2 May 1941: Destroyer Hits Mine and Sinks in Grand Harbour

02 May

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HMS Jersey

HMS Jersey


35 of the crew of a destroyer are believed dead today after the ship struck a mine at the entrance to Grand Harbour. HMS Jersey was returning with Force K from a mission to intercept an enemy convoy when she struck the mine – laid last night by enemy aircraft – exploded and sank next to the breakwater.  Navy boats rushed towards the stricken ship and, for the second time in two days, members of the Royal Artillery at Ricasoli Barracks dived into the sea to try and rescue survivors. 

Able Seaman Francis Hounsome, RN, on board the Dockyard boom defence vessel witnessed the events: “It was amazing the boats and small craft which came to help in no time. Some of the crew climbed down ropes from the fo’c’sle and never even got their feet wet, for many others it was very different.” (1)

Eleven casualties have so far been identified. The wreckage of Jersey is now blocking the harbour entrance.  Force K ships HMS Jackal, Kelly and Kelvin which had already entered the harbour are now stranded.  The remaining ships of Force K had to set course for Gibraltar.  It expected to be several days before the entrance to Grand Harbour can be cleared.  


The fate of the missing steamer Parracombe has been revealed when it was confirmed that she ran into a minefield near Cape Bon and sank earlier today.  The steamer was the first merchant ship to attempt a clandestine supply run to Malta in an attempt to break the siege. Parracombe was carrying 21 Hurricane fighters in packing cases, along with associated spares, as well as rocket projectors, ammunition and various other military stores.

Parracombe was specially painted to appear as an old tramp steamer and once through the Straits of Gibraltar she would hoist the Spanish ensign, assuming French colours off the Algerian coast in order to pass undetected. Her orders were to pass close to Cape Bon, and then to break for Malta under cover of darkness.  Once within 50 miles of Malta she would receive fighter cover.

Parracombe sailed from the UK on 17 April under Operation Temple, and was reported passing through the Straits of Gibraltar last Monday night. However, from then on nothing was heard from her until reports came in of today’s explosion. 18 of her crew of 47 are reported as reaching shore where they were interned by the French.


13 Beaufighters of 252 Squadron arrived from Gibraltar today to be used on operations locally as a screen for the Mediterranean Fleet. They will be deployed in detachments of six aircraft at a time, in support of shipping strikes against enemy convoys.


A mine dropped in air raids on Wednesday night exploded in Valletta today, destroying 19 houses in the City and badly damaging 45 other buildings, including a chapel. Italian Radio has today been reported as saying that “the City of Valletta has been continually hammered.  The damage done is immense.”


Weather  Fine.

0734-0745 hrs  Air raid alert for nine ME 109 fighters which patrol off the coast of the Island; no interceptions or air raid.

0819-0835 hrs Air raid alert for a JU 88 bomber which crosses the Island from Kalafrana to Tigne on reconnaissance accompanied by two ME 109s.  The bomber is engaged by heavy anti-aircraft guns and is observed to be emitting smoke from its tail as it flies away northwards.

HMS Gloucester and striking force sail from Grand Harbour.

1445-1600 hrs 13 Beaufighters land at Luqa.

1553-1611 hrs Air raid alert for a patrol by two Messerschmitt 109 fighters which do not cross the coast.  Hurricane fighters are scrambled: no interception.

Military casualties Sergeant Raymond Ottey, Royal Air Force (Volunteer Reserve), 261 Squadron; Stoker 1st Class George Arthur Coombs; Ordinary Seaman Norman William Greer; Able Seaman Noel Wesley Harmsworth; Petty Officer Walter H Harvey; Able Seaman Dennis Marshall Lennard; Wireman Lionel C Spreadbury; Ordinary Seaman Arthur Temperley; Ordinary Seaman William Temple; Sick Berth Attendant Thalberg Thornber; Boy 1st Class Donald Stanton Wallace; Stoker 1st Class Richard Williams, HMS Jersey.


ROYAL NAVY HMS Jersey sank in the entrance to Grand Harbour after striking a mine. Gloucester, Kipling and Kashmir were mined out of the harbor and sailed for Gibraltar at dusk.  Kelly remained with Jackal and Kelvin.

AIR HQ Arrivals 2 Sunderland. 252 Squadron 13 Beaufighters. Departures 2 Sunderland. Aircraft casualties One Hurricane crashed, killing the pilot; the cause is as yet unknown but it was not due to enemy action. 69 Squadron Two Marylands patrolled eastern Tunisian coast.  Maryland reconnaissance of Tripoli reported convoy.21 Squadron 1500-1840 hrs  Six Blenheims 21 Squadron attacked two merchant vessels and one destroyer leaving them enveloped in smoke.

HAL FAR  Hurricane, pilot Sgt Ottey, crashed from a great height on approaching the aerodrome and burst into flames; pilot killed outright. Three aircraft 830 Squadron took off on operational flight; all returned safely. 

LUQA 12 Beaufighters 252 Squadron arrived from the UK.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 10; dealt with 4 (3 x 50kg; x 500kg).

3rd Bn KINGS OWN MALTA REGIMENT  Start of move to Qrendi.

(1) Courtesy of website Malta Family History  


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