Malta - With German forces now in Greece and Crete the problems of supplying Malta were even greater. From airfields in Crete as well as Libya, the Luftwaffe and Italian Air force were as close to the eastern convoy routes from Alexandria, as Sardinia and Sicily were to the western ones through the Strait of Gibraltar. Nevertheless the men and material were fought through for the defence of Malta and its use as an offensive base. In the one month of June alone, carrier HMS Ark Royal once on her own, at other times accompanied by HMS Furious or HMS Victorious, flew off more than 140 aircraft for Malta. Meanwhile submarines carried in urgently needed fuel and stores.
North Africa - Another unsuccessful British offensive to relieve Tobruk started from Sollum on the 15th (Operation ‘Battleaxe’). Within two days the operation was called off. A heavy price had to be paid for the supply of besieged Tobruk by the Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy ships involved. All trips took place under continual threat of German and Italian aircraft attacked.
24th June - Sloop HMZS AUCKLAND was lost off Tobruk.
30th June - Australian destroyer HMAS WATERHEN was bombed and sunk off Bardia.
27th June - British submarine HMS Triumph on patrol off the Egyptian coast sank the Italian submarine “SALPA”.
Monthly Loss Summary
3 British or Allied merchant ships of 9,000 tons
5th July - Submarine HMS Torbay on patrol in the Aegean Sea sank Italian submarine “JANTINA”.
11th July - On the Tobruk Run, destroyer HMS DEFENDER was bombed by German aircraft and went down off Sidi Barrani.
20th July - Two more British submarines fell victim to Italian anti-submarine forces during convoy attacks in July - the first was HMS UNION to Italian torpedo boat “Circe” off Pantelleria.
21st-24th - Malta Convoy, Operation ‘Substance’ - ‘Substance’ set out from Gibraltar with six transports covered by Force H with aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, battlecruiser HMS Renown, cruisers and destroyers. Battleship HMS Nelson, three cruisers and more destroyers reinforced Force H from the Home Fleet. On the 23rd, south of Sardinia, sustained Italian air attacks started. Cruiser HMS Manchester was hit by Italian torpedo bombers and returned to Gibraltar and destroyer HMS FEARLESS sunk by aircraft launched torpedoes. Next day all the transports reached Malta safely.
On the 26th July the Italians launched an attack on Malta Grand Harbour with explosive motor-boats, human torpedoes and aircraft, but failed to reach the recently arrived ships. All eight motor craft manned by elite Italian Decima MAS special forces teams were destroyed by British naval batteries inside harbour without any loss to defenders. By the 27th July, Force H and a return empty convoy were in Gibraltar. During this operation, Mediterranean Fleet carried out diversionary manoeuvres in the eastern basin.
30th July - The second Royal Navy submarine loss to Italian anti-submarine forces during convoy attacks was HMS CACHALOT while on passage from Malta to Alexandria, rammed and sunk by Italian torpedo boat Papa.
Monthly Loss Summary
2 British or Allied merchant ships of 8,000 tons