Somerville's Force H: The Royal Navy's Gibraltar-Based Fleet June 1940 to March 1942 - Raymond DannreutherLondon: Aurum Press, 2005, Hardback in Dust Wrapper.
Condition: Very Good — in Very Good Dust Wrapper. A little age-toning to the edges of the text block.
Contains: Black & white photographs; Maps; Tables; List of sources; Glossary; Appendices ;
From the cover: “Between June 1940 and November 1941 one unit of the Royal Navy was almost constantly in action, the legendary Force H based in Gibraltar under the command of Admiral Sir James Somerville. Formed in haste after the fall of France and Italy’s entry into the war, Force H had two missions: in the western Mediterranean, previously the responsibility of the French navy, it had to maintain a flow of supplies to the vital British base at Malta and carry the war to the Italian fleet and its bases; in the Atlantic it had to play a part in protecting British convoys and guarding against threatened Axis attacks on the Atlantic islands.
The Force’s history began with a necessary but distasteful task. In July 1940 Somerville was instructed to use force to disable the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir in order to prevent it falling into the hands of the enemy, an action which played a vital part in convincing the US that Britain was resolved to fight on, alone if need be. For the next eighteen months Force H was regularly involved in escorting convoys to Malta, including flying off fighters from its most famous ship, Ark Royal, and other carriers to bolster the air defences of the island, a task that had to be carried out in the face of sustained attacks from the air. It was also repeatedly ordered out into the Atlantic when the sea lanes were threatened by German surface raiders. The vital dual role of the Force was most vividly demonstrated in 1941 when Ark Royal flew off Hurricanes to Malta from well inside the Mediterranean on 21 May and then, just six days later, played a critical part in the pursuit of the Bismarck when one of her Swordfish crippled the German battleship 450 miles out in the Atlantic and made possible its destruction by ships of the Home Fleet.
In November 1941 the repeated German claims to have sunk the Ark Royal were finally justified when she was torpedoed just 30 miles from Gibraltar. It was a crippling blow which limited the Force’s capacity for independent action. By March 1942 Somerville had been replaced by a new commander and the Force was reassigned to other duties, losing its independent status.
This is, surprisingly, the first book to be devoted to the history of Force H and is a detailed and vivid account of its numerous actions which played an essential and dramatic part in maintaining the Royal Navy’s command of two theatres, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, at a critical time in the Second World War. It is also a tribute to one of Britain’s most remarkable naval commanders; only a leader with Somerville’s courage and force of character, which often set him at odds with the Admiralty in London, could have welded a hastily assembled collection of ships into a formidable fighting force which was in many ways a precursor of the Task Forces deployed later in the war.”