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Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber
Submarine Iride

On this day 22 August 1940

Published: 22 Aug 2014

On this day 22 August 1940 Swordfish sink Italian submarines in Bomba harbour

Captain Oliver Patch, Royal Marines led a flight of three Fairey Swordfish torpedo aircraft that were temporarily detached from HMS Eagle. Flying from an RAF base in the western desert of Egypt, the Fleet Air Arm crew from 824 Squadron flew far out to sea and then turned towards the Italian Libyan harbour of Bomba, where an Italian supply ship had been sighted by earlier reconnaissance.

Approaching the harbour Patch saw an Italian submarine on the surface. This was an unexpected bonus. It was later learnt that this was the submarine Iride, exercising with frogmen who were planning to make a covert attack on the British base at Alexandria. Patch released his torpedo from 30 feet at a distance of 300 yards and scored a direct hit below the conning tower.

His wingmen Lieutenant’s Neville Cheeseman and John Welham flew on through the flak to attack another submarine and the depot ship Monte Gargano in the Bomba harbour. They both scored hits and the exploding ammunition on the depot ship caught a destroyer that was alongside. The Italians subsequently reported that two submarines and two ships had been sunk. Welham’s Swordfish was badly damaged by anti-aircraft fire but he made it back to the forward base before it had to be abandoned.

Lt John Wellham, was in the action wounded; he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). Captain Patch received the Distinguished Service Order, while Lt Cheesman, Sub-Lieutenant Frederick Stovin-Bradford and Acting Sub-Lieutenant Gordon Woodley also received the DSC, and Petty Officer Alfred Marsh the Distinguished Service Medal. Patch and Wellham would later fly in the attack on Italian fleet at Taranto harbour.


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