7 May … laid barrage against simulated torpedo plane attack …
The carefully prepared air defence plan proved its worth …
The parts played by the escorts and the convoy attained perfection, and will serve as an example of those that follow.
Admiral Henry K. Hewitt, USN
Codenamed ELEMENT, convoy UGS-40 entered the Mediterranean early on 9 May 1944, en route from Hampton Roads to Bizerte. Its escort of American, Royal Navy and Free French vessels, reinforced during their passage, attained a strength of 17. Guided weapon attacks were expected and the two of the escorts were ‘jig’ ships—equipped to jam guidance signals—plus a third equipped to detect German guidance signals. According to captured airmen, it was usual for German sources on the Spanish coast to report a convoy’s passage through the Straits. On 10 May smoke was laid at dusk against possible air attack but none came. Ships joined and left the convoy along the way but when attacked it consisted of 65 merchant vessels, disposed in eight columns with 1000 m between each and 500 m between ships.
The convoy of 60 freighters and seven tankers that entered the Mediterranean from the Atlantic on 9 May was repeatedly piked up by air reconnaissance on its eastward course, mostly recently at midday on 10 May, west of Oran.
Ob. Südwest day report, 10 May 1944
The convoy was shadowed throughout the day of 10 May 1944.
Commander, Task Force 61
From the early morning of May 10th until shortly before the strike force was plotted, MACAF fighter aircraft were scrambled on 10 occasions and patrolling aircraft were vectored on 2 occasions for these recces but without success.
Senior Air Staff Officer, MACAF
Photographic and radar coverage of the Western Mediterranean was the role of 1.(F)/33, based at Saint-Martin-de-Crau (about 14 km ESE of Arles). This Staffel operated a mix of Ju 188 D and F, Ju 88 T and Me 410 A, a logistical quagmire with an underlying rationale: the Ju 188s flew night radar reconnaissance; the Ju 88s, dawn and dusk missions; the Me 410s, daylight visual and photo coverage. From late evening of the 9th the RAF Y-Service listened as the Luftwaffe carried out weather reconnaissance west of Oran and shadowed UGS-40 (seven sorties in all, one of the aircraft operating twice). The first sighting report (apparently from a Ju 88) was given at 05.44 (GMT+2) on 10 May, 25 km east of Alborán Island. During the next two hours, another aircraft called in two detailed weather reports from along the coastal convoy route between Cap Ivi and Algiers before returning to base at 09.35 hours.
The next aircraft flew west from Cap Ivi to meet the convoy around 75 km NW of Oran at 11.30 and was able to get photographs of it. On the homeward leg, at 13.33, this plane encountered Allied fighters but appears to have landed safely since a photo-interpretation report was issued that evening, assessing ELEMENT’s composition as 55 merchantmen (partly protected by torpedo-nets) with six escorts and “four other naval units”. Timings suggest that this is the same machine tracked on radar from 10.38–12.00. Flying between 7,500 and 8,000 m it approached from 80 south of Ibiza and ran SE along the Algerian coast about 16 km offshore before turning North and crossing the Spanish coast near Cartagena.
At 23.40 a Ju 188 of 1.(F)/33 was heard returning to its French base. Just one minute later a second aircraft signalled that it was in distress, flying on one engine at 600 metres; by 00.08 it was 112 km NE Cap San Sebastian; and a quarter-hour after that, 100 km south of Marseille. It landed at 00.35, another reconnaissance machine putting down at St. Martin at about the same time.
The next sighting report came at 04.25 on 11 May, NNE of Cap Ivi: three formations of ships stretching over 6 km. This aircraft shadowed for about 90 minutes and on its way home was told to watch for another which had crashed into the sea. This was thought to be a reconnaissance machine which had taken off at 03.42 and was called by its ground station without response until 08.20.
The eastbound USA-convoy … was off Cap Tenes on the morning of 11 May. Air reconnaissance on the 11th was hampered by clouds and poor visibility.
Ob. Südwest day report, 11 May 1944
One aircraft was up from 10.00 until about 16.00; a second was plotted 70 km south of Palma de Mallorca and 120 km NW Algiers at 15.17, photographing the convoy just three minutes later and giving a detailed weather report. It landed an hour or more before the torpedo bombers took off. The last three aircraft to shadow UGS-40 were using bomber wavelengths and maintained good radio security; all seem to have been been in the convoy’s vicinity around the time of the attack. An Allied assessment of the attack observed that despite Beaufighters patrolling by Cap Creus and east of Minorca (Operation Barricade) the “… the enemy’s heavy reconnaissance effort during the preceding 24 hrs. was at high altitudes and though harassed by many pursuits was not prevented” apparently because “the enemy went far East of Minorca and was not seen”.
Fliegerdivision 2 noted that 13 aircraft had sought the convoy, with the emphasis on night reconnaissance, but only three of these (once each by eye, radar and photography) had provided information accurate enough for use in an attack. Technical problems had turned back five of the sorties and two aircraft had been lost. Allied radars in Africa had plotted six reconnaissance sorties against UGS-40 on the 11th the first from 04.52–05.30, the last from 20.02–20.21 hours.
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