Europa Class Flotilla Cruiser.
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The Europa project came about from the watching of the commissioning trials of the French Mogador large destroyers by members of the Admiralty. The Mogador was fast, 44 knots fast, and well armed with eight low angle 5.4" guns. But they were unarmoured. The Mogadors, when used with members of the Le Fantasque class, created some of the fastest destroyer units ever. Unfortunately for the Allies these flotillas never came to much. Most being out of action since July 1940 and then scuttled at Toulon in November 1942. The Admiralty liked the idea of a fast cruiser sized vessel to act with the big destroyers of the JKLMN classes. Those ships were 360 odd feet in size for their 6x4.5" armament. To add a fourth 4.5" turret, would add at least a hundred feet in length. In the end the ship went out to 500 feet which allowed the Europa to be fitted with enough horsepower to keep up with the destroyers at 35 knots.
The Europa was laid down in August 1939 and a further three units were to follow in 1940. However with the outbreak of World War Two, the three follow on ships were cancelled and replaced with more Dido class anti-aircraft cruisers.
The Mogador was armed with low angle 5.4" guns firing 88-90 pound shells at 5-6 rounds a minute. Like the Germans with their 5.9" armed destroyers it was found, by the French, that the rate of fire fell away quickly, with crew fatigue being a major factor, trying to service the guns on a lively gun platform. The larger Europa with its twin power operated 4.5" turrets firing the lighter 54 pound shells were able to maintain firing rates of 8-12 rounds a minute. A decided advantage. The larger Europa was also able to carry a short strake of 3" belt armour over the machinery rooms. This meant it could take hits on the belt and deck from destroyers guns and keep fighting.
The armament for the Europa, besides the four twin 4.5" turrets, included the first of the quadruple 40mm mountings derived from the Dutch weapons brought over to the UK in 1940. These quad mountings were matched with a radar predictor mounted away from the mounting. This weapon system proved very impressive against airborne targets, and absolutely deadly against light craft like the E-boats and MAS boats. Six twin 20mm rounded out the gun armament. Two banks of triple 21" torpedoes gave the ship some teeth to attack larger targets, if the chance presented itself. Eventually the twin 20mm were replaced with single 40mm to give an overall armament of 22x40mm.
The electronic armament got better and better as the war progressed. Type 79 being replaced by type 279 etc. Upgraded electronics were fitted whenever the ship was docked for refits.
The enclosed, air conditioned, bridge was a godsend in both the heat of the Mediterranean and the freezing temperatures of the Arctic Oceans. What it was not good for was being able to see the enemy dive bombers coming down and ordering corrections of course to avoid their ordnance from hitting the ship. During one of the first refits, better access to the upper bridge was cut into place, so that the bridge officers could have better vision during air attacks.
Europa with upgraded bits and pieces through to 1943. Most visible are the new radar systems at the masthead, new radar predictors for the 40mm and the single 40mm replacing the 20mm.
|Displacement||6000 tons standard, 8050 tons full load|
|Machinery||4 shaft steam turbines, 85,000shp|
|Speed||35 knots (36 knots on a good calm day)|
|Range||6000 miles at 15 knots, 1,400 miles at 33 knots|
|Armour||3" belt, 3" box around magazines, 2" deck. 1.5" turrets.|
|Armament||As Completed 1941
8 x 4.5" (4x2)
16 x 40mm (4x4)
12 x 20mm (6x2)
|Refits to 1943
8 x 4.5" (4x2)
22 x 40mm (4x4 6x1)
|Torpedoes||6 x 21" (2x3)|
1941 - Shakedown and Mediterranean service.
November 1941, with Captain H. Solo in command, the Europa arrived at Scapa Flow where it was joined by four ships of the 'M' class destroyer flotilla. Captain Solo would be Captain 'D' of Force Europa. As a shakedown cruise, the five ships are ordered to escort the aircraft carrier HMS Apollo from Scapa Flow to join Force H at Gibraltar. The Apollo had just finished a working up period for its air group after returning from the builders yards from repairing torpedo damage incurred during the Norwegian Campaign the year before. While proceeding to Liverpool, news of the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbour is received and it is now a real World War. One of the four 'M' class was Captain Solo's previous command the Millenium Falcon (sorry, couldn't help it, bur wait for it....). Captain Solo drilled his ships hard with various evolutions to get the ships working together as a unit during the transit. With the Apollo entering Gibraltar, Captain Solo sent a signal to the Apollo reading "May the Force H be with you" (told you to wait for it). The five ships of the flotilla also entered Gibraltar and refueled. The next part of their mission was to deliver the spare aviation parts, the group had picked up from Liverpool, to Malta. Transits of shipping to and from Malta at this stage of the war was timed down to the minute. The ships had to carry enough fuel to get them to and from Malta, as the fuel transported to Malta (at such great cost) was solely for the use of the shipping based on Malta, mainly submarines. Force Europa had been spotted by the Italians the evening prior to the ships arriving in Malta. The Italians knew that the cruiser and destroyers would either be sent straight through to Alexandria and places beyond, or would return to Gibraltar. Air strikes were sent out toward both destinations, turning back toward Malta to try and intercept Force Europa. Allied to the air movements the Italian Navy sent two sets of cruisers and destroyers to intercept points, which would be able to be refined once the Italian aircraft had spotted and reported the Allied ships. It was the bombers on the Alexandria route that spotted and reported Force Europa, and only just, the ships had been traveling at 28 knots and the Italian aircraft had to chase after them to launch their attack. Force Europa was ready for them. The radar controlled 4.5" salvoes kept the bombers high and the ordnance dropped early so the bombers could turn away and head back to base. The Italian cruisers sent to intercept Force Europa was two heavy cruisers and two light cruisers, and while they were fast they would need to go at least 30 knots to intercept the ships. Back to the Gibraltar side, the Admiralty had laid on a trap for the Italian forces on that side. The aircraft carriers Golden Hind and Apollo with their escorts were in a position to intercept not only the Italian naval ships but also the Italian Air Force. Twenty Griffon fighters were launched to intercept the bombers, while a strike force of dive bombers, torpedo bombers and fighters were sent to attack the Italian Naval force of three cruisers and six destroyers. The twenty fighters shot down seven of the bombers, the rest jettisoned their payloads and screaming for assistance headed for home. The strike force intercepted the cruisers and destroyers, sinking one cruiser and two destroyers, crippling another cruiser and destroyer, the rest also running and screaming for help. A U class submarine cleaned up the cripples, a resounding success for Force H, the Force really had been with them. Meanwhile back East, the Italian cruisers looked like intercepting Force Europa in the late afternoon. The Italian force had been under observation since mid-day so Captain Solo knew to within inches where the Italians were. Admiral Cunningham also knew where the Italians were and he was at sea with the majority of his fleet with the carrier Illustrious, one Majestic class and two Barfleur class battleships with their escorts. The Illustrious readied a strike force on deck, waiting for the cruisers to come within range. With the day getting older the aircraft would only get one chance to attack the Italians. The order to fly was given and off went the formations. When the aircraft arrived at the interception point they could see Force Europa in one direction and the Italian cruisers in the other direction. It was that close. In went the torpedo bombers, down went the dive bombers, while the fighters gave cover by shooting their guns at all the AA weapons on the ships. The results were good for the Allied cause, one cruiser took two torpedo hits and lay stopped in the water, another took one torpedo hit aft and was left turning in circles at speed, another took two bomb hits and was seen headed north at best speed. Only one cruiser was left relatively intact and it went north with the bomb hit cruiser supplying some cover to that ship. Would a second Battle of Cape Matapan ensue? The Italians had learnt their lessons and abandoned the two crippled cruisers to their fate. The cruiser with rudder and screw damage was headed north in an erratic fashion and slow speed. Two destroyers and a cruiser were sent after it and caught up with it at night, using their radar to good effect the destroyers closed and launched a bank of torpedoes each, three hits later the Italian cruiser rolled over and sank. The other cruiser stopped in the water was used as night fighting practice by the Battlefleet, half a dozen 15" hits and the cruiser exploded and sank.
1942 - Far East Service.
The Milne required a day in dock at Alexandria to repair some splinter damage, then with all ships refueled Force Europa was ordered east to Trincomalee. At Trincomalee, fresh orders were received by Captain Solo to proceed to Phuket on the Thailand / Malaysian border, there to pick up the Siamese Royal Family and the Thai Treasury and return to Trincomalee. A Lieutenant Walker from Trincomalee who was able to speak the Thai language would go with Captain Solo in the Europa. Utmost speed was required as the Japanese landings at Khota Bahru were underway while Japanese troops were invading the lands of Thailand and Burma. At 30 knots the ships got to Phuket in good time. Captain Solo, and others went ashore to greet the King and his family and to work out how to load all the people and goods piled in the hotels and warehouses on board the ships. The interpreter, Lieutenant Walker seemed overly taken with one of the Royal Princesses and lost no time in introducing himself. "Hi, I am Luke Walker, my friends call me Sky and we are here to save you!". The Princess replied, "I am Princess Leia, Luke Sky Walker, and I am too old for you". Her eyes went over Lieutenant Walker's shoulder and lingered on Captain Solo (is that cheesy enough?). It took the remainder of the day to load everybody and the goods aboard. No sooner had the ships got underway than a Japanese spotter plane appeared overhead. The Japanese aircraft on spotting Force Europa started broadcasting and everybody aboard knew what to expect. An air attack might just reach them before dark. Captain Solo ordered the ships to go to 32 knots, as time and distance were their friends. The further the Japanese aircraft had to travel, the closer to dark it would be. Darkness saved them. Captain Solo could hear the Japanese aircraft and even spotted two flares where the Japanese were searching for his ships. Once out of range of the Japanese aircraft the air alerts were relaxed and the King, family and staff could come up on deck to get some fresh air. The king and his family were invited to the bridge, in two shifts as the Kings immediate family totaled eight people. Princess Leia made straight for Captain Solo and started asking questions and listening raptly to his answers. Much to the amusement to the King. But the Queen was more realistic and whispered in the Kings ear that a connection to the British Empire would be beneficial to resuming his reign of Thailand once the war was over. When the time for changeover came, the King left Princess Leia with Captain Solo and waited to see what happened. You do not get to be a Royal Navy Captain in the 1940's by being stupid. Captain Solo was also aware of what having a Royal Princess as a wife could do for his career even if she was from an exotic place such as Thailand. To monopolise her time as much as he could, Captain Solo got out a sextant and took Princess Leia to the upper bridge where he could show her the stars and teach her how to shoot them with a sextant. Several hours passed too quickly with fun and laughter between the two of them. But all good things come to an end and the Princess' servant was dispatched to bring the Princess back to earth and her cabin to sleep. The afternoon of the next day saw the ships arrive in Trincomalee with Captain Solo seeing the King and family over the side to the waiting Admirals barge. His words to Princess Leia "Till we meet again". Captain Solo was fully expecting orders to take him away to some other port to be sent to him within hours. The orders that Captain Solo received surprised him. He was ordered to attend the reception to be given for the Thai Royal family on its arrival in Ceylon, to also take three of his officers as well. Another set of orders arrived for the Europa to go into dock to refit the bridge area as had been highlighted by the air attacks in the Mediterranean. The work would take 36 hours. Captain Solo immediately gave half the crew 24 hours leave and arranged with local authorities for the other half to get some shore time on rotation. Captain Solo had the feeling a bit of Royal help had been received for his ship to receive such preferential treatment. Despite the women of the base and local residents, the officers of the three services outnumbered them five to one. This made no difference to Princess Leia who had eyes only for Captain Solo (call me Han). An evening of dancing followed by a day of discovery in and around Trincomalee with a picnic lunch, chaperoned of course, cemented their feelings for each other. The talk between them that afternoon was of the future. Captain Solo approached the King that afternoon and asked for Princess Leias hand in marriage, the King assented and a hasty engagement party was arranged for that evening. It might otherwise be months before Captain Solo might be back in the same place as Princess Leia and her family. At 10am next morning the newly engaged Captain Solo aboard the Europa led his flotilla out to sea with orders for Singapore.
Arriving in Singapore to see the remnants of Force Z in the harbour. It had been good management on the part of Admiral Philips that the Indomitable had been astern of the main group and been missed by the Japanese bombers. Captain Solo was made aware of the loss of the Prince of Wales and Repulse when he reported to the Rear-Admiral aboard the Indomitable. A news blackout was in place for 48 hours on the losses. Captain Solo and his flotilla were to be the main escort force for the Indomitable with added ships of size depending on the mission. The first mission was to get the Indomitable the hell out of Singapore. Reports of Japanese battle groups and invasion forces were being received from all over the East Indies. The new group left that afternoon, then passing through the Sunda Strait and into the Indian Ocean. The ABDA forces battled with Japanese on one side of Java while the Indomitable and force Europa passed by on the other side, out of range to help. The ships refueled at Darwin and went on to Brisbane then Sydney where the Indomitable was docked for urgent refit work. While the Indomitable was in dock. Force Europa escorted some large liners to and from New Zealand bringing elements of the New Zealand Division to join their Australian counterparts to head off to the Middle East. A further troop convoy from Brisbane to Port Moresby with Australian Defense Force troops kept the ships occupied. Returning to Sydney, it is now late April 1942 and Indomitable and Force Europa are ordered to join Admiral Fletcher to intercept Japanese forces that intelligence intercepts report are heading to attack Papua-New Guinea. For this trip the Rear Admiral is aboard the battlecruiser Australis and an extra two, brand new, Australis Tribal class destroyers were a welcome addition.
May 1942: Battle of the Coral Sea.
Joining Admiral Fletcher, the two groups were kept seperate as until time could be taken to integrate the US and Commonwealth systems into one, mayhem could rule. Interaction between the groups would be at command level. The two opposing fleets both had three carriers, the Allies had three fleet carriers while the Japanese had two fleet carriers and one light fleet carrier. At this stage of the war the Japanese pilots were better trained and had more experience than the Allied ones. Both sides knew where the other was and dogfights between CAP fighters and opposing scout aircraft went on throughout the day while both commanders waited for their aircraft to come within range. Both sides launched strikes within minutes of each other, but where the Japanese launched on integrated strike the Allied forces went in as two seperate attacks. The Japanese arrived first and damaged the Yorktown, crippled the Lexington and sank the oiler Neosho which was claimed by the Japanese as another carrier. The Indomitable group went unmolested. The US air group struck next damaging both the Shokaku and Zuikaku with cruisers and destroyers also receiving damage. The Indomitable air group arrived and sank the light carrier Ryuho and damaged further light forces. Both sides then drew apart as the costs were counted. Both sides had taken large damage to their air groups (95 Japanese and 80 odd Allied aircraft) and now had less than half what they started with. The remainder of Lexington's air group was crammed aboard the Yorktown making aircraft handling difficult. The Japanese thought they had accounted for all three Allied carriers either sunk or heavily damaged and retreated back to Truk believing they had won the Battle. Two things had come out of the battle.
1. This was the first battle where ships of either side never saw each other. It was fought entirely from the air.
2. The damage to Shokaku and Zuikaku kept them out of the Battle of Midway, while the hasty repairs to Yorktown got enough US forces to sea to win the battle.
The Commonwealth group returned to Sydney. Having proved to the US Pacific Fleet commanders that it was possible for Commonwealth and US forces to work together, further joint adventures were to be put into the pipeline.
June 1942: Escorting the Queen.
While waiting in Sydney, the RMS Queen Elizabeth arrived from fitting out work at Esquimault, Canada. The Queen Elizabeth loaded the ANZAC troops that were waiting for it at Sydney. Captain Solo received orders to escort the Queen Elizabeth from Sydney to Port Said for delivery of the troops. Leaving Sydney, the group went to 25 knots and went south around the bottom of Australis headed for Perth. Arriving in Perth, the group was held at Perth as the Japanese carrier strike force had left the Home Islands and disappeared. If that fleet went for another strike into the Indian Ocean, the Naval Board of Control did not want the Queen Elizabeth filled with troops to be anywhere near the Japanese fleets possible track. Eight days later news of the Midway Battle came through and the group was ordered on to its Port Said destination, arriving a week later. Force Europa said goodbye to the Queen Elizabeth and was ordered to Trincomalee, there to receive a weeks leave while the ships of the group would each receive a couple of days in dock to refit, bottom clean, boiler clean, and a weeks leave for the crews. For Captain Solo, personally, a week in Ceylon could not be better, a reunion with his fiancée would ease some of his stress levels that commanding his ship and group caused.
On leaving Trincomalee the group was ordered south to search for a German raider that was interdicting shipping from Australis to Capetown. A search was undertaken which after five days of searching ran down the armed merchant cruiser Albatros. It was the Milne who intercepted the Albatros and kept far enough away that the Albatros would not be able to surprise it. Exchanging information with the Board of Control on the false identity the Albatros had given, the Milne was ordered to shadow the Albatros while other members of the group rendezvoused to ensure that the Albatros would be sunk with the least damage to the group. Sensing that the game was up the Albatros turned toward the Milne and tried a surprise run, but the Milne easily kept its distance. The Albatros had still not shown its true colours, but its skipper had its crew at full alert status, knowing that something bigger than a destroyer must be nearby and coming to the destroyers assistance. Force Europa was gathering with Captain Solo passing orders for how he wanted the formation of the group to be. Europa joined Milne and moved within comfortable gun range and opened fire immediately which caught the Germans slightly by surprise as the German Commander had expected to be ordered to heave to and some more conversation that might allow his ship to get closer before it opened fire. In the end the Albatros was forced to drop its disguise and open fire at a range that was not optimal for its old 5.9" guns. (These guns had been removed from some old pre-dreadnought battleships of 1904-06 vintage). The gunnery radar/directors on the British ships proved their worth with the 4.5" shells hitting the Albatros with regularity. The 54 pound shells caused damage but the Albatros was a big ship that could absorb quite a few hits. The Albatros' gunnery was good, but with only three gun salvoes had little chance of hitting the much faster and agile Europa and Milne. While this was happening, Commander Chewbacca of the Millennium Falcon led the other two M class in a classic criss-cross torpedo attack from the Albatros' bow. Where the 54 pound 4.5" shells did not cause much damage, two 21" torpedo hits ripped the side right out of the Albatros, which lurched to that hit side and started to settle in the water. Captain Solo signalled the Albatros to surrender so that his ships could come in close and rescue survivors. The German flag remained flying so Force Europa could only hold their distance and wait for the Albatros to sink. It would only take one fanatical Nazi to launch a torpedo and one of the rescue ships could turn into a victim. Once the Albatros sank, Europa and Milne closed in and launched boats to rescue survivors. It was a race to see who got to the survivors first, the boats or the sharks.
The survivors were landed at Perth where force Europa was refueled and ordered to Sydney.
August 1942: Guadalcanal or bust.
Arriving in Sydney, a veritable fleet was waiting for Force Europa. The aircraft carriers HMS Indomitable, and HMAS Endeavour, the battlecruiser Australis, the 6th cruiser squadron (HMAS Canberra, Wellington, HMAS Greymouth, Adelaide), four of the Australis Tribal class and with Force Europa the escort for the big ships was complete. Another set of ships for the 'Fleet Train' to backup the warships contained a couple of tankers with half a dozen stores ships carrying everything that might be required to replenish the big ships. The US forces had point for the landings on Guadalcanal, but the Australis Army was putting ashore two regiments to help hold the ground the Americans took, these would be transported on an older liner that would go initially with the warships then transfer to the fleet train and be used as a hospital ship. The idea was to take and hold the landing strip the Japanese were building on Guadalcanal. The Australis troops would also help with airfield security. The fleet trains escort contained two escort carriers, an anti-aircraft cruiser and eight escort destroyers. One escort carrier had the fleet trains aircraft aboard while the other was crammed with 30 fighters that would be flown off to the new airstrip and fly the CAP sorties that would be needed to fight off the Japanese aircraft attacks. These fleets left Sydney a day apart and headed north for the Solomon Islands. The warships arrived and were subordinated to the overall command of Admiral Halsey. Halsey now had a more capable force than the Admiral commanding the Japanese forces, four CV's with over 320 aircraft to 2 CV's and a CVL with only 190 aircraft. The US landings came as a surprise to the Japanese commanders, and the loss of the airstrip was seen as a large loss of both tactical and strategic importance. The loss of the four carriers and their flight crews, at Midway, caused immeasurable damage to the Japanese war machine. Such landing strips as the one on Guadalcanal were required to replace the mobile losses with fixed units that were easier to produce. The Japanese local commander Admiral Abe knew that he had lost the advantage and would have to seize the initiative if this was not to end up as another reverse. The plan was to have a three stage attack. Stage one the Japanese Army would attack the airstrip perimeter and retake the airfield. That would allow the CVL Hiyo to fly off 30 fighters and bombers to be the new occupants of the airstrip. The fleet carriers (Tosa and Owari) would launch an attack against the Allied aircraft carriers and either sink them or put them out of action. Then Admiral Tanaka with some cruisers, destroyers, and transports would shell American positions and land more troops who would complete the retaking of Guadalcanal. A simple yet elegant plan of attack. Unfortunately things started going wrong right from the start. The Japanese Army attacked on schedule and cleared a path through to the airstrip and were moments from victory and an eager radio operator sent the code for the aircraft to be launched from the Hiyo. To the radio operators horror, not seconds later, the sounds of tanks came toward the Japanese troops and the US Armies trump card came into view, a dozen M3 light tanks, six from each flank, virtually invulnerable to anything the Japanese light forces had with them. There had been no intelligence that the Americans had any tanks. The tanks swept into each flank decimating the Japanese with their machineguns and 37mm cannons. The Japanese had no answer to tanks and were forced to withdraw. Strike one! Running over the dead body of the radio operator and his equipment. Less than an hour later the Japanese aircraft swept in to the airstrip, lowered their landing gear and started exploding as the American air defence forces shot them out of the sky. The survivors had nowhere to go. Crash landing in the sea on their way back to the Hiyo, because they could not find the Hiyo. Strike two! The Americans had launched an attack on the carrier that had been spotted in a dawn patrol. The Hiyo was the victim, taking torpedo and bomb hits, many more than it could handle and with explosions blasting through the sides and deck the ship ploughed into the sea and went under. Tosa and Owari had also launched attack squadrons at the American ships it had spotted and in a ferocious battle over the American fleet the Enterprise is damaged and the Constellation is sunk. The Japanese forces were unfortunate in that their attacking aircraft were just breaking off their attack when the American attack force was returning from sinking the Hiyo. Another engagement ensued from which very few of the Japanese aircraft emerged from. Aircraft from all the air groups involved were in the air. The Commonwealth carriers had spotted the Japanese Owari and Tosa, so their attack squadrons went after those two carriers. The aircraft attacked and were intercepted by the Japanese combat air patrol (CAP), but their were not enough aircraft in the CAP to break up the Allied attack and the torpedo and dive bombers went in with cover from the fighters. Both carriers were trying to turn into the wind to fly off more fighters when the bombs from the dive bombers hit the deck and sides of both ships. Tosa was hit in the engine room and slowed considerably making the ship a sitting duck for the torpedo bombers, taking four torpedo hits and exploding. The Owari, though on fire, dodged the torpedoes, and limped off toward the horizon. The escort force closed around the crippled ship and fought off the last few attacking aircraft. It would be many months before the Owari was ready for combat again. Strike three! This left Admiral Tanaka with his cruisers, destroyers and transports out in the open with no cover. He also reversed course but only for a few hours as his orders had been changed to land the troops from the transports after dark. The American forces had reversed course to the south, their ships had received the worst of it. Admiral Halsey ordered the Commonwealth forces to provide a close support unit to cover the airstrip and landing points. Admiral Crutchley in the Australis took two cruisers of the 6th cruiser squadron and Force Europa with him and went to the area between Guadalcanal and Savo Island. Steaming slowly on a fixed patrol line that covered all of the major areas, the calls for fire support came in thick and fast as the Japanese forces probed the Allied lines, keeping the troops awake. The Milne was first in line again, reporting contacts from the North-West heading for the island. Tanaka's force had arrived. Admiral Crutchley ordered his forces to close on the flagship, and took the Australis towards where the Japanese forces were. Once in radar contact the Australis opened fire on what was taken to be the transports, the big 14" shells making huge splashes in and around the Japanese forces. A flash of fire showed where one of the 14" had found a target. The Australis turned to parallel the Japanese line and kept firing with everything it had, the two heavy cruisers behind it also firing as fast as they could. Force Europa was drawing ahead of the big ships to get into position to attack with torpedoes. The cruisers were doing 25 knots, Force Europa 32 knots, that is what saved most of Force Europa. HMS Meteor was tail end Charlie and took one torpedo hit that blew off the ships stern, but it was the big ships that took the brunt of the action, HMAS Australis took 4 torpedo hits along the length of the ship, opening up the side of the ship virtually from bow to stern, losing speed and capsizing to starboard, 30 minutes later that great ship had disappeared. The two cruisers, Canberra and Wellington both took hits, the Canberra, three, the Wellington one. The Canberra sank, the Wellington survived to be towed out of the battle arena. Force Europa went another few minutes toward the Japanese line firing guns while the torpedo solution came at which point each ship fired all of their torpedoes at the Japanese line. Admiral Tanaka was in the process of reversing his ships away from the danger presented by the Allied cruisers when the torpedoes arrived. One cruiser received two hits and another cruiser one hit. One destroyer and one transport also received torpedo hits. Both sides had had enough and the 45 minute action ended at approximately 1.00am. With the withdrawal of the Japanese the Commonwealth forces went in search of the wrecks and cripples to see what could be saved and what needed to be put down.
The cost to both sides was serious. The Japanese lost the CV's, Tosa and had the Owari crippled, the CVL Hiyo was also sunk. One heavy and one light cruiser were sunk and two other cruisers were heavily damaged. Two destroyers had been crippled but worst of all two of the transports had been sunk and their troops lost, one had taken a torpedo and the other two 14" hits. The heavy cruiser was the one torpedoed in the night action and sunk next day by aircraft from the Commonwealth carriers.
Tosa with bomb damage and waiting for the torpedo bombers to finish it off.
The Allied forces had fared just as badly. One CV, one battlecruiser, two heavy and one light cruiser, two destroyers all sunk. Many other ships had been damaged from heavy to light. Force Europa had lost the Meteor while the Europa, Milne and Millennium Falcon, had all taken various shell hit damage from 5" to 8" guns. Force Europa was disbanded while the Europa and Milne the worst hit were sent off to Sydney for repair and the remaining destroyer stayed with the other destroyers and cruisers screening the Indomitable and Endeavour.
September - October 1942: Refit and repair at Cockatoo.
The Europa in the van of the force had received the worst damage, half a dozen 5" to 8" hits had peppered the ship. Milne, next in line had also received similar but lighter damage. Both ships were ordered to Sydney and the Cockatoo Island dockyards for repair. The Milne would be in for a week and on release was ordered back to join Indomitable. The Europa was going to take three weeks of work to repair the damage and to receive updated Radar and other electronic equipment. Captain Solo was on duty for one week of the three, command of the ship being shared by the senior officers so each could get a fortnights leave. Captain Solo went to Dubbo in the heart of New South Wales where a distant cousin hosted him. The chance to walk on something that didn't move in three dimensions was a blessing. Unwinding in that peaceful place was just marvelous.
Back to the big smoke of Sydney, Captain Solo received orders taking the Europa back to the Mediterranean Theatre, there to take command of the 16th destroyer squadron at Alexandria.
Clearing out Mare Nostrum, and turning it into an Allied lake - 1943:
In the year since Europa was last in the Mediterranean many changes had taken place. The Allies had won at El Alamein and the Torch landings meant the German and Italian troops in North Africa were being squeezed from both ends. Malta had been relieved and was now in full operation as a base for aircraft. The Italian Navy was held in its bases as the Allied Naval forces were now dominating both the East and West Mediterranean Sea areas. Supplies for the German and Italian forces were hard to come by as the Allied Naval forces intercepted and sunk the supply convoys. The Torch landings brought the scuttling of the French Fleet at Toulon as the Germans moved into the Vichy area of France.
Arriving at Alexandria the Europa and Captain Solo are soon integrated into the fleet. The 16th Destroyer Flotilla consisted of the four remaining Tribal class in the Mediterranean Theatre (Ashanti, Eskimo, Tartar, and Nubian). Matched with the Europa as Flotilla Leader, this made a powerful force. To make it even more deadly HMS Lynx was added regularly as a 'ship of force' to the group. The group was sent to a forward base at Malta and was tasked with intercepting any shipping trying to transport supplies one way and troops the other way from North Africa to Italian ports. Acting in pairs, the group would range around their designated strike area sinking everything from big launches full of troops to 10,000 ton freighters. They were so successful that the Italian Navy and air force were forced to come out and play.
Third Battle of Sirte 1943:
News of a small convoy, was received at Malta Command, of four, eight to ten thousand ton freighters, with an escort being assembled in Naples, to run supplies across to North Africa, and bring back the excess troops and non-combatants back to Italy. The visible escort in Naples harbour was six destroyers and destroyer escorts. At Syracuse (and had been for some months) were four cruisers, two heavy, two light. These ships had been tasked with being the distant cover to the convoy to stop any interference from the Europa's group. Captain Solo's orders were short and succinct "Get that convoy". The convoy left Naples at dark to get as far across the Mediterranean before daylight found it again. What the Italians had yet to realise is that the Allies had aircraft with Radar fitted that could shadow the convoy even during the hours of darkness. Captain Solo knew to the yard where the Italians were. Submarines that were able to be contacted and were near enough to be vectored onto the convoy were given the same orders, 'get that convoy'. In the end only one submarine made a dawn attack against the convoy, sinking one destroyer which heroically spotted the incoming torpedoes and put itself between the torpedoes and the convoy. The convoy carried on, leaving two Gabbiano class corvettes to harry and depth charge the submarine, keeping it down and unable to surface and pass on any messages. The Europa group left Malta in company with the Lynx, an hour before dawn intending to intercept the convoy two hours after dawn. Between dawn and an hour after dawn a huge air battle took place as the Italian and German Air Forces tried to send air support out to help the convoy and to attack anything that might be stalking the convoy like the Europa group, while the RAF fighters tried to knock them down. Flights of Beaufighters and Whirlwinds took turns flying cover over the Europa group and scouting the position of the Italian convoy. Half a squadron of S.M.79 torpedo aircraft made a run on the group but were broken up by the Whirlwinds (These are the Mk.II version with Merlin engines, longer range and higher speed).
The convoy came up on the Lynx's Radar at just over 30,000 yards, those merchantmen were just big blobs on the screen. In slightly murky conditions the Commonwealth ships could see the Italians on Radar but not on the mark one eyeball. The Radar on the ships was good enough that they could have fired with radar control, but, the 4.5" guns would only be in range at 20,000 yards, only the Lynx could have fired at 25,000+ yards. Another 5-6,000 yards to go. The Italians did not seem to be aware the Commonwealth ships were there. Were they playing 'possum', just waiting for the group to show itself, surely the Italians would have their radar detectors switched on. A bit of extra wind raised a bit of chop on the sea but cleared away some of the murk. The Italians had been playing 'possum'. Their guns were pointing the right way and fired as soon as the Commonwealth ships came into view. The two heavy and two light cruisers of the Italians had put themselves between the convoy and the attacking group, with a set of destroyers fore and aft. The Commonwealth ships needed to close the range to where the 4.5" would become truly effective. At maximum range, shell dispersal was a problem. 19,000 yards, 18,000 yards, 17,000 yards and the 4.5" began to hit multiple times where the Commonwealth ships had only received three 6" and 8" hits. The Lynx was shooting well and scoring hits on the lead merchantmen which took hits in the engineering spaces and slowed to a stop, when a torpedo was fired at it that sunk it. The Lynx kept changing targets as each merchantmen succumbed to the big shell hits from the 8" guns. Lynx was quite happy to let the other ships of the group take on the big Italian cruisers while it dealt with the merchantmen. Europa had been firing at the lead Italian cruiser, (later identified as Taranto), obtaining multiple 4.5" hits which while they caused damage, any hit on the cruisers heavy armour did no damage at all. What did the damage was the hits in and around the catapult and aircraft handling area which started major petrol fires that burnt out of control, these fires spread to the 3.9" ammunition which started exploding and eventually set off its magazine which blew out a portion of the ships side. The Taranto slowed and started to heel to port leaving itself open to a torpedo attack. An hour later a flight of Tor-Beaus obliged the Taranto by putting a torpedo into the same side as the earlier damage which caused further flooding from which the Taranto could not recover and capsized.
The second heavy cruiser Brescia was in trouble from the start. With supposedly high speed, that was managed by having almost no armour. This same lack of armour applied to the two 6" light cruisers as well. The fast firing 4.5" guns just shot them to bits, knocking out guns and superstructure, the four Tribal class arrowed across for a torpedo attack at 12,000 yards, putting 20 torpedoes into the water. Three hits, the Brescia took two hits, the Duca D'Aosta, took one hit and slowed, its engine room wrecked. The Tor-Beaus had a field day cleaning up after the battle, using torpedoes on the big ships and transports, while using the 60lb rocket projectiles on the destroyers. The Lynx, having finished putting the merchantmen out of action, turned its attention to the remaining cruiser while ordering Captain Solo and the four Tribal commanders to catch and dispatch the four remaining Italian destroyers. Which they did. Lynx finished off the Cadorna which had already had a pasting from the Tribals. Clean sweep for the Commonwealth forces. The win had not come at no cost. The Lynx while firing at the merchantmen had received several 8" and 6" shell hits and was in need of some tender loving care from a dockyard. The whole group was ordered back to the dockyards at Alexandria. The 16th flotilla was broken up as the two undamaged Tribals were posted to the close escort of the aircraft carrier Formidable.
During the time the Lynx and Europa were in dockyard hands, the final clearance of North Africa of Axis forces took place. Preparation were being made for the invasion of Sicily. Europas involvement would be as escort leader and fire support ship. Sicily was taken and the Allied forces moved on to land on Italy itself and start the long haul up the boot of Italy.
Loss of the Europa: February 1944.
The landings at Anzio proved the end of the Europa. While sitting offshore with the rest of the cruiser line doing fire support duties, the fleet was attacked by the Do-217's carrying the Fritz-X guided bombs. The Europa was hit twice amidships and started heeling to starboard. Despite good damage control, the damage caused by the bombs was just too much for the Europa to handle and the ship slowly capsized. An injured Captain Solo being sent back to England for rehabilitation.
A happy ending:
Being a King has some privileges. King Pradhipok had followed closely Captain Solo's career and asked for him to be posted to Ceylon as Naval Attache to the King of Siam, once Captain Solo had finished his rehabilitation. Captain Solo had had a chunk of flesh taken out of his leg at Anzio and would walk with a limp for the rest of his life. That injury would keep him ashore for the rest of his Naval Service. November 1944 Captain Solo arrived in Ceylon to take up his new position. Three months later he married his fiancée, Princess Leia. Little bits of Royalty arrived in due course.
Princess Leia, 1945. Royal portrait.
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