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The Fleet Air Arm Ashore

Royal Navy Signallers supplementing Army Communications in the Western Desert
Royal Navy Signallers supplementing Army Communications in the Western Desert

HMS OrionThe light cruiser HMS Orion During the Campaign of El Alamein several squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm served ashore as part of 201 Group Royal Air Force. The FAA relied principally on Martlet fighters and Albacore torpedo bombers for these desert operations.

The Albacores made a particular contribution as pathfinders and target-markers for RAF bombers, exploiting their skills in navigation over featureless terrain. Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder praised the Albacores for 'their magnificent work with and for the Wellingtons.'

The Surface Fleet during the Battle

In October 1942 the Royal Navy maintained a force of five cruisers and 16 destroyers, as well as smaller craft, in the Western Mediterranean. Their task was to secure Montgomery's northern flank, preventing interference by the much more powerful Italian fleet. The Italian Navy was both intimidated by the Royal Navy's aggressive reputation and constrained by the lack of fuel resulting from the Allies' global maritime blockade.

On the night of Montgomery's offensive a force of destroyers and landing craft carried out Operation "Slender", a simulated landing, 65 miles west of El Alamein. Both General Montgomery and General Alexander credited this with delaying the arrival of the German 90th Light Division at the main battlefront.

HMS Petard and the Enigma 'Pinch' from U559

While El Alamein was fought ashore, HMS Petard, assisted by other destroyers and RAF aircraft, prosecuted a ten-hour attack on a German submarine 60 miles offshore.

U559, finally surfaced at 2245, her crew abandoning her in heavy seas. While the survivors were picked up, Lt. Anthony Fasson and AB Colin Grazier scrambled down to search the U-boat, aided by the NAAFI canteen assistant, 16 year old Tommy Brown.

In minutes Petard's men had recovered key documents, vital to the continuing struggle to break the Enigma Code, but as the boarders sought to recover more material the U-boat sank with the loss of Lt. Fasson and AB Grazier, both of whom were awarded the George Cross. Tommy Brown was awarded the George Medal.

 

HMS PetardHMS Petard