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HMS Sharpshooter at Malta - Halcyon Class Minesweeper
HMS Sharpshooter at Malta


HALCYONS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN

While much has been written about the exploits of the Halcyons in the waters around North Russia, six Halcyons also served with distinction in the Mediterranean, although details of their activities have proved difficult to find. See the individual histories for HAZARD, HEBE, HUSSAR, SHARPSHOOTER, SPEEDWELL and SPEEDY for more information


On 12th June 1942 HEBE and SPEEDY joined Operation Harpoon at Gibraltar, an attempt to force much needed supplies through to Malta. HEBE was ordered to sink the damaged merchant ship Kentucky and while trying to rejoin the convoy met Italian cruisers. The Italians opened fire and an eight inch shell passed through the CO of HEBE's cabin. 
HEBE dumped her confidential books in preparation for the finishing blow from the Italians.  However Hardy, taking his three fleet destroyers with him, steered his AA cruiser HMS Cairo to HEBE's assistance. The Italian cruisers came into sight at around 2 pm but turned away to the west.


Source: Keith Wood, Grandson of Duncan Christison, HMS Speedy

Along with Rye and Hyde, HEBE and SPEEDY were to form the 17th Minesweeping Flotilla based in Malta. They faced the enormous task of trying to keep the port free from the many mines laid  on a regular basis by ships, submarines and aircraft. The sweepers came under regular bombing and machine gunning attacks from enemy aircraft based just a few minutes flying time away.

In August 1942 the sweepers helped to bring the surviving ships of Operation Pedestal, including the famous tanker Ohio, safely into Malta. By the end of January 1943 the 17th MSF's tally of mines cleared came to 357.

On 25th Oct 1942 SPEEDWELL and HUSSAR joined as escorts convoy KX4B, an advance convoy preceding the invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch). They remained in the Mediterranean carrying out various escort and minesweeping duties until June 1943 when they returned to Russian waters.

On 15th May the four ships of the flotilla, with the MLs carrying out a shallow sweep ahead, started to clear a small field which had been laid just off Grand Harbour by the Italians. Three mines were swept but a fourth was struck by SPEEDY and it exploded under her magazine, buckling the ship longitudinally and putting her shafts out of line. She suffered a number of casualties, two men killed, two missing and eight wounded. Although badly damaged she managed to limp back to harbour assisted by the others of the flotilla. Shortly after this HEBE was damaged from a near miss from a bomb while in harbour.

HMS Speedy mined May 1943 - Halcyon Class Minesweeper
HMS Speedy listing after hitting mine
Source: (www.battleships-cruisers.co.uk)

Also in May 1943 HMS SHARPSHOOTER and HAZARD arrived in the Mediterranean to take part with HEBE in Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily.

OPERATION HUSKY - The Invasion of Sicily

Source: Battle Summary No. 35 The Invasion of Sicily

Force A Minesweepers  17th Minesweeping Flotilla

HAZARD                Lt Cdr L C Smith

HEBE                  Cdr G Mowatt RD RNR

SHARPSHOOTER       Cdr A E Doran (Act)  

'The slow assault convoy (KMS18) after passing through position 3500' N, 1416'E was joined by the fleet minesweepers HAZARD, SHARPSHOOTER, HEBE and SPEEDY. Paravanes were to be streamed before reaching the 200 fathom line.'

9th July D -1  

'The weather deteriorated during the afternoon and considerable swell created difficult conditions for the LCT convoy, M/S and other small craft in company. As the speed of the assault convoy had been reduced, sweeping from the 100 fathom line was dispensed with in order to arrive at the release position in time. The town of Pachino was observed to be on fire.'

The minesweepers cleared the way for the landing craft to go ashore on the beaches to the west of Pt de Formiche, the southernmost tip of Sicily.

The three ships then spent the rest of the year carrying out a range of escort and minesweeping duties in and around Malta, Taranto and Bari on the Italian mainland.

In August 1943 the partially disabled SPEEDY, which could only steam at reduced speed, headed for Gibraltar and repairs in the UK. 

On 22nd November 1943 HEBE hit a mine that had been laid by a U Boat in the entrance to Bari harbour. HEBE capsized within four minutes and sank with the loss of 38 of her crew, her unconscious captain was saved by a member of the crew from HMS SHARPSHOOTER who dived into the sea to rescue him.

In January 1944 SHARPSHOOTER was transferred to the 49th Escort Group and made several journeys  escorting convoys between Gibraltar, Alexandria and ports in between.  In April 1944 SHARPSHOOTER was damaged by a GNAT torpedo and went to Haifa for repairs.

SHARPSHOOTER and HAZARD remained in the Med until September 1944 when they rejoined the 1st MSF to continue mine clearance in North European waters.

Grand Harbour Valetta c1940 Source: Duncan Christison HMS Speedy
Grand Harbour, Valetta c1940
Source: Keith Wood, Grandson of Duncan Christison, HMS Speedy


Source: www.naval-history.net

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This site was last updated 17 Januar 2012