The Sinking of HMS Abdiel September 1943

The Sinking of HMS Abdiel - 9th/10th Sept 1943
by Cliff Meredith
(then Platoon Sergeant of 12 Platoon, C Coy 6th (Royal Welch) Parachute Battalion)

We left from Bizerta in Tunisia to invade Italy, the first objective was the important port of Taranto. C Coy, B Coy, and elements of Sp Coy and Advance Bn HQ of the 6th Bn were on board HMS Abdiel, a fast mine-laying cruiser.

We arrived off Taranto late evening on 9th September 1943. We were due to land shortly after midnight. 12 Platoon was on deck waiting to go ashore. (We were scheduled to disembark first.)

Our Disembarkation station was on the Port side forward. Just before midnight there was a flash and explosion, followed by sparks shooting out of the funnel.

After the explosion, the ship broke in half, and the stern end disappeared. The forward half listed to port and within seconds the water was up to our waists. I moved along my Platoon telling them to get their equipment off, get overboard, and swim away from the ship to avoid being sucked under when she went down.I saw all the survivors of the explosion off, and then jumped overboard myself. The ship sank in four minutes.

The sea was covered with thick oil, some of which was ablaze. I still had my boots on, and ammunition plus grenades in my pockets. Swimming was made difficult by having to keep your head clear of the water to avoid swallowing oil.

I tried to get my K D jacket off, but then thought if I get this half way off and it gets stuck, I will be in trouble, so I pulled it back on. It was dark, I could not see other men in the water, but I could hear some of the injured calling to their mates. I remember thinking to myself: this is bloody silly, I am a Paratrooper, highly trained to parachute from aircraft and fight on land, here I am swimming for my life, all around me in the dark members of my Bn are dying in the waters of the Med.

After about an hour in the water (we did not have life jackets) I was picked up by a tug and taken to HMS Howe. We were given a shower, a mug of cocoa, naval dungarees and a pair of pumps.

At about 5am on the 10th September, the survivors were told we would be going to Malta with HMS Howe. I glanced toward the shore; coming out was a launch with our Brigadier standing in it. I said to the bloke next to me, 'for Malta read Taranto'.

Within an hour we were on shore, dressed in all different sorts of clothing, some naval types, some Marines gear. We were issued with what weapons the Marines could spare, formed into small fighting units and by 0630hrs on the llth we were ready, willing and able to fight.

The casualties from the Abdiel totalled 150 killed and 154 wounded. (40 Naval ratings were among the dead and 110 Paratroops.) The 6th Bn lost 58 killed and 84 were wounded. We lost our Commanding Officer, six other officers, the RSM (Mr T Langford), five WO2 and Sgts, 6 Cpls, 3 LCpls and 36 Fusiliers.

The Bn received reinforcements and advanced to Foggia, later we moved to the River Sangro, and fought as infantry for seven months in places such as Cassino.

Courtesy of the Journal of The Royal Welch Fusiliers.

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