"Of all the branches of men in the Forces, there is none which shows more devotion and faces grimmer perils than the submariner.
Great deeds are done in the air and on the land; nevertheless, nothing surpasses your exploits." Winston Churchill.

"Only in attack does a submarine reveal herself, before creeping away to the concealment of the deep"

British Submarine HMS Porpoise

SEBASTIANO VENIER (December 9, 1941) Italian motorship of 6,310 tons, built in Amsterdam in 1939 under the name Jason. Requisitioned by the Italian Navy and renamed Sebastiano Venier, the ship had left Benghazi harbour with around 2,000 British prisoners of war including white and black South African troops, New Zealanders and Australians, all captured by the Germans in North Africa. Five miles south of Navarino on the Greek Peloponnese, the ship was attacked by the British submarine HMS Porpoise. She was not flying a POW flag. Hit by a torpedo between the No.1 and No.2 hold on the starboard side, the force of the explosion hurled the heavy hatchway covers to mast height, the falling timbers killing dozens of men trying to escape from the hold. From the flooded No.1 hold only five men survived. Most of the panic stricken crew abandoned the ship taking all the lifeboats. The Italian hospital ship Arno appeared on the scene but ploughed its way through the men struggling in the water and kept on sailing, its priority being the rescue of the crew of a German ship sunk nearby. A total of 320 lives were lost among them 309 British POWs, including 45 New Zealanders. Eleven Italian soldiers also died. The ship did not sink but managed to reach the shore at Point Methoni near Pilos where it was beached. All prisoners who managed to reach the shore were confronted by hundreds of Italian occupation troops and were taken to a makeshift camp where during the next few months many died from frostbite and disease. In May, 1942, the prisoners were transferred to Campo 85 at Tuturano in Italy.

This information is recorded on http://members.iinet.net.au/~gduncan/maritime-1.html and clearly shows the dangers of incorrectly marked ships.


Information can also be found here: http://crusaderproject.wordpress.com/2010/05/22/the-tragedy-of-the-pows-killed-at-sea/ 

1939 - 1942

Porpoise was assigned to anti U-boat patrols in the Bay of Biscay before being sent on a mine laying operation off the Norwegian coast. They were fifty miles inside a Norwegian fjord when the bows became grounded on an uncharted sandbank in sight of the enemy. Risking hitting the newly laid mines they managed to get off the sandbank by going full speed astern and executing a stern dive. Fortunately the enemy must have been still asleep or looking the other way and they escaped without further incident. The luck held once more! After a year of war Porpoise was transferred to escorting Atlantic convoys from Canada. Being an older class submarine they were assigned to the doing the Canadian side of the convoy meeting their counterparts half way across the Atlantic. Throughout the winter they endured extreme weather and survived one particularly bad storm in February 1941 during which the bridge casing amongst other things was badly damaged.

After 6 months Porpoise returned to the UK for a refit before being sent to the Mediterranean, surviving a diving accident on route which damaged the hull. This meant that they could no longer dive below 200 feet and would hamper their evasive action tactics, particularly in the clear Mediterranean waters. After some repairs at Gibraltar they were ordered to proceed to Malta, which was being heavily bombed and blockaded by the Germans. Porpoise was to join the blockade runners delivering vital supplies to the beleaguered island. Negotiating the mine swept channels both around Malta and Alexandria was a hazardous and nerve racking experience, followed by trying to offload their precious cargo at night to avoid enemy air raids. To enable maximum cargo to be carried fuel was kept to a minimum which didn’t allow for much attacking of enemy ships on the return leg of the journey to Alexandria.

After some near misses, engine trouble and one accident Porpoise was alongside at Alexandria for repairs when the signal came through to evacuate the city. The parent ship Medway left immediately leaving Porpoise to follow on. With repairs complete she set sail 24 hours later. En route they received a signal saying that Medway had been torpedoed and sunk by the enemy leaving the submarine flotilla parentless and with a loss of valuable stores. Fortunately as she took 20 minutes to sink her crew and submarine staff were rescued by her destroyer escorts. Porpoise was transferred to the base at Beirut for the rest of her tour of duty.

In the period before Alamein Royal Navy submarines inflicted the largest losses on Axis shipping. HMS Porpoise, under the command of Lieutenant L W A Bennington, sank 7 Axis ships in the latter half of 1942 - over 20,000 tons of shipping - including a 10,000 ton tanker and an Italian torpedo boat. Lt. Bennington was awarded the DSO for his achievements. Porpoise played an additional role in the Mediterranean campaign by delivering fuel to Malta.

Returning to Beirut following yet another Malta run they were ordered to intercept an enemy convoy. Proceeding on the surface just before dawn they were detected and intercepted by a German destroyer which attempted to ram them, narrowly missing their stern. The order was given to dive but before they had a chance to alter course or go into silent routine the enemy was back over them dropping depth charges. Fuses blew and they were temporarily plunged into darkness. They endured further bouts of depth charges, severely shaking the boat, putting gauges out of action and causing many water, oil and high pressure air leaks. The captain used the cover of the noise from the depth charges to change course and depth but was restricted to a maximum of 200 feet due to the hull damage that they had previously sustained. These attacks continued for about 2 hours while the engineering crew were kept busy tightening leaking joints. During this period it became obvious that the ship’s batteries were being damaged by the force of the depth charges. Suddenly the attacks ceased and all was quiet although it was assumed that the enemy destroyer would continue to patrol the area for some hours to come.

Knowing they had suffered considerable electrical damage and with time running out Porpoise was forced to come to the surface. After a few tense minutes expecting to be blown out of the water they surfaced to find the enemy nowhere in sight and though they were unable to dive again they were able to make for base nearly 700 miles away, although they were sitting ducks for several hours the first day before nightfall came. They received escorts for the rest of the hazardous journey before limping into Port Said for repairs. Fully repaired Porpoise made several more uneventful trips from Beirut to Malta before returning to the UK for a refit in time for Christmas 1942.

Part extracted from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/31/a2170531.shtml

Porpoise was transferred to the Middle East and was lost, in the Malacca Straits on only her second patrol. The Malacca Straits, leading to Singapore, was a notorious submarine graveyard being quite shallow in most places.

December 2006: I have been trying to obtain information on my uncle, Jack Weston, who served on HMS Porpoise, which was lost on the 19th Jan 1945 in the Malacca Straits. If you have any information relating to him or the vessel I would be interested in obtaining copies. Regards Malcolm Harris. If you have any information for Malcolm, he can be found at: Hmalcolm48-at-aol.com. Replace -at- with @ to email him.

Jan 2013: My name is Mike Finlayson.  My father Harry Finlayson, now 97, was on the "Sebastiano Veniero" sunk by the British submarine "Porpoise" and was subsequently beached off Novarino on the Greek Coast.  As a footnote CPO Sandycock who had served on the ‘Porpoise’ when it sank the Veniero was later taken prisoner.  My father met him afterwards in a POW camp in Germany. By further strange coincidence, the father of one of my work colleagues was on the same ship when it sank.

 

 

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