Operation Exterminate

This was a British naval undertaking to destroy three German warships (one torpedo boat and two corvettes in the Adriatic Sea (2/3 November 1944).

At 21.15 on the night of 23/24 October 1944 the German corvettes UJ 202 and UJ 208 (ex-Italian Melpomene and Spingarda) discovered British torpedo boats waiting in ambush near the north-western cape of Škrda island, off the coast of German-occupied Yugoslavia, for a German convoy (Siebel ferries F 522, F 354, F 433, F 554 and the motor sailing vessels Antionio and Toni) evacuating German troops from Zadar to Fiume (Rijeka).

There followed a shapeless night engagement in which 11 Germans were killed and another 34 wounded. With the exception of F 433, which capsized and sank near Dolin island, the German vessels suffered only minor damage. The Germans claimed to have sunk eight British torpedo boats, and though this claim was exaggerated, their losses were sufficient to prompt the British to plan ‘Exterminate’ to sink the two corvettes.

On 1 November three British destroyers arrived at Ist island together with two escort destroyers, Wheatland and Avon Vale, to carry out ‘Exterminate’. Lieutenant Commander Morgan Giles, commander of British naval forces on east coast of Adriatic, was in command of operation. On the same day, Kapitän Konrad Weygold, the Kommandant der Seeverteidigung Norddalmatien, issued orders for ‘Wikinger’ (iii), the evacuation of all remaining naval assets from Šibenik. The plan was for the German convoy to leave Šibenik at 17.00 on the following day in two groups: Gruppe ‘A’ was to comprise the Siebel ferries involved in the engagement of 23/24 October, while Gruppe ‘B’ was to comprise two assault and 10 engineer landing craft. Forwarded from Rijeka, the escort was to comprise the corvettes UJ 202 and UJ 208, minesweeper R 187, torpedo boats TA 20 and TA 21 and four torpedo boats of Korvettenkapitän Wilhelm Verlohr’s 3rd Torpedoboots-Flottille, also divided into two groups.

The Germans were compelled to postpone the implementation of their plan by one day so that the preparations could be fully completed. Refuelling complications delayed the departure of TA 20, and TA 21 was left in port, which left the escort group weakened and divided into three smaller groups with the corvettes in the van and R 187 and TA 20 bringing up the rear.

The British destroyers, which were landing a reconnaissance group on Pag island, received reports from torpedo boats of the German corvettes’ approach and immediately moved to the south-west from Pag and 10 minutes later engaged the German ships some 11.5 miles (18.5 km) to the west of Novalja. At 20.15 the Germans detected radio signals and launched flares, but were quickly overwhelmed by the greater firepower of the British warships.

At about 20.50 UJ 202 capsized and sank, and UJ 208 caught fire and exploded at 21.43. R 187 managed to withdraw safely, but TA 20 attempted to engage but by 22.30 had also been sunk. R 187 managed to link with the convoy from Šibenik and escort it safely to Rab island.