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Unknown witness 1 - A petty officer on HMS Valiant recorded
The battleships had just come into line abreast, as part of their zig-zag and this put Barham immediately abreast of us, about two cable lengths distant. I then saw a huge column of water rise abreast Barhain's forward turrets; and I thought it was a bomb dropped without any air-raid warning. I changed my mind when I saw a couple more huge water spouts along her side and realised that they were torpedo hits. I immediately closed the port, but before I had pulled the dead light down Barham was completely on her port side with her funnel touching the water. I went quickly up on to the upper deck, and as I looked at Barham there was a terrific explosion and I thought that obviously a magazine had gone up. I actually saw a twin 4-inch AA gun hundreds of feet up in the air and then bits and pieces began falling all around us. Probably as the result of having fired a salvo of torpedoes the conning tower of the U-boat shot up quite close to our bows and one of the forward pom-poms opened up on it but couldn't depress enough to obtain any hits. I don't ~know what action was taken to try and catch the U-boat, but~ fortunately no depth charges were dropped otherwise the casualty list would have been worse. Meanwhile, down below, the U-boat began sinking like a brick, three detonations were heard, and shortly afte~wards a fourth; these were incidental at this time to the U-boatmen, hut at least they knew a target had been hit. The elation turned to tension at the speed of the rapid descent of the Emden-built boat, loose articles crashed about and the needle of the depth gauge registered increasing depths. At 70 metres there was a slow down and an evening out at 80 metres. However, since the boat was bow heavy and the screws were still turning, U-331 continued to go deeper.
Going deeper gave the U-boat a better chance of escaping the explosions of depth charges, the crew were mystified why none had so far rained down on them. The U-boat continued plummeting toward the bottom; it was indeed fortunate for the crew that they were in deep water, otherwise they would have been in deep trouble. The forward depth gauge showed 265 metres and the commander knew this was the deepest any U-boat in action had ever recorded and survived to make the claim. The U-boat was designed for a depth of 150 metres, but with a safety factor of 2.5.
The commander continues: Finally compressed air blew water out of the tanks and the involuntary descent was halted. The boat was brought up higher, but still was 150 metres below the surface. This experience gave the crew great confidence in the structure of the boat. No damage was found, although the temporary deformation of the hull at such tremendous pressure - 26 kilograms on ever~ square centimetre - caused sparks at the propeller shafts.
Slowly the boat rose as it crept away northward. As soon as he felt certain that he was clear von Tiesenhausen signalled his success and his intention of returning to Salamis. He arrived on 3 December. His report of the attack was not over-optimistic and on the following day the German radio reported that a U-boat commanded by von Tiesenhausen had attacked a British battleship off Sollum, scoring a direct hit with one torpedo. After putting ashore at the Greek port the commander went to Berlin but found that the secret had been kept so well that the authorities there were as much in the dark as he was.
On 16 December he broadcast a description of the attack but, denied the full enjoyment of his achievement, could only say that he had certainly hit the battleship.
| last updated:
13 July 2013