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HMS Edinburgh torpedoed
30th April 1942: The QP11 convoy flagship returning to Britain from Murmansk crosses the path of a U-boat
In the arctic seas north of Murmansk, HMS Edinburgh was zig zagging her way on the start of the journey back to Britain. She was patrolling some 20 miles ahead of convoy QP11, carrying £5 million in gold bullion on the way to the US as payment for munitions. Unfortunately one of her turns brought her, by chance, directly in line with U-456 which managed to get two torpedoes away.
On HMS Edinburgh 'Fall out from action stations' and 'Non-duty hands to tea' had just been sounded - so may men were gathered together in their mess desks. One torpedo struck amidships and the second took off a large part of her stern.
There was an immediate loss of power and urgent action was needed to secure watertight doors:
Leading Stoker Leonard Bradley1 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.
Supply Petty Officer Arthur Start describes the rescue:
I was in the PO's mess at the time the first torpedo hit. All the lights went out but fortunately I happened to have a torch in my pocket. Chief Petty Officers and Petty Officers came running from everywhere and as I had the only torch I led them up to the flight deck where in such an event we had been told to muster. Realising that the messdecks below might still contain trapped men, we lifted back the hatch cover of the vertical shaft down through which the gold had been lowered.
Sure enough within the compartment we could see men swimming around in oil and water. My mate ran to fetch ropes and ladders but while he was away several of the men below managed to get into the shaft which was only two feet square. Within the trunking there were no ridges or ledges to provide a hold but in desperation those men somehow managed to come up through by working their knees and backs against the sides. Eventually the hatch was sealed. There were several men down there but they were dead anyway.
Although in a desperate condition every effort was made to save HMS Edinburgh. An attempt was made to bring her under tow and bring her back to Murmansk.