Tuesday, January 29, 2019

November 9, 1941: Duisburg Convoy Destruction

Sunday 9 November 1941

HMS Penelope 9 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Part of Force K returning to Malta after destroying the Duisburg Convoy, 9 November 1941.
Battle of the Mediterranean: The vast majority of tales about convoy destruction during World War II arise from U-boat attacks on Allied convoys.  However, on 9 November 1941, the tables are turned and the Royal Navy manages to utterly destroy an Italian convoy headed from Naples toward Libya. The British have been sinking Axis convoy ships in the Mediterranean with regularity, but the Duisburg Convoy (called the Beta Convoy by the Italians) is one of the most one-sided and destructive convoy battles by anyone during the war.

HMS Penelope 9 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Royal Navy light cruiser HMS Penelope (HMS Penelope Association).
As often is the case during the war, the British take advantage of their "Ultra" intelligence service at Bletchley Park to identify their target. Ultra learns of an Axis convoy forming in Naples Harbor in early November 1941. The RAF sends ace Adrian Warburton on reconnaissance from Malta. Flying over Naples in his Martin Maryland, Warburton confirms the convoy. Given that the British government is unwilling to do anything that might disclose the existence of Ultra, Warburton is claimed to have "found" the convoy so that Ultra does not have to be mentioned. Based upon Warburton's sighting, Royal Navy Force K leaves Malta to set up a picket line. Force K, under the command of Captain W.G. Agnew, is composed of:
  • Light cruiser HMS Aurora (flagship)
  • Light cruiser HMS Penelope
  • Destroyer HMS Lance
  • Destroyer HMS Lively
Using its radar, Force K places itself in perfect position with the moon silhouetting the convoy and the convoy's Italian escorts on their far end of their zig-zagging.

SS Sagitta, sunk on 9 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A photo of SS Sagitta (then known as the Tremeadow) taken in the 1930s. Sagitta was one of the ships sunk in the Duisburg Convoy on 9 November 1941 (John H. Marsh Maritime Research Center in Capetown, South Africa).
The British guns commence firing at the convoy at about 5000 meters or less. The convoy is composed of:
  • SS Duisburg (7,889 tons, German freighter)
  • SS San Marco (3,113 tons, German freighter)
  • MV Maria (6,339 tons, Italian)
  • SS Sagitta (5,153 tons, Italian freighter)
  • MV Rina Corrado (5,180 tons, Italian freighter)
  • MV Conte di Misurata (5014 tons, Italian tanker)
  • MV Minatitian (7599 tons, Italian freighter)
Escorting the six destroyers:
  • Maestrale (Maestrale class)
  • Grecale (Maestrale class)
  • Lebeccio (Maestrale class)
  • Fulmine (Folgore class)
  • Euro (Turbine class)
  • Alfredo Oriani (Oriani class)
There also is a distant escort commanded by Vice Admiral Bruno Brivonesi composed of two Trento-class cruisers (Trento and Trieste) and four Soldati-class destroyers from the 13th Destroyer Flotilla (Granatiere, Fuciliere, Bersagliere, and Alpino).

Italian destroyer Libeccio sinking, 9 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Italian destroyer Libeccio sinking on 9 November 1941 after being torpedoed by Royal Navy submarine HMS Upholder.
Agnew begins the bombardment with his flagship, hitting Grecale with three salvos and leaving it a burning wreck. The Royal Navy destroyers then join in, but, in the dark, they fire at Aurora by mistake. They quickly realize their error and shift their fire to destroyer Maestrale, which already has been hit by light cruiser Penelope. Penelope and destroyer Lance then hit destroyer Fulmine, sinking it.

Stukas in Russia on 9 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
German Stuka dive-bombers heading towards their target between the Dnipro and Crimea on November 6, 1941. (Image: AP Photo).
The carnage continues in the early morning hours of 9 November. By the time it is over, all of the ships in the convoy have been sunk along with destroyers Fulmine. Italian destroyers Grecale and Maestrale are damaged but make it back to port. At daybreak, Royal Navy submarine HMS Upholder sinks destroyer Libeccio, which has been picking up survivors. The Italian distant escort, about nine miles away throughout the battle, never intervenes effectively, just lobbing a few shells at random from long range. The British ships suffer no major damage (some minor splinter damage) and no casualties while sinking about 39,800 tons of shipping.

Soviet POWs, 9 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Red Army prisoners of the Wehrmacht attempting to get drinks of water from a frozen stream, 9 November 1941.
The Duisburg Convoy is an utter disaster for the Axis. Count Ciano writes in his diary:
Since September 19 we had given up trying to get convoys through to Libya; every attempt had been paid for at a high price... Tonight we tried it again. A convoy of 7 ships left, accompanied by two ten-thousand-ton cruisers and ten destroyers....All - I mean all - of our ships were sunk.
The Italians relieve two commanders of their duties, but lack of aggressiveness and the other factors that contributed to the disaster are endemic in the Italian Navy. The real losers in the encounter are not the Italians anyway - they are the Germans in North Africa. General Rommel badly needs supplies to continue the siege of Tobruk and advance into Egypt. Without supplies, the Afrika Korps is doomed. The irony of the North African campaign is that the battles in the desert will be won at sea.

Swedish soccer game, 9 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A Swedish football (soccer) match held on 9 November 1941 between GAIS and Råsunda has a record low for a paid attendance of 1589. The other matches in the league today also hit record lows due to the frigid weather and war news.

November 1941

November 1, 1941: Finns Attack Toward Murmansk Railway
November 2, 1941: Manstein Isolates Sevastopol
November 3, 1941: Japan Prepares to Attack
November 4, 1941: German Advances in the South
November 5, 1941: Last Peace Effort By Japan
November 6, 1941: Stalin Casts Blame in an Unexpected Direction
November 7, 1941: Stalin's Big Parade
November 8, 1941: Germans Take Tikhvin
November 9, 1941: Duisburg Convoy Destruction
November 10, 1941: Manstein Attacks Sevastopol
November 11, 1941: Finland's Double Game Erupts
November 12, 1941: T-34 Tanks Take Charge
November 13, 1941: German Orsha Conference
November 14, 1941: German Supply Network Breaking Down
November 15, 1941: Operation Typhoon Resumes
November 16, 1941: Manstein Captures Kerch
November 17, 1941: Finland Halts Operations
November 18, 1941: British Operation Crusader
November 19, 1941: Sydney vs. Kormoran Duel
November 20, 1941: The US Rejects Final Japanese Demand
November 21, 1941: Germans Take Rostov
November 22, 1941: Kleist in Trouble at Rostov
November 23, 1941: Germans Take Klin, Huge Battle in North Africa
November 24, 1941: Rommel Counterattacks
November 25, 1941: HMS Barham Sunk
November 26, 1941: Japanese Fleet Sails
November 27, 1941: British Relieve Tobruk
November 28, 1941: Rostov Evacuated, German Closest Approach to Moscow
November 29, 1941: Hitler Furious About Retreat
November 30, 1941: Japan Sets the Date for its Attack


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