The Neptune Association



Note: This is an exact transcript of the Inquiry Report held at PRO Kew. The only additions are the photos of witnesses. From the 'List of Enclosures' hit the relevant item to see the evidence. Hit 'back space' to return to the report. For those wanting just the Conclusions, hit Conclusions on the 'List of Enclosures'.

(7th CS No. 050 of 8th January 1942)



List of Enclosures No. of Copies Page
1. Forms S1360 dated 22nd December 1941
(addressed to Rear Admiral H B Rawlings, OBE
and Lieutenant (N) D G Clutterbuck, Royal Navy).

2 4
2. List of witnesses and Minutes of Evidence taken
3 6
3. Signed statement dated 24th December 1941
by Port Wireless Officer, Malta

3 26
4. Vice Admiral, Malta's signal TOO 1730/18th Dec '41
3 26/1
5. Vice Admiral, Malta's signal TOO 2017B/18th Dec '41
3 27
6. Vice Admiral, Malta's signal TOO 2155B/18th Dec '41
3 28
7. Neptune's signal TOO 1955/18th Dec '41
3 29
8. Neptune's signal TOO 2136/18th Dec '41
3 29
9. Vice Admiral, Malta's signal TOO 1920B/22nd Dec '41
3 30
10. Aurora's No. 0807/09 of 22nd Dec '41
3 31
11. Penelope's No 1332/34 of 20th Dec '41
3 33
12. Lance's No. 0016/25 of 22nd Dec '41
3 37
13. Lively's letter of 22nd Dec '41
3 38
14. Kandahar letter of 23rd Dec '41 (without appendices)
3 39
15. Jaguar's No.139 of 23rd Dec '41
3 45
16. Havock's No. U/13 of 24th Dec '41
3 48
17. Jaguar's No. 139 of 21st December '41
3 49
List of signals Kandahar / Jaguar / ASV / FO Malta
Captain Simpson's remarks
Lt-Cdr Waymouth's W/T comments
Lt-Cdr Hiscock's mining comments
C in C Mediterranean's summary









(Rear Admiral Commanding, Seventh Cruiser Squadron's
7th CS No. 050 of 8th January 1942)







Malta No. 102/96/2

1. Forwarded with reference to my predecessor's signal 2023 of 20th December 1941.

2. With reference to the answer to question 15 in the main proceedings, Commander Evans states that he did not mention acoustic mine, but may have mentioned antennae mine.

3. With reference to the answer to question 7 in the supplementary proceedings (Appendix I), an examination of the logs of HMS Penelope has shown that all the messages in question were received in Penelope, either direct from the aircraft, or on rebroadcast from Malta W/T, or both. Message 0110B/19th December 1941 does not appear to have been reported. The other messages were received in a similar form and with the same coding errors included to that in which they were received elsewhere. This includes the corrupt position given in message 2325B/18th December 1941, from the second aircraft. The answer to question 11 in the supplementary proceedings is thus confirmed.

                                                                                                                                                      Signed R. Leatham

13th February 1942                                                                                                           VICE-ADMIRAL, MALTA

Loss of HM Ships Kandahar and Neptune

Report of Board of Enquiry held 24/12/41 (Conclusions)

HMS Neptune . . .

. . . sank as result of striking enemy mines in unsuspected minefield in Mediterranean 19/12/41

Captain Rory O'Conor, Commanding Officer HMS Neptune at the time of its loss
Captain Rory O'Conor, Commanding Officer HMS Neptune at the time of its loss

HMS Kandahar

Damaged while proceeding to assistance of Neptune, ultimately sunk by torpedo from HMS Jaguar

HMS Aurora

Damaged by minefield - able to return to Malta

Enemy Minefield in Mediterranean

Fragments of German "Antenna" mine found on HMS Aurora.

Possibility of Northern limits of minefields given in QB10 and QB11 being wrong.

S 1360 (Established - March 1933)                                                  Office of Vice Admiral
                                                                                                         22nd December 1941


1. You are to assemble on board HMS Ajax at 0930 on Wednesday 24th December 1941, as a board of inquiry whereof Rear-Admiral Henry Bernard Rawlings OBE, Rear-Admiral Commanding, 7th Cruiser Squadron, of HMS Ajax is to be the president and hold a full and careful investigation into the circumstances attending the loss of His Majesty's Ships Neptune and Kandahar, calling before you such witnesses as are necessary to enable you to form a correct conclusion.

2. The inquiry is to be conducted in accordance with the directions contained in Kings' Regulations and Admiralty Instructions, chapter XI.

3. The report of the board is to be accompanied by the minutes of evidence taken and is to contain an expression of opinion on the merits of the case as disclosed by the evidence; also whether blame is attributable to anyone in the matter, and if so to whom and to what extent.

4. The questions in the minutes are to be numbered consecutively and the name and rank or rating of each witness are to appear at the head of each page of his evidence.

5. The report and minutes are each to be signed by the members of the board and are to be in triplicate.

6. The original reports are being forwarded in accordance with my secret hand message 1050B/22nd December 1941, for the purpose of the inquiry and are to be returned with the report of the board, together with this memorandum.

7. The Commanding Officer, HMS Ajax has been informed and directed to afford the board all the necessary facilities.

8. Unless the president has something to communicate he is to send the reports when completed not to bring them.

9. A shorthand writer has been detailed from His Majesty's Ship "Ajax".

To: Rear-Admiral Henry Bernard Rawlings, OBE, Rear-Admiral Commanding, 7th Cruiser Squadron, His Majesty's Ship Ajax.
Captain George Walter Gillow Simpson, Royal Navy, Captain (S),
10th Submarine Flotilla, His Majesty's Ship Talbot
Lieutenant David Grenville Clutterbuck, Royal Navy His Majesty's Ship Ajax

(Copy to: Commander William Geoffrey Arthur Robson, DSO, Royal Navy)

Signed: Wilbraham Ford VICE-ADMIRAL, MALTA

Admiral Wilbraham Ford
Admiral Wilbraham Ford






Rear Admiral H B Rawlings, OBE, Rear Admiral Commanding, Seventh
Cruiser Squadron (PRESIDENT)

Captain G W G Simpson, Royal Navy, Captain (S), Tenth Submarine
Flotilla, HMS Talbot

Lieutenant D G Clutterbuck, Royal Navy, HMS Ajax.

Lieutenant David Clutterbuck, Royal Navy, HMS Ajax
Lieutenant David Clutterbuck, Royal Navy, HMS Ajax,
when later promoted to Vice Admiral



                                                                                                                        Questions  Page


Commander M J Evans, Royal Navy, Staff Officer (Operations)                 1 – 16             7-8

                        On staff of Vice Admiral, Malta


Captain W G Agnew, CB, Royal Navy, Commanding Officer                       17 – 23           9

HMS   Aurora                             75 – 86           17


Commander W G A Robson, DSO, DSC, Royal Navy, late                         24 – 31           10

                        Commanding Officer, HMS Kandahar                                  94 – 98           20

                                                                                                                     101 – 106      21

                                                                                                                     123 – 125      24

                                                                                                                     127 – 128      25

Captain G W Wadham, Royal Navy, Chief Staff Officer to

            Vice Admiral, Malta                                                                          32 – 40           11


Lieutenant (N) D McEwen, Royal Navy, Navigating Officer                        41 – 46           12

                                                                        of H.M.S.  Aurora                                                                          

Lieutenant (N) P J Morgan, Royal Navy, Navigating Officer                       47 – 54           13

                                                                        of H.M.S. Penelope                                                                      

Lieutenant Commander R W F Northcott, Royal Navy,                               55 – 57           14

Commanding Officer of H M S Lance                                       

Lieutenant Commander W F E Hussey D S C, Royal Navy                        58 – 61           14

            Commanding Officer of H M S Lively                                        


Lieutenant G R G Watkins, D S C Royal Navy,                                          62 – 64           15

            Commanding Officer of H M S Havock                                     


Lieutenant The Marquess of Milford Haven, Royal Navy,                         65 – 73           16

            Late Navigating Officer of HMS Kandahar                              


Lieutenant Commander (S) N de G Waymouth, Royal Navy                   74                   16

            Port W/T Officer, Malta                                                                 


Captain A D Nicholl, Royal Navy, Commanding Officer of                      87 – 93           19

                                                                        H M S Penelope              99 – 100         20


Temporary Surgeon Lieutenant D M Armstrong, Royal Naval                107 – 111      22

            Volunteer Reserve, late Medical Officer, HMS Kandahar                                                                                         

Lieutenant Commander (E) C R Havergal, Royal Navy, late                  112 – 117      22

            Engineer Officer of H M S Kandahar                                        


Lieutenant Commander L R K Tyrwhitt D S C Royal Navy                    118 – 122      23

            Commanding Officer of HMS Jaguar                                         126                 24                                                                                                                                               129                 25



COMMANDER MARTIN JAMES EVANS, Royal Navy, Staff Officer (Operations) on staff of Vice Admiral, Malta

Admiral Ford and his staff, Commander Martin Evans Staff Officer Operations - back row right
Admiral Ford and his staff, Commander Martin Evans Staff Officer Operations - back row right

Called and Cautioned

1. Q Are you Commander M J Evans, Staff Officer (Operations), Malta?
    A Yes Sir.

2. Q Will you tell the Court what orders were given to the Commanding Officer, HMS Neptune before leaving harbour on the 18th December 1941.
     A The Commanding Officer, HMS Neptune was given no verbal orders
except to proceed to sea.

3. Q Who was with the Commanding Officer, HMS Neptune?
     A The Chief Staff Officer to Vice Admiral, MALTA and I believe the
Admiral himself.

4. Q Do you know what orders were given?
     A To the best of my belief the only orders given were to proceed to sea.

5. Q What information and instructions were given?
    A The instructions given in SAM paragraph 7 as a signal timed 1730 of the 18th December 1941.
(Copy of this signal was given the court by the Staff Officer (Operations)).

6. Q Is this the original copy?
    A Exactly similar.

7. Q Were any subsequent orders sent to amplify these?
    A Yes, a signal timed 2017B of 18th December ordering him not to approach within 10 miles of TRIPOLI: and a signal timed 2155B of 18th December informing him that Swordfish would attack not later than 0100 on the 19th December 1941.

8. Q Have you any information as to whether the two minefields referred to in QB10 and QB11 were British or what they were, and by whom they were laid?
    A No sir.

9. Q Do you know whether HMS Neptune had on board a copy of QB10 and QB11?
     A Yes, I had spoken to the Navigating Officer of HMS Neptune and he stated he was up to date with the minefields and all Q messages.

10. Q Was anything received from HMS Neptune after leaving suggesting  that he had altered his plans?
       A No sir.

11. Q What was the object of the signal telling him not to go within 10 miles of Tripoli?
       A Air Officer Commanding, Mediterranean intended to carry out bombing attacks by Wellington on the convoy at the time they were least protected whilst forming up to enter Tripoli harbour. He guaranteed that they would not bomb more than 3 miles outside Tripoli harbour: to ensure that our own forces would not be bombed in error a safety limit of 10 miles from TRIPOLI Harbour was passed to HMS Neptune.

12. Q The 10 mile limit was a safety limit for bombing and not for mines?
      A Yes sir.

13. Q What was the object of the course 195°, paragraph K of SAM?
       A The course given in that paragraph was not intended as an instruction but merely as an indication for the benefit of the special Wellington so  that they would have greater ease in establishing contact with the Neptune, and was designed as an initial course suitable for interception.

14. Q From plotting the course and speed of the enemy and our own Forces it would appear that there was small chance of interception: was this appreciated when these orders were given?
      A This was appreciated, but previous experience and results of air attack on Italian convoys has shown that they almost invariably scatter on being attacked and anything up to two hours delay results. It was hoped that the Albacore and Swordfish attack which was designed to take place before the surface attack would have a similar result on this occasion and allow surface forces to intercept. Subsequent  reconnaissance in fact showed that the enemy convoy did not enter harbour until PM the following day (that is the last ship of the convoy did not enter until that time).

15. Q Are there any cases of German mines having been laid or used in the Central Mediterranean?
        We suspect that considerable mining activity took place in the Sicilian Channel with a type of acoustic mine in recent months.

16. Q Was anything ever seen of the Neptune by air reconnaissance on the 19th December?
      A Nothing whatever was seen either of boats or wreckage.



Captain William Agnew, Commanding Officer, HMS Aurora
Captain William Agnew, Commanding Officer, HMS Aurora

Called and Cautioned

17. Q Are you Captain W G Agnew the Commanding Officer of HMS Aurora?

      A Yes Sir.

18. Q Have you anything to add to the navigational details of your letter 0807/09 of 22nd December?

      A No Sir.

19. Q Did you get any instructions from HMS Neptune before sailing?

      A I received from HMS Neptune a hand message timed 1730 of the 18th December giving me all the information required in accordance with paragraph 7 of Malta 0786/4 of 14th December 1941.

20. Q Did you receive any verbal orders before sailing amplifying these?

      A No Sir.

21. Q What orders were received by you on the way South?

      A I received from HMS Neptune his tactical policy given as a signal timed 1955 of 18th December: that was later amended by his signal timed 2136 of 18th December.

22. Q What speed do you think your mean revolutions of 332 would have given you under the existing conditions?

      A I had paravanes streamed and I am seven months out of dock, and I do not believe under the existing weather conditions I would be steaming at more than 30 knots doing 332 revolutions.

23. Q What course had Neptune signalled to you on the way South?

      A 196 degrees: it appeared that Neptune steered a degree or two to the Starboard of the signalled course.

COMMANDER WILLIAM GEOFFREY ARTHUR ROBSON, DSO, DSC, Royal Navy - late Commanding Officer HMS Kandahar

William Robson, late Commanding Officer HMS Kandahar
William Robson, late Commanding Officer HMS Kandahar

Called and cautioned

24. Q Are you Commander W G A Robson and were you in command of HMS Kandahar on the 18th, 19th & 20th December 1941?
      A Yes Sir.

25. Q Did you get any instructions or orders from the Commanding Officer, HMS Neptune before leaving?
      A Yes sir, I saw the Commanding Officer, HMS Neptune, five minutes before we sailed and he gave me a copy of S.A.M. and told he to make a policy signal to the destroyers as they knew nothing of the operation. He then gave me an outline of his plans so as to be sure of being to the West of the convoy and to get there at the earliest possible moment to place the force between the convoy and Tripoli, and then sweep East.

26. Q Did you get any signal after leaving to say that he had altered his plans?
      A No Sir

27. Q In your report of proceedings of 23rd December Para 1 you have given your course as 195 degrees: do you consider that that was the course made good or the course steered?
      A 195 degrees was the course ordered: course steered was approximately 2 degrees to the starboard of this.

28. Q Do you remember what speed you were doing going South?
      A Speed 30 knots: revolutions for 32 knots. Under the weather conditions and the fact that we were fourth ship in the line our speed through the water was probably 30 knots.

29. Q Did you make any soundings?
      A The sounding after Neptune was mined gave 86 fathoms.

30. Q Was this the minimum depth obtained?
       A Yes, as far as I remember.

31. Q Is the sounding machine known to be reliable?
      A. Yes Sir.

CAPTAIN GEOFFREY WYNDHAM WADHAM, Royal Navy - Chief Staff Officer to Vice Admiral, Malta

Captain Geoffrey Wadham and Admiral Ford
Captain Geoffrey Wadham
and Admiral Ford

Called and cautioned

32. Q Are you Captain G W Wadham, Chief Staff Officer to Vice Admiral, Malta?
      A I am, Sir

33. Q Can you tell me what verbal instructions or orders were given to the Commanding Officer, HMS Neptune before she left harbour?
      A As far as I can remember the only instructions given to the Commanding Officer, HMS Neptune were contained in S.A.M. timed
1730 of 18th December. We went through them in detail and these instructions were put down at the time and copies of the Secret Hand Message were given to the Commanding Officer, HMS Neptune to distribute to as many of the ships as he could in the time available.

34. Q What governed the choice of 195 degrees?
      A It was selected so that it would take the force slightly to the East of Tripoli and it was expected that before they arrived in the vicinity a signal would be received from the ASV Wellington giving them the correct position of the convoy. He was given a free hand to act as he thought fit on the receipt of any enemy reports that he might receive on the way.

35. Q Did the Commanding Officer, HMS Neptune say what his intentions were if he received a report of the convoy or did not receive such report?
      A No. The S.A.M. gives him the time to leave the area.

36. Q Were any subsequent orders given to him other than telling him not to go within 10 miles of Tripoli?
      A No Sir.

37. Q Have you any reason to think that he did not hold QB10 and QB11?
      A No he stated that he had them. The SAM signal calls attention to these two messages.

38. Q What governed the sending of HMS Jaguar the following day to Kandahar?
      A On receipt of Kandaharís signal that she was still afloat the Vice Admiral, Malta decided to send Jaguar down that night with the object of rescuing the crew and if possible towing the ship back to port.

39. Q Is there any report of sighting the Neptuneís boats or floats after she was mined?
      A No, Sir.
40. Q Has anything been intercepted in Italian broadcasts to show that any survivors have been landed?
      A As far as I know, nothing whatever.

LIEUTENANT (N) DONALD McEWEN, Royal Navy - Navigating Officer of HMS AURORA
Called and cautioned

41. Q Are you Lieutenant D McEwen, the Navigating Officer of HMS Aurora?

       A Yes Sir.

42. Q Do you wish to add anything to Aurora's letter of proceedings?

A Only that on return to harbour I re-worked out our position from 5 stars taken at dawn on the 19th December and found the true position to be 3 miles 350 degrees from the previously accepted position.


43. Q Do you agree that this would make the position of the mining of Neptune 33° 9.3' North, 13° 20.4' East?

      A Yes Sir.

44. Q What soundings did you get during the run-in and after the mining?

      A At the speed we were travelling it was impossible to take any soundings, and after the mining the machine was out of action.

45. Q Do you think that the revolutions you averaged, ie 332 rpm could have given you more than 30 knots?

      A The only reliable recent data as to revolutions and speed is that 302 revolutions with paravanes streamed gives 28 knots. On this occasion, allowing for weather, it would therefore appear that 30 knots would not have been exceeded. (COURT EXAMINED NAVIGATIONAL DATA, LOG AND PLOT).

46. Q How far were you from the position in which Neptune was mined when you were mined?

      A About a cable.

LIEUTENANT (N) PATRICK JOHN MORGAN, Royal Navy - Navigating Officer of HMS Penelope
Called and Cautioned

47. Q Are you Lieutenant P J Morgan, the Navigating Officer of HMS Penelope.
      A Yes, Sir.

48. Q Did you take any soundings?
      A I switched on at 1255 and got no soundings between then and 0110. I did not expect to get any soundings at the speed we were travelling but this was done to get the machine warm and the paper wet. The machine was set to the first phase and no sounding was obtained before the mining of Neptune, which indicates that we were never in less than 120 fathoms of water: This is however not certain because of our speed.

49. Q What was the minimum sounding subsequently obtained?
      A I took no further soundings: I switched off because of the danger of Acoustic mines.

50. Q Did you obtain star-sights the following morning from which you could quite clearly indicate the position that the ship was mined in?
       A Yes, Sir.


51. Q Do you agree that the position of the mining of Neptune was 33° 08.5' North, 13° 21.5' East?
      A Yes, Sir

52. Q Will you give me your opinion what distance separated the three cruisers on the mining of NEPTUNE, AURORA and PENELOPE?
      A About half mile.

53. Q In Penelopeís letter of proceedings it is stated that the outside estimate of the speed over the ground was 29Ω knots: what is this based on?
      A This was based on a full speed trial carried out in September 1941 and also on the revolutions for 28 knots since operating in the Mediterranean.

54. Q Have you allowed for time out of dock?
      A Yes sir.


Ralph Northcott, Commanding Officer of HMS Lance
Ralph Northcott, Commanding Officer of HMS Lance

Called and Cautioned

55. Q Are you Lieutenant Commander R W F Northcott in command of HMS Lance?

      A Yes Sir.

56. Q What speed would you judge you were making through the water?

      A Between 30 and 30Ω knots.

57 Q Have you done any speed trials lately?

      A 6 months ago. Our speed was based on this trial 6 months ago with a clean bottom in both cases.


William Hussey, Commanding Officer of HMS Lively
William Hussey, Commanding Officer of HMS Lively (killed on 11 May 1942 when Lively was sunk)

Called and Cautioned

58. Q Are you Lieutenant Commander WFE Hussey in command of HMS Lively?

      A I am, sir.

59. Q In your report of proceedings you state that you estimated your speed at 30 knots; on what information is this based?

      A Engine revolutions which are based on speed trials after delivery from the contractors with a clean bottom; I just docked before this.

60. Q What is your recollection of the course steered during the run South?

      A 196 degrees.

61. Q Did you see anything of the foundering of the Neptune?

      A No, sir.


Called and Cautioned

62. Q Are you Lieutenant G R G Watkins, Commanding Officer of the Havock?

      A Yes Sir.

63. Q What do you estimate was your course steered when 196° was signalled?

      A About 2 degrees to starboard of that course, about 198 degrees.

64. Q And your speed?

      A By revolutions it was 31 knots: taking one knot off for station keeping 30 knots. I had a clean bottom and the ship was just out of dock: the revolutions were based on observations in recent months.

LIEUTENANT THE MARQUESS OF MILFORD HAVEN, Royal Navy - late Navigating Officer of HMS Kandahar.

Lieutenant The Marquis of Milford Haven, Royal Navy, with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip
Lieutenant The Marquis of Milford Haven, Royal Navy, best man at the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip (his 1st cousin)

Called and Cautioned

65. Q Are you Lieutenant The Marquess of Milford Haven and were you the Navigating Officer of HMS Kandahar on 18th,19th & 20th Dec 1941?

      A Yes, Sir

66. Q At what time did you start sounding?

      A On closing the cruisers just before Neptuneís second explosion. We were then about one mile north of Neptune. When the second explosion occurred we were about one cable away.

67. Q What was the minimum sounding you got and where were you then as regards the Neptune?

      A The last sounding recorded 78 fathoms and we were then within 1/2 mile of Neptune, West of her.

68. Q I understand that you were patrolling a little to the north: what soundings were you getting during this patrol?

      A Approximately 97 fathoms

69. Q What was the course of the patrol?

      A Roughly East and West.

70. Q How far north of the Neptune was the patrol?

      A Within visibility distance, that is within Visual Signalling touch with glasses: it was a very dark night and we were about two miles apart.

71. Q What was the last sounding obtained?

      A We did not run the echo sounding the second time in.

72. Q What was your position the following day?

      A I estimated our position by stars at 1800 the following day as being 33° 8' North, 13° 55' East.

73. Q What was the last you saw of Neptune?

      A She appeared to be on her side.


Called and Cautioned

74. No evidence given.

CAPTAIN W G AGNEW, CB, Royal Navy - Commanding Officer of HMS Aurora


75. Q Where were you when Neptune hit the first mine?
      A Three cables dead astern.

76. Q Did Neptune swing off?
      A Not then: we veered to Starboard.

77. Q Where were you with regard to Neptune when your mine hit?
      A Just off her Starboard quarter.

78. Q Did you see Neptune hit the next two mines?
      A Yes, although I really cannot say: in fact I thought that one of the explosions was a destroyer. It was all rather confused: I was turning to Starboard.

79. Q On which side were you hit?
      A The port paravane hit the mine.

80. Q You altered to 020 degrees?
      A Yes, Sir

81. Q Will you explain the reason for the course given in your letter of proceedings?
      A I altered to 020 degrees which was approximately the reverse course of the one we had been steaming in order to get out of the minefield. Later I altered to 080° because I was losing sight of Neptune and did not want to do so and so I altered back to 270° for a short time to get Neptune in sight and keep myself outside the minefield. Shortly after 0142 I altered to 015° with Lance and Havock for Malta.

82. Q When you left where was Penelope?
      A Penelope was astern of me with Lively in company. Kandahar had started in to Neptune and she had not then been mined.

83. Q Will you give us your general appreciation of the situation after Neptune had been hit for the third time?

      A Neptune having been hit three times and having signalled to me that she had lost all steam and power I felt that it was not a justifiable risk to send a cruiser or destroyer into the minefield to tow her out. Neptune appeared to be lost and in order to save life one destroyer must go alongside her to take off her crew. In the meantime I did not know if Aurora would be able to steam more than 10 knots: we were within 20 miles of Tripoli and liable to severe air attack at daylight. I therefore thought I had better make as much northing as possible before daylight, hoping that Kandahar would get Neptuneís crew on board and that Penelope, Lively and Kandahar would catch me up on the way back to Malta.

84. Q When you were approaching the 100 fathom line from the north were you expecting a signal to alter course to the East?
      A No, it is the normal practice when working at night with Forces "B" and "K" for the leader to alter course without signal, the remainder of the force following round after him, so as to save visual signalling in the vicinity of the enemy.

85. Q Can you tell me if Neptune was trying to turn after she hit her first mine?
      A No, sir.

86. Q After turning north did you arrive at Malta without further incident?
      A There was no incident at all, and I was able under the existing weather conditions to work the ship up to a speed of 18 knots.


Admiral Wilbraham Ford and Captain Angus Nicholl, Commanding Officer HMS Penelope
Admiral Wilbraham Ford and Captain Angus Nicholl,
Commanding Officer HMS Penelope

Called and Cautioned

87. Q Are you Captain A D Nicholl, the Commanding Officer of HMS
     A Yes, Sir

88. Q Did you see Neptune actually hit the first mine?
      A No, Sir.

89. Q Did you see which way she turned after hitting?
      A Slightly to starboard.

90. Q You were about 10 cables astern of Neptune when she was hit: what did you do?
      A Nothing at once as I did not then think it was a mine, then I saw Aurora hauling out to starboard and then I also did this myself.

91. Q Will you give a brief statement of what occurred after Aurora had parted company?
      A Having had orders from Aurora to return to Neptune's assistance I decided that I must not close nearer than 2.5 miles until I had more information of the situation. I took my range from Neptune by RDF and on closing to 2.5 miles patrolled at 9 knots up and down wind. I felt I was justified telling Lively to close Neptune in order to avoid signalling with bright lights and in the meantime I hoisted in paravanes and got ready to tow aft. Lively returned and stated that Neptune was prepared to be taken in Tow. I then made a signal to Neptune with a bright light to say I was ready to tow her, and Neptune replied asking me to come in her Port side. As I was approaching Neptune, Kandahar hit a mine and I decided that the risk of approaching in closer to Neptune must not be accepted. As I was turning away Neptune hit a fourth mine. I then took Lively under my orders and turned down his plea to be allowed to go to Neptune for survivors and started for Malta.

92. Q Are you sure she hit a fourth mine?
      A A very bright flash was seen abreast her bridge.

93. Q Did you see anything of her after that?
      A Only a large cloud of smoke immediately after the explosion. My Chief Yeoman first stated that he could see her bow in the air and then stated ìNo, I think it is smokeî.

COMMANDER W G A ROBSON, DSO, DSC, Royal Navy - late Commanding Officer of HMS Kandahar


94. Q When you saw the last explosion of the Neptune did you think it was the magazine?
      A No sir, if her magazine had gone up we would definitely have seen it.

95. Q How was she when you last saw her?
      A Listing to Port and she then capsized within 10 minutes of the last explosion after we had been mined.

96. Q Was anything seen of Neptuneís boats or wreckage in the morning?
      A Nothing

97. Q Do you consider that in existing weather conditions personnel should have survived on floats and rafts?
      A Yes, wind was force 4 with a slight swell. Ship was estimated to be drifting about 1 knot. This was confirmed by evening stars.

98. Q Were any surface craft sighted before Jaguar arrived?
      A No, Sir.

CAPTAIN A D NICHOLL, Royal Navy - Commanding Officer of HMS Penelope


99. Q After parting company from Neptune and Kandahar did any further incidents occur before arriving at Malta?
      A I proceeded to Malta at 20 knots: having found that no undue stress was experienced I increased to 25 knots. We received a signal during the night from Vice Admiral, Malta referring to an Albacore having come down in the sea in a position somewhat to the East of our course and I placed Lively at 15 cables on my Starboard beam and passed through this position: nothing was seen. Shortly afterwards Aurora and Destroyers were sighted and overtaken. Aurora instructed me to go on ahead into harbour which I did in company with Lively.

100. Q When you came to recover paravanes were they both there?
        A The port paravane was almost non-existent, presumably it either touched off the mine or was in the middle of the explosion.

COMMANDER W G A ROBSON, DSO, DSC, Royal Navy - late Commanding Officer of HMS Kandahar


101. Q Have you anything to add to your report of the loss of the ship?
        A My one concern was to ensure that the ship did not fall into enemy hands. Scuttling the ship in daylight was considered but I came to the conclusion that there would be time to do this on the arrival of the enemy and all preparations were made accordingly. A signal to this effect was made at 1000 on 19th December, but does not appear to have been received due to shorting of the aerials. When Jaguar arrived at 0420 it was obviously too late to have considered towing even if the weather conditions had permitted, which they did not.

102. Q About how much scend was there between the two ships when they were alongside?
        A About 15 ft.

103. Q Have you any idea how many men were missing after the mine explosion?
        A 54 ratings and 1 officer: I know this figure because we mustered.

104. Q Did this figure include the men who were in the whaler?
        A No, sir.

105. Q What happened to the whaler?
        A She was drifting away from the ship. The crew were bailing hard so it looks as if she must have sunk.

106. Q What was the object of hauling her round from the starboard to the port side?
        A The ship was listing 16 degrees to starboard: it was probable that the ship would have to be abandoned to the port side.


TEMPORARY SURGEON LIEUTENANT DAVID MOUAT ARMSTRONG, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve - late Medical Officer of HMS Kandahar

Surgeon Lieutenant David Armstrong
Surgeon Lieutenant David Armstrong

Called and Cautioned

107. Q Are you Temporary Surgeon Lieutenant D M Armstrong, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and were you the Medical Officer of HMS Kandahar On the 18th, 19th and 20th December 1941?
        A Yes Sir.

108. Q After the explosion were there enough medical stores in that part of the ship which remained afloat?
        A Yes sir.

109. Q Were you single handed?
        A Yes, my Sick Berth Attendant was stationed aft and was missing after the explosion.

110. Q Will you describe what you did for the injured?
        A I went all round the ship immediately after the explosion looking for and shouting for wounded. I then saw all the wounded, collected them together in the most sheltered part of the deck. Subsequently I disposed them to the best advantage for getting them off.

111. Q Was the transhipment to Jaguar carried out as satisfactorily as possible under the existing conditions?
        A Yes, Sir. The cases were put into one of the remaining carley floats And I went with them and a strong team of paddlers paddled the carley float on to the Jaguarís drift and they were the first people on board. On board Jaguar Surgeon Lieutenant Simpson received the casualties and cared for them for the remainder of the time on board. On arrival in harbour they were immediately transferred to ambulances and taken away.

LIEUTENANT COMMANDER (E) CHRISTOPHER RIDLEY HAVERGAL, Royal Navy - late engineer Officer of HMS Kandahar

Christopher Havergal as a young Naval Officer
Lieutenant Christopher Havegal, shown as a young Naval Officer

Called and cautioned

112. Q Are you Lieutenant Commander (E) C R Havergal, Royal Navy and were you the Engineer Officer of HMS Kandahar on the 18th, 19th and 20th December 1941?
        A Yes Sir.

113. Q Have you anything to add to that part of the report of proceedings dealing with the damage?

        A No Sir.

114. Q Do you think that the ship would have kept afloat under tow?
        A Yes Sir, definitely.

115. Q Was the stern blown off?
        A Yes completely up to and including 68 bulkhead.

116. Q What was the number of the bulkhead holding?
        A 61.

117. Q Do you think the ship would have sunk eventually without being torpedoed as a result of the steps taken to scuttle her?
        A Definitely, yes.


Called and Cautioned

118. Q Are you Lieutenant Commander LRK Tyrwhitt, the Commanding Officer of HMS Jaguar?
        A Yes, sir.

119. Q What instructions did you receive from Vice Admiral, Malta before leaving harbour?
        A I was instructed to rescue the crew of the Kandahar and then to take the ship in tow if practicable but not at a speed of less than 10 knots. If I could not find her I was to finish searching at 0300.

120. Q Is there anything you would like to add to your letter of proceedings?
        A No sir.

121. Q Do the various courses steered by you lead you to any conclusion if the area was clear of mines?
A I was never west of 13.35 East and only once crossed the 100 fathom line, which seems to indicate that there is no minefield outside the 100 fathom line.


122. Q Give your reasons for not towing Kandahar.
        A I did not consider I could tow her at 10 knots in the prevailing weather and she had no steering, also I was only about 15 miles off the coast with one hour of darkness remaining.

COMMANDER WGA ROBSON, DSO, DSC, Royal Navy - late Commanding Officer of HMS Kandahar


123. Q Had everybody lifebelts when they were abandoning ship?
        A Yes sir.

124. Q Were any people lost when trying to jump from Kandahar to Jaguar?
        A Yes, some went down between the ships: more were lost in the swim from Kandahar to Jaguar. In two cases men lost their lives due to helping others into Jaguar and had insufficient strength to help themselves. The names of these men are being forwarded in the list of recommendations.

125. Q Can you say how many men were lost in this manner?
        A Yes: 6 men and 1 officer were lost in the whaler. 10 men are unaccounted for.

LIEUTENANT COMMANDER LRK TYRWHITT, DSC, Royal Navy - Commanding Officer of HMS Jaguar


126. Q After Kandahar ordered you to lie to windward would you describe how you worked your ship to pick up survivors?
        A Kandahar was lying with her head about 160 degrees. The wind at that time was more Northnorthwest, Force 4. I placed Jaguar immediately to windward bows Southwest of Kandahar about 2.5 cables away. Kandahar proceeded to abandon ship and Jaguar drifted to leeward on to the ratings in the water. The majority of the ratings fetched up alongside but some had become detached and passed the Jaguar's bow and stern. I moved the ship ahead and astern to try and intercept them. When there were no more survivors on my port side I turned the ship round and proceeded to windward to pick up those who had drifted past. I did this twice. At 0545 seeing Kandahar was still afloat I closed and fired one torpedo which hit and sank her. At 0550 I saw there were still some more survivors to windward so I proceeded to pick them up. At 0605 there were no more survivors in sight and I did not consider I was justified in spending time searching for them so I shaped course for Malta.

COMMANDER WGA ROBSON, DSO, DSC, Royal Navy - late Commanding Officer of HMS Kandahar.


127. Q What orders did you give for abandoning ship?

        A I gave the orders to swim off and wait for Jaguar. I gave the order "abandon ship over the starboard side, swim towards the stern and Jaguar will pick you up".

128. Q Are you satisfied that all Signal Publications and Confidential Books, etc. were destroyed beyond recovery by the enemy?

        A Yes, sir.

LIEUTENENAT COMMANDER LRK TYRWHITT, DSC, Royal Navy - Commanding Officer of HMS Jaguar.


129. Q Did any incident occur on the passage to Malta?

        A No, Sir, nothing.

Signed:        D.R. Clutterbuck           LIEUTENANT (N), Royal Navy
                   G.W.G. Simpson            CAPTAIN, Royal Navy
                   H.B. Rawlings                 REAR ADMIRAL

From: Port Wireless Officer                                           To: Secretary to Board of Enquiry

                                                                                            Date: December 24th, 1941

Report from Aircraft AM9D, night of 18/19 Dec.

Submitted for the information of the Board:

1. I have examined the relevant W/T logs and can find no evidence that any message transmitted by the above aircraft was not received. Nor can I find any evidence of any spurious enemy reports being made by other stations purporting to be the same aircraft, except the corrupt message I have already reported to the Board. This latter message is not relevant to the enquiry.

2. The position given in the aircraftís first report, NR1 TOO 2310, was 100 degrees 6 miles from 33 degrees North 13 degrees East. The decoding of this position has been most carefully checked and is not in doubt from a communication point of view. It is possible, however, that the Captain of the Aircraft may have intended to make the position 15 degrees East but that owing to bad writing, or some such personal error, it was misread before coding and coded as 13 degrees East. This error seems to be a most feasible one and would account for the apparent discrepancy in the positions.

3. Message NR4 was received in a most corrupt form and has not yet been satisfactorily decoded. I have requested the RAF Signals to obtain information from the Captain of the aircraft as to what he intended to convey in this message. This information will be conveyed on receipt. I do not think however, that its contents are relevant to the enquiry.

4. It is submitted that the Captain of the Aircraft and his W/T operator might prove valuable witnesses in elucidating both these matters.

24 Dec 1941                 N. Waymouth                                 Lieutenant-Commander RN P. W/T O.

Copy of paragraph 7 to Malta No. 0786/4 of 14th December 1941. Memorandum on co-operation between air and surface forces operating from Malta (short title SAM)

and Vice Admiral, Malta's signal TOO 1730/18th December 1941 relative thereto:

Questions for decision before the operation

7. General

a. Composition of own Surface forces
b. Expected composition of enemy forces
c. Possible intentions of the enemy
d. Expected position, course and speed of enemy at time indicated
e. Whether air attack is to take place before or after Surface attack
f. Intended position of Surface forces at time of Air Attack
g. Movements of Surface forces on completion of Surface attack
h. Route by which Surface forces are expected to return to Malta
i. Special instructions for safeguarding our own Surface forces against attack from our own Air Forces.
j. Latest times at which Surface forces should return to Malta
k. Spare
l. Spare

Air Striking Force

m. Expected composition
n. Expected time of air attacks
o. Latest time for despatch of Air Striking Force
p. Spare.


q. Position from which ASV will start search.
r. Expected time of air attacks
s. If ASV is to use V/S or W/T for first sighting report
t. Whether subsequent reports by ASV are to be made by W/T or V/S
u. If ASV link is not obtainable from target whether ASV is to ìremainî over target or ìcloseî Surface forces to obtain link
v. Frequency with which enemy reports are to be made
    i) When own forces are in ASV touch
    ii) When own forces are not in ASV touch
w. Under what conditions ASV is to drop flares
x. Time ASV is to make final negative report if nothing is sighted.
y. Expected time ASV will have to leave target area to return to base
z. Whether second ASV will be available.

Copy of Vice Admiral, Malta's signal 1730/18th December 1941 relative to paragraph 7 of SAM

To: Havock, Kandahar, Lance, Lively, Aurora, Penelope, Neptune, 830 Squadron, 828 Squadron, Special Wellington

From VAM

A. Ships addressed
B. 3 CRs (believed 6"), 8 DRs, 3 MVs
C. Enter Tripoli about 0200B
D. 33° 08'N 16° 00'E - 270 -13 at 1515
E. Before
F. (not used)
G. return Malta leaving not later than 0400/19 if not in contact
H. SE Channel
I. Air attack not to be later than 2300
J. (Not used)
K. Route of Surface Forces 195° 27 knots from end of searched channel
L. (not used)
M. (not used)
N. 2300
O. 2100
P. (not used)
Q. 33° 08'N 15° 00'E
R. 2100
S. V/S to surface forces
T. V/S
U. Close
V. i) As requisite
    ii) Our comprehensive report on completion of FAA attack, by W/T
W. for FAA attack and subsequently only if ordered
X. 0400
Y. 0400
Z. Yes
Hand written note added: Attention of Surface forces is invited to QB 10 and 11

TCO 1730/18th December 1941


N. code/L                 18th December 1941                                              File BK640


To: Force B                                                  From VAM

Do not (R) not approach within 10 miles of Tripoli. Wellingtons will bomb Merchant Vessels within 3 miles of entrance.

N Sec             Sec                               TOO. 2017B/18
CSO               SOO                              In transit
SOO               SHO                                     GB/MB/.B.
OR                  Log                                       PGF
File                                              Copy to: CS7


IMMEDIATE 23 11438

To: Force B                                                     From: VAM

Wind has now altered allowing Swordfish to operate, they will attack not later than 0100 (1 Group) 0100

                                                                          TOO 2155B/18/12
                                                                          R 2349/18/12



To: CS7                                                             From: HMS Aurora

31st December 1941                                     29147


Your 1123B/29th December HMS Neptuneís 1955B begins:

Tactical policy identical for our last cruiser attempt. Attack three enemy cruisers from quarter opening fire simultaneously and if possible torpedoes. At GAB cruisers dispersed to port and destroyers on HMS Neptuneís starboard quarter unless otherwise ordered. Keep together. Cruisers and Kandahar conform with HMS Neptune. Destroyers follow HMS Kandahar. Normal diagram for manoeuvring. End.

HMS Neptune's 2136/18th begins:

My 1955 amend to read use torpedoes if opportunity offers and use illuminants only if necessary. For information two of enemy destroyers are believed to be in tow after collision. Ends.

JRO                                                                          TOO 1400/30/12
RA CSO SO(V) COTS CS7                                   RIO 2250/30

Authenticated                RH Cozens                    Duty Cypher Officer


NC "Flag"                    22nd December 1941             File BL115



To: C-in-C Med 769                                                  From VAM
(R) Admiralty 144

Pieces of mine found onboard Aurora after being mined off Tripoli have been identified as belonging to German 6 horned Antennae mine.

N SEC                                                                     TOO: 1920B/22
CSO                                                                         In transit
OR                                                                            JB/EP/DT
SO (I) M                                                                    JGP
Copy to CS7 (4)


From: The Commanding Officer, HMS Aurora

Date: 22nd December 1941 No: 0807/09

To: The Rear Admiral Commanding, Seventh Cruiser Squadron

Copy to: The Vice Admiral, Malta

The following report in narrative form is submitted in accordance with the Vice Admiral, Maltaís signal timed 1050B of 22nd December:

1826 Passed breakwater at 12 knots. Streamed Paravanes

1832 15 knots)
1837 20 knots) No record of courses steered, but South-East
1842 22 knots) Searched Channel was followed closely.
1847 28 knots)

1925 30 knots

1941 Position 35°- 40í N 14°-18í E from running fix on Delimara Light. Neptune signalled course 196°

1943 Aurora followed round

2000 Mean course steered by Aurora 197° to 198°. Mean revolutions 332. wind WSW force 5 to 6. Aurora's drift in a beam wind Force
to       5 at high speeds has normally been about ½ knot. 302 revolutions has been known to give 28 knots lately with paravanes
0100 streamed. Aurora was keeping clear of Neptune's wake.
0100 Speed 28 knots

0104 Speed 24 knots

0111 Neptune mined. Aurora put wheel starboard 25 and shortly afterwards Amidships and then Port 15.

0112 Aurora mined. Wheel put to starboard 25 and speed reduced to 10 knots. Aurora steadied on 020°.

0112 Neptune hit two more mines

0130 Altered course to 080°

0115 Neptune signalled twice "Close" and four times "Come Alongside", also "I am badly damaged" and "Have lost all steam and
to       power". Aurora signalled to Kandahar - "One destroyer is to go alongside Neptune, the other three are to join me" and later to
0142 Penelope "I also am damaged and am returning to Malta. Do what you can for Neptune, but keep clear of the minefield. Give me two Destroyers".

0142 Course was altered to 270° but very shortly afterwards to 015°. Lance and Havoc then joined Aurora.

Working back from a fix by star sights at 0730 but not allowing for drift, the position in which Aurora was mined would be 33°-06' N. 13°-21'E.

Three pieces of mine found on board Aurora have been identified as part of a German 6-horned Antennae Mine

Date: 23 Dec 41                                                                                               Signed: WG Agnew - Captain

From: The Commanding Officer HMS Penelope

Date: 20th December 1941                           No. 1332/34

To: The Senior Officer, Force K


1. HMS Penelope passed through the Breakwater at 1830 on 18th December 1941 and streamed paravanes. HMS Neptune ordered speeds of 17, 22 and 28 knots and finally at 1925, 30 knots. The Force was in line ahead in the sequence Neptune, Aurora, Penelope, with the Destroyers Kandahar, Havock, Lance and Lively astern.

2. After leaving the swept channel course was altered to 196° and the Force passing through position 35° 33¾' N 14° 15¼' E at 2000, speed 30 knots.

3. It was found that in the period between 2000 and 0100 Penelope steered approximately 197° to follow in line. An estimation of the speed was requested by Neptune at 2100 and was given as 29½ knots. In view of the fact that paravanes were streamed and that there was a South West wind, force 4 with a sea of 22, I consider this an outside estimate of the speed over the ground. The average revolutions between 2000 and 0100 was 326. The Pitometer Log gave an average of 29½ knots.

At 2327 two flares were sighted on a bearing of 195°.

4. In view of the position of the minefield given in messages QB 10 and 11, the Echo-sounding machine was started at 0055. No depth below 120 fathoms was recorded between that time and 0110. The Sounding machine was tested subsequently and found to be working correctly.

5. Speed was reduced to 28 knots at 0100 and to 24 knots at 0105.

6. At 0106 an explosion occurred alongside Neptune's port side. This was followed at 0108 by a similar explosion under Aurora. I thought that both ships had been torpedoed and turned to starboard. Aurora had already hauled out to starboard.

7. At 0110 there was an explosion abreast the bridge, port side and I realised that we were in a minefield. No serious damage seemed to have been sustained, however, and the Main Engines and Steering Gear were in working order. I turned to the Northward to get clear of the minefield and then formed astern of Aurora who was proceeding on a course of 030°, at a speed of 10 knots.

8. Meanwhile at 0116 Neptune hit two more mines in quick succession apparently in the after part of the ship.

9. On finding the ship was not seriously damaged I asked permission to return towards Neptune. My signal crossed one from Aurora asking me to do this. I took Lively under my orders. I decided not to approach closer than 2½ miles from Neptune until the situation was more clear, but considered it a justifiable risk to send Lively closer in to find out what could be done to help. (See summary of V/S signals attached).

I estimated that Neptune hit the first mine in position 33° 13'N 13° 23'E.

10. At 0218 a signal was received from Neptune that she was preparing to be taken in tow when she had drifted clear of the minefield. I recovered paravanes and prepared to tow aft.

11. At 0309 Neptune asked me to come to her port side. As two hours had elapsed since Neptune was first mined, I considered that I should accept the risk, close Neptune and take her in tow. As I was approaching, however, at 0318, Kandahar hit a mine, apparently aft. I at once turned away and Neptune made "Keep away". Kandahar made a similar signal to Lively.

12. I still hoped that it might prove possible to rescue the Neptune's and Kandahar's crews, but when, at 0400, Neptune hit a fourth mine, I decided that no further risks must be taken with Penelope and Lively. I made a farewell signal to Kandahar which will have been read by Neptune and proceeded to return to Malta at 25 knots. I regretfully turned down Lively's plea to be allowed to return to Neptune for survivors.

13. I considered that it was justifiable to break W/T silence in order to set rescue arrangements in train as soon as possible and, after some delay, caused by a false alarm of enemy surface ships, reported the situation to the Vice Admiral, Malta, by cypher as follows:-

(Begins)    Immediate. To VAM                                                       From: Penelope

Neptune and Kandahar mined, unable to steam in position 33° 15'N 13° 30'E. Unable to approach them through minefield. Suggest Sunderland or submarine be sent to boats North of minefield, ETA 1100 Lively in company.

Time of Origin - 0530B/19      (Ends)

                                                                       Signed: A D Nicholl
Date: 23 Dec 1941.


0106 Explosion (Neptune)
0108 Explosion (Aurora)
0110 Explosion close to port side of Penelope
0110 From Neptune by W/T "Turn together to 180°" (This was assumed to be in error for "Turn 180° to starboard together")
0113 Aurora: "My course and speed - 030 10 knotsî
0116 Two more explosions alongside Neptune
0123 From Aurora to Destroyer: "Send a destroyer alongside Neptune"
0126 From Aurora to Penelope: "Form astern"
0136 From Aurora: "Neptune has been badly damaged. Have detailed one destroyer to go alongside"
0141 From Neptune: "Lost all power and unable to steam"
0143 From Aurora to Penelope: "Neptune seriously damaged. Am detaching one destroyer to go alongside her. Stand by her. Am damaged myself. Am taking three destroyers and steaming for Malta"
0149 From Penelope to Aurora: "My six-inch control out of action due to explosion, otherwise alright. Can I help Neptune?"
0152 From Aurora: "Do what you can for Neptune. Keep clear of minefield. Give me two destroyers".
0153 From Penelope to Lance: "Pass me. I am going back to Neptune"
0154 From Penelope to Lively: "Follow me"
0207 From Penelope to Lively: "I must keep clear of minefield. Close Neptune and let me know what I can do. Go on: good luck"
0218 From Neptune to Aurora (Made to Penelope): "Have told Kandahar to lay off till I have drifted clear of the minefield. Am preparing to be taken in tow then"
0222 From Penelope to Lively: "I will circle round here. I will come in if there is any chance of towing Neptune"
0227 From Penelope to Kandahar: "Have told Lively to close Neptune. I will close and take Neptune in tow when signalled"
0254 From Lively to Penelope: "Neptune mined, cannot steam. Ordered to tow. Am going back to her now"
0302 Exchanged identities with Neptune
0308 From Penelope to Neptune: "Am ready to tow you. Shall I come now"?
0309 From Neptune to Penelope: "Close on my port side"
0318 Explosion in Kandahar about two miles away
0320 From Neptune to Penelope: "Keep away"
0325 From Penelope to Lively: "Ferry survivors to me if necessary"
0326 Neptune calling Aurora
0326 From Lively to Penelope: "Kandahar mined"
0327 From Penelope to Neptune: "Aurora not in company has gone to Malta damaged"
0334 From Kandahar to Penelope: "After Engine Room bulkhead is holding and ship can be towed. But realise this is impossible"
0335 From Penelope to Kandahar: "Regret I must keep clear"
0400 From Lively to Penelope: "Kandahar mined. She has ordered me out of field"
0405 From Kandahar to Penelope: "Neptune has touched off another mine" (Reply: "I clearly cannot help. God be with you")
0411 From Kandahar to Penelope: "Suggest you should go. Consider sending submarine to pick up survivors"
0415 From Penelope to Lively: "Course 010° Speed 15"
0416 From Lively to Penelope: "Suggest I go for Neptune's Survivors"
0417 From Penelope to Lively: "Regret not approved".
0419 Course 020
0424 From Lively to Penelope: "Suggest a submarine could be asked for". (Reply: "I am going to do that. I hate to leave them, but am afraid we must")


a) NR1                              Immediate                                   To Med. HQ                        From A/C Duty X
"PC and S of enemy indicated - Cr 6 Dr 3 M.V. 4 A.P. - 33°05' N 15°58' E course 270° Speed 14 knots"
SYKO TOR - 1617/18                                                - 1514B

b) NR1                               Immediate                                   To Med HQ                        From A/C Duty D
"Position of enemy is . . . 100 NWWF (no distance given), number of Merchant Vessels is three"
SYKO TOR - 2218/18                                               - 2310B

c) NR2                                Emergency                                  To Med HQ                  From A/C Duty D
ì1 Dr - 180 - 5 - 200 NWWF - (?) 3 w 2"
SYKO TOR - 0041/19                                                 - 2325

d)                                          Emergency                                To A/C Duty D              From 130 Squadron
"Report position of Merchant Vessels bearing - distance TRIPOLI now"
SYKO TOR - 0128/19                                                 - 0100

e)                                           Emergency                               To Force B                   From VAM
"PC and S of 6 Merchant Vessels: 3 Dr - 32°55' N 13°05' E. Course 290° Speed 14 knots at 2240".
FLEET CODE TOR - 0146/19                                  - 0120B/19

f)                                                                                                To Force B                    From VAM
"2 Cr 3Dr 1MV. Position 033°04' N 014°13' E Course 270°Speed unknown at 2210"
FLEET CODE TOR ñ 0207/19                                 - 0132

g)                                            Immediate                                To Force B                   From VAM
"Albacores attacked 2 small Merchant Vessels unsuccessfully in 033°05' N 014°30'E and 033°03' N 014°07E at 2150 and 2217 respectively".
FLEET CODE TOR 0219/19                                      - 0105/19

h) NR2                                    Emergency                               To: Med HQ                 From A/C Duty H
"Destroyer number 0 28 sinking - 035 TRIPOLI 30 miles - crew on board"
SYKO TOR - 1117/19                                                   - 1026

                                                                                                                                               HMS Lance
No.0016/25                                                                                                                22nd December 1941


I have the honour to submit the following report for HM Ship under my command during the period at sea 18-19th December.

2. On leaving harbour at sunset HMS Lance was stationed astern of HMS Kandahar.

3. During the run to the Southward the mean course steered was about 198½ or about 2½ degrees to starboard of that signalled. Revolutions for 31 knots were required the whole time. My plot gave the most southerly point reached as sixteen miles 014 degrees from Tripoli but, at the time, this position was considered to be probably too far to the Southward due to errors induced by the wakes of other ships. The echo sounder, on my direct orders, was not used.

4. Shortly after reducing to 26 knots an underwater explosion was heard and HMS Kandahar led the destroyers round to port. A signal was then received by W/T from HMS Neptune "Blue 180" and HMS Kandahar led round again to the southward

5. HMS Neptune was then seen fine on the port bow stopped but apparently upright and with normal trim. When nearly abreast of HMS Neptune, another mine exploded under her port quarter. HMS Kandahar then led round to starboard to a North Easterly course.

6. A few minutes later a signal was seen being flashed to HMS Kandahar of which only two words were read "Go . . . . . Neptune".

7. Having altered back to the Southward HMS Kandahar told me he was going alongside HMS Neptune and ordered me to take charge of the destroyers and to close HMS Aurora.

8. This was carried out and HMS Lance and HMS Havock then screened HMS Aurora to the Northward. I ordered HMS Lively to remain with HMS Penelope.

9. During the night an unsuccessful seventy-minute search was made for the crew of an Albacore reported down in the sea.

                                                                                                                                    I have the honour to be, 
                                                                                                                                      Your obedient servant

The Rear Admiral Commanding, 7th Cruiser Squadron,                                                    R.W.F. Northcott
                                                                                                                          HMS Ajax Lieutenant Commander,
                                                                                                                                        Commanding Officer

Copies to: The Vice Admiral Malta, The Senior Officer, Force K, HMS Aurora


                                                                                                                        HMS Lively at Malta
                                                                                                                      22nd December 1941

I have the honour to submit the following report in accordance with The Vice Admiral Malta's signal, timed 1050 B/22nd December 1941.

On forming up after leaving harbour, HMS Lively took station at rear of the line astern of HMS Havoc.

On leaving the swept channel at 1950 in position 35° 40' N 14° 12' E, a course of 196 degrees, speed 30 knots was ordered. At 0110 the signal "Blue 180" was received and executed by wireless. Owing to the small alteration of course and the high speed Lively followed round in the wake of Havoc. Between 1950 and 0110 the speed made good was estimated as being 30 knots; taking into account that Lively was last ship in the line, speed made good of the leading ship was estimated at 29 knots. Shortly before this, speed was reduced by signal to 28 knots and then to 26 knots.

Shortly after this the line was seen to be making a turn in succession to Starboard, as Lively followed round Neptune passed down the port side at a distance of 4-5 cables on an opposite course. When she was on the port quarter an explosion was heard and a flash seen on her stern at 0125. It was thought at first that she had opened fire with her after turrets, but almost immediately it was realised that she had either been mined or torpedoed. A signal was received from Khandahar saying she was going to close Neptune, Lance being ordered to take charge of destroyers.

Lance led round and the destroyer line took station fine on the starboard quarter of Aurora and Penelope. Penelope made to Lively "Follow me" and hauled round to port, Lively followed round and was ordered by Penelope to close Neptune and return to Penelope with a report of the situation and any orders given by Neptune. Lively closed to within two cables of Neptune, communicated with her by lamp and returned to Penelope to report. Lively again closed Neptune ready to take her in tow and communicated with Kandahar on the way in. The side of taking in tow was changed at the last minute by Neptune and while Lively was turning to get into position a large explosion was seen in the direction of Khandahar, Neptune at this time was between two and three cables away with a list estimated at seven degrees to port and trimmed by the stern. Kandahar was about five cables away to the North East of Neptune. Lively was ordered by Neptune to remain stopped, later ordered by Kandahar (some minutes after the explosion) to "Get out of it". Lively then closed Penelope to report the situation. When about six cables away from Neptune another explosion and flash was observed. After closing Penelope course was set to the Northward and Lively followed her. Permission was requested to return to Neptune but the request was "Not approved".

Lively remained in company with Penelope until return to Malta.

I have the honour to be, 

                                  Your Obedient Servant                                                      W.F.E. Hussey
                                                                                                                      Lieutenant Commander
Rear Admiral, Commanding 7th Cruiser Squadron                                            Commanding Officer
Copy to: The Vice Admiral Malta


Date 23rd December 1941

To The Rear Admiral Commanding, 7th Cruiser Squadron, HMS Ajax

Copy The Vice Admiral Malta

The attached report of proceedings of HMS Kandahar between the 18th and 20th December 1941 as submitted.

The following appendices are being prepared and will be forwarded when ready.

Damage and Damage Control
Abandon ship arrangements
Recommendations for operation of A/SV Wellington under similar circumstances
Recommendations for Awards

Signed: W A Robson - Commander


Chronological sequence of events:-

1. Forces B and K were in Single Line Ahead in sequence Neptune, Aurora, Penelope, Kandahar, Lance, Lively, Havoc. Course 195°, Speed 28 knots.

2. At 0106 when in position (handwritten note 33° 10' N 130 27' E) an underwater explosion was heard, I assumed that a ship had been mined and altered to Port, Destroyers following astern.

Shortly afterwards there were two more explosions, the signal to Blue to 180° by W/T was received and course was altered to Starboard to rejoin Cruisers (see attached plan).

3. When about 3 cables from Neptune, who was going ahead on the Starboard engine and astern on the Port engine with no way on a mine was seen to explode under her stern, blowing a portion of it off. (handwritten note: A sounding at this time gave 86 fathoms.)

4. Course was altered to Starboard to 050° to clear the minefield.

5. At 0130 Aurora signalled "One Destroyer go alongside Neptune" so a signal was made to Lance "Take charge of Destroyers, join Aurora" and Kandahar closed Neptune.

6. While closing, a signal was received from Neptune "Keep to leaward until I have drifted clear of Minefield" so Kandahar then patrolled on courses 270° and 090° outside 100 fathom line, in V/S touch with Neptune.

7. At 0227 a signal was received from Penelope (thought to be Aurora) "Have told Lively to close Neptune. I will close and take Neptune in tow "when signalled".

8. At 0310 a signal was received from Neptune "Ready to be towed now". At this time Kandahar was closing Neptune at 15 knots to go alongside, using asdics to detect mines.

9. When about 7 cables from Neptune at 0318 a mine exploded under stern of Kandahar and a signal was made to Penelope (thought to be Aurora) "Kandahar minedî.

10. At 0330 Lively was seen to be closing as a signal was made to her ìClear out".

11. On a quick examination of the damage the ship was seen to be flooded up to the after engine room bulkhead. So at 0334 a signal was made to Penelope "Ship is flooded up to Engine room bulkhead, can be towed but I realise this is impossible".

12. At 0400 another explosion was seen amidships in Neptune who was about a mile to the Southward. This last explosion caused her to turn over on her Port side and sink slowly.

13. At 0403 a signal was made to Penelope "Neptune has touched off another mine" Reply "I clearly cannot help. God be with you".

14. At 0411 a signal was made to Penelope "Suggest you should go, consider sending submarines to pick up survivors".

15. After the explosion the engine room bulkhead was shored and boats and carley rafts lowered. The only boat thought to be serviceable was the Whaler. While this boat was being hauled round the bows to the Port side the line parted and the boat drifted away. She was seen to be making water and with the crew bailing hard so she was hailed and told to make for the ship again. This she failed to do and the boat was not seen again.

16. Confidential Books, Charts and documents were thrown overboard in well-weighted sacks and containers, Fleet Code only being retained. All Fleet Decodes were unfortunately jettisoned.

17. Three torpedoes, which could be fired from the forward tubes, were fired with stop valves closed. Due to damage the remaining seven could not be got rid of.

18. The situation now was that steam was being maintained in No1 Boiler Room and No 3 Boiler Room.

i) All auxiliary machinery in the engine room was running
ii) All lights had failed due to the flooding of the after main switchboard
iii) Fire control circuits were out of action
iv) Nos 1 & 2  - 4.7 inch mountings were workable in hand
v) Pom Pom was out of action
vi) Two 0.5" Machine guns and two Oerlikens were in action
vii) The ship was watertight from the after engine room bulkhead forward, but could not steam due to the loss of the propellers.

19. At daylight all top weight that could be cast loose was jettisoned and hands were turned to making with all available wood. Jury aerials were rigged and all W/T sets were got into working order.

20. At about 0915 a JU 88 reconnaissance machine approached from the South and closed the ship and flew away North. And at about 0945 an SE 79 came up from the South flew round the ship and returned to Tripoli. At about 1000 a Maryland closed, circled the Ship and returned North.

21. Shortly after this a signal was transmitted on Admiral's Wave to any British Man of War "Have been closed and inspected by reconnaissance aircraft. Am prepared to sink ship on arrival of enemy. My position ??????". (snowpaked out)

22. As no reply could be got from Malta for this signal on Admirals Wave, a further signal was made on 465 KCs. "Am still afloat in position ?????? "(snowpaked out)
Drift Easterly about 1 knot".

23. At about 1600 the cheering signal was received from Vice Admiral, Malta that Jaguar was coming to our assistance. This signal was decoded using the Fleet Code.

24. At 1330 six Blenheims were seen flying low approaching from Northwards and making in the direction of Tripoli.

25. At 1700 a Maryland flew close round the ship with "Thumbs Up" and departed Northwards.

26. Position by stars was obtained at dusk, which confirmed drift as 1 knot ESE.

27. At 2200 the A/SV Wellington arrived and from then on until arrival of Jaguar at 0420 she closed the ship at intermittent intervals. The report of six E Boats in the vicinity was received from the Wellington and it was estimated that they were 7 miles to Southward of ship about 2300.

28. It was realised that Jaguar was somewhere in the vicinity though no idea of her whereabouts was given by the Wellington, probably, rightly, because he wished to reduce V/S signalling to a minimum.

29. During the night the weather was deteriorating rapidly with a rising wind and sea and at 0400 the ship took a list of 15° to Port having heretofore been listed to Starboard. This made the Engineer Officer think that she had lost stability due to the engine room bulkhead having collapsed. Correctly he reported to me immediately and I ordered everyone on the Upper Deck and made a signal on 465 KCs to Jaguar "Am sinking". Further investigation proved that the bulkhead was holding and that change of list must have been entirely due to the wind getting on the Starboard quarter of the ship. I therefore cancelled my "Am sinking" signal.

30. At about 0420 the welcome sight of Jaguar was seen on the Starboard quarter and the following signal was made to her "My ship's head 160°. Come my port side Bow to Stern". Conditions were very difficult due to wind and sea and the rate of drift of Kandahar, but Jaguar made a perfect alongside at his first attempt.

31. However it was immediately apparent that the damage to Jaguar would be considerable if she stayed there so I told her to go astern out of it. Some 50 men jumped on this occasion.

32. After consideration a signal was then made to Jaguar "intend to abandon and sink ship. Lie to windward, to pick up survivors. Leave not later than 0530".

33. The order to abandon ship was then given and the necessary steps taken to ensure the ship would sink (see appendix).

34. Again Jaguarís ship handling was perfect and the recovery of survivors was done most expeditiously.

35. It was expected that Kandahar would sink in about 20 minutes but as she had not completely foundered Jaguar torpedoed her before leaving and she was seen to sink.

36. The bearing of the shipís company at the time of the mining and subsequently was very steady and all that I hoped and expected; at no time was there any sign of alarm or despondency.

Plan of HMS Kandahar's course after the first explosion
Plan of HMS Kandahar's Course after the first explosion


From: The Commanding Officer, HMS Jaguar
Date: 23rd December 1941                                       Ref No 139
To: The Rear Admiral Commanding Seventh Cruiser Squadron

Subject:              HMS Jaguar - Narrative of Events 19th-20th December 1941

The attached narrative of events for the period 19th-20th December 1941, is forwarded in accordance with your signal timed 2015/23rd December 1941.

                                                                       Signed: L.R.K. Tyrwhitt 
                                                                       Lieutenant Commander               Commanding Officer

H.M.S. JAGUAR NARRATIVE OF EVENTS 19th-20th December 1941


Weather at 1630 B/19: Wind SW Force 3, Sea Moderate (34), Visibility Good (7)

1625 Slipped from buoys and proceeded out of harbour and down SE searched channel

1755 In position 35°41'N 14°12'E altered course to 188° speed 28 knots. The intention was to make for position 5 miles East of Kandahar's anticipated position at 2300. This was assumed to be 33°10'N 13°46'E allowing for a set of 1 knot to Eastward.

2310 Received enemy report from ASV Wellington of 6 E boats in position 33°10'N 14°00'E, steering 060°, 20 knots.

2332 In position 33°10'N 13° 52'E altered course to 270°speed 18 knots. Operating asdics.

0010 Sighted ASV Wellington - exchanged identities.

0016 Altered course to 180° - Echo Sounding gear failed so unable to pick up 100 fathom line.

0020 Increased to 20 knots to assist A/C with wake

0025 Altered course to 090°. Commenced NNZZ

0050 Altered course to 180°

0100 Altered course to 320°

0112 Received report from A/C by W/T giving position of Kandahar as 058° Tripoli 50 miles at 0055. Report seemed improbable.

0115 Altered course to 045° speed 22 knots to close reported position in absence of other information.

0120 Speed 25 knots.

0125 Commenced NNZZ altering course at 5 minute intervals.

0140 Sighted A/C. Signalled to her "Where is Kandahar?" No reply received.

0144 Reduced to 20 knots. Considered unlikely that Kandahar was any further Northward.

0148 Altered course to 270°.

0152 Commenced N.N.Z.Z. using 5 minute intervals.

0235 Altered course to 180°.

0250 Altered course to 090°.

0258 Received report from A/C. Position of Kandahar 33°00'N 14°10'E. This seemed possible, giving a drift of three knots.

0302 Increased to 24 knots, altered course to 114° to close position.

0308 Increased to 28 knots.

0313 Sighted A/C and received report that Kandahar was bearing 130° 24 miles.

0323 Altered course to 130°.

0340 Altered course to 014° to avoid crossing 100 fathom line and to steer for Kandahar's reported position.

0350 Received report by W/T from Kandahar "Ship sinking".

0355 Received report from A/C by V/S Kandahar bearing 130° 5 miles.

0356 Altered course to 130°.

0405 Sighted Kandahar on port bow two and a half miles. Reduced to 24 knots.

0408 Received report from Kandahar "Negative ship sinking". Reduced to 21 knots.

0409 Speed 15 knots - communicated with Kandahar by light.

0420 Proceeded alongside Kandahar bow to bow port side to (Jaguar the lee side) in estimated position 32°54'N 14°18'E. Embarked about 30 ratings over the forecastle. Ships bumping badly.

                                   Weather at 0400

                                  Wind NNW Force 4, 

                                     Sea moderate.

0425 Full astern together - weather considered unsuitable for lying alongside. Proceeded to get to windward of Kandahar.

0455 Kandahar abandoned ship. Jaguar commenced to pick up survivors. Kandahar reported "Sinking Ship".

0545 Fired one torpedo into Kandahar as she was observed to be still afloat.

0550 Observed Kandahar sink stern first. Continued to pick up survivors.

0605 Proceeded to Malta Course 357°, 28 knots. Feared a few survivors not picked up owing to their being widely dispersed and observing ship was about 15 miles from the Libyan coast and only one hour of darkness remaining.

0700 Reduced to 23 knots owing to weather.

0745 Reduced to 20 knots owing to weather.

0815 Increased to 23 knots.

0840 Reduced to 20 knots owing to weather.

0900 Increased to 21 knots.

1030 Commenced Z.Z. No10.

1100 Altered course to 340° to ensure clearing the minefield.

1127 Reduced to 12 knots to obtain sight.

1134 Speed 21 knots.

1152 Speed 19 knots.

1238 Obtained another sight.

1340 Altered course to 065°.

1350 Speed 25 knots.

1425 Sighted Malta.

1455 Altered course to 090° for end of searched channel.

1505 Altered to 073° at end of searched channel. Proceeded course as requisite, to approach Valletta in accordance with QBB 197.

1610 Entered Grand Harbour and steered alongside Canteen Wharf.

                                                        Signed:             L.R.K. Tyrwhitt 

                                                                        Lieutenant Commander                     Commanding Officer

From: The Commanding Officer, HMS Havock
Date: 23rd December 1941        Ref: U/13
To: The Senior Officer, Force K



1. I passed the breakwater at 1835 and formed up in line ahead astern of Lance who was astern of Kandahar. Lively was astern of me. The Cruisers were ahead of the Destroyers.

2. After leaving the swept channel course was altered to 196°, 30 knots. I increased to 315 revolutions in order to maintain station which I consider gave me a speed of 30 knots, through the water, a knot and a half being taken off by following in the wash of the ships ahead. The ship had a clean bottom.

3. It was blowing quite hard from the South West and raining at intervals. The Lance ahead was making smoke and it was very hard to see even her.

4. At 0100 I thought we had gone far enough to remain under 100 fathoms but considered I was safe with three Cruisers ahead drawing more water than I did. I have no Echo Sounding Machine and was unable to sound.

5. At 0100 speed was reduced to 28 knots and at 0105 to 24 knots by signal. I did not reduce below the revolutions for 26 knots.

6. At 0106 I saw what looked like a bomb explosion but could not see what was happening. The ship ahead hauled out to starboard and I followed her. Eventually I got a signal from Kandahar saying that Neptune was mined and we were to go with Aurora. I was still following Lance. Eventually we took station on Aurora who gave us her speed as 10 knots. I asked her if she was mined as well to which she replied "Yes". I remained with Aurora until return to harbour.

7. At first I thought we had hit QB 10 or 11 but judging by our landfall on return I do not think so. My course made good by plot was 195½°.

Signed:        GRG Watkins                        Lieutenant In Command

From: The Commanding Officer, HMS Jaguar
Date: 21st December 1941
To: The Vice Admiral, Malta

Copies: The Rear Admiral Commanding Destroyer, Mediterranean
                The Rear Admiral Commanding Seventh Cruiser Squadron
                The Captain (D), Fourteenth Destroyer Flotilla

                    19-20TH DECEMBER 1941

Appendix I      Instructions received from the Vice Admiral, Malta
Appendix II     List of Signals.

All times are Zone -2


1. The following letter of proceedings in connection with the rescue of the crew of HMS Kandahar who had been mined on the night of 18-19th December and was drifting off the coast of Tripoli, is forwarded.

2. At 1625 on 19th December 1941 Jaguar slipped and proceeded in accordance with instructions received from the Vice Admiral, Malta (Appendix I) to comply with the letter's message to Kandahar timed 1423?/19

3. After clearing the minefield south of Malta a course of 188° was steered, speed 28 knots to reach a position 5 miles East of the estimated position of Kandahar by 2330.

4. At 2310 an enemy report was received from the ASV Wellington co-operating of 6 E-boats in position 33°10'E, 34°00'E, on a course of 060°, speed 20 knots. It was considered that, having regard to the weather conditions, these were actually destroyers known to be at Tripoli, and the possibility of their being out on a similar mission was borne in mind. They were not, however, sighted.

5. At 2330 when in position 33° 10'N 13° 52'N course was aligned to the West and a search was commenced in the vicinity at a speed of 20 knots. It was hoped to be able to check the ship's position by the 100 fathom line but unfortunately the Echo Sounding machine broke down.

6. At 0010 the ASV Wellington was sighted and after identifying itself flew away without making any further signal. The Wellington returned at 0115 and made by V/S "what ship", which was replied to, and as no position of Kandahar was received it was presumed she had not been located.

7. At 0012 message timed 0056 from Aircraft to Base was intercepted giving position of Kandahar at 038° Tripoli 50 miles. This appeared to be an improbable position and was treated with suspicion, but in the absence of any other information course was set to close.

8. At 0145 the Wellington was again sighted and the signal "Where is Kandahar" was made by Jaguar. The aircraft gave an "R" for the message but flew away without replying. The search was continued.

9. At 0258 Message timed 0240 from Aircraft to Base was received giving position of Kandahar as 33°00'N 14°10'S. This was 23 miles from the original position and a much more probable one and course was at once altered and speed increased to 28 knots.

10. At 0323 the aircraft was sighted and made by V/S 130° 24 miles. This agreed approximately with the course being steered. A further V/S signal was received at 0335 giving the bearing and distances as 130° 5 miles and at 0405 Kandahar was sighted.

11. At this time the wind was from the North-west force 4 and sea moderate. The whole of the after part of the Kandahar from the funnel to the stern was under water. Jaguar went alongside bow to bow the lee side and proceeded to embark personnel over the forecastle. It soon became evident, however, the motion of the two ships was very considerable and in spite of the use of all available fenders there was a grave risk of receiving serious damage. After a few minutes it was decided that the risk could not be accepted and Jaguar withdrew. It is estimated that about 30 ratings were taken off in this manner. It was then decided that the only way was for Jaguar to lie to windward and for Kandahar to abandon ship. Jaguar would thus drift down on the personnel in the water. This method was adopted and worked satisfactorily.

The Commanding Officer Kandahar informed me that his ship had been scuttled and should sink, but as she was still observed floating at 0540 she was sunk by one torpedo at 0545 in approximate position 32°57'E 14°19'E.

After sinking Kandahar a few more ratings were picked up but at 0600 it was decided that it would not be prudent to search any longer observing that Jaguar was approximately 15 miles from the Libyan coast with only one hour of darkness remaining. Course was therefore set for Malta, speed 28 knots and it is feared a small number of ratings may have been left. The total number of survivors taken off amounted to 8 officers and 170 ratings.

12. On the return to Malta the wind veered to the Northward and increased in force. Speed had to be reduced to 18 knots and Jaguar arrived at Malta at 1610. No enemy aircraft were sighted on passage.

13. Remarks

The delay in making contact with Kandahar is considered mainly due to the fact that the ship was drifting much more rapidly than had been allowed for. The drift as indicated by the position of Kandahar obtained during the day amounted to 1 knot, whereas it was infact about 3 knots after 1300/19.

Contact would also have been expedited if the ASV Wellington had been able to give a bearing and distance of Kandahar from Jaguar earlier. In this respect it is considered that some information should be passed by V/S on making contact even though it may be of a negative nature. On this occasion it was not known for certain that Kandahar had been located until 0300 whereas it is understood she had in fact been sighted at intervals from 2200 onwards.

14. The yellow light used by the aircraft in the initial stages was quite satisfactory. The green light used subsequently was too bright and difficult to read.

15. The work on the part of the aircraft is deserving of the highest praise and the fact that Kandahar was found was entirely due to the skill and perseverance displayed by the crew.

Signed:                              Lieutenant Commander L.R.K. Tyrwhitt
                                            Commanding Officer                                                     24 Dec 1941


Appendix I to Commanding Officer HMS Jaguar's No 139 of 21st December 1941

Information and Instructions received from the Vice Admiral, Malta

Position of Kandahar 070° 30 miles from 33°00'N 13°00'E at 1300 drifting one knot to Eastward.

Approach her from Eastward keeping outside 100 fathom line as long as possible.

Take off men and attempt to tow, not below 10 knots. If attacked slip tow.

ASV Wellington to be in area at 2300 and report by V/S only except for enemy report of vessels in the vicinity.

Leave area by 0300. Main object rescue of crew. Second object to tow if practicable. If get within 50 miles of Malta without Hurricane escort, make position, course and speed. Code word MAJOR.


List of Signals

To:     Kandahar                          From VAM
(a)      C-in-C 741, Admiralty 127

Jaguar is being sent to your assistance. Maryland will not attempt to locateyou before dark.
If possible special Wellington will locate you after dark.
Do not break W/T unless you are sinking or are attacked in which case inform Jaguar. TOO 1452 B/19

To:      Jaguar                                                                       From VAM

At 1700 Kandahar 058° Tripoli 25 miles down by stern signalled S.O.S. Rafts out. Visibility 10 miles.

                                                                                               TOO 1845 B/19

To:       BASE                                                                         From ASV Wellington
Position course speed of enemy.
6 EB
20 knots                                                                                TOO 2255

To:        Jaguar                                                                     From ASV Wellington
What ships. TOR 0015. Reply - Jaguar.

To:         ASV Wellington                                                     From BASE
Have you located Kandahar                                             TOO 2359

To:         Base                                                                       From ASV Wellington
Position of Kandahar 058° Tripoli 50 miles                 TOO 0055

NOTE: This position was false and the naval observer has no knowledge of it having been transmitted.

To:         ASV Wellington                                                     From Jaguar
Where is Kandahar                                                            TOO 0140 (V/S)
                   No reply received.

To:          Base                                                                      From ASV Wellington
Kandahar's position is 33°00'N 14°10'E                       TOO 0240

To:          Jaguar                                                                   From A/C
130 - 24 miles                                                                     TOO 0250 (V/S)

To:           Jaguar                                                                  From: A/C
130 - 5 miles                                                                       TOO 0355 (V/S)

To:            Malta & ALEX W/T                                              From Kandahar
Ship sinking                                                                         TOO 0350

To:            Malta & ALEX W/T                                              From Kandahar
Negative ship sinking                                                        TOO 0407

To:            Jaguar                                                                 From: Kandahar
Come alongside port side bow to stern, do not go beyond funnel.
                                                                                               TOO 0410

To:             Kandahar                                                           From Jaguar
Do not consider it safe to come alongside again. Can you swim for it?
                                                                                                TOO 0425

To:             Jaguar From Kandahar
We will swim.                                                                       TOO 0430

To:             Kandahar                                                           From Jaguar
Have any men left the ship yet?                                       TOO 0450

Reply: Lie to windward. I am going to sink ship. (handwritten note) Do not remain after 0530.

To:             Jaguar                                                                 From Kandahar
Am Sinking ship now                                                          TOO 0455

To:              VAM                                                                      From Jaguar
Regret owing to late hour of locating Kandahar, weather conditions and thefact that Kandahar had no steering, it was not possible to take her in tow.

Kandahar was sunk by torpedo at 0545/20 in position 32°57'E 14°19'N

SHM                                                                                          TOO 1547 E/20

                                                                                                                 Office of Rear Admiral Commanding
                                                                                                                 Seventh Cruiser Squadron

                                                                                                                 HMS AJAX

7th CS No 050                                                                                      8th January 1942


We have the honour to submit that in accordance with your instructions (Form S.1360 dated 22nd December 1941) we did, on 24th December 1941, hold a careful investigation into the circumstances attending the loss of His Majesty's Ships Neptune and Kandahar and report as follows:-

2. The Board was unable completely to conclude its examination of witnesses as the President and one Member left Malta before this could be done. They are however, satisfied generally with the investigation, but there are one or two points outstanding which require verification and remarks by the remaining Member of the Board.

In order to save further delay it is proposed that the latter should be dealt with by this third Member alone.

The Board is satisfied that:-

3. As regards the sinking of the two ships:

i) HMS Neptune sank as a result of striking three if not four enemy mines at 0106B on 19th December 1941.

The position of these mines was 33° 09' North, 13° 20.5' East.
(It has not been possible to call sufficient witnesses to prove whether it was three mines or four, nor precisely how long she remained afloat after being first struck).

ii) HMS Kandahar after being damaged by an enemy mine whilst proceeding alongside HMS Neptune in position 33° 07.5'North, 13° 25'East, remained afloat until sunk by a torpedo fired by HMS Jaguar in position 32° 53' North, 14° 20' East at 0550B on 20th December 1941.

iii) The decision of the Commanding Officer of HMS Jaguar, Lieutenant Commander LRK Tyrwhitt, DSC, Royal Navy, to sink the damaged Kandahar and not to attempt to tow her back to Malta was correct.

4. As regards Secret and Confidential matter carried in the two ships:-

i) It appears that all such matter on board HMS Neptune went down with the ship in about 90 fathoms of water.

ii) The Commanding Officer of HMS Kandahar, Commander, now Captain WGA Robson, DSO, DSC, Royal Navy, took all the necessary steps to ensure that his books were sunk in about 115 fathoms of water.

iii) Although not shown in the minutes of evidence, both ships had on board only "Dangerous Waters" sets of Signal Publications, in accordance with Admiralty Fleet Order "S"î 149/41.

5. As regards loss of life:-


i) No survivors were picked up at the time nor were any survivors seen in the vicinity during the next day (19th December) by HMS Kandahar

(Although not shown in the evidence, the President satisfied himself that no survivors or wreckage were seen by our own air reconnaissance the next day, 19th December)

ii) The decision of the Commanding Officer of HMS Penelope, Captain A D Nicholl, Royal Navy, not to send a second destroyer alongside HMS Neptune after HMS Kandahar had been struck (Q & A 91) was correct.

iii) Everything possible was done to rescue those officers and men who remained alive on board the ship after the explosion. The fact that some were lost reflects no discredit on the Commanding Officers either of HMS Jaguar or HMS Kandahar.

iv) Everything possible was done for the care of those wounded by the explosion.

v) The decision of the Commanding Officer, HMS Jaguar, to leave the scene at 0605 instead of continuing the search after daylight was correct (Q & A 126)

vi) The decision, presumably by the Vice Admiral, Malta, to send HMS Jaguar to undertake the work of rescue by night was correct.

6. As regards attempts to salve HMS Neptune

i) The decision of the Commanding Officer of HMS Aurora, Captain W G Agnew, CB Royal Navy, that it was not a justifiable risk (Q & A 83) to try to tow HMS Neptune then was correct.

ii) The decision of Commanding Officer, HMS Penelope, Captain Nicholl, to try to tow her, was justified in that two hours having elapsed there was a possibility she had drifted clear of the minefield. In fact, she had not done so.

iii) His decision not to attempt to tow her after HMS Kandahar had been mined was correct.

7. As regards the circumstances which led up to the loss of the two ships:-

i) Prior to her departure, the Commanding Officer of HMS Neptune was given all known facts regarding minefields off Tripoli.

ii) It appears possible that the course steered was one or perhaps two degrees (196 degrees or 197 degrees) to the westward of that intended (195 degrees), but this was not, on the facts as then known, taking the ship into dangerous waters, provided she did not go too far to the south.

iii) In view of the extent of the minefield as judged by the positions of the first and last mines exploded, the course of 195 degrees would similarly have led into the minefield.

iv) The speed did not exceed 30 knots and from this and the soundings the mines encountered were not those given in QB10 and QB11.

(See also paragraph 12)

8. As regards the minefield:-

i) The minefield in which the ships were struck is one hitherto unsuspected.

ii) The positions of the mining were 33° 09' North, 13° 20.5' East and 33° 07.5' North, 13° 25' East.

iii) Allowing for the movements of HMS Jaguar and weather conditions, the extent of this minefield should be considered to embrace at least the waters between 33°15' and 33° 00' North and 13° 07' and 13° 40' East.

iv) The conclusions in paragraph 8 (iii) above have already been issued as QBB 224.


Overlay of new minefield declared after the BOI report on Jan 8th 1942
Overlay of new minefield declared after the BOI report on Jan 8th 1942


9. There is no evidence as yet to show what precisely were the immediate intentions of the Commanding Officer of HMS Neptune at the moment she was mined.

What is obvious is that he intended to place his squadron between the enemy and Tripoli so as to ensure intercepting them, and the reduction of speed suggests that he was on the point of heading to the eastward. That would be entirely in accordance with previous practice in Forces B and K - ie to make the desired point, reduce speed by signal and then lead round to a patrol or interception course without further signal.

10. The question as to whether the aircraft on reconnaissance did or did not transmit an enemy report was not elucidated when the Board was interrupted. Lieutenant Commander (S) N De G Waymouth, Royal Navy, Port W/T Officer, Malta was asked to investigate this matter after consultation with the Board (vide Question 74) as it became evident that considerable examination of the W/T logs was required.

It is suggested that Captain GWG Simpson, Royal Navy, Captain (S) 10th Submarine Flotilla, (the third Member of the Board and now at Malta) should proceed with this point, as it may throw light on the intentions of the Commanding Officer, HMS Neptune.

11. Whether Neptune's course was in error or not, it seems certain that the Commanding Officer did intend to cross the 100 fathom line.

Had he looked on this as a danger line it is probably he would have slowed down still further in order to take soundings.

The Board consider that he was justified in crossing this line, seeing that the minefield was unsuspected.

12. The fact that the pieces of mine recovered on board HMS Aurora are German is important.

The Board have no knowledge of the details of the mines shown in QB10 and QB11.

a) If these were Italian or French mines then the minefield is new.

b) If these were known to be German then it is possible that the northern limits of these fields as given in QB10 and QB11 were wrong.

13. There was then no reason for the Vice Admiral, Malta to lay down the 100 fathom line as a danger line.

Operations against enemy ships in this area would be very curtailed if this were done.

It is suggested that Captain Simpson, Royal Navy (Captain (S), 10th Submarine Flotilla) should record any recent movements of the submarines under his command in this area, which may be relevant.

14. The Board consider that the mining is not attributable to orders or instructions given by the Vice Admiral, Malta nor to the omission of any necessary orders.

In such operations as these it is not possible to lay down courses and positions beyond a certain stage, since much must depend on last minute information.

15. The Board consider the joint steps to save life taken by the Commanding Officer of HMS Kandahar and HMS Jaguar were highly creditable to both officers, and that the Jaguar was handled by a seaman.

16. A list of enclosures to this report is attached.

We have the honour to be, Sir, Your Obedient Servants,

             Signed:                   Lieutenant (N) D.J. Clutterbuck, Royal Navy
                                              Rear Admiral H.B. Rawlings


Rear Admiral H B Rawlings
Rear Admiral H B Rawlings

The Vice Admiral, Malta - 14 January '42

                                                                                                                                 Office of Captain S
                                                                                                                                 Tenth Submarine Flotilla
                                                                                                                                 HMS Talbot
                                                                                                                                 28th January 1942


APPENDIX I: Remarks of Captain Simpson (second Member of the Board) on the "findings" of the President and Third Member of the Board, also continuation of enquiry re aircraft signals and nature of the enemy mines, also remarks on recent British submarine operations in the area of the loss.


Captain Simpson
Captain Simpson


1. I have the honour to submit that in accordance with your instructions, I have read the findings of the Board of Inquiry formulated by the President and Third Member of the Board and am in complete agreement with the findings.

2. I have one small observation to make. I think it would assist authorities studying this report if the following insertion were added to the findings at the end of paragraph 3(1) after the word "struck".

"but it appears from evidence of Kandahar that Neptune was afloat at 0400B and sank in the next five to ten minutes."

With regard to other points to be dealt with by me alone. I consider that:-

As regards enemy reports received from aircraft during this operation:-

i) An enemy report was received by Malta W/T and by some ships of the striking force under Neptune, which was not originated by the ASV Wellington co-operating.

ii) This aircraft was operating in the Tripoli area under the designation 'Duty D' whilst the ASV Wellington was also 'Duty D': they were both working on the same wave length. Although the call signs of the two aircraft were different they both ended with letter 'D' indicating that duty.

iii) This led some ships to believe that the enemy report was intended for them or to be uncertain that it was not intended for them.

iv) Since the signal was unimportant in text, and incorrectly coded, I do not consider that it affected the decision of the Commanding Officer of Neptune.

v) I recommend that ASV Wellingtons co-operating with surface forces shall always have a duty letter not being used by any other aircraft on the same wave length.

With regard to the nature of the mine:-

i) This was a six-horned German antenna

ii) An example of this type of mine was first found on the shores of Malta on 9th November 1941, though marine growth on some subsequent examples indicate that they were first laid a few months before.

With regard to the patrols carried out by submarines in the approaches to Tripoli

i) The area to the north east of Tripoli within the hundred fathom line has not been patrolled by submarines since May 1941. Before that date it was constantly patrolled for 6 months, which proves conclusively that the minefield struck by Neptune was laid since May 1941 and was not either QB10 or QB11.

6. I have no further observation to make.

I have the honour to be, 


                               Your Obedient Servant,
GWG Simpson
                                                                                       Captain, Royal Navy

The Vice Admiral, Malta




Captain GWG Simpson, Royal Navy, Captain (S), 10th Submarine Flotilla, HMS Talbot

The Minutes of the Board held on 24th December 1941 were transmitted by the President to Captain Simpson to elucidate certain points:

a. With regard to a signal received from aircraft which was not originated by the ASV Wellington

b. To take evidence with regard to the identification of the type of mine

c. For Captain Simpson to comment from his own experience what British submarine activity had taken place in the locality of this enemy minefield during 1941.

d. For Captain Simpson to read the 'findings' of the Board and make any additional comment he thought fit.


Called and Cautioned

1 Q You submitted a circumstantial letter to the board on 24th December, but I intend to ask further questions to clarify the situation as regards Aircraft reports. Was the force operating under Neptune co-operating with aircraft?
    A Yes, one ASV Wellington. Duty ìDî call sign AM9D

2. Q Did this aircraft make any signals?
    A In addition to a number of operating signals, the aircraft made four messages in all - TOO 2310B/18, 2355B/18, 0045B/19 and 0110B/19. All these messages were received by both Malta W/T Station and by RAF Headquarters W/T Station. All were subsequently re-broadcast on two Naval waves.

3. Q What were the texts of these messages?
    A Message 2310 read "Position of the enemy is 100 degrees 6 miles from 33N. 13E. The number of enemy merchant vessels is 3". This was received slightly corrupt in the first place, but corrections were subsequently received and re-broadcast.

Message 2355 read "Cannot pick you up on ASV".

Message 0045 read "Returning base. Oil leak. No further sighting."

Message 0110 read "Enemy position is 080 degrees 15 miles from Tripoli. Cruisers are stationed 090 degrees. The number of enemy merchant vessels is 2. The number of enemy destroyers is 5". This message was received in corrupt form but the position of the enemy was clear (080 Tripoli 15).

4. Q Were these messages received by any of the ships of the Force that returned to Malta?

   A I have examined the logs of HMS Aurora and find that all four messages were received in the same form as they were broadcast. Message 2310 was reported, however, with the distance omitted (6 miles). This seems to have been a decoding error. Messages 2355 and 0045 were received and reported correctly. Message 0110 was received as transmitted and was reported correctly, as were the reports of the number of merchant vessels and destroyers. The reference to enemy Cruisers, which had been made in the local code, which was in use at that time between ships and aircraft co-operating from Malta, was reported in its coded form (T 090).

5. Q Have you any reason to suppose that these messages were not received by HMS Neptune?
   A On the assumption that the communication order set out in Malta No. 0786/4 of 14th December 1941, Appendix I, were being carried out in the Force, none.

6. Q Have you any other comments to make?
   A I notice in the summary of messages received by W/T in HMS PENELOPE appended to HMS PENELOPEíS Narrative, that mention is made of a message 2328 received from apparently the same aircraft (Duty D). This message originated from a second aircraft that was not actually co-operating with the Force, and this fact should have been reported by the W/T Staff who should have noticed that the call sign of this aircraft was different from that of the co-operating aircraft. It was DR6 D.

7 Q Did this summary show any other discrepancies?
   A Yes. It did not include the second, third and fourth messages made by the co-operating aircraft. It has not been possible to check whether HMS PENEOPE in fact received these messages owing to her having been absent from Malta.

8 Q What was the rest of the message, which was not from the ASV Wellington?
   A A report of "One destroyer bearing 180 degrees distant 5 miles." But containing a corrupt position (based on lettered co-ordinates for 33 degrees north 13 degrees east)

9 Q Do you consider that this signal was in fact reporting our own forces?
   A It seems very probably, but there is not sufficient evidence from the text of the message, having regard to the corrupt position, to confirm that this was so.

10 Q It is likely to have mislead NEPTUNE?
     A I do not think that NEPTUNE could have taken any action on the strength of this message owing to the fact that it was quite useless as received. It would not have been possible to plot the report.

11 Q Is it not possible that the NEPTUNE received the message in an uncorrupt form?
     A No. I consider that the error was due to coding in the aircraft and not to bad reception as the message was received by Malta W/T, RAF Malta WT and PENELOPE in exactly the same form.

12 Q Was any attempt made to obtain a verification of the corrupt part of this message from the aircraft?
     A I can trace none.

13. Q Would you say that there was any doubt that NEPTUNE received all these messages?
     A I see no reason why she should not have done so. If they were received, I think that there must have been considerable doubt as to what the real situation was. In which case, it seems unlikely that any of them would have been acted upon.

LIEUTENANT COMMANDER WILLIAM EWART HISCOCK, DSC, Royal Navy (Retired) Controlled Mining Officer, Malta

Called and Cautioned

14 Q Are you Lieutenant Commander William Ewart Hiscock DSC, Controlled Mining Officer?

     A Yes sir.

15 Q Did you receive any portions of a mine which have any bearing on this Board of Inquiry?

     A Yes sir. I received three exhibits from HMS AURORA which were found in that ship after she had been mined in the early hours of the 19th December in the same minefield where NEPTUNE and KANDAHAR were lost.

16. Q Can you identify this mine?

     A Yes, definitely. These are parts of a German Antenna six-horned mine. I have recently rendered similar mines safe on the shores of Malta and I compared these three exhibits with a German six-horned mine awaiting disposal in the Armament Depot and found them to be identical.

     Q When did you first find a mine of the type at Malta?

     A On 9th November 1941, but some subsequent examples show from marine growth that they had been laid several months before.

                                                                                                          GWG Simpson

                                                                                                          CAPTAIN. Royal Navy


(Vice Admiral, Maltaís Minute IV, Malta No.102/96/2 of 13th February 1942)

Med 847/427/331/2
(Copies to:- Vice Admiral, Malta
                       Rear Admiral Commanding, Fifteenth Cruiser Squadron)

1. Forwarded for the information of Their Lordships concurring in the findings of the Board.

2. With reference to paragraph 12, QB 10 and 11 were declared on information from the French that they had laid mines in these areas.

3. The conduct of all concerned in the dangerous and difficult circumstances following the mining of HMS NEPTUNE left nothing to be desired. Particular credit is due to the Commanding Officer, HMS KANDAHAR, Commander (now Captain) WGA Robson DSO, DSC, Royal Navy, for his attempt to assist HMS NEPTUNE and for his subsequent conduct after his own ship was mined.

4. I fully concur in the remarks of the Board concerning the determined and seamanlike handling of HMS JAGUAR by Lieutenant Commander LRK Tyrwhitt DSC, Royal Navy, when going to the assistance Of HMS KANDAHAR and with Lieutenant Commander Tyrwhitt's remarks concerning the skill and perseverance of the crew of the ASV Wellington sent to locate HMS KANDAHAR.

5. Recommendations for awards to personnel are being forwarded separately.

Office of Commander-in-Chief                                      signed                  
ABC Cunningham
Mediterranean Station                                                                                    Admiral
3rd March 1942


Admiral ABC Cunningham 
Admiral ABC Cunningham





  © 2002-2016 The Neptune Association, Registered Charity No 1103413.