On August 12 the air raids seemed to be continuous throughout day. We
had several near misses and a torpedo run down our side. Lightning and Somali
went to the aid of the Indomitable when she was hit by three bombs on the
flight deck, but not seriously damaged.
At 1835 that day, and north of Cape Bon, Force Z including ourselves
broke off escort duty from the convoy and returned to Gibraltar. Shortly
after that we suffered a series of terrible air attacks, to my recollection
far worse than ever before. Nigeria and Cairo were both hit by torpedoes
from the Italian submarine Axum.
A signal received on the 13th covering the previous day's action read as follows:
"Nigeria and Cairo hit last night at dusk (Cairo was eventually sunk by our own forces). Nigeria proceding west with 3 Hunt class destroyers. At least 5 MT vessels have been sunk. Kenya hit but proceding with convoy, Manchester and 10 destroyers. Six officers and 60 ratings from Indomitable pressumed killed, 55 wounded".
Although the number of dead was later corrected to 40, David Drew recalls that it took well over an hour at sunset that evening of 13th for Indomitable to commit her dead to the deap.
Many of the merchant ships received hits but managed to get the vital supplies through to Malta, some with their decks awash. The war supplies got through and the island was saved - the cost in lives and ships was dear.
My own recollections of this convoy are that, although the fighting was intense and we were at action stations for days on end, the feelings that I were left with afterwards were not as bad as with my first Malta convoy - Operation Halberd. This is probably because the first major convoy was such a shock to me and I was now becoming more accustomed to all the horrors of continuous action for days on end.
Here are some photographs of some the actions, again supplies by Stewart Sharples:
We arrived at Gibraltar at 1915 on 15 August 1942. News of the convoy
losses and dramas continued to reach us for several days. We could see Nigeria
under repair. She had been torpedoed amidships, rumour had it that there
were still 58 ratings trapped in the oil below decks (about 40 bodies were
recovered over the next week).
On the 16th, at 0300, we slipped our mooring and proceeded to sea with aircraft carrier Furious, a cruiser and about eleven destroyers in order to fly off more Spitfires to Malta. This was called operation Baritone.
On the 17th 32 Spitfires were flown off. Two of them crashed on take off, only one pilot was rescued. We arrived back in Gibraltar the following day and had a short rest for four days, leaving again on the 21st at 0900 for an ASDIC sweep of the Straits - which was uneventful.