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Convoy MW 10

Set out from Alexandria on March 20th 1942 (Peter Elliiott in Cross & Ensign gives a date of the 22nd). Ships involved were:-

Clan Campbell (Merchantman)
Pampas (Merchantman)
Talabot (Merchantman)
Breconshire (Tanker)
HMS Carlisle (Anti-aircraft cruiser)
6 destroyers Close escort (names not known)- Legion.....

15th Cruiser Squadron
HMS Cleopatra
(light cruiser)
HMS Dido (light cruiser)
HMS Euryalus (light cruiser)
4 destroyers Hunt Class (names not known)

In advance of the convoy 'Hunt' Class destroyers carried out anti submarine sweeps.

To aid the safety of this convoy various other operations were mounted to include the 8th Army making advances on enemy airfields in the desert. The LRDG (Long Range Desert Group) raided airfields deep behind enemy lines, the RAF attacked airfields in Crete & Cyrenaica to keep aircraft grounded. Fighter cover was mounted as far as possible & the port of Derna was attacked 2 nights running.
One of the advance destroyers was torpedoed by a U Boat on the 20th. Junkers 52 transport aircraft spotted the convoy on the evening of the 21st.
Shortly after midnight on the 21-22nd the British submarine P 36 on patrol off Taranto reported destroyers & heavy ships leaving harbour. These ships included Admiral Iachino's flagship Littorio which had nine 15" guns & twelve 6". Two heavy cruisers with 8" guns - Gorizia & Trento, the light cruiser Bande Nere & four destroyers. These headed south to intercept the convoy.
At 8 am on the 22nd the convoy was joined by HMS Penelope (6" cruiser) & HMS Legion from Malta. At 9.30 am Italian bombers attacked the convoy but had little impact bombing from high level. The Luftwaffe took over later in the day. It was considered that some 150 axis aircraft attacked the convoy that day.
At 1.30 pm shadowing aircraft dropped flares across the front of the convoy which alerted the convoy to expect surface contact. Forty minutes later Euryalus reported four enemy ships (2 heavy cruisers & 2 destroyers) in sight bearing north-east. It was blowing a strong wind & the escort released a smoke screen which was layed in front of the Italian ships. Behind these ships were two more destroyers, the light cruiser Bande Nere & following on behind the Littorio. Admiral Vian led the allied ships in five columns straight at the Italian ships while Carlisle & a 'Hunt' Class destroyer laid a smoke screen across the wake of the convoy. The Italian cruisers opened fire at a range of 30,000 yards which was outside the range of the British ships. Fifteen minutes later they opened fire & a brief exchange took place with the Italian ships before they turned away from the convoy. The signal to the commander in chief read - 'Enemy driven off'. Had the British ships followed they would have come under the guns of the Littorio which was waiting in the rear.
The British ships returned to the convoy which was under attack by Ju 88 & Ju 87 bombers. Shortly after 4.48 pm Vian reported he was in radar contact with an Italian battleship, four cruisers & four destroyers. Vian made for the Italian ships laying a smake screen before them. Admiral Iachino was unwilling to go through the smoke screen for fear of an unknown number of ships (the Italians did not have radar). The British ships would emerge from the screen & fire their guns & drop torpedoes before returning to the protective smoke cover. During this brief exposure they were sitting ducks for the Italian guns & Cleopatra was hit on the bridge by a 6" shell & Euryalus was near missed by a 15" shell which peppered her with heavy fragments.
Admiral Iachino was faced with the prospect of having to go round the smoke screen to attack the convoy. A heavy sea was now whipped up by the gale force winds. Vian considered the opposing ships move & split his cruisers up sending Penelope & Euryalus to 'keep an eye on the weather guage'. Captains Poland & Micklethwait in charge of the two destroyer divisions attacked the Italian ships from the screen 'like a pack of snapping terriers' for half an hour with torpedoes. Two destroyers were damaged during this action. The destroyers had 4·7" guns against the Italian battleships 15" guns.
The combination of the British destroyer attacks by torpedoes from 6,000 yards, (Cleopatra crossed the bows of the Littorio) & a hit by a 6" shell on the Littorio between the two after turrets caused Admiral Iachino to turn away. This encounter was later to be named the 'Battle of Sirte'.
The merchant ships ran for Malta accompanied by the escort. Admiral Vian's force returned to Alexandria.
The Italian ships ran into heavy weather as they returned to Italian waters. Two destroyers foundered, the Littorio shipped thousands of tons of water & the Bande Nere required dockyard repair at Spetzia but en route she was torpedoed by HMS Urge a submarine based in Malta.
The Breconshire was bombed 8 miles from Malta & hit in the engine room which completely disabled her. Talabot & Pampas made it to Grand Harbour at 9 & 10 am during an air raid. Pampas had received two direct hits by bombs that failed to explode. Pampas sank to the harbour bottom but 2 of her holds were still intact & much of the cargo wwas salvaged. Clan Campbell was hit by bombs 20 miles from Malta. She had been under attack from daylight & at 10.30 am received a direct hit in the engine room & sank. A 'Hunt' Class destroyer stood by to pick up survivors. Legion also went to the rescue but was near missed. This damage resulted in her being beached in Marsaxlokk Harbour. Three days later after temporary repairs she made it to Grand Harbour where she was bombed & sunk.
The Breconshire was towed in heavy seas to Marsaxlokk Harbour despite being nearly wrecked on the schoals of Delimara Point. After sustaining more bomb hits she finally rolled over & sank on the 27th March. Part of her bottom remained above water & some of her oil was salvaged by fitting valves to her.
Over 300 bombers were ordered down from Sicily to make sure no ship survived this convoy. On the 26th Talabot was hit & on fire. She was scuttled in Grand Harbour as the danger of the ammunition cargo exploding was too dangerous.
Pampas was hit & settled on the bottom - two of her holds remained unflooded.

5,000 tons of cargo reached Malta out of the original 26,000 tons leaving Alexandria.

The unloading of MW 10 was not well organised as the ships that made it sat for 12 hours before they were started to unload.


Siege Malta 1940 - 1943 Book by Ernle Bradford.
The Cross & the Ensign Peter Elliott