Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The attack on Alexandria

The Admiralty warned Admiral Cunningham on 18 December 1941 that the Italians intended to attack ships in Alexandria harbour with "human torpedoes". The Italians excelled at this sort of operation where there were individual heroics. Some precautions were taken against torpedoes. Early on 19 December, the British found that the operation had already commenced. They found two Italian frogmen sitting on the battleship Valiant's buoy. They were taken prisoner and placed in the hold, as insurance. By 5:47am, a tanker and the destroyer Jervis were damaged by explosions. At that point, the Italians warned the Valiant's captain that his ship would be hit by an explosion. The two British battleships repositioned their crew, so that there were 8 casualties instead of many when there was an explosion under a forward turret on the Valiant and under the Queen Elizabeth's boiler rooms. I believe that both battleships ended up settling to the bottom in the harbour. They were out of service for along time. The Queen Elizabeth was ultimately repaired at Norfolk, Virginia. A sailor who had been on the cruiser Exeter at the Battle of the River Plate stayed with my grandparents at Ocean View, near the naval base. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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