On the morning of the 4th July 1940 the auxiliary AA ship FOYLE BANK, anchored off the breakwater within Portland Harbour, was attacked by 33 Ju87 divebombers.
Naval Harbourmaster Edward Palmer was on duty in Portland harbour
I was proceeding down the inside harbour at about 08.30 in the morning, a lovely day, a normal day. I noticed the guard ship was flying the yellow flag, [Yellow flags were for aircraft reported, Red flags were for Air raid imminent] but did not take much notice, for she had been flying that on a number of days lately.
When out of the sun they came, enemy dive bombers. Diving straight down onto the guard ship, machine gunning and bombing. Hell let loose, about 20 planes, they appeared to have caught us napping. I immediately told my crew that we were going in to pick up the hands and ratings who were jumping and being blown into the water alongside of her. There was a barge with work people alongside of Foyle Bank, a bomb dropped alongside the barge turning it upside down.
We got in alongside started to pick up the survivors and dive bombers kept coming, machine gunning and bombing, lifting the launch almost out of the water. Well we loaded the hands on board until we could not carry any more and made for the nearest jetty. Some of the poor fellows were in a sad mess. We landed as quickly as we could and went back for more. By this time the enemy dive bombers had done what they had come to do, the Foyle Bank was on fire and sinking. She went down later in the day. The Lord looked after us that day.
Edward Sidney Palmer won the British Empire medal for his work that day. His full story is at Eddie Palmer.
During the action Leading Seaman Jack Mantle won the Victoria Cross. His citation reads:
Leading Seaman Jack Mantle was in charge of the Starboard pom‑pom when FOYLEBANK was attacked by enemy aircraft on the 4th of July, 1940. Early in the action his left leg was shattered by a bomb, but he stood fast at his gun and went on firing with hand-gear only; for the ship’s electric power had failed. Almost at once he was wounded again in many places. Between his bursts of fire he had time to reflect on the grievous injuries of which he was soon to die; but his great courage bore him up till the end of the fight, when he fell by the gun he had so valiantly served.
The London Gazette, Tuesday 3 September, 1940
See also BBC Peoples war for an account of the raising of HMS Foylebank.
HMS Foylebank was apparently hit by a total of 22 bombs. With one of the attackers shot down, she sank to the bottom with 176 men killed out of a total crew of 19 officers and 279 other ranks.