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Sinking of the Troopship Khedive Ismail

Unit/ Formation: Memorial

Location: Indian Ocean

Period/ Conflict: World War II

Year: 1944

Date/s: 12th February 1944

On 5 February 1944 Khedive Ismail left Mombasa bound for Colombo carrying 1,324 passengers including 996 members of the East African Artillery's 301st Field Regiment, 271 Royal Navy personnel, 19 WRNS, 53 nursing sisters and their matron, nine members of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry and a war correspondent, Kenneth Gandar-Dower. She was part of Convoy KR 8 and it was her fifth convoy on that route. The convoy was escorted by the heavy cruiser HMS Hawkins and destroyers HMS Paladin and HMS Petard. Khedive Ismail was carrying the Convoy Commodore.

SS Khedive Ismail

Early in the afternoon of Saturday 12 February, after a week at sea, KR 8 was in the One and a Half Degree Channel south-west of the Maldives. After lunch many of the passengers were below watching an ENSA concert, while others sunbathed on deck.

At 1430 hrs the Japanese submarine I-27 had taken position off Khedive Ismail's port side to attack. A lookout sighted I-27's periscope and raised the alarm; Khedive Ismail's DEMS gunners opened fire on the submarine. At the same time I-27's commander, Cdr Toshiaki Fukumura, fired a spread of four torpedoes, two of which hit Khedive Ismail.

HMS Petard depth charged, shelled, torpedoed and sank I-27

The troop ship's stern was engulfed in flame and smoke and she sank in three minutes. As the convoy's merchant ships scattered for safety, Paladin lowered boats to rescue survivors and Petard released depth charges. The troop ship had sunk too quickly to launch any lifeboats, but her Carley floats floated free and some survivors were able to board them.

After three patterned releases I-27 was forced to the surface. The two destroyers engaged her with their 4-inch (100 mm) QF Mk 5 main guns and Paladin moved to ram her, but as a Type B1 submarine, she was considerably larger than the destroyer so Petard signalled Paladin to abort the manoeuvre. Paladin therefore took avoiding action but too late, and I-27's hydroplane tore a 15-foot (4.6 m) gash in Paladin's hull.

I-27 submerged again and took refuge beneath the survivors. The destruction of a submarine that might sink more ships took precedence over the lives of survivors, so with Paladin out of action Petard resumed the attack with first depth charges, then 4-inch shellfire and finally 21-inch (530 mm) Mk IX torpedoes. The depth charge fuses had to be set to detonate at the most shallow depth, and they killed or wounded many people who had survived the initial sinking. The seventh torpedo finally destroyed I-27, sinking her with all hands. The battle had lasted two and a half hours.

Of 1,511 people aboard Khedive Ismail, only 208 men and 6 women survived the sinking and subsequent battle. 1,220 men and 77 women were killed. The sinking was the third largest loss of life from Allied shipping in World War II and the largest loss of servicewomen in the history of the Commonwealth of Nations.

2 Royal Marines lost were:

NEWMAN, George H, Boy Bugler, CH/X 3867,

PERRY, Joseph, Marine, PLY/X 106094

At least 1 Royal Marine survived the sinking,

DOCWRA, Leonard James (21) Marine, P/X 3183

This below taken from Combined (HIJMS Submarine I-27: Tabular Record of Movement)

12 February 1944:

Indian Ocean, 60 miles SW of One and Half Degree Channel. KR.8, now escorted by HMS HAWKINS and destroyers HMS PALADIN (G.69) and PETARD (G.56, ex-PERSISTENT), is approaching the channel at 13 kts, when the convoy is sighted by submerged I-27.

Cdr Fukumura closes in from ahead to attack, probably intending to target heavy cruiser HAWKINS, the leader of the port column, from the starboard quarter of the convoy. He dives under the screening destroyers without being detected and raises his periscope for a snap shot only 50 yds astern of VARSOVA, the leading ship of the starboard column. Fukumura then fires a spread of four torpedoes at the cruiser, partially overlapped by KHEDIVE ISMAIL, the leading ship of the center column.

Three gunners on the stern gun platform of VARSOVA sight a dark green periscope protruding some 3 ft above the water and traveling towards KHEDIVE ISMAIL at 4 kts. They attempt to target it, but their gun cannot be depressed deep enough.

At 1433 (convoy time), KHEDIVE ISMAIL receives a torpedo hit to her starboard side engine room and starts to list to starboard. The aft mast collapses and the adjacent superstructure caves in, while the after hatch covers are blown upwards. Approximately 5 seconds later the second torpedo strikes the boiler room forward, directly below the ship's funnel, causing a major explosion inside the ship.

Once on her beam ends, KHEDIVE ISMAIL breaks in two; the stern sinks first, the bow upends and then corkscrews beneath the surface only one minute and 40 seconds after the first hit, at 00-57N, 72-16E.

Of 1,511 passengers and crew 1,279 are lost, including a total of 77 women.

Two remaining torpedoes, one of them a surface runner, pass ahead and astern of HMS HAWKINS, forcing her to take evasive action. The two destroyers each turn 180 degrees outwards while the convoy scatters, to regroup at 02-41N, 74-49E.

Multiple periscope sightings are reported by different vessels and confusion ensues. At 1436, Lt Edward A.S. Bailey's HMS PALADIN first establishes an asdic (sonar) contact N of the position of the now-sunken KHEDIVE ISMAIL, dropping a pattern of ten depth charges near the stern of the retreating HMS HAWKINS. PALADIN then chases a false contact and at 1449 drops a single depth charge at a periscope detected by the steamer CITY OF PARIS. PALADIN's next attack with ten depth charges against an unreliable target fails, but then a new contact is detected. After her asdic operator reports hearing a noise resembling the blowing of ballast tanks, nine depth charges are dropped at 1502.

Cdr Rupert C. Egan's HMS PETARD likewise chases several contacts about a mile SW of the sinking. The first target is lost during the approach. At 1500, PETARD drops a pattern of seven depth charges, followed by eight depth charges five minutes later. After the final attack with nine depth charges at 1513, this contact is lost. Following an unsuccessful sweep to the westward, at 1536 Cdr Egan gives permission to pick up the survivors from KHEDIVE ISMAIL.

At 1620, the stationary I-27 suddenly surfaces about a mile and a half off PETARD's and PALADIN's starboard quarter, down by the stern. Both destroyers open fire from all guns, claiming numerous hits. PETARD passes close to I-27's stern and fires a pattern of three depth charges set to 50 feet. These cause no visible damage and the submarine starts to move, steering 250º at 4 kts and simultaneously correcting her trim.

The CO of HMS PALADIN decides to ram the submarine to prevent her from diving again. At 1621, when 600 yds away from the submarine, he receives an order from PETARD not to ram. HMS PALADIN turns away to port, grazing the submarine's port foreplane with her starboard side. The impact tears an 80-feet long gash 12 inches below PALADIN's waterline, flooding her engine and gearing rooms, two fuel tanks, and the after magazine. The destroyer goes dead in the water, but fires two depth charges, one of which explodes right under the I-27's bows. Now fighting the increasing list, the destroyer lowers her scrambling nets to pick up the last survivors from KHEDIVE ISMAIL.

Two minutes later five gunners scramble from I-27's conning tower in an attempt to man the deck gun. PALADIN's No. 2 Oerlikon AA gun opens fire from 400 yds distance, blowing one of them overboard and killing the others. I-27 increases her speed to 8-10 kts, going round in circles and still down by the stern. PETARD fires a number of 4-in rounds that riddle I-27's conning tower, disable one of the periscopes and the deck gun.

Since the high-explosive shells seem to inflict no apparent damage to the submarine's pressure hull, the officers of PETARD discuss the possibility to board the I-27 and storm its conning tower with Sten guns and hand grenades, or to plant explosive charges on its hull. Both plans are given up as too dangerous.

At 1700, PETARD commences launching single torpedoes, six of which miss the target one by one. At 1723, the seventh torpedo finally strikes the crippled submarine, blowing her in half. As the column of water settles, the bow and stern are seen sinking at 01-25N, 72-22E. An oil slick and pieces of decking are sighted in the area, but no survivors.

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