HMAS Quiberon night action in the Mediterranean 1st. and 2nd. of December 1942.
Under the command of Rear Admiral C.H.J. Harcourt CBE RN. three cruisers, Aurora, Sirius, Argonaut with escorting destroyers Quiberon and Quentin engaged an Italian convoy on the night of the 1st/2nd of December 1942, sinking four convoy ships, and two enemy destroyers. After disengaging from this action, the Allied force was attacked from the air, and HMS Quentin was hit by a torpedo and sunk, most of her crew were rescued.
A report of this engagement follows, taken from a narrative written by Commander Hugh Browning RN. CO of Quiberon. All reported in rather a matter of fact style.
Attack by Allied cruiser and destroyer force on Italian convoy bound for Tunisia,
HMAS Quiberon followed the cruiser into the attack. At 0055 ( 12.55 AM ) I sighted a destroyer of the Sirio Class emerging from a smoke screen on my port beam and turning to fire torpedoes; I left the line and closed at 26 knots. **
Fire was opened at about 5,000 yards and the second salvo was observed to hit forward of the after superstructure. Successive salvoes also hit under the funnel and just abaft it.
Enemy salvoes fell just astern and on the starboard quarter. At 0059 ( 12.59 AM ) the enemy, badly damaged, turned to starboard and was hidden by the smoke screen.
At 0101 ( 1. 01 AM ) two "E" boats appeared out of the smoke, then about 2,500 yards away, and attacked with torpedoes. I turned hard astarboard and torpedoes were observed to pass down my port side , uncomfortably close.
2. I realised that unless I rejoined the line I might be taken for an enemy destroyer and subjected to the intensely accurate fire of HMS Aurora. I endeavoured to rejoin without fouling the range and switched on my Type 252. At 0107 ( 1. 07 AM ) I passed a Troopship badly afire and fired at her, probably unnecessarily, as she was obviously sinking. This ship was observed to sink. About 1000/1500 troops were in the water shouting for help. I judged them to be Italians.
I succeeded in rejoining astern of HMS Quentin at 0110 ( 1.10AM )
At 0112 ( 1. 12 AM ) sighted another Troopship on fire, but not badly; HMS Quentin and HMAS Quiberon finished her off, and she was observed to sink, Semi Armour Piercing shell were used and some went right through the ship without bursting.
At 0133 ( 1. 33 AM ) another destroyer was sighted lying on her side; fire was opened at 2,000 yards approximately and two hits were observed. It is not known whether this ship sank. HMS Sirius finished off yet another destroyer with one salvo which set her afire from end to end.
3. The total bag observed by HMAS Quiberon was three destroyers ( in fact only 2 sank, my notation ) and four Merchant Ships, of which two are known to have been Troopships. It is not known whether any "E" Boats were sunk or damaged, but I do know that HMAS Quiberon did not hit any.
4. At 0636 ( 6. 36 AM ) one torpedo bomber attacked from the port side of the line and torpedoed HMS Quentin.
HMAS Quiberon circled HMS Quentin once, then signalled for information as to whether the ship could steam. Reply was ship could not steam but would remain afloat for a little time.
5. As more enemy aircraft were heard and seen I decided to carry out Rear Admiral Commanding 12th. Cruiser Squadron's verbal instructions and endeavour to " Cut our losses." I proceeded alongside HMS Quentin and ordered her to " Abandon Ship."
I was alongside for about 8/10 minutes, it seemed longer, and was subjected to cannon fire and bombs. I decided that I could stay no longer, and went full astern as another pair of aircraft attacked.
The bombs fell where my forecastle had been and exploded under my bow.
6. I had hoped to make sure of sinking HMS Quentin, but finally decided that I must try and get my ship into harbour; especially as I had over 400 men in my ship at the time.
I was aided in this decision by the thought that the enemy aircraft, which had become bolder as they realised my guns were not High Angle, would undoubtedly sink HMS Quentin; this is what I believe to have happened, as aircraft were observed bombing her for at least 10 minutes after I had left. This was of great assistance to me as it halved the weight of attack on this ship. Had HMS Quentin been sunk, it is unlikely that HMS Quiberon woud have got away unscathed except for some minor damage.
7. There were seven determined attacks on HMAS Quiberon after she left HMS Quentin and I was pleased to see that our fire was very accurate and time and again the Dive Bombers were turned away at the last minute, and either jettisoned their bombs or made no other attempt.
The method of attack was the usual type, one bomber would endeavour to draw the fire when almost out of range, and the other would come in diving, hoping that the Olerlikons would be caught with empty pans. Luckily this ruse had been encountered before, and the gun's crews were not caught out by it. Two aircraft were seen to be hit but I regret none were observed to crash. In all, there were ten attacks made by two or three aircraft together.
8. HMAS Quiberon evaded most of the bombs by a quick turn at the last minute after bombs had been released and only a few fell close.
This was due to the magnificent work by my Engineering Officer who gave me 320 revolutions ( 33 knots ) in a ship already overdue for boiler cleaning and decoking, at about three minutes notice.
9. HMAS Quiberon arrived at Bone at 0915 ( 9. 15 AM ) and secured alongside HMS Sirius, who took care of the survivors. Eight Officers ( including the Commanding Officer ) and one hundred and seventy Ratings were taken off HMS Quentin.
10. It is a matter of deep regret that I was unable to remain alongside a few minutes more and bring off the four or five who were left, but I must point out that these Officers and Ratings had in all cases gone below to pack, in spite of my frenzied efforts to get them onboard my ship. ( I cannot imagine how anyone might be so foolish as to give up the chance of survival to go and gather a few personal possessions. )
11. As a result of the night action and the action against enemy aircraft, I wish to recommend the following Officers and Ratings for decorations. The names are not shown in order of merit, but the attached forms are numbered in order of merit.
Commander. Royal Navy.
This Commanding Officer of HMAS Quiberon died in England in February of 1997.