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continued …

MACAF

Admiral Hewitt (Commander, U.S. Naval Forces, Northwest Africa Waters) had submitted his own observations on 6 June, setting the cat among the pigeons with his paragraph (3):

The Task Force Commander recommends that adequate night fighter protection be provided … attention is invited to the limitations of night fighter direction. To date, enemy attacking forces have not been intercepted while en route to the convoys. Apparently it is not feasible at the present time to intercept enemy planes approaching during darkness, but it appears that an attempt should be made to intercept planes approaching for a twilight attack. A primary objective is an aggressive offensive against reconnaissance planes, for german tactics depend on this activity.

Air Vice-Marshal Hugh Lloyd of MACAF, minuted his Senior Air Staff Officer: “I am pained that Admiral Hewitt should not know what we are about. Anyone in our War Room could inform him of our plans should he care to ask”. He was wanted the US Navy to be told “categorically that night fighter protection has always been provided for convoys” and that Hewitt’s statements about enemy aircraft not being intercepted en route to convoys were “in view of well established facts … astonishing”. He went on to enumerate successful interceptions of attackers en route to convoys, noting that these had led the Germans to stop making landfall on the Balearics: they now routed their bombers between those islands and Sardinia.

Lloyd did however enumerate the limitations of shore-based control of night fighters. One radar station could effectively only operate one night fighter at a time and a convoy was generally only within the coverage of two stations. This limited the number of kills that could be obtained and furthermore:

I emphasise in the strongest possible terms that aircraft in the air at night not under the control of radar are a menace and spoil controlled interceptions, indeed that ruin all chances of doing so.

What Lloyd wanted was Fighter Direction Ships shuttling along the North African coast with the convoys.

In a retrospective of “the Battle of the Convoys”, MACAF mentioned another consequence of its defence of UGS-40:

The attack was almost certainly planned to take place at last light, but owing to the destruction of one of the shadowing aircraft before it reached the convoy and the interception of the attacking force … the majority … did not arrive until it was too dark to make an attack. Apparently no flares were used … whatever the true losses, they were evidently sufficiently heavy to discourage further dusk attacks and the last three convoy attacks were made at night.

From the vantage point of July 1945, MACAF’s Senior Intelligence Officer wrote:

Whatever the enemy’s losses, they were enough to teach him that dusk attacks were very unprofitable … This was the last dusk attack.

Propaganda

On the evening of 11 May formations of German torpedo flyers attacked an enemy supply convoy in the sea area east of Algiers, sinking seven freighters totalling 49,000 GRT and a destroyer. Twelve more freighters totalling 86,000 GRT, a large tanker, a light cruiser and two destroyers were damaged.

Das kleine Volksblatt, Vienna, 13 May 1944

On the Allied side, the Mediterranean Allied Coastal Air Forces’ HQ released only limited information to the press:

ALGIERS, May 12.—British and French fighter pilots knocked down five German planes and damaged others in a force attacking an Allied convoy in the Western Mediterranean, Coastal Air Force headquarters said today, without disclosing whether the convoy suffered damage.

In the OKW communiqué, the attack on UGS-40 was presented as an outstanding success: seven cargo ships totalling 49,000 tonnes sunk along with one destroyer; 12 more vessels (86000 t), a large tanker, a light cruiser and two destroyers damaged. These figures align closely with those in the after-action reports which were for internal use rather than publication. The gross overstatements of success therefore seem to have arisen before anything reached the Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda. The sole accurate claim in the German report was for a Beaufighter shot down and even that was presented as if it had happened over the convoy rather than 300 km to the North. No mention was made of the dreadful losses incurred, instead:

In this attack the German bomber and torpedo flyers have neutralised with one blow 20 ships of about 145,000 GRT as well as five swift and valuable escort vessels. Already during April our bomber and torpedo flyers had carried out three heavy attacks on convoys off the North African coast. In these attacks they had sunk nine ships of 75,000 GRT as well as four destroyers and severely damaged 32 ships of, in total, about 225,000 GRT plus three destroyers. By the audacious blows of our airmen the enemy has had a major loss of most valuable shipping capacity. In addition the loss of important escort vessels means a telling deficiency for the enemy. These successes by our bomber and torpedo airmen are to be valued all them ore highly since they must be flown in the face of an extraordinarily powerful and concentrated defence.

Gumbinner Allgemeine Zeitung, 13/14 May 1944

NOTE: Actual Allied shipping losses to air attack in the Mediterranean during April 1944 had been:

 

01.04.44

UGS-36

Jared Ingersoll

damaged by torpedo, towed to Algiers

 

11.04.44

UGS-37

USS Holder (DE-401)

damaged by torpedo, towed to Oran

 

20.04.44

CAF-31

El Biar

sunk by torpedo

 

 

UGS-38

Paul J. Hamilton

sunk by torpedo

 

 

 

Royal Star

sunk by torpedo

 

 

 

USS Lansdale (DD-426)

sunk by torpedo

 

 

 

Samite

damaged by torpedo, towed to Algiers

 

 

 

Stephen F. Austin

damaged by torpedo, towed to Algiers

 

 

 

 

 

While the results of attacks were routinely overestimated, it remains an open question why such spectacular success was claimed against UGS-40, despite the attack’s complete failure. The convoy was forewarned and making smoke and, as Haseney attested, there was a lot of confusion. Lacking other German accounts, we do not know how much they could actually see during or after their attack runs but some idea is given by USN crews reporting torpedo launches at 1,000 and 600 yards and escorts evidently saw many of the attackers in time to engage them. Even so, the seamen reported numerous columns of water and explosions both seen and felt, leading them to suppose at first that ships may have been hit.

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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