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The Tragic Loss of HMS Galatea
14th December 1941
The page owner is Jean Strange
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Background Information - HMS Galatea
U557
Photos of HMS Galatea
That Fateful Night
 
The Union Jack flag with 109 tallies stitched on it, including HMS Galatea, as shown on the right (third up from the left on the flag).  These pictures were kindly donated by Tim Nelson who purchased the flag in an antique sale.


BACKGROUND INFORMATION
H.M.S. Galatea
was one of four ships of the Arethusa Light Cruiser Class; the other three were Arethusa, Aurora andPenelope:
Builder
Date Laid Down
Date Launched
Date Completed
Fate
Chatham Dockyard by Parsons
25 Jan 1933
6 Mar 1934
23 May 1935
Survived a hit by an airborne torpedo in November 1942.  Both "A" and "B" turrets were put out of action, there was significant flooding and a serious fire.  She limped back to port and returned to service nearly 13 months later.  She was broken up at Troon in 1950.

HMS AURORA
Portsmouth Dockyard by Wallsend
27 Jul 1935
20 Aug 1936
12 Nov 1937
Survived a 1100lb bomb. Transferred to China Nationalists in 1948 and renamed Chung King. In 1949, under the Chinese Communists, it became Tchoung King; she was lost in March of that year, was salvaged and returned to service as Hsuang Ho in 1951 followed by Pei Ching and Kuang Chou before becoming a harbour hulk.


HMS GALATEA
Scott's Shipbuilding Company
2 Jun 1933
9 Aug 1934
14 Aug 1935
Sunk 14 December 1941 by U-557; see below for full details.

HMS PENELOPE
Harland & Wolff
30 May 1934
15 Oct 1935
13 Nov 1936
18 February 1944: Hit by one torpedo from U410 while steaming at 26kts followed by another 16 minutes later which sank her at once.  Both hits were aft of the engine and boiler rooms.

HMS ARETHUSA
Builder:
Chatham Dockyard by Parsons
Date laid down:
25 Jan 1933
Date Launched:
6 Mar 1934
Date Completed:
23 May 1935
Fate:
Survived a hit by an airborne torpedo in November 1942.  Both "A" and "B" turrets were put out of action, there was significant flooding and a serious fire.  She limped back to port and returned to service nearly 13 months later.  She was broken up at Troon in 1950.
HMS AURORA
Builder:
Portsmouth Dockyard by Wallsend
Date laid down:
27 Jul 1935
Date Launched:
20 Aug 1936
Date Completed:
12 Nov 1937
Fate:
Survived a 1100lb bomb. Transferred to China Nationalists in 1948 and renamed Chung King. In 1949, under the Chinese Communists, it became Tchoung King; she was lost in March of that year, was salvaged and returned to service as Hsuang Ho in 1951 followed by Pei Ching and Kuang Chou before becoming a harbour hulk.
HMS GALATEA
Builder:
Scott's Shipbuilding Company
Date laid down:
2 Jun 1933
Date Launched:
9 Aug 1934
Date Completed:
14 Aug 1935
Fate:
Sunk 14 December 1941 by U-557; see below for full details.
HMS PENELOPE
Builder:
Harland & Wolff
Date laid down:
30 May 1934
Date Launched:
15 Oct 1935
Date Completed:
13 Nov 1936
Fate:
18 February 1944: Hit by one torpedo from U410 while steaming at 26kts followed by another 16 minutes later which sank her at once.  Both hits were aft of the engine and boiler rooms.
Displacement First pair 5,220, second pair 5,270 tons in standard fit and up to 6665 to 6715 tons deep load.  This was upgraded to 7180 to 7400 tons.
Dimensions 506 feet overall x 51 ft x 16ft 6in with subsequent increase to 18ft 1in mean deep load.
Machinery Parsons geared turbines with four shafts powered by four Admiralty 3-drum boilers producing 64,000 s.h.p.giving a top speed of 32.25 knots.  The oil capacity was 1250 to 1325 tons, later reduced to 1115 to 1150 tons.
Armour Box protection to ammunition spaces comprising armour between 1in and 3in thick, 2.25in deck armour over the belt and steering gear, with bulkheads and turrets having 1in protection.
Armament Six 6in Mk XXIII, four 4in QF Mk V HA ( Aurora and Penelope had eight 4in QF Mk XVI HA), two 3-pounder saluting (not Penelope ), six 21 in TT aw, 1 aircraft (not Aurora )
Complement 450
Despite their weaknesses this class gave good service in European waters. The Arethusa Class was similar to Perth but was without the 'X' turret and they were an attempt to build a useful but smallest possible cruiser. An unfortunate feature of the substantial box protection was that the 4in HA guns were a considerable distance from their magazines. Between 1940 and 1941 the aircraft and associated catapults were removed. The 4in Mk Vs were replaced by four twin Mk XVIs in Galatea in December 1940 and in Arethusa in September 1941. All had two quadruple 2 pounder pompoms in 1940 to 1941 replaced by two 40mm quadruple Bofors in Arethusa in 1943 to 1944; finally these were replaced with eight to eleven 20mm Bofors.
HMS Galatea in the Grand Canal, Venice
 
Galatea saw much war service as she had taken part in the Norwegian campaign and the evacuation of the British army from France in May/June 1940; she also took part in rounding up the Bismark. A detailed account of the ship's history was found on www.warships.net which is no longer active on the internet; the content is reproduced below:
"Galatea was a cruiser of the "Arethusa class, built and engined by Scotts of Greenock and authorised in the 1932 naval building programme. She was laid down on 2nd June 1933, launched on 9th August 1934 and completed on 14th August 1935. Her armament consisted of six 6" and four 4" guns and she carried two triple revolving 21" torpedo tubes. Of 5,220 tons standard displacement, her overall dimensions were length 506 feet, breadth 51 feet and draught 15.75 feet. She had turbines which gave a designed hp of 64,000 to equal 32.5 knots, although a mean speed of 33.1 knots was achieved on her acceptance trials."

On Sunday, 14th May, 1939 the on-board concert party "The Racketeers" presented a show for the ship's company. It is with thanks to John Mitchell, son of Wilfred Mitchell that we are able to show a picture of the musicians (see Mitchell on the Roll of Honour below) and to present for you a copy from an original programme; the quality is not good but here it is.  And here is another programme that the "Racketeers" gave on H.S. Atlantis with a cartoon, this one is undated.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 she was serving with the Mediterranean Fleet, where she remained until March 1940. She returned to the UK and joined the 2nd Cruiser Squadron of the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow on 4th March. From 21st to 23rd March she took part with the Squadron and eight destroyers of the Home Fleet in a sweep - called Operation DU - into the Skagerrak. In April she took part in Norwegian operations and although bombed, was not damaged.

On 10th May, with HMS Arethusa, she arrived at Ymuiden, Holland, to escort three merchant ships which were to carry gold bullion from there, to Southend, England. They left on 11th May.

On 26th May she bombarded positions at Calais and formed part of the covering force for Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk.

Towards the end of June HMS Galatea brought home the British Ambassador to France and the Ministers for Canada and South Africa from Bordeaux, arriving at Plymouth on 24th June.

During July and August she was based on the River Humber and early in September she sailed for Sheerness. On 7th September bombs fell close during an air raid, and on the 9th September a mine exploded close under the starboard bow, near the Tongue Buoy. She was out of action for four months. including a refit at Chatham, Kent.

On 20th January 1941, after the repairs and refit, HMS Galatea arrived at Scapa Flow and on 26th sailed with HMS Nelson, and a number of other ships to carry out a sweep for the German warships Scharnhorst and Gneisnau which were assumed to have passed through the Great Belt on 23rd. She returned to Scapa on 30th January in company with HMS Arethusa. On 8th February she sailed again, with HMS Aurora and others to search for an enemy warship which had been sighted by HMS Ramillies, returning on 13th.

On 23rd March, and again on 5th April Galatea left Scapa Flow with HMS Aurora to cover minelaying operations off Iceland and the Faroe Islands, and on 13th April, she left again with Arethusa for Seydisfjord for a reconnaissance of the Icelandic harbours. On 19th both cruisers sailed for a patrol between the Faeroes and Iceland after a report that the German battleship Bismarck was at sea. She continued patrolling this area until the middle of May.

On 22nd May 1941 she left Scapa Flow with HMS King George the Fifth (KGV) and others to watch for Bismarck and Prinz Eugen which were reported to have left Bergen, Norway, and she continued with operations until Bismarck was sunk on 27th May, when she arrived at Reykjavik with HMS Prince of Wales. On 29th June she left the Clyde as part of the escort for convoy WS9B en route to join the Mediterranean Fleet via the Cape of Good Hope. She arrived at Alexandria in mid-August and joined the 15th Cruiser Squadron.

At the end of the month she took part in Operation Treacle, which was the relief of the 18th Australian Infantry Brigade at Tobruk by the Polish Brigade, after which she returned to Alexandria covering HMS Phoebe which had been hit by an aircraft launched torpedo off Bardia.

In the middle of September, Galatea was sent with HMS Naiad to reinforce HMS Coventry and others in the Red Sea. On the night of 20/21st October 1941, along with Ajax and Hobart, she bombarded an enemy battery east of Tobruk.

On 21st November, she left Alexandria with the Mediterranean Battle Fleet for Operation Landmark which was support for the Libya offensive. On 6th December she left Alexandria again, with HMAS Hobart and others to join the commissioned supply ship Breconshire and escort her to Alexandria."

All this activity was eventually to come to an end on 14th December 1941.

Source: Naval Historical Branch - 'The Admiralty Regrets - British Warship Losses of the 20th Century', Paul Kemp  
U-557 - A German Type VIIC Submarine
The two pictures below were kindly provided by Willi Weiss in December 2009 for use on this web site.

U557 had a displacement of 749 tons, its dimensions were 220ft 2in x 20ft 4in x 15ft 9in. It had two shafts powered by two diesels plus two electric motors developing 1,400b.h.p and providing a top speed of 17 knots on the surface and 7.6 knots submerged. Its armament was five 533mm TT (4 bow and 1 stern), one 88mm C35 and one 20mm C30.  It had a complement of 44 officers and ratings.

The keel was laid down 6 Jan 1940 by Blohm & Voss, Hamburg; commissioned 13 Feb 1941 by Oblt. Ottokar Arnold Paulsen.  He continued with command from Feb 1941 to December 1941 with promotion toOttokar Arnold Paulssen Kapitänleutnant (right)

The boat's career was 3 patrols in 1941:
February to May 1st Flotilla (Kiel)
May to November 1st Flotilla (Kiel/Brest) front boat
December 29th Flotilla (La Spezia) front boat
(A full diary of its actions is recorded in U-BOAT OPERATIONS OF THE 2ND WORLD WAR, Volume 2: Career Histories, U511-UIT25 by Kenneth Wynn)

Its successes were recorded as 7 ships sunk for a total of 36,949 tons including Galatea.  

 
PHOTOGRAPHS OF HMS GALATEA FROM THE INTERNET
1935
April 1937
20 May 1937
1941
 

THAT FATEFUL NIGHT


U-557left Messina for operations in the Eastern Mediterranean on 9 December 1941 and patrolled in the area between Alexandria and Tobruk.

Meanwhile, Galatea was under the command of Captain E.W.B. Sim as a unit of the 15th Cruiser Squadron; Force B was returning to Alexandria from an unsuccessful search for Italian convoys going to Benghazi.  On the night of 14th December 1941 Galatea was attacked by German dive bombers; the attacks persisted for about seven hours. Just before midnight, when north west of Alexandria, Galatea became a target for U-557which hit her with two torpedoes in quick succession.  The cruiser turned over and sank in three minutes, this is reported variously as being at 31deg 12 min (or 17min) N, 29deg 15min E.  


469 men were killed
Captain Sim with 21 of his officers and 447 ratings 
About 100 survivors were picked up by the destroyers Griffin and Hotspur


U-557 headed back to reach the base of the 23rd flotilla Salamis.  At 18:06 on 16 December it gave a short radio signal that she was 18 hours before the port and the crew were no doubt still congratulating itself after having sunk a British Cruiser.  
This is the original report of the sinking by the High Command of the Armed Forces ( Oberkommando der Wehrmacht):

Meldung des OKW vom 16.12.1941:
Ein Unterseeboot unter Führung von Kapitänleutnant Paulsen griff im östlichen Mittelmeer vor Alexandria einen britischen Kreuzerverband an und versenkte durch Torpedotreffer einen Kreuzer, der nach gewaltiger Explosion in der Mitte durchbrach und innerhalb weniger Minuten unterging.

Translated:
Report of the High Command of 16/12/1941:
A submarine under the command of Lieutenant Paulsen made an attack in the eastern Mediterranean off Alexandria on a British cruiser which was hit by torpedo and the cruiser broke after a massive explosion in the middle and sank within minutes.


                                                 
It so happened that on the same day, at 18:00, the Italian motor torpedo boat Orione left the port of Suda on Crete. The commander was unaware that a German U-boat was in the area of Crete. When he saw a submarine at 21:44, heading in a northerly direction, he decided to ram it supposing it to be British.   U-557sank immediately with all hands (43) lost in the position as given by the Italian Commander of 35deg 33min N, 23deg 14min E; that is on the 16th parallel west of Phalasarna on Crete.

During investigation of the incident it was realized that the message about U-557had reached the Italian Navy at 22:00 or later.

A theory has been put forward that Galatea sank so fast because the Captain had given permission for bulkhead doors to be opened.  He was possibly convinced his ship was safe, being close to Alexandria, and as there had not been any reports of hostile craft in the area. - this has not been proven.

A report of the sinking was filed by Reuters, I am sorry but I do not know who that reporter was nor the source of the article - it was just a newspaper cutting that was given to us. It is a fairly graphic account - Click Here

A second report, another graphic eye-witness account, was reported in The News of The World newspaper (date not known but was probably early January 1942) by Mr. Larry Allen, Associated Press, war correspondent - Click Here

We have received a letter written by one of the survivors of that night, to read it Click Here

                                                

Continues with the Roll of Honour.



HMS ARETHUSA