Attack on Convoy AN 14

Attack on Convoy AN 14
Part of the Battle of the Mediterranean of World War II

Italian torpedo boat Lupo
Date31 January 1941
LocationThe Kaso Strait between Crete and Kaso Island in the Aegean Sea
Coordinates: 35°26′56″N 26°52′18″E / 35.44889°N 26.87167°E / 35.44889; 26.87167
Result Italian victory
Belligerents
 Italy
Commanders and leaders
Herbert Annesley Packer Francesco Mimbelli
Strength
  • 2 torpedo boats
Casualties and losses
1 tanker disabled none
Kaso Island
Kaso Strait (Kaso/Kasos is the southern-most Dodecanese island)

The Attack on Convoy AN 14 was a naval engagement during World War II between a British naval force defending a convoy of merchant ships, which had departed from Port Said and Alexandria to Piraeus and two Italian torpedo boats who intercepted them north of Crete on 31 January 1941. The Italian vessels, Lupo and Libra, launched two torpedoes each. The torpedoes fired by Libra missed their target but one from Lupo hit and disabled for the rest of the war the 8,120 long tons (8,250 t) British tanker Desmoulea which had to be towed to Suda Bay in Crete and beached. One other merchant ship turned back; the other eight vessels reached Piraeus.

Background

When hostilities commenced between Fascist Italy and Greece, the British began to send supplies of aircraft and stores through the Aegean Sea, to support the Greek war effort. The Greek government provided the Allies with tugs, harbour vessels and a naval base for the British Fleet at Suda Bay in Crete.[1] Greece and Britain concluded a co-operation agreement in January 1940, which secured commercial relations and made the Greek merchant fleet available for the transport of war supplies to the Allies, before the Greco-Italian War began in October 1940.[2]

Prelude

Allied forces

Convoy AN 14 consisted of seven British and three Greek merchant ships, escorted by the light cruiser HMS Calcutta (Commander Herbert Annesley Packer), the destroyers HMS Dainty and Jaguar and the corvettes HMS Peony and Gloxina.[3] The bulk of the convoy sailed from Port Said on 28 January, with the corvette Gloxina. Levernbank and the large tanker Desmoulea, escorted by Calcutta and Peony, departed Alexandria on 29 January. The troop transport Ethiopia, carrying RAF personnel, left Alexandria some hours later, with the destroyer HMS Hasty. The cruiser HMS Ajax and the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth were to provide distant cover; Jaguar and Dainty swept the Kaso strait ahead of the convoy.[4]

Italian forces

Italian naval forces in the Dodecanese had limited capacity to supply garrisons, since the beginning of the war with Britain in June 1940. Most supplies were carried by submarine and aircraft but the expedient was insufficient and the Italians began to use coastal ships. The ships ferried 4,500 long tons (4,600 t) of supplies to the Dodecanese, even after the closing of the Corinth Channel, after the beginning of the Greco-Italian War.[5] A flotilla of torpedo boats were deployed in the area by the Regia Marina in December 1940, under the command of captain Francesco Mimbelli, to reinforce the ships around Rhodes and Leros, whose naval base of Porto Lago (Lakki) was the main Italian naval base in the Aegean.[6][7]

Action

On 31 January 1941, the Italian torpedo boats departed Leros and performed an anti-submarine search in the Kaso Strait, when they spotted an Allied convoy escorted by a cruiser and three destroyers.[7][lower-alpha 1] The two vessels separated, for Libra to distract the escort while Lupo attacked with its 450 mm (18 in) torpedoes. The Italians reported that Lupo hit a large steamer with two torpedoes and then Libra launched another two at a cruiser without effect. The Italians were engaged by the escorts but managed to steam away.[9]

In the British account, only one torpedo hit the tanker Desmoulea, which was loaded with a cargo of petrol and white oils. Admiral Andrew Cunningham recorded that the tanker had been detached to Suda Bay from the Alexandria section of the convoy and was torpedoed at 18:00 on 31 January. Dainty, the close escort, took the tanker in tow at 20:00, after it been abandoned by the crew. Perth proceeded to assist but the Commander in Chief ordered Perth to resume escort duties.[10] Desmoulea had been hit abreast the engine room and left sinking, but the crew re-boarded the tanker when it became clear that it was still afloat.[11] Desmoulea arrived in Suda Bay under tow at 08:00 on 1 February and beached with its cargo intact.[10][12] Peony survived an attack by bombers 40 nmi (46 mi; 74 km) from Crete and the rest of the convoy reached Piraeus on 2 February 1941.[3][4]

Aftermath

Desmoulea remained at Suda Bay for several weeks, down on the sandy bottom by the stern, with its after well deck awash; the cargo was transferred to the tanker Eocene.[4][13][14] Along with the torpedo attack on the cargo ship Clan Cumming by the Italian submarine Neghelli on 19 January, this was the only Italian success against British convoys in the Aegean Sea.[15] After the action, Allied shipping made passage into the Aegean through the Antikithera Strait.[16] Desmoulea was finally taken in tow by the armed boarding vessel HMS Chakla and escorted to Port Said by the anti-submarine trawlers HMS Lydiard and HMS Amber. The ship arrived on 6 May and moored off the western beacon of Suez,[4][13] for use as a temporary storage vessel.[4] It was torpedoed again on 3 August 1941, while awaiting repairs, by German bombers.[13] Desmoulea was towed to Bombay, India and ran aground twice during the passage.[17] Desmoulea was converted into a stationary store ship, named Empire Thane and remained in port at Cochin until 1947, from where it was towed back to the United Kingdom.[18] It was rebuilt under its original name in 1949, before being laid up in 1955 and scrapped in 1961.[19]

See also

Notes

  1. This website erroneously states that one of the involved units was the torpedo boat Lince, which actually was escorting a steamer from the Dodecanese to Italy at the time.[8]

Footnotes

  1. Titterton, 2002, p. 154
  2. Koliopoulos, 1978, pp. 406–408
  3. 1 2 Hague, 2016, nopp
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Smith, 1998, nopp
  5. Smith, Walker, 1974, pp. 8–9
  6. Mimbelli, 2016, nopp
  7. 1 2 Gabellone, 2005, nopp
  8. Platon Alexiades statement
  9. Cocchia, 1959, p. 339
  10. 1 2 Cunningham, Simpsom, 1999, p. 270
  11. SSR 1947, nopp
  12. Masters, 1953, p. 152
  13. 1 2 3 Smith, 1998a, nopp
  14. Hatfield, 2009, p. 116
  15. Mattesini, 1998, p. 33
  16. O'Hara, 2009, p. 85
  17. Mitchell, 1990, p. 397
  18. Empire Thane
  19. Brazell, 2016, nopp,

References

Books

  • Cocchia, A. (1959). La Marina italiana nella seconda guerra mondiale [The Italian Navy in the Second World War] (in Italian). Roma: Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare. OCLC 23516701. 
  • Cunningham, Andrew Browne; Simpsom, Michael A. (1999). The Cunningham Papers. Publications of the Navy Records Society. 140. Brookfield, VT: Ashgate for the Navy Records Society. ISBN 978-1-84014-622-6. 
  • Hatfield, G. E. (2009). Carlton, M., ed. H.M.A.S. Perth 1939–1941: From the Diaries of P.O. George Hatfield (PDF) (online ed.). Sydney, NSW: Springwood Printing Co. OCLC 910514682. Retrieved 2 October 2016. 
  • Koliopoulos, Ioannis (1978). Internal and External Developments from March 1, 1935 to the October 28, 1940: The War of 1940–1941 (in Greek). no isbn. Athens: Ekdotiki Athinon. 
  • Masters, David (1953). Epics of Salvage: Wartime Feats of the Marine Salvage Men in World War II. Boston, MA: Little, Brown. OCLC 1563108. 
  • Mattesini, Francesco (1998). L'operazione Gaudo e lo scontro notturno di Matapan [Operation Gaudo and the Night Battle of Matapan] (in Italian). Roma: Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare [Historical Office of the Navy]. OCLC 45375070. 
  • Mitchell, William Harry; Sawyer, Leonard Arthur (1990). The Empire Ships: A Record of British-built and Acquired Merchant Ships During the Second World War. London: Lloyd's of London Press. ISBN 1850442754. 
  • O'Hara, Vincent (2009). Struggle for the Middle Sea. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-61251-408-6. 
  • Smith, Peter; Walker, Edwin (1974). War in the Aegean. London: Kimber. ISBN 0-7183-0422-5. 
  • Titterton, G. A. (2002). The Royal Navy and the Mediterranean. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-7146-5205-4. 

Journals

  • "Desmoulea Suda tow". Shipbuilding and Shipping Record: A Journal of Shipbuilding, Marine Engineering, Docks, Harbours & Shipping. 70. 1947. OCLC 436683593. Retrieved 2 October 2016. 

Websites

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