Two articles: enemy fiasco in Channel and Loss of the Eagle



Two articles: enemy fiasco in Channel and Loss of the Eagle


First article: enemy fiasco in channel, ships fight each other. Describes action of British naval force where German ships and shore batteries ended up firing on each other. Covers Royal Navy commander's leadership and the enemy version. Second article: loss of Eagle, crews ordeal in floating oil, an eye witness account. Personal account by correspondent of sinking of aircraft carrier Eagle in the western Mediterranean.



Temporal Coverage




Two newspaper cutting mounted on a scrapbook page


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A naval action in the Channel during which German torpedo boats and E-boats fought each other while German shore batteries fired on their own forces was described in an Admiralty statement last night. This said:-

A spirited and highly successful action took place in the English Channel on Saturday night between German forces and a patrol of our light coastal craft under the command of Lieutenant-Commander R.P. Hichens, D.S.O., D.S.C., R.N.V.R., which resulted in the destruction of two E-boats and damage to other enemy units.

Our patrol was carrying out a sweep close off Cherbourg when it made contact with a force of four German E-boats shortly after midnight.

These were at once engaged. Two of them burst into flames and burnt from stem to stern, and the other two were damaged.

Two German torpedo boats of about 600 tons then came on the scene.

Our patrol scored hits on both these torpedo boats and then disengaged and lay off and watched an action which developed between the German torpedo boats and E-boats. To add to the confusion the German shore batteries opened fire on their own forces.

All our boats have returned to their base undamaged. There were only two slight casualties.


Our Naval Correspondent writes:-

Lieutenant-Commander Hichens has shown special qualifications in this sort of warfare. He was awarded the D.S.C. for his services at the withdrawal from Dunkirk, and a Bar in February for coolness, skill, and readiness in a light craft action in which three German E-boats were sunk and others damaged. In March he was mentioned in dispatches for bravery and enterprise in action against the enemy, and in July – having in the meanwhile been promoted to lieutenant-commander – he was awarded the D.S.O. for determination and coolness in the protection of a convoy. He is now Senior Officer of a coastal flotilla.


The German High Command announced yesterday:- “On Friday night a British E-boat was sunk and another set on fire in an encounter between German patrol boats and British E-boats north of Zeebrugge. On Saturday night an encounter took place off the French coast between German patrol boats and British E-boats and gunboats. Two British E-boats were probably destroyed and hits were observed on other boats. The German forces suffered no damage.”


[missing letter]OSS OF THE EAGLE



Mr. Arthur Thorpe, the Exchange Telegraph Company’s war correspondent in the western Mediterranean, who was on board the Eagle, yesterday telegraphed from Gibraltar the following description of the sinking of the aircraft-carrier:-

I was in an ante-room with three officers when soon after 1 p.m. two tremendous crashes shook me out of my chair. I knew what that meant and leaped for the door.

As we opened it two more violent explosions rocked the ship. The hiss of steam filled the air, and I saw clouds of it pouring up from below into the broad after-deck across which we were running. As we dashed through the bulkhead door to gain the upper deck the ship was heeling over, and the water was washing about our feet. We scrambled up the ladder to the upper deck with the ship listing over terrifyingly to the port side, on which we were.

The sea, normally 10ft. below, was surging a bare 2ft. below the rails. We reached the quarter-deck, grabbing at any projection to haul ourselves up the steeply sloping deck to the starboard side, and, clutching the bulletproof casing enclosing the quarter-deck, I found myself next to a first lieutenant, who was blowing up his lifebelt. I followed suit.

Looking round I saw the deck slanting more sharply than a gabled roof. Six-inch shells, weighing 100lb., tore loose from their brackets and bumped down the deck. Ratings on the port side saw them coming, and flung themselves over the side to escape injury.


Turning to Number One I put the quite unnecessary question:- “Is she going?” His answer was a nod. Several ratings who were hauling themselves up the casing clambered towards us; they made fast a stout rope and slithered down into the thick oil which was welling out from under the ship and coating the sea. With a confidence in my lifebelt which now amazed me, I slid down after them and let go.

I went under the water, and when I came to the surface I realized with horror that I had not properly inflated my lifebelt. My head was barely above the sea, as, with all the poor swimmer’s dread of deep water, I splashed and kicked clear of the ship. As I worked my way out of the oil patch the water was more broken, and every short wave washed clean over my head until I was dizzy. No wreckage to which I might cling was within reach, and I confess I gave myself up for lost. Then, as a wave bigger than its fellows lifted me up, I saw the glorious sight of a cork float net 20 yards away, with sailormen clinging around it.

I fought madly to reach that float. Three times my head went under, and then I saw the float net again, this time only a few feet away. I made a despairing snatch and missed, but with another wild clutch I felt my fingers lay hold.

Half a dozen ratings clinging to the net [missing words] to loosen one of the ropes and open [missing words] raft which was tied up in a round bu[missing letters] Their fingers, like mine, were coated with [missing word] and next to useless. The water was quite wa[missing letters] but my great anxiety was the difficulty of holding on with my oil-smothered hands. Then another rating swam up and caught hold. He told us his leg was broken, and we helped him to crawl into the centre of the bundle.

The waves were breaking over us, and I hauled myself up to look at the Eagle, 200 yards away. She was lying on her side and, down the great red expanse of her underside, men, swarming like ants against her great bulk, were sliding down into the sea. Then, suddenly, I felt a shock to the base of my spine. We knew it was a depth charge from a destroyer hunting the U-boat which had attacked us. Six or seven times this curious shock from below the waters shook us on the float net.


“She’s going!” one of my companions gasped, and there was a mighty rumbling as the sea poured hungrily into the stricken vessel, forcing the air out of her. Water threshed around and above her in a fury of white foam, and the subsided.

The Eagle was gone.

After a moment’s amazement at the sight we looked around hopefully, and cheered when we saw a destroyer only 100 yards away, and making for us. We were soon alongside, and ropes, nets, and cork lifebelts snaked down the destroyer’s side. Smiling faces from the destroyer encouraged us as my sailor companions seized the ropes and hauled themselves aboard. I clutched a trailing rope, but could get no grip with my oily hands until a rating already half-way up slipped down to me, and I used his legs to get a purchase.

Feeling battered and as weak as a kitten, I managed to slip the bight of a rope under my shoulders. Just then a wooden ladder clattered down the destroyer’s side, and I succeeded in dragging myself up and aboard with a helping pull on my shoulders, feeling half dead and looking as brown as a n***** from head to foot with fuel oil. The decks were crowded with survivors, and scores more were being pulled aboard.

We raided the bathroom and rid ourselves of the worst of the oil. The destroyer’s officers and crew were wonderful. They opened up their kits and their stores, and soon we were all equipped with dry clothing. Many of us were sick through having swallowed liberal quantities of oil, but tots of rum put queasy stomachs right, and soon we were laughing and joking at our quaint costumes. Some officers were dressed in long pants and vests, others wore football jerseys, grey flannels, and coloured shirts. Some had found shirts, but from the waist downwards were clad in towels draped around the waist.


Our late ship’s war cry, “Up the Eagle’s!” rang out as Captain Mackintosh came alongside on a float net. He had held his command for a bare six weeks. Then I saw an unforgettable scene. Another ship drew alongside, her decks packed with men from the lost carrier. As officers and men in the destroyer recognized those aboard her there was a bedlam of glad cries of recognition and bantering cheers.

When I first saw the commander he was wearing his gold braided cap. He had to swim to the destroyers, but he knew that gold braid is irreplaceable and was determined to stick to his cap at all costs.

Another man on the port side of the flight deck had a leg broken by the blast of the explosion. Trailing his injured limb behind him he performed the amazing feat of climbing up the flight deck and sliding down a rope into the water. He then swam to the destroyer and was picked up.

All the men in “C” boiler room escaped. They swam through fuel oil to the hatches, scaled half a dozen ladders, and still had time to get clear and be picked up.

Later in the afternoon survivors were transferred to another destroyer, and in her, too, we found the ship’s company only too eager to do everything for us. It was here that we had the glad tidings that 929 officers and men had been saved.

Captain Mackintosh said to me how marvellously cool the officers and men behaved – “I saw no sign of panic in the last few minutes of the life of the ship.”

[symbol] Mr. Thorpe was also saved from the aircraft-carrier Ark Royal.


“Two articles: enemy fiasco in Channel and Loss of the Eagle,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 25, 2024,

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