Operation Excess was a series of British supply convoys to Malta, Alexandria and Greece in January 1941. The operation encountered the first presence of Luftwaffe anti-shipping aircraft in the Mediterranean Sea. All the convoyed freighters reached their destinations. However, the destroyer HMS Gallant was disabled by Italian mines; and Axis bombers severely damaged the cruiser HMS Southampton and the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious.
Italy's declaration of War on 10 June 1940 brought World War II to the Mediterranean Sea and placed the Regia Aeronautica astride England's traditional sea route to Indian Ocean ports, while the Regia Marina roughly tripled the numbers of battleships, cruisers, and submarines available to challenge British sea power. The Royal Navy had been prepared to defend the eastern Mediterranean so long as France could control the western Mediterranean, but the Second Armistice at Compiègne removed the French navy from the alliance on 25 June 1940. From bases at Gibraltar and Alexandria the Royal Navy attempted to convoy supplies to sustain Malta as a base in the central Mediterranean. As Italy attacked Egypt from Libya in September 1940 and Greece from Albania in October 1940, the Royal Navy maintained most of their Mediterranean Fleet at Alexandria while Force H at Gibraltar was used for raids. Early November 1940 successes including halting the Italian offensive in Greece and disabling Italian battleships Littoro, Conte di Cavour and Caio Duilio at the Battle of Taranto provided the incentive and opportunity to resupply Malta and Greece.
Two convoys –
Convoy MW5: Freighters Breconshire and Clan Macaulay waited at Alexandria with material for Malta.
Convoy ME6: Nine freighters waited at Malta for passage to Alexandria
The movement was protected by –
Force A: HMS’s Warspite, Valiant, Nubian, Mohawk, Dainty, Gallant, Greyhound, Griffin, Jervis, and Illustrious would sail from Alexandria to cover convoys MC 4, MW 5 and ME 6 east of the Skerki Banks
Force B: HMS’s Gloucester, Southampton, Ilex and Janus would carry five hundred soldiers and airmen from the Aegean to Malta, and join convoy MC 4 after dropping their passengers in Malta
Force C: Convoy MW 5 would be screened by HMS Calcutta, Defender, and Diamond
Force D: HMS’s York and Orion would sail from Alexandria with Flower class corvettes HMS’s Gloxinia, Peony, Hyacinth, Salvia, and RFA BRAMBLELEAF (1) to be joined by HMS Ajax and HMAS Perth from Souda Bay
RFA BRAMBLELEAF (1)