REFERENCE DOCUMENTS & RESOURCES - OFFICIAL ADMIRALTY DOCUMENTS
ADM 199/391: FORCE "H" WAR DIARIES
Updated 17-Oct-2007

This document is a modern transcription of Admiralty record ADM 199/391. This document concerns the actions of Force "H", the task force that attacked and severely damaged the French Fleet based at Mers el-Kebir in July 1940. The original file is held at the The National Archives at Kew, London. This Crown Copyrighted material is reproduced here by kind permission of The National Archives.

Divider

START OF TRANSCRIPTION

- 54 -

SECRET

APPENDIX ‘D’

Copy of typescript for intended Interview with Admiral Gensoul as sent to Admiral Gensoul.

The British Government have had suspicions for some days that the Germans and Italians were intending to break the Armistice terms as regards the Navy as soon as a favourable opportunity occurred. The day before yesterday this was confirmed beyond all doubt. Admiral Somerville who is commanding the British Naval Forces at Gibraltar, who had many weeks of close cooperation with your ships during the Spanish Civil War has therefore been ordered to present certain proposals to you and has sent me for that purpose. This intended action is a dastardly trick which reacts as much against us as it does against you. I have told you here more than I have been ordered to do, but having had the honour of serving with the French Navy and directly under the orders of its Chief who trusted me and gave me his friendship, I feel I wish to help you in every way I can. Because of my close associations with you, I perhaps realise and feel more acutely the circumstances from your point of view. But I must also try to put our point of view to you, if I am permitted to do so.

It goes without saying that we trust your Chief and Admirals in high command who have spoken for the French Navy. Thus, on the 18th June, Admiral Darlan gave a personal promise to the First Lord and First Sea Lord that the French Fleet would never surrender to the enemy. A few days later, I understand the admiral of the Fleet sent a telegram to the effect that he hoped personally to maintain the command of the French Navy but should he find himself unable to do so satisfactorily for some unseen reason, he nominated the command successively to Admiral de Laborde, Esteva and yourself. Admiral Esteva’s reply to the First Sea Lord about that date was in the same sense and he added that is orders were given by the Government as opposed to the Chief to give up the Fleet, he would not obey them. You, Admiral, assured Admiral North in the same sense the other day and Admirals Ollive and de Laborde said the same to me. Thus there is the assurance, one might say, of the French Navy, and , Admiral, naturally and very sincerely, we believe you. But in view of what has been found out with regard to the treachery of the Germans and Italians, with the French Army disarmed and the Fleet laid up with reduced crews under German or Italian surveillance, the Government feels that there can be no certainty that however resolute the attempt to destroy or sink the ships, it would not be possible to forestall seizure by the enemy.

Before putting to you the proposals I will, if I may, give you Admiral Somerville’s message. He sends you his sincere wishes adding that he has a most happy recollection of his collaboration with the French Navy and that he will always take with him the souvenirs of the may (sic) friendships he made.

The proposals are following:-

(a) To sail with us and continue the fight for victory against the Germans and Italians.

(b) To sail with reduced crews under our control to a British Port. Crews who wished to be repatriated will be repatriated immediately to France. The ships would be restored immediately at the end of the war, or full compensation paid if they were damaged meanwhile.

(c) If you feel bound to stipulate that your ships should not be used against Germans or Italians, since this would break the armistice, then sail them with us with reduced crews to some French port in the West Indies, Martinique, for instance – where they can be demilitarised to our satisfaction, or perhaps be entrusted to the United States of America, and remain safely until the end of the war, crews being repatriated.

(Here I propose to stop, hoping a discussion on the above would ensue. If nothing came of this, then…….)

If you do not see your way to accepting these fair offers, I must with profound regret require you to sink your ships within six hours.

(Again a stop before putting the final terms.)

Finally, failing the above, I have orders from H.M. Government to use whatever force may be necessary to prevent your ships from falling into German or Italian hands.

——page break——

- 55-

(Hand written naval message)

Date: 3.7.40

Destinataires: Captain Holland

Consignes: 178

Origine: CEM Flotte Atl ????? Al Gensoul

Amiral Gensoul ne ?peut? que confirmer le

????????????????????

Note from website editors: Awaiting transcription of this page

——page break——

- 58-

SECOND WRITTEN REPLY FROM ADMIRAL GENSOUL BY C.O.S.

(Original attached)

1. Amiral Gensoul ne peut que confirmer la reponse deja apportee par le lieutenant de Vaisseau Dufay.

2. Amiral Gensoul est decide a se defender pas tous les moyens don’t il depose

3. Amiral Gensoul attire attention de l’Amiral Somerville sur le fait que le premier coup de canon tire contre nous aurait pour resultat ratique de metre immediateme ment toure la Flotte Francais contre le Grande Bretagne, resultat qui serait dismetredemen oppose a celui que rechivite le Governement de S.M. Britannique

TRANSLATION

1. Admiral Gensoul can but confirm the reply already sent by Lieutenant de Vaisseau Dufay.

2. Admiral Gensoul has decided to defend himself by every means possible.

3. Admiral Gensoul wishes to draw Admiral Somerville’s attention to the fact that the first shot fired against us will have the result of putting immediately the whole French Fleet against Great Britain, as result which is diametrically opposite to that which H.M. Government wishes.

APPENDIX ‘F’

Translation. (Original attached.)

Copy of Secret and Personal Orders from Admiral Darlan handed to captain Holland by Admiral Gensoul.

The classes of the Armistice are notified to you en Claire by other means. I take advantage of these last communications that I can send you in cipher to inform you of my ideas on the subject.

1. Demobilised French warships should remain French under French flag with reduced French crews and berthed in French Metropolitan or colonial ports.

2. Secret sabotage precautions should be taken so that neither enemy nor foreigner attempting to take the ships by force would be able to use her.

3. If the Commission interprets the terms of the Armistice other than shown in paragraph 1 at the moment of executing this decision, warships should without other orders either be taken to the United States of America or scuttled it is not possible to do otherwise, in order to deny them to the enemy. In no case must they be allowed to fall into enemy hands intact.

4. Ships thus taking refuge in foreign lands must not be used against the enemy in operations of war against Germany or Italy without the orders of the C. in C. F.M.F.

——page break——

- 59-

SECRET ET PERSONNEL

SECRET

FLOTTE DE L’ATLANTIQUE

ETAT-MAJOR

Le 24 Juin 1940

EXTRAITS

Des Messages 5143 – 5144 – 5145

De l’Amiraute Francaise

Clauses Armistice vous sont notifies en clair par ailleurs. Je profite des dernieres communications que je peux transmettre en chiffre pour vous faire connaitre me ponsee sur ce sujet.

1. Les navires de guerre demobilises doivent rester Francias avec pavillon Francais, equipage reduit Francais sejournant dans port Francaise Metropole ou Colonies.

2. Precautions secretes d’auto-sabotage doivent etre prises pour qu’ ennemi ou etranger s’emparant d’un batiment par la force ne puisse pas s’en servir.

3.Si Commission Armistice chargee d’interpreter texte decidait autrement que dans. I, au moment d’executer cetter decision nouvelle, navires de guerre seraient sane ordre nouveau, soit conduite ETATS-UNIS, soit sabordes, s’il ne peut pas etre fait autrement, pour les soustraire a l’ennemi. En aucun cas ils ne devront etre laisses intacts a l’ennemi.

4. Navires ainsi refugies a l’etranger ne devront pas etre utilises a operations guerre contre ALLEMAGNE ou ITALIE sane orders du C.E.C. F.M.F.

1255/24/6

P.O. :a Capitaine de Vaisseau DANBE

Chef d’Etat-Major

(Signed)

T Danbe

DESTINATAIRES:-

DUNKERQUE, STRASBOURG. AL. MOGADOR, MOGADOR, VOLTA, TERRIBLE, AL. PROVENCE, PROVENCE, BRETAGNE, TIGRE, LYNX, CDT. TESTE, KERSIANT, BRESTOIS, BOULONNAIS, TORNADE, TYPHON, BALISTE, CASQUE.

(Pencil note)

The crews are being reduced from today.

SECRET

APPENDIX ‘G’

Translation. (Original attached)

FINAL WRITTEN STATEMENT FROM ADMIRAL GENSOUL
WRITTEN ON BOARD “DUNKERQUE”
(1720/3/3/40)

1. The French Fleet must carry out the Armistice clauses on account of the consequences which might otherwise arise to Metropolitan France.

2. The Fleet has received strict orders and these orders have been sent to all Commanding Officers so that if after the Armistice, the ships are threatened with falling into enemy hands they would be sent to the U.S.A. or scuttled. See Admiralty Message 24.6.)

3. These orders will be carried out.

4. Ships at Oran or Mers el Kebir have begun since yesterday 2 nd July their demobilisation (reduction of crews). Men from North Africa have been disembarked.

Note from website editors: Original signal from Admiral Gensoul in manuscript. Awaiting transcription

——page break——

- 63 -

ENCLOSURE NO. 6 TO REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS OF FLAG OFFICER
COMMANDING FORCE “H” No. 9/2 of

26th July 1940

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR AWARDS

Lieutenant Commander E.N.V. CURREY, R.N.
H.M.S. WRESTLER in Command

For skill, determination and devotion to duty in maintaining patrol off Oran harbour whilst waiting under exceptionally heavy fire from shore batteries.

Lieutenant Commander Currey handled his ship with great coolness and judgement, thereby undoubtedly saving her from severe damage.

Lieutenant Commander G.B. Hodgkinson, R.N.
820 Squadron in Command.

For skill, determination and initiative during torpedo attacks on French battle-cruisers and for accurate and informative reconnaissance.

This officer led a torpedo-bomber attack on the French battle-cruiser STRASBOURG off Oran at dusk on Wednesday 3 rd July, 1940, after already having carried out two reconnaissance flights over Oran. He spent eleven hours in the air between 0635 and 2300 on that day.

On Friday, 5 th July, he led a successful daylight torpedo attach on the French battle-cruiser DUNKERQUE at anchor in Mers el Kebir.

Lieutenant P.W. Compton, R.N.
820 Squadron

For skill, determination and leadership during night flying and torpedo attacks on French battle-cruisers.

The officer piloted Lieutenant Commander Hodgkinson (his Squadron Commander) throughout the operations off Oran on 3 rd and 5 th July, 1940, comprising an attack on STRASBOURG at dusk after having made two reconnaissance flights (a total of eleven hours in the air) on the same day, and an attack on DUNKERQUE in Mers el Kebir harbour.

Lieutenant D. Williams, R.N.
820 Squadron.

For valuable services in spotting and reconnaissance, especially when he shadowed a French battle-cruiser until dark though short of petrol and without code books or instruments which had been lost when attacked by fighter aircraft previously.

——page break——

- 64-

ENCLOSURE NO. 6 TO REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS OF FLAG OFFICER
COMMANDING FORCE “H” No. 9/2 of

26th July 1940

Page 2

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR AWARDS

Lieutenant (A) G.R. Humphries, R.N.
820 Squadron

For gallantry during spotting and reconnaissance flights in face of strong opposition from fighter aircraft and gunfire.

NOTE: The last four recommendations have already been forwarded to Their Lordships under cover of Vice Admiral, Aircraft Carriers’ No. 212/A.C. 060 of 6 th July, 1940

——page break——

- 65 -

SECRET

OPERATION “CATAPULT”
ENCLOSURE No. 7 to FLAG OFFICER COMMANDING FORCE “H”
No. 9/2 of 26 th July, 1940

From: Vice Admiral, Aircraft Carriers, H.M.S. “ Ark Royal”

Date: 4 th July, 1940
No: A.C. 0565/7
To: The Senior Officer, Force “H”

The following reports are forwarded in accordance with your signal 1138 of 4 th July, 1940:-

(1) Narrative of Vice-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers.

(2) Reports of Mining

(a) Mers el Kebir

(b) Oran Harbour.

(3) Report of Bombing Attack

(4) Report of Torpedo Attack

(5) Report of Observation of Harbours

(6) Report of Green Section, 803 Squadron.

REMARKS

2. Operating Position of ARK ROYAL

The operating position for ARK ROYAL on 3 rd July was governed by the direction of the wind, which was from the North-East, force two, during the whole period. The area therefore lay between a position 4 miles 000 degrees from CAPE FALCON and position 13 miles 000 degrees from CAPE AGUILLE.

After ARK ROYAL’s withdrawal to the North-West at 1835 the operating area was approximately 40 miles North and North-West of ORAN.

3. Aircraft Attacks.

Plans had been made to bomb the heavy ships in MERS EL KEBIR and the submarines and light craft berthed in ORAN harbour. And aircraft torpedo attack on the heavy ships had also been prepared. To launch these attacks when required, and to provide for essential reconnaissance, aircraft spotting, observation, A/S and fighter patrols was a difficult problem of organisation. It could have been done if ANVIL had commenced at 1500, but the double postponement to 1757, combined with:-

(a) Provision of two ranges of mines
(b) The large number of aircraft which had to be landed on between 1630 and 1800 unless they were to be lost.
(c) The approach of the enemy force, combined with the direction of the wind and the approach of darkness resulted in delays in the despatch of the bomber and torpedo striking forces and the small scale of these attacks.

——page break——

- 66 -

3. Aircraft Attacks (continued)

The bombing met with heavy opposition and although confirmation is lacking it is believed that at least one hit with a 250-lb S.A.P. bomb was obtained.

The torpedo attack which took place when it was nearly dark was very well carried out. An explosion was seen under the stern and there is some evidence of a hit amidships, based on the large amount of smoke which did not appear to come from the funnel. This striking force, after many hours in the air during the day, found the ship on a dark night without using D/F, and all landed without damage. A very fine performance.

4. Observation and Spotting.

Valuable information of the development of the situation in the harbours was conveyed in the signals from the observation aircraft. The aircraft which shadowed the battle-cruiser had been spotting for HOOD until driven away by a number of French fighters. He was then ordered to shadow the battle-cruiser and continued this until dark although nearly out of petrol. The crew of this aircraft were rescued by WRESTLER.

5. Losses of Aircraft

The following aircraft were lost:-

Two Swordfish of combing force;
One Swordfish shadowing battle-cruiser after spotting for HOOD;
One Skua shot down in combat;
On Skua forced landing near ARK ROYAL.

The crew of the three Swordfish were rescued by WRESTLER and that on the Skua which force landed by FORESIGHT.

It is regretted that the crew of the Skua shot down in air combat must be presumed lost.

(Signed)
LV Wells

Vice-Admiral.

——page break——

- 67 -

SECRET

OPERATION “CATAPULT”
NARRATIVE OF THE VICE-ADMIRAL, AIRCRAFT CARRIERS.

Wednesday, 3rd July, 1940

0458: Flew off two Swordfish aircraft to patrol to the Westward of the Fleet during dawn period. At daylight these aircraft became A/S air patrols.

0530: Flew off six Swordfish to search between bearings 315 ° and 080 ° to 150 miles, or Spanish coast. Object of reconnaissance to report Italian and French warships which might be at sea.

Flew off three Shuas to act as fighter escort for Force “H”. Their orders were to engage any aircraft which threatened the Fleet.

0631: Flew off one Swordfish to reconnoitre MERS EL KEBIR and ORAN harbours, to watch these harbours and to assist FOXHOUND if required.

0715: Relieved the A/S air patrol.

0800: Streamed paravanes.

0820: ARK ROYAL screened by FEARLESS, FORESIGHT and ESCORT parted company with Force “H”. While Force “H” steamed past ORAN, ARK ROYAL conformed keeping about five miles to seaward of them.

0930: Flew off four Swordfish for relief reconnaissance between bearings 020 ° and 070 ° , depth 170 miles.

Relieved A/S patrols, observation aircraft and fighter patrol.

The wind at this time was 060 ° , force 1-2, and remained the same throughout the day; weather hazy with variable visibility 5 – 10 miles.

1015: On completion of landing on relieved aircraft, ARK ROYAL was in position 36 ° 01’ North, 00 ° 30’ West. Course was altered to close HOOD to regain V/S touch.

1115: HOOD two miles to South-Westward.

1130: In response to a request from the Vice-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers, ARETHUSA joined ARK ROYAL’s escort.

Commenced preparing six aircraft mines in accordance with the Senior Officer, Force “H”’s 1105/3. Object to mine entrance to MERS EL KEBIR. The Senior Officer, Force “H”’s 1122 ordered two further mines to be prepared in case remining of entrance to ORAN was required. Report first six aircraft would be ready about 1245.

1200: Observation aircraft’s report of ships in MERS EL KEBIR raising steam, preparing for sea and arrival of tugs had been received. He estimated ships would be ready by 1230. This aircraft was ordered to watch for submarines leaving ORAN.

1230: HOOD distant two miles.

——page break——

- 68 -

Page 2

Wednesday 3 rd July, 1940 (Continued)

1252: The Sentio Officer, Force “H”’s 1252 ordering mines to be laid was received. This signal referred to the Senior Officer, Force “H”’s 1105, which ordered mining of MERS EL KEBIR only.

1307: Flew off five Swordfish aircraft, escorted by six Skua aircraft. For mine laying.

1345: Flew off:-

4 Swordfish to relieve the reconnaissance;
1 Swordfish to relieve the observations aircraft;
2 Swordfish to relieve the A/S patrols;
3 Skuas to relieve the fighter patrol.

1355: Commenced flying on the relieved aircraft.

1401: One Skua aircraft forced-landed in sea while waiting to land on. Crew saved by FORESIGHT.

1425: The Senior Officer, Force “H” ordered the mining of ORAN.

1440: Completed landing on. Fitted two mines for mining entrance to ORAN Harbour.

1530: Flew off two Swordfish to mine ORAN.

1620: Relieved A/S patrol.

Flew off three Swordfish aircraft to relieve spotting aircraft.

Commenced landing on the following aircraft, most of them very short of fuel:-

13 Swordfish;
9 Skua
3 Swordfish Floatplanes

These aircraft returned at various times and it was not possible to land them all by 1730, the time ordered for “ANVIL”.

1825: Flew off six Swordfish to escort bombers armed with four 250lb. S.A.P. and eight 20lb. Bombs for attack on the heavy ships in MERS EL KEBIR.

Flew off three Skuas to escort bombers and act as fighter patrol.

Landed in stragglers from earlier formations.

——page break——

- 69 -

Page 3

Wednesday 3rd July, 1940 (Continued)

1835: At this time, when in position 19 miles North of ORAN, it was reported by the observation aircraft the ship of the Dunkerque Class, which had escaped to sea, was steering North-East, and was within easy gun range of ARK ROYAL if the visibility improved. The stem waves of two of the eleven destroyers with her were visible from ARK ROYAL’s bridge. Course was accordingly altered to 315 ° , and full speed was ordered for 25 minutes. Speed was then reduced and course 315 ° maintained to increase the distance from the enemy.

1840: As it appeared that the enemy battle-cruiser outside the harbour might might escape Eastwards, bomber striking force was ordered by W/T to attack this ship.

1939: Received accurate report of position of enemy battle-cruiser from shadowing aircraft.

1950: Flew off six Swordfish to attack enemy battle-cruiser with torpedoes. Use was to be made of failing light to press this attack.

2015: Commenced landing on returning aircraft. All Swordfish were landed on down wind on course 240 ° .

2225: Course into wind 060 ° to land on torpedo striking force.

2310: All torpedo aircraft on.

Course altered to pass astern of Force “H” and to reach position 36 ° 12’N 1 ° 48’W at 0430 next morning in readiness to launch air striking forces to attack French battle-cruiser in MERS EL KEBIR at dawn.

Thursday, 4 th July, 1940.

0100: Fog. Ordered destroyers astern.

0200: Visibility improved.

0330: Sighted HOOD. Altered course to 060 ° .

0350: Destroyers resumed positions on screen.

0430: Twelve Swordfish each armed with six 250 lb. S.A.P. bombs were ready to take off to attack French battle-cruiser reported by aircraft previous evening to have been beached under FORT MERS EL KEBIR. It was intended that this striking force should be immediately followed by a second, composed on nine Skuas with on 500 lb. S.A.P. each for dive-bombing attack on the same ship. Unfortunately ARK ROYAL ran into thick fog at 0420, which persisted until after 0600.

——page break——

- 70 -

Page 4.

Thursday, 4th July, 1940 (Continued)

As successful attack on the battle-cruiser in this well defended position depended on surprise attack before full daylight, the Vice-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers abandoned the attack, and reported this decision to the Senior Officer, Force “H” in his signal 0630/4.

0620: Sighted Force “H” bearing 180 ° .

Course and speed adjusted to take station in the line.

Page 71 (IMG_9656)

OPERATION “CATAPULT”

Enclosure No. 2(a) to the Vice-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers’s
No. A.C. 0565/7 of 4th July, 1940

AIR ATTACK REPORT

Report in accordance with C.A.F.O. 3572/39.

(1) 3 rd July, 1940

(2) Fine. Haze. No cloud. Vis 5’.

(3) 5 Swordfish armed with CUCUMBERS.
1 aircraft to drop in gate of boom at Mer-el-Kebir.
4 aircraft to drop across A/T boom at Mers-el-Kebir.
Approach course 255 ° , echelon port. Mines laid on line of bearing 000 ° , from 300 feet at 95 knots.
6 Skuas, Fighter escort.

(4) Not applicable.

(5) (i) Low level

(ii)(drawing)

(iii) 300’ Level.
(iv) Nil.
(v)

None.

(6) Not applicable.

(7) Nil.

(8) Nil.

(9) Nil.

——page break——

- 72 -

Enclosure No 2 (b) to Letter A.C. 0565/7

Dated 4th July 40 from Vice-Admiral Aircraft Carriers

Account of the laying of Magnetic Mines (“Cucumbers”) by two Swordfish of 820 Squadron (T.S.R. Squadron) at 1550 on 3 rd July, 1940 in the inner harbour at Oran.

Aircraft

Pilot

Observer

Air Gunner

4K

Lieut. Everett R.N.

S/Lt. (A) Topham, R.N.V.R.

Ldg. Air. Johnson

4M

S/Lt. (A) Owensmith, R.N.

Mid. (A) Norfolk, R.N.

Ldg. Air. Sanders

Both aircraft took off at 1525 and reached the breakwater at 1545, flying at 400 feet.

4K dived over the breakwater, turned towards the entrance, and dropped the mine from a height of 150 feet, at a distance of 200 yards, inside the narrow entrance, and in the centre of the channel.

4M, following in line astern dropped a mine from a height of 150 feet, 200 yards outside the same entrance in the centre of the channel.

It appeared that it would be impossible for any ship of over 1000 tons to avoid passing over one, or other, of these two mines.

Having dropped the mine, 4K flew along the breakwater, towards the inner docks at a height of 200 feet. Seventeen destroyers were counted, lying close together in the trots, and there was a very large number of transports, auxiliaries, and small craft of every description in the harbour – also a large hospital ship lying abeam on to the breakwater.

A party of about 50 French sailors in uniform, were lounging on the mole. 4K dived upon them to see their reactions, and they ran down the breakwater in apparent confusion and alarm.

No opposition of any kind was offered by the enemy during this excursion.

——page break——

- 73 -

OPERATION “CATAPULT”

Enclosure No. 3 to the Vice-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers’s
No. A.C. 0565/7 of 4th July, 1940

AIR ATTACK REPORT

Report in accordance with C.A.F.O. 3572/39.

(1) 3 rd July, 1940.

(2) Good. Calm. Nil. Maximum, though slight haze at sea level.

(3) Enemy consisted of “Dunkerque” class battlecruiser screened by 11 or 12 destroyers, steering approximately 070 ° at 26 knots. Attacking force was 6 Swordfish of 818 Squadron who attacked down sun from 11,000 feetl being protected by Skuas of 803 Squadron.

(4) Not applicable.

(5) (i) High dive. 24 250lb bombs and 48 Coppers.

(ii)(Drawing)

(iii) 4,000 feet. 50 ° .
(iv) Nil.
(v) Very good barrage.

(6) 1 or 2 probable hits.

(7) Good barrage, did not open fire until first bomb dropped.

(8) Two Swordfish lost on the way back to carrier, but crews picked up by destroyer “Wrestler”.

(9) It is probably better to make get away at sea level than at height of pulling out from dive.

——page break——

- 74 -

Enclosure No. 4 to Letter No. AC 0565/7

Dated: 4 July 1940 from Vice Admiral Aircraft Carriers

AIR ATTACK REPORT

(1) Date: 3 July 1940

(2) Weather conditions: Very thick haze up to 1000 feet above which visibility was extreme. Visibility at time of attack was about two miles when looking towards after glow, No cloud. Sea calm.

(3) Narrative:

(a) Composition and disposition of enemy

One battleship Dunkerque class screened by six destroyers proceeding to the eastward at high speed about three miles off shore. Ship was making enormous quantities of black funnel smoke.

(b) Particulars of attacking force

Six Swordfish armed with torpedoes fitted with Duplex pistols and with a depth setting of twenty feet. All aircraft carried full petrol load and three passengers.

(c) Tactics of approach

The initial approach consisted of a search down the coast 15 miles off shore. When the enemy was sighted squadron closed to identify and came under long range A.A. fire. Squadron then worked round in a wide sweep ahead and unto the starboard bow of the enemy and between him and the land from which position the target would be silhouetted against the afterglow and the aircraft would have a land background. When the desired position had been reached the squadron stood up and down the coast, keeping out of sight of the enemy until it was adjudged that the light was the minimum which would enable the target to be adequately silhouetted. When this condition was reached the squadron was lead into the attack in line ahead. Aircraft flying at the height of twenty feet and at 300 yard intervals, On reaching a suitable position for attack, section leaders turned to the attack together, their respective sections following them in line astern. The attack was delivered at 2055, sunset having been at 2035. After releasing their torpedoes, aircraft returned independently to the ship, the last ones arriving at 2240. All aircraft were landed on by 2330. The attack was delivered unseen and except for the last two aircraft who encountered some machine gun fire from destroyers, on the screen, unopposed.

(4) Diagram attached.

(5) Not applicable.

(6) Estimate of damage caused to target.

One or two hits were possibly obtained. Darkness and funnel smoke made definite observation impossible.

(7) Particulars of enemy gunfire.

When closing to identify the target, squadron came under long range A.A. fire. Fire was continued for about two minutes and considering the long range and low angle of sight, was surprisingly accurate.

During the actual attack two aircraft were fired at with machine guns by the destroyers on the screen.

During the get-away one aircraft was fired at with machine guns by a group of destroyers about seven miles astern of the target.

——page break——

- 75 -

(8) Casualties and damage to aircraft.

No casualties were sustained and no aircraft were damaged.

(9). Nil.

CREW LIST

Squadron Commander – Lieutenant Commander G.B. Hodgkinson, R.N.

A/C

Pilot

Observer

Air Gunner

A 4 A

Lt. Compton

Lt. Cdr. Hodgkinson

A/P.O. McColl

A 4 C

Lt. (A) Gudgeon

S.Lt. (A) Mayes

L/A. Watson

A 4 H

Lt. Boulding

Lt. Dayrell

N.A. Finney

A 4 K

Lt. Everett

Mid. (A) ashbrooke

N/A/ Johnson

A 4 M

S/Lt. (A) Owensmith

Lt. Ennever

L/A. sanders

A 2 M

Lt. Corbet-Milward

Lt. Prendergast

P.O. Clark

——page break——

- 78 -

Enclosure No. 5 to Letter No. A.C. 0565/7
Dated 4 July, 1940 from Vice Admiral, Aircraft Carriers

SIGNALS MADE BY SPECIAL RECONNAISSANCE
AIRCRAFT DURING OPERATIONS OFF ORAN ON 3RD JULY 1940

A 4 A

Lt. Compton

Lt. Cdr. Hodgkinson

A/P.O. McColl

A 4 H

Lt. Boulding

Lt. Dayrell

N.A. Finney

A 4 A

Lt. Comston

Lt. Cdr. Hodgkinson

A/P.O. McColl

NOTE:-

(i) The time of receipt is that by “Ark Royal” in all cases.

(ii) All signals were correctly received by “Ark Royal”.

(iii) Certain intercepted signals and signals addressed to the aircraft have been underlined when they are necessary to explain subsequent signals made.

Time of origin

Signal

S/K or P/L

Time of receipt in “Ark Royal”

0710

Warships as in latest photo, three Tankers East of Oran raising steam.

S/K.

0723

0835

Battleships and Cruisers appear to be raising steam.

S/K

8045

0915

Battleships furling awnings.

S/K

0920

0930

My 0835 Light forces in Mers el Kebir are large destroyers not Cruisers.

S/K

0937

0940

My 0835, Destroyers in Mers el Kebir have furled awnings, no sign of movement on Oran.

S/K

0953

1022

Paris hoisting boats.

S/K

1032

1024

Two cruisers in Oran raising steam.

S/K

1040

1100

My 1024 four Cruisers and two destroyers preparing for sea. Depot ship

S/K

1128

1125

Estimate ships at Mers el Kebir will be ready for sea by 1230

S/K

1140

1140

Aircraft from “ Ark Royal”

Watch for submarines leaving Oran.

S/K

1145

1155

Four submarines at Oran, no activity yet.

S/K

1200

1215

Battleships are sending Floatplanes inshore.

S/K

1225

1230

Three tugs going Mers el Kebir from Oran

S/K

1238

1235

My 1230 boom now open

S/K

1241

1255

No movement yet.

S/K

1309

1317

My 1255 boom now shut. Ships have boats still down.

S/K

1324

1342

Six submarines leaving Oran (sent as four submarines)

S/K

1347

1352

My 1342. Four submarines shifting berth.

S/K

1400

1358

From S.O. (H) to destroyers Proceed Oran stop and if necessary sink submarines now leaving.

P/L

1401

1405

No submarines have yet left Oran.

P/L

1410

1415

Aircraft from S.O.(H) Are submarines in process of leaving.

P/L

1416

1417

Your 1415 submarines are going alongside jetty near entrance.

P/L

1419

1426

Considerable boat activity in Mers el Kebir

P/L

1427

1429

Dunkerque and Strasbourg have all turrets trained on our battleships. Western Brettagne class fore and aft. Eastern Brettagne on turret traines (sic)

P/L

1432

1432

Some activity on aerodrome

P/L

1434

1448

Both Strasbourges now have tugs pushing on their port quarters.

P/L

1450

1545

My 1448 tugs are now pulling sterns to port.

P/L

1454

1456

All turrets in Brettagne class now fore and aft.

P/L

?

1512

One destroyer under way Mers el Kebir

P/L

1515

1517

My 1512 the second destroyer weighing, gate now open

P/L

1521

1532

All turrets in all French battleships now fore and aft.

P/L

1535

1615

My 1517 one destroyer anchored 180-8 cables from angle of breakwater. Remaining (5) secured in trot.

S/K

1623

1738

My 1615 destroyers anchored off and three others in trot are weighing.

P/L

1743

1753

My 1738 all destroyers under way, in line ahead inside boom.

P/L

1754

1804

Strasbourg has slipped

P/L

1804

1813

Three destroyers proceeding to east, both Dunkerques under way inside boom.

P/L

1813

1818

One Dunkerque has left harbour and is going East.

P/L

1818

1827

Total force at present at sea one Dunkerque and eight destroyers to East of Oran Bay.

P/L

1829

——page break——

- 81 -

OPERATION “CATAPULT”

Enclosure No. 6 to the Vice Admiral, Aircraft Carriers’s
No. A.C. 0565/7 of 4th July, 1940

No. 803 SQUADRON
REPORT OF FIGHTER ESCORT FOR SWORDFISH DIVE BOMBERS, ATTACKING “ STRASBOURG” ON 3RD JULY, 1940

Green section of 803 took off at 1825/3/7, with orders to escort 6 Swordfish proceeding to carry out H.D.B. attack on French Battle ships. Then to return and carry out a Fighter patrol over ship.

About 5 minutes after taking off 5 French Curtiss 75A’s were observed attacking spotting aircraft on the starboard quarter of “Ark Royal”. The section broke up to attack these, and after a short engagement, the French fighters returned to Oran. During the engagement the aircraft flown by Petty Officer Airman, Riddler, T.F. was observed to spin into the sea. The remaining two Skuas continued to escort the the Swordfish.

At about 1910, while at 12,000 feet, 9 French fighters (Curtiss 75As and Morane 406s) were observed above and astern of the Swordfish. A section which appeared to be about to attack them was engaged and a dog fight ensued, with all the fighters, during which Sub Lieut (A) G.W. Brokensha obtained some hits on a Curtiss 75 which broke off the engagement. I was able to get a long burst on a Morane, which was on Sub Lieut. Brokendha’s tail. This aircraft was also steadily engaged by Leading Airman F. Coston. Several hits were observed and the machine broke off the combat and dived away.

Several other aircraft were engaged by both Skuas. 3 guns on each Skua jammed during this fight.

At about 1930 3 Curtisses appeared, and a dog fight ensued with no apparent results on either side.

Shortly after this the Swordfish started their attack, and the Strasbourg put up a barrage in front of us. We returned towards the carrier. On the way back we met a Berget “ Bizerte” Flying Boat and carried out attacks on it. During my second attack, she dropped some bombs on a destroyer. Sib Lieut. Brokensha put one engine out of action and observed streams of petrol come out of the tank.

We returned to the carrier and landed on just after sunset.

Green Section.

Aircraft

Pilot

Observer or Air Gunner

Skua L.2927

Lieutenant J.M. Bruen

Lieutenant D.J. Godden

Skua L. 2997

Sub Lieutenant (A) G.W. Brokensha

FX. 76320, Leading Airman Coston. F.

Skua L. 2915

FX 76494, Petty Officer Airman, Riddler, T.F.

P/JX. 143404, Naval Airman 1, Chatterley, H.T.

(Signed)
J.M. Bruen
Lieutenant R.N.
Commanding No. 803 Squadron, Royal Navy

4th July, 1940.
H.M.S. “ Ark Royal”