On the 2nd May HMS Edinburgh was under tow making her way back to Murmansk at around two knots. She was without her stern but the ships company had miraculously managed to shore up the damage, after being torpedoed on the [permalink id=19023 text=”30 April”]. If she could make it into port there was every chance the ship could be saved.
The Luftwaffe had been monitoring everything and on 2nd May a force of Germans destroyers appeared off Bear Island. In the fight that ensued HMS Edinburgh damaged the destroyer Hermann Schoemann so badly that she had to scuttled later, the other German destroyers being beaten off. But HMS Edinburgh was once again torpedoed, on the opposite side to the previous attack – she was now almost cut in two. Once again a frantic battle for survival took place below decks, as Able Seaman William Wallis recounts:
All the lights went out and we were left in darkness – a blackness that defied description. Amid the deafening roar of scalding steam erupting from burst steam pipes, thick fuel oil spurted in all directions from a dozen or more fractures enveloping us in its filthy black slime. In trying to breathe we found we were swallowing the stuff. In the blackness, trying to feel our way we kept losing direction. Our one hope was to find the ladder and by clearing the lockers I eventually managed to find it. But I had a man with a broken leg hanging around my neck and as I tried to climb the ladder he was slipping from me. The ladder was also covered in oil and I couldn’t get a proper grip. I managed to hold him on to me, pulling him up and out towards a glimmer of light coming from a gangway somewhere high above. I could hear them screaming down below, ‘Help me – help me’.
By this time, my eyes were getting used to the darkness and I went down again. At the bottom of the ladder they were fighting to get up. I managed to grab one man and it turned out to be a pal of mine. Coated in the black oil however you couldn’t tell one man from another. By this time I had to get out because my lungs were bursting with the smell and having swallowed some I was vomiting. After a few minutes I went down to the hatch again to see if I could do anything, only to discover that the heavy cover had fallen down with the listing and had jammed shut. I got some help but although we tried, we couldn’t move it. They were still screaming when we left.
I remember hearing the hoarse cries of one man in particular. He was from our mess, a real tough guy and a bully; everybody was afraid of him, he made life a misery. He died with the rest down there.
But we had to go as the list was increasing. We went up on deck and found that one of the minesweepers had come alongside and was already taking the wounded and passengers aboard. While we waited our turn, we huddled together behind the hangar out of the freezing wind. We were all in pretty bad shape and I went across to the wardroom to find a cloth to wipe the oil from our eyes. I went back to wipe my pal’s eyes and the back of his neck and as I did so the flesh came off with the oil. He must have caught the full force of one of the steam bursts.