- Rodwell, E
- History - WW2
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1979 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Kandahar made to Penelope ‘Neptune has touched off another mine’ and it was now that Captain Nicholl made his decision that no more risks were to be taken with his ship or Lively. He made the signal ‘I clearly cannot help. God be with you’, and set course for Malta working up to 25 knots and at the same time requesting Rear-Admiral Malta to send a submarine and/or a flying boat to rescue the crews of both ships.
It is hard to understand what prompted him to make this signal, as all being well, about a thousand men would have had to have been rescued by this method.
It was impracticable. Both cruiser and destroyer came alongside Malta at 1100 on the 19th. But what of Kandahar? Her stern was blown off to beyond No. 68 bulkhead, and although all removable topweight had been jettisoned, she was now awash from her funnel aft. The only available ship at Malta, HMS Jaguar (Lieutenant-Commander L. R. K. Tyrwhitt RN) departed Malta at 1625 to search in her last reported position. At the same time she was to be supported by an ASV Wellington aircraft, and it was due to this machine’s skilled search pattern and her impeccable reporting that Jaguar was able to come up on the crippled Kandahar at 0405 on 20 December. The wind was from the northwest at Force 4, and Kandahar was still in the same attitude as the previous night.
By skilful seamanship Jaguar put her bows to Kandahar’s and began to take her survivors on over the forecastle, but after receiving about thirty men by this method, realised it was too dangerous and that also Jaguar was being subjected to damage. She drew off to windward and made by light ‘You will have to swim for it’. And swim they did: 168 officers and ratings, seven losing their lives in doing so. Although scuttling operations had been undertaken in Kandahar, she was finally sent to the bottom by a single torpedo from Jaguar at 0540 some 15 miles off the coast. In worsening weather and with her speed reduced to 18 knots, Jaguar arrived Malta at 10 without further incident. In his report, her captain gave praise to the Wellington:
‘The work on the part of the aircraft is deserving of the highest praise and the fact that Kandahar was found entirely due to the skill and perseverance displayed by the crew.’
Included among the 72 officers and ratings lost in Kandahar was one Australian, Midshipman L. J. Tatham RAN.
The loss of Neptune and Kandahar, and the damaging of the other two cruisers, was indeed a disaster for the Mediterranean Fleet, and as stated previously, brought to an end Force ‘K’ and the Malta Striking Force, but at the same time was a godsend to the enemy as can be summed up simply by the German Staff comment on the incident:
‘The sinking of the Neptune may be of decisive importance for holding Tripolitania. Without this the British force would have probably destroyed the Italian convoy. There is no doubt that the loss of these supplies at the peak of the crisis would have had the severest consequences.’