HMS SOUTHWOLD

DIVE MALTA SUBWAY ROZI 2

 

Location: 1.5 miles off Marsascala Bay
Maximum Depth: 65 to 75 meters
Constructed: 1941
Launched: 25th May 1941
Type: Hunt Class British Destroyer
Weight (tons): 1050 tons net tonnage
Dimensions: 86 meters long, beam of 9.5 meters
Builders: J.S.White, Cowes UK
Owners: British Royal Navy, Admiralty, Rn, London

These destroyers had a top speed of 25 knots and were used for convoy escorts. HMS Southwold had a crew of 168 men and carried 3 x 2 barrel 4” guns one at the bow and 2 aft sections. She also carried anti-aircraft guns, and anti-submarine depth charges.

After completing her trials and work-up, Southwold rounded the Cape as a convoy escort calling at Mombasa on 12/12/41 and joined the 5th Destroyer Flotilla at Alexandria during January 1942. She was immediately in action whilst forming part of the escort for Convoy MW9B between 12 Feb and 16 Feb 1942 this convoy failed its objective, out of the three merchant ships in this convoy one was damaged and made it to Tobruk but the other two were sunk. Southwold and the other escorts turned back to Alexandria. HMS Southwold left again Alexandria on 20th March 1942 as an escort to convoy MW10 to Malta.

The convoy was under the command of Admiral Philip Vian. The 820 nautical mile journey to Malta was severely attacked both by the Italian war ships and by the Luftwaffe Convoy code named MW10 consisted of the merchantmen Breconshire (10000 GRT), Clan Campbell (7000 GRT) Talabot (7000 GRT) & Pampas (5000 GRT). These cargo ships were escorted by the 15th Cruiser Squadron with a strong destroyer force , and another scout close escort running ahead with an the anti-aircraft cruiser Carlisle with 4 hunt class destroyers. Admiral Vian’s Cruiser Squadron followed behind with the light cruisers Dido, Cleopatra Euryalis, & Penelope plus some destroyers. As soon as the was located by the enemy it was reported to Admiral Iachino of the Italian Navy who hurried to it with his squadron composed of the battleship Littorio and 6 destroyers. At the same time he signaled to another Italian squadron made up of the cruisers Gorizia, Trento, & Giovanni delle Bande Nere accompanied by another 4 destroyers to meet him so as to join forces.

They met on Sunday 22/3/42 and waited for the Convoy in the Gulf of Sirte (Sidra) 150 miles NW of Benghazi. The Italians had superior power.

As soon as Admiral Vian knew of the approaching Italian force he moved forward with his small force to stand between the cargo ships and the Italians. 

When these were sighted later on in the morning of 22 March, Vian knew immediately that he was not only heavily outnumbered but also outgunned since Iachino had the 15 inch guns of Littorio, and the 8 inch guns of the cruisers against his 6 inch and the 4 inch guns on his destroyers. So the British laid a smoke-screen to prevent the Italians from taking proper range. They began to dash in and out of the smoke-screen firing damaging salvoes at their superior opponents and then doubling up behind the smoke before the Italians could take range.The engagement was broken off that morning, but the Italian squadron approached again in the afternoon. This time Admiral Vian closed the range to under 10000 yards and emerging out of the smoke-screen succeeded in hitting the Littorio with a salvo which started a fire on the battleship. The Italians responded and the British cruiser Cleopatra was hit and was severely damaged. A quick counter attack by the British destroyers including Southwold emerging swiftly out of the smoke blanket hit Littorio again by a torpedo and managed to hit also the cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere. The Italians withdrew. This was recorded for history as the Second Battle of Sirte.

German airplanes took over the attacks as they were determined to prevent it from reaching Malta and continued their attack on the convoy as the ships approached Malta. When the convoy was a mere 20 miles from Malta the Germans hit Clan Campbell and sank her. But by now the convoy was within reach of fighter protection from Malta. Hurricanes & spitfires flew out to protect the remaining ships.
On 23/3/42 one of the merchant ships in this convoy Breconshire was hit by enemy bombs and stopped a few miles off St Thomas Bay, the weather was becoming rough and Breconshire was drifting helplessly towards the shore. The crew on Breconshire managed to anchor the ship 1.5 miles off Zonqor Point.

The following Tuesday morning on the 24/3/42 Breconshire was dragging it’s anchors on the sandy bottom, Southold was ordered to tow Breconshire but while trying to pass a line to the disabled ship, a mine exploded under her engine room. One officer and four ratings were killed. All power and electrical services were lost, but the diesel generator was started. The engine room flooded but water flooding into the gearing room was held in check by shoring up the bulkhead and by blocking leaks. A tow was attached to Southold by the tug ANCIENT, but the ship’s side plating abreast the engine room split right up to the upper deck on both sides. She sagged and took a list to starboard and the wounded were transferred to the destroyer Dulverton. The midship portion gradually sank lower and the ship began to work with the swell. She was then abandoned, started to settle with considerable sag and sank in two parts.

HMS Southold lies in two sections the bow section is the largest piece, right up to the engine room approximately 40 meter in length is in a depth close to 70 meters completely on its starboard side. The stern section approximately 28 meters long is upright some 300 meters away from the bow section in 72 meters of water.