Italian convoy destroyed off Sfax

During the action H.M. Destroyer Mohawk was torpedoed and sank, and of her crew seven officers and 160 ratings were rescued. The other destroyers had no casualties and sustained only slight splinter damage. Owing to the approach of daylight it was not possible to wait and pick up enemy survivors

HMS Jervis, a flotilla leader destroyer, sister ship to HMS Kelly, won battle honours throughout the war.

Frederick Baker was on board HMS Mohawk on 15th April:

Whilst in the area of Malta our Flotilla was given another task and this was to try and stop the supply ships of the enemy reaching North Africa, which was now becoming the scene for the important battles between Montgomery [original account – Montgomery did not arrive until 1942] and Rommel. As you can imagine it was very dangerous for our ships to be caught at sea during daylight because of the superiority of the enemy planes, so we would leave Malta at dusk, do a wide sweeping search and rush back to Malta before dawn. On one of these occasions just as we were turning for home one of our ships sighted the enemy. We instantly engaged them in battle and after a short while we had successfully sunk the complete convoy of five troop or supply ships together with the three Escorts.

Unfortunately for me, my ship the Mohawk was hit by a torpedo which immobilised us causing considerable damage in the engine room and causing us to stop. We then became a sitting target and in a few moments we were hit again. This time we started to sink rapidly, so we had to abandon ship. After swimming away as fast as possible for a period, which seemed like hours, although in fact was only a few moments, I turned and saw the outline of the stern of the ship disappear under the water. I now became very frightened seeing many men in the water trying to cling to any debris they could find. I saw fairly close by one of our life rafts and struck out to reach it. I was recognised by some of my ship mates and was hauled on board. We then were miraculously spotted by one of our ships which was looking for survivors and I finished up on board HMS Nubian which coincidentally was the ship my elder brother [Charlie] was on, so it became a happy reunion for me.

Read Frederick Baker‘s account of his service with the Royal Navy.

HMS Jervis, sister ship to HMS Kelly, led one of the most successful convoy attacks of the war in the ‘Battle of the Tarigo Convoy’ on the night of the 15th. Also known as the ‘Action off Sfax’, decrypted Italian communications allowed the Royal Navy to intercept five merchant ships with military supplies and troops bound for Tripoli. Radar enabled a night ambush in which the entire force was destroyed:

Captain D. of the 14th Flotilla in H.M. Destroyer Jervis, with three other destroyers, intercepted an enemy convoy off the African coast between Sicily and Tripoli on the night of the 15th/ 16th April. The convoy consisted of two ships of about 5,000 tons laden with motor transport, an ammunition ship of about 4,000 tons, and two ships of about 3,000 tons, which were probably transports.

The escort was the Italian destroyer Luca Tarigo (1,648 tons, built 1928), and two of the Climene class destroyers (652 tons, built 1936-37). The entire enemy force is believed to be destroyed.

During the action H.M. Destroyer Mohawk was torpedoed and sank, and of her crew seven officers and 160 ratings were rescued. The other destroyers had no casualties and sustained only slight splinter damage. Owing to the approach of daylight it was not possible to wait and pick up enemy survivors.

From the Naval Situation Report for the week.

A fierce battle developed with the Italian navy. Smoke, explosions, shell splashes, burning ships and torpedoes confused the night sea. During the action, MOHAWK evaded a bow ramming from the lead German merchantman in the convoy. Just as the destroyer opened fire, a torpedo from the Italian destroyer Tarigo hit her just abreast of Y mounting on the starboard side. The whole of the stern from the superstructure aft was blown away and MOHAWK was awash as far as X mounting.

The crew of Y gun and the supply party were all killed. A and B guns continued firing on the merchantman and set her on fire. During this time, MOHAWK had been motionless in the water. Just as the destroyer made an attempt to get under way, a second torpedo arrived hitting portside between No.2 and No.3 Boiler Rooms. The No.3 boiler burst, scalding people on deck. The centre line of the upper deck split open allowing the torpedo tubes to fall into the engine room and crushed the watch below.

Immediately MOHAWK started to sink. All remaining hands were called to deck. Within a minute, she was listing heavy to port, rolling over until she lay on her side. There was no time to launch lifeboats but six Carleys managed to float clear. Most of the crew were left in the water as MOHAWK sank. Her stern touched the bottom with her fo’c’sle above the surface. NUBIAN picked up survivors while JANUS was ordered to sink the dying destroyer by firing 4.7-inch shells into her fo’c’sle. MOHAWK slipped beneath the surface and 41 men were lost with her.

HMS Mohawk had been in action in the earliest days of the war, in the first air raid on Britain.

4 thoughts on “Italian convoy destroyed off Sfax”

  1. My Father William Lilburn was a Stoker on the Mohawk when she was sunk. He suffered two broken ankles and a shoulder wound.
    After recovering in hospital on Malta he joined HMS Southwold and was sunk again.

  2. My father Richard ayton was on the Mohawk when it was sunk but I know very little about it, but he was one of the survivors.

  3. My mothers cousin named as far as I remember Bert Watton was a gunner on the forward turret on HMS Mohawk and was lost when she was sunk during the action with the Italians. I have read somewhere that the forward turret was still firing when she sank?.

  4. my brother Jack was seconded to the rn from ran and was an asdic operator on the mohawk
    and was rescued after the ship was sunk.

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