HMS Southwold

Navigation:
1.5 miles off Marsascala Bay. The wrecks co-ordinates are of N 35’ 52.318 // E 014’ 35.874 for the bow section and N 35’ 52.430 / E 014’ 35.843 for the stern section

Access: Boat Dive

Depth: bow in 68 metres and stern in 73 metres,

Sea Bed: Sand

Interests: Deep and Wreck Diver

Certification Required: Tec Divers only

Dangers: Can encounter extremely strong currents

Wreck Statistics: Hunt Class destroyers had a net tonnage of 1050 tons, and were 86 metres long with a beam of 9.5 metres; these destroyers had a top speed of 25 knots and were used for convoy escorts.  HMS Southwold had a crew of 168 men and carried 3 x 2 barrel 4” guns one at the bow and 2 aft sections. She also carried anti-aircraft guns, and anti-submarine depth charges.

HMS Southwold lies in two sections the bow section is the largest piece, right up to the engine room approximately 40 metres in length is in a depth close to 72 metres completely on its starboard side.

Wreck History:  HMS Southwold was built by White and launched on the 25th May 1941. She was immediately in action whilst forming part of the escort for Convoy MW9B between 12 Feb and 16 Feb 1942 this convoy failed its objective, out of the three merchant ships in this convoy one was damaged and made it to Tobruk but the other two were sunk. Southwold and the other escorts turned back to Alexandria. She left Alexandria on 20th March 1942 as an escort to convoy MW10 to Malta. The convoy was under the command of Admiral Philip Vian. The 820 nautical mile journey to Malta was severely attacked both by the Italian war ships and by the Luftwaffe Convoy.

As soon as she was located by the enemy it was reported to the Italian Navy, who all joined forces comprising of 10 destroyers in total. All ships met on the 22nd March 1942 and waited for the Convoy in the Gulf of Sirte (Sidra) 150 miles NW of Benghazi. When they were sighted, Vian knew immediately that he was not only heavily outnumbered but also outgunned since Iachino had the 15 inch guns of Littorio, and the 8 inch guns of the cruisers against his 6 inch and the 4 inch guns on his destroyers. So the British laid a smoke-screen to prevent the Italians from taking proper range. They began to dash in and out of the smoke-screen firing damaging salvoes at their superior opponents and then doubling up behind the smoke before the Italians could take range.

The engagement was broken off that morning, but the Italian squadron approached again in the afternoon. This time Admiral Vian closed the range to under 10000 yards and emerging out of the smoke-screen succeeded in hitting the Littorio with a salvo which started a fire on the battleship. The Italians responded and the British cruiser Cleopatra was hit and was severely damaged. A quick counter attack by the British destroyers including Southwold emerging swiftly out of the smoke blanket hit Littorio again by a torpedo and managed to hit also the cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere. The Italians withdrew. T

his was recorded for history as the Second Battle of Sirte. German airplanes took over the attacks as they were determined to prevent it from reaching Malta and continued their attack on the convoy as the ships approached Malta. When the convoy was a mere 20 miles from Malta the Germans hit Clan Campbell and sank her. But by now the convoy was within reach of fighter protection from Malta. Hurricanes & spitfires flew out to protect the remaining ships.

On the 23rd March 1942 one of the merchant ships in this convoy Breconshire was hit by enemy bombs and stopped a few miles off St Thomas Bay, the weather was becoming rough and Breconshire was drifting helplessly towards the shore. The crew on Breconshire managed to anchor the ship 1.5 miles off Zonqor Point. The following Tuesday  morning on the 24th March 1942 Breconshire was dragging it’s anchors on the sandy bottom,  Southold was ordered to tow Breconshire but while trying to pass a line to the disabled ship, a mine exploded under her engine room. One officer and four ratings were killed.

All power and electrical services were lost, but the diesel generator was started. The engine room flooded but water flooding into the gearing room was held in check by shoring up the bulkhead and by blocking leaks. A tow was attached to Southold by the tug ancient, but the ship’s side plating abreast the engine room split right up to the upper deck on both sides. She sagged and took a list to starboard and the wounded were transferred to the destroyer Dulverton.

The midship portion gradually sank lower and the ship began to work with the swell.  She was then abandoned, started to settle with considerable sag and sank in two parts