Operation Cablegram

This was a British naval sweep into the Aegean Sea by an escort carrier force (24 September/31 October 1944).

The undertaking was part of the effort by Rear Admiral J. M. Mansfield’s Aegean Force (based on Mansfield’s own 15th Cruiser Squadron) to occupy the Aegean islands and parts of the Greek mainland evacuated by the German forces. Within this overall effort, ‘Cablegram’ was undertaken by Rear Admiral T. H. Troubridge’s Special Carrier Task Force 1.

The British ships swept through the Aegean Sea as far to the north as the Cyclades and Sporades island groups and, despite being hampered by German minefields, the carriers’ aircraft, the cruisers and the destroyers sank some 60 vessels, and also attacked many shore targets. The carrierborne aircraft suffered only minimal losses in the course of 640 sorties, and inflicted much damage on the German garrisons and the shipping and port facilities on which they were largely reliant for continued existence.

The whole undertaking was characterised by many actions with small German ships and the shelling of German positions, airfields and batteries before and during the accompanying programme of landings.

The efforts of the British surface warships were supplemented by the activities of the 1st Submarine Flotilla, which was strengthened at this time by the arrival of Upstart, Untiring and French Curie.

Between 30 September and 3 October, as the Germans evacuated their forces from most of the Greek islands and also from southern Greece, a German convoy from Piraeus to Thessaloníki comprised two merchant vessels escorted by the torpedo boat TA 18 (ex-Italian Solferino), submarine chasers UJ 2102 and UJ 2144, and two harbour patrol vessels. On 2 October Curie sank the 1,994-ton Zar Ferdinand and on the next day Unswerving sank the 1,810-ton Berta. During the evening of 3 October Curie sank the patrol vessel GM 03/Netztender XII. On the next day Untiring missed TA 18 and then on 5 October sank a caique but missed the steamship Burgas.

On 7 October Untiring attacked landing craft, but was depth-charged and damaged by UJ 2102. The Greek Matrozos missed the 1,150-ton steamship Achilles on 8 October, but Vivid then sank this ship as well as the tugs Horst and Paul. The Greek Nereus and Pipinos undertook uneventful patrols and visited several Greek islands. Virtue sank six small craft between 9 and 11 October. The torpedo boats TA 38 (ex-Italian Spada) and TA 39 (ex-Italian Daga) undertook a defensive mining operation off Piraeus on 5/6 October and sank ML-1227.

On 15 October the Greek minesweepers Kasos and Kos, ML-870 and a tanker were sunk on this barrage.

Meanwhile, between 6 and 13 October the last German ships in the Aegean had been transferred from Piraeus to Thessaloníki, and in the course of this effort the torpedo boat TA 37 (ex-Italian Gladio), UJ 2102 and a harbour patrol boat were sent to the bottom on 7 October in an engagement to the south-west of Kassandra-Huk with the destroyers Termagant and Tuscan, although the minelayer Zeus escaped.

On 9 October TA 38 went aground near Makronisi and then, after being towed by TA 39 to Volos, was sunk by aircraft of the escort carrier Stalker’s No. 809 Squadron on 12 October. The aircraft also sank a merchantman, two supply ships, a submarine chaser, a naval ferry barge, a Siebel ferry, three patrol boats, and several other craft.

Germany’s last operational ships in the Aegean, the steamship Lola, the torpedo boat TA 39 and three motor minesweepers, were sent to Thessaloníki after the evacuation of Piraeus on 12 October. The unserviceable torpedo boats TA 15 and TA 17, together with a number of small craft, were scuttled.

On 19 October the torpedo boat TA 18 was sunk off Volos during an engagement with the destroyers Termagant and Tuscan. On 28 October the submarine Vampire intercepted the 13,870-ton German hospital ship Gradisca and, suspecting that she was carrying troops, escorted her to Chios and then Alexandria for examination and then release after a number of German soldiers had been forcibly landed.

On 31 October, following of their evacuation of Thessaloníki, the Germans scuttled their last vessels, these including S 54, R 185, R 195, R 210, R 211 and the auxiliary minesweepers Alula, Otranto and Gallipoli. TA 39 and Lola had succumbed to mines on 16 October.

back to text
escort carriers Attacker, Emperor, Hunter, Khedive, Pursuer, Searcher and Stalker, light cruisers Ajax, Aurora and Orion, light anti-aircraft cruisers Argonaut, Black Prince, Colombo and Royalist, Captain C. L. Firth’s 24th Destroyer Flotilla (Troubridge, Termagant, Terpsichore, Teazer, Tuscan, Tumult, Free Greek Navarinon and Free Polish Garland), and escort destroyers Brecon, Calpe, Catterick, Cleveland, Liddesdale, Zetland and Free Greek Themistokles, Kriti, Pindos, Kanaris and Miaoulis