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The name 'Barham' came from Admiral Charles Middleton who was Lord Barham. He became the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time of Trafalger 1762-1813. He also worked with Admiral Horatio Nelson.
BARHAM (Capt Cooke), 25th November 1941, Eastern Mediterranean, N of Sidi Barrani (c 32-30'N, 26-30'E) - by 3 torpedoes from German U-331. With Mediterranean Fleet from Alexandria covering sorties by Malta and Alexandria-based cruiser forces against Italian convoys to Libya. Turned over and exploded with 861 men lost and 450 survivors. (North African Campaign).
Mediterranean November 1941
9th Nov - Action off Cape Spartivento, Southwest Italy RAF reports of an Italian convoy in the Ionian Sea making for North Africa leads to Force K sailing from Malta. The convoy consists of seven transports escorted by six destroyers, with a distant cruiser covering force. Early in the morning every one of the transports and destroyer "FULMINE" are sent to the bottom. Later, while rescuing survivors, destroyer "LIBECCIO" is sunk by submarine "Upholder".
13th Nov - As Force H returns to Gibraltar after flying off more Hurricanes from "Ark Royal" and "Argus" for Malta, the famous and much "sunk" "ARK ROYAL" is hit by one torpedo from "U-81". Next day she founders in tow only a few miles from home. One man is killed. "U-81" is one of four U-boats that have just passed into the Mediterranean.
16th Nov - A second U-boat, "U-433" is sunk in the same area as "Ark Royal" by corvette "Marigold". Towards the end of the month, Dutch submarine "0-21" sinks "U-95". Between late September and December, 26 U-boats break through into the Mediterranean and for many months take a heavy toll of Royal Navy ships. North Africa - A major British offensive (Operation 'Crusader) starts on the 18th, again from the Sollum area and by January has reached El Agheila. Axis forces around Sollum and Bardia are by-passed in the drive on Tobruk. The first link-up with the besieged garrison is made by New Zealand troops on the 27th.
25th Nov - Out of Sollum in position 32.34N and 26.24E in the Mediterranean, Kptlt. Hans-Diedrich Freiherr von Tiesenhausen in his U-331 U-boat of Type VIIC came within torpedo range of the British 31,100 ton battleship HMS Barham which was out on a sortie from Alexandria. Kptlt. Von Tiesenhausen fired a spread of 4 torpedoes towards the group, 3 of which hit HMS Barham's port side causing it to list heavily and spread fire towards the ammunition storages. Only 2 and a half minutes passed from the torpedo impact until the ship rolled onto its side and the aft magazine exploded killing 862 out of its roughly 1260 man complement. U-331 took a terrible beating from Barham's defending destroyers but managed to slip away and return safely on 21th of February 1942 to Salamis, Greece.
25th Nov - Force K hunts for Italian convoys to North Africa supported by the Mediterranean Fleet with battleships "Barham", "Queen Elizabeth" and "Valiant". In the afternoon north of Sidi Barrani, "BARHAM" is hit by three torpedoes from "U-331" and as she slowly turns over and capsizes, splits apart in an almighty explosion. Recorded on film her apparently calamitous end is often used in naval films and documentaries. Although over 800 men are lost with her, a remarkable number are saved. Just before this tragedy, Force K has sunk two more Axis supply ships west of Crete. At this stage 60 percent of Axis North African supplies are being lost to attacks by British aircraft, submarines and warships. East Africa - The last Italian forces surrender at Gondar in the north of Ethiopia on the 27th. The Italian East African empire ceases to exist. Monthly Loss Summary 4 British or Allied merchant ships of 19,000 tons
27th Nov - Australian sloop "PARRAMATTA" escorting an ammunition ship on the Tobruk Run is sunk by "U-559" off the port. Since the siege started destroyers and other warships have been carrying in men and supplies almost nightly. As it comes to an end the cost can be counted - 25 warships of all sizes and five merchantmen lost.
Recorded on film her apparently calamitous end is often used in naval films and documentaries. Although over 800 men are lost with her, a remarkable number are saved. Just before this tragedy, Force K has sunk two more Axis supply ships west of Crete. At this stage 60 percent of Axis North African supplies are being lost to attacks by British aircraft, submarines and warships. East Africa - The last Italian forces surrender at Gondar in the north of Ethiopia on the 27th. The Italian East African empire ceases to exist. Monthly Loss Summary 4 British or Allied merchant ships of 19,000 tons.
The U-boat 331, should have been destroyed that same date, but a remarkable story unfolded.
On Jan 19, 1998, I interviewed Kptlt. Von Tiesenhausen by telephone, with the help of his wife. He has very clear memories of the incident, however his hearing does not allow him to speak on the telephone.
On November 25 Kptlt. Von Tiesenhausen, commanding the U-331 off the border of Egypt and Libya in the eastern Mediterranean, spotted a procession of three British battleships flanked by eight destroyers. Displaying consummate nerve, Tiesenhausen eased his boat at periscope depth (less than 75 feet) between two destroyers and, from 1,200 yards, fired four torpedoes at the middle battleship in the line. He had no idea which ship it was that he had sunk, by fate or luck, it was the Barham. He was so busy trying to escape, he only heard the explosion.
As usual, the submarine's bow shot upward after the weight was released. Tiesenhausen could not get it down fast enough, and the conning tower erupted from the water barely 150 yards in front of the third battleship in line, the Valiant, whose captain immediately altered course in order to ram.
The U-boat's engineers moved quickly to get their boat under again as the huge ship turned in a wide are and bore down on them. Agonizing seconds passed. Then, at the last possible moment, the U-boat slid beneath the waves, and the battleship passed harmlessly overhead.
Meanwhile, a fourth explosion, probably the magazine going up, disintegrated the Barham, killing 862 men.
Aboard the U-331, something odd was happening to the depth gauge. As the boat continued its crash dive, the needle indicating depth inexplicably slowed, then stopped at 250 feet. The crew sensed that the boat was still diving, but the gauge said not. It was a dangerous situation, because the boat's maximum safe depth was judged to be 330 feet. Tiesenhausen asked to have a second, forward depth gauge read. The report appalled the entire crew: They had reached the unprecedented depth of 820 feet. As they frantically halted the dive and began to ascend again, the hull, which should have been crushed at that depth, did not so much as spring a leak. The U-boat had escaped from the enemy above and the lethal pressure below. "In such moments, you do not speak," wrote Tiesenhausen many years later. "You are glad to have been lucky and to be still alive."
| last updated:
23 January 2012