Torpedo attack on Malta convoy

the royal Navy cruiser HMS Manchester was hit by a torpedo while escorting a convoy to Malta on 23rd July 1941.

HMS Eridge was part of a convoy taking urgently needed supplies from the British base at Gibraltar to the island of Malta. Commanding the destroyer was Frank Gregory-Smith who was later to write a vivid memoir of life during the Mediterranean war:

Now that the moment of decision was at hand many men, who had experienced only excited anticipation since leaving Gibraltar, were feeling a little apprehensive. HMS Ark Royal, several miles astern, had flown off her fighter patrols, one of which was circling high above the convoy. The sun was still below the horizon when this patrol hurtled eastward at full throttle.

Seconds later a large number of torpedo bombers flipped above the horizon, split into two groups and rapidly closed the convoy from both bows. Instantly the screening destroyers adjusted their courses to bring to bear as many guns as possible and laid down a barrage, a ragged crescendo of gunfire swiftly merging into a continuous cacophony. Shell bursts, splashes and cordite fumes quickly blurred the horizon and partially obscured the bombers.

One, just skimming the sea, burst out of the haze and flew between HMS Eridge and her neighbour. [Leading Seaman] Rayner managed a short burst with the pom-pom. He could clearly see the pale, strained face of her gunner, a man with only seconds to live, as he swung his weapon and peppered the upperworks with a few ineffectual rounds.

Then the bomber was through the screen and the battleship HMS Nelson’s guns opened fire with a mighty crash. The aircraft staggered and a tongue of flame, leaping from the fuselage, swiftly expanded into a great ball of fire amid which the bomber suddenly disintegrated.

Adjacent destroyers had ceased firing and were manoeuvring back into their screening positions. Ships on the far side of the convoy were still heavily engaged but, in the murk, it was impossible to see if the attackers were the first or a following wave of torpedo bombers.

Suddenly, a vivid flash was followed by a pillar of black smoke. Brewer studied it through his binoculars and remarked almost casually, ‘HMS Manchester’s been hit.’

Then his voice suddenly rose several octaves. ‘High level bombers bearing green 130.’ Feeling the urgency in his voice, I glanced to starboard and nearly missed a heartbeat.

About forty high level bombers, having synchronised their approach with the torpedo attack, were closing from supposedly neutral French Algeria, practically unopposed.

See Red Tobruk: Memoirs of a World War II Destroyer Commander

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Angie Scorer March 31, 2015 at 1:23 pm

My great great uncle was lost that day too. I understand his name is included in the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. If you go to you can do a search and they will tell you the location of the memorial you seek. Good luck.

Able Seaman Charlie Prosser hms manchester January 3, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Please does anyone know where the records(memorials) are kept for the 22 Marines killed in action on the 23rd July on HMS Manchester 1941 when she was attacked by Italian torpedo-bombers? The only name if have is Sgt Cross

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