Malta Convoy Epic – Recalled at Conisbrough Legion Meeting

February 1946

South Yorkshire Times February 16 1946

Malta Convoy Epic.
Recalled at Conisbrough Legion Meeting

A graphic story of the famous Malta convoy was recall at the monthly meeting of the Conisbrough branch of the British Legion at the National Services club, Brooks Square, on Sunday, by Sgt. J. Mitchell, DSM, Royal Marines, of 34, Damon’s Avenue.

Mr R E Downend presided, and 10 new members were admitted to membership and six honorary serving members, now demobilised, were transferred to ordinary membership.

Sgt Mitchell, who was flanked by two military medallists, Councillor G. Oldfield and Mr. George Miller, said there was 40 ships in the convoy, averaging 13,000 tons, and escorting vessels included two battleships, five aircraft carriers, eight cruisers and 32 destroyers.

Sgt. Mitchell said he found himself with 36 servicemen, whose weapons training had been about three weeks, and in the six days voyage to Gibraltar he had “to lick them into shape” and to train the non servicemen to help in servicing and loading the guns. They passed Gibraltar at night, and to give the convoy a chance destroyers had given the U-boats and E-boats “ a shaking up.”

They were three days out from Gibraltar before anything serious happened, and then they heard four dull explosions and saw the aircraft carrier, “Eagle” keel over, torpedoed, and sank in four minutes. That meant the loss of 20% of their air cover, and was a curtain raiser for the very hectic time that followed from the dive bombers. The terrific firepower of all the ships, said Sgt Mitchell, must have been hell for the attackers, and he saw seven aircraft blown to bits and a total of nine were caught by the 16.7 inch guns of the Nelson.

A signal was received from the Admiral saying that Malta was in a desperate plight and it was vital that the ships should get through. The enemy knew their intention and were determined that they should not pass.

For three days the attack was constant. He was Gunnery control officer on his ship, and after the ‘planes had attacked the U-boats came in. Sgt Mitchell claimed that his 4.7 inch gun got the first hit on the U-boat, which was dealt with by a destroyer who picked up 37 survivors, and he also claims some seven aeroplanes.

In quick succession he saw the “Ohio, the “Curlew” and the “Nigeria” torpedoed ; the “Nigeria” had to limp back to Gibraltar, with three quarters of her service members casualties. The “Curlew“ had to be sunk, but the “Ohio” limped on. Towards the end of the third day his own ship received two bombs in number four hold. He himself was blown back, and when he lifted his head he saw a wall of flame. The firefighting apparatus had been wrecked and the order “abandon ship” was given.

Realising the danger that would arise if the flames reached the depth charges in the stern of the ship, Mr Mitchell and whose charge they were, attempted to release them and was at first unsuccessful but later achieved his object and then tried to help the ships carpenter to get some of the fire appliances working, but they could get no water. They had to dive overboard, and he was picked up by one of the boats and in due course was taken aboard HMS. “Penn.” That night the U-boat were very active and the position was made more difficult by the return to Gibraltar of the two battleships. The “Manchester” had been sunk, and when dawn broke the “Penn” was alone on the ocean. Superb seamanship enabled the destroyer to avoid the bombs and later she was called upon to assist the “Ohio”, into Malta.

There, they were received with bands playing, and Sgt Mitchell was commended by the Commanding Officer, Royal Marines for his work. Later he was awarded the D. S. M.