Operation Temple

'Temple' was a British naval undertaking to run a single merchant vessel from the Strait of Gibraltar to Malta (28 April/2 May 1941).

Early in the spring of 1941, the situation of Malta was so desperate as a result of the shortage of supplies that the British decided to explore the possibility of supplying the island by means of unescorted merchant ships which, they believed, might stand a better chance than an escorted convoy of slipping through to the island without detection. This scheme was deemed feasible as a result of the considerable traffic by older, small vessels of the tramp type along the North African coast. Unescorted passage was also thought a possibility for the recovery of some of the ships remaining at Malta from incoming convoys. Although unescorted, such passages usually took place during succeeding operations, but certain vessels made the return passage without benefit of cover from other events.

'Temple' was the first attempt at an unescorted passage of this type, and was made by the 4,698-ton Parracombe, which departed the UK on 17 April in the OG.59 convoy. The vessel had been repainted in peacetime colours, and separated from the convoy early in its passage to proceed on her own escorted by the corvettes Columbine and Gardenia to pass through the Strait of Gibraltar during the night of the 28/29 April. British patrols had explicit orders neither to approach nor to challenge the ship, whose escort was to detach off Europa Point.

Parracombe was loaded with 21 crated Hawker Hurricane fighters and their associated spares, 68 rocket projectors and ammunition for them, and various other military stores.

As she passed through the Strait of Gibraltar, the ship wore the Spanish ensign, assuming French colours when well to the east and off the coast of Algeria. Her orders were to pass close to Cape Bon, and then to break for Malta during the dark hours to arrive within 50 miles (80 km) of Malta at dawn to receive fighter cover. Nothing was heard from the vessel after clearing the Strait of Gibraltar until it became apparent that she had fallen foul of minefields laid in the vicinity of Cape Bon. She sank on 2 May, 18 of her crew of 47 making it to the shore and being interned by the Vichy French. The Axis minefield and was apparently on or very close to the limit of the Vichy French territorial waters.