The Strange Fate of HMS Khartoum

 

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K Class Royal Navy destroyer commissioned November 1939

On 23 June 1940, RN destroyers Kandahar, Kingston and Khartoum in company with several smaller British warships, intercepted and sank the Italian submarine Torricelli at the entrance of the Red Sea where it connects with the Gulf of Aden. To what must have been a great embarrassment to the British, the RN ships fired almost seven hundred 4.7 inch rounds from their main batteries before one of the rounds hit and the submarine and caused it to sink. (Source: Struggle for the Middle Sea by Vincent O’Hara)

HMS Khartoum rescued the crew of the of the Torricelli then steamed toward Perim Harbour, located on an island of the same name just off the coast of British controlled Aden. (The other destroyers had gone onto Aden).

According to O’Hara’s Struggle for the Middle Sea, at 1150 a torpedo mounted on the aft deck of HMS Khartoum exploded. This started a major fire toward the stern of the destroyer. The fire was so severe it became evident after a short time that the crew would be unable to control it.

While the ship continued to blaze, the captain went full ahead to cover the remaining seven miles Perim Harbour.  As soon as they reached the harbour, the captain ran the ship aground.

 Immediately on doing so everyone aboard, the officers and ratings of the destroyer and the Italian prisoners, leapt into the water  and swam like mad to the island.

At 1245, less than fifty minutes from the time the torpedo exploded, the fire reached one of the ship’s powder magazines which blew up. HMS Khartoum had to be written off as a total loss.

As a postscript, I consider Vincent O’Hara to be the best naval historian of World War Two writing today. His books focus solely on the facts as best they can be ascertained from every source he can find.  Mr. O’Hara’s books are not narrative history, instead they are “just the facts” which students of history know are always difficult to truly find.

His work, Struggle for the Middle Sea: the Great Navies at War in the Mediterranean Theater 1940 to 1945 is an absolute MUST READ for any student of the maritime history of WW Two in the European Theater.

Published by

Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/