A Philatelic History of the Royal Navy Pt 8 – 1942-1943 WWII Pt2

Battle of Java Sea (1st and 2nd) – 1942

HMS Exeter
HMS Exeter

The Battle of Java Sea was a naval battle fought in the Java Sea, which lies between Indonesia and Borneo, involving the Imperial Japanese Navy and British, American, Dutch and Australian ships. There were two battles during which the Allies suffered a decisive defeat with the loss of a number of British, American and Dutch ships and it opened the way for the Japanese occupation of the entire Netherland East Indies. HMS Exeter was damaged during the first battle and sunk during the second battle attempting to retreat back to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Raid on St. Nazaire Docks – 1942

HMS Campbeltown ramming the St. Nazaire dock gate.
HMS Campbeltown ramming the dock gate.

HMS Campbeltown was originally launched as USS Buchanan in 1919 and transferred to the Royal Navy in 1940. She was part of the lend-lease agreement of 50 US destroyers that were transferred to Britain. She was sunk when she rammed the St. Nazaire dock and blew up.

Plans were made for an attack on the St. Nazaire docks in order to pre-empty any plans for repairs to the battleship KM Tirpitz; it was the only dry dock on the Atlantic coast large enough to service the German ship. Campbeltown was converted to hold 4.5 tons of high explosive hidden in steel tanks near the bows. Disguised as a German torpedo boat, she sailed up the Loire and got within a mile of the dock gates before being fired on. She rammed the dock gates at 01:30 am and commandos left the ship and set about destroying dock machinery. At noon the charges exploded destroying the front of the ship and the dock, which was out of commission for the rest of the war and was not repaired until 1947. In another action, delayed action torpedoes were fired into the gates for the U-boat basin destroying them as well.

The Destruction of Convoy PQ-17 – 1942

British merchant ships scattering.

This was the first joint operation by the British and Americans to escort a convoy through the Norwegian sea to Murmansk. A number of convoys had sailed this route starting in 1941 with only one ship lost out of 103 merchantmen. However, after Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia, the Germans were prepared to stop the flow of supplies to Russia by all available means. British intelligence reported that the next eastbound convoy would bring out major German naval units. There were several German bases around the Norwegian coast which were over 1,000 miles from any Allied air cover for the convoy.

U-Boats on the hunt for prey in the spreading convoy.

As an attack by the battleship KM Tirpitz was expected, the convoy was ordered to scatter. Although unknown to the escort commanders, this battle group was not advancing towards the convoy. The consequences of scattering the convoy was dire as the ships were now spread over a wide area stripped of their escort protection. The scattered ships were attacked by both U-boats and aircraft and out of a total of 35 merchantmen, only 11 arrived at their destination.

As a result of the losses during this convoy, it was not until several months later that convoys resumed with escort carriers and constant close escort ships accompanying the convoy.

These ships were part of the Convoy’s escort group.

HMS Sirius
HMS Sirius
A Dido-class light cruiser
HMS Fury
HMS Fury
An F-class destroyer
HMS Ledbury
HMS Ledbury
A hunt-class escort destroyer
HMS Wilton
HMS Wilton
A Hunt-class destroyer

The Novel by Alister Maclean, HMS Ulysses, is loosely based on PQ-17 and shares his experience serving on HMS Royalist in convoy duties.

Invasion of Madagascar – Operation Ironclad – 1942

Map of the Indian Ocean area, showing Madagascar and the sea lanes it might threaten.
HMS Indomitable, aircraft carrier
HMS Indomitable
An Illustrious-class aircraft carrier
Launched in 1940, scrapped in 1955.

After the Japanese had advanced through Asia and the Pacific, the Allies heard of rumours that the Vichy government would cede control of Madagascar to Japan who would then use the island’s naval bases to extend their submarine range to cover much of the Indian ocean and South Atlantic. The allies launched Operation Ironclad which was the first of several operations to capture French naval ships and seize the island for Free French forces under General De Gaulle. This was the first large scale operation of World War II by the Allies combining sea, air and land forces and it assured Allied control of approaches to India and the Arabian Peninsula for the duration of the war.

HMS Lafroy
HMS Lafroy
An L-class destroyer
Launched in 1941, sunk by a torpedo in 1944.

HMS Indomitable was one of two aircraft carriers that supplied air cover for the operation.

The destroyer HMS Laforey was one of 34 ships in the assault force that landed troops in the attack on the port of Diego Sourez; she led a flotilla of minesweepers and a corvette in the raid.

HMS Warspite
HMS Warspite
HMS Birmingham
HMS Birmingham

The battleship HMS Warspite and the light cruiser HMS Birmingham covered the landings at Tamatave and Mahajanga.

Dieppe Raid – 1942

Canadian troops landing on the beachhead
HMS Calpe
HMS Calpe
A Hunt-class destroyer
Launched in 1941, sold to Denmark in 1952, scrapped in 1966.

The Dieppe Raid was a Canadian assault on the French port of Dieppe on 19 August 1942. The Royal Navy provided a number of ships, including six destroyers, of which HMS Calpe was the command ship, and a large number of landing craft. The raid was not a success as the Allied forces were ill prepared and the operation was poorly planned. There was little or no naval gunfire to support the landing and no major naval ships were close to the beach due to the danger of German air attacks. A lack of supporting naval gunfire was a major reason for the failure of the operation. The British were not aware that the beaches had been heavily defended by the Germans, and that the Germans had been warned by French double agents of British interest in the area. Of the five thousand Canadian troops landed, 3,400 were killed or captured, the British lost 250 men. One destroyer, HMS Berkley, and a number of landing craft were sunk. One objective was to discover the importance and performance of a German radar station on a nearby cliff-top. A small group of commandos accompanied a radar expert with a plan to enter the radar station and learn its secrets. Although they never did enter the building, all telephone lines into the building were cut which forced the Germans to resort to radio transmissions which were intercepted by listening posts on the south coast of England. This gave the Allies a great deal of information about the location and density of radar stations along the channel coast.

Well after the war there was a theory that developed from thousands of pages of now un-classified military archives of a “pinch” mission to steal a German Enigma machine. This was to be an operation overseen by Ian Fleming and the landing at Dieppe was allegedly to provide support and create a distraction for the true aim of the operation. Even if this had been a planned part of the Dieppe raid, it was never carried out. Fortunately, there were other opportunities of “pinching” an Enigma machine and in the fall of 1942, one was captured from a sinking U-boat.

Torch Landings – 1942

Operation Torch was an Anglo-American invasion of French North Africa in 1942; it was the largest amphibious operation in the history of warfare. With British forces advancing from Alexandria, this would provide a ‘pincer’ operation against Axis forces in North Africa. The French territories in North Africa were under Vichy control and there was concern that the French would fight so the operation was designated as an American invasion supported by British naval ships; the French being former allies of the U.S. French Admiral Darlan ordered all French troop to cease resistance and cooperate with the Allies. This infuriated Hitler who then ordered the occupation of Vichy France.

The seaborne operation consisted of three naval task forces with the Western Naval Force composed of all-American ships, and the Central and Eastern Task Forces composed of British ships. The British naval forces included four aircraft carriers, five cruisers and 26 destroyers, as well as landing craft and supports ships.

The following are some of the ships that took part in the operation:

HMS Bermuda
HMS Bermuda
A Colony-class light cruiser
Launched in 1941, scrapped in 1965.
HMS Calpe
HMS Calpe
A Hunt-class destroyer
Launched in 1941, sold to the Dutch Navy in 1952, scrapped in 1966.
HMS Nelson
HMS Nelson
A Nelson-class battleship with an unusual design of having her 9 x 15″ guns mounted all forward of the bridge.
HMS Rooke
HMS Rooke (Broke)
A Shakespeare-class destroyer. Badly damaged during the operation and sank being towed to port.
HMS Duke of York
HMS Duke of York
Did not see action as her role was to protect the aircraft carriers.
HMS Wishart
HMS Wishart
Launched in 1918, decommissioned in 1945
A W-class destroyer
Involved in escort duties in the Mediterranean
HMS Renown
HMS Renown
Launched in 1916, scrapped in 1948
The last of Jackie Fishers battleships to see the scrapyard.
HMS Stork
HMS Stork
Launched in 1936, scrapped in 1958
A Bittern-class destroyer.
She was torpedoed escorting a TORCH convoy, badly damaged.
HMS Scylia
HMS Scylla
Launched in 1940, scrapped in 1950
A Dido-class destroyer, attached to the Eastern Task Force.
HMS Seraph on signed cover commemorating the prelude to the invasion of North Africa.
HMS Seraph
An S-class submarine, launched in 1941, decommissioned in 1962
The cover commemorates the secret landing of Major-General Mark Clark in North Africa, a prelude to Operation Torch.
Signed by Captain Jewell, commanding officer of Seraph for this operation.

HMS Algerine

HMS Algerine was the first of 98 ships of this name (Algerine) class to serve with the R.N. Also in use by the Royal Canadian Navy.

Launched in 1942, torpedoed in 1942 off N. Africa by an Italian submarine. Only 8 crew members survived.

This was a class of minesweepers and escort ships that served from 1942 to 1962

The Envelope is signed by a survivor of Algerine in 1942

HMS Algerine

Battle of the Barents Sea – 1942

HMS Sheffield
HMS Sheffield
A Town-class cruiser, launched in 1936, scrapped in 1967.

The Battle of the Barents Sea was a naval engagement between German warships and British warships escorting convoy JW 51B to the USSR. The engagement took place in the Barents Sea off the North Cape of Norway. The Germans failed to inflict significant losses which infuriated Hitler, who, seeing two heavy cruisers driven off by mere destroyers, nearly ordered the German Navy to scrap all surface ships. Admiral Dönitz saved the fleet from scrapping and a new strategy was developed to concentrate on U-boat attacks. HMS Sheffield sank the German destroyer Friedrich Eckoldt and the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper was damaged. All 14 merchant ships reached their destinations undamaged.

KM Admiral Hipper
KM Admiral Hipper

After this debacle, only one other major surface operation was attempted by the German navy, and this was an attack on convoy JW 55B by the battleship KM Scharnhorst which was sunk during this operation; see the Battle of the North Cape.

Cover commemorating the Battle of the Barents Sea

Battle of The North Cape – 1943

The Battle of the North Cape was a naval action off the North Cape of Norway in 1943. KM Scharnhorst and KM Tirpitz, the sister ship to KM Bismark, had been sent to the Norwegian Artic to harass Russian-bound convoys. Tirpitz was out of action, damaged by British miniature submarines. Scharnhorst was lured into a carefully laid British trap, using two convoys as bait, to face HMS Duke of York, and the cruisers, HMS Belfast, HMS Jamaica, HMS Sheffield and HMS Norfolk. During the ensuing battle that lasted 10 hours, shells from the Duke of York’s 14” guns and eleven torpedoes fired from destroyers, including HMS Matchless, sank the German ship. The loss of the Scharnhorst was an immense psychological blow to the German nation. Tirpitz was eventually sunk in 1944, in the fjord she had taken refuge in from earlier British attacks, by high-altitude British bombers dropping 12,000 lb ‘Tallboy’ bombs.

HMS Duke of YorkLaunched in 1940, laid up in 1956. In 1941 she transported Winston Churchill to Canada to meet with President Roosevelt. In 1945, she was assigned to the Pacific Fleet but did not arrive until after Japan’s surrender.

HMS Dule of York
HMS Duke of York
A King George V-class battleship.
HMS Matchless
HMS Matchless
An M-class destroyer, launched in 1941, scrapped in 1971.
HMS Norfolk
HMS Norfolk
A County-class heavy cruiser,
launched in 1928, scrapped in 1950.
HMS Belfast
HMS Belfast – Now a museum ship on the river Thames in London

Belfast can be seen today on the River Thames in London where she is moored as museum ship.

HMS Belfast

Attack on the Tirpitz – 1943

HMS Undaunted
HMS Undaunted
A U-class destroyer, launched in 1943, sunk as a target in 1978.
HMS Royalist
HMS Royalist
A Dido-class light cruiser, launched in 1942, scrapped in 1967.

KM Tirpitz was the second of two Bismark-class battleships, she was heavier and larger than her sister ship Bismark. After her sea trials she sailed to Norway to act as a deterrent against an Allied invasion. Whilst in Norway the intention was for her to be used to intercept Allied convoys to Russia. Because the St. Nazaire docks were out of commission it was deemed too risky for her to operate in the Atlantic, and because of the threat of Allied air operations against her she spent most of her time sheltered and camouflaged in Norwegian fjords. She only once broke cover and shelled an Allied base in Spitzbergen, the only time she fired her 15” guns. The British were determined to neutralize Tirpitz and she was eventually badly damaged by British miniature submarines attaching mines to her hull. As she was forbidden from returning to Germany for repairs, too risky, she had to remain in Norway while repairs were carried out. HMS Royalist, a light cruiser, provided support and protection for carrier-based attacks. HMS Undaunted, a destroyer, provided support for the attacks in 1943.

HMS Victorious
HMS Victorious
An Illustrious-class carrier, launched in 1939, scrapped in 1969.

A number of carrier-borne air attacks failed to further damage Tirpitz, some from HMS Victorious. The RAF did manage to do extensive damage to Tirpitz with 10,000 lb bombs, but she was not sunk. It would not be until 1944 that Tirpitz’s fate was sealed by RAF Tallboy bombs.

Operation Pedestal – 1942 (Convoy WS 21S)

Operation Pedestal was a naval and air force convoy operation to supply Malta.
Malta was an important base for the British from which they resupplied troops in North Africa, launched naval attacks and flew sorties against Axis shipping in the Mediterranean. Malta would also be a key base for the invasion of Sicily. From 1940 to 1942, Malta had been under siege by Axis forces and this operation was a ‘last chance’ attempt to resupply Malta with badly needed aircraft, fuel and supplies. At this time, Malta was so short of food and they were down to slaughtering farm animals. The Axis attempt to prevent the convoy from reaching Malta was the last Axis Mediterranean victory. During the convoy’s voyage from Gibraltar, hundreds of sorties were flown by Axis aircraft, and attacks were made by Italian and German submarines and Italian Motor Torpedo Boats.

Operation Pedestal can be seen as a costly defeat for the Allies as nine out of fourteen merchant ships were sunk, as were several naval ships, including the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, however it was a great strategic victory for the British as the safe arrival of the SS Ohio, carrying much needed aviation fuel, insured that allied fighters, which had been launched from the aircraft carriers, could now be based in Malta and there was now enough fuel to fly unlimited sorties against Axis shipping, airfields and aircraft. This revitalized the Maltese air defense and submarines returned to Malta. Spitfires flown off HMS Furious to the island could now inflict damage on Axis shipping, who had to route convoys much farther from Malta and subsequently be vulnerable to air attack for the much longer sea voyage.

In a German Naval analysis, the British losses seems to indicate a major victory for the Axis, but in reality, the analysis pointed out that the facts were quite different. The Axis had been unable to prevent a British force from reaching Malta and with these new supplies Malta was capable of fighting on for several weeks or months and the danger of air attacks on the supply route to North Africa remained. From this point of view, in spite of British losses, this was a strategic failure of the first order by the Axis.

In 2012, the 70th anniversary of Operation Pedestal was celebrated by Malta issuing a series of postage stamps showing all of the Royal Naval ships and all merchant ships involved in the operation, some of these ships are shown below.

Battleships:

HMS Nelson
HMS Nelson
HMS Rodney
HMS Rodney

Aircraft carriers:

HMS Eagle
HMS Eagle
Torpedoed by a U-boat and sank
HMS Indomitable
HMS Indomitable
Badly damage by at 1,000 lb bomb

Cruisers:

HMS Cairo
HMS Cairo
Torpedoed by an Italian submarine

Destroyers:

Corvettes:

HMS Geranium
HMS Geranium

Minesweepers:

HMS Rye
HMS Rye
One of the ships that rescued SS Ohio
HMS Speedy
HMS Speedy

Submarines:

Unity and S-class submarines were classes of submarines ideally suited to the confined waters of the Mediterranean.

Unity-class Submarines:

Unity-class Submarines

S-Class submarines:

Designed to meet the needs of a smaller boats to patrol restricted waters such as the Mediterranean and the North Sea. Became the single largest group of submarines built for the Royal Navy with a total of 62 being constructed.

HMS Safari
HMS Safari
P222
P222
During the convoy trip she remained on the surface as a deterrent to attacks from surface ships. She disappeared off Naples, presumed sunk.

Merchant Ships:

5 merchant ships made it to Valetta’s Grand Harbour some quite badly damaged and in the case of the Ohio, it was held afloat by two destroyers, HMS Penn and HMS Ledbury, one on each side with steel hawsers running under the keel to keep her from sinking. Her valuable cargo of 11,000 tons of aviation fuel was critical for the Allies to maintain air superiority for months to come.

SS Ohio, kept afloat by two destroyers, one on each side.
MV Melbourne Star

Merchantmen sunk:

Nine merchant ships were sunk during the operation. Waimarama was one of them

MV Waimarama
Hit by bombs from Ju88s and disintegrated. One bomber was destroyed flying through the explosion.

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