Jump to content

Il primo siluro sparato della guerra (11.06.1940)


Recommended Posts

At 0100/11 June 1940, the submarine SMERALDO (T.V. Carlo Todaro) fired the first torpedo of the war in the Mediterranean when she attacked a merchant ship about 60 miles west of Alexandria. The target was proceeding westward escorted by a small warship.

Can anyone help identify this ship?

 

Many thanks.

 

Platon Alexiades

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hello Francesco,

 

Many thanks for your reply but no, the target was probably a merchant ship which had left Alexandria a few hours before. My guess is that it was probably a neutral as British ships (perhaps with some exceptions?) were held up because of the war declaration and a neutral had probably a better chance to cross the Mediterranean at that time. The tanker BRITISH UNION sailed from Alexandria escorted by two armed trawlers as far as 100 miles out but as far as I know she left Alexandria on 12 June (unless my info is erroneous), She was to refuel British destroyers at Monemvasia (an infringement of Greek neutrality...), this did not work out as the Greeks protested and she was withdrawn. Any info on neutral ships sailing from Alexandria at that time? But if it was escorted it was most likely British or French.

 

All the best,

 

Platon

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

Hello Platon,

 

As far as I know there were no  French ships in the area. PROVIDENCE and PRESIDENT DOUMER were at Port Said about to sail, but the sailing was stopped on 10 June and they left later via The Cape.

As you say, British and British-controlled ships at sea were recalled :

-on 8 June the Norwegian HERSTEIN left Port Said to Gibraltar but returned to Alexandria on 12 June,

-on 8 June the British steamer MEROE left Alexandria to Gibraltar (due 16 June), returning at Port Said on 13 June.

-on 9 June the British steamer VASCO left Alexandria to Gibraltar (due 16 June), returning at Port Said on 12 June.

-on 10 June the British steamer RUNO left Alexandria to Cyprus (eastbound).

HMS FIONA was at sea, but more to North, off Crete, for contraband control.

Obviously we can exclude ORKAGER.

A number of ships (ALMENARA, CLIFTON HALL, ROSS) were at Alexandria about to sail to Gibraltar and UK, but the sailings were stopped at the outbreak of the war.

I do not have the patrol report of SMERALDO, but the Official History of the Italian Navy (“I sommergibili in Mediterraneo”, tome I, page 44) states that the submarine attacked “…un grosso piroscafo scortato da piccole unità da guerra …”, an unusual escort for a steamer at this stage of the war in Mediterranean.

A British ship still sailing westwards in the early hours of 11 June under escort, I think may suggest some military cargo for Malta, but all the merchant ships at Malta in mid-June (EL NIL, KIRKLAND, KNIGHT OF MALTA, MARGIT, MASIRAH, NOVASLI, ZEALAND) arrived at Malta on, or before, the 10 June.

So, if we exclude VASCO (not impossible, but improbable), it seems that only a neutral vessel, and some nearby fishing vessels, could have been the probable target of the attack. Bad weather may have impeded to SMERALDO to see the neutrality markings.

Obviously , it is only a my guess and I can’t exclude to have missed some movement.

Unfortunately I do not have informations about sailings of neutral ships.

 

Domenico C.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hello Domenico,

 

 

Many thanks for the very interesting information regarding merchant ships in the Mediterranean at the start of the war. May I ask your sources?

 

I am attaching the relevant pages from the SMERALDO patrol report. As you can see, there are not much details and even the position is not recorded (but I have from other sources that it was 60 miles west of Alexandria, perhaps someone has more precise information?).

 

From the report one can deduce that the target was travelling westward as it is stated that it was on an opposite course (SMERALDO was travelling eastward toward Alexandria).

 

It is very doubtful that a neutral ship would be escorted. As I mentioned previously, the tanker BRITISH UNION was escorted out but I am not absolutely certain of the exact time she sailed from Alexandria and the report that she left on 12 June is perhaps an error. The war diaries of Admiral Cunningham are not precise on this point as he had himself left Alexandria.

 

All the best,

 

Platon

post-96-0-71307700-1459946726_thumb.jpg

post-96-0-14436800-1459946728_thumb.jpg

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hello Platon,

 

I collected my informations from various sources, mainly War Diaries and Movement Cards; for the French ships I had some mail exchange with French researchers.

 

Thank you for the report of SMERALDO. It actually mentions only one escort ship. It is interesting to note that the Official History of the Italian Navy instead describes the escort as “...piccole unità da guerra” (so, more than one ).

I already found discrepancies between the Official History and reports.

 

Based on the description of Official History I guessed that the “…piccole unità da guerra”  may have been some fishing vessels, but now, reading the patrol report, I think I was wrong.

 

About the BRITISH UNION:  I do not have her sailing date (she arrived at Alexandria on 5 June), but I have her arriving at Piraeus on 15 June. Usually convoys Alexandria-Piraeus took about 5 days, so I think your guess that she may have sailed before the 12 June could be possible.

 

Domenico C.

Link to post
Share on other sites

From the Hague convoy database: BRITISH UNION, a tanker of 6,987 grt/1927 of the British Tanker Co. Ltd., sailed from Port Said as an independent on 4 June, entered Alexandria on 5 June, departed Alex on 12 June (it is unreported if this was an independent or an unescorted trip) arriving Piraeus on 15 June, went from there on 22 June back to Alex on 15 July.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Dear Francesco,

 

Many thanks for the update. I am not sure if BRITISH UNION went to the Piraeus as her orders were to be used clandestinely to refuel British destroyers at Monemvasia and going to Piraeus would have defeated this purpose. However, it is also possible that some event forced her to do so.

 

All the best,

 

Platon

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
×
×
  • Create New...