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HMS Gloucester remembered by minehunter’s crew

20 June 2017
Crew of minehunter HMS Ledbury paused their journey to the Gulf to remember one of the Royal Navy’s worst wartime tragedies.

The Portsmouth-based warship stopped three dozen miles off Crete – over the wreck of wartime cruiser HMS Gloucester, lost with more than 700 souls on May 22 1941.

Divers Lieutenant Tom Foley and Able Seaman Harry Poole entered the water with a specially-weighted White Ensign, releasing it to land on the shattered hull of the cruiser one mile below on the sea bed.

Surrounded by his 40 crew, Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander James Harkin led a memorial service and read a moving account of the cruiser’s last fight, before the two divers entered the warm waters of the Ionian Sea.

This was our opportunity to remember the courage, bravery and sacrifice of our forebears.

Lieutenant Commander Harkin RN

“It is not often that we get the opportunity to pay our respects to those who died many miles away from home,” said Lieutenant Foley, Ledbury’s Diving Officer.

“We are a junior team and a lot of the crew had never been part of such an event. It was humbling to think of their sacrifice 76 years ago.”

Just 85 men survived HMS Gloucester’s sinking; the cruiser had been dispatched with other British warships to prevent German troops reaching Crete by sea to support airborne forces which had landed on the island.

Without adequate air cover, the Royal Navy fell prey to the Luftwaffe. It lost three cruisers and half a dozen destroyers, while four capital ships, eight cruisers and nine destroyers were damaged during the two-week battle, which ended with Crete under the Nazi jackboot.

The ship’s surgeons and sick bay attendants offered what help they could in the little time the ship had left, hurriedly applying bandages, splinting broken arms and legs, issuing morphine to deaden the pain.

And the ship’s mascot Toby was carefully lowered into the water; the shell-shocked dog was last seen clinging to a piece of wood.

“This was our opportunity to remember the courage, bravery and sacrifice of our forebears,” said Lieutenant Commander Harkin.

“We know that it is the ethos, professionalism, courage and war-fighting spirit of our people, across the centuries, that binds us together with our history. “We today should be immensely proud to belong to this naval heritage.”

His crew are nearing the half-way point on their 6,000-mile voyage from Portsmouth to Bahrain as they replace their sister minehunter HMS Chiddingfold after more than three years on patrol in the Gulf as part of the UK’s permanent naval presence in the region.

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