Alexandria 18 December 1941, the pictures.

The night between 18th and 19th December, 1941 men from the Regia Marina’s X MAS violated the Alexandria harbour.

A detailed account of the raid is available here. The photographic evidences, in spite of the importance of the action, that changed the balance of power in the Med,  are still extremely scarce.

We know the anchorage points of the attacked ships and Scirè’s and SLC’s (Siluro a Lenta Corsa, Slow speed torpedo) routes (B is the SLC’s release point, after Sciré, the transport sub, got through the mine screen):

rotta Alessandria

Two pictures of the damaged battleships are available, from the Italian and German air recognition.

The first one, a few days after the attack (click to enlarge):ricognizione aerea Alessandria

#1 is the HMS Queen Elizabeth, #2 HMS Valiant, #20 the oiler Sagona. Notice the deck colors of the two battleships.

Queen Elizabet in 1940 British Battleships 1919-1945 - R A Burt
HMS Queen Elizabeth in 1940 (Burt)

The appreciation of the attack effects was correct on Regia Marina side since the beginning: the Supermarina report dated January 9th, 1942 analyzes the outcome of a aerial recognition from the Aegean Islands on the morning of December 19th (see picture below, in Italian)

Relazione supermarina 9 gennaio 1942

“One of the battleships has two submarines alongside her (to supply electrical power) and the other a large tanker and several barges”, as reported also by Admiral Vian in his book “Action This Day” (London: Frederick Muller, 1960), p. 81: “Standing with [Cunningham] on the cloud- less morning after the disaster we saw, high above the harbour, a reconnaissance machine which had eluded the defenses. The battleships had settled on the bed of the harbour, with submarines alongside supplying them with electric power: a photograph would reveal disaster”.

Cunningham was well aware that hiding the extension of the damage was mandatory. He did not move the Command, and even released a picture of the colours ceremony,  the morning after. In a letter from Thomas H. Brownrigg (in the staff of A.B.C), to R. Humprey Quill (Colonel, Royal Marines and in the Mediterranean Fleet Intelligence at the time), this is Brownrigg’s comment: “About this time, 0740, A.B.C. said to me “We must go and clean or we shall be late for colours”. It had not entered my head that there would be a colours ceremony on such a morning with the ship with a 15° list and in danger of sinking”.

In the same report a second aerial recognition is referred to, dated January 6th, 1942. At this time one battleship is reported in the same position held the day of the attack, a second as moved to the dry dock for repairs:

HMS Valiant moved to the dry dock (1a), HMS Queen Elizabeth (1b) is still at the same position shown in the first recognition:

Alessandria ricognizione posteriore

On January 8th, the German intelligence reported form a “trusted source” that both battleships were damaged. Official communication of the damaging of two battleships was given with Italian Command bulletins of January 8th and 9th, #585 and #586.

Is there any picture of the damaged battleships? This picture has been published twice in Italian books as “damage to the HMS Valiant”:varie_20151029_0001

In my opinion without a third part confirmation caution must be used as the damage seems very similar to those suffered by HMS Warspite off Salerno as in Burt (British Battleships, 1919-1945): Warspite off salerno Burt

Burt is his book gives detailed info on the damage suffered by the two battleship, and their conditions after the attack, as per these two schema:

Burt damage to QE
HMS Queen Elizabeth
Burt damage to Valinat
HMS Valiant

To my knowledge, no picture of the two British battleships immediately after the attack has been released by the Royal Navy.

Sources: R.A. Burt, British Battleships 1919-1945, new revised edition, Seaforth publishing, 2013; A. Turrini, “Una breve storia dei siluri a lenta corsa e della X MAS”, Rivista Marittima, 2000; A. Brauzzi, “I mezzi d’assalto della Marina Italiana”, Rivista Marittima, 1991; Vincent P. O’Hara and Enrico Cernecchi, “Frogmen against a fleet”, Naval War College Review, Summer 2015, Vol. 68, No. 3, G. Giorgerini, “Attacco dal Mare”, Mondadori, 2007; Carlo De Risio, I mezzi d’assalto, Roma, 2001.

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3 thoughts on “Alexandria 18 December 1941, the pictures.

  1. Hello Stefano, about the pictures immediately after the attack, I’m not sure on the exact date unfortunately, but I have got this picture from Midget Submarines of Second World War II by Paul Kemp:

  2. Terrific picture. No sign of the reported 15° list, so it is probably not referred to the morning of December 19th. Is there a reason for the whitened background?

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