German raiders off New Zealand

The armed merchantman Rangitane had delivered evacuee children to New Zealand and was returning with a valuable cargo to Britain when she was trapped between the Orion and the Komet. Refusing orders not to use her radio she was shelled and of her passengers and crew killed. The remainder were then taken on board the German ships and later most were deposited on the remote island of Narou.

The German raider ‘Komet’ had made passage to the Pacific along the north coast of Russia. The Germans had paid the Russians for the use of the ice breaker ‘Stalin’ to assist her passage. She then operated in the Pacific disguised as a neutral Japanese merchant.ship.

The Germans used a number of armed raiders disguised as merchantmen during the war. In terms of tonnage sunk they proved to be far more successful than German surface battleships. The first voyage of the Komet, which circumnavigated the globe, was exceptional. Operating in the Pacific since September, she paired up with another raider, the Orion, accompanied by a third unarmed German supply ship, the Kulmerland.

On the 27th November they intercepted the RMS Rangitane, a liner that regularly operated between New Zealand and Britain. The armed merchantman Rangitane had delivered evacuee children to New Zealand and was returning with a valuable cargo to Britain when she was trapped between the Orion and the Komet. Refusing orders not to use her radio she was shelled and 11 of her passengers and crew killed. The remainder were then taken on board the German ships and later most were deposited on the remote island of Narou. The Rangitane was relieved of the greater part of her cargo and sunk by torpedo.

Rangitane sunk on 27th November 1940
The New Zealand Shipping Company passenger liner Rangitane, was on her way from Auckland to Liverpool via the Panama Canal, with a crew of 192 and 111 passengers, thirty-six of whom were women, a cargo of 124,881 cases of butter, 33,255 cases of frozen pork and mutton, 23,646 cases of cheese, as well as equally large quantities of cocoa beans and other foodstuffs, she was also carrying forty-five bars of silver.

The complete story used to be available at http://www.btinternet.com/~thebells/rangitane/index.htm.

 

SS Patria sunk in Haifa Harbour

Jewish refugees were held in the port of Haifa on the SS Patria with the intention of making them proceed on to Mauritius. On the 25th November 1940 the SS Patria was bombed in attempt to prevent it leaving. Unfortunately the bomb was a great deal more powerful than needed to disable the old ship and she sank within 15 minutes. It was estimated that 267 people lost their lives, including 50 of the mainly British crew.

SS Patria
The SS Patria had over 1800 Jewish refugees on board when she was the victim of a Jewish bomb plot.
The SS Patria sinking in sight of land – 267 people died when the ship went down rapidly following the explosion.

The small minority of Jewish refugees who succeeded in escaping from Nazi occupied Europe had a hard time finding refuge. Many sought to make their way to Palestine, which at the time operated under a British Mandate. British policy was to strictly limit immigration into Palestine, not wanting to provoke Arab unrest.

Three ships carrying mainly Austrian, Polish and Czech Jewish refugees were permitted to leave by the Nazi regime. They were intercepted by the Royal Navy and held in the port of Haifa. Around 1800 refugees were transferred to the old French liner the SS Patria, with the intention of making the refugees proceed on to Mauritius.

On the 25th November 1940 a bomb was placed on the SS Patria in attempt to prevent it leaving. Unfortunately, when the bomb exploded, it proved to be a great deal more powerful than needed to simply disable the old ship – and she sank within 15 minutes. It was estimated that 267 people lost their lives, including 50 of the mainly British crew.

Munia Mandor who had planted the bomb on behalf of the Haganah, the Jewish resistance group, did not reveal his role until the 1950s when he claimed:

There was never any intent to cause the ship to sink. The British would have used this against the Jewish population and show it as an act of sabotage against the war effort.

Hugh Dowding is retired from the RAF

Yet the reserved uncharismatic, Dowding, nicknamed “Stuffy”, was not popular amongst the higher echelons of the RAF. Some argued that he was not a sufficiently personable leader and should be spending more time visiting the front line Squadrons. There was no evidence that any fighter Squadron needed any form of inspiration – but this was just an alternative view of military leadership.

Hugh Dowding, official portrait
Hugh Dowding led RAF Fighter Command throughout the Battle of Britain but was soon retired.
Hugh Dowding
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, escorted by Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Air Officer Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, visit the Headquarters of Fighter Command at Bentley Priory, near Stanmore, Middlesex..

Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding had been the driving force behind the development of Britain’s air defences in the immediate pre war period. He had organised and overseen the the integration of radar within the RAF command structure and had championed the development of both the Hurricane and the Spitfire. When war came he had warned Churchill not to lose valuable fighter resources in the defence of France.

During the Battle of Britain itself he had carefully managed the fighter Squadrons available and had worked tirelessly to respond to the various changing threats from the Luftwaffe. He had the strategic oversight to see the need for always keeping a proportion of fighters in reserve and the necessity of rotating Squadrons so that some could be ‘rested’ and fresh pilots brought into the battle successively. It was his supreme organisational abilities that put the RAF in the best possible position to combat the Germans.

Yet the reserved uncharismatic, Dowding, nicknamed “Stuffy”, was not popular amongst the higher echelons of the RAF. Some argued that he was not a sufficiently personable leader and should be spending more time visiting the front line Squadrons. There was no evidence that any fighter Squadron needed any form of inspiration – but it was an alternative view of military leadership.

Dowding was probably better placed than anyone to face the new challenge – getting the RAF’s night fighter capabilities up to speed and integrated with the rapidly developing radar technology. But he was overdue for retirement and he was told that his time was up with a telephone call.

Despite his nickname he was well regarded by fighter pilots and his devotion to them is evident in his final message:

November 24th 1940

My dear Fighter Boys,

In sending you this my last message, I wish I could say all that is in my heart. I cannot hope to surpass the simple eloquence of the Prime Ministers words, ‘Never before has so much been owed by so many to so few.” The debt remains and will increase.

In saying good-bye to you I want you to know how continually you have been in my thoughts, and that, though our direct connection may be severed, I may yet be able to help you in your gallant fight.

Good-bye to you and God bless you all.

Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding

Hugh Dowding
RAF Battle of Britain pilots, photographed with Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding at the Ministry of Information, 14 September 1942.

First night of Southampton Blitz

You could see the whole of the city of Southampton from the hill and if there was a raid it looked like dozens of vast red fans over Southampton. I found that very frightening and I was glad to be in the shelter. If in the day time there was raid and we hadn’t time to get to the shelter, my mother used to push us under the stairs.

Ruined Southampton street after the blitz
Southampton was targeted as an important industrial centre, not least the Supermarine Spitfire factory, as well as being a major port.

Coventry became notable for being one of the first large scale raids on provincial cities and towns. It was the first where, outside London, there was widespread damage caused by a firestorm conflagration. Yet other cities would suffer comparable, if not worse damage. During the Southampton Blitz the city suffered similar casualties to Coventry but over a much longer period of time.

The 23rd of September was not the first time that Southampton had been bombed but it was the first major raid. It would not be the last. There was another huge raid on the 30th November which would bring such widespread devastation that there was no water to fight the fires, which burned out of control. German bomber pilots returning to hit the city again on the night of the 31st could see the flames as they crossed the French coast. There were over 1500 air raid alarms and 57 significant bombing raids on Southampton during the war.

Stella Green was eight years old at the time of the November 1940 raid:

Our house was on a hill overlooking Southampton. If “things were quiet” as my mother said, we went to bed in our own beds. Then, if the siren went, we had to get up and go to the shelter in the garden taking our little attaché cases. We were put to bed in the bunk beds. You could see the whole of the city of Southampton from the hill and if there was a raid it looked like dozens of vast red fans over Southampton. I found that very frightening and I was glad to be in the shelter. If in the day time there was raid and we hadn’t time to get to the shelter, my mother used to push us under the stairs.

Read Stella Green’s full account on BBC People’s War.

A short documentary about the Blitz on Southampton during the Second World War, 20th June 1940 – 15th July 1944 is available on Vimeo..

A still from camera-gun film taken from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of No. 609 Squadron RAF, flown by by Pilot Officer J D Bisdee, as he dived on a formation of Heinkel He IIIs of KG 55 which had just bombed the Supermarine aircraft works at Woolston, Southampton. Tracer bullets can be seen heading towards the formation as Bisdee opens fire.
A still from camera-gun film taken from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of No. 609 Squadron RAF, flown by by Pilot Officer J D Bisdee, as he dived on a formation of Heinkel He IIIs of KG 55 which had just bombed the Supermarine aircraft works at Woolston, Southampton. Tracer bullets can be seen heading towards the formation as Bisdee opens fire.

Condor Base at Bordeaux bombed

On the night of the 22nd/23rd twenty-four heavy bombers attacked the aerodrome at Bordeaux; twenty-nine tons of high explosive and two thousand eight hundred incendiaries were dropped. The attack appears to have been most successful. Direct hits were obtained on hangars and barrack blocks, and many aircraft on the aerodrome were seen to be on fire. The hangars on the south-west side of the aerodrome were completely burnt out.

Wellington night bomber, moonlit flight 1940
This study of a Wellington bomber departing for a night time raid
was released to highlight the role of Czechoslovak airmen in the RAF.

The Focke Wolf Condor bomber was operating far out into the Atlantic, capable of attacking ships itself but also playing an important role in spotting for U-Boats. The Empress of Britain  was amongst its victims. From the Air Situation for the week ending 28th November 1940:

A total of 39 day and 414 night sorties were flown by Bomber Command during the week. In addition, a number of bombing sorties were made by aircraft of the Coastal Command. The principal features of the week’s operations have been the concentrated attacks which have been carried out against industrial and communication targets in the Cologne area, and a heavy attack on the aerodrome at Bordeaux, at which the Focke Wolf Condor aircraft are reported to assemble for operations against shipping in the North-Western Approaches. Military objectives in the Berlin area were attacked on two occasions.

On the night of the 22nd/23rd twenty-four heavy bombers attacked the aerodrome at Bordeaux; twenty-nine tons of high explosive and two thousand eight hundred incendiaries were dropped. The attack appears to have been most successful. Direct hits were obtained on hangars and barrack blocks, and many aircraft on the aerodrome were seen to be on fire. The hangars on the south-west side of the aerodrome were completely burnt out.

Night Bombing of Britain intensifies

During the week the enemy made a greater number of long-range nightbomber sorties than during any other week of the war. On the 19th/20th. approximately 500 aircraft were employed; this is the highest number recorded in operations on any night against this country. Attacks also showed greater concentration, and on the nights of the 14th/15th, 15th/16th and 19/20th heavy attacks were made on Coventry, London and Birmingham respectively; 350 aircraft attacked Coventry, under ideal weather conditions, and 340 were used against Birmingham.

A Heinkel He III Bomber undergoing maintenance –
using a captured RAF airfield crane, November 1940.

From the Naval, Military and Air Situation for the week up to November 21st, as reported to the War Cabinet:

46. During the week the enemy made a greater number of long-range nightbomber sorties than during any other week of the war. On the 19th/20th approximately 500 aircraft were employed; this is the highest number recorded in operations on any night against this country. Attacks also showed greater concentration, and on the nights of the 14th/15th, 15th/16th and 19/20th heavy attacks were made on Coventry, London and Birmingham respectively; 350 aircraft attacked Coventry, under ideal weather conditions, and 340 were used against Birmingham.

On other nights fewer aircraft were employed and the bombing was more widespread. Parachute mines are being employed in increasing numbers. During the week about thirty aerodromes have been attacked, but damage was again very small in proportion to the effort expended, though ten aircraft were severely and twenty slightly damaged at Hawarden on the 14th/15th November. At Hythe on the 17th/ 18th a civil flying boat was destroyed and two others damaged.

Civilian Casualties.

72. The approximate figures for the week ending 0600 the 21st November are 1,190 killed and 3,738 injured. Of these totals, London suffered 484 killed and 1,080 injured; Coventry, 380 killed and 800 injured; and Birmingham (with West Bromwich), 228 killed and 802 injured in the three raids.

Unexploded Bombs.

73. The number of unexploded bombs during the week was 801, 363 less than last week. The total remaining for disposal is 2,939, a reduction of 130.

See TNA cab/66/13/37

 

Christ Church, Spitalfields: Shelterers sleep against the white walls of the church crypt – November 1940.
Christ Church, Spitalfields: Man sleeping in a stone sarcophagus in Christ Church-November 1940

German ‘E Boat’ sunk off Southwold

Prisoners stated that their vessel was hit on the port side seven or eight times. “S 38” attempted to escape, tried to lay a smoke screen but, owing to the damaged steering-gear, could only go round in a curve. One engine was put out of action and a fire started in the fuel tank. Some men jumped overboard immediately the fire broke out. A seaman ran aft with the intention of dropping depth charges in the course of the pursuing destroyer, but a burst of machine-gun fire from the British discouraged this attempt.

A German ‘Schnellboot\ or fast boat is loaded with torpedoes
– they were called ‘E’ boats by the British.

The course of events were reconstructed by Naval Intelligence when they interviewed the German prisoners following the sinking of ‘S 38’:

At 0158 B.S.T. on Wednesday, 20th November, 1940, H.M.S. “Campbell” and H.M.S. “Garth” sighted “S 38” at a distance of two miles in position three miles north of 54 E Buoy (approximately 12 miles east of Southwold). Prisoners stated that the first indication of the presence of the British was the sight of a destroyer to starboard of “S 38.” The destroyer, indistinctly seen beyond bands of mist, seemed fairly far away, but it was quickly realised that she was actually much closer, only about 400 metres distant and was steaming straight towards them.

It was stated by the E-Boat’s Telegraphist that a message was passed on R/T to the other E-Boat warning her of the presence of the British destroyer. The Commanding Officer of “S 38” ordered his ship to be turned towards the destroyer and the starboard torpedo (No. 1 tube) to be fired, but the man at the torpedo tube was not ready and part of the safety gear was damaged; this prevented the firing of the torpedo. “S 38” then turned to port to make off according to the tactics laid down for E-Boats after attempting or making an attack.

Prisoners stated that a torpedo was then fired as the E-Boat turned further to port. There were conflicting statements as to whether this was the port or the starboard tube. But no aim had been possible and there was no chance of the torpedo hitting the destroyer. The Germans then saw on their port side the second destroyer, of whose presence they had been unaware. Prisoners maintain that up to that moment the British had not sighted “S 38.” “Campbell” and “Garth” were in single line ahead.

On sighting the E-Boat “Campbell” quickly opened fire with close range weapons. “S 38” was hit on the port side; the first salvoes wrecked the steering-gear, lighting system and engine-room telegraph, and a shell hit the fuel tank. The bow of the boat and also the starboard torpedo tube were damaged. Prisoners stated that their vessel was hit on the port side seven or eight times. “S 38” attempted to escape, tried to lay a smoke screen but, owing to the damaged steering-gear, could only go round in a curve. One engine was put out of action and a fire started in the fuel tank. Some men jumped overboard immediately the fire broke out. A seaman ran aft with the intention of dropping depth charges in the course of the pursuing destroyer, but a burst of machine-gun fire from the British discouraged this attempt. The Germans threw themselves flat on the deck, taking what cover they could behind their two spare torpedoes.

According to the prisoners, H.M.S. “Campbell” passed immediately ahead of “S 38’s” bow and continued to fire at a range of only 20 metres. The Germans did not attempt to use their machine-gun. The E-Boat was caught in the destroyer’s searchlight, and the German Commanding Officer ordered the German war flag to be hauled down. An effort was made to move the wounded aft, as the boat was sinking by the bow.

At 0225 “S 38,” on fire and badly damaged, sank; prisoners maintain that she did not capsize, as claimed by the British. The destroyers picked up 18 survivors, including the three officers. Five men of the crew lost their lives. All three officers and seven other members of the crew were injured; the remaining eight men were unwounded.

The full report, with details of the interrogation of prisoners used to be available at:   http://www.uboatarchive.net/S38INT.htm.

It may be possible to access this from the internet archive.

The destroyer HMS Campbell, launched in 1918, that sunk ‘S 38’ on 20th November.

Leicester hit by the Blitz

Back at my house we heard a lone bomber approaching. We put in our gum shields (these were rolled up pieces of old innertube rubber) and bombs began to fall. Previous to this I had found events rather exciting (I was 9 years old) but as the bombs got closer and closer, like giant’s footsteps, I suddenly realised that above my head were the gas and electricity meters and I reasoned (in those fleeting milliseconds which felt like minutes) that if a bomb hit the house, even if we were not killed outright, we could be gassed, electrocuted, or burnt alive!

Bomb damage in Leicester following the raid of 19th November 1940.

At the beginning of the war Leicester had been considered a relatively safe location, suitable for the reception of evacuees. Now there seemed to be no part of Britain that was excluded from the danger of the Blitz:

R. E. Sperry was a fifteen year old schoolboy who recorded in his diary that he was practising his French conversation in a town centre cafe until:

Air raid warning sounded at about 7.45pm. Incendiary bombs were dropping all around Granby Street before the sirens went off. Saw terrific fires. All top story of Lulhams ablaze. Went home (i.e. to Kimberley Road) up London Road. I reached the top of London Road/Evington Road when five terrific explosions and flashes were seen over our way. All the way home I saw flashes and explosions straight ahead. After being at home some time, we (i.e. my mother and older brother, my father being a special constable was out on street patrol) went to an air raid shelter (opposite to St. Phillip’s Church, Evington Road). Many bombs dropped within a little way of it. No ack-ack fire – why not?

Later he was to recall

During those closing months of 1940 my diary entries are punctuated with the frequency of air raid warning alerts, mostly in the night hours. The German planes we could hear were invariably heading for other unfortunate targets. Our sleep patterns were of times erratic, yet the old established routine of school life did not allow even the noise and clatter of war to disturb itself more than absolutely necessary.

On the odd occasion when the sirens sounded during school hours, this respite from studies was generally welcomed. We then all trooped down into the relative safety of the musty lower regions of the school building. I must say that we felt it a little unfair when one dedicated master chose to continue the lesson even down there!

His full account is at Wartime Leicestershire where there are other stories of the same night including Terence Cartwright’s. hour by hour account:

12:30pm. Back at my house we heard a lone bomber approaching. We put in our gum shields (these were rolled up pieces of old innertube rubber) and bombs began to fall. Previous to this I had found events rather exciting (I was 9 years old) but as the bombs got closer and closer, like giant’s footsteps, I suddenly realised that above my head were the gas and electricity meters and I reasoned (in those fleeting milliseconds which felt like minutes) that if a bomb hit the house, even if we were not killed outright, we could be gassed, electrocuted, or burnt alive! It was as the explosions got nearer I felt my first twinge of fear! Thankfully, they stopped short. They had fallen a short distance away across the Green Lane Road, damaging houses and Wadkins Eng. Factory.

For more images and contemporary records see Leicester County Council.

Churchill cheered by Greek success

During the past week the force of the Italian attack on Greece has been stemmed, and the Greeks have been able to advance along the whole front. The principal opposition to their advance has been from the air, and dive-bombing and machine-gunning has considerably retarded their progress.

The funeral cortege of Sergeant John Merifield passing down a street in Athens to the English Church, where he was interred. Merifield, an air gunner serving with No. 30 Squadron RAF, was the first RAF casualty of the campaign in Greece. He was killed during the RAF's first offensive action on 6 November 1940, when Bristol Blenheims of the Squadron were attacked by Italian fighters while bombing Valona airfield in Albania.
The funeral cortege of Sergeant John Merifield passing down a street in Athens to the English Church, where he was interred. Merifield, an air gunner serving with No. 30 Squadron RAF, was the first RAF casualty of the campaign in Greece. He was killed during the RAF’s first offensive action on 6 November 1940, when Bristol Blenheims of the Squadron were attacked by Italian fighters while bombing Valona airfield in Albania.
A column of Universal carriers being cheered by crowds while passing through a Greek town, 15 November 1940.
A column of Universal carriers being cheered by crowds while passing through a Greek town, 15 November 1940.

The British had immediately gone to the assistance of Greece when Italy invaded at the end of October. In part this was following an obligation to neutral countries given in April 1939. Equally Churchill attached a special importance to the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean.

The strategic sensitivity of the region was precisely why Hitler had wanted the area left undisturbed as he prepared to assault Soviet Russia. Mussolini’s precipitate action had been intended to demonstrate to Hitler that he could act independently and successfully. Yet his forces were already facing serious reverses.

The British had limited forces that they could send to help Greece. It was all the more pleasing to discover that they were supporting a determined, and successful, Greek Army. Churchill’s Private Secretary, John Colville, recorded his reaction when he learnt of their successes. At the time a reinforced bunker was being prepared beneath 10 Downing Street:

Monday, November 18th

When I got back to No. 10 Annexe the P.M. was downstairs looking at Intelligence Reports, putting red ink circles round the names of Greek towns and chortling as he thought of the discomfiture of the Italians.

Then, after expressing to me his disgust with Admiral Somerville who let twelve Hurricanes bound for Malta take off from an aircraft carrier too soon, so that eight came down in the sea and were lost, he went to bed and slept until the Cabinet was due.

Towards dinner-time, while I was desperately coping with mountainous papers on my desk, the P.M. appeared and, bidding me bring a torch, led me away to look at girders in the basement, intended to support the building.

With astonishing agility he climbed over girders, balanced himself on their upturned edges, some five feet above ground, and leapt from one to another without any sign of undue effort. Extraordinary in a man of almost sixty-six who never takes exercise of any sort.

See John Colville: The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955

A stick of bombs falls on the port of Valona in Italian occupied Albania. RAF bombers were contributing to the Greek counter-attack against the Italians.

From the Military Situation report for the week, as reported to the British War Cabinet:

During the past week the force of the Italian attack on Greece has been stemmed, and the Greeks have been able to advance along the whole front. The principal opposition to their advance has been from the air, and dive-bombing and machine-gunning has considerably retarded their progress.

The Greeks hold the heights immediately to the East of Koritsa, and are shelling the town with mountain artillery. In the Pindus sector they have crossed the frontier in several places. In general, the mopping up of enemy stragglers appears to have been considerable, and a quantity of material has been captured, including 35 anti-tank guns with ammunition, and 20 mountain guns.

Mussolini’s dreams of a few quick military victories were rapidly proving to be no more than fantasies. The Italian senior commanders were well aware of the limitations of their forces yet were unable to stand up the the demands of ‘Il Duce’. In consequence, in almost every theatre that they engaged in, the Italian forces suffered reverses and humiliation.

An Italian Fiat CR 42 biplane fighter of 18° Gruppo, 56° Stormo, Corpo Aereo Italiano, which crash-landed at Orfordness in Suffolk during the Regia Aeronautica's only major daylight raid of the Battle of Britain, 11 November 1940. The Italian formation, comprising a dozen BR.20 bombers and their escorts making towards Harwich, was intercepted by Hurricanes of Nos. 17, 46 and 257 Squadrons. The enemy force suffered heavy losses, at no cost to the RAF, and similar daylight raids were not repeated.
An Italian Fiat CR 42 biplane fighter of 18° Gruppo, 56° Stormo, Corpo Aereo Italiano, which crash-landed at Orfordness in Suffolk during the Regia Aeronautica’s only major daylight raid of the Battle of Britain, 11 November 1940. The Italian formation, comprising a dozen BR.20 bombers and their escorts making towards Harwich, was intercepted by Hurricanes of Nos. 17, 46 and 257 Squadrons. The enemy force suffered heavy losses, at no cost to the RAF, and similar daylight raids were not repeated.

Operation White ends in disaster

Operation White sought to bring the aircraft carrier HMS Argus within close enough distance of the island for twelve RAF hurricanes to be flown off to make their way to Malta. The advice to Admiral Somerville was that the 400 miles was within their range and in due course the planes, escorted by two Fleet Air Arm Skua aircraft, took off. Eight of them were lost making the journey.

Hurricane aircraft
The Hurricane had played a vital role alongside the Spitfire in the defense of Britain. Now an attempt was made to fly them from aircraft carriers to reinforce Malta.

The island of Malta, a British possession, was initially regarded as too isolated to be defended. Yet it occupied a strategically vital point at the crossroads of the Mediterranean. It was at Churchill’s insistence that attempts were made to improve the fighter defences of the island.

Operation White sought to bring the aircraft carrier HMS Argus within close enough distance of the island for twelve RAF Hurricanes to be flown off to make their way to Malta. This had to be balanced against the risk of bringing the Argus and escorting warships within range of the Italian bombers. The advice to Admiral Somerville was that the 400 miles was within the Hurricane’s range and in due course the planes, escorted by two Fleet Air Arm Skua aircraft, took off.

The first wave of six aircraft and one Skua only just made it to Malta, two of the Hurricanes having to ditch offshore, only one of the pilots being saved by a Sunderland flying boat. The second wave of six Hurricanes and their pilots were never seen again. Their escorting Skua crash landed on Sicily where the crew were taken prisoner.

The subsequent enquiry had little information to work on but exonerated Somerville. It was believed that adverse wind conditions and the challenging navigation across open sea had led to the loss of the aircraft.

The World War I vintage HMS Argus was one of the first aircraft carriers ever built but operated throughout World War II. Its large hangars were capable of holding fixed wing aircraft.