Operation Pedestal - Royal Marines
Updated: Aug 14
“Many of these fine men and their ships were lost but the memory of their conduct will remain an inspiration to all who were privileged to sail with them.” E N Syfret, Vice-Admiral, Flag Officer Commanding, Operation Pedestal.
The Allies lost thirteen vessels, including nine merchantmen, one aircraft carrier (Eagle), two cruisers (Manchester and Cairo) and a destroyer (Foresight) but the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy had saved Malta. The arrival of about 32,000 short tons (29,000 t) of general cargo, together with petrol, oil fuel, kerosene and diesel fuel, was enough to give the island about ten weeks' supply beyond the few weeks that the existing stocks would last.
Royal Marines served on the Capital Ships, manning main armament turrets, ack ack (AA) guns and other duties including butchers, bandsmen and buglers, there were also Royal Marines airmen flying from the Carriers.
60 Royal Marines were lost during this action;
11th August 1942
Loss of Aircraft Carrier HMS Eagle with heavy loss of life. She was under attack by U73 which penetrated destroyer screen. Hit by four torpedoes and sank in eight minutes south of Majorca (Position 38.05N 03.02E). 900 of her complement of 1160 were rescued by HM Destroyers LAFOREY, LOOKOUT and a Tug.
17 Royal Marines were lost:
COX, John A, Musician, RMB/X 1235,:
CREESE, Herbert, Marine, PO/X 1364:
DACRE, Albert R P, Ty/Corporal, RM, PO/X 2685:
FENSHAM, Colin A, Musician, RMB/X 1132:
FITTON, Donald, Musician, RMB/X 1654:
GRANGER, Roy, Marine, PO/X 103104:
HANDS, William A, Marine, PO/X 4671:
HARTLEY, Wilfred C, Musician, RMB/X 1253:
HUMPHRIES, Stanley L, Musician, RMB/X 1443:
LUNNON, Kenneth A R, 132 Marine, PO/X 100762:
MILLNE, William A, Musician, RMB/X 1599:
PARSONS, Arthur, Marine, PO/X 102125:
PARTRIDGE, John S, Musician, RMB/X 1664:
RAY, Benjamin, Marine, PO/X 1187:
REGAN, Michael, Marine, PO/X 2428:
SMITH, Ronald W, Musician, RMB/X 1133:
WITCHELL, Desmond T, Musician, RMB/X 1228:
12th August 1942
Under air and submarine attacks HMS Cairo was hit aft by two torpedoes from Italian submarine AXUM off Bizerta. HMS Cairo was totally disabled and abandoned. Survivors were rescued by HMS WILTON and hulk finally sunk by gunfire from HMS DERWENT after torpedoes from HMS PATHFINDER had failed to do this. HMS NIGERIA was also hit by the same salvo but survived. Loss of CAIRO reduced the defence resources since she was fitted for aircraft direction.
HMS Cairo lost 12 Royal Marines;
CRAGO, Alfred C, Marine, PO/X 794:
DALLING, Reginald A, Marine, PO/X 4000:
DURNFORD, Laurence G, Marine, PO/X 104075:
HADLOW, Thomas, Marine, PO/X 2448, DOW:
HENDERSON, William, Marine, PO/X 2707, DOW:
MITTENS, Richard S A, Marine, PO/X 3465:
MULLINEUX, Richard, Corporal, RM, PO/21786:
REDMAN, William C, Marine, PO/X 1857:
SLARK, Kenneth J, Marine, PO/X 4840:
WALLACE, Samuel, Marine, PO/X 102898, DOW:
WELLINGS, George H, Sergeant, RM, PO/X 1030:
WHALE, William E, Marine, PO/X 648
The raid had reached its peak when, suddenly, a squadron of 12 Stukas appeared, high in the sky over Indomitable. Fighters were after them, and a hurricane of flak went up from all sides, as one after another they peeled off at 12,000ft and dived on the ship. The 1000-pounders rained down in a concentrated onslaught, and in a moment she had vanished behind a dense geyser of spray. Two, three, were hit and plunged across the sky into the sea; but Indomitable was hit too. Smoke and steam billowed up above the wall of water; and for a quarter of a minute it seemed as if she could never re-appear except as a smoking hulk. Then, slowly, as the mass of water heaved up by the near-misses subsided, she emerged, listing, on fire fore and aft, nearly stopped, but still afloat.
From every ship men watched her anxiously; isolated from the disaster, yet sharing in it, impotent to hep yet suffering the wound as if it were to their own ship and their friends. For twenty minutes she dragged in a slow circle, her deck heeling and the smoke pouring from her. Then she began to right, and the smoke that seemed to issue from the lifts lost its density and thinned into a wisp; a signal lamp blinked: “SITUATION IN HAND”, and she steadied on course.
Casualties consisted of 6 officers and 40 ratings killed, and 70 ratings wounded, 22 Royal Marines lost their lives;
Marine John Ahearne
Marine Henry Arlow
Corporal Leondard Bidwell
Marine James Binns
Marine Henry Clark
Marine Dennis Farrow
Corporal James Frankpitt, RM
Marine David Fraser
Marine Raymond Gardner
Marine Alfred Goldbourn
Sergeant Robert Gourley, RM
Corporal Kenneth Greenwood RM
Marine George McCheyne
Marine Harold Patten
Marine Leslie Rowsell
Marine Daniel Ryan
Marine Hugh Scott
Marine (Pens) Henry Simpkins
Colour Sergeant Harold Summers, RM (Pens)
Marine Victor Welche
Marine Andrew Williamson
Sergeant Joseph Wood RM
52 crew were killed in the attack including 9 Royal Marine musicians, whose action station had been in the area of the ammunition hoists;
CLARKE, John A, Musician, RMB/X 1420:
CONN, Frederick W J, Musician, RMB/X 1556:
MOREY, William C, Musician, RMB/2944:
PHILLIPS, Jack A, Musician, RMB/X 1836:
POWELL, Richard, Band Corporal, RMB/X 479:
RAY, William D G, Musician, RMB/X 555:
RIDOUT, Albert E, Bandmaster 1c, RMB/2877:
ROPE, Aaron, Musician, RMB/3044:
WALTER, Arthur V, Musician, RMB/X 650.
12/13th August 1942
Nominated for support of passage to Malta of relief convoy.
3rd Detached with HM Cruisers NIGERIA and KENYA to escort of Malta supply convoy with other Home Fleet ships including HM Ships NELSON, RODNEY, VICTORIOUS and FURIOUS screened by Fleet destroyers.
10th Joined Force X with HM Ships NIGERIA, KENYA and CAIRO screened by Home Fleet destroyers for escort of convoy to Grand Harbour
Transit was subjected to air and submarine attacks (Operation PEDESTAL).
12th During series of E-Boat attacks near Pantellaria hit by two torpedoes fired by Italian Torpedo Boats MAS16 and MAS22
These struck amidships on starboard side with major flooding in machinery compartments
Only the port outer shaft could be used and ship was completely disabled with a 12 degree list.
13th Hope of Damage Control work to sufficiently control flooding and enable ship to return to Gibraltar abandoned and scuttling charges placed.
312 of ship's company rescued by H M Destroyers PATHFINDER and ESKIMO.
Explosive charges proved ineffective and as the ship remained afloat its hulk was sunk by torpedo fired from HMS PATHFINDER.
Some of the other survivors, including at least 1 Royal Marine Leonard McDonald, managed to get ashore in Tunisia and were interned by the Vichy French authorities in conditions which can only described as horrendous and without compassion. They were held in appalling circumstances until allied force occupied Tunisia after landings in North Africa (Operation TORCH).