Operation Excess was a series of British supply convoys to Malta, Alexandria and Greece in January 1941. The operation encountered the first presence of Luftwaffe anti-shipping aircraft in the Mediterranean Sea, all the convoyed freighters reached their destinations. However, the destroyer Gallant was disabled by Italian mines, and Axis bombers severely damaged the cruiser Southampton, the Royal Navy had held the eastern Mediterranean and France the western Mediterranean but the Second Armistice at Compiègne removed the French navy from the alliance on 25 June 1940. From bases at Gibraltar and Alexandria, the Royal Navy attempted to convoy supplies to sustain Malta as a base in the central Mediterranean, Convoy MC4, Four freighters waited at Gibraltar. Convoy MW5, Freighters Breconshire and Clan Macaulay waited at Alexandria with material for Malta, Convoy ME6, Nine freighters waited at Malta for passage to Alexandria. Force A, HMS Warspite, Valiant, Nubian, Mohawk, Dainty, Gallant, Greyhound, Griffin, Jervis and Illustrious would sail from Alexandria to cover convoys MC4, MW5 and ME6 east of the Skerki Banks. Force B, HMS Gloucester, Southampton, Ilex and Janus would carry five hundred soldiers and airmen from the Aegean to Malta, Force C, Convoy MW5 would be screened by HMS Calcutta, Defender and Diamond. Force F, Convoy MC4 would be screened by HMS Jaguar, Hero, Hasty, Hereward and Bonaventure carrying four hundred soldiers and airmen to Malta. Five hundred anti-shipping aircraft of Fliegerkorps X were being transferred from Norway to Sicily to protect Axis convoys to North Africa, Convoy MC4 left Gibraltar, feinting toward the Atlantic, before turning toward Malta after darkness concealed them from the view of Axis agents near Gibraltar. Force H sailed from Gibraltar to cover convoy MC4, Force A, Force D and convoy MW5 with Force C sailed from Alexandria and Force B sailed from the Aegean toward Malta. Force A was located by Italian air reconnaissance that afternoon, Force B landed its passengers in Malta and proceeded west to meet convoy MC4. Vickers Wellingtons bombed Naples damaging Giulio Cesare with three near misses and causing the only operational Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto to retreat from the approaching convoys. Two SM. 79s were shot down by Fairey Fulmars from Ark Royal, Force H left convoy MC4 that afternoon after Ark Royal launched six Swordfish for the defense of Malta, Force A joined convoy MC4 at dusk. Italian ships from La Spezia failed to find Force H, Italian submarine Settimo and torpedo boats Circe and Vega launched torpedoes against convoy MC4 but missed. Bonaventure and Hereward sank Vega six miles south of Pantellaria at 0830, Bonaventure was slightly damaged and two men killed,75 per cent of her ammunition was expended in the engagement. Right after the engagement, which pushed the British convoy too much south of their route, the bow was destroyed and 65 men were killed. Mowhawk took Gallant in tow toward Malta while the Force B cruisers provided protection from air attacks, Convoys MC4 and MW5 arrived at Malta and convoy ME6 departed for Alexandria. Fulmars from Illustrious shot down an Italian aircraft shadowing Force A at 0930, Valiant avoided torpedoes launched by two SM. 79s approaching under the radar horizon at 1230
Image: HMS Valiant fires guns 1942
Few ships survived dive bombing attacks of the intensity Illustrious endured from these Ju87 Stukas.