HMS Eagle sunk as Pedestal comes under atttack

11th August 1942: HMS Eagle sunk as Pedestal comes under atttack

Taking a deep breath I blew up my inflatable lifebelt which was a permanent part of our dress when we were afloat. Remembering our survival lectures, I hurriedly kicked off my deck shoes, pushed myself away and before I could think I was upside down 20 feet under the water and frantically holding my breath whist I looked around for a lighter colour in my surroundings that would indicate the surface. The next few seconds seemed like a lifetime and as I broke through to the surface my throat and chest seemed to explode with relief.

HMS Eagle in the Mediterranean in February 1942 during Operation Spotter. A Supermarine Spitfire flies off HMS EAGLE to reinforce the air defence of Malta. Fifteen Spitfires, flown by replacement pilots for the much depleted No. 249 Squadron RAF, reached the island successfully during this operation.
11 August: The loss of HMS EAGLE and the first air attacks: A general view of the convoy under air attack showing the intense anti-aircraft barrage put up by the escorts. The battleship HMS RODNEY is on the left and the cruiser HMS MANCHESTER on the right.

It was not long before the air assault on the Pedestal convoy began. More Spitfire re-inforcements for Malta were flown off from HMS Furious once they were within flying range of the island. But soon afterwards the convoy came within range of the Italian and German planes and four major attacks were launched during the day dropping bombs and launching torpedoes, as well as laying mines in the route ahead.

The most serious threat came from U-boats however. U-73 hit the carrier HMS Eagle with four torpedoes and she went down quickly. The air cover for the convoy had been dramatically reduced in one blow.

George Amyes was serving with the Fleet AirArm on HMS Eagle:

11th August 1942 13.15hrs HMS Eagle

I was standing in the shade of No.1 starboard 6″ gun, fifty feet above the waterline. The Eagle shuddered with four distinct lurches. For some reason I thought we had hit a school of whales! The deck tilted under my feet and to my astonishment I saw a pair of seaboots flying through the air and disappear overboard. These were followed by other pieces of debris and as the ship began to list I realised that we were in serious trouble.

Loose fittings began to clatter around. Frightened voices shouted and men began to stream up from the lower decks to reach higher positions. Bodies were already floundering in the water below. And the wake of the Eagle had developed a distinct curve as the vessel pulled out of line. The rhythmic throb of the main engines died away and the ship slewed further around rapidly keeling over.

Looking over the side I was amazed to see that the green slimed bulge of the torpedo blister was above the surface of the water. (Designed to withstand a charge of 750 per square inch, the torpedo blister was supposed to deflect the force of underwater explosions and preserve the hull of the ship.)

I never did hear the order to abandon ship, but when I saw marines jumping from the flight deck, hurtling past the gundeck, and hitting the rising torpedo blister as the ship keeled over I really did begin to get worried. Less than two minutes had past, and the marines that had smashed themselves to jelly when they jumped had already slithered away leaving behind a blood streaked trail of slime.

I clambered through the rails, and suddenly I to was sitting on the torpedo blister. Two ratings were already there, terrified, they could not swim. An officer slid between the two ratings and shouted, “now is your time to learn,” and with a rating beneath each arm he dived into the sea. I never saw them again.

Taking a deep breath I blew up my inflatable lifebelt which was a permanent part of our dress when we were afloat. Remembering our survival lectures, I hurriedly kicked off my deck shoes, pushed myself away and before I could think I was upside down 20 feet under the water and frantically holding my breath whist I looked around for a lighter colour in my surroundings that would indicate the surface. The next few seconds seemed like a lifetime and as I broke through to the surface my throat and chest seemed to explode with relief.

When I was able to think, I heard someone shouting, “get the charges”. “Oh my God!” I thought. The depth charges for the aircraft, were they primed? My horizon from wave level was limited. Eagle was just a bulge in my vision. Then she was gone. My throat filled with bile, and as I looked around my small watery world I saw other frightened faces and suddenly I did not feel quite so lonely. “Swim away from the ship, depth charges, suction, the boilers will explode!”

All these things went through my brain, but where was the ship? Which was the way to swim? Swim! Swim! Swim! The sea suddenly boiled; an unbelievable crushing pressure stunned my senses, and I spun around in the water like a toy and when I could think again I was once more in my own little watery world.

Something bumped into me from behind; it was “Stripey”, the twelve year service man who was the “Daddy” of our messdeck, but something was wrong. His face was discoloured, his eyes staring, and he was flopping uncontrollably in the water. I grabbed for him, and my clutch slithered down his torso, and suddenly there was nothing but mush.

From the waste down he was just offal, sliced in half, and gone. Panic stricken I pushed him away and felt my stomach heaving uncontrollably. We drifted apart.

Read more of George Amyes’ story on BBC People’s War

11 August: The loss of HMS EAGLE and the first air attacks: HMS EAGLE rolling over on to her port side after being torpedoed.

46 thoughts on “HMS Eagle sunk as Pedestal comes under atttack”

  1. My grandad George fifield was a stoker onboard that day , he survived to tell the tale all his mates floating around . He developed TB in one lung and had it removed , due to the burning oil in the water , he lived till the age of 78 , all his medals whent down and he never had them re-issued who’s was a shame .

  2. I feel like an intruder. I had no relative on the Eagle. However, I am Maltese and was saved from occupation by the Nazis and Fascists by Operation Pedestal in which the Eagle was lost.

    Malta commemorates the convoy every year with respect, reverence and gratitude! We call it IL-KONVOJ TA’ SANTA MARIJA because it arrived on the Feast Day of Our Lady.
    A few weeks ago (15th August) I published an “ANNINVERSARY” feature in the Times of Malta. If anybody is interested I will forward.

    The convoy suffered heavy losses. Besides the warships which were sunk, only five of the 14 merchantmen made it to Malta. But they saved Malta. The losses were such that the Fascists claimed a great victory. They ignored the crucial fact…Malta was saved!

    We had a family friend on the Eagle. When it went down he was sucked down and came up in great difficulties. A senior officer surfaced near him and gave him his lifebelt. They were in the water for four hours before they were picked up.

    Sorry to have intruded. But, to all, admiration and thanks for what was done.

    “They did not boast, they did not fuss, they served!” Thank God for their efforts!

    George M. Boffa

  3. My father was a pilot with the FAA on HMS Eagle , and survived the sinking – he spoke very little about it . I would love to see any photos of the planes / crew .. maybe he would be in them … he died in 1989, his name was David Watt , but has been listed as David Watts in some documents . We still have memorabilia from his time in the FAA .

  4. My father Cyril Williams was a gunner on the Eagle. He slid down a turret into the sea and lost his hair in the flames of burning oil. He, as I notice others didn’t talk about it much. He died 72 years of age, and enjoyed life in Beighton No Sheffield.

  5. Owen (Curly) FREESTONE, my father, survived the sinking, he never spoke much about it. But I can remember him saying the Italian Airforce would attack the convoy. After evacuating from the ship, he had to swim in oil filled water, and swin well away from the ship, not to get sucked under when the ship sank. Bless them all.

  6. My father, pilot officer Michael Graves, flew off The Eagle in a Spitfire for Malta on February 21st 1942 where he took part in the Battle of Malta

  7. My Father, Albert Henry (Ted) Kelly was a RPO and a surviver of the sinking and told how he was off watch and was about to sleep when she was struck. He said there appeared to be no panic as men went up to the flight deck, it was like people leaving a cinema after a show.
    He was picked up by a destroyer which chased an echo so it was unable to pass on a list of the surviver’s on board, so mum didn’t know until days later when a second list was posted that he had survived. After reading the original list she thought he hadn’t survived.

  8. I have very little information about my grandad who served on the Eagle in the med as it was sunk.
    I believe he was one of the signallers. I’m not sure if that was an official role or if it was a secondary duty.
    The story goes he couldn’t swim a stroke but survived 7 hours in the water before being rescued. He also had jet black hair before that day but once picked up was pure white! Probably just a story he told us grand kids, but I believed him.
    If anybody knows of any information about David Archibald Gillespie, from Cupar, FIFE, it’d me amazing, but some information on where to find out more about him would be just as good.
    Thanks

  9. My Father Stanley William Stacey was a stoker on board HMS Eagle when she was torpedoed. He died in 1998 and told us a little about his war experiences but never said a lot about that day.

    He did however leave some brief but interesting notes about his journeys in the form of a time line starting with him joining the ship at Gladstone Dock Liverpool on 11th November 1941 and the journeys she made from that date until she was sunk on 11th August 1942.

    He was one of the lucky survivors and despite not being able to swim he floated until he was picked up by HMS Laforey and then transferred to HMS Keppel to be taken back to Gibralter.

    One of the few things I do remember him saying was that he was not on watch at the time the torpedoes struck and that if he had been he would not have survived. A sobering thought.

  10. Father John Quinn, retired CPO but was in his early 20s when sunk. Shared the story but limited some of the details. Was on the flight deck and slid into the oil. Picked up by a tug. Lived in Malta for a few years as a kid, Dad was very fond of the Island and the people. I am returning in April and feel much the same as my Dad. Lest we never forget.

  11. My Great Grandfather, Richard Brown – who I think was a Petty Officer – survived the sinking of the Eagle. My Grandma is really keen to try and find out if anyone knew him or has memories of that time. I’d be very grateful if anyone got in touch who knew RIchard Brown or would like to talk to my Grandma.

    Thank you!
    Naomi

  12. My uncle Able Seaman Reg Welch was lost when the Eagle was sunk. He told his family it was unlikely he would survive the Malta convoys when he was at home on leave.

  13. My father Norman James Horace Watts was on the Eagle when she was sunk. I would be very grateful if anyone has any information about him, he died when I was young and never spoke of hie experiences in the war.

  14. Hi my uncle John Nicholls was a stocker on the HMS Eagle unfortunately he did not survive. I would love to see any pictures of him or the crew to show my dad George Nicholls. Thank you

  15. My dad James Edward Jones Hogg (Jimmy) was also a survivor from the Eagle.
    He spoke very little about the sinking only that he had to swim for along time before
    he was picked up. I have always wondered which ship picked him up and where he was
    taken to.

  16. My father was I think a petty officer on h m s eagle on that fateful day. He told me a few things about that day.After the initial hit he remembered seeing a shoe with the foot still in.He didn’t get off till quite late ,the ship was on its side my father was as high as he could get.A senior officer told him to get of as the ship would be going down soon so he cut loose a carley float then slid down into the water.He was swallowing oil and the being shocked by the depth charges that were being dropped to get the u-boat.He realised that he was sinking and someone in a raft pulled him up by his hair and saved his life.Spent a long time in hospital with a broken back and suffered from the effects of the oil in later life.

  17. Hello my father Walter Starkey was on the hms eagle when it sunk (operation pedestal ) he survived by jumping overboard .sadley we lost him 1967 (50 yrs ago) but my mother is still alive aged 93 .it would mean the world to her and her family if anybody knew dad who is still alive .all the best to you all lyn..

  18. My dad, Len Freestone, was a signalman on the Eagle, he survived the sinking although hardly ever talked about it. He joined the Navy when he was 16, my brother has a photo of the young men in their uniforms and they look like children. We emigrated to Australia in 1965, Dad was a boatbuilder and loved to sail. He passed away in 2008, after living his life with only one lung, caused by the exposure to the oil in the water.

  19. My Grandad was Harry Kempshall and survived the sinking. Many of his friends did not. Although he found it hard to talk about I have vivid memories of his story of the sinking which I used for school projects. He lived until his 80’s, he was very loved x

  20. My father Ernest Michael Kelly was an able seaman on HMS Eagle. HE died in 2011 age 86.
    He always spoke how he jumped off the Eagle as it was going down and swam for 2 hours before being rescued. He also held up his mate who could not swim but sadly had to let him go through exhaustion.

  21. My grandmother’s brother, Bernard McCarron, was a stoker on the HMS Eagle. My mother told me late in her life that her brother Bernard was named after her uncle, who died in the war. I did a little research and discovered he was a stoker. I’m glad she told me about this otherwise it would have been lost to history.

  22. Lynn, that is so exciting to hear your father is 96 and a survivor! This is great to see so many comments. My Grandfather George Baker was on the ship and survived. Relocated to Victoria Australia and unfortunately passed away in 1992. I never got to talk to him much about it, so i love trying to find information.
    Thanks to everyone.

  23. My father is a survivor of HMS Eagle his name is Cyril Brown he will be 96 in June. We live in Perth WA. There was a write up in the west Australian some years ago when he had an accidental meeting in a hospital with another survivor also living in Perth but they never new either lived there his name was Eric Shipman he sadly passed away I was told.
    Kind regards
    Lynn

  24. My Grandad (my hero) was on board HMS Eagle on 11th Aug 1942 when it was hit during operation pedestal. I am trying to piece together his service record whilst in the Navy as I want my children and the following generations of our family to always remember the work he did. His name was John Micah Tym. If anyone has any information I would be extremely grateful.

  25. My father, Alfred Ransome was on the Eagle when she sank in 1942. He was picked up some hours later by the tug Jaunty. He is now aged 96 and served from 1937 to 1946. It took him months to recover from being covered in oil as well as ingesting it. He was a member of the Fleet Air Arm and his service number has only three digits.

  26. We have been informed that my father was the last survivor of HMS Eagle – Lt Derek George Walling – he died on 22/11/16, we buried him on Friday. We have a lot of information from him. We would love to hear from any families of stokers. My dad let 6 people climb on his back to safety as the ladder was dislodged but inevitably he was left at the bottom – this is a long story – but part of it involves a stoker who was convinced with fear he should go the other way – dad had to force him in the right direction so they could help each other and even when they were nearly free he had to push him off the right side of the ship into the water to ensure he wasn’t sucked under. He met this gentleman years later in London, but as with all these stories you don’t remember the detail – dad didn’t speak about the war for decades either. We would love to track down the family as they would not exist today and in fact nor would dad as dad had to force the stoker to help him move a hatch to freedom. My dad was an amazing piano player and played on the ships – one thing that also remains at the bottom of the Ocean with his mates is his piano accordian! He was also the last survivor of the 1937 Caledonian intake, Grenville Division.

    All of you please do continue to write, when we are up and running we plan to make further information available.
    Martine Walling

  27. Hello,

    My great-grandmothers brother was aboard HMS Eagle when it was sunk in the 1942 attack. Sadly, he didn’t survive. His name was Thomas Scott Hunter and he was a Stoker. If there are any photos of the crew, or of there is any information, I would love to hear it, as I have nothing now that my great-grandmother has passed away.

    Many thanks
    Lisa
    Lwharton89 AT yahoo.co.uk

  28. My father, Ronald (Ron) Porter was a CPO on the Eagle. He was a carpenter and worked on the Sopworth Camels. The story that remains with me is after the ship was hit and was seriously listing, his mate was stuck underneath a lathe and could not be freed. His friend told him to go thinking that that was it for him. As the ship listed even more, the lathe moved. His friend managed to free himself and made his way up to the flight deck. My dad was up there too (getting ready to slide across the flight deck and into the water) and looked over to see his friend smiling at him. My dad didn’t like talking about the war so this was one of the handful of stories he was prepared to say. His friend survived and my dad served until 1946. He lived a good life after the war as a successful builder and had several children. I would love it if I could connect him with someone else that knew him and also served on the Eagle as that part of his life was so closed to his family.

  29. My dad Dennis Charles Jeacock able seaman and pom-pom gunner was on board Eagle and survived and later transfered to Indomitable.
    Any comments welcome.

  30. My dad was Raymond Hatton. He apparently held onto a small biscuit box, until he was fished out by a tug. I would love more info, picture.

  31. My grandfather William Wilson survived the sinking of the Eagle. I’d love to see any photos others may have access to if you can help.

  32. My fathers name was Edward Ronald Wilson”tug wilson”from Portsmouth Hampshire, he was also a stoker but sadly lost his life when HMS Eagle,went down in 1942 on the Malta convoy run. Are there any survivers alive now , I remember his friends visitig my home in Gosport Hampshire for some time to comfort our family .A Mr Curry comes to mind , if there is any information out there regarding my father we would loved to hear about it
    Thank you
    Maureen Adams daughter,was Wilson ,

  33. Hi everyone thank you for all your comments about the HMS Eagle my father Albert Adey from Coventry UK was a stoker and survived he was picked up by a ship that took him to Asbury Park New Jersey where he met our Mother at Harry’s Dinner in Sea Bright New Jersey does any body know the name of that ship ? I have almost finished a novel called Runaway Kid where I mention the Eagle in detail
    Thank you all so much
    Don A

  34. My father was a stoker on the Eagle when she went down. He survived and went on to serve in other ships H M S Leamington was one. He was off duty at time of sinking so was on deck and got away quickly but lost a few mates. He was picked up buy the tug Jaunty I think. If you watch the film The Malta Story made in 1953 (the one with Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins) there is some wartime footage of the Eagle going down.

  35. My Dad, William Frederick George Trapp, was a stoker on the Eagle. He had just come off shift and went on deck for a smoke which is why he survived. He always talked about his pay -a white £5 note – in his locker which went down with the ship. He also talked about some men on charges who were locked below decks, nobody went to let them out. I would love to see any photos or footage.

  36. My Dad Joseph Mcgowan [MAC] survived this sinking and went on to survive Punjabi sunk in Arctic. I wonder do you have any lead to more pictures? Thankyou

  37. My Dad Joseph Mcgowan [MAC] survived this sinking and went on to survive Punjabi sunk in Arctic. I wonder do you have any lead to more pictures? Thankyou

  38. My great uncle John Henry Levett (P/JX 294985) was an ordinary seamen on the boat and did not survive.

    I have no pictures of him and my mum does not either. I would be interested to see any footage or pictures anyone has. Hopefully someone can help?

    Thank you, David

  39. My dad was the CPO on the Eagle, and survived, I have seen actual footage on History channel of it going down, but no amount of searching can find it. if anyone has any idea how, I would like to get hold of it, it was a bit hard to take in the first time as I only caught it by chance.

  40. My father, Edward Stanley Young, an engineer on board the Eagle, was also a survivor. I would like to see your photos please. Thank you.
    Dorothy

  41. KMy Father Albert Adey was a suriver of the HMS EAGLE I would love to see your photos
    Cheers
    Thank You
    with Respect
    Don Adey

  42. Hi,

    I have come into some pictures from this operation, some showing the men in the water from HMS Eagle and the rescue. I have canned them is you would like a copy or I can email a list of the photos to you.

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