Operation Sneeze

This was a British programme of naval undertakings in relation to French naval elements in the Middle East at the time of ‘Torch’ (6/15 November 1942).

On 6 November 1942, all Allied ships were removed from the area round the ‘Squadron X’ of immobilised French warships anchored at Alexandria in northern Egypt since June 1940, in case the French ships reacted adversely to the news of the impending Allied ‘Torch’ landings in French North-West Africa. On 7 November the elderly French battleship Lorraine entered the Admiralty floating dock, as had been requested by the French commander, Contre-Amiral René Emile Godfroy, many months previously, in a movement which well suited the Allies as the battleship’s relocation considerably reduced the strength of ‘Squadron X’ in the event of any hostile French action on learning of ‘Torch’. On 8 November, Admiral Sir Henry Harwood, the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, met Godfroy on receipt of Admiralty instructions and informed Godfroy of the Allied landings in French North-West Africa. Godfroy’s reactions were confused and, in spite of all arguments, he could not decide on any course of action.

Precautions were therefore taken in Alexandria to meet all eventualities: the Allied forces in Alexandria covered all the French ships of ‘Squadron X’ with army artillery disposed around the harbour, motor torpedo boats were positioned to torpedo the French ships if offensive action had to be taken, and boarding parties were readied to take over the ships after any resistance had ended.

On 8 November, after it had become clear that the French would not react with any military action, the 15th Cruiser Squadron and all destroyers were ordered to return from Alexandria to Port Said, but be ready to steam at short notice. On 9 November, Lorraine remained in dry dock for another 24 hours, and the late hospital ship Somersetshire was moved across the boom as a further obstacle to prevent the possibility of any French ships from leaving the harbour. On 13 November all ‘Sneeze’ ships and aircraft were released to other duties, though as late as 15 November 12 motor torpedo boats and all the coastal guns remained in position lest the ships of ‘Squadron X’ attempt to conduct offensive operations, and on the same day the light cruisers Arethusa, Cleopatra, Dido and Orion, and the escort destroyers Aldenham, Beaufort, Croome, Dulverton, Tetcott and Free Greek Pindos arrived in Alexandria from Port Said.