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Force K was the designation for three British Royal Navy task forces during World War II. The first Force K operated from West Africa in 1939. The second and third Force Ks operated from Malta in 1941-1943.
First Force K
This task force was based in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and consisted of battlecruiser Renown, aircraft carrier Ark Royal, and destroyers Hardy, Hostile, Hereward, and Hasty. Its mission was to track and destroy German commerce raiders in the South Atlantic, such as the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. After the Battle of the River Plate in December 1939, Force K was sent to the coast of Uruguay to prevent any sortie by Graf Spee, which was in Montevideo.
After Graf Spee was scuttled, Force K was broken up, with Ark Royal escorting the cruiser HMS Exeter (damaged in the battle with Graf Spee) back to Britain.
Second Force K
The next Force K was created on 21 October 1941, and then consisted of light cruisers Aurora and Penelope, and L and M class destroyers Lance and Lively. Force K operated out of Malta, against Italian ships carrying supplies to the Axis forces in North Africa.
Allied submarines and aircraft sank some of these ships, but most supply got through. So Force K was added.
On 8–9 November 1941, Force K destroyed an entire Axis convoy, forcing the Italian high command to consider Tripoli "practically blockaded". Soon after, Force K was reinforced at Malta by Force B, with light cruisers Ajax and Neptune and two J, K and N class destroyers. The combined force was so effective that during November 1941 the Axis supply line suffered 60% losses. However on 19 December, at about the time of the First Battle of Sirte, ships from both Forces ran into a minefield while pursuing an Italian convoy. Mines sank Neptune and damaged Aurora. The destroyer Kandahar also struck a mine while attempting to assist the stricken Neptune. Kandahar was scuttled the next day by the destroyer Jaguar.
Following this, and with a resurgence of the aerial bombardment of Malta, the remaining surface ships were withdrawn from there. Only Penelope remained, as she was too damaged to leave. Frequent air attacks while she remained in harbour earned her the nickname "HMS Pepperpot". She was also withdrawn on 8 April 1942, ending Force K's deployment.
Third Force K
Force K was reinstated in November 1942, after Malta was resupplied by a convoy in Operation Stone Age (20 November). Cruisers Dido and Euryalus and the 14th Destroyer Flotilla were detached from the Stone Age convoy and based at Malta.
- BBC - History - The Siege of Malta in World War Two
- Woodman, Richard. Malta Convoys 1940-1943. John Murray (publisher). p. 461. ISBN 0-7195-6408-5.