HMS Bedouin charges the Italian fleet

The ‘Tribal class’ destroyer HMS Bedouin at anchor in Iceland when she was waiting to join an Arctic convoy earlier in 1942.

In the Mediterranean the battle continued to get supplies through to Malta. Commander B. G. Scurfield, Captain of the destroyer HMS Bedouin, knew his moment had come when the Italian fleet were spotted approaching the convoy he was protecting as part of Operation Harpoon. As planned the convoy changed direction accompanied by part of their escort. The remainder of the escort ships headed straight towards the guns of the Italian battleships:

I was in a fortunate position in many ways. I knew what we had to do and that the cost was not to be counted – the Italians must be driven off. It was no time for fancy manoeuvres – it was to my mind merely a question of going bald-headed for the enemy and trying to do him as much harm as possible by gun and torpedo. Otherwise it was within his power to destroy us and then the convoy at his pleasure.

I knew, too, that the other destroyers would follow me and know what I was about, whether they had signals from me or no. Finally, I knew that the ship was as ready for the test as we had been able to make her, and the result of our labours was now to be shown. I could do no more about it, except give Manners a target and do my best to avoid punishment for as long as possible.

The cruisers opened fire almost at once and the first salvos fell astern of the Bedouin. Their spread was good – too good perhaps at that range – and the shooting seemed to be unpleasantly accurate. Perhaps this is always the impression when one is the target!

My attention was taken up by the time-honoured dodge of steering for the last splash. I had often heard of it being done and found it exhilarating. It worked, too, for some time. A little before 0630, Manners reckoned we were within range, so I told him to engage the leading destroyer, and we opened fire at 17,400 yards. Ten minutes later the enemy altered another twenty degrees away and we shifted our fire to the leading cruiser at 12,400 yards.

By this time we were starting to get hit. Tinny crashes succeeded one another to such a tune that I began to wonder how much the ship could stand. Though I did not realise it at the time, one of the first things to go was the mast, and with it the wireless.

I knew the bridge had been hit; the compass repeater was shaken out of its gimbals and I had had water and paint flakes dashed at me, but the splendid Bedouin was forging ahead and closing the gap minute by minute, Montgomery was passing news to the plot and Moller was standing by to fire torpedoes – wounded himself and with his assistant lying dead beside him. Skinner, though I didn’t know it, was lying at the back of the bridge mortally wounded in the throat; Yeoman Archer and most of the signalmen and ‘rudolf’ men on the flag-deck were either dead or wounded.

All I knew was that the coxswain was calmly doing his job at the wheel and that the ship was responding splendidly. We appeared to be straddling the enemy and must have been hitting, but observation of fall of shot was difficult and it was not possible to allocate targets. That was the only signal I might with advantage have made.

At about 0650 the director was hit. The layer was killed outright and Parker, who was keeping the rate, mortally wounded; Manners and the sight-setter escaped unscathed and so did the cross-leveller, though he was blown clean out ofthe tower.

The ship had received more punishment than I knew, and I felt in my bones that she would not be able to go much farther. So I told Moller to go down and fire the torpedoes from the tubes and when the range had come down to 5,000 yards – tracer was being fired at us by the enemy’s close-range weapons – turned the ship to starboard. During the turn we were hit several times, but the torpedoes were fired when the sights came on. After swinging past the firing course the ship came to a standstill.

The Bedouin was sunk and Commander B. G. Scurfield DSO OBE AM spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war. His account comes from a letter he wrote to his wife. He was to die in the closing stages of the war when a column of Prisoners of War being escorted by Germans was bombed by Allied planes.

Later that day the Italian Fleet were bombed by a combination of RAF and USAAF planes, forcing them to return to port. They did not emerge again while Italy remained in the war.

This was just the second mission for the B-24 Liberators of ‘Halpro Force’ – which had been en route to China. It was decided to keep them in the Middle East and they were now flying out of Fayid in Egypt. Their first mission on the 12th June had been to the Ploesti oil fields in Rumania – a target that many USAAF men would later become familiar with.

Airmen ground crew, assisted by soldiers and sailors, load a Mark XII aerial torpedo into the bomb bay of a Bristol Beaufort Mark I at Luqa, Malta, in preparation for a sortie against the Italian naval force threatening the ‘HARPOON’ Convoy.

Aircrews of No. 39 Squadron RAF gather round Flying Officer A O S Jepson in front of his Bristol Beaufort Mark II as he recounts his part in the Squadron’s attack on the Italian Battle Fleet on 15 June 1942, for the benefit of the press cameras at Fayid, Egypt. A force of 12 Beauforts set out from LG 05 near Sidi Barrani to attack the Fleet, but was soon reduced to five following an attack off Derna by German fighters. The remainder attacked two battleships, and a further three aircraft were badly damaged in the process before the survivors flew on to Malta. Although strikes on the warships were claimed, the Italian Fleet was undamaged, except for one hit on the battleship LITTORIO with a 500-lb bomb dropped by aircraft of the USAAF ‘Halpro’ Detachment which also participated in the attacks. Jepson and the survivors flew to Fayid four days later to attend a press day with members of the ‘Halpro’ Force.

The USAAF had arrived in the Middle East. Seven B-24 Liberators from ‘Halpro Force’ took part in the attack on the Italian Fleet on 15th June 1942.
B-24s during one of the USAAF attacks on the oil refineries at Ploesti made in 1943.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark Towers October 20, 2015 at 10:57 pm

My late Grandfather Pop, (Brian Marshall Towers) was drafted on Bedoiun just before the out break of the war (aged 17) and remained with her until she sank in the Med during Operation Harpoon. He was picked up by an Italian hospital ship which also had the Italian pilot on board that torpedoed the Bedouin. A gunnery Officer credited my grandfather for contributing in shooting down the Italian bomber.

He later escaped from a German Prison camp in Poland with 2 other POW’s but they were recaptured days after.

He was eventually liberated by an American unit after being forced to march many miles in severe conditions over many days on the long March.

He rarely spoke to me about his wartime experiences and I found most of this information out at his funeral from his 4 brothers (My great uncles)

Upon his return home in Norfolk, his village members could hardly recognise him, as he was very under weight and his eye was still closed up from a rifle butt to the head whilst on the long March.

Village members rallied round and donated lots of rich food, but this apparently made him alittle poorly!

In the early 90’s My grandfather Pop (Brian Towers) wrote me a short memoir of his war years for my School project , he concluded by writing that not a day goes by without him remembering his ship (HMS Bedouin) or his shipmates !

Pop passed away in Auagust 2007.

Leigh September 25, 2015 at 2:53 pm

My grandfather James Wiley was apparently sank on the Bedoiun on a Norwegian fjord and spent the rest of was as a POW.
Don’t know much more than that. Any more information would be great.

Douglas Chalmers September 23, 2015 at 9:00 pm

Mr Grandfather was on the Bediouin where he served as a stoker. His name was Alexander Chalmers. He was assigned to the Bedouin on 15/3/39 and was on it when sunk. He also helped out as the ships barber and cut the hair of the capt (Mr Scurfield) of whom we has fond.

Tracey roome July 16, 2015 at 10:43 pm

I am the grand daughter of Percy Hagger, unfortunately Percy died a few years ago after a long period of dementia, so talking to him was sporadic and not very clear. If anyone could give me more information on my Grand Father then please email me, I would especially like to hear from Janice.

Hannah Damary-Thompson June 17, 2015 at 6:57 pm

My Great Great Grandfather was known as Ginger Jennings, he would have been a little older than your Father in Law, if my Grandad is in fact the “Ginger” Jennings that he knew. My Great Grandad was from Newmarket though not London?!

William Chesney June 13, 2015 at 3:54 pm

Message for Andrew Marsh.
Sidney James Ives thinks he remembers a Thomas Rutherford, he said when they were being rescued, he helped a man from the sea into a boat, he said the officer had injured his chin. He said he cannot remember what happened to him after that.
Sidney Ives is soon to be residing in a Navel care home in Gillingham Kent.

William Chesney June 13, 2015 at 3:33 pm

Message For David Scoot.
I asked my father in law Sidney James Ives if he new Nobby Jennings and, he said he new a chap called Jennings, he new a ginger Jennings he thinks he may have come from London area. At the age of almost 98 his memory is patchy and sometimes he gets names confused and mixed up. I hope it’s the same man. sorry for the late reply, i have just noticed your comment on this site.

David Scoot March 7, 2015 at 12:57 am

My stepfather, Albert Joseph William Jennings (known as Nobby) was a stoker on the Bedouin when she sank. Would like to know if Sidney James Ives remembers him, he sadly died of cancer in 1977.

David Scoot March 7, 2015 at 12:54 am

My stepfather, Albert Joseph William Jennings (known as Nobby) was on Bedouin when she was sunk. Would like to know if Sidney James Ives remembers him, he sadly died of cancer in 1977.

Andrew Marsh November 27, 2014 at 11:37 pm

I am researching the life and war time experiences of C/MX 45861 Thomas Gavin Rutherford who served on the Bedouin as a Sick Berth Petty Officer. He is mentioned in Lieut. Manners report but hoping there may be a photograph or memories of his service from colleagues. I would be very interested if Sydney Ives remembers him ?

Andrew Marsh

Tom brown November 11, 2014 at 6:58 am

My uncle matthew brown was a crew member aboard the bedouin. He died last year.

Eileen Livermore November 10, 2014 at 3:46 pm

TOMMY DOVE My dad Tommy Dove also was on the Bedouin when it sunk he spent many an hour in the water he was a prisoner of war until the end of the war he never spoke of the time he spent as a pow,sadly we lost him in 2001.
Eileen livermore

Janice Tomkies November 9, 2014 at 9:13 pm

My father, William Gratton (Lofty) was on the Bedouin from 1941 until the sinking in 1942. He was in the water for over 12 hours, clinging to some wood, holding up a fellow crew member. My mum said they met the man he’d saved, visiting his home in Bradford many years later. Dad was a torpedo man, working alongside Percy Hagger. Sadly, Percy died a few years ago. However, I met him several times and wrote to him for many years. Dad died 1963, aged 47. He was a prisoner in PG52 Chiavari, and then Stalag 383, Hohenfels.

Derek Cassidy October 17, 2014 at 11:30 pm

My father-in-law, Alan Frearson served in the engine room of the Bedouin and like the other surviving crew spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner, firstly of the Italians and later of the Germans. One of the crew, Percy Hagger, wrote a book about his WWII experiences, ‘HMS Bedouin and the Long Walk Home’.

sidney james ives stoker 1 June 22, 2014 at 3:13 pm

I was on the Bedoiun when she sank – I was in the water for ten hours, rescued by an Italian Red Cross ship. I was a POW till the end of the war. I am now reaching 97 years of age.

Dan Crouchley May 20, 2014 at 9:04 pm

My Father, Lt. Edward A. Crouchley, was co-pilot of HALPRO B-24 “Yank” on the 15 June 1942 attack on the Italian fleet. Contrary to the statement above that the USAAF and RAF bombers forced the Italian fleet to return to port, the fleet caused the British Convoy out of Alexandria to turn around and return to port. Only then did the Italian Fleet return to port.

Katharine Harris January 28, 2014 at 12:47 pm

My grandfather, Henry Mercer was on the Bedouin when it was sunk. He was a POW for the rest of the War and survived. I was lucky enough to know him, but he rarely ever spoke about this part of his life.

Sarah croxon January 20, 2013 at 9:16 pm

My grandfathers brother so my great uncle was in the engine room of the Bedouin when she went down 15 June 1945 his name Maurice Desmond Paul Croxon. I never meet you – I was robbed of this.

John Jay January 7, 2013 at 9:33 am

My father was Lt Commander (E) on Bedouin when she was sunk in the Med. He was awarded DSC for his part in the action. He too was a POW with Commander Scurfield and luckily survived.

Clive Cartwright June 18, 2012 at 7:08 am

What an amazing account by Commander B. G. Scurfield. I’m left speechless.

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: