I regret to report that H.M. Ship under my command was torpedoed at 0025 (Zone – 2) on the 16th July, 1943, in position 36 ° 22′ N 016 ° 08′ E. The circumstances were as follows:
2. “INDOMITABLE” was third ship in line of the 1st Division of Force “H”. The Fleet was in Cruising Disposition No. 23. (F.H.T.I.No. 54) mean course 090 °, speed 16 knots, Zig-Zag No. 44. “Penelope” was in close order astern of “INDOMITABLE” and the Screen of eight destroyers in Screening Diagram No. 7. Course at 0025 was 070 ° - the port leg of the zig-zag. Moon one day from full, bearing 198 °.
3. The armament was manned, at the time, on the two watch basis. The middle watchmen had taken over at 0015, all gear had been tested and turret and pom-pom pumps stopped. This has been normal practice in order to prevent the pumps overheating through continuous running. The pumps can be started in a matter of 15 seconds.
4. The two W/ A Radar Sets 281 and 79 were carrying out all-round sweeping. Type 272, the surface warning set, was temporarily out of action, and this fact had not been reported to the Senior Officer present, as it was considered desirable to restrict night signalling as far as possible. The type 285 gunnery sets had been tested but were switched off. It has been found that they miss detecting low flying aircraft, though they are of use for surface contacts. Their unreliability prevents their use continuously. The Surface Warning Radar Guard Ship – the “RODNEY” – was accepted as adequate for warning against surface contacts.
5. At 2330, six Albacores had been flown off to carry out a night submarine search and strike up to a distance of 50 miles ahead of the Fleet. Arrangements had been made to warn all ships in company by W/ T if one of these aircraft showed distress or returned prematurely for an emergency landing. They were due to land on at 0200.
6. From 2100 in the First Watch numerous single aircraft were detected by Radar between bearings 300 ° and North, which at times closed the Fleet to distances between 10 and 15 miles and then withdrew towards Sicily or Malta. At 2125, a single aircraft closed to a position 300 ° fifteen miles from the Fleet and for an hour carried out a patrol at distances of 25– 30 miles. This aircraft was considered to be either an enemy ASV shadower or a friendly night fighter escorting a convoy of small ships previously seen in that direction. Other isolated plots were recorded, none within 28 miles. There was considerable air activity between Sicily and Malta. Between 2239 and 0015 echoes considered to be surface ships were plotted moving between 310 – 15 miles and 345 – 15. These were reported by 281 only and may have been ships of FORCE ‘K’. A single plot at 0019/ 16th bearing 270 ° – 16 miles was thought by the operator to be a bad bearing of these surface ships. It afterwards merged with them. Between 0019 and the time of the attack no echoes were reported except those of friendly Albacores.
7. The first warning of attack was the noise of an aircraft engine to port. The initial impression in the minds of Officers and men on watch was that one of the Albacores was in trouble and had returned for an emergency landing – initially the noise was similar to a Taurus engine. After the briefest interval, 2– 3 seconds, the aircraft was heard to “open-up” and was immediately sighted on the port beam by the Principal Control Officer, Officer of the Watch, Air Defence Position, the Control Officer in “B” Director and a considerable number of Officers and ratings who were on duty at guns, directors or as look-outs …
8. A few seconds after being sighted, the aircraft flew over the flight deck forward of the Bridge, apparently climbing. At the same time, the Leading Signalman on the Bridge reported “she’s dropped something”. The Officer of the Watch immediately ordered “hard a’port. Full ahead both”. Before this could take effect and about 15 seconds after the first alarm, a torpedo struck the ship port side abreast the boiler rooms. No guns were fired before or immediately after the attack. When the aircraft was first heard, I was lying on a camp bed on the Admiral’s Bridge. I leapt up, saw the track starting from a position very close to the ship, and realised that the torpedo could not miss. The type of aircraft has not been established definitely.
9. The hands were immediately piped to action stations, with magazine crews stood fast. The ship rapidly listed 12 ½ degrees to port, speed was reduced to avoid aggravating the internal damage, and a course steered directly away from the moon. Counter-flooding soon brought the ship upright; communications were found to be in order; the compasses, steering gear, engine room telegraphs and broadcasting system all functioned normally. The whole of the armament except P. 2. pom pom was in action; no aircraft nor any of the flight deck equipment was damaged.
10. Information was quickly received on the bridge that the port steaming unit was out of action. Shortly afterwards the centre unit had to be stopped owing to the centre boiler room being filled with steam. This was found to have been sucked down by the fans, having escaped from the port unit. The centre shaft was quickly available, and the port shaft was unclutched and allowed to trail.
11. It was not long before the appropriate flooding boundary had been established, and a report received that the port boiler room and adjacent compartments only were affected. What was more important was a report that there appeared to be no escape of petrol and that electrical power was adequate.
12. A signal timed 0033 was made by lamp to the Flag Officer Commanding Force “H” reporting that “INDOMITABLE” had been torpedoed port side. It is regretted that the original report did not specify that the attack had been carried out by a torpedo-bomber. At 0116 the ship was turned to 220 degrees and a zig-zag course at 14 knots steered towards the moon, whilst more detailed examination was being carried out. Meanwhile “PIORUN” and “ECHO” had been detached by Flag Officer Commanding Force “H” to screen “INDOMITABLE”, and with “PENELOPE” were ordered to take up Screening Diagram No. 3.
13. At 0246 the state of the armament and a maximum speed of 14 knots were reported by visual signal. To this was added a statement that it was necessary for the ship to return to harbour for examination by divers and extra shoring before attempting a long passage. Speed was later reduced to 11 knots in order to prevent water in the port fan flat flooding into the centre boiler-room through the air intakes.
14. “INDOMITABLE” took station astern of the 1st Division of Force “H” and followed whilst the battleships and screen carried out a wide covering zig-zag. At 0755 the ship joined the Second Division, by then in company and proceeded down the North East Searched Channel to Malta, securing in No. 15 Berth, Grand Harbour, at noon.
15. The conduct and bearing of the ship’s company was exemplary throughout. All hands went to their stations without panic or fuss, and carried out their orders promptly. The Damage Control organisation, under Commander (E) Robert Cobb, O.B.E., Royal Navy and Lieut. Commander V.I.H. Mylius, D.S.C. Royal Navy, functioned quickly and smoothly and measures taken appeared to be effective and adequate.
16. The total number of casualties amounted to 7; a Chief Stoker, an A/ Stoker Petty Officer and two Stokers in the port boiler room, and 3 Stokers in the port compressor room. All these ratings must have lost their lives instantly; there were no injured.