Thursday, 31 October 2013

HMS Ajax - Daily War Diary

This extract from the Daily War Diary covers only the period during which Bob served in Ajax from March 19th 1940 to 8th August 1941.

1 9 4 0
February                Paid off and taken in hand for refit by HM Dockyard Chatham.

March                     Under refit. 19th March, Bob Sharplin drafted to Ajax in Chatham Dockyard.
to                            Zarebas fitted to 4in Guns. Tripod masts fitted and aircraft warning radar Type 279
June                        installed.

July                         Post refit trials and recommissioning.
                                Nominated for service in Mediterranean.

August                   Worked-up for service and transferred to 7th Cruiser Squadron.
                                Nominated for escort of mercantiles carrying motor transport during passage to
                                Egypt.
                                (Note: This convoy was intended to pass through the Mediterranean as part of                    
                                Operation HATS but it was later decided to divert it via Cape of Good Hope.
                                The ships carrying personnel and tanks remained with the warships joining
                                the Mediterranean Fleet which went direct to Alexandria. For details see
                                Naval Staff History (2002).)
                21st         Sailed from UK as part of escort with HM Cruiser York during passage via Cape
                                Of Good Hope to Middle East.

September
                2nd          At Freetown.
                13th         At Durban
                                (Note: Italian offensive in western desert began.)
                26th         Escorted troopships Empress Of Japan, Orion and Oronsay from Aden to Suez.
                23rd         At Suez.
                30th         Joined HMS Sydney (RAN) in 7th Cruiser Squadron at Alexandria for deployment
                                in Eastern Mediterranean.

October
                3rd           Sailed from Alexandria with HM Battleships Malaya, Ramillies, HM Aircraft
                                Carrier Eagle, HM Cruiser Coventry with screen of eight destroyers to
                2nd          Took part in searched for Italian convoys taking supplies to Libya with Fleet units
                8th           Deployed with HM Battleships Warspite, Valiant, Malaya and Ramillies, HM
                                Aircraft Carriers Illustrious and Eagle, HM Cruisers York, Gloucester,
                                Liverpool, Sydney and Orion with screen of 16 Fleet destroyers to cover passage
                                of Malta convoy MF3 (Operation MB6)
                11th         Detached at Malta with HMS Orion for patrol SE of island.
                12th         Provided cover for Convoy MF4 to Alexandria with Fleet units and deployed with                      
                                ships of Squadron east of Fleet
                                In close range night action with HM Cruisers Orion, Sydney and York screened
                                by HM Destroyers Nubian and Mohawk against Italian convoy in Gulf of Otranto.
                                Two destroyers, Airone and Ariel were sunk and destroyer Artigliere damaged.
                                Hit by 7 shells resulting in 35 casualties including 13 killed.
                                (Note: Bridge structure and radar items damaged.
                                For details see ‘Engage The Enemy More Closely’ by Corelli Barnett
                                and Naval Staff History (HMSO 2002).
                                Artigliere was sunk later by HMS York when under tow after the action)
                14th         Under air attacks during which HMS Liverpool was hit by a torpedo and had to be
                                taken in tow by HMS Orion.
                16th         Arrived at Alexandria with Fleet units.
                29th         Embarked advance party of York and Lancaster Regiment for passage to Suda
                                Bay.
                                Note: This was in response to Italian invasion of Greece and first phase of British support for
                                         the defence of Crete.
                                   
November
                1st           Arrived at Suda Bay, Crete from Alexandria with HM Cruisers Coventry and
                                Calcutta, HM Netlayer Protector, HM Minesweeper Fareham and for 
                                destroyers to set up forward base.
                                Under air attack and near missed.
                2nd          During return to Alexandria with HMS Coventry again under air attack and again
                                near missed.
                4th           Sailed from Alexandria for Suda Bay with HMAS Sydney having embarked
                                HQ 14th Armoured Brigade, AA Guns and troops for service in Crete (Operation 
                                BARBARITY).
                5th           After disembarking troops and equipment sailed from Suda Bay with HMS Orion
                                for visits to Piraeus and Candida.
                                (Note: The passage of reinforcements to Crete and of Aegean convoys were
                                covered by Fleet units including HM Battleships Barham, Valiant and HMS Eagle
                                with screen of eight destroyers (Operation MB8).
                 6th          Passage to join Fleet units covering the passage of Convoy MW3 to Malta.
                10th         Joined HMS Warspite, HMS Valiant, HMS Malaya, HMS Ramillies, HMS
                                Illustrious, HMS Gloucester, HMS York, HMS Orion and destroyer screen
                                deployed as Force A.
                                (Part of Operation COAT with ships of Force H to cover transit of convoys to and
                                from Malta, concurrent with reinforcement of Mediterranean Fleet by ships from
                                UK).
                11th         Detached from Force A with HMS Orion, HMS Sydney, HM Destroyers
                                Mohawk and Nubian to carry out offensive sweep in Straits of Otranto during J
                                JUDGEMENT.
                                (Note: Ships of Force A were deployed for cover of air attacks on Taranto by
                                HMS Illustrious which had detached with screen of cruisers and destroyers
                                (Operation JUDGEMENT).)
                12th         Intercepted Italian 4 ship convoy escorted by auxiliary cruiser Ramb III and
                                torpedo boat Fabrizi. All mercantiles were sunk but escorts escaped.
                                Rejoined Force A.
                                (Note: A second attack on Taranto was planned but cancelled in view of weather
                                forecast in target area.)
                13th         Detached from Force A with HMS Malaya, HMS Barham, and five destroyers.
                                took passage to Suda Bay to refuel before return to Alexandria to resume
                                Squadron duties.
                                For details of these operations see Naval Staff History.
                15th         Embarked troops at Alexandria with HM Cruisers Gloucester, York, Sydney and
                                Orion for passage to Piraeus.
                20th         Disembarked troops and took return passage to Alexandria.
                23rd         Deployed with HM Battleships Malaya, Ramillies, HM Aircraft Carrier Eagle,
                                HM Cruisers Berwick, Orion, Sydney, screened by destroyers as Force B to cover
                                passage of convoy to Crete and carry out air attacks on Tripoli from HMS Eagle.
                26th         Arrived at Malta with Force C when HMS Malaya, HMS Ramillies and HMS
                                Berwick detached to join Force D for passage to Gibraltar.
                28th         Deployed to cover passage of HM Cruisers Manchester and Southampton, four
                                Corvettes and four mercantiles during passage through Sicilian Narrows.
                                (Note: These ships had been involved in the action against an Italian Force on 27th 
                                and detached afterwards from ships of Force H.
                                Battle of Cape Spartivento, see Naval Staff History.)
                                On arrival off Malta detached from cover and took passage to Suda Bay with the                           
                                four corvettes.
                30th         Arrived at Suda Bay.

December               Deployed with HMS Orion and HMAS Sydney for defence of convoys in Aegean.
                                based at Suda Bay.
                16th         Returned to Suda Bay with Squadron to refuel and resumed cover for Aegean
                                convoys.
                17th         Joined by HM Cruisers York and Gloucester of CS3 and took passage as Force B
                                to rejoin Mediterranean Fleet units providing Distant Cover for transit of Convoys
                                MW5A and B from Egypt to Malta, as well as of Convoy.ME5 from Malta to
                                Egypt.)
                                (Note: Part of Operations MC2 and MC3. These also included air attacks on
                                Dodecanese, on Port Skala, Valona, bombardment of Valona and cover of transit
                                of HMS Malaya, four destroyers and two mercantiles to Gibraltar. All by Force A
                                ships which comprised HMS Warspite, HMS Valiant and HMS Illustrious screened
                                by 11 destroyers.
                18th         Detached with Cruisers HMS Orion and HMAS Sydney and HM Destroyers
                                Janus, Jervis and Juno as screen during offensive sweep in Otranto Strait.
                19th         Rejoined Force A to provide cover for transit of ships to Gibraltar after
                                unsuccessful search (Operation HIDE.)
                23rd         Remained with Force A to provide escort for passage of Convoy ME5A to
                                Alexandria.
                24th         Returned to Alexandria with Fleet units.

1 9 4 1

January
                6th           Sailed from Alexandria with HMS Orion, HMS York, HM Corvettes Gloxinia,
                                Peony, Hyacinth, Salvia and RFA Tanker Brambleleaf to Suda Bay.
                7th           Arrived at Suda Bay with two destroyers and four corvettes for defence of military
                                convoys to and from Greece.
                                (Note: Part of Mediterranean Fleet major operation designed to cover the
                                passage of military convoys to Greece and Malta concurrent with other Malta
                                supply convoys
                                (Operation EXCESS - See Naval Staff History and "Engage The Enemy More
                                Closely").
                11th         Detached with HM Battleship Barham, HM Aircraft Carrier Eagle and destroyers
                                to carry out commando raid on Dodecanese but operation cancelled due to
                                weather.
                                (Note: Source other than the Naval Staff History records this Operation, MC6 was
                                to carry out air attacks on Dodecanese from HMS Illustrious but that
                                cancellation was due to withdrawal of the aircraft carrier because of damage
                                after air attacks on 10th.)
                12th         Joined HMS Warspite, HMS Valiant which had been deployed to cover passage
                                of to Alexandria for convoy ME6 after passage through Sicilian Narrows.
                                (Note Operation MC4 part of Operation EXCESS transit of military convoy in
                                Eastern Mediterranean, See Naval Staff History, Battle Summary No.18.)
                                These major Fleet units had been under sustained and heavy air attacks during
                                which HM Cruiser Southampton was sunk, HMS Illustrious and
                                HM Cruiser Gloucester seriously damaged.. See reference and Malta
                                Convoys by R Woodman.)
                16th         Arrived at Alexandria after completion of ME6 escort
                31st         Escorted convoy to Piraeus with HM Cruiser Coventry.

February
                2nd          Took passage from Piraeus after arrival of convoy.
                19th         Embarked troops and stores of Cheshire Regt. and Hampshire Regt. and sailed
                                From Alexandria with HMS Orion and HMS Gloucester also carrying troops for the
                                reinforcement of Malta Garrison. HM Destroyers Nubian and Mohawk were
                                deployed for escort during high speed passage.
                                (Operation MC8 which also included cover by Fleet units for this transit and that
                                of two mercantiles from Malta to Egypt.)
                21st         Disembarked troops in Malta and took return passage to Alexandria with HMS
                                Orion.

March
                4th           Embarked troops at Suda bay for passage to Greece with HMAS Perth, HMS
                                Orion and HMS Gloucester screened by four destroyers.
                                (Operation LUSTRE – Military support of Greece by British personnel).
                6th           Deployed with same ships to cover passage of troop reinforcements to Greece.
                24th         Escort of convoy to Piraeus from Alexandria with HMAS Perth, HMS Orion and
                                HMS Gloucester.
                27th         On arrival ordered to be in position south of Crete off Gavdo Island by 0630 on
                                28th March to join Mediterranean Fleet units.
                28th         Ships became Force B of Mediterranean Fleet and took part in Battle of Matapan.
                                (Full details in "The Battle Of Matapan" by SW Pack, and Naval Staff History,
                                Battle Summary No 44.)
                29th         Detached with HMAS Cruiser Perth and Destroyers HMAS Stuart and HMS Griffin
                                for escort of LUSTRE convoys to Piraeus.

April
                6th          At Piraeus with Coventry during air raid when SS Clan Fraser,   
                               discharging 5,000 tons of ammunition into rail trucks alongside was hit and 
                               exploded. Ray Parkin in his autobiography ‘Ray Parkin’s Odyssey’ described it thus ‘the whole port
                               and almost everything in it became an inferno... HMS Ajax and HMS Calcutta, by some
                               miracle, got themselves clear of the harbour and out to our (HMAS Perth’s) anchorage’.                                
                10th         Covered passage of HM Destroyers Jervis, Janus, Nubian and Mohawk to
                                Malta for duty as striking force against Italian supply convoys.
                12th         Carried out offensive sweep off Ras-el-Tin with HMS Orion and HMAS Perth
                18th         Sailed from Alexandria with HM Battleships Warspite, Barham, Valiant,
                                HMS Illustrious, HM Cruisers Calcutta, Gloucester, Orion and
                                Phoebe screened by destroyers to provide cover for passage of HM Supply Ship
                                Breconshire to Malta from Egypt and Convoy ME7 from Malta (Operation MD2).
                19th         At Suda Bay with same ships and sailed after destroyers had refuelled as Force C
                                with HMS Formidable. HMS Orion and HMAS Perth, screened by HM
                                Destroyers Decoy, Defender, Greyhound and Ilex to provide air cover to
                                major warships designated Force B during bombardment of Tripoli (Operation
                                MD3)
                21st         Deployed off shore during air operations in defence of Fleet units during
                                bombardment.
                                See Naval Staff History, Battle Summary No 19 for details of MD2 and MD3)
                24th         Assisted in evacuation of allied troops from Greece with HMS Orion, HMS
                                Phoebe and HMAS Perth (Operation DEMON).
                27th         Embarked 3,850 men from Rafina and Raftis with HM Destroyers Kingston and
                                Kimberley for passage to Suda Bay
                29th         Embarked further 1,700 men including Major-General Sir Bernard Freyburg VC,
                                the commander of the NZ Division and Rear Admiral HT Baillie-
                                Grornan at Monemvasia and took them to Suda Bay.
                                HM Destroyers Griffin, Isis and Hotspur also embarked troops, a  total of 4,320.
                                (Note: Evacuations were made under frequent air attacks, See Naval Staff
                                History.)

May
                6th           Covered passage to Malta of convoys MW7A and B with HMS Warspite, HMS
                                Barham, HMS Malaya, HMS Formidable, Cruisers HMS Orion and HMAS Perth   
                                screened by 19 destroyers and deployed as Force A (Operation MD4)
                                (Note: MD4 was a joint operation with Force H to provide cover for passage of
                                Military TIGER convoy carrying tanks from UK to Egypt for the 8th Army. It also
                                Provided cover for Convoys MA7A and B during passage to Malta and passage
                                of reinforcement warships to Alexandria, HM Battleship Queen Elizabeth and HM
                                Cruiser Fiji.
                7th           Detached with HM Destroyers Imperial, Havoc and Hotspur for bombardment
                                of the Benghazi area (Operation MD6)
                8th           Carried out bombardment.
                                During passage to rejoin Fleet engaged and sank Italian supply vessels
                               Tenace and Capitano Cecchi. See Naval Staff History.
                                Rejoined Force A.
                9th           Detached with HMS Orion, HMAS Perth, HMS Dido and ships of 5th Destroyer
                                Flotilla for escort of TIGER convoy.
                11th         Under air attacks which were repelled by aircraft from HMS Formidable.
                12th         Arrived at Alexandria with Fleet units.
                18th         Sailed from Alexandria with HMS Warspite, HMS Valiant and screen of 8
                                destroyers to relieve HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant on patrol north of
                                Crete.
                19th         Deployed off Crete.
                20th         Joined HMS Orion, HMS Dido, HM Destroyers Kimberley, Janus, Hasty and
                                Hereward in Force D.
                21st         Under air attacks and sustained damage (to both port shafts) from near miss (It
                                is this event which is the subject of The Painting and this website)
                                Detached to join HMS Warspite and HMS Valiant escorted by Fleet destroyers for
                                cover of minelaying  by HM Minelaying Cruiser Abdiel off Cephalonia to block
                                entry to Corinth Canal (Operation MAT1 - See Naval Staff History (MINING)).
                                Carried out offensive sweep with HMS Dido and Orion escorted by HM
                                Destroyers Janus, Kimberley, Hasty and Hereward. Intercepted enemy convoy
                                north of Cannae. Under heavy air attacks during the operation.
                                Sank ten caiques and damaged Italian destroyer Lupo. See Naval Staff History.
                22nd        Returned to Alexandria to refuel and replenish ammunition.
                                Took passage back to Crete on completion.
                24th         Carried out unsuccessful search for invasion convoys North of Crete with HMS
                                Dido, HM Destroyers Hotspur, Isis and Imperial.
                27th         Refuelled and re-ammunitioned at Alexandria.
                28th         Sailed to assist in evacuation of allied troops from Crete.
                                Damaged in air attack on passage with HMS Dido, HMS Orion, HM Destroyers
                                Decoy, Jackal, Imperial, Hotspur, Kimberly and Hereward.
                                (Note: Withdrew but damage found to be less serious and took passage to
                                Heraklion to evacuate troops.
                29th         During return passage under sustained air attacks and sustained further damage
                                by near misses causing some flooding.
                                (Note: For full details of the disastrous operations off Greece and Crete see
                                "The Battle For The Mediterranean" by Donald MacIntyre, "Engage
                                The Enemy More Closely", "Naval Staff History" and "Military History,
                                Middle East Vol. 2")
                                During the evacuations and other operations since April the ship spent less than
                                10 nights in harbour).

June                        Deployed In support of military operations against Vichy French in Syria.
                                (Operation EXPORTER).
                7th           Sailed from Alexandria with HM Cruiser Phoebe, HM Destroyers Jackal,
                                Janus, Kandahar and Kimberley deployed as Force B for support of military
                                operations and to provide cover for commando attack north of Tyre from HM
                                Special Service Vessel Glengyle escorted by HM Cruiser Coventry.
                8th           Arrived off coast of Syria.
                                Operation abandoned due to weather.
                                Escorted convoy to Sidon with Force B and under torpedo attack by the Vichy
                               submarine Caiman which was believed damaged during 2 hour anti-submarine
                               attacks by destroyers.
                9th          Commando operation to capture bridge over Litani River successful.
                                On release from cover duty took passage with Force B and HM Destroyers Isis,
                                Hotspur, Janus and Jackal for patrol off Tyre.
                                Diverted to intercept Vichy destroyers reported shelling bridge in Litania River but
                                ships had left the area.
                                Took passage to Haifa leaving destroyers at the scene.
                                Returned with HMS Phoebe to assist destroyers which had been in action against
                                Vichy French destroyers Guepard and Valmy.
                                On arrival remained with HMS Janus which had been seriously damaged with
                                several casualties.
                                Took passage to Haifa with HMS Kandahar as escort for tow of HMS Janus by
                                HMS Kimberley.
                                (Note: Naval support to military operations and offensive operations against Vichy
                                warships continued with reliefs from Alexandria for cruisers and destroyers
                                deployed for DEMON which returned for replenishment.)

July
                4th           Bombarded Vichy positions near Beirut with HMS Naiad, HMS Kimberley, HMS
                                Havoc and HMS Hasty.
                                Repeated this support operation daily until 7th July.
                                When released from EXPORTER resumed Fleet duties at Alexandria.
                22nd        Deployed with HMS Valiant, HMS Queen Elizabeth, HM Cruisers Leander,
                                Phoebe, Neptune and HMAS Hobart, screened by seven destroyers for
                                diversionary Operation MD5 west of Crete during passage of Malta relief convoy
                                from Gibraltar.
                                (Operation SUBSTANCE).
                                (Note: Naval Staff History quotes operation identity as ME3.)
                25th         Returned to Alexandria with Fleet units.

August                   Under repair at Alexandria.
                                (Note: An accumulation of defects required attention.)
                              8th August 1941. Bob Sharplin drafted out of Ajax to the battleship HMS Warspite in Alexandria.

September             Resumed Fleet duties with CS7 and deployed for support of military operations.