1. #21
    Here are the details of the operations against the Axis convoy on the 26th October 1942.

    It was codenamed ˜TT' (Taranto to Tobruk) and consisted of:-

    - Proserpina (Italian, 4869 tons) carrying 4553 tons of fuel, 888 for the Luftwaffe, 2500 for the Panzerarmee and 1165 for the Italian forces.

    - Tergestea (Italian, 5890 tons) carrying 1000 tons of fuel and 1000 tons of ammunition.

    - Dora (German, 584 tons)

    The Italian torpedo boats Calatafimi, Ciclone, Lira and Partenope provided escort.

    During the night of 25th/26th October Wellingtons attacked the convoy with torpedoes and bombs without success.

    Between 1210 and 1230 eighteen B24s, flying in three boxes of six, bombed the convoy from 20,000 feet. They were from the 98th Bombardment Group based in Egypt and caused no damage, although they had several near misses.

    At 1430 while 30 miles from Tobruk the Proserpina developed an engine room problem and fell back with the Calatafimi giving protection. Repairs were quickly made and they started to catch up with the other vessels.

    At 1230 8 Beauforts from 47 Squadron took off from the forward airfield of Gianaclis (Egypt). Wing Commander Richard Sprague was the squadron C.O. but as he had little torpedo experience he chose Beaufort veteran Flight Lieutenant Ronald Gee to lead the formation.

    The Beauforts were joined by 5 Blenheim Vs of 15 Squadron SAAF (carrying 4 x 250lb GP bombs) and 9 Beaufighters from 252\272 Squadrons.

    The Beauforts flew at low level with the escorting Beaufighters at various heights above. They flew westwards around 50 miles from the enemy coast. They came under fire from heavy flak batteries as they approached Tobruk and then came across a large group of F-boats which also opened fire.

    At 1525 the Beaufighters waggled their wings as from their higher altitude they had spotted the convoy. The Dora was in the lead followed by the Tergestea. The torpedo boats Partenope and Ciclone guarded the seaward flank with the Lira at the rear. Above were 2 Ju88's, 2 Mc202s and a Me109. The Beaufighters headed for the aircraft and the majority of the bombers for the merchant ships.

    Most pilots assumed that the Dora, the leading vessel, was the tanker and 3 Blenheims went in first. Lieutenant James Lithgow lead the trio but his bombs narrowly missed and his aircraft was damaged by flak as he pulled away. The second Blenheim of Lieutenant Algie Groch was hit as it released it's bombs, a shell exploding in the nose, killing the navigator Lieutenant Johnson and stunning Groch. Another shell burst in the port engine, the wing dropped and clipped the mast. Groch struggled to regain control but the aircraft crashed into the sea. The gunner, Air Sergeant Twigg pulled Groch from the wreck and dragged him into the dinghy.

    The bombs of Lieutenant Sven Leisegang missed and his aircraft appeared to be hit but carried on flying.

    5 Beauforts aimed their torpedoes at the Dora while a sixth targeted the Tergestea. Sprague's aircraft was hit but he regained control with half the rudder shot away. Flying Officer Haraldur Davidson, a Canadian on his first operation had his aircraft hit by flak immediately after dropping his torpedo. The Beaufort turned on it's back and crashed killing all the crew except the navigator, Pilot Officer Trevor Jones, who became a POW.

    2 Beauforts did not attack, they were flown by Pilot Officer Ralph Manning and Flying Officer Norman Hearn-Phillips. They did not believe the tanker was present and decided to continue searching along the coast. They were joined by 2 Blenheims, flown by Major Douglas ˜Pip' Pidsley, the Commanding Officer of 15 Squadron SAAF and Lieutenant Dustow. They did not communicate with the Beauforts by RT but guessed what they were doing.

    They were proved correct after a few minutes when the Proserpina, with the Calatafimi guarding the seaward flank, appeared ahead.

    However Hearn-Phillips aircraft had been hit by a shell, a chunk of flak passing through the wireless operators position and smashing the electrical panel in the fuselage which caused the torpedo to drop from the aircraft. Fortunately the Wireless Operator Flight Sergeant' Ginger' Coulson had gone forward in readiness to take photographs or else he would have had his head blown off! Now all Hearn-Phillips could do was draw enemy fire and observe.

    Manning was a 26 year old Canadian. His crew consisted of 23 year old Londoner Sergeant Spark (Navigator), Sergeant Bladen (Wireless Operator) and Sergeant Nimerovsky (Gunner), who was Jewish and from Manchester.

    Proserpina turned to port towards Manning spoiling his aim so he circled over the shore while under continuous fire in order to find a better angle. The ship reversed her turn to point her bows once more towards the Beaufort and for a few moments was almost motionless in the water. Manning saw his chance and flew straight at the tanker at 80ft and 140 knots and closed to about 600 yards in his determination to achieve a hit.

    As he did so the Blenheims streaked ahead on their bombing runs while a Beaufighter dived on the Calatafimi. Pidsley released his bombs and cleared the tanker although he was peppered with holes. Dustow was also hit, his aircraft struck one of the masts and cart wheeled into the sea with no survivors.

    Out of the corner of his eye Manning was distracted by the sight of the Calatafimi under attack from the Beaufighter and almost failed to pull up over the masts of the tanker. The delayed action bombs from the Blenheims exploded almost underneath his aircraft and there was an enormous jolt. A piece of superstructure from the ship flew up and caused a dent in the starboard wing.

    At this point the aircraft which had attacked the Dora and Tergestea caught up with Manning and his torpedo was seen running through the water and then bumping agonizingly along the side of the tanker before exploding near the stern. Flames and a billowing mass of smoke gushed from the vessel. Calatafimi and Lira picked up 62 survivors from the sea with 15 crew members being lost.

    The bombers grouped together in a loose formation of 10 aircraft and began the journey back to Gianaclis. A few Mc202s were still circling around and dived repeatedly on the bombers and although Manning was damaged the Italian fighters did not manage to shoot any of the aircraft down. 25 Me109s were seen but the bombers kept down low and were not attacked again.

    Meanwhile a Beaufighter had damaged a Ju88 and another Beau had been shot down into the sea with the crew surviving to become POWs. One Beaufighter was pursued for 60 miles by a Me109 and badly holed but was able to make it back to base.

    However there was to be a further tragic loss. Lieutenant Leisegang's Blenheim began to weave and slid under the Beaufort of Pilot Officer Walter Garriock, an Australian. The Blenheim climbed and collided with the Garriock's aircraft, a Beaufort crew member was thrown through the nose into the sea and the aircraft flew locked together for fifteen seconds before crashing into the water with no survivors.

    A second strike of 5 Beauforts from 39 Squadron and 9 Beaufigters from 252/272 Squadrons was launched from Gianclis to attack the remaining vessels. They met 5 He111s off the enemy coast and the Beaufighters attacked while the Beauforts continued to search fro the convoy.

    Pilot officer Smith of 272 squadron destroyed one and Pilot Officer Patterson from the same Squadron set another on fire and saw it limp towards the coast on one engine. Sergeant Kernaghan of 252 Squadron followed Flight Lieutenant Frecker in a head on attack and was riddled with nearly forty bullets. He then positioned himself above and behind the bombers and dived on a Heinkel and shot it down into the sea with debris from the resulting explosion damaging his starboard wing.

    The Beaufighter of Pilot Officer Derick (Canadian) and Pilot Officer McCann was shot down although they managed to get into their dinghy and floated for 8 days before they reached the coast. McCann went to find water and was captured but Derick was helped by Arabs and returned to the Squadron on the 9th November.

    After the combat the Beaufighters chased the Beauforts and met them coming back. They had not found the convoy but had dropped 3 torpedoes at a convoy of F-boats without result.

    3 torpedo Wellingtons of 38 Squadron led by Australian Flight Lieutenant Albert Wiggins took off from Gambut in the late afternoon in a last attempt to stop the ships reaching their destination. As the remaining vessels were approaching Tobruk the sailors saw the 3 Wellingtons. The aircraft of Sergeant Viles was hit and crashed into a fuel dump near the port but the crew survived. 3 were taken prisoner but 2 managed to evade capture and reached British lines on the 11th November. Wiggins and Pilot Officer Bertram were able to turn for home despite being damaged. At least one torpedo hit the stern of the Tergestea which disintegrated with a pall of smoke rising to 3000 feet above the wreckage. The entire crew of 80 men were killed.

    Only the little Dora reached Tobruk and unloaded her cargo of around 400 tons.
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  2. #22
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  3. #23
    Cheers, Beaufort. It`s funny, but you don`t expect such jovial looking lads to have undertaken such a dangerous ride through near death! Thanks again.
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  4. #24
    MB_Avro_UK's Avatar Senior Member
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    Thanks Beaufort...good posts as ever

    I didn't realise that this action had been discussed before.But an amazing action clip IMO.

    Best Regards,
    MB_Avro.
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  5. #25
    leitmotiv's Avatar Senior Member
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    What was the source for the info, Beaufort, I would like to get the book?
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  6. #26
    stathem's Avatar Senior Member
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    At an educated guess it's THE ARMED ROVERS by Roy C Nesbit.

    Even if it isn't, that's one you should read, leitmotiv, since it deals with "Beauforts and Beaufighters over the Mediterranean", and is a very good read.
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  7. #27
    Hoatee's Avatar Senior Member
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    Excellent thread.
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  8. #28
    leitmotiv's Avatar Senior Member
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    ARMED ROVERS, will seek, thanks stathem.
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  9. #29
    Originally posted by leitmotiv:
    What was the source for the info, Beaufort, I would like to get the book?
    Two books, the one stathem recommends and 'The Ship Busters' (Ralph Barker).
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  10. #30
    Man, that clip is intense!
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