U-22 sinks HMS Exmouth, 21st. of January 1940

The German U-Boat U-22 was one of the older boats in the U-Boat Fleet. She had been laid down on the 4th. of March 1936 at Kiel, launched on the 28th. of July that year, and commissioned on the 20th. of August 1936.

Under the command of Karl- Heinrick Jenisch, U-22 was the front boat of the Third Flotilla working out of Kiel. Early on in WW2, she had patrolled the Orkneys to the north of Scotland, and on the 18th. of November 1939, sank SS Parkhill, next she laid mines near Blyth, which a few days later claimed HMS Loch Doon on the 25th. of December, when 15 died, and then SS Mars was sunk by these mines three days later. On to January 1940 and this field gained yet another victim, SS Eston on the 28th. A fair rate of success from the laying of this minefield by U-22.

HMS Exmouth
HMS Exmouth

U-22 on patrol in Moray Firth.
On the 21st of January 1940, U-22 was patrolling in the Moray Firth, and came across HMS Exmouth off Wick Caithness, under the command of Captain R.S. Benson DSO RN. This E Type destroyer had been built at Portsmouth in 1934 as a Flotilla Leader.

Here she was in the dark hours of the middle watch with a bright stern light burning, as she was escorting a following merchant ship, Cyprian Prince to Scapa Flow, the base of the British Home Fleet. Surely burning a stern light was tempting fate, it would be a light house for any enemy submarine, and so it proved.

U-22 lined up the escort, fired one torpedo which soon struck home, probably it hit a magazine which exploded, and the destroyer sank at 0444 ( 4. 44 AM ) taking the total company of 189 Officers and Sailors to their death.

The Captain of Cyprian Prince considered lowering a boat to look for survivors, but then decided it would hazard his ship, and he pressed on alone. Only a few bodies were washed ashore into the bay at Wick, the majority trapped within the confines of Exmouth.

The crest of HMS Exmouth
The crest of HMS Exmouth

Wreck found in 2001.
It took until 2001 for the wreck of Exmouth to be discovered after a 3 year search arranged by the European Technical Dive Centre, backed up by the Ministry of Defence and some relatives of the dead sailors. Divers reported that the now declared protected grave site had developed into an under water garden of STUNNING BEAUTY.

This brass plaque was placed in the Wick old Parish Church. It lists the entire crew from HMS Exmouth, sunk by U-22 off Wick on the 21st. of January 1940
This brass plaque was placed in the Wick old Parish Church.
It lists the entire crew from HMS Exmouth, sunk by U-22 off Wick on the 21st. of January 1940

Formation of HMS Exmouth 1940 Association.
In 1951, the HMS Exmouth 1940 Association was founded at Wick. This group has participated in four events to commemorate the loss of this destroyer,

1. At Wick, 1st. - 2nd. of September in 2001, a White Ensign, postumously awarded to the crew of HMS Exmouth was presented on behalf of the Royal Navy by Commodore Sandford CBE, during the Memorial Service on Sunday the 1st. of September 1951.

This ensign is displayed in the local Wick old parish church adjacent to the brass plaque unveiled in August 2005 and featuring the names of the 189 Officers and Sailors who died when Exmouth was torpedoed by U-22 on the 21st. of January 1940.

2. At Portsmouth on the 1st. of September 2002.

3. At Exmouth on the 5th. - 6th. of June 2004.

4. At Wick on the 27th. - 28th. of August in 2005.

Some eleven issues of the Association News Letter have also been produced.

The Portsmouth War Memorial where the crew of 189 Officers and Sailors from HMS Exmouth are listed and remembered
 Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial to honour the crew of HMS Exmouth

Naval Memorial at Portsmouth.
On the Naval Memorial at Portsmouth, all the names of the 189 crew members of HMS Exmouth are recorded.

Through the auspices of the HMS Exmouth 1940 Association, those who died in this tragic sinking are remembered.

Too often, both men and women who sacrificed their lives in WW2 have been forgotten, but not so those who were lost from the Royal Navy destroyer Exmouth.


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