The sudden loss of HMS Barham

I saw water pouring into her funnels. There followed a big explosion amidships, from which belched black and brown smoke intermingled with flames. Pieces of wreckage, Hung high into the air, were scattered far and wide, the largest piece being about the size of my writing-desk.

HMS Barham was a battleship built for World War I but had had an extensive refit in the 1930s.
The moment when HMS Barham's magazine exploded after being torpedoed in the Mediterranean.

Captain C. E. Morgan commanding HMS Valiant described the final moments of the Battleship:

Our battleships were proceeding westwards line ahead, with the Valiant immediately astern the Barham and with a destroyer screen thrown out ahead of the battlefleet. At 4.23 p.m., carrying out a normal zigzag, we turned to port together, thus bringing the ships into echelon formation.

Suddenly, at 4.25, I heard a loud explosion, followed by two further explosions a couple of seconds later. Fountains of water and two enormous columns of smoke shot skywards. The smoke formed an enormous mushroom, gradually enveloping the whole of the Barham, except the after part, which was subsequently also blotted out as the ship slid into a vast pall of smoke.

As the explosions occurred the officer on watch gave the command “ Hard to port,” to keep clear of the Barham.

Fifteen seconds later I saw a submarine break the surface, possibly forced there by the explosion. Passing from left to right, the submarine was apparently making to cross the Valiant’s bows between us and the Barham. He was only about seven degrees off my starboard bow and 150 yards away, though he must have fired his torpedoes from about 700 yards.

As the periscope and then the conning tower appeared I ordered “ Full speed ahead, hard starboard.” But, with the helm already hard to port, I was unable to turn quickly enough to ram him before he crash-dived only 40 yards away on our starboard side. The submarine was visible for about 45 seconds, and, simultaneously with our ramming efforts, we opened fire with our starboard pom-poms. He was so close, however, that we were unable to depress the guns sufficiently and the shells passed over the conning-tower.

I then gave the order “Amidships” again to avoid turning into the Barham, which was still under way with her engines running but listing heavily to port. As we came up on her beam she heeled further about 20 or 30 degrees, and through the smoke I could see all her quarter-deck and forecastle. Men were jumping into the water and running up on the forecastle.

The Barham was rolling on a perfectly even keel with neither bows nor stern sticking into the air. For one minute she seemed to hang in this position; then, at 4.28, she suddenly rolled violently, her mainmast striking the’ surface of the sea sharply a few seconds later.

I saw water pouring into her funnels. There followed a big explosion amidships, from which belched black and brown smoke intermingled with flames. Pieces of wreckage, Hung high into the air, were scattered far and wide, the largest piece being about the size of my writing-desk.

I immediately ordered “ Take cover ” as the wreckage started flying, and that was the last we saw of the Barham, which had run almost’ a mile since the moment she was hit. When the smoke cleared the only signs left were a mass of floating wreckage.

The 35,000-ton ship disappeared with unbelievable suddenness; it was only 4 minutes 35 seconds exactly from the moment the torpedoes struck until she had completely disappeared.

There is much more material relating to the ship at HMS Barham.

HMS Barham was a Queen Elizabeth class battleship – the same as the historic [permalink id=10897 text=”HMS Warspite”] – for many great images of the Warspite and background to the Queen Elizabeth class see Warspite.dk.

It was not until much later in the war that film of the loss of the Barham was made available publicly:

24 thoughts on “The sudden loss of HMS Barham”

  1. My uncle was an engineer Lieutenant on the Barham. He did not survive. His brother, my Father, was serving as Medical Officer of the Janus at the time and when I was born in 1944 named me after his dead brother.

  2. My father Albert Sydney Dawes survived the sinking and was taken to Alexandria. He was posted to HMS King Alfred at Lancing in Sussex to recuperate after the disaster. He was a bugler on the Barham and subsequently at King Alfred.
    He went on to serve on HMS Argonaut in the Pacific until the end of the war.
    The sinking occurred fifteen days after his nineteenth birthday.

  3. My uncle Gordon Smith Webster died on this ship i wasn’t born yet but my father told of his brothers fate. Gave me shivers when I saw the video. God bless our hero’s that gave their lives for our freedom.

  4. My brother Jack ingall was a royal marine bugler on the barham sadly he didn’t survive I was only 5 years old when he died I carry a photo of him holding me when he left on the barham I miss him so much but he didn’t die in vain he died to save us all thay are all heroes a man is a mortally as long as his name is remembered

  5. My Grandfathers Brother Alfred Gregory was on the HMS Barham when it went down and sadly lost his life that day. He was a hero in the family and always will be, just like all the men that sadly died that day.

  6. I have no naval connections and I was born 6 years after WWII ended.
    I just happened, by chance, to come across this video and it absolutely stunned me! The terrible nature, of violent death at sea, is appalling enough – but the enormity/force of the exploding magazine, detonating when the ship rolled, was truly awful. Those brave men, standing atop the upturned hull, didn’t stand a chance.
    God rest all the many poor souls who perished on HMS Barham. They fought and died for our freedom today – and they have my most sincere and deepest respect.
    The few survivors were only saved by a true miracle – but those “lucky” few would undoubtedly have been tormented, by the psychological rigours of PTSD (an unrecognised condition in those days), for the rest of their lives – and their families too
    would have been greatly affected by this. It is all so very sad.
    This horrifying video has deeply affected me – and only serves to remind me that war, and acts of war and violence, should only ever be resorted-to as an absolute last resort of self defence! Nicholas Staveley Stanley MBE

  7. My wife’s Uncle Charles James Charrett was lost on HMS Barham he was a Leading Telegraphist. His family was from Selsey.

  8. My uncle, Ernest Tyler went down with the ship. We did have one picture but my car was broken into whilst in Leeds and the picture was in a case which was taken. If there is a picture of the crew, myself and family would love it

  9. My father’s younger brother Roland Butler died on the Barham aged just 19. He died on his mother’s 55th birthday. If anyone has any photos of crew etc I would love to see them please. Many thanks.

  10. my mothers brother was on board his name was Frederick Champion.she was so cut up about losing him.and never got over it she called my brother after him.i have watched the tape its so sad he was only married a week when it happened,RIP

  11. My uncle Richard carter was on the ship when it went down I have some pictures of the crew if anyone is interested

  12. My mother in law’s cousin, Aubrey William Charles Liddington, Royal Marine died aboard the Barham. He was his mother’s only child and two days beyond his 22nd birthday.

  13. My dad, Signalman Lewis Hale, had just started the first dog watch on the bridge of HMS Jervis, about 5000 yards away, when there was an almighty bang, immediately followed by another. It was obvious that Barham had been hit, and soon there was smoke emerging from parts of the ship. Then the Officer of the Watch, looking through binoculars said ‘Good God, she’s going,’ and Barham rolled over. Seconds later there was a huge explosion, and it just went quiet on the bridge. Everyone was numb. Dad said that even with all the stuff he witnessed in he Pacific on the Indomitable, seeing Barham go was the worst moment of the ar for him. It affected him for years.’

  14. My grandad William Frederick Jager survived this terrible tragedy, his friend Tommy Fox sadly lost his life, my grandad passed away 12 February 2016

  15. My father Robert Davidson was on the ship when it was blown up , he survived but was ill for a long time

  16. My Dad was on HMS Valiant at the time of HMS Barham, Marine R. Watts, He said that normally it was the Valiant out front, but that day the Barham took the lead. He was thrown across his station hitting the bulkhead and hurting his shoulder at the force of the explosion, I think all film footage was taken from the Valiant.
    We would not have been here today, that’s my three other brothers and sister if the Valiant had taken the hit, as my Dad was below decks.
    But many other families took the blow, and we all feel that loss of our brave servicemen, and the Merchant Navy on their convoy work, they were all in it together for our freedom, God rest their souls. I watch the sinking of the Barham and remember my Father who has passed on many years ago now, when we asked him to tell us about his War Stories, as kids it was exciting, as an older man now (65 yrs old) I find it so sad for all Wars, but never forget our history and freedom, that is why we need a strong deterrent to keep the peace.

  17. My dad Ray Whale died when HMS Barham was sunk, he knew I was born but did not see me before he was killed, I was 6 months old..

  18. I was told my dad and grand dad were on this they both were save but my nan was told by telegram that they were both lost at sea .

  19. My great uncle was Leading Seaman (Torpedoes) William ‘Pop’ Bolam. I never knew the man, but the footage sends a shiver down my back.

  20. My grandfather Leslie Arthur Taylor was a Seargent in the Royal Marines on board HMS Barham. Tragically he was killed with the boat was sunk leaving a widow and three daughters. My mother was only 10 months old when this happened and never met her father.

  21. My cousin Marine Samuel Gordon Travis was killed on this ship. I was only 3 months old at the time. My father Squadron Leader J W W Whitehead knew about the sinking but due to security could not tell my aunt and uncle, Dorothy and Cyril Travis, that Gordon was dead. Gordon was 19 years old.

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