Operation Afrika


'Afrika' was an Italian and German pair of reinforcement and supply convoys across the Mediterranean Sea from ports in Italy to ports in Italian North Africa (December 1941).

Typical of the smaller convoys of this month, in which the more significant 'M.41' and 'M.42' convoy undertakings took place, these smaller convoys were greatly impeded by adverse weather. On 9/10 December the light cruiser Luigi Cadorna delivered petrol to Benghazi and returned with 900 prisoners of war. Between 9 and 12 December, working on the basis of 'Ultra' decrypts of Axis signals traffic, the British submarine Porpoise intercepted and damaged the 6,311-ton merchant vessel Sebastiano Venier as she was returning from Benghazi, with 2,000 prisoners of war, under escort of the destroyers Ascari and Carabiniere as well as the torpedo boat Centauro, and then on 15 December the submarine Torbay sank the Italian vessel. Despite of bad weather, the hospital ship Arno managed to rescue 1,691 prisoners of war, 156 Italian soldiers and 15 Germans from among those on board, but 309 British and 11 Italian soldiers lost their lives.

On 11 December Luigi Cadorna once more delivered petrol to Benghazi. The British submarine Talisman sank the 4,013-tin Italian merchant vessel Calitea in the area to the south of Cape Matapan. On 13 December Ammiraglio di Divisione Antonino Toscano’s 4a Divisione Incrociatori, comprising the light cruisers Alberico da Barbiano and Amberti di Giussano, loaded with cased petrol, departed Palermo in company with the torpedo boat Cigno, but turned back soon after passing Cape Bon when they were located by British aerial reconnaissance. On the return passage both of the cruisers were hit and sunk by torpedoes from the British destroyers Sikh, Legion, Maori and Free Dutch Isaac Sweers on passage Gibraltar to Alexandria but advised of the Italian ship’s presence by 'Ultra' intelligence. Toscano and more than 900 men of the two cruisers' crews died, but Cigno was able to make good her escape.

On 17 December, the 5,084-ton Italian merchant vessel Probitas, escorted initially by the torpedo boat Climene but later by Polluce, departed Trapani for Tripoli. She was attacked by British aircraft but suffered little damage.

Between 17 and 23 December three small convoys, the first two escorted by submarine chasers and the last by the torpedo boat Cantore, made the passage from Benghazi to Tripoli without loss. On 20 December the 1,101-ton freighter Cadamosto and 1,825-ton freighter Spezia departed Tripoli for Benghazi, but during the night of 21/22 December both ships sank in the area to the north of Misurate. It was at first believed that the ships had fallen victim to British submarine attack, but it was then accepted that they had strayed into an Italian minefield laid by cruisers a short time earlier.

Between 21 and 23 December the Italian ran several small-ship convoys running between Benghazi and Tripoli, and all of these completed their passages safely.