Operation Crupper (i)

This was a British naval undertaking to send two unescorted supply ships from Gibraltar to Malta (November 1942).

The operation was an attempt to capitalise on confusion caused to the Axis by ‘Torch’ and the operations following it. The 2,609-ton Ardeola and 1,927-ton Tadorna, both carrying fodder, were despatched with the KMS.1 stores convoy for the invasion, but were detached at a point west of Gibraltar. Both passed through the Strait of Gibraltar with the now-standard array of disguises, and proceeded along the North African coast to Cape Bon.

One of the assumptions of ‘Torch’ was that there would be little if any opposition by the Vichy French, but in places the opposition was considerable and, in Tunisia, reached the point of active co-operation with Axis forces. In consequence, when both ships were fired on and ordered to stop, near the planned rendezvous area to the south of Filfola island, by shore batteries off Cape Bon on 9 November, neither master scuttled his ship on the assumption that he would be allowed to proceed. Both ships were in fact captured and taken into Bizerte, where they were unloaded, their cargoes seized and the ships handed over to the Italians.

Both ships were then taken into Italian service as Aderno and Balzac respectively, and were later torpedoed and sunk by British submarines on 23 July and 7 March 1943.