Operation Stone Age

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Operation Stone Age
Part of the Battle of the Mediterranean of Second World War
Date 20 November 1942
Location Mediterranean sea, Malta
Result British victory
Belligerents
 United Kingdom  Kingdom of Italy
 Nazi Germany
Strength
3 light cruisers
10 destroyers
4 cargo ships
Various air & naval forces
Casualties and losses
1 light cruiser damaged Unknown

During the Second World War, Operation Stone Age or Stoneage was the passage of MW13, the convoy of four merchant ships that reached Malta from Egypt on 20 November 1942 from Alexandria. Its arrival is considered to have broken the siege of that island. However, a coordinated convoy from Gibraltar was cancelled as Axis forces still held Tunisia and would have been too great a threat.[1]

Background[edit]

British possession of Malta had been sustained through 1942, despite heavy naval losses and in November 1942 the rewards were realised. The Pedestal convoy survivors, including the tanker SS Ohio, delivered sufficient stores and military materiel to reinvigorate British submarine and aircraft activity from the island's bases. In the month following, Erwin Rommel's armies were denied 300,000 short tons (270,000 t) of supplies, contributing to the dire lack of fuel that so limited their movement at Alam Halfa and El Alamein.[2]

This impact upon land forces brought consequential benefits. As Axis forces withdrew westward, they gave up air bases from which they had threatened convoys and allowed Allied aircraft to move in and offer protection.

Critical packets of supplies were brought in by fast minelayers and submarines (tagged Magic Carpet runs). Some of the Pedestal commodities were expected to be exhausted by mid-November, so more and substantial deliveries were needed to sustain the island.[3]

The action[edit]

Convoy MW13 consisted of four merchant ships[note 1] and escort (15th Cruiser Squadron[note 2] and 14th Destroyer Flotilla[note 3]) that departed from Port Said on 16 November. Two of the ships, Bantam and Denbighshire, had loaded cargo at Port Sudan before continuing to Port Suez. The four merchant ships gathered at Port Suez where the convoy commodore boarded Denbighshire and added protective sandbags around the bridges' gun positions. The four ships passed through the Suez Canal on 15–16 November and, pausing only to load more ammunition at Port Said, they and their escort promptly departed into the Mediterranean sometime after 4pm.[1]

The escort detached early on 17 November to refuel at Alexandria, being replaced by "Hunt"-class destroyers of the 12th Flotilla,[note 4] and rejoined at dawn on the following day.[note 5] Later, at 12:00, there was an unsuccessful enemy air attack. Later still, after the cruisers had (except for Euryalus) detached off Derna, Libya at 17:30, Arethusa was hit by an air-launched torpedo at 18:00. She suffered severe damage and over 150 fatalities and listed heavily to port. Despite the damage and occasional air attacks, Arethusa was safely towed to Alexandria by HMS Petard, arriving after three days. The attacking aircraft had failed to locate the main convoy.[1][4]

Malta based Spitfires provided air cover for the final 80 mi (130 km) section of the operation and the convoy was escorted into Grand Harbour by minesweepers, including HMS Speedy, just after 01:00 on 20 November. The convoy was cheered in by spectators.[1]

The operation had benefitted from the British capture of the airfield at Martuba near Derna in mid-November. This provided air cover during part of the convoy's journey[5]

Aftermath[edit]

Unloading and dispersal of the cargoes began at 03:00 and, despite ineffectual air attacks, all was safely ashore by the 26th, much of it "under rock", i.e. underground.[1]

Stoneage delivered 35,000 short tons (32,000 t) of supplies[6]), which delayed until January 1943 the so-called "target date" at which Malta would be compelled to surrender for lack of supplies. These supplies enabled increased air and sea activity by Malta-based units. Submarines based in Malta, the reinstatement of Force K (with cruisers HMS Dido and Euryalus and the 14th Destroyer Flotilla) and the transfer of 821 Squadron's Albacores allowed increased attacks upon Axis shipping. In addition, the "Magic Carpet" submarine supply runs were stopped.[1]

This convoy operation is seen as the end of the two-year siege of Malta.[1] This is not because it completely fulfilled all of Malta's current and future needs, which it did not, but because it coincided with the expulsion of Axis forces from the coasts of Egypt and eastern Libya, allowing further convoys and, later, a regular overnight service from north Africa. The next convoy was Operation Portcullis, later in November.

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Woodman, pages 459-461
  2. ^ Woodman, page 455
  3. ^ Woodman, page 456
  4. ^ Hague, Lt Cdr Arnold (1995). "THE SUPPLY OF MALTA 1940-1942, Part 1 of 3". naval-history.com. Retrieved 3 Dec 2010. 
  5. ^ Stevens, Maj-Gen W. G. (2008). "Bardia to Enfidaville - The Enemy Retirement into the Agheila Position". NZETC - The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945. Victoria University of Wellington. p. 14. Retrieved 28 Nov 2010. 
  6. ^ "CHRONOLOGY OF THE SIEGE OF MALTA, 1940-43". Merlins over Malta. September 2005. Retrieved 23 July 2010. 

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Stoneage merchantmen were British Denbighshire (8,393grt), Dutch Bantam (9,312grt), American Robin Locksley (7,000grt) and Mormacmoon (7,939grt).
  2. ^ 15th Cruiser Squadron: HMS Cleopatra, Arethusa, Dido, Euryalus and Orion
  3. ^ 14th Destroyer Flotilla: HMS Jervis, Javelin, Kelvin, Nubian, Pakenham, Paladin and Petard
  4. ^ 12th (or 5th, depending on source) comprised: HMS Aldenham, Beaufort, Belvoir, Croome, Dulverton, Exmoor, Hurworth, Hursley, Tetcott and the Greek Pindos.
  5. ^ . The details of the escort and its dispositions have been taken from Woodman's account, pp459-460. Arnold Hague, in naval-history.com, differs from this. He says that the bulk of the cruisers only joined at Alexandria and that the Hunt class destroyers were of the 5th Flotilla.