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The Attacking Force

At 18.02 hours [GMT] there were strong indications of an enemy air attack on this convoy during the night.

… enemy aircraft were ordered to attack convoy E. of Algiers at 19.10 hours.

Operations Record Book, No. 276 Wing

Having located UGS-40, the initial intention had been to attack either by moonlight or with flare illumination and to repeat the operation on two successive nights. However, a combination of low cloud and the “defence situation” meant that just the one dusk attack, without illumination, was undertaken. Luftflotte 3 mustered some 86 Ju 88 which took off in the half hour from 18.02: 26 from III./KG 26 (from Montpellier), 20 of I./KG 77 (from La Jasse), and 16 of III./KG 77 (from Istres-Le Tubé at 18.23), with a 24-strong escort of Ju 88 Zerstörer from ZG 1.

According to a captured pilot, the nine participants from 9./KG 26, each carrying two torpedoes, flew due south from Montpellier to a rendezvous point at about the latitude of Cap de Creus. Here, according to a survivor, they joined eight Do 217 of KG 100 and apparently picked up the fighter escort. He also said that the number of inexperienced crews taking part meant that time was lost getting the force properly into formation. The torpedo-bombers flew at wave-top height in two vics with the fighters only slightly higher and upsun. The formation headed south east to point midway between Minorca and Sardinia and it was here that the escorts turned back. The attack force now turned south west for the reported location of the convoy. (The flightpath described would total around 850 km from base to target).

NOTES: As noted above, surviving German after-action reports say nothing of any KG 100 participation and there are only tenuous indications from Allied sources [see below] that any guided weapon attack may have been attempted against UGS-40. The German reports are equally silent regarding the He 111 and Fw 200 supposedly seen during the attack.

Fliegerkorps X, to which ZG 1, KG 100 and the Fw 200s of KG 40 were subordinated, was due to submit its own appreciation of the mission which would have cleared up the question of these last units’ involvement but unfortunately this message was not intercepted by the Allies.

The pilot’s reliability is questionable in the light of a report on KG 26 airmen taken in January and February. This notes “the exceptional security among recent GAF [German Air Force] prisoners” and that only formation leaders were briefed on every aspect of the operation.

At 20.17, one of the escorts, Ltn. Ulrich Hansen of Stab III./ZG 1, claimed a Beaufighter shot down in Square 04 East 5033 (about 100 km ESE of Mahon, Minorca). This is roughly as far south as the escort fighters went, if some way to the west of the bombers’ track. Chris Goss has identified the Beaufighter as LX882, “A” of the Sardinia-based No. 272 Squadron; its crew, F/S Rowsell and Satchell, were posted missing from a “trapper patrol”.

Two or three shadowers were in contact with UGS-40 in the hour before the attack and at 20.35 the P-39s piloted by Capitaine Philippe Maurin and Lt. Linteau of GC 1/4 shot down a shadower 16 km astern of the convoy. This aircraft, the first to be picked up on radar, had been plotted 40 km north of Mount Chenoua at 20.00 hrs. It flew south until it was 8 km north of Cherchell, then turned east along the coast, flying at sea level before the plot faded at Cap Caxine. It was seen from the ground and identified as a Ju 88 making about 500 km/h. Bringing this aircraft down meant that no updates could be given to the attackers during their final run-in but it is not clear what bearing this may have had on the outcome.

The convoy escorts

The escort force, Task Group 61.1, was led by Commander J.C. Sowell aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Campbell. The ships had carried out four practice drills over the preceding days as well as chasing down suspected submarine contacts. On 11 May they had gone to general quarters five times on air attack warnings from Radio Algiers before “imminent air attack” was announced at 20.47 hours. The sun had just set and the escort screen had already closed up to the convoy and now began to lay white smoke; at 21.03 radar picked up a formation of aircraft 27 km distant, approaching the convoy on a bearing of 12ş, at 180 kts (333 km/h). Four minutes later, the escorts opened barrage fire on what were quickly seen to be 12–15 aeroplanes; Campbell streamed her FXR acoustic torpedo decoy. By now, all the barrage balloons had been hauled in and net-defence ships positioned in the outboard columns. The AA cruiser HMS Caledon had been on the convoy’s port beam and her log outlines what followed:

 

20.11

“Red one, Element”

 

20.47

Action Stations, convoy and escorts made smoke.

 

20.48

“Red 4, Element”

 

20.58

Hostile aircraft being detected by radar at 40’.

 

21.01

Took station ahead on port bow of convoy.

 

21.06

First wave of enemy a/c attacked. Convoy opened fire.

 

21.08

Caledon opened fire and heavily engaged a/c. Hits by Bofors fire observed on two.

 

21.20–21.40

2nd wave of a/c attacked convoy and likewise heavily engaged.

continued on next page …

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CONTENTS

Introduction

Shadowing

The attackng force

The convoy escorts

Air cover

The Attack

Aftermath

Losses

Assessments

Propaganda

Sources

Map

© Nick Beale 2019

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