Zulu was a Tribal-class British destroyer, built in Glasgow by A.
Stephens & Sons, her keel laid down on Aug 10th 1936 and launched on Sept 23rd
1937. She was launched with boilers and funnels in place, and this gave her the
reputation of a lucky ship. Commissioned on 7th Sept 1938. Just after she was
completed, the HMS Zulu moved in Mediterranean and was based in Malta.
When she returned home, during 1941, she had a part in the hunt for the German
excitement, the 4th Destroyer Flotilla (Sikh, Zulu, Cossack and Maori) returned
to Home Fleet work and Western Approaches escort duties. And in June 1941
Zulu sailed for Falmouth, England to begin her refit. Her after funnel was cut
down and her mainmast was fitted with a high frequency direction finding
(Huff-Duff or HF/DF) outfit. Two, single 2 pounder guns were mounted on the
bridge wings. Radar was installed and the depth charge throwers were re-located.
The refit was completed by July. Then she moved back in Mediterranean,
part of Force H for the better part of the year, where she
performed strike attacks against Italian convoys, and later took part in the
attack against the Italian base in Tobruk (Libya). Here
HMS Zulu's luck
turned. On September 14, 1942, she suffered some damages from the Italian
coastal batteries on Tobruk coast but could still make 30 knots. Her crew were
on full watch for approx 48 hours. Just a few hours later, she was bombed by Italian aircraft, the bomb
piercing the side and exploded in the No 3 boiler room, and
couldn't move any more and steeled two feet deeper into the water.
HMS Croome took off the most part of
crew, and HMS Hursley took her in tow. But the British destroyer was
sinking: just a hundred miles from Alexandria, again she was bombed by an enemy
aircraft. HMS Zulu suddenly rolled to starboard and sank
in position 32º00'N, 28º56'E.
12 men of the crew died, and 27 more were missing with one wounded (Peckham?).
Her commander from 28 April 1942 until her sinking
was Commander R.T. White, D.S.O.* (later Captain R.T. White, D.S.O.**). For his
part in the attempted rescue of HMS Sikh, White was awarded the 2nd bar
to his D.S.O.
Displacement: 1870 tons
Length: 344 feet
Beam: 36.5 feet
Engines: Parsons geared turbines of 44,000 shp
Speed 26.5 knots
Armament: eight 4.7 inch guns, seven smaller guns, four
21-inch torpedo tubes
Cdr. John Stuart Crawford, RN
Promoted to Capt. on 31 December 1940
DSO awarded on 24 September 1940
15 February 1938 - 14 January 1941
Cdr. Harry Robert Graham, DSO, RN
DSC awarded on 10 October 1941
14 January 1941 - 28 April 1942
Cdr. Richard Taylor White, DSO and Bar,
28 April 1942 - 14 September 1942
L 18 July 1938 - December 1938 -
F 18 January 1939 - Autumn 1940 -
G 18 Autumn 1940 - September 1942
Zulu - Gunners Practise
The table below shows the Zulu
section career of one particular sailor, Eric Bell.
He served aboard Zulu until wounded on the day of her sinking. The first column is the theatre of operations,
second in his ship, third is his rank, fourth is the From date, Fifth is the To date, in this case, of the sinking
of HMS Zulu. The next is total number of days on that particular duty, at sea. The next is total number of days
ashore followed by the whereabouts on shore. I suspect that the 35 days spent at Alexandria were on the strength
of a hospital as he recovered from his wounds. My thanks to his son, Howard. He writes. My father served in the
Royal Navy from 1938 until 1946. He died in 1984. He originally joined the Navy in
August 1938 aged 17 years and
5 months. His full name was William Eric Thomas Bell, called Bill or Eric.
||Sea 17 Jun 42
||14 Sep 42
||Sea 15 Sep 42
||20 Oct 42
||Shore Estb Alexandria
||Sea 21 Oct 42
||25 Oct 42
||Shore Estb Sidi Bishr (outside
||Sea 28 Oct 42
||24 Nov 42
||Shore Estab Portsmouth
||Sea 25 Nov 42
||08 Dec 42
||Shore Estb Sidi Bishr
This is what
his son, Howard Bell, told BBC Internet file 'People at War':
My father Eric Bell (but
sometimes known as Bill or Eric) was born in 1922 and grew up in County Leitrim,
Republic of Ireland. He enlisted in the Royal Navy on the 31 August 1938 aged 17
years and 4 months. My father died in 1984 just one week after his retirement.
He spoke little about his wartime experiences. Last year, I came across my
father’s naval papers and I decided to research this period from my father’s
My father received his basic
training in HMS Wildfire in Sheerness. This was a shore based Boys Training
Establishment. After his training, he was assigned to HMS Drake (a shore
establishment in Devonport) as an Ordinary Seaman and thereafter to HMS Jackal
(a J-class destroyer) for the next 2 years and 4 months. On the 17 June 1942, he
was assigned to HMS Zulu (a tribal class destroyer) based at Gibraltar.
During my research mostly via
the Internet, I discovered something about the experiences of my father’s
service on HMS Zulu. .....For the better part of 1942, ZULU was attached to
Force H at Gibraltar, striking against Axis supply convoys. ZULU and SIKH’S
final operation together was the commando attack on Tobruk, Libya on 13/14th
September 1942. As a result of attacks by JU87’s and JU88’s, ZULU was hit . Her
crew had been at full watch since dusk on the 13th and daylight on the 14th did
not bring any rest. In spite of surviving multiple bomb attacks during that day,
ZULU was mortally wounded at 1600. A bomb from an enemy aircraft had pierced her
side and exploded in the engine room, thus flooding it along with #3 Boiler Room
and the Gear Room. She stopped dead in the water and settled two feet deeper.
HMS CROOME came along side to take off any remaining personnel except for a
towing party. ZULU was taken in tow by HMS HURSLEY. By 1900, and only a hundred
miles from Alexandria, Egypt, she was sinking fast. The towing party was rescued
after a strafing pass by an enemy aircraft. Suddenly, ZULU rolled to starboard
and sank. In both attacks, twelve men had been killed, twenty- seven went
missing and one was wounded.
Brief History of Able Seaman
Harold Roberti Williams Royal Navy Career.
Joined the Royal Navy in 1938, to undergo 12
months training as a “boy seaman,” at HMS Impregnable Devonport, (A shore
1939, took passage on troopship “Alcantara” to Middle East to join HMS Zulu, (A
tribal class destroyer). We were dogged by a “U Boat” in the Bay of Biscay, who
claimed us as a “kill” after observing another troopship “Franconia” ramming us.
Fortunately, due to our captain’s quick manoeuvre, only superficial damage was
done. We were informed later that the “Franconia” carried a large amount of
explosives in her bows. Also, the “Franconia’s” captain was found to be a “fifth
columnist”. On arrival at Gibraltar we read in the local newspaper that we had
On arrival at Malta I joined the crew of HMS Zulu,
which the following day set sail for the UK. During our passage through the Bay
of Biscay, we were harassed and bombed by a “Junker 88”. Fortunately, the bombs
were all near misses. But unfortunately for me and my companions battened down
in a shell magazine below the water line, the explosions being amplified,
deafened us all for an hour or more, not a pleasant experience.
The Zulu took part in the second battle of Norway, where we were under attack
again by enemy aircraft. On patrol in the North Sea we engaged and sank a German
“U boat”. Returning to Scotland she underwent a refit in the Port of Rosyth. On
completion proceeded to sea to do trials with two others of our flotilla. About
to pass under the Forth Bridge a magnetic mine exploded under our stern,
necessitating a quick return to the docks in Rosyth. Fortunate for the crew, as
we all received another two weeks leave. Zulu took part in the sinking of the
In 1941, we returned to the Middle East and were based at Malta, enduring many
air raids during the “siege of Malta”. We took part in escorting many convoys
between Gibraltar and Malta, experiencing many air attacks and “U Boat” attacks,
witnessing the sad destruction of many merchant vessels.
During one convoy, we saw the sinking of HMS Ark Royal, the famous aircraft
carrier. Zulu also took part in the “Battle of Sirte”, designed to destroy the
Italian fleet. Their fleet was not seen by many as it was partly over the
horizon, but their gunfire was certainly experienced.
The Zulu was badly damaged during the affray, but not from gunfire. A fierce
storm had blown up causing considerable damage to her and to others of our
warships. The Zulu’s bows were badly damaged; all her boats were smashed or
swept overboard. Ammunition lockers welded to superstructure were torn away and
swept overboard. The forward twin 4.7 inch guns, of which I was a member as a
‘fuse setter’, minutes after we had vacated them, were completely wrecked. At
the end of the engagement, we retired to Port Said for repairs.
Shortly after I was drafted to a gunnery school in Alexandria to acquire a ‘non
substantive gunnery rate’. Two months into the three months course, we heard the
devastating news that the Zulu and another of her flotilla had been sunk as a
result of a battle in Tobruk.
My gunnery course thankfully finished, the place being infested with bed bugs,
fleas, scorpions and monster ants, I was then drafted to coastal forces and
assigned to HMML 354, (a Fairmile motor launch). We did much work along the
North African coast at times carrying supplies to the Eight Army.
When Italy capitulated we were directed to the Aegean Sea carrying army
personnel who were to take over the various islands that had been under Italian
control. Having dispatched the last of the army personnel at the Island Leros,
we were enjoying a couple of days rest there, when suddenly on a Sunday morning
we were attacked by the Luftwaffe in strength. Wave after wave of Junker 88
bombers, Heinkel bombers, Messerschmitt and Stukas. Several Merchant Ships were
damaged or sunk, one British destroyer and one Greek destroyer, were also sunk.
We were kept busy for hours rescuing survivors and ferrying them ashore. The air
attacks lasted an hour, we received orders from above to vacate Leros and fend
for ourselves, this we did with alacrity.
We spent some months hiding at uninhabited islets and also hiding at some of the
isolated bays and inlets on the Turkish coast. At one islet, we hid beneath a
cliff face draped with camouflage nets, which hid us fairly well, except for of
course, our mast, which had been recently painted white.
One morning a flight of German bombers flew directly over us, flying north on a
mission. On their return shortly after, our mast having been sighted on their
northward journey, one of the bombers had retained some of its bombs and decided
to expend them on us. Fortunately, due to the angle at which the bombs were
released, two of the bombs fell on the top of the cliff and two overshot us into
the water. The two landing on the cliff top, brought tons of rock and dirt down
onto us. It smashed our only lifeboat, an eight foot dinghy, wrecked our 20mm
Oerlikon gun and smashed my 3 pounder gun off its mounting. Also, most fittings
on deck were badly damaged. I was pleased with the demise of my 3 pounder as it
was practically useless as an effective weapon. - (A brief summary of its
history – Built in 1895, it was presented to the king of Egypt for use as a
ceremonial gun. When World War I broke out, it was returned to the Royal Navy
for their use. It sank a submarine with two rounds. After the war it was
returned to Egypt once more. When the Second World War broke out, it found its
way to HMML 354. By this time the rifling was so worn that shells would tumble
rather than rotate and would not explode on impact).
We left the area as soon as we could, but damaged one of our screws on a
submerged rock, placing us in rather a perilous position. Once under way, we
headed for the nearest Turkish port, the captain hoping that we would be granted
asylum there. (On a previous occasion one of our British small craft, badly
damaged, had put into a Turkish port and had been granted asylum in exchange for
their vessel, the crew being returned to Beirut overland). However, we were not
so lucky; our request for asylum was denied. Instead, we were given 24 hours to
effect repairs and leave, no aid was to be given us.
As we lacked materials and the facilities to do the major repairs, we could only
repair minor damage. We left there on the twenty fourth hour, having at least
gained a little rest.
Being more or less locked into the Aegean, the Germans by now having taken over
the major islands, posed a problem. Their largest stronghold being Rhodes Island
at the mouth of the Aegean. This meant that we would have to run a gauntlet to
escape from the Aegean. It was decided to give it a go, so we set off hugging
the Turkish coast by night and hiding in little bays and inlets by day. Lack of
food being a problem, we bartered with Turkish fishermen for fish and villagers
for meat and fresh vegetables, exchanging articles of clothing and personal
effects for the goods. Reaching a point east of Rhodes Island, which was only a
few miles West of us, we were suddenly caught in the beam of a searchlight. It
trained on us for quite a while and we all prepared for the worst.
We were surprised that gunfire didn’t ensue from the island, but soon realized
why it hadn’t; we saw a destroyer heading straight for us. Thinking that all was
up, we were relieved when the destroyer only a few hundred yards away suddenly
veered away and headed back to Rhodes Island. We assumed that he had mistaken us
for a German “E Boat”, which had a similar silhouette to ours, and as we were
not displaying our flag, we reckoned that was the answer.
Once past the obstacle, we hurried as fast as we could to civilization. Some
days later we arrived in Port Said, to enjoy a well earned rest and to have our
ship repaired. The crew was given two weeks leave and dispersed to various
places to spend their time. We returned to find a transformation had occurred.
Our ship was practically renewed; everything had been repaired and in place of
my old 3 pounder, stood a lovely 40mm Bofors gun.
A week or so later we left again for the Aegean Sea, this time carrying a
contingent of mad Irish commandos, their job to infiltrate German held islands
under cover of darkness and sabotage whatever they could and capture if they
could, high ranking German officers. They carried out these tasks with great
success. Also they captured a German “P Lighter” and crew. The crew, plus
several German officers they had captured on the various islands they brought
back to us. The commandos and prisoners were transferred to one of our larger
ships in the area. This done, we were left to perform other tasks, ie: to patrol
the sea and report sightings of all the enemy activities we saw, to the higher
During one patrol, I was able to bring down two enemy planes, a Dornier bomber
and a Messerschmitt fighter. Some days later I was instrumental in blowing up
and sinking a German armed Schooner, with my Bofors gun. A week later, we
returned to Beirut and my term in the Middle East being over, I was transported
back to the UK, aboard the “Querida Del Pacifico” (Queen of the Pacific), a
We docked at Southampton, and I was then transported to Portsmouth Royal Naval
Barracks, where I was granted three weeks leave. Two days later “D Day” occurred
and all pending leave for the armed forces was cancelled, but not for those
already on leave. My leave over, I returned to Portsmouth and was drafted to the
coastal forces there. A fortnight later, I was assigned to MTB 480, (A motor
torpedo boat). The following day we left for Lowestoft along the South English
coast, which was to be our base for a while.
Once there we were engaged in patrolling the English Channel to accost the enemy
shipping. After two or three affrays we returned to Lowestoft having taken a
couple of 20mm shells in our port fuel tank. Fortunately, the tank was full, had
it been partly empty we would have blown up. Repairs completed, we were then
sent to Northern France and ensconced in Mulberry Harbour, the famous “man made”
harbour. Enduring many air attacks whilst there, we did frequent patrols along
the French, Belgium and Dutch coasts, harassing enemy shipping.
Suddenly the war had ended and the same day we returned to Lowestoft for
celebrations and home leave. My leave all to soon ended, I returned to my home
base in Devonport, HMS Drake, which I hadn’t seen for some years. Whilst there,
I was summoned to an Investiture in Cardiff (capital of South Wales), where I
was presented with the Distinguished Service Medal by King George the VI, for my
efforts in the Aegean.
Some months later, I was sent to sea again, this time to serve aboard HMS St.
Austell Bay, (A bay class Frigate), based at Malta. The war being over, we
travelled the Mediterranean ‘showing the flag’, we also took part in “The
Palestine Campaign”, turning back ships carrying illegal Jewish immigrants. A
most distasteful task considering what they had gone through in the war. In
1949, my term abroad being up, I was returned to the UK, and back once more to
Vegetating there for a while, the adrenalin rushes of war having subsided, I
decided to heed the urgings of my previous commanding officers and seek
promotion. Having nothing better to do, I did just that. I passed professionally
for the rank of Leading Seaman but, before I could complete the rest of the
course, ie: written tests, I was hospitalized. I was found to be unfit
physically for further service and consequently discharged from the Royal Navy.
So ended my illustrious naval career!
I am now eighty two years old. I was married in 1945 to my lovely wife, and we
are looking forward to our 60th wedding anniversary in December (2005). This gent who recently
passed away. 28 Jan 2012. Thanks to his grandson Josh for this priceless memory.
January 2007: Got this email from Maurice Dawe.
Hi, Just as a
matter of interest my brother Leading Seaman William Francis Dawe (Frankie)
served in HMS Zulu from its commissioning day until its action with the Bismarck
when he was wounded and put ashore in Londonderry to the military hospital where
he died on the 2nd June 1941. He was an LST so was at his action station on the
torpedo tubes when he was wounded by shrapnel. I guess there are very few
survivors still alive but maybe somebody remembers him. He was from Lisburn
Maurice R. Dawe ex RN, RAN MN.
November 2007: Got an
email from Robert Godwin.
My uncle (L/Stoker Robert Anderson) was killed on HMS Zulu when the ship was sunk
on 14th September 1942. If any one has further information I would
love to know? Email him direct at
crana.crana -at- ntlworld.com.
If you replace
-at- with @, you have his email address.
Hi, my name is Mark Peckham. My
Granddad, Lesley John Peckham served on the Zulu
and was on it during the action at Tobruk. He is dead now and only spoke to me
once about it 30 years ago. He was shot in the arm and the hand while in the
water. The information I remember is vague. He ended up in the water and was
captured and ended up in an Italian hospital in Italy. He was given civilian
clothes to escape. Can anybody shed any light on this. You can email Mark at the
following email address, and info to me please, if possible.
markpeckham - at - tiscali.co.uk. If you replace -at- with @,
you have his email address.
May 2009: A request for info
from Julie Johnstone in San Diego USA.
My father Able seaman Thomas Ferguson was on board
the Zulu and one of the crew members rescued from the water after many hours. My
Dad passed away June 6th 1988, he never talked about his experience. My
mother once told us after his rescue, my grandmother was taken to BBC radio
station at Queen Margaret drive, Glasgow and allowed to speak to him over the
airwaves. I do recollect there was an article related to his rescue and
length of time in water, over the years it disappeared and my sister and I have
tried unsuccessfully to find out any information regarding his rescue. Any
information you could help us with would be most appreciated. email her at
scotsgirlll - at - att.net - replace the -at- with @ for the corrrect email
July 2009: Richard Marshall emailed to telling me
that his mum's first husband, Charles Mansbridge, served aboard Zulu and was
killed, possibly from field gun fire.