Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, December 20, 2020

York has Fallen

 At 1430 on the 25th of March 1941 the British cruiser York steamed into the naval base in Souda Bay, Crete. She moved slowly through the two outer anti-submarine nets; their booms being drawn closed behind the rest of the squadron. These nets were only a short distance apart. To her north was the fort guarding the entrance. On shore were several anti-aircraft positions, with attendant search lights. Once past Fort Souda she passed through a third net barrier, and finally anchored safe in the harbour. Another less complete array of boom nets was deployed between her and the third net, and now she was safe. 

HMS York

At 2330 on the night of the 25th of March two Italian destroyers got within 10 miles of the mouth of Souda Bay. Onboard were the Italians latest mad capped idea on how to address the naval imbalance in the Mediterranean. These were the MT boats. The idea behind the MT boat was that it was packed with 660lbs of explosive. The pilot of the MT boat, seated at the rear, would then steer his boat towards the target ship. When in position, and aimed at the target ship, the boat’s rudder would be locked keeping it on course. At which point the pilot was free to leave his ship, some sources report that the seat rest ejected with the pilot forming a special life raft that would offer him some shelter from the impending explosion. Upon impact the warhead could be set to detonate immediately, or a small breaching charge would explode ripping the hull open, this would cause the MT boat to sink, until a pressure pistol would fire the charge at a pre-determined depth. In this attack there were six such craft. They slowly chugged towards Souda Bay, a light mist raised which helped hide them, but they had only reached the entrance to the bay at about 0330. Sunrise would happen at 0518, and mist or not the six Italian sailors would be discovered. 

Italian MT boat stowed on a deck somewhere.

The MT boats slipped over each of the booms without hindrance, due to their low draught. However, once inside the booms they had to keep their speed down, otherwise the wakes would be spotted, and the alarm raised. What followed was an agonising hour-long approach to their targets. Then shortly before 0445 the boats selected their targets and turned to attack.


MT boat at speed. I suspect in Souda Bay the MT boats never went that fast, as the wake would have given the game away. Equally, the jarring of the waves would have meant that aiming was difficult.

All six pilots bailed out successfully. But what of the boats? Even today sources conflict as to what happened. But we do know that two boats, piloted by Lieutenant Angelo Cabrini and Petty Officer Tullio Tedeschi hit HMS York. Another hit the tanker MV Pericles. The fates of the other three vary depending on which source you read. One source states that the MT boats attacked in pairs, thus two boats for each ship. They either all missed their targets for one reason or another with one ending up on a beach. Or one hit a pier, one or two more merchants were damaged, or some combination of the above. However, all six Italians were captured alive after the attack.

The strikes on HMS York caused two boiler rooms to flood, causing a loss of power. She was quickly taken under tow by two other ships and beached for temporary repairs. The MV Pericles sunk immediately, however she was in very shallow water, so most of her cargo of fuel was able to be unloaded, which allowed the ship to be lightened enough to be re-floated. 

HMS York, this picture was likely taken after capture and several hits from air raids.

A submarine, HMS Rover, was then dispatched and lay alongside HMS York. She provided power to the ship’s AA guns as the Luftwaffe were beginning to take a keen interest in Souda Bay.  Over the next few weeks the Germans subjected the ship to repeated attacks. One flooded the engine room for 20 minutes, another time a bomb blast killed two divers who were inspecting damage. Eventually, as Crete fell to the German invasion HMS York was rigged for demolition with depth charges. She was then scuttled before the Germans captured her. The MV Pericles was towed to Alexandria, however, some 35 miles from the city she sank.


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