Mediterranean Theater of War , January - February 1941




North Africa - As the British advance continued into Libya, Bardia was taken on the 5th. Australian troops captured Tobruk on the 22nd January and Derna, further west by the end of the month. The Royal Navy’s Inshore Squadron played an important part in the campaign - bombarding shore targets, carrying fuel, water and supplies, and evacuating wounded and prisoners of war.

Air War - Hurricane fighters, transported to Takoradi in West Africa, started to arrive in Egypt after flying across the continent. They too played their part in the North African offensive. RAF Wellingtons raided Naples and damaged Italian battleship “Giulio Cesare”.

**6th-11th January - Malta Convoy “Excess” : Another complex series of convoy and ship movements revolving around Malta led to carrier HMS Illustrious (that led Taranto attack) being badly damaged and the Royal Navy losing its comparative freedom of operation in the Eastern Mediterranean. This followed the arrival in Sicily of the German Luftwaffe’s X Fliegerkorps. On the 6th January , convoy ‘Excess’ left Gibraltar for Malta and Greece covered by Gibraltar-based Force H. At the same time the Mediterranean Fleet from Alexandria prepared to cover supply ships to Malta and bring out empty ones. Mediterranean Fleet cruisers “Gloucester” and “Southampton” carried troop reinforcements to Malta and then carried on west to meet ‘Excess’. Force H returned to Gibraltar. By the 10th January , ‘Excess’ had reached the Strait of Sicily and was attacked by Italian torpedo boats. Italian torpedoboat VEGA" was sunk by escorting cruiser “Bonaventure” and destroyer “Hereward”. As the Mediterranean Fleet including “Illustrious” met the convoy off the Italian-held island of Pantelleria, one of the screening destroyers HMS Gallant hit a mine. Towed back to Malta, she was not re-commissioned and finally wrecked by bombing over a year later in April 1942. Still west of Malta, heavy attacks by German and Italian aircraft were launched. HMS Illustrious was singled out and hit six times by Ju87 and Ju88 bombers. Only the armoured flight deck saved her from total destruction as she struggled into Malta with 200 casualties. There, under continual attack, she was repaired temporarily and left on the 23rd for Alexandria. Sister-ship HMS Formidable was sent out to replace her via the Cape of Good Hope, but it was some weeks before she reached the Eastern Mediterranean. On the 11th January , the empty return Malta/Alexandria convoy was proceeding eastwards, with cruisers “Gloucester” and “Southampton” sailing from Malta to join up when they were attacked by German aircraft to the east of Malta. HMS Southampton was bombed and sunk, HMS Gloucester damaged. All merchantmen reached their destinations safely, but at a cost of a cruiser and destroyer, and the loss of “Illustrious’” vital air power.

19th January - Royal Navy Destroyer HMS Greyhound, escorting a convoy to Greece, sank Italian submarine “NEGHELLI” in the Aegean Sea

Monthly Loss Summary
No British, Allied or neutral merchant ships were lost in the Mediterranean.


North Africa - Benghazi and British armoured forces crossed the Libyan desert to a point south of cut off the retreating Italians. The resulting Battle of Beda Fomm starting on the 5th February , inflicted heavy losses. Australian troops captured the major port of Benghazi at the same time, and by the 9th El Agheila was reached. There the advance stopped. Large numbers of British and Dominion troops were now withdrawn for transfer to Greece, just as the first units of the Afrika Korps under Gen Rommel arrived in Tripoli.

9th February - Force H Attack in the Gulf of Genoa (Operation Grog) - “Ark Royal,” “Renown” and “Malaya” sailed right up into the Gulf of Genoa, northwest Italy. The big ships bombarded the port , military installations city of Genoa from sea while “Ark Royal’s” aircraft bombed Leghorn and laid mines off Spezia. Five Italian ships at harbour of Genoa was sunk. An Italian battlefleet sortied but failed to make contact.

24th February - Royal Navy Destroyer HMS DAINTY escorting supplies to Tobruk with the Inshore Squadron, was sunk off the port by German Ju87 Stukas. Same day under heavy air attacks by Luftwaffe Ju-87 bombing raids and hitting two magnetic mines , Royal Navy monitor HMS Terror also sinks in Benghazi harbour.

25th February - On patrol off the east coast of Tunisia, Royal Navy submarine HMS Upright torpedoed and sank Italian cruiser “ARMANDO DIAZ” covering a convoy from Naples to Tripoli.

Monthly Loss Summary
2 British or Allied merchant ships of 8,000 tons.