August, the U-class submarines from Malta achieved nearly all the successes. HMS Rorqual , HMS Osiris , HMS Otus and HMS Thunderbolt made four storing trips to Malta during the month. Two submarines were lost during August, which were HMS P32 and HMS P33 , both newcomers to the station and both lost on new Italian minefields off Tripoli. Two submarines arrived from Halifax as reinforcements, HMS Talisman and HMS Thunderbolt , but against this, HMS Taku left the station to refit.


Andypopleiarkhos = Lieutenant (junior grade)

Plotarkhis = Lieutenant commander

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