HMS Torbay slips into Corfu harbour for sneak attack

HMS Torbay, Commander Anthony Miers won the Victoria Cross on the night of 4th-5th March 1942

On the night of the 4th March 1942 H.M. Submarine Torbay, Commander Anthony Miers, followed a convoy of Italian destroyers and supply ships into Corfu harbour in a an attempt to get close to them. This was a dangerous, delicate and slow manoeuvre and as night fell Miers knew he could not attack until the morning. There was a further problem: the batteries had to be recharged or ‘Torbay’ would not get out of the harbour next day. Eventually he found that the convoys ships had moved on but Miers was still able to attack some vessels, in an action that was to win him the Victoria Cross.:

For valour in command of H.M. Submarine Torbay in a daring and successful raid on shipping in a defended enemy harbour, planned with full knowledge of the great hazards to be expected during seventeen hours in waters closely patrolled by the enemy.

On arriving in the harbour he had to charge his batteries lying on the surface in full moon­light under the guns of the enemy. As he could not see his target he waited several hours and attacked in full daylight in a glassy calm.

When he had fired his torpedoes he was heavily counter‑attacked and had to with­draw through a long channel with anti‑submarine craft all round and continuous air patrols overhead.

U Boat Net has reconstructed the whole of Mier’s wartime patrol logs, including this overnight action:

2018 hours – In position 316º Sivota Island 3.8 nautical miles sighted a small merchant (or large trawler) close to the starboard quarter overhauling the submarine so dived and altered course to avoid. Apparently Torbay was not sighted. The enemy’s speed was 15 knots.

2044 hours – After the enemy HE (hydrophone effect) had faded out in the direction of Corfu, surfaced and resumed passage, still charging with one engine.

2158 hours – Reached position 086º Cape Sidero 5 nautical miles. Stopped, trimmed richt down and charged with both engines keeping the stern on the moon.

5 March 1942
0050 hours – Heard and immediately sighted a patrol vessel approaching from Corfu. Broke charge and dived to perisocope depth. The moon was now right overhead and it was feared that the submarine had been seen as the small trawler had been cleary visable and could now be seen through the periscope laying stopped less then a mile away. The Battery was now fairly well up and it was decided to remain submerged for the remainder of the operation. Set course to close the harbour.

0116 hours – The patrol vessel got under way to the South and was lost to both sight and sound by 0135 hours.

0204 hours – The lights at the Northern entrance to Corfu harbour were seen to be switched on and a merchant ship could be seen entering the harbour from that direction. In addition to her reciprocating engines the rapid revolutions of a motor launch could be heard.

0217 hours – The motor launch heard earlier approached and lay stopped about a mile to the North.

0235 hours – In position 000º Cape Sidero 0.5 nautical miles altered course to port and steered 120º. The rest of the night was a fairly harrasing experience endeavouring to remain in position and at the same time being continually on the lookout to avoid being rammed by the trawlers and motor launches which were on patrol.

0346 hours – A reciprocataning engine was heard and the lights at the Northern entrance were on again so it appeared another merchant had entered the harbour.

0640 hours – The approach at high speed of a patrol vessel forced Cdr. Miers to turn away to avoid being rammed just when Torbay was approaching the harbour on the firing course. This delay measnt that the attack now had to be made in broad daylight in a glassy calm sea, probably with an air patrol overhead and certainly surrounded by small craft. It was also now that it was seen, to the intense disappointment to all that the convoy was not in the harbour and had probably gone strait through without spending the night in Corfu. Instead a small destroyer or torpedo boat and two supply vessels (estimated at 8000 and 5000 tons respectively). Both ships were seen to be sheading South between Vido Island and Cape Sidero. It was hoped that the hour was still to early for aircraft as no watch for them could be kept since the periscope could only be raised for very short moments and the rapid movements of the patrol vessels demanded all attention. Across the Northern entrance to the harbour a line of buoys could be seen which were being hauled across by a large auxiliary schooner.

0731 hours – In position 051º Cape Sidero 1.2 nautical miles two torpedoes were fired at the most northerly merchant ship (5000 tons). One of the torpedoes appeared to run on the surface.

0733 hours – Fired two torpedoes at the second merchant ship (8000 tons).

0734 hours – Fired two torpedoes at the destroyer / torpedo boat which unfortunately ran under. At this moment one torpedo struck the first ship fired at. Torbay went deep and turned at full speed to 145º. This was the direct course for the South channel. Cdr. Miers thought it was now time to get out and not to overstay their ‘welcome’.

Portrait of Anthony Cecil Capel Miers, awarded the Victoria Cross: HM Submarine TORBAY, 4 March 1942.

Miers was something of a controversial character. He had had a very active role in sinking small German supply ships by gunfire off Greece in the summer of 1941. He received written ‘advice’ after machine gunning a number of Germans in July 1941, leaving no survivors from one of his attacks. The exact circumstances remain obscure, although Miers did not hide his actions, recording them in his patrol log. He rose to become a Rear Admiral after the war.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

John Youde March 22, 2012 at 11:37 am

The picture of Anthony Miers VC shown on your website is round the wrong way His Medals should be on his right. I think the medal ribbon shown is the VC. Obviously he is either a Commander or above as he has scrambled egg on his hat, and I Know he was an Admiral when he Died.

thank you

John Youde

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