Operation Canned (i)

'Canned' (i) was a British naval bombardment of Italian coastal positions and dumps at Banda Alula in Italian Somaliland (28 November 1940).

The undertaking fell within the British naval programme to ensure the effective protection of convoys passing in either direction along the Red Sea between the Suez Canal and the Arabian Sea. For a time this task was assigned to the New Zealand light cruiser Leander, which was the senior ship of the Red Sea force for almost six months. On 2 July 1940, in the eastern approaches to the Gulf of Aden, the cruiser and two sloops met BN.1, the first convoy from Bombay, of nine merchant vessels including six tankers. Northbound for Suez, this convoy was escorted through the Red Sea to a position beyond Port Sudan where the first southbound convoy, BS.1, was met and the respective escorts changed over. This convoy was dispersed 200 miles (320 km) east of Aden on 15 July.

Varied only by brief visits to Aden for fuel, stores and maintenance, this was Leander's routine for almost five months, during which the cruiser steamed more than 30,000 miles (48280 km) in company with slow convoys and averaged only five days a month in harbour.

The Italians attempted to intervene with their Red Sea force of submarines, but these were ineffectual and checked by the destruction of five boats and the capture of a sixth during the latter part of June. Thereafter the boats gave little trouble, and their only success against the ships escorted by Leander was the sinking, on 6 September, of an elderly Greek tanker which had straggled far behind the BN.4 convoy.

Italian aircraft were equally unenterprising: these made the occasional hit-and-run raids on Aden and a number of convoys, but hit no ship though one vessel of the BN.5 convoy was damaged by a near miss on 20 September and towed to Aden.

A break in the monotony of convoy escort came in the early hours of 21 October as the BN.7 convoy passed to the east of the approaches to Massawa. The British sloop Auckland sighted and engaged two Italian destroyers, the Australian sloop Yarra joining in shortly before the Italian ships turned away. Two torpedoes failed to hit the Australian ship. Leander steamed to intercept the Italian ships and opened fire, first on one and then on the other, before they disappeared into haze. The cruiser then returned to the convoy. An hour later the British destroyer Kimberley reported that she was heading to intercept the Italian ships off Harmil island at dawn. At 05.50 Kimberley sighted one destroyer in that locality. The two ships opened fire on each other and a few minutes later a shore battery joined in the action. Kimberley closed to 5,000 yards (4570 m) and by 06.25 the destroyer Francesco Nullo had stopped, was on fire and was listing heavily. The Italians abandoned their ship, which was sunk by two torpedoes. Kimberley then engaged the shore battery until she was hit in the engine room, but the two Italian guns were silenced.

Leander left the convoy and steamed at high speed to the assistance of Kimberley, which the cruiser took in tow outside the reefs at 10.00. A few minutes later Italian aircraft attacked, dropping 15 bombs which burst in a line about 200 yards (185 m) ahead of Leander, and two others which failed to explode. The cruiser and her tow took station astern of the convoy at 12.45.

Leander was relieved by a sister ship, the Australian Hobart, on 26 November 1940. In less than five months the New Zealand cruiser had escorted 18 convoys totalling 396 ships of some 2.5 million tons and comprising numerous troop transport vessels and supply ships, as well as many oil tankers. These were about one-third of the troops and supplies carried through the Red Sea during the period.

By this time the British blockade was largely effective in preventing supplies reaching the Italians in Somaliland and Eritrea.

When it was learned that a factory at Banda Alula had completed the manufacture of 1,000 cases of tinned fish for consumption in Somaliland, Leander was ordered to carry out 'Canned' (i) with the object of demolishing the factory and the radio station at Banda Alula, some 32 miles (52 km) to the west of Cape Guardafui at the tip of the Horn of Africa.

When Leander arrived off the place on the morning of 28 November, her floatplane bombed the radio station and, after learning that the factory be abandoned, shelled it at a mean range of 4,000 yards (3660 m), the 98 rounds from her 6-in (152-mm) guns causing considerable damage and setting the buildings on fire. After recovering her floatplane once this had made a second attack on the radio station, Leander steamed to Bombay, which she reached on 2 December. Here the ship was refitted over a period of 25 days before departing the Indian port on 27 December, escorting a convoy of 29 ships when it entered the Red Sea. The cruiser returned with a southbound convoy to Aden and arrived at Colombo in Ceylon on 21 January 1941.