The Loss of HMS Spartan 29th January 1944

    THE LOSS OF HMS SPARTAN 29th JANUARY 1944

 

spartan

 

At sunset on 29th January, the Luftwaffe began a glide bomb attack on the ships in Anzio Bay. At the time of this attack, HMS Spartan was anchored providing AA protection for the ships in the vicinity of the beachhead. Smoke had been ordered in the anchorage but was not fully effective owing to the short time it was in operation and the strong breeze. HMS Spartan was making smoke from stem to stern but was not herself covered.

 

About 18 aircraft approached from the north and circling over land, delivered a beam attack against the ships that were silhouetted against the afterglow. The timing of the attack prohibited the aircraft from being sighted except by very few witnesses, and radar was ineffective owing to land echoes. By the time the warning had been received and HMS Spartan and other ships had opened fire in the general direction of the attack, six bombs were already approaching the anchorage, most of them falling into the water.

 

Shortly afterwards, at approximately 17:56, another glider bomb (radio-controlled Henschel Hs 293) was seen approaching the starboard side of the ship. This bomb was engaged by close range anti-aircraft fire; it was first thought likely to miss astern but is reported to have altered course during the final stage of its approach.

The bomb struck the ship at the after end of “B” funnel casing, started a heavy fire in the vicinity, the projectile passed through the ship and exploded high up on the port side of the main watertight sub-division containing “B” Boiler Room.

The main mast collapsed and boiler rooms were flooded. Steam and electrical power failed, a serious fire developed and the ship heeled over to port. Thus HMS Spartan was immobilized. About an hour after being hit, Spartan had to be abandoned in the dark, and 10 minutes later she settled on her beam-ends in about 25–30 ft (7.6–9.1 m) of water.

Five officers and 41 enlisted men were posted killed or missing presumed killed, and 42 enlisted men were wounded. Ron Douglas survived together with Acting Lieutenant J.S. Mackonochie, engineer.

 glider bomb

 

The following extract is from Ronald Sired’s book, “Enemy Engaged” (published by William Kimber & Co. London, 1957, page 184) who was serving onboard HMS Laforey.

 

Just about this time I spotted a radio controlled-rocket bomb coming from a Do.217, and heading straight for Spartan. All our close-range weapons were directed towards the bomb, but it was travelling too fast for our fire to be accurate. I was able to see its red tail as it made for Spartan some 400 yards away. I watched helplessly as the bomb fell. I saw a bright flash as it exploded amidships, between the funnels, and a pillar of flame shot into the evening sky, momentarily lighting up Spartan. Serious fires were started and the Spartan quickly listed to port. By 1800 (this time must be incorrect as it does not fit with the Admiralty report) she was badly ablaze and, as the flames grew higher, I saw men dashing along her heeling decks with hoses and other fire fighting equipment. Other men dived over the side into the water.

Laforey moved closer to the strickened ship, which had listed further to port. Already her stern was below water. The after turret glowed red hot and sultry red flames reflected from gathering clouds. Laforey lowered both whalers and the motor-boat to pick up survivors. HMS Barndale was also standing close by, ready to go alongside Spartan at first opportunity to take off the wounded menbers of her ship’s company.

 

By 1840, the Spartan had listed some 70 degrees to port and I saw loose gear from her upper deck fall into the sea. Most of her ship’s company had jumped overboard and were being picked up by small craft. Her list increased and her fires died down as water flooded her compartments. From across the still waters came cries of men as they struggled in the oil-covered waters. The faint glow of torches flickered here and there as boats made their way to them.

 

By 1910, Spartan lay almost on her beam-ends and the water was lapping around her bridge. There were still a few intrepid sailors aboard her, helping wounded men to the boats alongside. Our motor-boat came alongside and took off her skipper, Captain McLaughlin. I saw a small cockle shell of a boat, a dinghy, containing one sailor, bobbing up and down close to the compass platform of the cruiser, searching for survivors. It was a queer sensation to watch the sea claim this once proud ship. The sea lapped over the upper-deck, which was now practically vertical and facing towards me.

 

By 1930, our scrambling nets which had been lowered over the side were swarming with oil-soaked survivors, and the first-aid and repair parties assisted them as they climbed inboard. There was considerable activity on board as the damage control parties dashed away for rum and blankets. Most of our ship remained closed-up in case of further attacks, but there were none.

 

By 1940, Spartan’s bridge and upperworks were underwater and I watched her starboard bilge keel appear as she slowly rolled over. The sea broke over her keel and her rudders and propellers were clearly visible as she sank from sight. By 2000 Spartan was no more. I had watched the foaming waters surge over her keel as she vanished, (In reality it was probably the darkness and not the sea that swallowed Spartan for, in fact, the ship’s keel remained visible).

The task of searching for her crew continued in the darkness and, as our mess-decks were crowded with survivors we moved away from the scene. Landing craft came alongside Laforey to take off Spartan’s survivors and at 2030, with the destroyer Loyal, we left for a night patrol at sea.

 the sunkenn spartan

spartan memorial

 

 Joseph Logan, Gunners Mate, on board LCIL 219, together with his shipmates also assisted HMS Spartan.  As Joseph described it, “LCI 219 quickly pulled alongside the Spartan in an effort to assist fighting the fires. I was manning one of the hoses. The landing ramps of the LCI were lowered down to the water surface to assist pulling the sailors out of the water. Other crew members of LCI 219 helped the Spartan sailors up the ramps. I seem to remember there were about 75 men pulled out of the water onto LCI 219. First aid was provided as needed.”. His son states that his father and other crew members used artificial respiration methods that he learned in the Boy Scouts to aid some of the British sailors.

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  • my father Donald fletcher served on the Spartan and was a survivor, my father passed away in 2001 and although we knew bits of his service, he never went into depth about them . going through his belongings I found letters, I remember as a boy he had two medals, which have gone and all attempts to find them have failed.
    I would appreciate any help on how to obtain his service number, all attempts so far have asked for this number.
    my mother had dementia so could not provide any help. he also served on HMS Abercrombie and HMS Rodney or sister ship HMS Nelson, any help to get records and replacement medals would be really gratefully excepted

    • Hi Stephen,

      I hope you don’t mind but I have taken the liberty of forwarding your email on to a friend whos father was also on HMS Spartan and knows more about the ship than I do.
      Replacement medals should not be a problem but there will obviously be a cost involved.
      I will email you directly some of the forms you might need to continue your search.
      Good luck.
      Robin

    • Hi Stephen,
      I see that your posting is now over 8 months old, and I do not know if you managed to find out your father’s Service Number, but if you didn’t I can help you!
      A couple of years ago I did a lot of research on HMS Spartan as my grandfather served on the ship and was a survivor of her sinking on the 29th January 1944. A part of my research involved applying for a copy of the last available Ship’s Ledger for HMS Spartan. I say the ‘last available’ as the last Ship’s Ledger of January 1944 went down with the ship so the ledger I received from RN records department was for December 1943. You may or may not know, but a Ship’s Ledger provides a list of the, ‘then’ serving crew’s names, their rank or rate and their service number.
      From this Ship’s Ledger I prepared a fairly comprehensive spreadsheet and have continued to update it with sources of information I have researched from obituaries, survivor accounts and from an excellent website dedicated to HMS Spartan that was developed by Mr David Hughes and Ms Patricia Smith (see: http://home.aut.ac.nz/staff/dhughes/mairangi.html).
      Anyway, to cut a long story short, your father’s name, rating and service number is contained within my spreadsheet: Donald Fletcher, Stoker 1st Class, Service Number KX.118199.
      I also requested a copy of the record of my grandfather’s medals awarded using the appropriate RN records request form. If you still need any help in this regard, please let me know.
      Best regards,
      Simon

      • Hello Simon
        Thank you so so much for your reply, l am truly grateful for your assistance.
        I have had a few family matters to sort out and the arrival of new granddaughter hence the time lapse in my reply, thank you again really.
        Should you find out what medals were obtained l would be again very grateful Simon

      • Hello Sir
        You said you have the last submitted ships ledger I am compiling her casualty list and have missing names I could send my excel list would you help me?

  • My father Robert Spence (Bob) served and was a survivor of HMS Spartan, his Naval papers show he was on HMS Spartan from 12th July 1943 to 29th January 1944. He was an AB SD.

    • Hi Robert,
      As per my reply to Stephen above, your father’s name, rating and service number is also contained within my spreadsheet: Robert A. Spence, Able Seaman (AB) – Deck Hand (SD), Service Number JX.340860.
      Best regards,
      Simon

      • Hi Simon

        I am lead to belive my grandfather Ronald Boddy (may be spelt Boddie) may have been on the Spartan as my nan and grandad have both passed any help would be appreciated.

  • Hello,
    I am the Patricia Smith who together with David Hughes did some HMS Spartan research, a few years back. My uncle went down with the ship when the ship was hit by a glider bomb. (There is German training film of these bombs at the IWM film archive, a VERY short clip of film of HMS Spartan as well, firing her guns, then after she had been hit (it looks like people climbing down the side), and then when she is lying in the water, like a great whale, the morning after, presumably. Some of the photos on the website are taken from this FILM.) I went with my Mum to the IWM film archive to view the film – it was quite a moment. The Spartan’s log books (not January 1944 obviously) are available from the Public Record office at Kew if I remember rightly, also the Damage Report and Board of Inquiry report (sorry it’s a few years since I researched her). I was sent plans of HMS Spartan and photos by the ship yard / builders, I also did some sound interviews with about 15 Spartan survivors, and one with a soldier who was on the land at the time, if anyone is interested. You can listen online. (Sorry I am only an amateur interviewer! It was wonderful for me and a huge honour to meet some of the survivors.)

    E.g.: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80018997
    or
    http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80018999
    or
    http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=hms+spartan&f%5B0%5D=department%3ASound&items_per_page=10

    Pat :o)

  • Hi there
    My father, Harold Weatherby (his name is spelt wrong in some articles and is sometimes referred to as Wetherby or Wetherby-Boon)was a survivor of the sinking of the Spartan. My father passed away in 1981. I have come across an old newspaper article about my father from a Cheshire newspaper. The article is about Commander David Ramsay and my father and in Ramsays words,addressed to my father, he says, ‘when the captain gave the order to abandon ship, you gallantly laid your hands on a life jacket and managed to put in on me. I think you asked me what to do and I replied to the effect, chuck me over the side and see if I float’. Ramsay had lost a leg in the attack.. My father, Harold Weatherby, was mentioned in despatches for his conduct. I hope this adds to this page and shares some history of that day.
    Ross Weatherby

  • My grandfather Gordon ‘Taff’ Evans was on the Spartan when she was sunk.

    He lived to be 91/92. He would of loved to hear these interviews. The research you have done is incredible.

    He is listed on the survivors list as Taff Evans – PO Stoker. He was upset to learn this as he was actually a Engine Room Artificer 🙂

  • Hello Simon
    Thank you so so much for your reply, l am truly grateful for your assistance.
    I have had a few family matters to sort out and the arrival of new granddaughter hence the time lapse in my reply, thank you again really.
    Should you find out what medals were obtained l would be again very grateful Simon

  • Dear Simon
    My dad Fred Oldham official no MX 110469 who sadly passed away in 1995,he served as a cook on HMS SPARTAN from 19th June 1943 to 29th Jan 1944. I have not been able to find his name on any crew list on the internet, I believe you have a copy of the crew list, could you please check if his name is on it. With Thanks

  • My father, John Lewis Joseph, also served on HMS SPARTAN as a radio operator. He survived but passed away in 2004. He never really wanted to talk of his experiences so I do not have much information.

  • I recently interviewed Ron Douglas, who is mentioned in the main body of this article. He lives in a long-term care community in Scarborough, Ontario, in Canada, and is 92 (93 in May). I came across this page as I’m currently writing an article about his experience as a survivor on the HMS Spartan. He was 19 at the time and emigrated to Canada about 10 years later.

    It would be very useful to know how many people are still alive who survived Spartan. Does anyone have this information at all?

    • Hi Drew,
      My Gandfather passed away in 1997 in Niagara Falls, Ontario and was a survivor of the HMS Spartan, lived most of his life in the GTA, would love to connect about your article!

    • Hi Drew, Along with other guys from the Submarine HMS Spartan we have attended the Aniversary of the start of the Anzio Landing on 22nd Jan for the last 19 years. The Senior Rates mess gave the Spartan Survivors half the money to have the marble plaque commissioned and hung on the harbour wall, looking out over the sea where the ship sank. Next year with be the 75th Anniversary and the Mayor of Anzio has said that he intends to hold a larger than usual event. To answer your question if there are any other Survivors. Gerry Crocker passed away at the start of 2018 and recently Stan Turton passed away on 19th April. Geoff Smith passed away a few years ago and was responsible for keeping the Spartan Survivors going for such a long time. To the best of our knowledge Stan was the last, but it looks like Ron might be the last. Last year we managed to lay a cross on all 9 Men that were buried in Italy. Two in Anzio, one in Caserta and six in Naples. Please drop me an email if possible.

      • My father George Busby passed away 2011 we went to Anzio for the 60 anniversary with Geoff Smith and several others. They were treated as heroes especially by the children of Anzio.

  • I have just read the various communications above and will remember you all when I next see the plaque to HMS Spartan on the wall in the corner of the port at Anzio. Close by is one to the fallen of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, which included my father. I was present when this was unveiled by Duke’s veteran, John Young in 2004.

  • My great grandad Joseph (joe) schofield survived the tradgedy and I want to research more. I still hold his medals close to me all the time.can anyone help

    • 4i can remember your Dad Johnnie Joseph from the Spartan survivors we used to meet at the Portland hotel in Birmingham at the end of January. There were about 20 survivors attended. My dad Geoff Smith managed to raise the money to have a plaque in Anzio where we are right now for the 75th anniversary .

  • It appears that my second cousin Able Seaman James Sanders, born in Darwen Lancashire, was one of those lost in the sinking of Spartan and I presume his body was never recovered. He was 22. His name is commemorated on the Portsmouth memorial.

  • My late grandfather, Ronald Mairs,DLX 571180, survived the sinking of HMS Spartan. He was the Captains Steward. He was in one of the main turrets when the ship was hit working as a gun loader I think. I had many conversations with him about his time on the ship, I think he appreciated my interest. His account of the sinking was very dramatic. He almost didn’t get out and would have drowned if it hadn’t been for a strong shipmate (a marine I think he said) pulling him out by the scruff of his neck! After the ship went down, he was taken to Egypt on a hospital ship.

  • I am trying to find out about an uncle I never knew. I know he was posted to fight in the battle of Anzio and I remember my grandmother telling me he was on a ship that was bombed and it sank. I can only think that the ship must have been HMS Spartan. His name was Thomas Savage and although this is a very long shot, I wonder if any surviving relatives have a list of the men who died in that attack? Thanks for your wonderful research so far.

  • RAYMOND BOMBY (died 2009)survived the sinking of the Spartan. In his account he writes about having been picked from the sea by HMS O’Rien but I can find no such ship. Any help/suggestions?

  • My father William Charles Horbury was a radar plot on board .Dad never spoke about the war but did once tell me he was on deck and his best pal was crushed under a gun turret asked my dad to get his fags out of his top pocket give him one and keep the rest and died in front of him. I know his parents got a telegram listing him as missing in action but never did dad want to speak of that time

  • Hi there – my Father-in-law ( George Roycroft ) was on the Spartan when it sunk. He was in the Royal Marines and couldn’t swim! He was a musician. I can’t find any record of his being on this boat. Please can someone point me in the right direction? He passed away a few years ago but the info would be appreciated by his family. Many thanks. Valerie

    • Thinking about my father in law. I know he changed his surname at some stage from Bolger/Bulger to Roycroft so unsure which name he was in the Marines with.

  • My great grandfathers brother samuel cooper was on hms spartan when it went down we dont know if his body was ever found as my great grandfather wouldn’t talk about the war I’d love to find some more information as my daughter is studying world war 2 at school

    • Dear Crystal,
      The information below has I know been sent to you direct but Charles and I thought that it would be helpful to others if some of the information we here in a reply to a comment.

      There was a very good web-site written by David Hughes all about the sinking but in the last couple of months it has disappeared and I am trying to trace it.

      However from

      https://www.naval-history.net/xDKCas1944-01JAN.htm
      Naval History Homepage and Site Search
      Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, World War 2
      Researched & compiled by Don Kindell, all rights reserved

      There is the following record:

      COOPER, Samuel C, Ty/Leading Cook (S), D/MX 81086, MPK

      Ty means Temporary
      (S) means Steward
      MPK means missing presumed killed

      Using the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, I found the following link
      https://www.cwgc.org/find/find-war-dead/results?firstName=samuel&lastName=cooper&serviceNumber=81086
      Commemorated at PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL
      Location: Devon, United Kingdom
      Number of casualties: 23224
      Cemetery/memorial reference: Panel 91, Column 2.

      Memorial details

      I also downloaded the attached commemorative certificate

      So I suspect that Samuel’s body was never found. Another casualty who is listed as killed is also on the Plymouth memorial so from that I think nobody saw or knew what happened to Samuel

      As I said at the beginning David Hughes had a very good site but it seems to have disappeared but I have another link that gives a bit more detail https://www.world-war.co.uk/spartan_loss.php3

      Robin Hollamby. Website Editor.

  • Hello Robin/Crystal,

    I am the David Hughes who created the Spartan website and are now long since retired from AUT.

    So, it is now sadly apparent that someone at AUT has seen fit to ‘retire’ the website as an entity from the university server. I can only presume, that means, in effect, it will have been ‘binned’ as being an ephemeral ‘body of work’.

    I guess that’s one of the problems with this form of media? I’m a ‘book-man’ myself and although it’s a stretch to think of such an event as a ‘book burning’ – to that end the Spartan site has been my first (and only) venture in ‘assembling’ a web-site.

    All that aside, I would have thought AUT might have sent some sort of advisory email – if not an offer of an ‘archival-back-up’ disc? But – here we are!

    My immediate thought is, if you are inclined, I could possibly find a ‘first contact’ name at AUT and see how ‘final’ the file deletion is. If that fails, I’d be happy to enter into some form ‘written exchange’ with you – given the realization that most of the original sources have now ‘passed’ and that my filing system is now scattered over multiple versions of Microsoft,et al.

    Kind regards,
    David Hughes

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