“Gold may shine; but it has no true light” South African sacrifice on the HMS Edinburgh

British20Navy20HMS20Edinburgh“Gold may shine, but it has no true light” is a quote by Kristian Goldmund Aumann to mean that glittering gold is false when compared to the importance of spiritual light, and nothing is more true in this statement when reviewing the sacrifice and loss on the HMS Edinburgh – it is the subject of a multi-million dollar treasure hunt for gold and the subject of supreme wartime sacrifice, including South African life.

As Simonstown was a British naval base during the Second World War thousands of naval ratings and officers who volunteered to serve in the South African Navy (known as the South African Navy Forces) landed up serving on British vessels. So when one was sunk, as HMS Edinburgh was, inevitably there is an honour roll of South Africans. The sinking of the HMS Edinburgh also carries with it an intriguing story of gold … read on for their story.

Edinburgh3

Aerial view of HMS EDINBURGH, ‘Southampton’ class (third group) cruiser in Scapa Flow, October 1941. Imperial War Museum copyright

Operations 

The HMS Edinburgh was a very heavily armed and armoured Town Class light cruiser of the Royal Navy, she saw extensive wartime service during World War 2, including the hunt for the German Battleship Bismarck, however our story picks up from August 1941 when she  escorted convoy WS10 to Simonstown in South Africa.

After some maintenance work in South Africa and taking on some South African Naval personnel the HMS Edinburgh sailed to Malta as part of Operation Halberd. She returned to Gibraltar shortly afterwards, departing from there on 1 October 1941, with supplies and prisoners of war aboard, and bound for the Clyde in Scotland.

Edinburgh1

The cruisers HMS EDINBURGH, HMS HERMIONE, and HMS EURYALUS, steaming in line abreast whilst they escort a convoy (Operation HALBERD – convoy not visible).

After repairs at Faslane she joined the Home Fleet on Iceland Forces Patrol duties and from November 1941 to April 1942 provided cover to Arctic convoys bringing aid to the Soviet Union (Russia).

On 6 April, she left Scapa Flow to escort convoy PQ14 to Murmansk. Of the 24 ships in PQ14, 16 were forced by unseasonal ice and bad weather to return to Iceland, and another was sunk by a U-boat. HMS Edinburgh and the remaining seven vessels arrived in Murmansk on 19 April.

Here she took on gold bullion to take back to the United Kingdom, a lot of it, 4.5-long-ton (4,570 kg). The consignment, which had a value of about £1.5 million sterling in 1942 (adjusted for inflation to 2017 pounds, £63,047,983), was a partial payment by the Soviet Union  for the supplies of war material and military equipment from the Western Allies. In total the ship had 465 gold ingots in 93 wooden boxes stored in the bomb-room.

Sinking

On the return leg from Murmansk, HMS Edinburgh was the flagship of Rear-Admiral Stuart Bonham Carter who was commanding the escort of returning Convoy QP 11 involving 17 ships.

On 30 April 1942, a German Submarine U-456 (under the command of Kapitanleutnant  Max-Martin Teichert) on her 5th patrol spotted the HMS Edinburgh and engaged her by firing a torpedo into her starboard side, hitting her just fore of the bomb room, which stored all the gold.

The ship began to list heavily, but the crew reacted quickly and competently by closing watertight bulkheads, which prevented the ship from sinking immediately. Soon after, U-456 put a second torpedo into HMS Edinburghs stern, wrecking her steering equipment and crippling her.

Edinburgh2

A photograph clearly showing the severe damage to the stern of HMS EDINBURGH caused by the German torpedo and her listing to port.

HMS Edinburgh was then taken in tow by escorting British ships, and tried to return to Murmansk along with the destroyers HMS Foresight and HMS Forester and four minesweepers. Along the way she was hounded constantly by German torpedo bombers. On 2 May, as she progressed at a snail’s pace under tow and her own power, she was attacked off Bear Island by three large German destroyers – Z7, Z24 and Z25. HMS Edinburgh was cast off the tow, so that she started to sail in circles, fighting off the assault in a fierce sea battle , the Edinburgh even managed to cause such damage to one of the German Destroyers – Z7 Hermann Schoemann that it had to scuttled by her crew and sank.

HMS Edinburgh’s escorts eventually drove off Z24 and Z25, but she was struck by a torpedo amidships, exactly opposite the first torpedo hit from U-456. She was now held together only by the deck plating and keel, which was likely to fail at any time, so the crew abandoned ship. HMS Gossamer took off 440 men and HMS Harrier about 400. Two officers and 56 other ranks on HMS Edinburgh were killed in the attacks.

HMS Edinburgh was doomed at this stage and a last resort the British used HMS Harrier tried to scuttle HMS Edinburgh with 4 inch gunfire, but 20 shots did not sink her. Depth charges dropped alongside also failed. Finally, in a sad farewell to a very strong fighting ship HMS Foresight sank HMS Edinburgh with her last torpedo (the others having been expended against the German destroyers).

Foresight2

HMS Foresight (FL 4063) Underway.

In an ironic twist of history, HMS Foresight met a similar fate as HMS Edinburgh when she was torpedoed by Italian aircraft whilst on escort duty and had to be sunk by HMS Tartar after breaking her tow.

The fate of U-456, Z24 and Z25

The fate of the German submarine and warships involved in the sinking of HMS Edinburgh, U-456 was eventually sunk on the 12th May 1943 whilst hunting convoys off Ireland she was spotted by a RAF Liberator, she dived but was hit by a ‘new’ American Fido acoustic homing torpedo dropped by the Liberator. U-456 was badly damaged and forced to re-surface. On the following day she was depth charged and sunk on 12 May 1943 by HMS Opportune.

Z24 was a Type 1936 German destroyer and was attacked and completely destroyed and sunk by the Royal Air Force on the 25th August 1944 off Le Verdon.  Z25, also a Type 1936 survived the war and was taken over by the British on the 6th January 1946.

Salvaging the Gold

keith-jessop_1643679f

Keith Jessop with a gold bar from the HMS Edinburgh

After the war, the wreck of the HMS Edinburgh was classified as a war grave, making salvage operations for the gold which sunk with her difficult.  However ever anxious the British government pressed to recover the gold.  Ostensibly not just because of the value but also because of unscrupulous salvaging operations and because of tensions with the Soviet Union during the Cold War and fear they might salvage it all.

In the early 1980s, Jessop Marine, with the support of Wharton Williams Ltd (a leading global diving company) and OSA (a specialist shipping company) won a contract from the British government to attempt a recovery.  The recovered gold would be divided up between the salvage consortium, the British Government and the Soviet Government.

Cutting into the wreck by divers to get to the bomb room was deemed more appropriate for a war grave than the traditional ‘smash and grab’ explosives-oriented methods. The consortium of specialist companies for the project was then formed on the proviso the recovery be done with dignity.

In April 1981, the wreck was discovered the wreck at about 400 kilometres NNE of the Soviet coast at the Kola Inlet at a very deep 245 metres (800 ft).  The wreck was mapped and on the 30th August 1981 the diving operation began in earnest, by mid September, 431 of 465 ingots had been recovered.

At the time, the 80’s, the haul was worth in excess of £40,000,000 sterling  (£63,000,000 by today’s standard). This bullion recovery project created a World Record in deep diving which stands to this day. A further 29 bars were brought up in 1986 by the Consortium, bringing the total to 460, leaving five unaccounted for.  They also recovered the all important ship’s bell. It was billed as the ‘Salvage of the Century’ and made a rich man the famous treasure hunter Keith Jessop and others, including some Southern African divers on the project.

However, some full credit to these divers, when reaching the wreck for the first time the lead diver on his own accord conducted two minutes of silence underwater in recognition of the war dead, despite the extreme dangers of saturation ‘deep bell’ diving.  They also preformed a wreath laying service at sea on completing the salvage.

The BBC captured this story in a documentary called ‘Gold from the Deep – The Salvage of the Century,’ its well worth a view and contains some outstanding eye-witness accounts of the HMS Edinburgh’s crew.

See YouTube link Gold from the deep – the salvage of the century

“Gold may shine, but it has no true light”

Now, we come back to the quote, “Gold may shine, but has no true light”.  The true light, the true treasure lost were the lives of the 58 Allied personnel lost on HMS Edinburgh in her desperate fight to bring convoys of equipment, food and aid to the Soviet Union in a very desperate time as the Russians soaked up the biggest cost in blood of the war fighting Nazi Germany,  the later Cold War of the 1980’s and gold booty aside, we remember these South African’s whose true light was extinguished in this fight:

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nSouth African Honour Roll – HMS Edinburgh 

DRUMMOND, Valentine W, Able Seaman, 68043 (South African Naval Forces), Missing Presumed Killed
VAN DORDRECHT, William H, Able Seaman, 67851 (South African Naval Forces), Missing Presumed Killed


Written by Peter Dickens, primary source and extracts from Wikipedia, photo copyrights to the Imperial War Museum

“She immediately blew up”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hollyhock

As Simonstown was a British naval base during the Second World War thousands of naval ratings and officers who volunteered to serve in the South African Navy – known as the South African Navy Forces – landed up serving on British vessels in addition to South African ones. So when a British ship was sunk, as HMS Hollyhock was, inevitably there is a honour roll of South Africans lost with her. Read on for their story.

HMS Hollyhock short history

HMS Hollyhock was commissioned on 19th August, 1940 and finished on November 19 1940. The Hollyhock was a Flower Class Corvette.  She originally served as escort protection in the Atlantic as part of EG3 (3rd Escort Group) Western Approaches Command Fleet.

1446462908164

HMS Hollyhock in Cape Town, South Africa

Between 11th & 16th November 1941, HMS Hollyhock escorted convoy ST8 to Takoradi, she then returned to Freetown between 17th & 22nd November. On the 27th, she left Freetown escorting a large troop convoy to Simonstown along with HMS Royal Sovereign. While she was in Simonstown, she had some defects rectified, and had a boiler clean.

It was at this time (7th December 1941) that Japan entered the war with the bombing of Pearl Harbour in the US State of Hawaii. This caused many problems and changes, one of which was the transfer of HMS Hollyhock to the Eastern Fleet (East Indies Fleet) to bolster the fleet against Japanese aggression and expansion.

She took on South African Navy volunteers as additional crew and sailed out of Simonstown on February 4th bound for Durban 3 days later. Later that evening (8th Feb) she set sail to escort convoy SU1, refuelling at Mauritius and finally reached Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) on 28th Feb 1942.

The Easter Sunday Raid

With Japan’s entry into the war, and especially after the fall of Singapore, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) became a front-line British base. The Royal Navy’s East Indies Station and Eastern Fleet was moved to Colombo and Trincomalee.

Admiral Sir James Somerville was appointed as the commander of the British Eastern Fleet, and he decided to withdraw main component the fleet to Addu Atoll in the Maldives, leaving a small force to defend Ceylon (Sri Lanka) consisting of an aircraft carrier, the HMS Hermes, two heavy cruisers – the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire, one Australian Destroyer the HMSAS Vampire and the flower class corvette, our feature today, the HMS Hollyhock.

The Royal Navy’s own ‘Pearl Harbour’

The Imperial Japanese Navy, in much the same way and with the same objectives that were used at Pearl Harbour against the American fleet planned a decisive attack of the British Eastern Fleet to end their presence in the North Indian and Pacific oceans.  Unaware that the main body of the British fleet had moved to the Maldives, they focused their plan on Colombo (the commercial capital of modern-day Sri Lanka).

The planned Japanese attack was to become collectively known as the Easter Sunday Raid and the Japanese fleet comprised five aircraft carriers plus supporting ships under the command of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo.

In an almost exact copy of the raid on the American fleet at Peal Harbour (as if no learnings were made by the Allies), on 4 April 1942, the Japanese fleet was located by a Canadian PBY Calatina aircraft, the Catalina radioed the position of the Japanese Fleet to The British Eastern Fleet which alerted the British to the impending attack before it was shot down by six Japanese Zero fighters from the carrier Hiryu,

However, despite the warning Nagumo’s air strike on Colombo the next day, Easter Sunday 5th April 1942 they did manage to achieved near-complete surprise (Pearl Harbour was also attacked on a weekend). The British Radar installations were not operating, they were shut down for routine maintenance (another parallel with the attack on Peal Harbour).

Easter Raid

Captain Mitsuo Fuchida

The first attack wave of Japanese planes took off in pre-dawn darkness (30 minutes before sunrise) from the aircraft carriers Akagi, Hiryu and Soryu, moving about 200 miles south of Sri Lanka. The first attack wave of 36 fighters, 54 dive bombers, and 90 level bombers was led by Captain Mitsuo Fuchida the same officer who led the air attack on Pearl Harbour.

The Heavy Cruisers, HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire set out in pursuit of the Japanese. On 5 April 1942, the two cruisers were sighted by a spotter plane from the Japanese cruiser Tone about 200 miles (370 km) southwest of Ceylon. A wave of  Japanese dive bombers led by Lieutenant Commander Egusa took off from Japanese carriers to attack Cornwall and Dorsetshire, 320 km (170 nmi; 200 mi) southwest of Ceylon, and sank the two ships.

DorsetshireCornwall

Japanese combat photograph showing the Royal Navy heavy cruisers HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall on fire and sinking

On 9 April, the Japanese focussed their attack on the harbour at Trincomalee and the British ships off Batticaloa. The HMS Hermes left the Royal Naval Base of Trincomalee, Ceylon escorted by the Australian Destroyer HMAS Vampire (on loan to the Royal Navy), and along with the HMS Hollyhock they were tasked with protecting merchant fleet tankers.

While sailing south off Batticaloa on the East Coast of Ceylon, this British flotilla was also attacked by the Japanese Carrier-Borne dive-bombers from the Imperial Japanese Task Force now in the process of attacking the Naval Base at Trincomalee.

Approximately 70 Japanese aircraft were despatched to bomb the HMS Hermes on the 9 April 1942, and the HMS Hermes sank within ten minutes of being hit by numerous aircraft bombs and became a blazing inferno.  To read more detail about the account and South African sacrifice on the Hermes – follow this Observation Post link: “Dante’s Inferno”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hermes

After the Japanese aircraft broke off the attack on the HMS Hermes, those aboard the Hermes’ escort, the Australian ship HMSAS Vampire, thought they had been spared. However, the aircraft had returned to the carriers to rearm, and on their return bombed the destroyer heavily. HMAS Vampire shot down at least one aircraft before breaking in half and sinking. Despite the ferocity of the attack, Vampires commanding officer and eight sailors were the only fatalities.

HMAS_Vampire_Allan-Green

HMAS Vampire

The Sinking of HMS Hollyhock

The HMS Hollyhock was about 7 nautical miles from the HMS Hermes escorting a tanker, the RFA Athelstane when the Hermes came under attack by a formation of about Twenty Japanese  D3A-1 ‘VAL’ dive bombers. The Hollyhock came under attack by the same group of Japanese aircraft.

aichi-d3a1-mod-22-val

Just past midday, the tanker the Hollyhock was escorting, the RFA Athelstane was dive bombed by 5 Japanese aircraft, each dropping one bomb. The tanker ship was hit several times and disabled and the crew abandoned ship.

At the same time an attack by Japanese dive bombers commenced on HMS Hollyhock, the first bomb exploded on the starboard side about 25 feet from the Hollyhock bursting  side fuel tanks and putting the number 2 Boiler out of action.

The second bomb exploded 30-40 yards from starboard side of ship between the bridge and the Hollyhock’s 2 pounder gun.  The HMS Hollyhock then started to close on RFA Athelstane to come to its assistance.

15 minutes later, a Japanese dive bomber dropped a third bomb on the Hollyhock which exploded on Engine room casing, disabling the Pom-pom gun, engines and steering gear.

Barely a minute later a fourth bomb dropped on the Hollyhock then burst amidships, and his sealed the fate of the ship as it hit her Magazine and boilers causing a massive explosion. The whole ship blew apart and disintegrated, sinking within just 30-40 seconds.

This attack and sudden massive explosion which sank the Hollyhock is best described by Captain Moore of the RFA Athelstane, who had survived the attack on his own ship and witnessed the attack on the Hollyhock, he simply remarked that attack on both their ships had lasted about 5 minutes and the final bomb to hit the Hollyhock probably hit her magazine and she “immediately blew up, disintegrating, and sank”.

Given the ferocity of the final moments of the Hollyhock it is a sheer miracle that there were any survivors at all, however of the ships compliment a lucky few, 14 men in all survived.  The rest of the ships personnel, 49 souls in total were lost, including 5 South African Naval Force volunteers.

Controversy
 on the sinking of HMS Hollyhock

Noted in the accounts is lack of adequate Anti Aircraft firepower on the HMS Hollyhock to defend herself from an air attack.  In fact the ships main complement of Anti-Aircraft  guns were removed from Hollyhock and transferred to the Aster prior to her leaving Colombo’s port.  This was noted in the Eastern Fleet War Diary, simply put the HMS Hollyhock was at sea without her full armament, and stood virtually no chance at all from a concentrated air attack – which unfortunately proved to be the case.

HMS Hollyhock – South African Navy Personnel Lost, Honour Roll


22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nANDERSON, Henry G, Able Seaman, 67501 (SANF), MPK (Missing Presumed Killed)
  • The son of Wallace H. and Susan C. Anderson, of Port Elizabeth, Cape Province, South Africa; husband of Edith Anderson. Remembered with honour PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL, Devon, United Kingdom.

BASTON, Douglas T, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 68600 (SANF), MP (Missing Presumed Killed)

  • The son of William A. and Elizabeth Baston. Remembered with honour PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL, Devon, United Kingdom.

BUITENDACH, James M, Stoker 2c, 69223 (SANF), MPK (Missing Presumed Killed)

  • The son of Jacob E. and Dorothea M. Buitendach, Durban, Natal. South Africa. Remembered with honour PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL, Devon, United Kingdom.

JUBY, Kenneth J, Ordinary Seaman, 69211 (SANF), MPK (Missing Presumed Killed)

  • The son of Mr. and Mrs. H. W. B. Juby, of Germiston, Transvaal, South Africa. Remembered with honour PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL, Devon, United Kingdom.

LEACH, Peter A D H, Stoker 2c, 69225 (SANF), MPK (Missing Presumed Killed)

  • The son of Harold and Louisa M. A. D. H. Leach. Remembered with honour PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL, Devon, United Kingdom.

leach

May their sacrifice never be forgotten.

Take the time to watch this short video on the history and discovery of what is believed to be the wreck of the HMS Hollyhock compiled by ‘Dive Sri Lanka’ at a site 42 meters deep.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.  Primary Reference: On line website, video and images to commemorate Alfred John Wickett, 24, who died on 9th April, 1942, when the Flower Class Corvette HMS Hollyhock was attacked and sunk by Japanese dive bombers when on active service in the Indian Ocean.

A great thanks to Jonathan Wickett, whose twenty year research into the sinking of the Hollyhock has resulted in the website http://www.hmshollyhock.com from which information and images were sourced for this article.

“Dante’s Inferno”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hermes

This is the 10,850 ton Aircraft Carrier HMS Hermes under fire, ablaze and sinking during World War 2. As Simonstown in South Africa was a British Naval base thousands of South Africans in WW2 served in the Royal Navy as well as in the South African Naval Forces (SANF). The loss of an aircraft carrier the size of the HMS Hermes is bound to include a South African honour roll and unfortunately this one does. Read on for their story.

13086706_580301575472912_9134783755502643981_o

HMS Hermes’ short history

The HMS Hermes was the first purpose-built aircraft carrier in the world. The design was based on that of a cruiser and the ship was intended for a similar scouting role. She was built by Armstrong Whitworth and launched 11 September 1919.

After a distinguished wartime career she was lost 9 April 1942. HMS Hermes had a small aircraft complement, light protection and anti-aircraft armament. She had a limited high-speed endurance and stability problems caused by the large starboard island, with fuel having to be carefully distributed to balance the ship.

HMS Hermes was deemed unsuitable for operations in European waters, and was consequently employed in trade protection in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans until March 1942.

HMS Hermes in South Africa

In June 1941, the HMS Hermes took passage to South Africa, where she undertook repairs from July to October in HM Dockyard Simonstown.  By November she was ready to re-rejoin the action as part of convoy defence in Indian Ocean.  She took on a large contingent of South African Naval Forces personnel seconded to The Royal Navy’s requirements as part of her crew.  The HMS Hermes then sailed from Cape Town accompanied by the Battleship HMS Prince of Wales on passage up the Indian Ocean.

CVHermes1936

In December 1941 she undergoes more refitting, again in South Africa, this time in Durban.   By February 1942, she leaves Durban (with more South African personnel) and resumes convoy defence duties in the Indian Ocean.

By March she joins the Eastern Fleet searching for Japanese warships in Indian Ocean to engage.

Japanese attack on Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

With Japan’s entry into the war, and especially after the fall of Singapore, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) became a front-line British base. The Royal Navy’s East Indies Station and Eastern Fleet was moved to Colombo and Trincomalee.

HMS_Hermes_June_1940

HMS Hermes on patrol with HMS Dorsetshire – 1942

Admiral Sir James Somerville was appointed as the commander of the British Eastern Fleet, and he decided to withdraw main component the fleet to Addu Atoll in the Maldives, leaving a small force to defend Ceylon (Sri Lanka) consisting of an aircraft carrier, the HMS Hermes, two heavy cruisers – the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire, one Australian Destroyer the HMSAS Vampire and the flower class corvette HMS Hollyhock.

The Royal Navy’s own ‘Pearl Harbour’

The Imperial Japanese Navy, in much the same way and with the same objectives that were used at Pearl Harbour against the American fleet planned a decisive attack of the British Eastern Fleet to end their presence in the North Indian and Pacific oceans.  Unaware that the main body of the British fleet had moved to the Maldives, they focused their plan on Colombo.

The planned Japanese attack was to become collectively known as the Easter Sunday Raid and the Japanese fleet comprised five aircraft carriers plus supporting ships under the command of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo.

In an almost exact copy of the raid on the American fleet at Peal Harbour (as if no learnings were made by the Allies), on 4 April 1942, the Japanese fleet was located by a Canadian PBY Calatina aircraft, the Catalina radioed the position of the Japanese Fleet to The British Eastern Fleet which alerted the British to the impending attack before it was shot down by six Japanese Zero fighters from the carrier Hiryu,  However, despite the warning Nagumo’s air strike on Colombo the next day, Easter Sunday 5th April achieved near-complete surprise (Pearl Harbour was also attacked on a weekend). The British Radar installations were not operating, they were shut down for routine maintenance.

1200px-Japanese_aircraft_carrier_Hiryu_1939

Japanese Carrier Hiryu

The first attack wave of Japanese planes took off in pre-dawn darkness (30 minutes before sunrise) from the aircraft carriers Akagi, Hiryu and Soryu, moving about 200 miles south of Sri Lanka. The first attack wave of 36 fighters, 54 dive bombers, and 90 level bombers was led by Captain Mitsuo Fuchida the same officer who led the air attack on Pearl Harbour.

The Heavy Cruisers, HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire set out in pursuit of the Japanese. On 5 April 1942, the two cruisers were sighted by a spotter plane from the Japanese cruiser Tone about 200 miles (370 km) southwest of Ceylon. A wave of  Japanese dive bombers led by Lieutenant Commander Egusa took off from Japanese carriers to attack Cornwall and Dorsetshire, 320 km (170 nmi; 200 mi) southwest of Ceylon, and sank the two ships.

On 9 April, the Japanese focussed their attack on the harbour at Trincomalee and the British ships off Batticaloa. The HMS Hermes left the Royal Naval Base of Trincomalee, Ceylon escorted by the Australian Destroyer HMAS Vampire and HMS Hollyhock looking to engage the Imperial Japanese fleet which had attacked Colombo.

While sailing south off Batticaloa on the East Coast of Ceylon, this British flotilla was also attacked by the Japanese Carrier-Borne dive-bombers from the Imperial Japanese Task Force now in the process of attacking the Naval Base at Trincomalee.

Zero_Akagi_Dec1941

Admiral Nagumo’s fleet unleashed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters and bombers on the attack on Colombo on 5 April 1942.

Approximately 70 Japanese aircraft were despatched to bomb the HMS Hermes which sank within ten minutes of being hit by numerous aircraft bombs. HMAS Vampire was also sunk by bombs a short while later.

The HMS Hollyhock was about 7 nautical miles from the HMS Hermes escorting a tanker, the RFA Athelstane when the Hermes came under attack.  The Hollyhock came under attack by the same Japanese aircraft and it too was bombed and sunk.  For an in-depth appraisal on the South Africans lost on the Hollyhock follow this Observation Post link: “She immediately blew up”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hollyhock

“Dante’s Inferno”

An eyewitness account of the sinking by Stan Curtiss says everything about the trauma and personal drama experienced by the sailors and officers:

“The AA guns crews did a magnificent job and to assist them because the planes at the end of their dive flew along the flight deck to drop their bombs and because the guns could not be fired at that low angle, all the 5.5.`s, mine included had orders to elevate to the maximum so that as the ship slewed from side to side to fire at will hoping that the shrapnel from the shells would cause some damage to the never ending stream of bombers that were hurtling down out of the sun to tear the guts out of my ship that had been my home for the past 3 years.

hermes 4Suddenly there was an almighty explosion that seemed to lift us out of the water, the after magazine had gone up, then another, this time above us on the starboard side, from that moment onwards we had no further communication with the bridge which had received a direct hit, as a result of that our Captain and all bridge personnel were killed.

Only about fifteen minutes had passed since the start of the action and the ship was already listing to port, fires were raging in the hanger, she was on fire from stem to stern, just aft of my gun position was the galley, that received a direct hit also, minutes later we had a near miss alongside our gun, talk about a tidal wave coming aboard, our crew were flung yards, tossed like corks on a pond. Picking myself up and finding no bones broken, I called out to each number of our crew and got an answer from all of them (no-one washed overboard), we were lucky; our gun was the only one that did not get hit.

At this stage Hermes had a very heavy list to port and it was obvious that she was about to sink. As the sea was now only feet below our gun deck I gave the order “over the side lads, every man for himself, good luck to you all”.

Abandon ship had previously been given by word of mouth, the lads went over the side and I followed, hitting the water at 11.00 hours, this is the time my wristwatch stopped (I didn’t have a waterproof one).

As she was sinking the Japs were still dropping bombs on her and machine gunning the lads in the water. In the water I swam away from the ship as fast as I could, the ship still had way on and I wanted to get clear of the screws and also because bombs were still exploding close to the ship, the force of the explosions would rupture your stomach, quite a few of the lads were lost in this way after surviving Dante’s Inferno aboard, so it was head down and away”.

The aftermath 

In all, 19 officers and 283 ratings (including 1 South African Officer and 17 South African Ratings) were Reported Missing in Action when HMS Hermes went down. 9 Ratings on HMAS Vampire were lost.  53 of the ship’s company of HMS Hollyhock were lost, of which 5 were members of the South African Naval Forces.

The hospital ship Vita rescued approximately 600 survivors and transferred them back to Colombo and later to Kandy for recuperation.

The air attack on the Royal Naval Base at Trincomalee killed 85 civilians in addition to the military losses while 36 Japanese aircraft were shot down during the attack.

The wreck of the HMS Hermes was re-discovered in 2006 approximately five nautical miles from shore, lying at a depth of fifty-seven meters. Divers attached the White Ensign to the rusting hull.

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nSouth African casualties aboard HMS Hermes

BRIGGS, Anthony Herbert Lindsay Sub-Lieutenant (Engineer) Royal Navy (South African national), MPK
BRYSON, Neil W, Ordinary Telegraphist, 69147 (SANF), MPK
BURNIE, Ian A, Able Seaman, 67786 (SANF), MPK
CLAYTON, Frederick H, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 68102 (SANF), MPK
DE CASTRO, Alfred T, Stoker 1c, 67914 (SANF), MPK
KEENEY, Frederick W, Able Seaman, 67748 (SANF), MPK
KEYTEL, Roy, Able Seaman, 67296 (SANF), MPK
KIMBLE, Dennis C, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 67600 (SANF), MPK
KRAUSE, Frederick E, Able Seaman, 68321 (SANF), MPK
RAPHAEL, Philip R, Able Seaman, 67841 (SANF), MPK
RICHARDSON, Ronald P, Able Seaman, 67494 (SANF), MPK
RILEY. Harry Air Mechanic 2nd Class, Fleet Air Arm, Royal Navy (South African national), MPK
TOMS, Ivanhoe S, Able Seaman, 67709 (SANF), MPK
VICKERS, Colin P, Able Seaman, 68296 (SANF), MPK
VORSTER, Jack P, Able Seaman, 67755 (SANF), MPK
WHITE, Edward G, Stoker, 68026 (SANF), MPK
WIBLIN, Eric R, Able Seaman, 67717 (SANF), MPK
YATES, Philip R, Supply Assistant, 67570 (SANF), MPK

Their names have not been forgotten.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens. Reference thanks to Graham Du Toit, other references and extracts taken from Wikipedia, Service Histories of Royal Navy Ships in World War 2 by Cdr Geoffrey B Mason RN (Retired). Image copyright Imperial War Museum and the Australian War Memorial.

 

 

“Under a hail of shells”; Recounting the bravery and loss of HMSAS Bever

The third South African ship to be lost in the Mediterranean during the Second World War was the HMSAS Bever.  She was the brave little minesweeper who had earlier fought her way out of Tobruk with her sister ship – the  HMSAS Parktown.  She had a very proud legacy from her actions in Tobruk and her loss later in the war was deeply felt, so let’s have a look at another brave South African whaler, converted to a fighting ship, punching way above her weight.

On the 10 October 1941, the little whaler ‘Hektor 10’ was commissioned in South Africa as His Majesty’s South African Ship (HMSAS) Bever for wartime service as a minesweeper.

Barely a month later, on the 1 November 1941, she joined the small flotilla of South African minesweepers sailing from Durban for the war in North Africa.  This flotilla was made up of the HMSAS Bever, HMSAS Gribb, HMSAS Seksern, HMSAS Imhoff, HMSAS Treern, HMSAS Parktown and HMSAS Langlaagte.

All were former whale catchers of about 260 tons built between 1926 and 1930 and each was fitted with one 3 inch gun plus smaller QF guns, depth charges and LL sweeps.  They are the second group of South African minesweepers to sail from Durban for the Mediterranean.

Little would they know that all of them would make a significant difference to the war effort – and sadly, three of the four ships South Africa would lose during the war would come from this flotilla – the HMSAS Parktown, the HMSAS Bever and the HMSAS Treern.  The first South African minesweeper had already been lost in the combat zone by this stage – the HMSAS Southern Floe (see The Southern Floe was the SA Navy’s first ship loss, but it also carries a remarkable tale of survival.)

17546669_10154957768326480_68053892438750609_o

HMSAS Southern Floe

The fall of Tobruk

The HMSAS Bever and HMSAS Parktown sailed from Alexandria, Egypt on the 9 June 1942 as part of a escort for a convoy bound for Tobruk. During the passage they see combat for the first time when the convoy is attacked and the HMSAS Parktown is involved in the gallant rescue of 28 survivors from a ship that had been sunk, many of whom are badly burnt.

After their arrival in Tobruk on 12 June 1942, the HMSAS Parktown and her consort, HMSAS Bever (at this stage under the command of Lt P A North), are tasked with keeping the approaches to Tobruk clear of mines.

parktown

HMSAS Parktown

In 1941 the Australians had held Tobruk for 9 months, until Rommel’s withdrawal of his Axis forces to the west.  Tobruk secured, by 1942 the Allied Middle East Command decided to leave a smaller ‘temporary’ force to hold Tobruk while a new strike force was built up near the frontier.  The task of defending Tobruk was left to the South Africans. The new  garrison was to be formed by the 2nd South African Infantry Division with General Klopper, a major general of 1 month’s standing, given command of Tobruk.  In addition, units of British and Indian detachments fell under South Arican command defending Tobruk.

It is generally understood that by this stage Tobruk’s defences were in a poor shape with much of the armour and artillery taken away to the new frontier, the Western and Southern sides of the port were well defended by the South Africans, but the East side was weak, and it proved to be fatal.

As usual, Rommel had devised a ruse for capturing Tobruk. Only his infantry approached the western perimeter, while his mobile forces swept on past, to give the impression that the German and Italian armour was heading straight for the Egyptian border (sending radio messages to that effect to complete the ruse).  He then swung his mobile armoured forces around and attacked Tobruk from its weak point – the eastern perimeter.

Rommel’s zero hour was 05h20 on 20 June 1942. As dawn broke long black lines of tanks, trucks and infantry slowly started to move forward. As it grew louder and closer to Tobruk waves of German Stukas and Ju 88’s aircraft appeared overhead (Rommel pressed every single Axis airplane in service in North Africa into taking Tobruk).

As the heavy artillery began to fire, the planes released their bombs and quickly got out of the way for the next wave, operating a shuttle service between the defence perimeter and El Adem airfield, 10 miles away. They pounded a gap open 600 yards wide. Behind them, under cover of artillery barrage and half-hidden by smoke and dust, German and Italian sappers raced forward to lift mines and bridge the tank traps with tanks and infantry racing through the gaps. As they move forward, they lit green, red and purple flares and the Stukas dropped their bombs just ahead of the advancing, multi-coloured smoke screen while the other planes and artillery blasted the South African rear (the seaward side of the port) with shells and bombs.

Tobruk, beschädigte Häuser, Soldaten

Surrounded South African troops going into captivity as Tobruk falls

Inside Tobruk the situation was chaotic. General Klopper – his HQ’s bombed out, his radio and telephone wrecked and his code booked destroyed, lost the last vestige of control.  It became clear that a crisis was imminent. Late that same afternoon HMSAS Parktown and HMSAS Bever were ordered to enter harbour to embark evacuation parties and get as many Allied troops out as they can.

By 20:00 that evening the two minesweepers watch the Axis forces entering the town and then reach the harbour shortly afterwards. The rapidity of the attack causes great confusion, however, the two brave little South African minesweepers still manage to embark most of the men allocated to them before they sail under a hail of artillery and gunfire.

“It was like hell”

The account is best described by an ordinary South African, Stoker Petty Officer (SPO) Turner who was on the HMSAS Bever (‘Jerry’ means the Germans).

“At the end of the fifth week we had been there, Jerry started a terrific push which carried him through almost to Tobruk. We had some very nasty air raids, but the warning came one night when a shell whistled over us and landed behind the town. We knew then that they had brought up big guns and were going to shell us out of the place.

Our ship (HMSAS Bever) and our partner ship (the HMSAS Parktown) continued their work through a week of this shelling and I can assure you it was very uncomfortable.

Then we were informed that Tobruk was besieged, as Jerry had completely surrounded us. On Saturday, June 2O, it happened, and that date will be impressed on my memory as long as I live. It was early morning and we were just pulling away to start our daily job, when the shells started coming over with a vengeance.

They had found their range and planted their shots just where they wanted them, in the town, on the quay, round the wrecks, at the oil berth – and we were sailing along with this lot falling around us:

Then bombers appeared on the scene. We went out, did our job, and returned to our anchorage. This went on until about three clock in the afternoon. The target area was mostly the quay and wharfs.

Then Stukas appeared over the hill and started giving our troops the works. It was like hell. Shells, level bombing and dive-bombing – and there we were at anchor in the centre of it all, expecting any moment to stop something and be blown sky high.

At about four o’cock Jerry broke through our lines and our lads had to retire. This was all done in an orderly manner, and they burned everything they had to abandon. Then we received orders to go to the quay, which all the available ships did and picked up what men we could under a hail of shells. As we pulled away, a shell got us in the funnel. The quay was blown up and Jerry tanks entered the town.

Sandy and I, down in the engine room, gave her all she had and she never travelled faster in her life. Meanwhile a motor launch laid smoke screen for us. Jerry tanks opened up on us from the shore and in all we received four hits by explosive shells.

It was a miracle that we were not blown to bits, because the tanks along the shore were following us with their fire. At the harbour entrance the fire was even more concentrated and only God Himself took us past that. We lost the steward in our dash. As he tried to help a man out of the water into the boat, an exploding shell killed him.

The last I saw of Tobruk” concludes Stoker Petty-Officer Turner “was flashes and flames and a great pall of smoke on the horizon, as the troops continued giving Jerry everything they had till the end.”

Tobruk, Rommel und Bayerlein, Hafen

Erwin Rommel surveys Tobruk after capturing it

Fighting their way out

Fighting bravely next to the HMSAS Bever was the HMSAS Parktown, both these South African vessels received order to embark as many men as possible from shore and to await sailing orders. Late that afternoon Bever was instructed to sail.  Parktown would follow later.

Heavily laden with men clinging to all parts of ship, HMSAS Bever put to sea. By that stage at least six German tanks had taken up a position on shore with their guns covering the harbour. The minute HMSAS Bever began to move out of the harbour she was heavily engaged by the tanks and received several direct hits.

The Bever’s commander, Lt Peter Allan North was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry as he decided to take the ship out himself and ordered all men below decks. One man disobeyed the order, a steward who came up on deck to help a soldier who was trying to climb aboard, the two of them were killed instantly by an incoming tank shell.

The Bever cleared the harbour but the attack did not stop there as German bombers swooped in on her, with all her guns blazing the Bever beat off the air assault.

The HMSAS Parktown was the next to leave Tobruk with hundreds of the men from the garrison aboard.  Her fight out the harbour however met with tragedy.  During the night just off Tobruk port the Parktown and Bever became separated as the Parktown goes to the assistance of a disabled tug, also crowded with men.

After taking the tug in tow the HMSAS Parktown’s speed is slowed.  At daybreak on the 21 June the Parktown came under attack by Italian “MAS” torpedo boats (E-Boats), directed to the slow-moving vessel by a German reconnaissance aircraft.  Fighting all the way with all guns blazing the Parktown was eventually overwhelmed by the faster E-Boats and sunk with the loss of many lives.

For a full account of this brave action by the HMSAS Parktown please feel free to read the Observation Post  The feisty South African minesweeper that went down fighting – HMSAS Parktown)

The HMSAS Bever eventually safely reached Mersa Matruh with holes through her funnels, with mast rigging shot away and riddled with splinter holes.

Awards and Citations for the crew of HMSAS Bever

The following awards and decorations to officers and men of HMSAS Bever were bestowed by King George VI.

Distinguished Service Cross. Lieutenant Peter Allan North (H.M.S.A.S. Bever). Comes from Amanzimtoti. Natal. Age 28. Before the war employed in Geduld Mine. Rand. Served in Training Ship General Botha.

Distinguished Service Medal. No. 69628. Petty Officer Alan Sidney Hargreaves (H.M.S.A.S. Bever). Home address, 8. Worcester-road. Sea Point. Age 26. Served in Training Ship General Botha.

Mentioned in Dispatches. No. 132522. Engine-room Artificer Alexander James McCall (H.M.S.A.S. Bever) Home address, 7, Antrim-road Three Anchor Bay. Engineer in private life.

22520227_2035612373334417_1329303744284136988_o

HMSAS Bever

After Tobruk

By November 1944 HMSAS Bever had been in the Mediterranean for nearly two years, by now the war in the Mediterranean had over to the European mainland and the liberation of Greece and conquest of Italy were underway.

Accompanied by another South African minesweeper HMSAS Seksern and a flotilla of other converted trawlers, the Bever arrives in the Gulf of Nauplia (south of the Gulf of Athens) late on 29 November 1944 from Herakleon in Crete, about 160 miles to the south-east.  On that first evening, two motor launches carrying out a skimming sweep destroy several mines and clear a narrow channel enabling the flotilla to anchor for the night.

1891559_464422300374999_2454611779820884_o

Ships company HMSAS Seksern Benghazi 1943

The loss of the HMSAS Bever

Next morning (30 November) the clearance continued, with HMSAS Seksern being used as a mark-ship owing to the low visibility (mist and rain-squalls). So many mines now explode in the sweeps that progress soon slowed down and finally halted at about 14:00 whilst four of the ships hove to in order to repair their gear. HMSAS Bever, stationed astern of the trawlers to deal with unexploded mines, also stopped.

At 14:30, while manoeuvring her engines to keep in position, the HMSAS Bever struck a mine with the inevitable result for so small a ship: the bridge collapsed while the after-part disintegrated, its fragments mingling with a huge discoloured geyser which shot up many times higher than the ship’s masthead; and by the time the spray and steam had blown clear, nothing remained but the fore-part which turned over and sank a few seconds later.

Although the normal practice had been followed of making all hands not actually on duty below, remain on deck, considering the rapidity of Bever’s destruction, it is remarkable that eight men were to survive and be picked up alive. The captain and second-in-command were literally blown off the bridge, ending up in the water some distance away. The other survivors appear to have left the ship in much the same manner. One man died of his injuries soon after but the remainder, after receiving first-aid treatment, all recovered satisfactorily.

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nThe brave men of the HMSAS Bever sacrificed that day are outlined on the honour roll below (MPK means “Missing Presumed Killed”):

ARMERANTIS, Sideris, Stoker 1c, 282953 V (SANF), MPK
DE PACE, Luigi S, Petty Officer, 66539 V (SANF), MPK
DE REUCK, Leslie B, Telegraphist, 75320 V (SANF), MPK
DREYER, Peter, Leading Cook (S), 585236 V (SANF), MPK
HIGGS, George E, Stoker 1c, 562712 V (SANF), MPK
HUSBAND, Charles A, Stoker 1c, 280098 V (SANF), MPK
KETTLES, John D, Engine Room Artificer 3c, 562458 (SANF), MPK
LAWLOR, Robert J, Act/Chief Motor Mechanic 4c, P/KX 127225, MPK
LINDE, Carl M, Able Seaman, 71194 V (SANF), MPK
LYALL, John D R, Stoker 1c, 562179 V (SANF), MPK
MATTHEWS, William R, Leading Wireman, 562794 V (SANF), killed
PHILLIPSON, Joseph H, Signalman, 181160 V (SANF), MPK
RODDA, Harold J, Stoker 1c, 70451 V (SANF), (served as Harold J Andresen), MPK
SCRIMGEOUR, Quintin, Petty Officer, 69691 (SANF), MPK
TRUSCOTT, E (initial only) W, Able Seaman, 585184 V (SANF), MPK
WHITE, Claude, Leading Seaman, 586420 V (SANF), MPK
WILLIAMS, Desmond, Able Seaman, 70433 V (SANF), killed

The end of a very gallant South African fighting ship. May they all Rest In Peace.

supporting-poppy-appeal


Researched by Peter Dickens, extracts taken from the Military History Journal, Volume 9, Number 1 – June 1992  THE STORY OF A WARSHIP’S CREST by F V Demartinis. Extracts also taken from Day by Day SA Naval History by Chris Bennett. Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, World War 2 by Don Kindell. Images of South African vessels courtesy Allan du Toit and reference from his book ‘South African Fighting Ships’.

“She blew sky high”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Barham!

During the Second World War, South African Navy personnel – known at the time as the “South African Naval Forces” (SANF) were seconded to serve on ships in the Royal Navy. This is a story of one such ship in His Majesty’s service the HMS Barham, she was a 31,100 ton, Queen Elizabeth-class, Battleship of the Royal Navy and she was sunk during the Second World War by a German submarine off the coast of Egypt.

Prior to this HMS Barham visited Durban, South Africa, in June 1941 for extensive repairs at the Victoria Graving Dock. The repairs where due to damage sustained in the Crete bombing. She sailed from Durban on the 31st July 1941 with a number of South African naval force members seconded to the Royal Navy on board.

On the 25th November 1941, HMS Barham forms part of “Force K” hunting for Italian convoys to North Africa, she was supported by the British Mediterranean Fleet along with battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant. On the same day, German submarine U-331 was on her 3rd patrol of the Mediterranean along the coast of Egypt, north of Sidi Barrani, U-331 when she came within range of the HMS Barham.

The commander of U-331, Kptlt. Von Tiesenhausen fired a spread of 4 torpedoes towards the group, 3 of which hit HMS Barham’s port side causing it to list heavily and spread fire towards the ammunition storages. Only 2 and a half minutes passed from the torpedo impact until the ship rolled onto its side and capsized as the aft magazine exploded in an almighty explosion, instantly killing 862 out of the roughly 1260 man complement. U-331 took a terrible beating from Barham’s defending destroyers but managed to slip away and return safely on 21th of February 1942 to Salamis, Greece.

Recorded on film by one of the resue vessels, HMS Barham’s calamitous end is often used in documentaries, and nothing drives home the peril of serving on a fighting ship harder than this newsreel footage, it is simply jaw dropping.

This video is made even more poignant for us as South Africans if you consider we are witnessing the loss of the following South African naval personnel in this tragedy.

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nBAKER, Dennis E W, Ordinary Seaman, 68617 (SANF)
GLENN, Paul V, Ordinary Seaman, 68906 (SANF)
HAYES, Richard T, Ordinary Seaman, 68499 (SANF)
MORRIS, Cyril D, Ordinary Seaman, 68932 (SANF)
UNSWORTH, Owen P (also known as R K Jevon), Ordinary Seaman, 69089 (SANF)
WHYMARK, Vivian G, Ordinary Seaman, 69024 (SANF)

An eye-witness account by survivor Ronald Dando vividly describes the terrifying last minutes of HMS Barham.

“We were now off Sollum, Q.E. ahead flying Admiral Cunningham’s flag, then Barham, with Valiant astern. It was about 1625 hours when a loud explosion came from somewhere aft, on the port side; then came two more, all in the space of seconds.

Men came scrambling on to the upper decks, getting from below decks as quickly as they could. It was only then that I realised Barham was going over quite quickly on her port side and that we’d been torpedoed, at least three times. We must have been at a 45 degrees angle now with water lapping over the port side. It was of course useless jumping off the port side there being the danger of being sucked back into the ship by water that must be rushing it. The only thing to do was to get up on the starboard side, the only way of doing it now being to drag oneself up on ones stomach. I managed it after a struggle and sat high up in the air together with quite a few more chaps, wondering “what now!”

Then I heard someone say “what the hell are you waiting for, get into the bloody water”, or words to that effect it was Vice-Admiral Pridham Wippell; at once we started to slide down the side of Barham into the sea.

I must have been a few hundred yards astern of Barham when there was a terrific roar and she blew sky high, men, guns, all sorts flying through the air; a great wave, it seemed like a mile high, came rushing towards us, struggling and floundering in the swell. I remember thinking to myself, this is the end; then the wave crashed down on us. I felt myself rammed down then whirled round and round like a cork.

I held my breath for what seemed an eternity then started to strike out wildly, trying to surface.

My heard seemed to be bursting and I thought, “I must breathe, I must breathe”. I opened my mouth fully expecting to swallow water, but it was air. I’d been thinking I was still under the water, it was so dark, but the reason was the thick smoke and fumes low over the water”.

Although over 800 men are lost with her, a remarkable number are saved. Just before this tragedy, Force K has sunk two more Axis supply ships west of Crete. At this stage 60 percent of Axis North African supplies (German and Italian) are being lost to attacks by British aircraft, submarines and warships.

On returning to Salamis after sinking HMS Barham, U-331’s commander, Freiherr Hans-Diedrich von Tiesenhausen, was promptly promoted to Kapitanleutnant and awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.  U-331 enjoyed successes on a number of more patrols, but on her 10th patrol in the Mediterranean, on the 17th November 1942, her luck ran out when the main hatch was damaged by an attacking RAF Hudson, which preventing it from diving.   It was then finished off by Fairy Albacore torpedo bombers and Grumman Martlets from the aircraft carrier – HMS Formidable. Of her crew 32 were killed and 17 survived, including her commander.

As South Africans it is very important we keep track of this part of South African naval history.   Much effort and time is spent by the SANDF on the SS Mendi, and rightly so given it was obscured from the national consciousness for so long, but so too has the history of South African naval sacrifice in World War 2, especially those serving in the Royal Navy – their sacrifice has also been completely obscured from history.  Ironically by the same Nationalists who obscured the SS Mendi, choosing political expediency to promote white Afrikaner nationalism ahead of what they regarded as ‘traitors’ serving the crown in World War 1 and 2.

It is time that the full scope of South African service in both The Royal Navy and The South African Navy during WW2 is known, and if this article goes a little way to opening that consciousness so much the better.

6de40b100e2d2f78654345b73edc4599


Researched and written by Peter Dickens.  Video copyright British Pathe.  References the HMS Barham Association and Wikipedia.

A “grievous error”; Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Gloucester

This is the HMS Gloucester under attack by Ju-87 Stukas. May, 1941.  As Simon’s Town in South Africa was a British Naval base thousands of South Africans in WW2 served in the Royal Navy. The loss of the HMS Gloucester is one of the most tragic losses of the war for the Royal Navy, and it unfortunately, as what is arguably the worst wartime loss for the Royal Navy it also has the highest South African naval casualty roll call of the war. Read on for their story.

GLOS SINKING

German gun camera captures the HMS Gloucester under attack

HMS Gloucester was one of the second group of three ships of the Town class of light cruisers. She was launched on 19 October 1937 prior to commissioning on 31 January 1939.

hms_gloucester_D96_emb_n12985Gloucester was nicknamed The Fighting G and saw heavy service in the early years of World War II. The ship was deployed initially to the Indian Ocean and later South Africa before joining Vice Admiral Cunningham’s Mediterranean fleet in 1940. She was sunk on 22 May 1941 during the Battle of Crete with the loss of 722 men out of a crew of 807.

Gloucester formed part of a naval force acting against German military transports to Crete, with some success. Prior to moving to the Mediterranean she spent much of her time patrolling the Indian Ocean off South Africa. In December 1939, she was moved to Simonstown, South Africa where she was used, unsuccessfully, against German raiders. Hence the high number of South Africans serving on her by the time she got to the Mediterranean theatre of operations.

22254780_10155537388346480_1703967884046440289_oAfter German paratroopers landed on Crete on 20 May, the cruiser HMS Gloucester was assigned to Force C that was tasked with interdicting any efforts to reinforce the German forces on the island. On 22 May, while in the Kythria Strait about 14 miles (12 nmi; 23 km) north of Crete, she was attacked by German “Stuka”s of StG 2 shortly before 14:00, together with the light cruiser HMS Fiji and the destroyer HMS Greyhound.  The Greyhound was sunk and the two cruisers were each hit by 250-kilogramme bombs, but not seriously damaged. Two other destroyers were ordered to recover the survivors while the two cruisers covered the rescue efforts. Gloucester was attacked almost immediately and sustained three more hits and three near-misses and sank. Of the 807 men aboard at the time of her sinking, only 85 survived. Her sinking is considered to be one of Britain’s worst wartime naval disasters.

The circumstances of the sinking has also recently pointed to blunders by Royal Navy, when dispatching the HMS Gloucester for the rescue effort, she was low on fuel and anti-aircraft ammunition (less than 20% remaining), and therefore sending her into danger was a “grievous error”.

Furthermore, the Royal Navy failed to attempt to rescue survivors of the HMS Gloucester after it turned dark, one of the reasons why the death toll from the HMS Gloucester is so high.  This lack of action was “contrary to usual Navy practice”. A survivor commented “The tradition in the Navy is that when a ship has sunk, a vessel is sent back to pick up survivors under cover of darkness. That did not happen and we do not know why. We were picked up by Germans.

On 30 May 1941, in a letter to the First Sea Lord, Sir Dudley Pound, Vice Admiral Cunningham wrote, “The sending back of Gloucester and Fiji to the Greyhound was another grave error and cost us those two ships. They were practically out of ammunition but even had they been full up I think they would have gone. The Commanding Officer of Fiji told me that the air over Gloucester was black with planes.”

Whether it was a blunder or whether it was an unavoidable course of action that led to her sinking, there is one thing for certain, a lot of good men died fighting very bravely that day.  Today, the wreck site is a protected place under the Protection of Military Remains Act. The honour roll of South Africans lost in action on the MHS Gloucester as follows (MPK means “Missing Presumed Killed”):

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nALLISON, Oswald H, Able Seaman RNVR, 67349 (SANF), killed
NOWLAN, Francis C, Able Seaman RNVR, 67409 (SANF), DOW

ANGEL, Walter J H, Able Seaman, 67351 (SANF), MPK
AUSTIN-SMITH, John R, Ordinary Seaman, 67336 (SANF), MPK
BAGSHAW-SMITH, Philip R, Ordinary Seaman, 67337 (SANF), MPK
BAGSHAWE-SMITH, Sydney Q, Able Seaman, 68454 (SANF), MPK
BARBER, Edgar F, Able Seaman, 67302 (SANF), MPK
BRUCE, John, Able Seaman, 67355 (SANF), MPK
CARTER, Frederick G, Able Seaman, 67345 (SANF), MPK
CHILTON, Ronald H D, Ordinary Seaman, 67335 (SANF), MPK
EDWARDS, Ronald E, Ordinary Seaman, 67384 (SANF), MPK
ELLIOT, Edward R, Leading Seaman, 66584 (SANF), MPK
GERAGHTY, Herbert C, Able Seaman, 67338 (SANF), MPK
GROGAN, Graham B, Able Seaman, 67343 (SANF), MPK
JAMES, Victor F, Ordinary Seaman, 67303 (SANF), MPK
JENSEN, Niels P, Able Seaman, 67347 (SANF), MPK
MCCARTHY, Henry F, Ordinary Seaman, 67223 (SANF), MPK
MOORE, Albert, Able Seaman, 67416 (SANF), MPK
SLATER, Bryan M, Able Seaman, 67358 (SANF), MPK
SMITH, Matthew S, Able Seaman, 67359 (SANF), MPK
SONDERUP, Arthur W, Able Seaman, 67356 (SANF), MPK
STADLANDER, Rowland C, Stoker 1c, 67400 (SANF), MPK
STOKOE, Cyril A M, Act/Leading Seaman, 67264 V (SANF), MPK
SYMONS, Maurice M, Able Seaman, 68245 (SANF), MPK
THOMPSON, Walter E H, Able Seaman, 67360 (SANF), MPK
VAN DYK, Cecil H, Able Seaman, 67404 (SANF), MPK
WEBBER, Reginald, Able Seaman, 67361 (SANF), MPK
WILLIAMS, Dastrey S, Leading Seaman, 67047 (SANF), MPK
WRIGHT, Gerald V, Act/Ordnance Artificer 4, 67375 (SANF), MPK

We will remember them

12819293_556731994496537_2796972653890093296_o

HMS Gloucester


Researched by Peter Dickens, primary reference Wikipedia

 

“Every man for himself” … South African sacrifice and the sinking of HMS Hecla

As Simonstown was a British naval base during the Second World War thousands of naval ratings and officers who volunteered to serve in the South African Navy – known as the South African Navy Forces – landed up on British vessels. So when one was sunk, as HMS Hecla was, inevitably there is a very long honour roll of South Africans. Read on for their story.

HMS Hecla was built on the Clyde as a destroyer depot ship and after being commissioned on the 6 January 1941 was based at Havelfjord in Iceland as the mother ship for the destroyers escorting the Atlantic convoys which kept Britain from starving.

hecla

HMS HECLA

In the summer of 1941 Hecla was joined by the repair ship USS Vulcan and that Autumn returned to the Clyde for a short refit after which it headed south to an unanounced destination in the southern hemisphere. It was to have joined the fleet being assembled to defend Singapore against the Japanese but detonated a mine off the coast of South Africa and limped into the naval port of Simonstown where it spent several months under repair. These months were a happy interlude for its crew and it took on a number of South African Naval Force personnel as crew.

On the 20 October with Capt G.V.B. Faulkner RN in command Hecla left Cape Town with Convoy CF.7 for Freetown escorted by HMS Shropshire. On arrival at Freetown on the 2 November they joined the destroyer depot ship HMS Vindictive as part of Convoy CF.7A whch left with a strong escort on the 4 November for Liverpool. A young RNVR rating, Tom Davis, on the destroyer escort HMS Active took this last photograph before it was torpedoed less than a week later.

TD-001

The two destroyer depot ships, HMS Hecla and Vindictive, were joined by the destroyer escorts, HMS Venomous and HMS Marne, near the Canaries on the 8 November and detached for Gibraltar to support the ships taking the troops to the invasion of north Africa, Operation Torch.

HMS Hecla was torpedoed by U-515 commanded by German U-boat ace, Werner Henke. At 00.15 hours on 12 Nov 1942,  U-515 fired a spread of four torpedoes at HMS Hecla commanded by A/Capt G.V.B. Faulkner, Royal Navy.  The HMS Hecla was misidentified as a Birmingham-class cruiser and hit her in the engine room. Two torpedoes were surface-runners and the last also malfunctioned and was a circle-runner. The U-boat then hit the ship with three coups de grâce at 01.28, 01.49 and 02.06 hours, sinking the vessel west of Gibraltar.

Every man for himself

An eyewitness report from Lt. Cmdr Henry Alexander (RN), the Navigation officer on the bridge of Helca describes the torpedoing of his ship

“… (a) torpedo blew up abreast our mainmast on our port quarter and was probably responsible for killing our entire cypher staff including my splendid Gyro Compass Artificer … the last torpedo must have struck near where he was working. After a very few minutes a third torpedo was audible and the bubble track seen coming straight towards our bridge. The explosion sent up a column of water like a giant fire hose and gave us all a sound blessing a second time, coming down. The situation then looked hopeless and orders were given for “Abandon ship stations” and finally, “Every man for himself”. 

Werner Henke und Piloten an Bord eines U-Bootes

At 02.11 hours,  U-515 fired two torpedoes and badly damaged the HMS Marne (G 35) (LtCdr H.N.A. Richardson, DSO, DSC, RN) whilst she attempted to rescue the survivors of HMS Hecla. Fifty four ratings and ten officers were rescued by HMS Marne before she was hit in the stern by a torpedo intended for Hecla killing 14 of her crew.

HMS Venomous (under the command of Cdr H.W. Falcon-Steward, RN)  broke off its rescue efforts to pursue the U-boat, having chased the submarine off, the HMS Venomous returned to pick up more survivors from the HMS Hecla and eventually landed them at Casablanca.

The performance of Cdr Falcon-Steward and his officers and crew in fighting the U-boat while rescuing survivors was praised by Admiral Cunningham in his report. Every member of the crew played their part in the rescue of survivors, some risking their own lives by diving in to help the men in the oil covered water.

The Anti Submarine Bosun on HMS Venomous, Warrant Officer H.J.B. Button RN was an unsung hero. Herbert “Jimmie” Button, was a strong swimmer. He gave his own life to save the lives of others, diving in repeatedly to rescue the men struggling for their lives in the oil covered water, only to die a few days later from his exertions.

One survivor was Lt. Herbert Hastings McWilliams of the South African Navy. This recently commissioned 35 year old officer in the South African Navy, an architect in his father’s practice in Port Elizabeth before the war, had enlisted as an ordinary seaman in 1941 and joined HMS Hecla at Simonstown on the 4 September 1942.  He was an exceptionally gifted artist and his wonderfully realistic paintings of Hecla sinking on the back of old charts (based on sketches done with a throat brush and a mixture of iodine and rum  from the sick bay of Venomous).  His paintings are in the Imperial War Museum, London.

hecla2

The Sinking of HMS Hecla with the Destroyer HMS Marne by Lt Herbert Hastings McWilliams: HMS Hecla pitches sharply to one side. Many figures can be seen on deck struggling in the water and climbing over board. There are several life boats in the foreground and a large explosion in the background as HMS Marne is targeted. Copyright: © IWM.

The below image shows HMS Venomous arriving at Casablanca with her decks crowded with survivors from HMS Hecla

NARA-80_G-30679-Casablanca

South African Honour Roll – HMS Hecla, ship loss

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nBENNETT, John F, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 330351 (SANF), MPK
LLOYD, George H, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 330353 (SANF), MPK
PEERS, Charles V, Able Seaman, 562653 (SANF), MPK
SMITH, Ian R, Electrical Artificer 4c, 68478 (SANF), MPK

U-515 sinking on her Sixth and Final Patrol

On 8 April 1944, U-515 spotted a carrier-based aircraft and submerged; an hour later she surfaced and was attacked by another aircraft. U-515 engaged the machine with her 3.7-cm anti-aircraft gun. The plane’s bombs missed the U-boat and U-515 failed to shoot down the aircraft.  The next day, 9 April 1944 U-515 was again attacked north of Madeira by the destroyers USS Pope, USS Pillbury, USS Chatelain and USS Flaherty.  Flooding and loss of depth control forced the U-Boat to the surface, where she was sunk by rockets fired from Grumman Avenger and Grumman Wildcat aircraft and gunfire from the destroyers.

Sixteen of U-515s crew were killed, but 44 survived the attack. The survivors were picked up by the destroyers and later transferred to the aircraft carrier USS Guadalcanal.

 

Survivors of U-515 climb aboard USS Chatelain and USS Pope after their boat was sunk


Researched by Peter Dickens. Reference and extracts taken from: A HARD FOUGHT SHIP. The story of HMS Venomous.  Image copyright Imperial War Museum.  Extracts from Wikipedia. Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, World War 2 by Don Kindell.

 

The Leonardo da Vinci wreaks havoc off South Africa’s coastline

There is good reason why South Africa’s coastline was so heavily defended by the Royal Navy and South African Navy during World War 2, especially protecting shipping rounding the Cape, and none more so than protection from the submarine menace. One such submarine was the RM Leonardo da Vinci, an Italian submarine fighting alongside Nazi Germany as part of the Axis Pact.

The RM Leonardo da Vinci carried out 11 war patrols, sinking 17 ships, a total of 120,243 Gross Register Tonnage, which included the 21,500-ton Ocean Liner RMS Empress of Canada.  The da Vinci was Italy’s most successful submarine in World War II, and her captain, Lt. Gianfranco Gazzana-Priaroggia, Italy’s leading submarine ace.

The Leonardo da Vinci was one of six Marconi-class submarines built at Monfalcone in 1938 and 1939. The Marconi-class were fairly large boats, 251ft long with 1,510 tons submerged displacement and a crew of 57 men. Armed with four bow and four stern torpedo tubes, one 3.9in deck gun and four 13.2mm machine guns (mainly for anti-aircraft defense) they had a range of nearly 3,000 miles, a top surface speed of just over 17 knots and so were formidable weapons capable of operating far from home.

sommergibile_da_vinci_in_navigazione.d5fzpgo31bkssc4wws4s84cw0.ejcuplo1l0oo0sk8c40s8osc4.th

The Last Patrol

In February 1943, the submarine began a long mission to hunt in South Africa’s waters – the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, it is the final patrol for the Leonardo da Vinci.

This patrol was conducted in collaboration with another Italian submarine, RM Finzi. On March 14th 1943, the da Vinci sunk her most notable target, the troopship SS Empress of Canada.

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 12.18.39The 21,516-ton RMS Empress of Canada, was a liner of the Canadian Pacific Steam Ship Company, which had been converted to a troop transport. To the German U-boat captains she managed to elude for three and a half years, she was known as “The Phantom”.

She was sailing from Durban, South Africa to the United Kingdom via Takoradi on the Gold Coast, West Africa. On board were 1,346 persons including 499 Italian prisoners of war and Greek and Polish refugees.

Just after midnight the first torpedo struck. The commander of the Leonardo Da Vinci then gave Captain Goold, the commander of the Empress of Canada half an hour to abandon ship.  She sank in about 20 minutes after a second torpedo was launched.

A total of 392 people were lost due to exposure, drowning and sharks, including, 90 women and 44 crew.  In the “fog of war”, the sinking of the Empress of Canada can be ironically seen as a “own goal” as nearly half of the fatalities reported were the Italian Prisoners of War.

The survivors were picked up by the destroyers and corvettes HMS Boreas, HMS Petunia and HMS Crocus and the Ellerman Line vessel Corinthian.

Following this on the 19th March 1943 – The British merchant vessel SS Lulworth Hill – 7,628 tons – was da Vinci’s next victim northwest of South West Africa (now Namibia, but then a South African protectorate). 14 survivors made it onto a life raft. The Leonardo da Vinci captured and took on board one survivor of the sinking, James Leslie Hull.

LulworthHillSurvivorsAfter 29 days the UK authorities assumed that the Lulworth Hill had been lost with all hands and duly informed their families.On 7 May the HMS Rapid picked up the Lulworth Hill’s liferafts. Of the 14 men that had survived the sinking, after 50 days adrift only two, Seaman Shipwright (i.e. carpenter) Kenneth Cooke and Able Seaman Colin Armitage, remained alive.

By mid April 1943, the Leonardo da Vinci had rounded the Cape and was in the Indian Ocean, just off Durban, South Africa and here the tally of destruction was to escalate:

17 April 1943 – The Dutch merchant vessel SS Sembilan – 6,566 tons – is torpedoed and sunk by the Italian submarine Leonardo da Vinci east of Durban.  The attack also totally destroys two American Landing Crafts, LCP-780  and LCP-782 which were being carried aboard as freight.

The next day, 18 April 1943 – The British merchant vessel Manaar – 8,007 tons – the second victim of the Italian submarine Leonardo da Vinci within two days, is sunk east of Port Elizabeth.

21 April 1943 – The American vessel (Liberty Ship) John Drayton – 7,177 tons – is sunk by the da Vinci east of Durban, after being Torpedoed twice and shelled while en route to Cape Town. 4 died when Lifeboat #1 capsized during launching. The men in Lifeboat #4 were rescued on 23 April by the Swedish vessel MV Oscar Gorthon; a raft was picked up on 27 April by HMS Relentless.  The men in Lifeboat #2 picked up by the Greek freighter SS Mount Rhodope a month after the sinking on the 21st May. By that time only 8 of the original 24 men were still alive and of them, a further 3 died in hospital in Durban. In all, 21 of the 41 merchant crew members and 5 of the 15 Naval Armed Guards aboard John Drayton lost their lives.

dhm6224

Painting by Ivan Berryman depicting the final hours of the John Drayton

The last vessel to be sunk by da Vinci was on 25 April 1943, British vessel operated by Shell as a petroleum tanker called the Doryssa – 8,078 tons – is was sunk south of Port Elizabeth.

As a result of all the successes the Commander of the da  Vinci, T.V. Gazzana-Priaroggia was promoted Capitano di Corvetta with immediate effect from 6th May 1943.

A Fatal Decision

With a string of victories and promotions after its very successful patrol to South Africa’s waters, on 22 May 1943 Leonardo da Vinci unwisely signalled its intention to head home for Bordeaux, France.

The decision to radio home its intentions proved fatal.  Its position having been fixed by Allied direction-finding equipment, on 23 May the destroyer HMS Active  and the frigate HMS Ness subjected the submarine to an intense depth charge attack and sank it 300 miles (480 km) west of Vigo (off the West African coastline).  There were no survivors.

HMS Ness (Left) and HMS Active (Right)

Today

Gazzana_2Gianfranco Gazzana-Priaroggia was a massive loss to the Italian war effort and the Italian Navy, he was posthumously awarded the Knight’s Iron Cross from Germany and the Gold Medal for Military Valor by King Vittorio Emanuele III.  Rather unusually given the outcome of the war, as testament of this legacy, two modern Italian Sauro-class submarines are named:

  • S520 Leonardo da Vinci, completed in 1981 and named after the original RM Leonardo da Vinci
  • S525 the Gianfranco Gazzana Priaroggia completed in 1993 (the last of its class) and named in honour of Gianfranco Gazzana-Priaroggia

Source: Wikipedia, the Italian Monachist – Saga of the Submarine Leonardo da Vinci.  Merchant ships – attacks by Italian submarines.

South African sacrifice on the HMS Neptune

This image of HMS Neptune with Table Mountain in the background says a lot about the South African naval personnel seconded to serve on Royal Navy vessels and their supreme sacrifice.

As Simonstown was a British naval base during the Second World War thousands of naval ratings and officers who volunteered to serve in the South African Navy – known as the South African Navy Forces – landed up on British vessels. So when one was sunk, as HMS Neptune was, inevitably there is a very long honour roll of South Africans. Read on for their story.

HMS Neptune was a Leander-class light cruiser commissioned into the Royal Navy on 12 February 1934 with the pennant number “20”.

12565523_539251039577966_1096634432449409870_n

HMS Neptune at sea in her heyday.

Force K, operating in the Mediterranean, including HMS Neptune, was sent out on 18 December 1941, to intercept an Axis forces convoy (German and Italian) bound for Tripoli,

neptune1On the night of 19 – 20 December, HMS Neptune, leading the line, struck two mines, part of a newly laid Italian minefield. The first struck the anti-mine screen, causing no damage. The second struck the bow hull. The other cruisers present, HMS Aurora and HMS Penelope, also struck mines.

While reversing out of the minefield, Neptune struck a third mine, which took off her propellers and left her dead in the water. HMS Aurora was unable to render assistance as she was already down to 10 knots (19 km/h) and needed to turn back to Malta. HMS Penelope was also unable to assist.

The destroyers HMS Kandahar and HMS Lively were sent into the minefield to attempt a tow. The former struck a mine and began drifting. Neptune then signalled for Lively to keep clear. (Kandahar was later evacuated and torpedoed by the destroyer Jaguar, to prevent her capture.)

Neptune hit a fourth mine and quickly capsized, killing 737 crew members. The other 30 initially survived the sinking but they too died. As a result, only one was still alive when their carley float was picked up five days later by the Italian torpedo boat Achille Papa.

The loss of HMS Neptune was the second most substantial loss of life suffered by the Royal Navy in the whole of the Mediterranean campaign, and ranks among the heaviest crew losses experienced in any naval theatre of World War II.

12549098_539250899577980_5498989727764062490_n

The Royal Marine band on the jetty by the stern of HMS Neptune at Simon’s Town in July 1940

This is the honour roll of South Africans lost that day lest we forget the heroism and sacrifice of these brave South African men.

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nADAMS, Thomas A, Able Seaman, 67953 (SANF), MPK
CALDER, Frank T, Ordinary Seaman, 67971 (SANF), MPK
CAMPBELL, Roy M, Able Seaman, 67318 (SANF), MPK
DIXON, Serfas, Able Seaman, 67743 (SANF), MPK
FEW, Jim, Able Seaman, 67744 (SANF), MPK
HAINES, Eric G, Able Seaman, 67697 (SANF), MPK
HOOK, Aubrey C, Able Seaman, 67862 (SANF), MPK
HOWARD, Harold D, Signalman, 67289 (SANF), MPK
HUBBARD, Wallace S, Able Seaman, 67960 (SANF), MPK
KEMACK, Brian N, Signalman, 67883 (SANF), MPK
MERRYWEATHER, John, Able Seaman, 67952 (SANF), MPK
MEYRICK, Walter, Ordinary Signalman, 68155 (SANF), MPK
MORRIS, Rodney, Ordinary Signalman, 68596 (SANF), MPK
RANKIN, Cecil R, Signalman, 67879 (SANF), MPK
THORP, Edward C, Signalman, 67852 (SANF), MPK
THORPE, Francis D, Able Seaman, 67462 (SANF), MPK
WILD, Ernest A, Able Seaman, 67929 (SANF), MPK

Other South Africans who had enlisted into the Royal Navy were also lost, these include (and by no means is this list definitive) the following:

OOSTERBERG, Leslie W, Stoker 1c, D/KX 96383, MPK
TOWNSEND, Henry C, Stoker 1c, D/KX 95146, MPK

May they Rest in Peace, these brave men whose duty is now done.

12593632_539245742911829_3970406589148419503_o

HMS Neptune in Cape Town harbour


Researched by Peter Dickens, Sources – Wikipedia.  Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, World War 2 by Don Kindell

 

 

The feisty South African minesweeper that went down fighting – HMSAS Parktown

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nSouth Africa lost four ships during WW2, all of them minesweepers.  The second one to be lost was the HMSAS Parktown and it has a truly extraordinary fighting legacy.

A small whaler converted to a minesweeper, the “tiny boat” HMSAS Parktown sailed into action in April 1942 in company of another “tiny boat” – the HMSAS Langlaagte, sailing  from Cape Town to the Mediterranean and joining the 167th Minesweeping Group working from Alexandria, Egypt.

Service in the Mediterranean

Parktown had arrived in the Mediterranean from South Africa during May and had sailed from Alexandria on 9 June as part of the escort for a convoy bound for Tobruk. During the passage the convoy is attacked and Parktown is involved in the gallant rescue of 28 survivors from a ship that had been sunk, many of whom are badly burnt. After their arrival in Tobruk on 12 June Parktown and her consort, a fellow South African ship the HMSAS Bever under the command of Lt P A North, are tasked to keep the approaches to Tobruk clear of mines.

parktown

HMSAS Parktown

Fall of Tobruk 

At that time Tobruk was under siege and by 20 June it is clear that a crisis of some kind is imminent. Late that same afternoon Parktown and Bever are ordered to enter harbour to embark evacuation parties. At 20:00 that evening they watch the Axis forces entering the western end of town and then reach the harbour shortly afterwards.

These two South African minesweepers were to distinguish themselves during the Allied evacuation from Tobruk fighting their way out of the harbour.  The Bever and Parktown fought side by side as they were loading up with as many Allied and South African troops and equipment as they could take, all the time whilst Rommel’s German forces closed in around them. The rapidity of the attack caused great confusion, however, the ships still manage to embark most of the men allocated to them before they sail.

On 20 June 1942 General Rommel’s “Deutsch-Italienische Panzerarmee” (German and Italian Tank Army) attacked the Tobruk garrison from the south and south east. By 18:00, the German and Italian forces had overrun the main defence lines and were closing on the harbour and all Allied ships were ordered to embark personnel for evacuation.

The escape 

By 19:00 German tanks and armoured cars were within the town and started shelling the ships in the harbour. HMSAS Bever received a direct hit as she cast off.  Next is The Parktown and her escape is also quite remarkable.

Using her machine guns she checks the advance of the enemy land forces whilst embarking a further 60 men, even though hit by shell fire. As she is casting off, more men keep arriving and several try to swim to the ship. A few are hauled on board, some assisted by one of the ship’s company, Able Seaman P J Smithers, who swims to their assistance. However in the confusion of sailing A/B Smithers is left behind to be captured and placed in an Italian POW camp.

As the last Allied ship to leave Tobruk, Parktown attracts a tremendous concentration of fire as she steams out at full speed. Although she is hit several times, no hit causes fatal damage to the ship and only one man, an army NCO, is killed.

Tobruk, Rommel, Bayerlein, Panzer III

Rommel and his Panzers enter Tobruk

The Fall of Tobruk

Under cover of a smoke screen laid by a motor torpedo boat, but still receiving shell-fire from the town, the two ships left the harbour for the open sea. During the night off Tobruk port the Parktown and Bever became separated and the Parktown goes to the assistance of a disabled tug, also crowded with men.

The sinking of the HMSAS Parktown

After taking it in tow Parktown is only able to make five knots (9.3 Km/h) and thus gets left behind by the rest of the fleet. At daybreak on the 21 June they are still only 50 miles from Tobruk and can see the coast 14 miles away with a heavy fog bank to seaward.  At 06:45 Parktown’s crew sighted what they described as an Italian “MAS” torpedo boat (E-Boat), which had been directed to the slow moving vessel by a German reconnaissance aircraft.  The Parktown then turns north towards the fog bank, only to be confronted by four more E-boats at close range. Fire is immediately opened by both sides.

The E-boats using their higher speed and longer range guns open the range and attack from different directions. Even though Parktown, having only one 20mm Oerlikon, was heavily out matched, one or two of the E-boats appear to be hit by her fire and end up temporarily out of control.

However, within 30 minutes, completely outnumbered and outgunned the Parktown suffers sufficient damage to put her completely out of action.  The Captain, Lieutenant Leslie James Jagger and the coxswain are killed by a direct hit to the Bridge as well as a Royal Navy officer on passage.  Within 15 minutes Parktown was stationary with a hole in the boiler, half of the crew and evacuated soldiers as casualties, out of ammunition and with the upper deck on fire. The only surviving officer, Sub-Lieutenant E R Francis, although himself severely wounded, takes charge and orders the ship to be abandoned as a fire is spreading rapidly and no guns remain in action.

In the aftermath it is noticed that the E-boats appear to be firing at the men in the water, however a plane, which was thought to be German, appears and heads towards the E-boats where it then circles over them and opens fire on them, after which they make off at high speed.

The remaining crew and soldiers abandoned ship and clung to carley floats. At this time, an aircraft drove off the hostile ships. The tug which had been in tow had not been engaged by the E-boats and managed to rescue some of the survivors and some of the remaining survivors were rescued by an Allied Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) which found them close to the burning minesweeper. The Allied MTB then sank the burning wreck of the Parktown with depth charges before returning to Mersa Matruh that evening.

Accounts on the final hour of the Parktown differ:

Orpen states that the Italian ships were driven off by a South African aircraft. He also records there being four Italian torpedo boats involved in the action.

Du Toit states that there were six Italian torpedo boats involved and that the aircraft was in fact a German aircraft which erroneously attacked the Italian ships.

Harris supports the fact that there were four torpedo boats and states that the German aircraft deliberately attacked the Italian vessels as they were firing on survivors in the water.

MAScamo

Camouflaged Italian World War II MAS that sunk the HMSAS Parktown (Motoscafo Armato Silurante – Italian: “Torpedo Armed Motorboat”)

Out of her complement of 21, Parktown suffered 13 casualties; five killed and eight seriously wounded.

Decorations and awards won

In this action alone the HMSAS Parktown’s crew would amass the following decorations and awards (we will leave the account of the HMSAS Bever to another post on her and her loss in November 1944 specifically):

Distinguished Service Order, D.S.O 
Sub-Lieutenant Ernest Rowland Frances (H.M.S.A.S. Parktown).
Comes from Krugersdorp. Age 34. Was in Training Ship General
Botha, 1923-23. Badly wounded during Tobruk withdrawal.

Distinguished Service Medal, D.S.M.
No 66921. Leading-Stoker John Charles Rohlandt (H.M.S.A.S. Parktown).
Home. address, 12, Hillyard-street. Woodstock.
No 71431. Leading-Stoker Leslie Ronald Mitchell (H.M.S.A.S. Parktown).
Home address. 16, Wesley-street. Observatory. Before war was
employed by Customs Department, Cape Town
No. 71048. Able-Seaman George Kirkwood (H.M.SA.S. Parktown).
Comes from Maraisburg. Transvaal. Was a miner in peace time.

Mentioned in Dispatches (Posthumous)
Lieutenant Leslie James Jagger (H.M.S.A.S. Parktown) Came from Johannesburg, was killed during this operation.

No. 71464. Stoker Andrew Henry Jooste (H.M.S.A.S. Parktown). Comes from Vrededorp Johannesburg. Age 21. A gold miner before joining Seaward Defence.

The honour roll  – HMSAS Parktown (SANF),

The following South African men were lost with the sinking of the Parktown (MPK means “missing presumed killed”)

BROCKLEHURST, Peter S, Able Seaman, 70457 (SANF), MPK
COOK, John A, Stoker 1c, 70256 (SANF), MPK
JAGGER, Leslie J, Lieutenant SANF, 70016 (SANF), MPK
MCEWAN, William A, Steward, 69686 (SANF), MPK
TREAMER, Arthur P, Petty Officer, 71109 (SANF), MPK

May these brave South Africans Rest in Peace, their duty done.

supporting-poppy-appeal

For more Observation Post stories on South African minesweepers lost in World War 2, please visit the following links:

HMSAS Southern Floe: The HMSAS Southern Floe was the SA Navy’s first ship loss & it carries with it a remarkable tale of survival.

The HMSAS Bever: “Under a hail of shells”; Recounting the bravery and loss of HMSAS Bever

The HMSAS Treern: The last South African Navy ship to be lost in action; HMSAS Treern


Researched by Peter Dickens. References: Article essence copied from Wikipedia, Military History Journal Vol 9 No 1 – June 1992. THE STORY OF A WARSHIP’S CREST by F V Demartinis and Day-to-Day in the SA Navy by Chris Bennett (social media). SOUTH AFRICAN NAVAL FORCE
Ship Histories, Convoy Escort Movements, Casualty Lists 1939-1947