The cruisers – HMS Manchester and HMS Southampton – carried 1370 Royal Air Force technicians and close escorted the merchant ships SS New Zealand Star, SS Clan Forbes and SS Clan Fraser. The convoy escort – "Force F" – was reinforced by the destroyer HMS Hotspur, and later by the corvettes HMS Peony, Salvia, Gloxinia and Hyacinth, although the corvettes were later unable to maintain speed with the convoy. This group was commanded by Admiral Lancelot Holland.
The convoy was covered at a distance to the north by a much stronger naval force – "Force H", commanded by Admiral James Somerville. This comprised the battlecruiser HMS Renown, the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, the cruisers HMS Sheffield and HMS Despatch and nine destroyers.
The Italians were aware of this operation and despatched a strong naval force (2 battleships, 6 cruisers, 14 destroyers) under Admiral Inigo Campioni to intercept it. They were themselves met by the covering force, "Force F", and the Battle of Cape Spartivento ensued. The Italian fleet's orders barred it from a decisive encounter. The Italian destroyer Lanciere and the British cruiser HMS Berwick were damaged.
After the battle, Admiral Somerville’s "Force H" continued towards Malta until late afternoon on the 27th when, just before Cape Bon, they returned to Gibraltar. At midnight on 28 November, the convoy passed Cape Bon and set course to rendezvous with Admiral Andrew Cunningham’s forces from Alexandria. Shortly after, the convoy split: the Clan Fraser and Clan Forbes went to Malta, and the New Zealand Star, escorted by the destroyers HMS Defender and Hereward, continued to Alexandria. This small convoy was also covered by the cruisers HMS Manchester and Southampton.
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