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continued …

The scene was imagined differently but no less vividly by a German war reporter:

The well-aimed eels bored into the sides of transports and escort vessels. Tall columns of water rose high above the enemy ships hit by the German torpedoes. Great mushrooms of smoke and the clouds from powerful explosions soon bloomed at many points among the badly-hit convoy. The blazing firelight from the fuel of large stricken tankers glowed in the darkness of the encroaching night … a sign of their attack’s success.

Ju 88 “IT” of 9./KG 26 was heard by shore-based radio listeners to be in distress in the area of the convoy at 21.20 and it was later learned from the sole surviving crew member that 1H+IT crash-landed in the sea at this time. At 21.22, the Commodore ordered a 45º turn to starboard in response to reports of a second attack wave closing in on the port quarter and some of the escorts appear to have become confused over which course the convoy should now be steering. Again sightings were called in and barrage fire ordered until at 21.43 ships started reporting their sectors clear. The USS Wilhoite had seen an airman parachuting at 21.34 and as the attack died away several vessels reported small, short-lived red flares which they took to be distress signals from downed airmen. There were also several reports of a white flashing light onshore, apparently following the convoy’s progress and promoting speculation that someone was guiding the torpedo bombers to their targets.

As the surviving Ju 88s made for their bases, Beaufighters of No. 153 Sqn. were able to engage them. In the space of two minutes, 16 km north of the convoy, F/Os Parr and Barnet had claimed one destroyed and one damaged, as had F/L Norris and P/O Sheriff.

The smoke screen ceased and signals were made to ascertain whether any ships were lost, damaged or straggling and escorts were detailed to go back with a view to rescuing anyone in the water. Despite a report that two ships may have been hit, it was soon realised that none in fact was damaged nor had any fallen behind. Initial estimates were that AA fire had brought down 10 attackers of which nine had crashed inside or close to the convoy; another 12 were claimed as damaged. Each of the crashes had been seen from five or more vessels and the various reports were correlated to chart the path of each aircraft from first sighting to disappearance. The Vice-Commodore’s report concluded:

At about 21.45 practically all firing ceased and about a half-hour later the Escort Commander was heard to tell all escorts to cease firing. Convoy then resumed base course. Conduct of officer and enlisted personnel, both Navy and Merchant during the attack was excellent.

Returning to Caledon’s log:

 

22.32

“Negative bogey” received from ashore.

 

22.52

“White Element”. No damage or casualties sustained by convoy or escorts.

Aftermath

A Ju 88 of 1./KG 77 succumbed to friendly fire, crashing into the Étang de Berre after being engaged by German fighters with one man unhurt, one slightly injured and two missing. Information was later obtained from a prisoner of war that “one Ju 88 C-6” had been shot down by two Fw 190 scrambled to intercept a Beaufighter over the Golfe du Lyon. There were RAF intruders over Southern France during the night: three Beaufighters of No. 108 Squadron. Flight Sergeants Max Gill and Kenneth Spencer (KV962, ‘L’) took off from Alghero, Sardinia and orbited the illuminated aerodrome of Montpellier-Fréjorgues at 500 ft. (150 m). At 23.45 they obtained an A.I. contact approaching head on at 1000 ft. (300 m), manoeuvring to deliver two close-range attacks from astern and below—getting rather dazzled when the target switched on his green and red navigation lights—before the Heinkel’s starboard engine exploded:

E/A rolled and went straight down in lake from a 1000 ft. doing up in a ball of flame and display of exploding pyrotechnics and ammo. 1 He 111 DESTROYED.

It seems that Gill and Spencer misidentified their enemy since the circumstances correspond to the loss of a Ju 88 A-17, 1H+KS of 8./KG 26 which crashed inthe Étang de l’Or on whose shore Fréjorgues aerodrome (now Montpellier-Méditerranée airport). The loss was ascribed to an engine fire after being shot up.

NOTE: The 108 Sqn. Operations Record Book is confusing. The “Summary of Events” section records this victory, the unit’s first in eight months, on 11 May; the “Detail of Work Carried Out” however says the 12th, although this may relate to the aircraft having landed, after midnight. The Squadron’s F/L Lea and Sgt. Laight had taken off with Gill and Spencer, (bound for Perpignan) and MACAF’s report on ELEMENT says they were missing on the 11th, as does the Official History.

The registration cards for the crew of 1H+KS place their deaths at “Étang de Maugio” [sic]. Mauguio is a town about 5 km NE of the runways at Montpellier but the nearby lagoon is more commonly known as the Étang de l’Or (= Pond of Gold).

According to No. 276 Wing’s Operations Record Book:

The search for survivors in rubber dinghies commenced at dawn on the 12th, with at least four aircraft (one of 1.(F)/33 and three bombers) participating. A dinghy was located 75 miles north-east by north POINT MAHON at [10.25 GMT+2]. A signal was received at [15.30], giving the position of a second dinghy as 55 miles south-east of PALMA. Ten aircraft, two of which probably 1.(F)/33, operated from Southern France between midnight and [2100] on the following morning over an area to the north-east of MINORCA.

A dinghy was spotted 75 miles north-east of CAPE MAHON at [04.15] and contact probably maintained by a possible total of a further nine aircraft, in spite of interference in the area, until the arrival of a Do 24 air-sea rescue plane mentioned at [10.04]. One of the aircraft, a Ju 88 of III./KG 76 [sic], plotted 112 miles north-east of MAHON at [08.19], was in difficulties at [08.34], and being unable to lower its undercarriage, crash landed at an aerodrome in the South of France at [09.29].

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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