Friday, 12 July 2013

The sinking of HMS Corageous

On 17 September 1939, HMS Corageous was on an anti-submarine patrol in the Western Approaches, escorted by four destroyers: HMS Impulsive, HMS Inglefield, HMS Ivanhoe and HMS Intrepid.

In the afternoon, the task force picked up a distress signal sent from the merchant SS Kafiristan, under attack by U-53, about 350 miles west of Cape Clear. The destroyers Inglefield and Intrepid were detached, thus leaving the aircraft carrier with only two escorts. The aicraft carrier's commander, Capt W.T. Makeig-Jones , also launched four Swordfish in the chase for the enemy submarine

The 5,193-ton merchant was sunk, but the Fleet Air Arm biplanes managed to attack and damage with gunfire the german uboat. U-53 was forced to crash dive, leaving some of its gunners in the sea.

At 18.00, HMS Corageous was sighted by U-29: its commander, Kptlt Otto Schuhart, began chasing for over two hours, but could not get into favourable position for an attack. The situation changed when HMS Corageous turned into the wind to recover its four Swordfish. The vessel was now heading on a straight course towards U-29 at the speed of 18 knots. 
Five minutes after the last aircraft had landed, at 19.50, Schuhart fired three G7e torpedoes. One of them missed, but the other two struck the aircraft carrier on the port side. HMS Corageous immediately took a heavy list to port, and sank within 20 minutes taking ith her 517 of its men, including Capt. Makeig-Jones.

The escorting destroyers promptly reacted, HMS Impulsive rescuing survivors and HMS Ivanhoe attacking U-29 with depth charges. The returning HMS Intrepid and two other destroyers, sent to the area to help, joined the Ivanhoe in the chase, but the Uboat escaped unscathed during the dark hours.

The steam merchant Collingsworth, Dido and the dutch liner Veendam joined the rescue operations, pickinp up the remaining of the 842 crewmen.

This devastating loss prompted the Admiralty to immediately withdraw all aircraft carriers from anti-submarine patrols. HMS Corageous was the first British warship sunk in the war, and gave the Germans a tremendous tactical success, in addition the the huge amount of propaganda that could be exploited from it.
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