Despite the heroism of Fleet Air Arm pilots the escape of the German pocket battleships during the Channel dash on the 12th February had been a major embarrassment to the Royal Navy. The German ships had not got away completely unscathed – the Scharnhorst was badly damaged by mines on the journey.
On the 23rd HMS Trident had a chance encounter with the Prinz Eugen and the Admiral Hipper. Had she managed to get all seven of her torpedoes away she might well have achieved such a spectacular success as to redeem the Royal Navy’s reputation. An unfortunate operational error meant that her attack was unexpectedly blunted. The log records:
0551 hours – Sighted dim shape bearing 252 degrees.
Soon it was seen that there were two large vessels escorted by three destroyers, one ahead and one on either beam. Before firing torpedoes it was seen that the leading ship was a pocket battleship and the other one was a cruiser. Decided to fire a salvo of seven torpedoes. The six internal bow torpedo tubes and no.8 external.
0602 hours – In position 63º12′N, 07º00′E fired the first torpedo from 2000 yards and after firing the third gave the order to dive as not to be spotted by the nearest destroyer. As Cdr. Sladen shut the hatch the first explosion was heard. A second explosion was heard half a minute later.
On getting below Cdr. Sladen saw that the ‘stop fire’ light was burning and that the rating who works the order instrument had put on ‘stop’ on the order ‘dive’. This was not noted by any officer as they were all busy with taking the boat below. By the time it was noticed by Cdr. Sladen only three torpedoes of the intended seven were fired and it would have been a waste of four torpedoes to fire the remainder of the salvo.
0607 hours – The HE of one of the vessels was heard to slow down and then cease.
0609 hours – HE of one of the destroyers came nearer but soon faded out.
0640 hours – After nothing was heard for a while Trident surfaced and an enemy report was passed.
U Boat Net has now reconstructed HMS Trident’s patrol career, together with maps.