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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 Axis air attacks on Malta led to Force K being reduced and on 8 April 1942 the last ship of the force was withdrawn.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 convoy Stone Age was run to Malta from 16–20 November, Force K was re-established and began operations again against Axis convoys.

First Force K

This task force was based in Freetown, Sierra Leone and consisted of battlecruiser Renown, aircraft carrier Ark Royal and destroyers Hardy, Hostile, Hereward and Hasty. Its mission was to track and destroy German commerce raiders in the South Atlantic, such as the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. After the Battle of the River Plate in December 1939, 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 broken up, with Ark Royal escorting the cruiser HMS Exeter (damaged in the battle with Graf Spee) back to Britain.[1]

Second Force K

The next Force K was created on 21 October 1941, with the light cruisers Aurora and Penelope and L and M class destroyers Lance and Lively to operate out of 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"[3] Soon after, Force K was reinforced at Malta by Force B, with the light cruisers Ajax and Neptune and two J, K and N class destroyers. The combined force was so effective that during 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, which sank Neptune and damaged Aurora.[4] The destroyer Kandahar also struck a mine while attempting to assist Neptune. Kandahar 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 Following this, and with a resurgence of the aerial bombardment of Malta, the remaining surface ships were withdrawn, except for Penelope which was too damaged to leave.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". She was also withdrawn to Gibraltar on 8 April 1942, ending Force K's deployment.[5]

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