Up the beach with the RFA

Operation_Torch_ConvoysIn 1942 the Allies planned to invade and occupy the part of North Africa that was under the control of the Vichy French Government and stop the Germans and Italians from using it. Planning for the invasion was begun early in 1942 and on the 22nd October, the first of the invasion convoys sailed from the Clyde.


In 1942 the Allies planned to invade and occupy the part of North Africa that was under the control of the Vichy French Government and stop the Germans and Italians from using it. Planning for the invasion was begun early in 1942 and on the 22nd October, the first of the invasion convoys sailed from the Clyde.



The convoys of Operation Torch

This convoy comprised 49 merchant ships with 17 escorts; amongst the ships in Convoy KMS 1 were the LSG’s (Landing Ship Gantry) RFA Derwentdale, Dewdale and Ennerdale, each carrying 14 landing craft as well as their normal cargo of fuel, petrol and water. On the 25th October 1942, the second invasion convoy left Loch Ewe, this was Convoy KMS 2 with 50 Merchant ships and an escort of 25 Royal Navy ships, and this was quickly followed by other invasion convoys, these convoys steamed toward Gibraltar on specially charted routes without meeting any unwanted attention from German U Boats.

As the mighty convoys approached Gibraltar Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham arrived there on the 1st November, he was met on the 5th November by General Dwight D. Eisenhower the supreme commander, who had flown over in a B17 bomber as advanced planning for the forthcoming operation gathered pace. The two convoys were by this time passing through the Straits of Gibraltar, and this was completed in just thirty three hours, as some of the smaller vessels had to call in at Gibraltar to fuel. The convoys were met by the ships of Force H, including their attached oilers and guided to their destinations by infra red beams broadcast from submarines stationed at strategic points in the Mediterranean.

So bold was the plan and so well executed that the Germans were taken by surprise, in fact the U Boat flotillas that normally operated in the Mediterranean were in fact harrying convoy SL 125 that had recently left Freetown.

The only allied ship that was sunk by U Boat was the SS Browning, a Lamport and Holt ship carrying US Military stores, explosives and bulldozers, luckily there was only one casualty from the crew of 61.



SS Browning – sunk by U595




Operation Torch Beachheads

Shortly after entering the Mediterranean the convoys split and sailed toward their designated beachheads, RFA’s Derwentdale and Abbeydale which had joined on the 10th sailed with the



RFA Abbeydale


RFA Derwentdale


Centre Task Force under the command of Commodore T.H. Troubridge in HMS Largs, this task force carried 39,000 American troops toward the beachhead at Oran, though the two RFA’s were destined for the Arzeu landing area.


HMS Largs




RFA Dewdale and Ennerdale were assigned to the Eastern Task Force under the command of Vice Admiral Sir Harold Burroughs in HMS Bulolo destined for the beachhead at Algiers carrying 20,000 British and American troops.



HMS Bulolo

Out at sea RFA’s Brown Ranger, Dingledale and Viscol, designated as Force R (the refuelling force) were kept busy supplying fuel to the ships of Force H and other allied warships supporting the landings, whilst MFA British Lady, which had sailed from Loch Ewe on the 1  November arrived at Algiers on the 21 November with fuel for the forces ashore.




RFA Brown Ranger


RFA Dingledale

The landings went largely unopposed except for the French forces at Algiers, but this was quickly overcome. By the end of the 8th of November 1942 most of the landing force was ashore, just as the Luftwaffe showed up to attack the ships lying off the beachheads. The LSG’s performed their task to the highest standard, though RFA Ennerdale did suffer a fault with her hoisting gear on one of the gantries, though this was eventually rectified and all of her LCM’s were successfully deployed, at the time this fault was reported to the Admiralty as enemy damage, but this was later discounted as an erroneous report.

At the end of the operation the merchant ships began to disperse in convoys, many of them bound for Gibraltar and the UK, and the ships of Force H returned to Gibraltar with them, however RFA Dewdale joined Convoy AB 5 sailing from Algiers to Bougie. At Bougie the ship refuelled the naval ships in the harbour, even under aerial bombing from the Germans; this was probably due to the fact that she was constantly moving across the harbour from one ship to the next.


Dewdale wasn’t so fortunate when she moved back to Algiers, on the morning of the 20th November the ship was lying in the Bassin de Mustapha, tied by the stern to a buoy and with her bow anchors holding her steady she presented an ideal target to any enemy aircraft. At 19:15 an air raid was sounded and the ship quickly went to action stations just as a stick of bombs whistled down onto the nearby jetty, one of these bombs hit Dewdale.

The bomb struck the top of the port forward gantry, bending one of the brackets down, smashed a winch ten feet from the top of the gantry before entering the top of No 6 port wing tank, where it exploded just above the oil cargo blowing out the side plating and leaving a hole in the ships side forty five feet long and twenty six feet deep. As the bomb exploded in the tank, a sheet of flame rose up from the entry hole in No 6 tank, though the flames were quickly extinguished by steam which was pumped into the tank.

As well as the damage to No 6 port tank, No 6 centre tank and the forward pump room were wrecked, the pump room and the two tanks, along with No 7 port tank began to flood and some of the surrounding tanks were pitted with shrapnel. The ship started to list to port and the hole caused by the bomb in the side of the ship started to take in water, quickly realising what was happening the engineering team onboard pumped fuel into No 2 and 3 starboard tanks in an attempt to bring the ship back on an even keel, within a short time the ship came back to an even keel and water was seen to pour out of the damaged No 6 tank, unfortunately the engineers efforts were a little zealous and Dewdale began to list to starboard, ballast was readjusted and the ship was back on an even keel by 22:30 hrs.

The only casualty from the bomb blast was a Leading Seaman Bailey, one of the DEMS gunners who was caught in the forward mess deck when the bomb exploded, his leg was shattered and he ingested a quantity of fuel oil. He was quickly removed to hospital to have his wounds seen to.

Dewdale was repaired at Algiers and was out of action until the 21st March 1943.



Operation Torch Memorial