You've heard of the wreck of the Hesperus
And similar tales of the sea -
Like the boy who stood on the burning deck
with his trousers as burnt as could be.
But what of H.M.S. "Partridge"
And the stirring tale she has to tell
Of defying the mighty "Wbp" navy
And seeing Adolf Luftwaffe to hell.
They did their best to sink her.
Of that there is no doubt -
But somehow they just couldn't manage
To put her out for the count.
They tried it with "Stukas" and "Junkers" –
In fact, planes of every type,
dropping mines and bombs and torpedoes
In an effort to finish the fight.
They tried it with destroyers and cruisers,
Firing eight inch shells by the score,
And although they all didn't miss her
She took 'em, and came up for more.
They wrecked her torpedo tubes for'ard.
Amidships they set her afire.
They holed and buckled her deck plates,
But the "Partridge" didn't tire.
Her steering they put out of action
With a well placed bomb by the stern
So that she careened around in circles
Unable to straighten the turn.
They brought down all her main aerials
And reduced her speed by knots,
But she kept her head above water
Exchanging shots for shots.
It was a one-sided scrap most surely
But they didn't get all their own way –
She shot down for certain five aircraft
And many got damaged that day.
She fought her way out of the spot though –
Which was really no mean feat,
Towered over by Germany's bombers
And surrounded by Italy's fleet.
The B.B.C. news next morning
Gave a short account of the fray –
Praising high our wonderful air-force.
To us - Remarkably absent all day.
So, the "Partridge" still sails the Ocean
A proud and battle-scarred ship –
But she’s off in the right direction –
Home - and we hope - a long refit.
Image © IWM FL 1961
The poem relates to the actions during Operation HARPOON, one of two simultaneous Allied convoys sent to supply Malta in June 1942. Operation Harpoon sailed from Gibraltar on June 12th while Operation VIGOROUS, left from Alexandria. Both convoys met with fierce Axis opposition and only two of HARPOON′s six merchant ships completed the journey.
On the 15th Italian warships opened fire on the HARPOON convoy, PARTRIDGE deployed with HM Destroyers BEDOUIN, ITHURIEL, MATCHLESS and MARNE were ordered to carry out torpedo attacks, Engaging enemy ships at 18,000 yards. PARTRIDGE and BEDOUIN were disabled by return fire.
After repairing her damage PARTRIDGE took BEDOUIN in tow but had to release her when an air and surface attack was threatened. HMS BEDOUIN was sunk by an aircraft torpedo and rescue of survivors was not possible. PARTRIDGE survived further air attacks during passage to Gibraltar during which steering gear was damaged. She arrived at Gibraltar on the 17th and took passage to the UK on the 19th. She arrived on the Tyne on the 29th for permanent repair in a commercial shipyard.
HMS Partridge (Lt.Cdr. William Alan Frank Hawkins, DSO, DSC, OBE, RN), was lost on 18 December 1942. At 08.06 hours while on an anti-submarine sweep, was hit by one torpedo from the German submarine U-565 and sank west of Oran, Algeria in position 35º50'N, 01º35'W.