Operation MD8 (ii)

This was a British naval undertaking by Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham’s Mediterranean Fleet to support the passage of the unladen 9,776-ton commissioned fast transport Breconshire from Malta to Alexandria (6/8 December 1941).

Force ‘K’ had been established on 21 October 1941 following the German land success in ‘Sonnenblume’, when it had become clear that Allied submarines and aircraft could not inflict sufficient damage to the convoys supplying the German and Italian forces in North Africa to prevent their effective operations. At the urging of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, therefore, the Royal Navy established Force ‘K’, initially with the light cruisers Aurora and Penelope, and destroyers Lance and Lively.

In November 1941 the ships of Force ‘K’ destroyed the entire ‘Beta’ convoy of seven merchant vessels, and soon after this Force ‘K’ was reinforced by the arrival of Force ‘B’ with the light cruisers Ajax and Neptune, and destroyers Kimberley and Kingston. These Malta-based warships proved so successful that during November 1941 the Axis convoys between Italy and North Africa suffered 60% losses. Such operations required fuel, however, and their very success had all but drained Malta’s stocks of bunker fuel. This fact was reported to Cunningham by Vice Admiral W. R. Ford, superintendent of the Malta dockyard. Efforts to obtain a fast tanker and ease the limitations imposed by the shortage of fuel had failed, and Cunningham and Ford therefore concerted a two-part plan to get the empty Breconshire to Alexandria, where she would be loaded with bunker fuel and other supplies for return to Malta.

Late in the afternoon of 5 December Breconshire, whose conversion into an auxiliary fast transport had included tankage for 5,000 tons of bunker fuel, departed Grand Harbour escorted by Ajax, Neptune, Kimberley, Kingston and Lively of Force ‘K’, and shaped course to the east. At dawn on the following day, the Mediterranean Fleet’s Australian light cruiser Hobart and British destroyers Jaguar and Kandahar departed Alexandria, and during the evening of the same day Ajax, Neptune and Lively turned back for Malta, leaving Breconshire with Kimberley and Kingston until on 7 December, when they met Hobart and her two destroyers. The latter continued westward to Malta and service with Force ‘K’, while Hobart turned back to the east toward Alexandria with Breconshire, Kimberley and Kingston. During the afternoon Hobart was detached to aid the sloop Flamingo, which had been immobilised off Tobruk by an air attack, and the fast transport and her two destroyers reached Alexandria safely on 8 December.