FR La Surprise
Minesweeper of the Chamois class
|Navy||The French Navy|
|Built by||Arsenal de Lorient (Lorient, France)|
|Laid down||Apr 1938|
|Launched||17 Jun 1939|
|Lost||8 Nov 1942|
Sunk off Oran on 8 November 1942 by gunfire from the British destroyer HMS Brilliant.
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Notable events involving La Surprise include:
8 Nov 1942
The landings at Oran as part of Operation Torch
For the landings at Oran the Centre Naval Task Force was deployed.
This Task Force was made up of the following warships; battleship HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. T.O. Bulteel, RN), escort carriers HMS Biter (Capt. E.M.C. Abel Smith, RN), HMS Dasher (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, DSO, RN), light cruisers HMS Jamaica (Capt. J.L. Storey, RN), HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, CB, RN), AA cruiser HMS Delhi (Capt. A.T.G.C. Peachey, RN), AA ship HMS Alynbank (A/Capt.(Retd.) H.F. Nash, RN), destroyers HMS Boreas (Lt.Cdr. E.L. Jones, DSC, RN), HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. A.G. Poe, RN), HMS Boadicea (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN), HMS Bulldog (Cdr. M. Richmond, OBE, DSO, RN), HMS Beagle (Cdr. R.C. Medley, DSO, RN), HMS Amazon (Lt.Cdr.(Emgy.) Lord Teynham, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. A.H.T. Johns, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN), HMS Wivern (Cdr. M.D.C. Meyrick, RN), HMS Westcott (Cdr. I.H. Bockett-Pugh, DSO, RN), HMS Verity, (Lt.Cdr. R. Horncastle, RN), HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. T. Johnston, RN), escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, DSO, RN), HMS Farndale (Cdr. D.P. Trentham, RN), HMS Puckeridge (Lt. J.C. Cartwright, DSC, RN), HMS Calpe (Lt.Cdr. H. Kirkwood, DSC, RN), submarines HMS Ursula (Lt. R.B. Lakin, DSC, RN), HMS P 54 (Lt. C.E. Oxborrow, DSC, RN), minesweepers HMS Rhyl (Cdr. L.J.S. Ede, DSO, RN), HMS Felixstowe (T/Lt. C.G. Powney, RNVR), HMS Clacton (A/Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) L.S. Shaw, RNR), HMS Polruan (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) J.S. Landers, RNR), HMS Rothesay (Cdr. A.A. Martin, DSC, RD, RNR), HMS Stornoway (T/A/Lt.Cdr. C.R. Fraser, RNR), HMS Bude (Lt. F.A.J. Andrew, RN), HMS Brixham (Lt. G.A. Simmers, RNR), sloops HMS Aberdeen (Lt.Cdr. H. Day, RN), HMS Deptford (Lt.Cdr. H.R. White, RN), cutters HMS Hartland (Lt.Cdr. G.P. Billot, RNR), HMS Walney (Lt.Cdr. P.C. Meyrick, RN), frigates HMS Exe (A/Cdr. M.A.O. Biddulph, DSC, RN), HMS Swale (Lt.Cdr. J. Jackson, RNR), corvettes HMS Gardenia (T/Lt. M.M. Firth, RNVR), HMS Vetch (T/A/Lt.Cdr. H.J. Beverley, DSO, DSC, RNR), HMS Rhododendron (Lt.Cdr. L.A. Sayers, RNR), HMS Violet (Lt. C.N. Stewart, RNR), M/S trawlers HMS Coriolanus (T/Lt. N. Hunt, RNVR), HMS Fluellen (T/Lt. B.J. Hampson, RNR), HMS Horatio (T/Lt. C.A. Lemkey, RNR), HMS Eday (T/Lt. W.Y. Surtees, RNR), HMS Inchmarnock (T/Lt. C.G.V. Corneby, RNR), HMS Kerrera (Skr. R.W. Slater, RNR), HMS Shiant (T/Lt. A.C. Elton, RNR), HMS Ronaldsay (T/Lt. A. Stirling, RNR), motor launches ML 280, ML 458, ML 463, ML 469, ML 471, ML 480, ML 483 and the harbour defence motor launches HDML 1127, HDML 1128 and HDML 1139.
Also parted of the Centre Naval Task Force were the following amphibious ships; headquarters ship HMS Largs (Cdr. E.A. Divers, RNR, flying the flag of Commodore T.H. Troubridge, RN), landing ships infantery HMS Glengyle (Capt.(Retd.) D.S. McGrath, RN), HMS Princess Beatrix (Cdr.(Retd.) T.B. Brunton, DSC, RN), HMS Queen Emma (Capt.(Retd.) G.L.D. Gibbs, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Royal Scotsman (Lt.Cdr. J.D. Armstrong, DSC, RD, RNR), HMS Royal Ulsterman (A/Lt.Cdr. W.R.K. Clark, DSC, RD RNR) and HMS Ulster Monarch (Lt.Cdr. N.A.F. Kingscote, RNR), RFA Derwentdale, landing ships tank HMS Bachaquero (A/Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) A.W. McMullan, RNR), HMS Misoa (T/Lt. K.G. Graham, RNR) and HMS Tasajera (Lt.Cdr. W.E. Gelling, DSC, RD, RNR).
Also parted of the Oran Attack Force were the ships in convoys KMS O1 and KMF O2.
Around 1700Z/6, convoy KMS O1 passed through the Straits of Gibraltar followed by convoy KMF O1 around 1830Z/6. These convoys then merged to the east of the Straits of Gibraltar. These convoys came direct from the U.K. and were made up of the following (troop) transports; Alcinous (Dutch, 6189 GRT, built 1925), Alphard (British, 5483 GRT, built 1937), Batory (Polish, 14287 GRT, built 1936), Benalbanach (British, 7153 GRT, built 1940), Charles H. Cramp (American, 6220 GRT, built 1920), Chattanooga City (American, 5687 GRT, built 1921), Clan Mactaggart (British, 7622 GRT, built 1920), Delinlian (British, 6423 GRT, built 1923), Duchess of Bedford (British, 20123 GRT, built 1928), Durban Castle (British, 17388 GRT, built 1938), Edward Rutledge (American, 7177 GRT, built 1942), Empire Confidence (British, 5023 GRT, built 1925), Empire Mordred (British, 7024 GRT, built 1942), Havildar (British, 5401 GRT, built 1940), Letitia (British, 13595 GRT, built 1925), Llangibby Castle (British, 11951 GRT, built 1929), Lycaon (British, 7350 GRT, built 1913), Mark Twain (American, 7176 GRT, built 1942), Mary Slessor (British, 5027 GRT, built 1930), Monarch of Bermuda (British, 22424 GRT, built 1931), Mooltan (British, 20952 GRT, built 1923), Nieuw Zeeland (Dutch, 11069 GRT, built 1928)), Orbita (British, 15495 GRT, built 1915), Pacific Exporter (British, 6734 GRT, built 1928), Recorder (British, 5981 GRT, built 1930), Reina del Pacifico (British, 17702 GRT, built 1931), Salacia (British, 5495 GRT, built 1937), St. Essylt (British, 5634 GRT, built 1941), Tegelberg (Dutch, 14150 GRT, built 1937), Thesues (British, 6527 GRT, built 1908), Walt Whitman (American, 7176 GRT, built 1942), Warwick Castle (British, 20107 GRT, built 1930), William Floyd (American, 7176 GRT, built 1942), William Wirt (American, 7191 GRT, built 1942) and Zebulon B. Vance (American, 7176 GRT, built 1942).
Also part of these convoys was the headquarters ship HMS Largs and the landing ships infantery Glengyle, Queen Emma, Queen Beatrix, Royal Scotsman, Royal Ulsterman, Ulster Monarch and RFA Derwentdale.
From the above warships the following had come direct from the U.K. with convoys KMS 1 and KMF 1; escort carrier HMS Dasher, AA ship HMS Alynbank, destroyer HMS Vansittart, sloops HMS Aberdeen, HMS Deptford, cutters HMS Hartland, HMS Walney, frigates HMS Exe, HMS Swale and the corvettes HMS Gardenia, HMS Rhododendron, HMS Vetch and HMS Violet.
On 2 November 1942, the minesweepers HMS Rhyl, HMS Clacton, HMS Polruan, HMS Rothesay and HMS Stornoway departed Gibraltar to join convoy KMS 1.
Around 0300A/3, the light cruiser HMS Jamaica departed Gibraltar to join convoy KMF 1 coming from the U.K.
Around 1950A/4, the light cruiser HMS Aurora departed Gibraltar to join convoy KMF O1.
Around 0430A/6, the battleship HMS Rodney and the destroyers HMS Bulldog, HMS Boreas and HMS Beagle departed Gibraltar as part of Force H.
Around 1500A/6, the destroyer HMS Vansittart, which had arrived at Gibraltar on the 5th, departed Gibraltar to join convoy KMS O1 with her were also the minesweepers HMS Bude, HMS Brixham and HMS Felixtowe.
A few hours later, shortly after dark on the 6th, the landing ships tank HMS Bachaquero, HMS Misoa and HMS Tasajera departed Gibraltar to join convoy KMS O1. They were escorted by the M/S trawlers HMS Fluellen, HMS Horatio, HMS Ronaldsay, HMS Shiant, HMS Coriolanus, HMS Eday, HMS Inchmarnock, HMS Kerrera, the motor launches ML 280, ML 458, ML 463, ML 469, ML 471, ML 480, ML 483 and the harbour defence motor launches HDML 1127, HDML 1128 and HDML 1139.
Around 2200A/6, the escort carrier HMS Dasher and the destroyers HMS Wivern, HMS Amazon, HMS Achates, HMS Acheron, HMS Boadicea and HMS Brilliant departed Gibraltar to join the convoys.
Around 0300A/7, the aircraft carrier HMS Furious, AA cruiser HMS Delhi and the escort destroyers HMS Farndale, HMS Avon Vale, HMS Calpe and HMS Puckeridge departed Gibraltar for the operation.
Around 0300A/7, the destroyers HMS Westcott and HMS Verity departed Gibraltar for the operation.
Landing beaches, Oran
The port of Oran, is situated at the head of a large bight between Cape Falcon, the rocky north-eastern end of the promontory of which Pointe Corales is the north-western extremity, to the west and Cap d'Aguille, to the east. This bight is divided into three bays of nearly equal size by Point Canastel and by Point Mers-el-Kebir which projects in an easterly direction from the foot of Jebel Santon and is surmounted by a powerful fortress. The heights of Jebel Murjajo lie westward of Oran with the conspicuous Fort Santa Cruz at their eastern end. The artificial harbour at Oran consists of six basins. It is protected on its northern side by a stone breakwater extending eastwards about a mile and a quarter from Pointe Mona on which, at the eastern end of the cliffs under Jebel Murjajo, lies Fort Lambourne.
The arrangement of landing beaches at Oran was comparatively simple and consisted of three main beaches; 'X', 'Y' and 'Z' and one subsidiary beach 'R'.
An armoured column from Combat Command 'B' would land at 'X' beach which lay at El Mrairia close to Cape Figalo, with orders to capture La Lourmel airfield, block the main roads north-east and south of La Lourmel, advance south of Debkra, and assist in the capture of the airfields at Tafraoui and Es Senia.
The 26th Regimental Combat Team would land at 'Y' beach near Les Andalouses with orders to take control of the Jebel Murjajo heights and capture Oran from the west.
The 18th Regimental Combat Team would land at 'Z-Green' beach near Arzew with the orders to capture the coastal defence, the port of Arzew and the port of Oran from the east. The 16th Regimental Combat Team would land at 'Z-White' beach to secure a bridgehead for Armoured Combat Command 'B', cover the east flank of the Oran Force and then take part in the capture of Oran.
Combat team 'B' would land at 'Z-Red' beach to capture Tafaraoui, Es Senia and Oggaz airfields and assist in capturing Oran from the south.
A portion of the First Ranger Battalion would made a subsidiary landing at 'R' beach southeast of Cape Carbon to capture the batteries at Fort la Ponte. The remainder of the battalion landed in Arzew harbour.
Meanwhile a parachute battalion was flown from the U.K. and dropped at H-hour near Tafaraoui airfield with orders to neutralise all aircraft on Es Senia airfield and capture Tafaraoui landing ground.
Instructions for Assault, Oran Beaches
The fast assault convoy, KMF O1, after proceeding through the Mediterranean at 11.5 knots under the orders of Commodore Troubridge, would meet the slow convoy, KMS O1, in position 36°26'N, 01°15'W around 1600A on 7 November 1942.
Here the convoys are split into nine groups; For ' X ' beach Group I, 1st Division; Batory, HMS Princess Beatrix, Queen Emma, 2nd Division; Benalbenach, Mark Twain, Mary Slessor and Walt Whitman. They were escorted by the light cruiser HMS Aurora, destroyer HMS Wivern, corvettes HMS Gardenia, HMS Vetch and the motor launch HMS HDML 1139. Group VIII, LST HMS Bachaquero escorted by the M/S trawler HMS Horatio.
For ' Y ' beach Group II; HMS Glengyle, Monarch of Bermuda, Llangibby Castle, Clan Mactaggart and Salacia. They were escorted by the destroyers Brilliant, HMS Verity, M/S trawlers HMS Coriolanus, HMS Eday, HMS Inchmarnock, HMS Kerrera and the motor launches HMS ML 458, HMS ML 463, HMS ML 469, HMS ML 471 and HMS HDML 1128.
For ' Z ' beach Group III, 1st Division; Duchess of Bedford, Durban Castle, Ettrick, Warwick Castle. 2nd Division; Derwentdale, Reina del Pacifico and Tegelberg. They were escorted by the light cruiser HMS Jamaica, escort destroyers HMS Calpe, HMS Farndale, minesweepers HMS Brixham, HMS Bude, HMS Clacton, HMS Felixtowe, HMS Polruan, HMS Rothesay, HMS Rhyl, HMS Stornoway and the motor launches HMS ML 280, HMS HDML 1127.
Group V; Alcinous, Alphard, Charles H. Cramp, Chatanooga City, Delilian, Recorder and Zebulon B. Vance. They were escorted by the sloop HMS Deptford, cutters HMS Hartland, HMS Walney, corvettes HMS Rhododendron, HMS Violet and the motor launches HMS ML 480 and HMS ML 483.
Group VI, 1st division; Derbyshire, Letitia, Mooltan and Nieuw Zeeland. 2nd division, Empire Confidence, Lycaon and Theseus.
Group VII, 1st division, Empire Mordred, Havildar, Pacific Exporter and St. Essylt. 2nd division; Edward Rutledge, William Floyd and William Wirt. Groups VI and VII were escorted by the AA cruiser HMS Delhi, destroyer HMS Vansittart, sloop HMS Aberdeen and the frigates HMS Exe and HMS Swale.
Group IX; LST's HMS Misoa and HMS Tasajera. They were escorted by the M/S trawlers HMS Fluellen, HMS Ronaldsay and HMS Shiant.
For ' R ' beach Group IV; HMS Royal Scotsman, HMS Royal Ulsterman and HMS Ulster Monarch. They had the same escort as Group III.
Two submarines were stationed off the beaches as beacons, these were HMS Ursula and HMS P 54.
HMS Aurora would be stationed ahead of Group II, HMS Jamaica ahead of Group III and HMS Delhi ahead of Group IV. On reaching position 35°52'N, 00°10'5"W, in the Gulf of Arzew, HMS Jamaica would proceed independently for fire support duty off 'Z' beach. On reaching position 35°48'N, 00°54'W, HMS Aurora was also detached from her group to patrol to the north of Mers-el-Kebir to engage, if needed reinforced by HMS Jamaica, any escaping vessels from Mers-el-Kebir during the darkness. During daylight HMS Aurora was to remain outside the range of the shore batteries. Meanwhile around 0400A/8, HMS Delhi, would leave her group to meet the aircraft carriers at 0530A/8 in position 36°07'N, 00°45'W so as to provide additional AA protection.
The battleship HMS Rodney, escorted by HMS Bulldog, HMS Boreas and HMS Beagle, detached from Force H, was to protect the anchorage from attack by heavy enemy units. She too was to join the carriers around 0530A/8.
Initial landings were to be made at all beaches simultaneously at H-hour with the follow up forces being landed as soon as possible.
Oran attack opens, 8 November 1942.
The attack opened, after some delay at 0116A/8. The assault on 'X' beach was delayed by around 35 minutes due to the strong current. The appearance of a small Vichy-French convoy of four ships escorted by a trawler had also caused some delay. One of the merchant vessels, the Eridan (9928 GRT, built 1929) had sabotaged her engines. She was boarded by an armed guard. The other three merchant vessels, the Agen (4186 GRT, built 1921), Carthage (2440 GRT, built 1897) and Montaigne (2770 GRT, built 1920) initially escaped to the north-east but then ran into Allied forces. They then beached themselves south of Cape Figalo.
The appearance of the convoy had the effect that the minesweepers were badly delayed and were almost run over by the ships proceeding to 'X' beach. The minesweepers were then ordered to keep clear and no sweep was carried out ahead of the ships proceeding to 'X' beach.
Despite some delays and other difficulties [it would go to far to give a full account of the landings here] that landings were successful.
HMS Walney's assault on Oran harbour.
It had been decided, that the cutters HMS Walney and HMS Hartland were to attack Oran harbour to prevent the French from performing demolition operations to destroy the ports facilities. They were to attack shortly after 0300A/8.
The cutters were to land American troops and anti-sabotage parties with orders to seize the shore batteries covering the harbour, prevent the scuttling of the dock and harbour works and prevent the blockage of the harbour. The motor launches ML 480 and ML 483 were to provide a smoke screen. HMS Aurora was to provide cover fire if needed and also to distract and confuse the shore batteries.
The attack was carried out under the command of A/Capt. (Retd.) F.T. Peters, DSO, DSC, RN, which was embarked on board HMS Walney. The attack commenced at 0245A/8, when HMS Walney and HMS Hartland with ML 480 and ML 483 in company, approached the harbour entrance. Sirens were heard sounding ashore and all lights in the town had been extinguished. For a time the force circled off the entrance while an announcement was made in French by loud hailer from HMS Walney. The reply was hostile. A searchlight was quickly trained on the Walney and she came under a heavy, though inaccurate, machine gun fire. Followed by the Hartland, she at once turned away northwards coming round in a full circle to charge the booms. At the same time ML 480 went on ahead to full speed, laying a smoke screen, but hit the outer boom, coming to rest under heavy fire half way across it. She got off again at 0310A/8, just as HMS Walney, after completing her circle, charged the two booms at 15 knots, through the smoke and entered the harbour. On reaching it, A/Capt. Peters, slipped three canoes, manned with special parties, but at least one of the was sunk almost immediately by gunfire.
HMS Walney herself was steaming up the harbour to westwards at slow speed was hit by pompom fire from the Ravin Blanc battery. Half way up the harbour she narrowly missed ramming a French destroyer proceeding towards the harbour entrance. It raked her with two broadsides from point blank range, wrecking her main engines, and a few minutes later she came under heavy cross fire from the destroyer Epervier laying alongside to the south and from submarines and destroyers moored to the northward. At last, blazing forward and amidships, she drifted out of control bows on to the jetty ahead of the Epervier. An attempt to get heaving lines ashore failed and she drifted once more slowly out into the harbour. Her guns were out of action, their crew virtually wiped out. Sixteen officers and men were lying dead on her bridge where A/Capt. Peters was the sole survivor. Below only five officers and men of the landing parties remained alive amidst scenes of undescridale carnage. Nothing further could be done and the ship was abandoned, her few survivors, including A/Capt. Peters were taken prisoner. The abandoned wreck rolled over shortly afterwards.
HMS Hartland's assault on Oran harbour.
When HMS Walney entered Oran harbour at 0310A/8, Lt.Cdr. Billot waited five minutes, in compliance with his orders, before heading towards the harbour entrance. As she approached the smoke screen laid by ML 480, HMS Walney was picked up by a searchlight, and came under a devastating fire from the Ravin Blanc battery which killed nearly all her guns crews and temporarily blinded Lt.Cdr. Billot with a splinter. Before he recovered his sight the ship struck the breakwater, but eventually she entered the harbour and made for her objective, the Quai de Dunkerque, under gunfire from point blank range from the destroyer Typhon laying alongside it. Shells bursting inside her hull brought her to a standstill turning her mess decks, on which the troops were waiting, into shambles. Then with fires raging fore and aft, she drifted alongside the mole but she almost immediately was blown back into the harbour where she anchored while being under heavy fire from the French but these then ceased fire so that the ship could be abandoned. By 0410A/8, all survivors had left and at 0525A/8 there was an explosion on board but she remained afloat buring furiously. She later blew up and sank after a huge explosion which caused damage to buildings in a large area around the mole.
While HMS Walney and HMS Hartland were gate-crashing into Oran Harbour, HMS Aurora was patrolling five miles away to the northward. At 0527A/8, she opened fire on the searchlight illuminating HMS Hartland, successfully extinguishing its beam. Then shortly before first light she engaged and disabled a Vichy-French destroyer of the Simoun-class from a range of 6000 yards. This destroyer later sank and appears to have been the Tramontaine.
Around 0600A/8, two more destroyers of the Simoun-class were seen leaving Oran, but seeing that they were standing by their sinking consort, HMS Aurora for a time withheld her fire. These destroyers were however soon in action with HMS Boadicea and HMS Calpe, and when they fired torpedoes at HMS Aurora she too opened fire from 13600 yards. In the ensuing fight HMS Boadicea was hit forward, and one of the French destroyers, being severely damaged and set on fire by a broadside, was driven inshore [this was the Tornade]. The action ended abruptly at 0727A/8, when the other destroyer, on being hit aft, turned and fled to the direction of Oran [this was the Typhon]. Meanwhile the sloop / minelayer La Surprise was sunk by HMS Brilliant around 0630A/8.
Aircraft from HMS Furious, HMS Biter and HMS Dasher had meanwhile attacked airfield destroying enemy aircraft on the ground and also in the air with only small losses to themselves.
Shore batteries managed to hit the Reina del Pacifico and Llangibby Castle. HMS Rodney proceeded closer inshore and opened fire at 1010A/8 on the Jebel Santon battery from a range of over 20000 yards. The battery was engaged several times during the day before HMS Rodney retired to seaward again.
Fighting continued on 9 November 1942. At 1024A/9, HMS Jamaica and HMS Aurora engaged the Epervier and Typhon. The Epervier was driven ashore in flames south of Cape de l'Aiguille while the Typhon retired to Oran where she too was beached.
The Vichy-French at Oran capitulated around noon on the 10th. (1)
- ADM 234/359
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.