HMS Southwold

The HMS Southwold lies in two sections. The bow section is the larger piece. Approximately 40 meters in length and at a depth close to 67 meters, completely on its starboard side. The stern is at 74 meters about 30 m long, sitting upright on the seabed.

Minimum Trimix certification is required for the Bow section, and Advanced Trimix for the Stern section dive.

Wreck History:

HMS Southwold belongs to the Hunt Class destroyers. They were 86 meters long with a beam of 9.5 meters and had a net tonnage of 1050 tons. These ships had a top speed of 25 knots and were used for convoy escorts. The HMS Southwold had a crew of 168 men and carried 3×2 barrel 4” guns one at the bow and 2 aft sections. She also carried anti-aircraft guns, and anti-submarine depth charges.

The HMS Southwold was built by White and launched on 25 May 1941. It was immediately in action while forming part of the escort for Convoy MW9B. Between 12 Feb and 16 Feb 1942 this convoy failed its objective. Out of the three merchant ships, one was damaged and made it to Tobruk but the other two sunk. The Southwold and the other escorts turned back to Alexandria. It left Alexandria on 20 March 1942 as an escort to join convoy MW10 to Malta under the command of Admiral Philip Vian. The 820 nautical mile journey to Malta was severely attacked both by Italian war ships and by the Luftwaffe.

As soon as the Southwold

was located by the enemy, it got reported to the Italian Navy. They sent 10 ships on the 22 March 1942 to the Gulf of Sirte (Sidra), 150 miles NW of Benghazi and waited for the convoy. When they were sighted, Admiral Vian knew immediately that he was not only heavily outnumbered but also outgunned. Italian commander Iachino had the 15 inch guns of the Littorio, and the 8 inch guns of the cruisers against his 6 inch and the 4 inch guns on his destroyers. So the British laid a smoke-screen to prevent the Italians from taking proper range. Continuously dashed in and out of the smoke-screen, firing damaging salvos at their superior opponents and then doubling up behind the smoke before the Italians could take range.

The engagement was broken off that morning, but the Italian squadron approached again in the afternoon. This time, Admiral Vian closed the range to under 10000 yards and emerging out of the smoke-screen, succeeding in hitting the Littorio with a salvo which started a fire on the battleship. The Italians responded and the British cruiser Cleopatra was hit and was severely damaged. A quick counter attack by the British destroyers, including the Southwold, by emerging swiftly out of the smoke blanket hit the Littorio again with a torpedo and managed to also hit the cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere. The Italians withdrew.

The battle

was recorded for history as the Second Battle of Sirte. German airplanes took over the attacks as they were determined to prevent the convoy from reaching Malta. When the convoy was a mere 20 miles from Malta, the Germans sank Clan Campbell. But by now the convoy was within reach of fighter protection from Malta, and hurricanes & spitfires flew out to protect the remaining ships.

On 23 March 1942, one of the merchant ships in this convoy, the Breconshire, was hit by enemy bombs and stopped a few miles off St. Thomas Bay. The weather was becoming rough and the Breconshire was drifting helplessly towards the shore. The crew on the Breconshire managed to anchor 1.5 miles off Zonqor Point.

The following morning on 24 March 1942, the Breconshire was dragging its anchors on the sandy bottom and the Southold was ordered to tow the Breconshire. While trying to pass a line to the disabled ship, a mine exploded under the Southwold’s engine room. One officer and four ratings were killed.

All power and electrical services were lost, but the diesel generator started. The engine room had flooded but water flooding into the gearing room was held by shoring up the bulkhead and by blocking leaks. A tow was attached to Southold by the tug Ancient, but the ship’s side plating abreast the engine room split right up to the upper deck on both sides. She sagged and took a list to starboard and the wounded were transferred to the destroyer Dulverton.

The midship portion gradually sank lower and the ship began to fall in the swell. She was then abandoned, and started to sag and eventually sank in two parts.