HMS TEMPEST (Lt Cdr W A K N Cavaye) sailed from Malta on 10 January 1942 on her first Mediterranean patrol. She was in an area adjacent to HMS UNA when UNA attacked the Italian tanker Lucania. Lucania had been granted free passage through the Mediterranean but was torpedoed by UNA in error. Earlier, TEMPEST almost attacked Lucania too but broke off when she realised Lucania’s protected status. She later saw Lucania in flames after UNA attack and closed on the surface, in darkness, to investigate.
Later that night TEMPEST sighted the Italian destroyer Circe, which had been despatched to the area to look for the submarine that had attacked Lucania. TEMPEST dived to avoid being seen by Circe but was detected by the destroyer sonar shortly after diving. Circe attacked with depth charges and caused serious damage. She tracked TEMPEST for the next four hours of darkness before attacking again in daylight. Further attacks revealed patches of oil on the water.
TEMPEST’s ASDIC was defective so she could do little to determine the direction of Circe, thus hampering her chances of evasion. Further attacks forced TEMPEST to the surface. Attempts to engage Circe with her gun failed and eventually, the crew was ordered to abandon ship. The submarine was moving ahead throughout and so the crew was strung out in a long line in the water. The submarine took several hours to sink, and Circe picked up as many survivors as she could but 39 of the crew of 63 were lost, including the captain.