HMS Arbutus (i) (K 86)
Corvette of the Flower class
|Navy||The Royal Navy|
|Built by||Blyth Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. Ltd. (Blyth, U.K.) : Clark|
|Ordered||25 Jul 1939|
|Laid down||30 Nov 1939|
|Launched||5 Jun 1940|
|Commissioned||12 Oct 1940|
|Lost||5 Feb 1942|
|Loss position||55° 05'N, 19° 43'W|
HMS Arbutus (T/Lt. Arhur Lionel Waldegrave Warren, DSC, RNR) was torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-136 in the North Atlantic about 340 nautical miles west-north-west of Erris Head, Ireland in position 55º05'N, 19º43'W.
Hit by U-boat
|U-boat Attack||See our U-boat attack entry for the HMS Arbutus (i)|
Commands listed for HMS Arbutus (i) (K 86)
Please note that we're still working on this section
and that we only list Commanding Officers for the duration of the Second World War.
|1||Lt.Cdr. Hugh Lloyd-Williams, RNVR||10 Aug 1940||Mar 1941|
|2||T/Lt. Arhur Lionel Waldegrave Warren, RNR||Mar 1941||5 Feb 1942 (+)|
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Notable events involving Arbutus (i) include:
1 Mar 1941
Convoy SL 67.
This convoy departed Freetown on 1 March 1941 and arrived at Liverpool on 26 March 1941.
This convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels; Alphard (Dutch, 5483 GRT, built 1937), Anadyr (British, 5321 GRT, built 1930), Ashworth (British, 5227 GRT, built 1920), Banffshire (British, 6479 GRT, built 1912), Baron Belhaven (British, 6591 GRT, built 1925), Baron Cawdor (British, 3638 GRT, built 1935), Beaconstreet (Detached to Gibraltar on 11 March) (British, 7467 GRT, built 1927), Bolton Castle (British, 5203 GRT, built 1939), British Captain (British (tanker), 6968 GRT, built 1923), British Diligence (British (tanker), 8408 GRT, built 1937), British Hope (Detached to Gibraltar on 11 March) (British (tanker), 6951 GRT, built 1928), British Integrity (British (tanker), 8412 GRT, built 1927), British Security (British (tanker), 8470 GRT, built 1937), Celtic Monarch (British, 5824 GRT, built 1929), City of Cairo (British, 8034 GRT, built 1915), City of Dunkirk (British, 5861 GRT, built 1912), City of Kimberley (British, 6169 GRT, built 1925), City of Nagpur (British, 10146 GRT, built 1922), City of Rangoon (British, 6635 GRT, built 1914), Clan Macbean (British, 5000 GRT, built 1918), Copeland (British (rescue vessel), 1526 GRT, built 1923), Deebank (British, 5060 GRT, built 1929), Defender (British, 8258 GRT, built 1915), Dunkwa (British, 4752 GRT, built 1927), Friesland (Dutch, 2662 GRT, built 1930), Godfrey B. Holt (British, 3585 GRT, built 1929), Guido (British, 3921 GRT, built 1920), Harmodius (British, 5229 GRT, built 1919), Harpefjell (Norwegian, 1333 GRT, built 1939), Helder (Dutch, 3629 GRT, built 1920), Henrik Ibsen (British, 4671 GRT, built 1906), Hindpool (British, 4897 GRT, built 1928), Inneroy (Norwegian (tanker), 8260 GRT, built 1936), King Edwin (British, 4536 GRT, built 1927), Lahore (British, 5304 GRT, built 1920), Llangollen (British, 5056 GRT, built 1928), Martaban (British, 4161 GRT, built 1934), Mendoza (British, 8233 GRT, built 1919), Nagina (British, 6551 GRT, built 1921), Nardana (British, 7974 GRT, built 1919), Nebraska (British, 8261 GRT, built 1920), Ogmore Castle (British, 2481 GRT, built 1919), Peisander (British, 6225 GRT, built 1925), Queen Anne (British, 4937 GRT, built 1937), Recorder (British, 2276 GRT, built 1902), Roxane (British (tanker), 7813 GRT, built 1929), Sansu (British, 5446 GRT, built 1939), Sire (British, 5664 GRT, built 1938), Solfonn (Norwegian (tanker), 9925 GRT, built 1939), Taxiarchis (Greek, 4221 GRT, built 1913), Tielbank (British, 5084 GRT, built 1937), Tunisia (British, 4337 GRT, built 1927), Turkistan (British, 6935 GRT, built 1939), Umberleigh (British, 4950 GRT, built 1927), Urbino (British, 5198 GRT, built 1918), Winsum (Dutch, 3224 GRT, built 1921) and Zamalek (British (rescue vessel), 1567 GRT, built 1921).
[It is possible some of these ships did not sail from Freetown but joined the convoy at sea.]
On departure from Freetown the convoy was escorted by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Cicilia (Capt.(Retd.) V.B. Cardwell, OBE, RN), corvette HMS Asphodel (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) K.W. Stewart, RN) and the auxiliary A/S trawlers HMS Kelt (T/Lt. W.T. Hodson, RNVR), HMS Spaniard (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Webster, RNR) and HMS Turcoman (Skr. A.G. Day, RNR).
At 1700/3 the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) joined the escort of the convoy.
At 1800/4 the three A/S trawlers parted company with the convoy.
In the early morning hours of 8 March 1941 the convoy was attacked by the German submarines U-105 and U-124. Five ships of the convoy were sunk, these were the Harmodius, Hindpool, Lahore, Tielbank and Nardana.
At 1330/8 HMS Forester, which was well to the west of the convoy, briefly sighted the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau steaming towards the convoy. The German ships were also sighted around the same time by HMS Malaya's Swordfish aircraft. Following the report of the sighting HMS Malaya and HMS Faulknor left the convoy to join HMS Forester to put themselves between the convoy and the enemy.
At 1645/8 hours HMS Malaya and the Scharnhorst sighted each other and the German battlecruisers turned away being chased briefly by HMS Malaya and the destroyers. As Malaya's speed was much lower contact was soon lost and the battleship and the destroyers then returned to the convoy. At 1900 hours they rejoined the convoy
In the afteroon of March, 10th, the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN) and aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) joined the escort of the convoy. HMS Malaya then parted company with the convoy and set course for Gibraltar.
At 1730/11, HMS Asphodel parted company with the convoy with the tankers Beaconstreet and British Hope which she then escorted to Gibraltar.
At 1000/13, HMS Faulknor and HMS Foresight parted company with the convoy and set course for Gibraltar.
At 1000/19, HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN) joined the convoy to take over the escort. At 1600/19, HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Cilicia parted company with the convoy.
On 21 March the escort of the convoy was reinforced with the destroyers HMS Havelock (Cdr. E.H. Thomas, DSC, RN), HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN), HMS Hurricane (Lt.Cdr. H.C. Simms, RN), HMS Veteran (Cdr. W.T. Couchman, OBE, RN), HMS Verity (Cdr. R.H. Mills, RN), HMS Wolsey (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Campbell, DSC, RN), HMS Salisbury (Lt.Cdr. H.M.R. Crichton, RN), HNoMS Mansfield (Cdr. F. Ulstrup, RNorN), the corvettes HMS Arbutus (T/Lt. A.L.W. Warren, RNR), HMS Camellia (Lt.Cdr. A.E. Willmott, RNR) and the catapult ship HMS Pegasus (Capt.(Retd.) P.G. Wodehouse, RN). HMS Kenya parted company with the convoy in the afternoon and proceeded to join convoy HG 56.
HMS Havelock and HMS Verity parted company with the convoy on 24 March as did HMS Veteran on the 25th.
7 Mar 1941
German U-boat U-70 was sunk south-east of Iceland, in position 60°15'N, 14°00'W, by British corvettes HMS Camellia (Lt.Cdr. A.E. Willmott, RNR) and HMS Arbutus (Lt.Cdr. H. Lloyd-Williams, RNVR).
5 Apr 1941
HMS Arbutus (T/Lt. A.L.W. Warren, RNR) picks up 48 survivors from the British merchant Athenic that was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-76 south-southwest of Reykjavik, Iceland in position 58°32'N, 20°13'W.
5 Apr 1941
HMS Arbutus (T/Lt. A.L.W. Warren, RNR) picks up 42 survivors from German U-boat U-76 that was sunk by HMS Wolverine and HMS Scarborough south of Iceland in position 58°35'N, 20°20'W.
12 Jun 1941
The British merchant Chinese Prince is torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-552 south of Rockall in position 56°12'N, 14°18'W. 18 survivors are later picked up by the British corvettes HMS Arbutus (T/Lt. A.L.W. Warren, RNR) and HMS Pimpernel (Lt. F.H. Thornton, RNR).
18 Jun 1941
Convoy SL 78.
This convoy departed Freetown for the U.K. on 18 June 1941.
It was made up of the following transports; Aliakmon (Greek, 4521 GRT, built 1913), Arduno (Dutch, 5163 GRT, built 1930), Atle Jarl (Norwegian, 1173 GRT, built 1919), Baron Napier (British, 3559 GRT, built 1930), Batna (British, 4399 GRT, built 1928), Blackheath (British, 4637 GRT, built 1936), Camerata (British, 4875 GRT, built 1931), Criton (British (former French), 4564 GRT, built 1927), Empire Abitity (British, 7603 GRT, built 1931), Esneh (British, 1931 GRT, built 1919), George J. Goulandris (Greek, 4345 GRT, built 1913), Kalypso Vergotti (Greek, 5686 GRT, built 1918), Keilehaven (Dutch, 2968 GRT, built 1919), Leonidas N. Condylis (Greek, 3923 GRT, built 1912), Mary Slessor (British, 5027 GRT, built 1930), Michael Jebsen (British, 2323 GRT, built 1927), Oberon (Dutch, 1996 GRT, built 1911), P.L.M. 22 (British, 5646 GRT, built 1921), Parthenon (Greek, 3189 GRT, built 1908), Rio Azul (British, 4088 GRT, built 1921), River Lugar (British, 5423 GRT, built 1937), Rolf Jarl (Norwegian, 1917 GRT, built 1920), Sobo (British, 5353 GRT, built 1937), St. Anselm (British, 5614 GRT, built 1919), stad Arnhem (Dutch, 3819 GRT, built 1920) and Venus (Dutch, 1855 GRT, built 1907).
On departure from Freetown the convoy was escorted by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Esperance Bay (Capt.(Retd.) G.S. Holden, RN), sloop HMS Bridgewater (A/Cdr. (Retd.) H.F.G. Leftwich, RN) and the corvettes HMS Armeria (T/Lt. H.N. Russell, DSC, RNR), HMS Asphodel (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) K.W. Stewart, RN), HMS Aster (Lt.Cdr. E. Hewitt, RD, RNR) and HMS Burdock (T/Lt. H.J. Fellows, SANF(V)).
The transport Criton fell out of the convoy and was ordered to return to Freetown. On 21 July she was intercepted by a Vichy French patrol vessel. When she started to make signals she was then sunk by the patrol vessel in position 09°03'N, 13°36'W.
On 21 June, HMS Bridgewater parted company with the convoy.
Around 1900N/22, the heavy cruiser HMS Shropshire (Capt. J.T. Borrett, OBE, RN) joined the convoy.
During the night of 27/28 June 1941, the convoy was attacked by two German submarines; U-69 and U-123. These managed to sink four of the transports; Oberon, River Lugar, P.L.M. 22 and Empire Ability.
In the afternoon of 28 June 1941, HMS Asphodel fuelled from HMS Shropshire.
Around 1800N/28, the convoy was dispersed due to the threat of u-boat attack.
On 29 June 1941, three transports of the now dispersed convoy were sunk by the German submarines U-66 and U-123. The transports in question were the George J. Goulandris, Kalypso Vergotti and Rio Azul.
On 30 June 1941, one more transport was sunk by U-66, this was the Saint Anselm.
Apparently the convoy was later (partially) reformed.
on 9 July 1941, the catapult ship HMS Pegasus (Capt.(Retd.) P.G. Wodehouse, DSO, RN), destroyers HMS Chelsea (Lt.Cdr. R.D.H.S. Pankhurst, RN), HNoMS Mansfield (Cdr. F. Ulstrup, RNorN), HMS Verity (Cdr. R.H. Mills, RN) and the corvettes HMS Arbutus (T/Lt. A.L.W. Warren, RNR), HMS Begonia (T/Lt. T.A.R. Muir, RNR), HMS Convolvulus (T/Lt. R.C. Connell, RNR), HMS Jasmine (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) C.D.B. Coventry, RNR), HMS Larkspur (Lt. S.C.B. Hickman, RNR), HMS Pimpernel (Lt. F.H. Thornton, RNR) and HMS Rhododendron (Lt.Cdr. W.N.H. Faichney, DSO, RNR) joined the now reformed convoy.
On 11 July 1941, the transport Blackheath and corvette HMS Arbutus collided in position 55°58'N, 10°38'W. The corvette was damaged and was escorted to Liverpool by HMS Pimpernel.
The convoy arrived in U.K. waters on 12 July 1941.
25 Sep 1941
Operation Halberd Supply convoy to Malta.
Continuation of the events of 17 September 1941, convoy WS 11X.
Situation at 1800 hours on 24 September 1941.
At 1800/24 the situation was as follows; Convoy WS 11X was to the west of Gibraltar escorted at that moment by the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral A.T.B. Curteis, CB, RN), the British light cruisers HMS Edinburgh (Capt. H.W. Faulkner, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, RN), HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. A.W. Clarke, RN), the British destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, DSO, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Oribi (Lt.Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, RN), HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), the British escort destroyers HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) and HMS Heythrop (Lt.Cdr R.S. Stafford, RN).
At Gibraltar were the British battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN), the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), the British light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), the British destroyers HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN with Capt. D.(13) Capt. H.W. Williams, RN, on board), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), the Polish destroyers ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. K.F. Namiesniowski, ORP) and the Dutch destroyer HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNethN). Also at Gibraltar was the RFA oiler Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941) and the British corvette HMS Fleur de Lys (Lt.(Retd.) A. Collins, RNR).
Approaching Gibraltar from the west were the British destroyers HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN) and HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN).
Movement of forces on the night of 24/25 September.
At 1815 hours, HMS Nelson departed Gibraltar and after passing farewell messages to HMS Rodney she proceeded westwards screened by HrMs Isaac Sweers, ORP Piorun and ORP Garland. These ships reversed course at 2130 hours and proceeded eastwards.
Shortly after HMS Nelson and her three escorting destroyers had departed Gibraltar harbour HMS Gurkha, HMS Zulu and HMS Lance, wich had been sent ahead to fuel aft Gibraltar, entered harbour.
At 2030/24 RFA Brown Ranger and her escort, corvette HMS Fleur de Lys departed Gibraltar to take up a position eastwards to fuel the destroyers that were to protect the Halberd convoy.
At 2300/24 HMS Rodney, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione escorted by HMS Duncan, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Lively, HMS Zulu, HMS Gurkha, HMS Legion and HMS Lance departed from Gibraltar eastwards to simulate a normal sortie by 'Force H' and to rendezvous with the convoy to the eastward of Gibraltar at 0800/25.
'Force Z', consisting of, HMS Princess Beatrix (4136 GRT, built 1939) (Cdr.(ret.) T.B. Brunton, RN), HMS Queen Emma (4136 GRT, built 1939) (Capt.(ret.) G.L.D. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Royal Scotsman (3288 GRT, built 1936) (T/Cdr. J.W. Peters, RNR) (whose ultimate destination was Freetown), HMS Ulster Monarch (3791 GRT, built 1929) (T/Cdr. J. Wilson, RNR) and Leinster (4302 GRT, built 1937) escorted by the British corvettes HMS Jonquil (Lt.Cdr. R.E.H. Partington, RD, RNR), HMS Spiraea (T/Lt. L.C. Head, RNVR) and HMS Azalea (Lt. G.C. Geddes, RNR) had been stationed behind the main convoy at dusk was ordered to proceed into Gibraltar Bay. It was hoped that the presence of these ships in the Bay would lay suspicion in the event of the convoy having been sighted and reported while passing through the Straits.
The remainder of convoy WS 11X, made up of transport ships Ajax (7797 GRT, built 1931), City of Calcutta (8063 GRT, built 1940), City of Lincoln (8039 GRT, built 1938), Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938), Clan Macdonald (9653 GRT, built 1939), Dunedin Star (11168 GRT, built 1936), Imperial Star (12427 GRT, built 1934), Rowallan Castle (7801 GRT, built 1939) and HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) (Capt.(ret.) C.A.G. Hutchison, RN), with the escort, organised in two groups one mile apart, and led by the Vice Admiral, 2nd in Command, Home Fleet in HMS Prince of Wales, and the Rear Admiral commanding 18th Cruiser Squadron in HMS Edinburgh respectively, passed south of Europa Point at 0130/25. This disposition was adopted to reduce the frontage of the convoy during its passage through the Straits.
At 0730/25 HMS Rodney, HMS Ark Royal and their screening destroyers were sighted from HMS Nelson at a range of about 10 nautical miles. Half an hour later the convoy and its escort was sighted.
The escorting force was now reorganised into two groups; Group 1: HMS Nelson, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione, HMS Cossack, HMS Zulu, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Laforey and HMS Lightning.
Group 2: HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney, HMS Kenya, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Sheffield, HMS Euryalus, HMS Duncan, HMS Gurkha, HMS Legion, HMS Lance, HMS Lively, HMS Oribi, HrMs Iscaac Sweers, ORP Piorun, ORP Garland, HMS Fury, HMS Farndale and HMS Heytrop and the entire convoy.
Events of group 1 and group 2 during 25 September
At 1700/25 (time zone -2) HMS Duncan obtained an Asdic contact in position 36°36'N, 01°58'W and attacked with a pattern of four depth charges (more were intended but the starboard thrower failed to fire. Another depth charge attack was carried out by HMS Grukha at 1716 hours. She dropped a pattern of fourteen depth charges. HMS Duncan attacked again at 1750 hours with a second depth charge pattern. Both destroyers then proceeded to rejoin the screen at 1758 hours. Both ships sighted bubbles rising to the surface possibly from a damaged submarine.
Meanwhile on the 25th all destroyers of group 2 were fuelled by RFA Brown Ranger but not without delay as Brown Rangers speed was slower then anticipated and she was therefore further to the west then anticipated. This resulted in that not all destroyers were back in position at dusk. HMS Oribi was unable to find group 2 during the night and joined up with group 1 until daylight of the 26th when she rejoined group 1.
Events of group 1 and group 2 during 26 September
At 0932/26 lookouts on HMS Nelson spotted an Italian aircraft shadowing group 1 at a range of 10 miles. The aircraft was flying very low and had not been picked up by RDF. The fighters from HMS Ark Royal that were in the air failed to intercept this aircraft due to failure of the R/T equipment in the flight leaders aircraft. An enemy report from the aircraft was intercepted at 0935 hours. A re-broadcast of this signal by an Italian shore station was picked up 20 minutes later.
At 1300 hours Group 1 reversed course to close the distance to group 2 and HMS Hermione was stationed astern of HMS Ark Royal for RDF purposes and to give additional AA protection to the carrier.
At 1537 hours two aircraft were sighted low down to the eastward by HMS Zulu, HMS Nelson and HMS Hermione. These aircraft were at first thought to be Hudsons but turned out to be enemy when a signal they made was intercepted. By now it was too late to vector fighters towards them.
Movements of group 1 and group 2 and enemy air attacks during 27 September.
Around 0730/27 group 1 and 2 joined. HMS Ark Royal was now protected by HMS Euryalus (ahead) and HMS Hermione (astern) as close escort. Four Fulmar fighters were flown off at 0800 hours. This number was increased to ten at 1000 hours and twelve at 1100 hours and finally to sixteen at 1200 hours when it was though most likely air attacks might develop due to the fact the the forcehad been shadowed and reported by enemy aircraft from at least 0810 hours.
At 1255 hours RDF picked up enemy aircraft formations closing in on the convoy, one from the north and one from the east, both 30 miles distant. Position was 37°48'N, 08°50'E. Fighters were vertored towards these formations and one enemy aircraft was shot down at 1300 hours. Six enemy torpedo bombers approached from the port bow and beam of the convoy. Two were shot down at 1302 hours, most likely by AA fire from HMS Rodney and HMS Prince of Wales. An unknown number of torpedoes were dropped by the other aircraft. No hits were obtained but HMS Lance was narrowly missed by two of these torpedoes. HrMs Isaac Sweers was missed with one torpedo by 30 yards and HMS Rodney by one torpedo by 100 yards. One of the attacking aircraft was shot down by the destroyers while another torpedo bomber meanwhile was shot down by the Fulmars from the Ark Royal. Finally at 1310 hours a Fulmar was accidentaly shot down by HMS Prince of Wales. The first attack was was now over.
At 1327/27 RDF reported a group of aircraft splitting into two formations and approaching from the east. Destroyers on the starboard wing of the screen opened fire at 1329 hours when six or seven torpedo bombers (BR 20's) were seen approaching very low from the starboard bow and beam. Position was 37°49'N, 08°58'E.
Three of these aircraft pressed on through the barrage put up by the destroyers and made a most determined attack on HMS Nelson who was swinging to starboard to comb the tracks. On aircraft dropped its torpedo out 450 yards 20° on Nelson's starboard bow passing over the ship at a height of 200 feet. This aircraft was almost certainly shot down astern of HMS Nelson by HMS Sheffield and HMS Prince of Wales. The track of the torpedo was not seen until about 150 yards ahead of the ship and no avoiding action was possible and the torpedo hit HMS Nelson on the port bow 10 feet below the waterline. The speed of HMS Nelson was reduced to 18 knots.
The second aircraft of this formation missed HMS Nelson with its torpedo by about 100 yards while the third aircraft was claimed to have been shot down by HMS Laforey. It's W/T operator, the only one of the crew alive but wounded, was picked up by HMS Forester.
Three or four aircraft from this group attacked from the starboard quarted but without result.
One torpedo bomber was shot down by the Fulmars at 1336 hours. One of the Fulmars was now shot down by mistake by pompom fire from HMS Rodney but the crew was rescued by HMS Duncan.
At 1345 hours the third attack started. RDF reported a group coming in from the south-west. Ten or eleven S.79's split into two groups and were seen coming in low over the water and were taken under fire from the escorting ships on the starboard side of the convoy. Seven or eight of the attackers then retired to the south-west and disappeared but three others tried to work round the starboard bow of the convoy which then turned ay 60° to port. The three attackers were then driven off by gunfire from the destroyer screen and dropped their torpedoes at long range but one torpedo narrowly missed HMS Lightning. One of these aircraft was shot down by a Fulmar as it retired. Position of this attack was 37°50'N, 09°06'E.
At 1354 hours three of the aircraft that had initialy turned away returned from astern. Two of these retired again on being fired at but the third pressed on to attack HMS Ark Royal but it was shot down by AA fire from that ship and HMS Nelson before it had dropped it's torpedo.
At 1358 hours one aircraft, seen right ahead of HMS Nelson, dropped a torpedo outside the screen. HMS Cossack was able to avoid this torpedo by the HE of this torpedo being picked up by her Asdic set.
Attempt to intercept the Italian battlefleet
While the third air attack was still in progress at 1404 hours an emergency report was received from an aircraft operating from Malta that it had sighted two Italian battleships and eight destroyers in position 38°20'N, 10°40'E steering a course of 190° at 20 knots at 1340 hours. The position of HMS Nelson when this report was received was 37°46'N, 09°04'E so the enemy was only 70-75 miles away. At this time HMS Nelson, with it's gun armament unimpaired was thought to be capable of 18 knots or more. Admiral Somerville decided to proceed towards the enemy at best speed with HMS Nelson, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney and the destroyers HMS Duncan, HMS Gurkha, HMS Lance, HMS Lively, HrMs Isaac Sweers and ORP Garland, leaving HMS Kenya, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Sheffield and ten destroyers with the convoy. HMS Euryalus, HMS Hermione and the destoyers HMS Piorun and HMS Legion remained with the Ark Royal.
It was also decided to fly off two Swordfish aircraft from the Ark Royal to take over shadowing duties from the aircraft operating out of Malta and to arm and fly off air striking force as soon as possible.
Ark Royal launched the two Swordfish at 1448 hours. It was intended to have launched them earlier but the launch was delayed due to the main armamant of HMS Ark Royal being in action and the recovery of two Fulmar fighters which were short on fuel.
In the meantime, at 1425 hours, the aircraft that was in contact with the Italians now also reported four cruisers and eight destroyers 15 nautical miles west-south-west of the enemy battlefleet. They were steering the same course and speed.
Meanwhile, at 1417 hours, the battleships had been ordered to form on HMS Nelson who had increased speed and proceeded ahead of the convoy. However at 1433 hours it became necessary for HMS Nelson to reduce speed to avoid further flooding due to the damage sustained. The Vice Admiral, 2nd in Command, Home Fleet in HMS Prince of Wales was now ordered to proceed with his flagship, HMS Rodney, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Sheffield and six destroyers to close the enemy at best speed. HMS Nelson meanwhile took station astern of the convoy.
While these instructions were carried out a report was received that the enemy had reversed course to 360°. This was followed by a further report that the enemy was steering 060°. Also a report was received that the battleships were of the Littorio class and not Cavour's as was previously believed. It was now clear that the enemy tried to avoid contact. It was still hoped that a striking force from HMS Ark Royal would be able to inflict damage to the enemy and reduced his speed allowing our battleships to overtake him before dark.
At 1530 hours a Fulmar fighter which was short of fuel force landed on the water astern of the Ark Royal. The crew was picked up by ORP Piorun.
At 1540 hours, HMS Ark Royal launched her stiking force of twelve Swordfish and four Fulmars. These aircraft did not find the enemy force and all aircraft returned to HMS Ark Royal around 1900 hours.
Between 1620 and 1645 hours, Fulmars from the CAP drove off an air attack threatening from the port side of the convoy. Later a shadowing enemy aircraft was shot down by Fulmars.
At 1658 hours, the Vice Admiral, second in Command Home Fleet, was ordered to reverse course and rejoin the convoy which was done at 1851 hours. No further reports of the enemy had been received for almost two hours and even if the striking force from HMS Ark Royal was able to inflict damage on the enemy these could not be intercepted before dark.
Detachment of Force X and the convoy.
At 1855 hours, on reaching the Skerki Channel, the escort of the convoy was split up into two forces, Force A, made up of HMS Nelson, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Duncan, HMS Gurkha, HMS Legion, HMS Lively, HMS Lance, HMS Fury, HrMs Isaac Sweers, ORP Piorun and ORP Garland split off from the convoy while Force X, made up of HMS Kenya, HMS Edinburg, HMS Sheffield, HMS Hermione, HMS Euryalus, HMS Cossack, HMS Zulu, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Oribi, HMS Farndale and HMS Heythrop remained with the convoy.
Between 1915 and 1930 hours enemy aircraft twice approached the convoy but turned away after fire had been opened on them. They were probably CR.42 fighters.
Night T/B attack on Force X and the convoy and loss of the Imperial Star.
Between 2000 and 2040 hours four torpedo bomber attacks were made on the convoy and Force X from the port beam, two or three aircraft taking part in each attack. The first two attacks had no result for the Italians.
During the third attack the two rear ships in the port column of the convoy collided with each other, these were the Rowallan Castle and the City of Calcutta. No serious damage was sustained and both were able to proceed on their way.
During the fourth attack, at 2032 hours, in position 37°31'N, 10°46'E the Imperial Star was struck by a torpedo on her port side aft. HMS Oribi was also attacked and narrowly missed by a torpedo four minutes later. She was able to shoot down the aircraft that had dropped this torpedo with her pompom and oerlikons.
When the Imperial Star was torpedoed it is probable that the explosion blew away both propellers and her rudder. In addition no.6 hold and the after engine room were both flooded.
HMS Heythrop, the rear ship of the port screen, proceeded alongside, but did not attempt to take Imperial Star in tow as she did not consider she was a suitable vessel to do so.
About 2045 hours HMS Oribi was ordered by HMS Euryalus to go to the assistance of the Imperial Star. When Oribi closed Heythrop was already standing by, and while Heythtop took off the passengers of the Imperial Star, HMS Oribi proceeded alongside to receive a report of the damage. It was decided to attempt to tow her to Malta.
For two hours the most determined attemps were made by HMS Oribi to tow the Imperial Star to Malta and although a speed of 8 knots was obtained nothing could be done to prevent her steering in circles. At is thought that her damaged stern was now acting as rudder.
Eventually, at 0120/28, HMS Oribi found herself being dragged stern first by her tow sheering off and she was forced to slip the tow. Oribi went alongside to consult again and it was reluctantly decided that there was no other choice then to scuttle the ship. Three depth charges were placed lashed together abreast a bulkhead and these were fired by a safety fuse.
HMS Oribi cast off 0340/28 and the depth charges were fired eleven minutes later, starting a large fire aft. As this did not spread quickly, Oribi shelled Imperial Star with 4.7" S.A.P. shells. Oribi finally left her at 0452 hours. Imperial Star was by that time heavily on fire fore and aft and listing badly. Aircraft from Malta could not find the wreck of the Imperial Star so there is no doubt that she sank.
HMS Oribi then made off from the scene along the convoy route at 32 knots and came with them near Malta 1215/28 having passed unmolested within 7 nautical miles from the Sicilian coast in daylight.
Passage of the convoy and Force X through the narrows.
In the meantime the convoy and Force X had proceeded through the narrows along the south coast of Sicily.
In the meantime. at 2030/27, HMS Hermione had departed the convoy to carry out a bombardment of Pantellaria harbour. Having completed the bombardment HMS Hermione rejoined Force X at 0615/28. At daylight HMS Farndale and HMS Heythrop were detached to fuel at Malta.
Although several formations of enemy aircraft were detected between dawn and the arrival of the convoy at Malta, the excellent protection given by shore based fighters from Malta prevented any attack from developing.
At 0800/28 a report was received that no enemy surface forces were reported near the convoy. The cruisers HMS Kenya, HMS Sheffield, HMS Euryalus and HMS Hermione then proceeded ahead to Malta to fuel where they arrived at 1130 hours. The remainder of Force X and the entire convoy, with the exception of the Imperial Star, arrived later in the afternoon.
Movements of Force A during 28 September.
While Force X and the convoy continued on to Malta, Force A proceeded to the west at 14 knots, which was the best speed of HMS Nelson at that time.
At 0725/28 HMS Ark Royal flew off one A/S patrol and three fighters. At 0812 hours one enemy shadower was seen but it escaped into a cloud.
At 1025 hours HMS Nelson sighted a Cant. 506 aircraft very low down and fighters were vectored in. After a chase to the south-east this aircraft was shot down near Cape de Fer, Algeria.
Shadowers were again reported at 1640 hours and again one hour later but due to a failure of the R/T transmitter in Ark Royal it was not possible to vector fighters in time to intercept. An enemy report made by Italian aircraft was intercepted at 1720 hours.
At 1942/28 one of the destroyers of the screen, HMS Duncan, obtained an Asdic contact in position 37°30'N, 03°45'E. She carried out two depth charge attacks but with no apparent result. HMS Legion closed to co-operate but did not gain contact. Both ships left the area at 2012 hours to rejoin the screen.
At 2020 hours speed was reduced to 12 knots to reduce the strain on bulkheads and decks of HMS Nelson. At this time Nelson was about 8 feet down by the bows and it was estimated that 3500 tons of water had entered the ship.
At 2100/28, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Gurkha, HMS Lance, HMS Legion, HMS Lively, HMS Fury and HrMs Isaac Sweers were detached to proceed to the eastward and rendezvous with Force X. HMS Nelson, escorted by HMS Duncan, ORP Piorun and ORP Garland, continued on to Gibraltar.
At 0555/29, in position 37°30'N, 06°25'E, HMS Prince of Wales obtained an RDF surface echo ahead, and an emergency turn of 40° to port was carried out with all ships at 0609 hours. Three minutes after this turn HMS Gurkha sighted a torpedo track approaching. It was too late to alter course to avoid. A second torpedo track followed a few seconds later. Both torpedoes appeared to pass underneath the ship. HMS Gurkha then turned to port in the direction from which the torpedoes had approached and HrMs Isaac Sweers also joined to hunt the submarine. No A/S contacts were obtained and no depth charges were dropped. HMS Gurkha and HrMs Isaac Sweers rejoined the screen at 0700/29. The attacker was the Italian submarine Diaspro which managed to escape unharmed.
At 0810/29 HMS Gurkha obtained an A/S contact in position 37°26'N, 07°14'E. At 0815 hours a pattern of fourteen depth charges was dropped. Six minutes later a heavy underwater explosion was heard. At 0841 hours HMS Gurkha was ordered to rejoin screen and the hunt was abandoned.
Movements of Force X during 28/29 September on the return trip from Malta.
In the meantime the ships that are part of Force X had all fuelled at Malta and at 1500/28 the escort destroyers HMS Farndale and HMS Heythrop were sailed followed at 1615 hours by HMS Kenya, HMS Edinburgh and HMS Oribi. The remainder of Force X sailed at 1830 hours. HMS Farndale and HMS Heythrop joined Force A at 0835/29. The remainder of Force X joined Force A at 1030/29.
Movements of HMS Nelson and passage to Gibraltar.
In the meantime HMS Nelson and her three escorting destroyers were still proceeding to the west. They were joined by aircraft to provide additional A/S protection from 0730/29 onwards.
At 1110/29, ORP Piorun obtained a doubtful A/S contact and dropped one depth charge.
At 1909/29, HMS Duncan also obtained A/S contact and dropped one depth charge.
At 1945/29 the A/S screen was reinforced by the destroyer HMS Rockingham (Lt.Cdr. A.H.T. Johns, RN) coming from Gibraltar. Later in the evening four corvettes also joined for additional A/S protection of the damaged battleship, HMS Samphire (Lt.Cdr. F.T. Renny, DSC, RNR) joined at 2120/29, HMS Jonquil (Lt.Cdr. R.E.H. Partington, RD, RNR) at 2140/29, HMS Fleur de Lys at 2150/29 and finally HMS Arbutus (T/Lt. A.L.W. Warren, DSC, RNR) at 2340/29. Nelson's screen now consisted of four destroyers and four corvettes.
At 0130/30 HMS Samphire and HMS Arbutus obtained an A/S contact and dropped depth charges without result, the contact was probably non-sub.
At 1200/30 HMS Nelson entered Gibraltar Harbour.
Movements of Force A and Force X as of 1030 hours on 29 September.
Meanwhile after all ships of Force X had joined up with force A at 1030/29 course was shaped to the westward, keeping 40 nautical miles clear of the African coast.
At 1645/29, in position 37°26'N, 04°37'E, HMS Lively, sighted an object resembling a ship's lifeboat with mast at a range of 1000 yards. This was soon identified as the conning tower and periscope of a submarine momentarily breaking surface. Two torpedo tracks were sighted shortly afterwards. Lively immediately attacked with a pattern of fourteen depth charges at 1650 hours. HMS Legion, which was next to Lively in the destroyer screen, had already dropped a pattern of five depth charges about a minute and a half earlier. HMS Legion then joined up with HMS Lively to hunt this submarine.
At 1700 hours HMS Lively obtained a definate A/S contact and attacked with another pattern of fourteen depth charges five minutes later. After having dropped this pattern contact was regained at 1715 hours. Contact was however soon lost at and not regained. The hunt was abandoned at 1745 hours.
At 1930/29, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Kenya, HMS Sheffield, HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Oribi, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester and HMS Fury parted company with the rest of the force and proceeded ahead to arrive at Gibraltar p.m. 30 September 1941. They arrived at Gibraltar at 1800/30.
At 0928/30, in position 37°10'N, 00°56'E, HMS Gurkha, obtained Asdic contact wich was confirmed as a submarine. She immediately attacked and fired a pattern if fourteen depth charges at 0935 hours. A black circular buoy with electric cable attached to it came to the surface after this attack. At 0945 hours a loud underwater explosion was heard and felt and oil started to come to the surface. Gurkha was unable to gain contact on the submarine from now on. HMS Legion who was by now assisting Gurkha in the hunt obtained contact and attacked with a fourteen depth charge pattern at 0955 hours. A second fourteen depth charge pattern was fired at 1009 hours. During Legion's second attack wreckage and oil came to the surface. Among the wreckage picked up was an Italian dictionary, a mattess, a pillow, numerous pieces of wood, some with bright screws and a piece of human scalp attached to a piece of wood by a splinter of metal. The interiors of the dictionary, the mattress and the pillow were dry. There was now no doubt that an Italian submarine was sunk by HMS Gurkha and HMS Legion.
All ships in this force entered Gibraltar harbour between 0700 and 0900 hours on 1 October.
Convoy MG 2, passage of three merchant vessels from Malta to Gibraltar.
At noon on the 26th the first out of three empty transports, the Melbourne Star (11076 GRT, built 1936), departed Malta for Gibraltar. At 1030/27 the other two ships Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933) and City of Pretoria (8049 GRT, built 1937). These last two ships were escorted by the corvette HMS Gloxinia (Lt.Cdr. A.J.C. Pomeroy, RNVR) until 1930/27. After an uneventful passage the Melbourne Star arrived at Gibraltar at 0700/29. The Port Chalmers and City of Pretoria were spotted and reported by Italian aircraft at 1200/27, shortly after leaving Malta. No enemy surface craft were seen until 2320/27 when it was believed that an E-boat was sighted by the Port Chalmers which was following in the wake of the City of Pretoria. The Port Chalmers opened fire on the E-boats bow wave with it's 4" gun. The enemy then returned fire with a machine gun. After six rounds of 4" the enemy crossed the stern of the Port Chalmers and was not seen again. The City of Pretoria had not seen the enemy at all. The action had taken place about 15 nautical miles south-south-west of Pantelleria.
At 0535/28 the Commodore of the convoy ordered he Port Chalmers to part company. Port Chalmers then proceeded at full speed, wearing French colours.
At 0915/28 an Italian Cant. 506 seaplane approached from the direction of the French north African coast and circled the City of Pretoria. This aircraft then made off to the westward and gave the Port Chalmers the same attention. Both ships were wearing French colours and had taken care to keep all service personnel out of sight. Both ships were fully ready for action, but did not open fire as the aircraft took no offensive action.
At 1015/28 the City of Pretoria was circled several times by a large three-engine seaplane, with distinct French markings, which approached from the direction of Bizerta.
At 1145/28 the City of Pretoria sighted a twin-engined Italian seaplane stopped on the water, five nautical miles to the north. She lost sight of this aircraft at 1215 hours.
The Port Chalmers was circled by an Italian aircraft at 1555/28. The aircraft did not attack.
At 1725/28 the City of Pretoria was attacked by three Italian torpedo bombers. As the aircraft approached with obviously hostile intentions the British colours were hoised and fire was opened as soon as the leader came in range. By skilful handling all three torpedoes were avoided. A submarine periscope was then reported on the starboard quarter by two independent lookouts. Three smoke floats and a depth charge set to 150 feet were dropped and under the cover of the smoke the City of Pretoria turned away.
When the City of Pretoria was approaching Cape de Gata at 0200/30 an unidentified vessel, possibly a submarine, was seen to be following. Two or three rapid shots, followed by a dull explosion, were heard. City of Pretoria made smoke and dropped smoke floats and then made close in Almeira Bay, into territorial waters, thus shaking off her pursuer.
The Port Chalmers arrived at Gibraltar at 0900/30. City of Pretoria followed during the afternoon. (1)
- ADM 199/831
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.
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