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Sinking of Royal Navy Battleship HMS Barham

HMS Barham : A Queen Elizabeth-class Royal Navy Battleship Laid Down In 1913

Aerial view of Barham in Scapa Flow, 1917

Sinking of Royal Navy Battleship HMS Barham. A legendary battleship with a history at Jutland, during World War 2 HMS Barham was stationed with the Royal Navy’s Eastern Mediterranean fleet in Egypt.

On the afternoon of the 24th November of 1941, HMS Barham, sailed to provide cover for the 7th and 15th Royal Navy Cruiser Squadrons.

In addition, she was joined by the battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant. Lastly the 3 battleships were joined by an escort of eight destroyers.


HMS Barham at Valetta in August 1936

They departed Alexandria to hunt for Italian convoys in the Central Mediterranean.

The next morning German U-boat U-331 would detect the engine noises of the convoy.

Barham refuelling in Souda Bay, February 1941
Royal Navy official photographer – This is photograph AX 28A from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 4700-04 )

Hans-Diedrich von Tiesenhausen commanded the German submarine. Tiesenhausen would go on to recieve two Iron Cross awards from the Third Reich, in both the 1st and 2nd class. Tiesenhausen would go on to become a POW and spend the remainder of the war in Canada until his release in 1947

Hans-Diedrich von Tiesenhausen

By the next morning the Royal Navy convoy had made it to north of Sidi Barani. Unaware of U-331’s presence, she was able to sneak past the escorting destroyers who were hunting for the U-boats.

As the afternoon set in, Tiesenhausen’s U-331 had found its way to be on a reciprocal pattern with the squadron. She was still undetected by the escorting destroyers and her window of attack had opened up.

At 16:00 hours, Tiesenhausen ordered his crew to battlestations.

Tiesenhausen closed inside of the Royal Navy’s squadron, but at 16:18 her engines were detected by the destroyer Jervis. But, the reading was disregarded as it seemed the detection was larger than a submarine. Hence it was considered to be a mistaken reading.

Barham leading Malaya and the aircraft carrier Argus in the late-1920s

And sadly, U-331 sailed on past the destoryers towards the battleships.

At 16:25 Tiesenhausen fired all 4 of his torpedoes.

3 of them would strike and sink HMS Barham while Tiesenhausen thought only 1 would make it through.

As Barham rolled over to port, her aft magazines exploded and she quickly sank.

But, Barham’s sinking was not clear and the Germans would not be able to take immense pride in the sinking until the Royal Navy finally admitted her sinking in 1942.

Tiesenhausen had received some fire after surfacing. But, she dove to more than twice her acceptable depth to evade the Royal Navy’s response.

She would return home unscathed.

HMS Barham’s sinking would be filmed by a crew that happened to be on another ship at the time.

Her sinking would happen quickly as a her main magazine hold would be detonated by other magazine hold explosions. 862 of her crew would go down with the ship, while 487 would be rescued by destroyers.

Her wreck has still not been located.

Sinking of Royal Navy Battleship HMS Barham

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