HMS Edinburgh torpedoed off Murmansk

HMS Edinburgh, a light cruiser launched in 1938, sister ship to HMS Belfast, seen in calmer waters before she joined the arctic convoys.

In the arctic seas north of Murmansk, HMS Edinburgh was zig zagging her way on the start of the journey back to Britain. Unfortunately one of her turns brought her directly in line with U-456 which managed to get two torpedoes into her. There was an immediate loss of power and the greater part of her stern was blown off:

In compartments and gangways just above the explosion areas men stumbled and staggered in the darkness, cannoning into one another as they made for the exits, cursing violently when they could not be found. The two torpedoes had destroyed all electrical power to the gun turrets and only one of the forward turrets, ‘B’ turret, could be operated at all. Such was the damage to the engine rooms and the stern that only limited power could be applied to move the ship forward. If the U-boat had one more torpedo it could have applied the coup de grace.

Below the cruiser’s decks, conditions where the first torpedo had struck were chaotic. For the few who survived it was a nightmare of living hell. Leading Stoker Leonard Bradley described the scene.

“Just before the torpedo struck I happened to go into the stokers’ messdeck which was fairly crowded at the time and was talking to a friend of mine, a young amateur boxer called Harrington. As we chatted, the torpedo exploded in the oil tank below us. The whole messdeck split in two and as the lights went out Harrington and I and at least another 50 men fell straight through into the storage tank. The emergency lighting failed to come on and we were down there in complete darkness, floundering around in oil and water. In the blackness with men around screaming and shouting, I managed at last to get a footing and started to make my way towards where I thought the hatch might be.

As I moved, I heard Taff Harrington near me. I called out ‘Taff”, and he grabbed me. The oil was now pouring in fast from burst pipes in adjoining tanks and rising up to our shoulders. Harrington tried to hold my hand but it slipped and he died in the oil.

There was another boy called Harrison clinging to a stanchion. I tried to lift him above the level of the oil but he screamed blue murder for he had broken both collarbones and an ankle. All this time I was swallowing oil. Gradually the oil found its level and stopped rising. Everything went very quiet.

The hatch above us was sealed and we had no idea if the ship was afloat, partly submerged or at the bottom of the ocean. We must have been there nearly an hour when the miracle happened. The hatch was prized open and three stokers came down with ropes and pulled us to safety. Above, on the fo’c’sle deck outside the galley, Engine Room Artificer Robert Sherriff was standing talking to the Chief Cook, ‘Dolly’ Gray. The explosion split the deck open where they were standing and both fell through. Sherriff managed to cling to a projecting ledge and regain the deck but the Chief Cook was propelled on downward and was never seen again.”

Read the whole account on WW2 Cruisers

Although in a desperate condition every effort was made to save the ship. An attempt was made to bring her under tow and bring her back to Murmansk.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Joe May 2, 2017 at 1:23 am

In case anyone is curious, the ship didn’t make back to Murmansk as it was sunk a few days later in a surface action. The gold it was carrying (and quite a bit of gold it was) was finally retrieved years later by salvage companies.

Roger Malpas June 10, 2014 at 2:32 am

My late father, an ERA mostly on board HMS Sheffield, talked of being torpedoed on the Artic run and being able to steam to Iceland for temp repairs supervised by a Canadian Engineer. They then steamed to drydock on the Tyne. I cannot find any
reference to this. He may have been on the Edinburgh as she experianced a similar fate. Any ideas.
Roger Malpas

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