Monday, September 03, 2007

The HMS Cocker incident

With reference to my last post and comments regarding the controversial depiction of a depth charge attack on a suspected U-boat in the classic film 'The Cruel Sea', I have attached below, the letter sent by the Commanding Officer of HMS Cocker.

In this letter the C.O. of HMS Cocker states that a U-boat attacked them when in fact it was established after the war an Eboat (Snellboot) had actually sunk the vessel. The C.O. also finishes his letter by recommending 'Coxswain Male' for an award or perhaps a mention in dispatches. An award never materialised and Bertie once joked with me saying that 'his medal must have been lost in the post!'

I hope the following letter is of interest.

Subject:- Loss of H.M.S'. "Cocker" by Enemy Action on 4th June 1942.
From: Commanding Officer H.M.S. "Cocker"

To: Captain Local Patrols, Alexandria. Copy to S.N O.I.S.Date: 7th June 1942

On 4th June 1942 while on Escort duty from Tobruk to Alexandria with convoy "Sapper", in position 32-06' N. 24-12' E.

At 0105 Hs. While zigzagging on the Port beam of "Katie Moller" as ordered by "Gloxinia", H.M.S. "Cocker" was struck by torpedo from U Boat on the Port side below the Bridge. A second explosion followed almost immediately, presumably the magazine.
The ship sank in two or three minutes after being struck.
The Officer of the Watch between 0000 Hs. and 0400 Hs. was Lieutenant M.Galiup, R.N.V.R. I left the Bridge at 0015, after making out the Night Order Book and leaving verbal instructions concerning disposition of Convoy, going down to my Cabin.
The force of the explosion must have rendered me temporarily unconsciousas I "came to" in a dazed condition to see the Signalman and Telegraphist climbing through the starboard porthole in my cabin, needless to say I followed them.
On reaching the Signal Bridge I observed that the vessel was laying on her Port beam with everything forward of the bridge disintegrated, and on fire between the Funnel and Engine room. As I could find no one in sight left on the vessel, and her stem in the air prior to her final plunge, I dived over the side. In the water, which was thick with oil from the burst Fuel tanks; I heard L/S Stewart calling out that he had a Carley Float, the Signalman, Telegraphist and myself swan towards and hung on to it.
Coxswain Male next joined our party around the float and hearing calls appealing for assistance he promptly swan towards the callers and assisted, in turn, four men to the float. Meantime two other members of the Crew joined us making eleven in all around the float.
"Gloxinia" was seen steaming towards us and when within hailing distance she fired two single Depth Charges from the Throwers which caused two men around the float injuries.
Sometime later "Gloxinia" passed near us again and although we all "Yelled" to them and they were heard to reply, "We are coming back," no effort was made to render assistance to "Cocker" survivors.
Later "Gloxinia" and "Katie Moller" were observed heading Westward, again passing quite close to us but we called for assistance again without reply.
Two other survivors joined us around the float before daylight now making thirteen.
When dawn broke Engineman Brunton was seen on another raft a short distance away, and the Coxswain with the L/S. swam towards it and towed it towards the Carley float, we secured the two together and endeavoured to paddle shorewards. Lieutenant Bloor R.N.V.R. and A.B. Yeoell were observed on another raft a little closer inshore, no one else could be seen in the vicinity M.L. 1048 and an M.T.B. picked us up at 0645. Hs. And were taken to Tobrouk where the injured were medically treated and food and clothing provided for all. Total survivors from H.M.S. "Cocker" were found to be sixteen out of a compliment of thirty-one.

Coxswain Male for the fine example shewn and complete disregard of personal safety in assisting his shipmates to the safety around the Carley float. Leading Seaman Stewart in assisting the Coxswain in the above work.
All survivors of H.M.S. "Cocker" behaved in a most exemplary manner and in particular S/D J. Trubshaw, who though seriously injured was cheerful and uncomplaining, also Engineman Brunton for his unfailing cheerfulness anduntiring energy.

May I suggest in the event of an Escort Vessel being unable to rescue survivors, she should at least release Cariey Float or Raft with a calcium Flare attached.
Lieutenant R.N.V.R.

If you would like to read the original story about HMS Cocker, that was sent to me by Bertie Male, you can find it on my web site by going directly to


Blogger Tomcann said...

This was a very difficult time around Tobruk in those days with the South African Maj Gen. Klopper with 33,000 men of his own Division plus many British Artillery - Infantry particularly the 22nd Guards Brigade within two weeks of being in Rommels "bag" and the beginning of the rout called the Gazala Gallop back to the battle of First Alamein which heralded the advent of Monty and the "Turning of the Tide" which caused the Church Bells of England to be rung in victory.

The exploits of the heroic Royal Navy in those days can not be sufficiently made clear to all of us with notable people like the
"The Pirate of Tobruk" - A.B. Palmer ( the horse farmer from Australia) who was finally "conned" into landing short of Tobruk and also went in the "bag"

"" when the second battle for the Lybian desert began in Novemebr 1041 - HMS Maria Giovanni - an armed sailing trawler - was on the job carrying stores to Tobruk. We left Alexandria on November 15th and Mersa Matruh on November 21st, and went ashore west of Tobruk on 23rd November. I knew the headlands and harbour entrance well but, on this occasion, I made a detour to avoid a U Boat sitting on the surface awaiting our arrival...a tragic error"" Chap 12 - Pirate of Tobruk.

The Navy's efforts - with subsequenty high casualty rates in supplying Tobruk during those tragic days must be enshrined in the annals of history for all to learn.

Tuesday, 04 September, 2007  
Blogger Nick Clark said...


I found your comments very interesting with reference to Tobruk.

I found out that the Italian Schooner Maria Di Giovanna, was captured by the RN on January 1941

I didn't know anything about the book 'The Pirate of Tobruk' by A.B. Palmer, but now I want to get a copy as it sounds like a great book.

There were actually a lot of RANVR officers in the RN Patrol Service and quite a few were either decorated or mentioned in despatches.

Bertie certainly remembers the tough time they had in North African waters during 1941 and during some perieds they were being attacked by enemy aircraft every day.

These were brave men indeed.

Tuesday, 04 September, 2007  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Nick -
"The Pirate" was a bit of a character and his book tells it like it was - after he spent so long in the POw camps in Italy and Germany - he took off for China where he plyed his trade there with sailing ships and finally retired to California where he died at a ripe old age.

The book - was originally published as "Pedlar Palmer of Tobruk" - Alfred Brian Palmer on
ISBN 1-55750-667-1 and has been revised three times since 1981 - th latest being 1994

The nocturnal activities with Naval types like Palmer in supplying Tobruk and bringing out the wounded - and also evacuating the Australian Division under Morshead allowing them to fight at 3rd Alamein - was exceptional - but somehow expected of the Navy.

It's a well told story of his life and the pity of it was that he spent so long inactive as many others did - it was not surprising that we ran short of manpower in Aug/Sep '44 - we had too many who had been captured - Monty summed it up early at Alamein - "we do not surrender unharmed " far too many did ! they also paid the price with starvation and ill health later etc.

Wednesday, 05 September, 2007  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

You have some superb photographs and information. Very interesting!

Wednesday, 05 September, 2007  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Nick -
another book well worth reading to put Pedlar Palmer and the rest of the Naval operations into context at that period is " The Crucible of War" - Barrie Pitt - Pub - paragon ISBN 1-55778-6 this is Vol 1 of his trilogy or that North Africa campaign.

When Palmer was captured he was gearing up for the Battle of "Crusader" which we nearly won
but - once again - the British armour was not as good as it finally became after those lessons had been learned - at high cost !

Thursday, 06 September, 2007  
Blogger Boabbie said...

Hello again Nic thanks for putting this letter on the blog and for the link to veterans tales. With my mothers brother,Jimmy in this blog,in the RN and my fathers brother John in the MN I find these tale very enlightening.

Thursday, 06 September, 2007  
Blogger Tomcann said...

This might be of interest as the context in which Pedler Palmer was attempting to land supplies into Tobruk for the “Crusader” battle which was planned by Lt Gen Cunningham , who had been successful in Eritreia and was the brother of the Admiral – but had been fired by Auchinlek after the debacle at Sid Rezegh and replaced by a junior Maj. Gen. Neil Ritchie much to the disgust of Lt Gen. Godwin – Austin who resigned !

“ Operation Crusader was over, fizzling out in bad weather and worse temper in the desolate sands from which, nine months before, Rommel had launched the first spectacular advance of the Africa Corps. He had good reason for anger. His army had been defeated, and he knew it, not by superior military conception, training or even prowess – but by logistical inadequacy on the part of his own government and their allies. “

Later when he sallied forth once more from El Agheila and began the Gazala Gallop , capturing Tobruk finally and ending up at El Alamein – Ritchie was fired – Auchinlek took over – he was also fired at El Alamein to be replaced by Montgomery. Ritchie went on and was promoted to Lt. Gen and was GOC X11 corps in Monty’s second army in NW Europe.

The casualties of the “Crusader” battle are interesting Nov ‘41 – Jan ‘42
– British 17,700 with 2,900 killed – 7,300 wounded – 7, 000 missing.
Axis 38,300 with 2,300 killed – 6,100 wounded – 29,900 missing (POW’s

Thursday, 20 September, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Skip Palmer" was a friend of mine in several prisoner of war camps in Italy and Germany. If you are interested in some personal stories about this wonderful fellow..
I met him at Padula POW camp,
also Guy Cuthbertson and Blackie Black were there, but most of our South African friends were at Modena, another camp on the other side of Bologna. Guy had struck up a friendship with Skip Palmer and these two provided us with a great deal of fun.
At first I hadn't known Skip too well at Padula. He moved out when the Senior Officers went, but after we were sent to P.G. 19 Officers Camp just outside of Bologna, we became good friends and I learned to love him for his fun and spirit. He was a real old “Salt”, and was taken prisoner when his supply ship was sunk near Tobruk. There never was a dull moment with Guy and Skip around, he always kept up cheerful chatter about his days in the Navy.
Skip Palmer was wonderful at Fort Bismarck. It was terribly depressing there, especially when the lights went out and we lay on the board beds trying to sleep. Skip took to telling us bedtime stories and by the time he finished we were all in a good mood. The Padre demurred a bit at first because of the tone of the stories and the salty language Skip used, but popular demand and opinion howled him down. The stories Skip told were all about the Sea, and his experiences and he swore they were all true. He made the most of them and kept us laughing heartily. The other boys took turns telling stories too, Skip insisted on that, but none could compare with his.
During all the time I knew that man I never once saw him depressed or in a bad humour. He was nearly sixty years old, but he put a lot of the young fellows to shame with his spirit. One train transit trip Skip Palmer tried to escape from a small window as the train was rolling through a tunnel. His right arm was nearly torn off when he jumped for the side of the tracks and it had to be amputated at the shoulder. Skip says a burst of machine gun fire did it, but the Germans say he must have hit a post in the tunnel. The whole camp was thrown into gloom over the news. It took a great deal of courage for a man fifty-five years old to try to escape, let alone do it by jumping off a moving train in a tunnel.
After Moosburg and Fort Bismark we arrived at Oflag VA POW camp close to a little town called Weinsberg, not far from Heidelberg. Skip Palmer arrived in the camp from the hospital and I went to visit him with some hesitation, not knowing how he would react to such a calamity. I needn't have worried. Skipper greeted me with a wave of his stump, cussed the Germans and the Third Reich roundly, and told a humourous story of his escape.
Skipper “Alfie” Palmer was a grand man and a real person to know. Very few people went through the POW life as cheerfully and as bravely as he did.
- Don Edy, RCAF, RAF, MEF, POW in North Africa, Sicily, Italy 1942-1943, and POW camps in Germany 1943-1945, the latter two years at Stalag Luft III, Sagan, Germany.

Wednesday, 11 January, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I might add, I also served in North Africa during Crusader, at the time we knew it as 'the push'. I'd flown Hurricanes, serving in No. 33 Squadron from September 1941 to January 1942 at Gerwala, Gialo, LG 125, Msus and Antelat Landing Grounds. The morning of January 23, 1942, Cloete, Wade, Stammers and I were ordered to strafe an advancing column near Agedabia, Libya. We'd made three passes at the column. By that time the Germans had their 20 MM cannons unlimbered and were firing at us from all directions. There were four or five lorries with ack ack guns mounted in the back. The sky was thick with little black puffs of smoke, but I was too busy and excited to pay any attention to them I kept turning and weaving to make as difficult a target as possible.
In the split second I was going to turn and dive on the last truck in line, two shells hit my Hurricane in quick succession, one in the engine and one in the radiator. The noise was terrific from the explosions. Then the engine ran down like a huge busted alarm clock and stopped dead. I had to do a belly crash from about 100'. I was injured and couldn't run.
A few minutes later, while being bandaged by the Germans, a shout went up along the road and I saw a flag-bedecked staff car go by. All the Officers around the tank came stiffly to attention, clicking their heels even in the sand and shouted “Heil” again and again. Sitting in the car was General Rommel. He didn't look very fearsome that day. Caught perhaps in an unguarded or thoughtful moment, he just looked like a tired old man. The reception given him by the Germans around, even though he just drove by, showed the admiration and respect they held for him. Rommel was lucky. His car came from a direction ahead of the column we had strafed. By the time elapsed, he couldn't have been more than a few miles away. If we had hit a few minutes later, or a few miles farther on, we would have taken a four Hurricane crack at him. We concentrated on Staff cars as there was sure to be some “Brass” in them, and now to think, Wade was in the midst of becoming highest scoring ace in the middle east, he would have taken a good shot at a plum target like that. As it was, before the Germans picked me up, I'd tried to run about 100 yards, but began to feel sick and sat down. The Germans were still about a quarter mile from me. All of a sudden an aircraft circled overhead and I could see Lance waving to me. He had his wheels and flaps down and was trying to land to pick me up. The ground was too rough there, so a landing or take-off would have been impossible. After circling three times, trying to find a smooth spot, Lance had to wave again and fly off for the base. I waved back, but when he was gone I sat down, feeling more sick and discouraged than before. I was just telling my daughter recently, I think he was the bravest man I ever knew.
The most amazing part of Lance's attempt to pick me up, and the proof of just what kind of a man he was, was that all the time he circled my position, every gun in the German column was trained on him, pumping shells in his direction as fast as they could. He paid no attention to them and not one shell hit him. I'm certain Lance was truly sorry he couldn't pick me up and save me from what we always considered would be certain death. Strafing seemed to be such a dirty trick in a way, we figured we would be shot if we were unlucky enough to be caught by the people we were actually strafing.
- Don Edy

Wednesday, 11 January, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting your mention of Pedler Palmer, the “Crusader” battle, Lt Gen Cunningham and his brother the Admiral. I met them all, and my posting in Egypt and Libya was for the purpose of taking part in Crusader. At one of our PoW reunions in Toronto in the 60s or 70s, Alfie 'Skip' Palmer attended all the way from Florida. We kept in touch again briefly, he'd wanted to get some quotes, and we exchanged books. Skip Palmer had also been PoW at Fort Bismarck with me, as well as Padula prisoner of war camp in Italy.
Skip Palmer's good nature was wonderful for our spirits at Fort Bismarck. It was terribly depressing there, especially when the lights went out and we lay on the board beds trying to sleep. Skip took to telling us bedtime stories and by the time he finished we were all in a good mood. (The Padre demurred a bit at first because of the tone of the stories and the salty language Skip used, but popular demand and opinion howled him down. Besides that, the Padre wasn't very popular after a certain porridge hoarding incident, so we didn't give a damn what he thought.) The stories Skip told were all about the Sea, and his experiences and he swore they were all true. He made the most of them and kept us laughing heartily. The other boys took turns telling stories too, Skip insisted on that, but none could compare with his.
During all the time I knew Skip Palmer I never once saw him depressed or in a bad humour. He was nearly sixty years old, but he put a lot of the young fellows to shame with his spirit. I'd love to post more wonderful stories about Alfie Brian 'Skip' Palmer but I've probably taken up too much space already.
Don Edy

Monday, 23 April, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this info.

My uncle, Arthur Perry, was part of the Cocker's crew and unfortunately he did not survive the sinking.
Given the info in the letter it seems clear any survivors probably needed to be strong swimmers and Newfoundlanders were notorious for not learning how to swim as the home waters are too cold.

Wednesday, 17 September, 2014  

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