Operation Advent (i)

This was a British naval programme of sweeps by motor gun boats and motor torpedo boats, sometimes with escort destroyer support, in the coastal waters of German-occupied northern France with the object of finding, attacking and destroying coastal and inshore shipping (October 1942).

The most important operation in these waters during the period in question, specifically 13/14 October, was occasioned by the German attempt to bring the 7,500-ton commerce raider Komet westward through the Channel from Le Havre at the start of her second raiding voyage. Despite a strong escort of minesweepers and the torpedo boats of Korvettenkapitän Hans Wilcke’s 3rd Torpedoboots-Flottille (T 4, T 10, T 14 and T 19), a British force of eight motor torpedo boats (MTB-49, MTB-55, MTB-56, MTB-84, MTB-95, MTB-203, MTB-229 and MTB-236) and five escort destroyers (Cottesmore, Quorn, Glaisdale, Eskdale and Albrighton) was able to intercept the German force near Cap de la Hague, where MTB-326 hit and sank Komet with two torpedoes during the morning of 14 October. None of the raider’s crew could be rescued.

German torpedo boats and coastal batteries later damaged Brocklesby from a second escort destroyer group which also included Fernie, Tynedale and Free Polish Krakowiak.

Launched in Bremen on 16 January 1937 as the merchant ship Ems for the Norddeutscher Lloyd company, the ship had been requisitioned for naval service at the start of World War II and taken in hand by Howaldtswerke in Hamburg for conversion into a raider that became known to the British as Raider B. In the raider form that was known to the Germans as a Handelsstörkeuzer (commerce disruption cruiser) or from 1940 as a Hilfskreuzer (auxiliary cruiser), the ship was commissioned as HSK-7 on 2 June 1940 with a propulsion arrangement of two Diesel engines for a speed of 16 kt and range of 65000 km (40,390 miles). As commerce raider with a 274-man crew, Komet was armed with six 150-mm (5.91-in) guns, one 75-mm (2.95-in) gun, one 37-mm cannon and four 20-mm cannon as well as six 533-mm (21-in) torpedo tubes. She also carried a small 15-ton fast minelaying boat with 30 mines, and two Arado Ar 196 floatplanes, the last to increase the ship’s visual scouting radius.

After lengthy German and Soviet negotiations, the USSR agreed to provide Germany with access to the northern sea route providing routes to both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Commanded by Kapitän (later Konteradmiral) Robert Eyssen, Komet departed for her first raiding voyage from Gotenhafen on 3 July 1940, and proceeded north along the coast of German-occupied Norway disguised as the Soviet icebreaker Semyon Dezhnev. While waiting in Teriberka Bay in July and August because of Soviet security concerns, she took the false name Donau and then, with aid from the Soviet icebreakers Lenin and later Iosif Stalin, passed to the east along the north coast of the USSR in August.

Early in September Komet passed through the Bering Strait into the Pacific ocean. From there the raider travelled to the Japanese island of Lamutrik for a mid-October rendezvous with the raider Orion and supply ship Kulmerland. After a conference on how to proceed with a collaborative hunting strategy, the three captains decided to work together, concentrating on the New Zealand to Panama passage taken by most Allied merchant ships. They decided on Japanese disguises: Komet and Kulmerland had the names Manyo Maru and Tokio Maru painted on their hulls. By the time they sank the 546-ton Holmwood and 16,712-ton Rangitane, on 25 and 27 November respectively, Komet had already been at sea for 140 days.

Early in November, Komet took on fresh supplies and fuel in Japan, disguised as the Japanese merchant vessel Manio Maru. Komet now operated with Orion disguised as Mayebashi Maru, and the supply ship Kulmerland posing still as Tokio Maru. During December, Komet and Orion sank five Allied merchant ships, totalling about 41,000 tons, which had been waiting off the island of Nauru to load phosphate, and on 27 December Komet shelled the island’s phosphate processing and loading facilities. Co-operating with the Orion, she then sank two more British ships in August 1941 and captured the 7,300-ton Dutch freighter Kota Nopan, which was then sent as a prize to Bordeaux.

Komet then sailed south-east through the Pacific, rounded Cape Horn and passed north through the Atlantic, returning to Cherbourg in German-occupied France. She reached Hamburg on 30 November 1941 after a voyage of 516 days and about 190000 km (118,065 miles), in which she had sunk or captured six ships totalling 31,005 tons and with Orion another two ships totalling 21,125 tons.

Her second raid, under Kapitän Ulrich Brocksien, began in early October 1942. However, only a week out of Hamburg, on 14 October, she was attacked by British motor torpedo boats near the Cap de la Hague and sent to the bottom.