• Si Biggs

Operation Stone Age - Loss of HMS Arethusa & 31 Royal Marines

Updated: 3 days ago

17 November 1942 / 20 November 1942


On 17 November 1942 a convoy of 4 merchants (MW-13) left Alexandria for Malta. This convoy was escorted by the British light cruisers HMS Arethusa, HMS Euryalus, HMS Dido and 10 destroyers.


On the 18th HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN) was hit by a aerial torpedo. She was heavily damaged and towed back to Alexandria. 156 men lost their lives during this attack, 31 were Royal Marines.


She was patched up in Alexandria and was sailed via teh Red Sea and Durban to the Charleston Navy Yard in the USA for full repairs. These repairs were not completed until December 1943.


The convoy arrived safe at Malta on the 20th November. Marking the end of the Malta siege.


Extracts from Malta War Diary; [1]


16 NOVEMBER 1942 - CONVOY EMBARKS FOR MALTA


The first convoy to Malta since Operation Pedestal (Santa Marija) in August sailed this morning.

The embarkation of a convoy from the eastern Mediterranean has been made possible by the Allied Army advance following the Battle of El Alamein.

Merchant ship Denbighshire


Operation Stoneage Convoy

After a delay of 24 hours pending Allied occupation of the Gambut airfields, convoy MW 13 – codenamed Operation Stoneage – sailed from Suez and passed through the Canal to arrive at Port Said by dusk, proceeding straight to sea. The convoy is made up of four merchant ships, the 9,000 ton Dutch ship Bantam, the British 8,000 ton Denbighshire and two American ships: the 8,000 ton Mormacmoon and 7,000 ton Robin Locksley. The cruiser Euryalus and seven destroyers are escorting them to the approaches to Alexandria.


17 NOVEMBER 1942 - OPERATION STONEAGE SHIPS REACH ALEXANDRIA


Convoy MW 13 and close escort arrived off Alexandria early today, where the accompanying Fleet destroyers were relieved by Hunt class ships of the 5th Flotilla. Led by the cruiser Euryalus, HMS Aldenham, Beaufort, Belvoir, Croome, Dulverton, Exmoor, Hurworth, Hursley, Tetcott and the Greek Pindos departed for Malta with the four merchant ships at 15 knots at 0700 hours.


Arethusa - taken during the Stoneage convoy just before she was torpedoed

The Rear Admiral Commanding, Fifteenth Cruiser Squadron in Cleopatra, with Dido, Arethusa, Orion and the Twelfth and Fourteen Destroyer Flotillas, were sailed at 1330 hours, with the aim of reaching the convoy at daylight tomorrow.


18 NOVEMBER 1942 - CONVOY ATTACKED - 159 KILLED


The Operation Stoneage convoy was attacked today by German torpedo-bombers. HMS Arethusa was hit with the loss of 159 men.


Damage to HMS Arethusa below B Turret

The first enemy attack came mid-morning, some four hours after the full convoy had assembled. Cruisers HMS Cleopatra, Orion, Arethusa and Dido with seven Fleet destroyers joined convoy MW 13 and close escort at dawn. Single engined fighters from Matruba and Beaufighters from Gambut were dispatched to provide fighter protection throughout the day.


At 1110 hours the convoy was attacked by six JU 88s: one aircraft was seen to crash and no damage was caused. Five hours later 26 JU 52s escorted by two fighters were seen passing ahead of the convoy heading northeast. Four of the Allied aircraft attacked the raiders and each claimed to have damaged one.


Once the attack had subsided the Fifteenth Cruiser Squadron and Fleet Destroyers parted company in order to cover the convoy north towards Malta.

Damage to Arethusa


Minutes later an explosion was heard and convoy command received a signal: Arethusa had been hit. Taking advantage of the failing light, torpedo bombers had launched another attack and the cruiser had been struck amidships by an aircraft torpedo, killing 159 members of the crew. The ship was badly damaged and turned back for Alexandria, escorted by Petard.


Two more torpedo bombers attacked the convoy during the evening. The second is believed probably destroyed by anti-aircraft fire from the American merchantman Robin Locksley.


19 NOVEMBER 1942 - THREE SPITFIRES LOST PROTECTING CONVOY


The covering force of cruisers and destroyers rejoined the Operation Stoneage convoy at daylight today to cover the next stage of the journey of four merchant ships to Malta. Enemy aircraft were reported carrying out reconnaissance searches for the ships but did not attack.

As the convoy approached within range of Malta, the Island’s aircraft provided umbrella cover. The ships were sighted at dawn by Malta Beaufighters, in position 122 degrees 134 miles from Delimara. Four Beaufighters, 42 long-range and 19 short-range Spitfires carried out continuous patrols over the convoy for the last leg of its voyage.


They faced very rough weather and during the morning three Spitfires crashed ahead of the convoy. P/O Kelley 126 Squadron was picked up by the convoy ahead; Sgt Roberts 126 Squadron was last seen in his dinghy near the convoy. P/O Park 185 Squadron suffered engine trouble near the convoy and had to bale out. A destroyer sped to his rescue but he was found to be already dead. The reasons for the other two crashes are unknown.

HMS Orion


At 1400 hours Cleopatra, Dido, Orion and the six Fleet destroyers parted company with the convoy and returned to Alexandria. Just after 4pm the convoy’s commander reported being shadowed by enemy aircraft but there was no attack. Having patrolled continuously from dawn till dark, Malta aircraft finally escorted the convoy safely to within 30 miles of Grand Harbour.


20 NOVEMBER 1942 - OPERATION STONEAGE DELIVERS


At 0130 hours this morning all ships of the convoy were reported to have arrived safely in Grand Harbour. All four merchant ships, with Euryalus and ten Hunt class destroyers berthed safely during the night. By 3 am 3200 troops plus civilians had begun unloading the merchant ships and dispersing the cargoes to dumps.


HMS Arethusa in dry dock December 1942, temporary repairs before conducting an ocean passage to the U.S. yard for repairs


HMS Arethusa

Ships Log November 1942 [2]


Nominated for escort of Malta relief convoy MW13 (Operation STONEAGE).

16th Joined convoy with HM Destroyers JAVELIN, JERVIS, KELVIN, NUBIAN, PAKENHAM, PALADIN and PETARD as escort after it left Port Said.

17th Relieved as escort by HM Destroyers ALDENHAM, BEAUFORT, BELVOIR, CROOME, DULVERTON, EXMOOR, HURSLEY, HURWORTH, TETCOTT and Greek destroyer PINDOS. Returned to Alexandria with original screen.

18th Rejoined MW13 with HM Cruisers CLEOPATRA, DIDO and ORION and same destroyers. After unsuccessful air attacks came under further by torpedo carrying aircraft at dusk.


Hit on port side abreast B turret and took on heavy list to Port.


Extensive fires in forward structure due to oil fuel together with flooding. 156 killed and 42 injured Ship disabled.


Note: Hole in structure was later found to be 53 ft long and 35 feet deep.


19th Fires under control and took passage under own power using emergency steering, escorted by HMS PETARD, HMS JERVIS and HMS JAVELIN.


Taken in tow by PETARD when damaged section bucking. Other destroyers detached to return to MW13.


20th Tow by HMS PETARD stern first in continuation.


21st Arrived at Alexandria and assisted to tugs to prevent further damage by use of main engines.

December Under temporary repair at Alexandria to allow ocean passage.

HMS Arethusa 1942 (IWM FL 889)

Royal Marines Roll of Honour HMS Arethusa


BICK, Thomas F, Marine, CH/246617:

BRITTON, Henry W, Marine, PO/X 100319:

CAPLEHORN, Charles W, Band Corporal, RMB/X 262:

COLES, Miles G, Musician, RMB/X 434:

COTTERILL, Harold, Marine, CH/X 326:

COLLINS, Reginald W, Marine, CH/X 1062:

DOYLE, John J, Ty/Corporal, RM, DSM, CH/X 101024:

EASON, Dennis B, Marine, CH/X 104339:

FLETCHER Heskett W, Musician, RMB/X 1431:

GIBB, Stanley E, Ty/Sergeant, RFR, CH/24101:

GLAVES, Alfred, Marine, CH/X 104361:

JONES, Arthur G, Marine, CH/X 1902:

MARSHALL, Robert E, Marine, CH/X 100253:

MARTIN, Leonard G, Marine, CH/X 1932:

MCCORMICK, George, Marine, CH/X 3438:

MCMULLEN, Robert R, Marine, CH/X 102698:

MERRIFIELD, Samuel J, Musician, RMB/X 1001:

MORAN, Terence, Sergeant, RM, PLY/22144:

NETHERTON, Jack M, Marine, CH/X 3429:

PERRY, Ronald J, Musician, RMB/X 1185:

PLATTEN, Henry A W, Marine, CH/X 3073:

REYNOLDS, Arthur C, Marine, CH/X 102213:

SHEPHERD, Harold F, Ty/Corporal, RM, CH/X 100259:

SMART, William H, Marine, CH/X 102685:

SMITH, Reginald, Marine, CH/X 3363:

TAYLOR, Kenneth N, Marine, CH/X 100327:

TESTER, Alfred C, Act/Corporal, RM, CH/X 1517:

TOMPSETT, Leslie J, Marine, CH/X 2822:

WALKER, William H, Bandmaster 2c, RMB/2945:

WILLMOT, Henry S, Musician, RMB/X 1449:

WOOD, Ralph W, Musician, RMB/X 1725.



[1] Log extracts from Naval History.net

[2] Malta War Diary


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