Force K

Force K was the name of three British Royal Navy task forces during the Second World War. The first Force K operated from West Africa in 1939, to intercept commerce raiders. The second Force K was formed in October 1941 at Malta, to operate against convoys sailing from Italy to Libya. Axis air attacks on Malta led to Force K being reduced and on 8 April 1942, the last ship of the force was withdrawn. After Operation Stoneage was run to Malta (16–20 November) Force K was re-established and began operations again against Axis convoys.

Force K
Country United Kingdom
Branch Royal Navy
EngagementsBattle of the Atlantic
Battle of the River Plate
Battle of the Mediterranean
Battle of the Duisburg Convoy
First Battle of Sirte
Operation Stoneage
William Agnew
Henry Harwood
Andrew Cunningham

Force K (1939)

Force K was based in Freetown, Sierra Leone and consisted of the battlecruiser HMS Renown, the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and destroyers Hardy, Hostile, Hereward and Hasty. Force K was to track and destroy German commerce raiders in the South Atlantic, such as the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. In December 1939, after the Battle of the River Plate, Force K was sent to the coast of Uruguay to prevent any sortie by Graf Spee, which was in Montevideo. After Graf Spee was scuttled, Force K was disbanded and Ark Royal escorted the cruiser HMS Exeter, which had been damaged in the battle with Graf Spee, back to Britain.[1]

Force K (1941)

Force K was re-created on 21 October 1941, with the light cruisers HMS Aurora and Penelope and the L and M class destroyers Lance and Lively, to operate from Malta against Italian ships carrying supplies to the Axis forces in North Africa.[2] On the night of 8/9 November 1941, in the Battle of the Duisburg Convoy, Force K destroyed the convoy, forcing the Italian high command to consider Tripoli "practically blockaded". Convoys to Tripoli were suspended, only Benghazi remaining in use.[3][4] Soon after, Force K was reinforced at Malta by Force B, with the light cruisers HMS Ajax and Neptune and two J-, K- and N-class destroyers. The combined force was so effective that in November 1941, the Axis supply line suffered 60 percent losses.

On 19 December, at about the time of the First Battle of Sirte, ships from both forces ran into a minefield while pursuing an Italian convoy, Neptune being sunk and Aurora damaged.[5] The destroyer Kandahar also struck a mine while attempting to assist Neptune and was scuttled the next day by the destroyer Jaguar. Following this and with a resurgence of the aerial bombardment of Malta, the remaining surface ships were withdrawn, except for Penelope, which was too damaged to leave. Frequent air attacks while she remained in harbour earned her the nickname "HMS Pepperpot"; Penelope sailed for Gibraltar on 8 April 1942, terminating the second Force K.[6]

Force K (1942)

Operation Stoneage (16–20 November 1942), a convoy to re-victual Malta and was unloaded in record time.[7] Force K was re-established on 27 November with the cruisers HMS Cleopatra, Dido and Euryalus and four ships of the 14th Destroyer Flotilla.[8]

See also


  1. Roskill 1954, pp. 114–118.
  2. Playfair et al. 2004, p. 283.
  3. Playfair et al. 2004a, p. 107.
  4. Stegemann 2015, p. 718.
  5. Playfair et al. 2004a, p. 115.
  6. Playfair et al. 2004a, p. 181.
  7. Woodman 2000, p. 461; Playfair et al. 2004b, pp. 196–199.
  8. Playfair et al. 2004b, p. 205.


  • Caruana, Joseph (2006). "The Demise of Force "K"". Warship International. XLIII (1): 99–111. ISSN 0043-0374.
  • Playfair, Major-General I. S. O.; with Flynn RN, Captain F. C.; Molony, Brigadier C. J. C. & Toomer, Air Vice-Marshal S. E. (2004) [1956]. Butler, J. R. M. (ed.). The Mediterranean and Middle East: The Germans come to the help of their Ally (1941). History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series. II (repr. Naval & Military Press ed.). London: HMSO. ISBN 1-84574-066-1.
  • Playfair, Major-General I. S. O.; with Flynn RN, Captain F. C.; Molony, Brigadier C. J. C. & Gleave, Group Captain T. P. (2004) [HMSO 1960]. Butler, J. R. M. (ed.). The Mediterranean and Middle East: British Fortunes reach their Lowest Ebb (September 1941 to September 1942). History of the Second World War United Kingdom Military Series. III. Naval & Military Press. ISBN 1-84574-067-X.
  • Playfair, Major-General I. S. O.; and Molony, Brigadier C. J. C.; with Flynn RN, Captain F. C. & Gleave, Group Captain T. P. (2004) [HMSO 1966]. Butler, J. R. M. (ed.). The Mediterranean and Middle East: The Destruction of the Axis Forces in Africa. History of the Second World War United Kingdom Military Series. IV. Uckfield: Naval & Military Press. ISBN 1-84574-068-8.
  • Roskill, Stephen (1954). The Defensive. History of the Second World War The War at Sea 1939–1945. I. London: HMSO. OCLC 123708512. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  • Roskill, S. W. (1956). The Period of Balance. History of the Second World War: The War at Sea 1939–1945. II. London: HMSO. OCLC 174453986. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  • Stegemann, B.; et al. (2015) [1995]. "Part I Chapter 3: The Strategic Dilemma of the summer and Autumn of 1940: An Alternative or Interim Strategy c. The Offensive against Sidi Barrani". In Falla, P. S. (ed.). The Mediterranean, South-East Europe and North Africa, 1939–1941: From Italy's Declaration of non-Belligerence to the Entry of the United States into the War. Germany and the Second World War. III. Translated by McMurry, D. S.; Osers, E.; Willmot, L. (2nd pbk. trans. Oxford University Press, Oxford ed.). Freiburg im Breisgau: Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt. ISBN 978-0-19-873832-9.
  • Woodman, Richard (2000). Malta Convoys 1940–1943. London: John Murray. ISBN 0-7195-6408-5.

Further reading

  • Groves, Eric (1993). Sea Battles in Close-Up. II. London: Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-2118-X.
  • Smith, Peter C; Walker, Edwin (1974). The Battles of the Malta Striking Forces. Sea battles in close-up. London: Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-0528-1.
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