Part of the Acorn Archive

Hearts of Oak



Dad’s Diary 1941

Lt Philip Bray R.N. [1912 –1988]



Newspaper Reports





Our ships were the 5,270-ton cruisers Aurora and Penelope, and the 1,920-ton destroyers Lance and Lively. Opposed to them were two Italian 10,000-ton cruisers of the Trento class. At least four Italian destroyers were also there. In command of our small force was 42-year-old Captain William Gladstone Agnew, of Aurora, one of the youngest captains In the Navy, and an outstanding gunnery expert. He Joined action at once against the larger and more heavily-armed Italian escorts. After sinking both convoys and sending an Italian destroyer to the bottom of the Mediterranean, our ships returned unharmed without even a scratch off their paint. Here Is the full story of the battle, told by the Admiralty last night ….

"Two convoys of enemy supply ships have been annihilated in the Central Mediterranean, and severe loss inflicted on their escorts, In a brilliant and determined action-by H.M. ships. On Saturday afternoon an enemy convoy consisting of eight supply ships escorted by destroyers was sighted south of Taranto by a Maryland aircraft on reconnaissance. A patrolling force consisting of the cruisers Aurora (Captain W. O. Agnew, R.N.) and Penelope (Captain A. D. Nicholl. R.N.), and the destroyers Lance (Lieut-Commander R. W. F. Northcott, R.N.) and Lively (Lieut.-Commander W. F. E. Hussey, R.N.) was directed to intercept. This force, under the command of Captain Agnew, made contact with the enemy at about one o'clock on Sunday morning. It was then found that the large convoy of eight supply ships, escorted by destroyers, was being joined by another convoy of  two supply ships,  escorted by two destroyers. The operation was being covered by two powerful 10,000 ton 8-inch gun cruisers of the Trento class. Despite the disparity of the force, Captain Agnew Immediately engaged. Nine of the ten enemy supply ships were set on fire and sunk. One of these was an ammunition ship, which blew up. The tenth enemy supply ship, a laden tanker of about 10.000 tons, was left blazing furiously. This ship was seen to be still burning ten hours later, and it is considered that she is a total loss. Of the Italian warships, one destroyer was sunk and at. least one other seriously damaged. One destroyer was seen to be in tow today. No casualties or damage were suffered by his Majesty's ships in this engagement. While returning, our ships were attacked by enemy torpedo-carrying aircraft, but the attack was ineffective, and Captain Agnew's force has reached harbour unscathed from this brilliant exploit."



The Prime Minister has sent the following message to the Admiralty: "Many congratulations upon this most important and timely action, which gravely interrupts the enemy's supply lines to Africa, and impedes his long-boasted offensive against the Nile valley. Please convey my congratulations to all concerned."

The superior tonnage and firepower of the Italian ships compared with the British forces in the action are shown in this table:—


Aurora, 5,210 tons, six 6-inch guns, eight 4 inch.

Penelope, 5.270 tons, six 6-inch, eight 4 lnch.

Lance, 1,920 tons, six 4.7-Inch. Lively, 1,920 tons, six 4.7 inch.


Two Trento class cruisers, each 10,000 tons, eight 8 inch guns, 2 3.9 inch.

Several destroyers, tonnage and guns not stated.

The guns in Trento class cruisers are said to be remarkably powerful weapons with   exceptional range. These cruisers also carry scouting seaplanes equipped for bombing.

The Italian cruisers are also faster than the British. Their speed is given at 35 knots,   as against 32.25 knots of the Aurora and Penelope. The Aurora, a £1,250.000 cruiser of 5,200 tons, was launched in 1936. Her normal complement is 450.

Captain Agnew has been 30 years in the Navy. In the last war he served as a midshipman in the battleships Glory and Royal Oak and was later a sub-lieutenant in he destroyer Skilful.


Italy Lost Four Destroyers

It was disclosed by Mr. A. V. Alexander, First Lord of The Admiralty, at Liverpool on Saturday. that no fewer than four Italian destroyers were sunk in the brilliant Mediterranean engagement fought by Capt. W. G. Agnew in the six-inch gun cruiser Aurora a week ago. Ten laden enemy supply ships were sunk in that same action. That engagement Mr Alexander described as a “cross section which shows constant changing ups and downs”.


Sinks 3 More Ships

Captain W. Q. Agnew. R.N., of the cruiser Aurora—he was awarded the C.B. recently for leading the British naval attack which wiped out two Axis convoys in the Mediterranean—has has sunk three more enemy ships — a supply ship, a tanker and a destroyer. The Admiralty announced last night that on Monday morning a surface force under his command intercepted the Italian supply ship Adriatico of 1.976 tons, laden with artillery, stores and ammunition, in the Mediterranean. This ship was sunk by gunfire. Some survivors were picked up. Shortly afterwards Capt. Agnew's force intercepted and engaged the tanker Mantovan of 6,500 tons, which was escorted by the 1,628-ton destroyer Alvise da Mosto. The destroyer and the tanker, which was carrying about 16,000 tons of petrol, benzine and other oils, was sunk. Of the destroyer's complement of 185, some survivors were picked up, adds the communique.

No casualties or damage was sustained by our force.


Battered Convoy – What Axis Lost

Reuter telegraphed from Ankara on Monday: —

Six thousand Axis troops perished in the Royal Navy’s attack on two Italian convoys In the Mediterranean on November 9, according to information reaching high neutral diplomatic quarters. Large quantities of badly needed ammunition for Libya also went down. The recent resignation of General Pricolo. Italian Chief of Air Staff, is stated to have been due to his failure to prevent the British attack in which ten Italian ships were sunk, or to take adequate reprisals. Morale in Italy, it is said, is very low.


German Troops Drown

Thousands of Axis Troops, going as reinforcements to the Western Desert, and thousands ot tons of war material were lost when the two enemy convoys were wiped out by the Navy in the Mediterranean on Sunday. Not only did the Navy deprive the Axis of valuable men and material, but smashed a wide gap in the " Libya Ferry, by which the enemy carried supplies to Africa. Yesterday it was  announced that Captain W G Agnew, of the cruiser Aurora, who led the attack on the convoys, bad been awarded, the C.B. It was also revealed that twelve, not eleven, ships had been sunk. Britain claimed ten supply ships destroyed, and one Italian destroyer sunk and another damaged. But yesterday an Italian High Command communique, admitted that both destroyers were sunk. The communique stated: “One of our convoys sailing in the Central Mediterranean was attacked on November 9 by a British naval formation. The ships which were hit sank one after the other. Of our escorting destroyers which attacked the British ships with torpedoes two were sunk. A third which was hit has returned to port without having sustained any great damage.” The communique claimed that one British cruiser and one destroyer were hit. The British communique stated that not one British warship was damaged nor a British sailor hurt









Raymond Forward

Thanks to Sue Twyman