Royal Navy’s Force K from Malta on the attack again

In bright sunlight, HMS KELVIN lays a smoke screen during destroyer exercises.

Crew of a 4.7 inch High Angle gun “closed up” ready to face an aerial attack on board HMS JAVELIN whilst she was at sea. Note the men standing by with further ammunition to be fired.

Torpedomen putting depth settings on the depth charges on board HMS JAVELIN. The thrower for the depth charges can be seen behind them.

Hitler was now seeking to reinforce his troops in Libya and Tunisia as they were threatened by Allied forces coming from the west and east.

At the same time the Royal Navy was gradually re-asserting its presence in the Mediterranean. The small task force based at Malta – ‘Force K’ – had been withdrawn when the constant bombing made the port unsustainable. Its last patrol almost a year earlier had met with disaster.

Coastal Command aircraft were now an increasing threat to the Italian and German convoys of troops crossing the Mediterranean, alongside the submarines that had operated out of Malta throughout the crisis. But an attack from the Force K cruisers and destroyers could be devastating.

Frank Wade was a midshipman on the destroyer HMS Jervis which was on patrol with HMS Nubian, which picked up a radar contact, and HMS Javelin and HMS Kelvin:

The night attack by our aircraft had obviously been successful, because we could make out a ship on fire in the distance. As we closed very rapidly, the stricken ship loomed larger and larger and we could soon make out its funnels, superstructure and masts partially covered by smoke and flames. It seemed quite unaware of our approach.

Within minutes we were within gun range of the convoy, about five miles away. Suddenly, the silhouette of a destroyer became clearly visible to us as it passed between us and the burning ship. Very quickly it passed out of view, but not before we had got an accurate true bearing on her. All our gun turrets were rapidly directed in her direction. Then something extraordinary occurred. As Guns was orally preparing the turrets to open fire, we found ourselves steaming through hundreds of men in the water around us. They were so close that some of them could actually be identified as shadowy heads in the water. Farther away were boats full of more survivors. They called out for help in Italian and German, their voices echoing pitifully over the sea.

Our first shot was a star shell which illuminated the whole scene. All our ships directed their fire at the destroyer. We turned our searchlight on her and all the details of a small destroyer became starkly evident. Within three minutes, hot glowing circles appeared on her superstructure and hull from the hits that she was sustaining. Things were happening very fast.

The luckless destroyer, without radar, apparently was quite unaware of our presence before the attack. Within five minutres it was all over. Her mast soon collapsed and her superstructure all but disappeared from internal explosions. What a terrible sight to see a ship being so brutally destroyed with such heavy loss of life. We were soon past her and we put the grisly memory out of our minds as best we could.

See Frank Wade: A Midshipman’s War: A Young Man in the Mediterranean Naval War, 1941-1943.

A flotilla of Germans fleeing from the 1st and 8th Armies, found nearly twenty miles out to sea off Cape Bon, Tunisia, were rounded up by the Royal Navy. After weeks of iron rations these German prisoners were glad of good food given to them in the destroyer HMS JERVIS. All the prisoners are German and all except two are anti-aircraft gunners who were bombed out of their gun sites.

HMS JERVIS, June 1945.

The British destroyer HMS NUBIAN returning to Malta after patrolling the coast of Tunis. She had been participating in operations by light naval forces based at Malta to patrol the Sicilian Narrows off the coast of Tunis and cut off the German Afrika Korps’s escape route from North Africa.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Harry AMEY January 15, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Erny,
Lovely to see your comments. You will have served with my father, Derek Amey, on the Javelin in the Med 1942/1943. Sadly he died in 1991 but I have made a website dedicated to the ship he loved so much http://www.hms-javelin.co.uk feel free to comment or send me photos if you have any. Cheers

Ernest Broome. October 29, 2013 at 9:16 pm

I was in HMSJavelin that night of the sinking of 11 enemy ships and remember the German men in the in the water – that is the tragedy of war. The Javelin was the best ship I served in during my 12 years service.

My congratulations to all who have contributed to this site, which has given me great pleasure and brought back so many memories of Force K 1942 &1943 in my 93 rd year.

Well done and UP SPIRITS!!!- Erny Broome P/KX96655.

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