James Alexander Birss
The sinking of the Neptune.
HMS Neptune, a Leander Class Cruiser, had seen service in the South Atlantic during 1939 and the Mediterranean and East Indies in 1940. Early in 1941, New Zealand agreed to partly man Neptune and 150 New Zealanders joined her in May of that year. The intention was for Neptune to sail for the New Zealand station and stand in for HMS Leander, which was to stay on overseas service.
HMS Neptune under the Command of Captain Rory O’Conor sailed from Malta at high speed on the evening of 18 December 1941, in the company of six destroyers, to seek out the Italian Battleship force, which had been sighted by aerial reconnaissance about half - way between Malta and Benghazi.
In the early morning of 19 December 1941 the force was about twenty miles from Tripoli when Neptune, which was leading, struck the first mine. Going full astern she hit another mine wrecking her propellers and steering gear, bringing the ship to a standstill. A minute or so later she exploded a third mine and took a heavy list to port. At about 0400, the Neptune set off a fourth mine, then quickly rolled over and sank. The order was given to abandon ship. A heavy sea was running and the men had to go overboard, death came quickly to many of her company, many perished as they tried to swim to safety.
Only sixteen men of the ship’s company survived the sinking and were left afloat on a raft when daylight came. All but one of the survivors succumbed to thirst and exhaustion during the next six days. The sole survivor, Leading Seaman Norman Walton of the Royal Navy, was rescued by an Italian ship and was interned as a prisoner of war
Neptune was deployed into the eastern Mediterranean for operations between Malta and Egypt and off the North African coast in July 1941. The 764 men including the 150 New Zealanders died when she sank in the early hours of 19th December 1941.
The names of two officers and 148 ratings furnished, by far, the longest list of casualties in the war record of the Royal New Zealand Navy.
There are no public contributions written for this casualty
Text in italics supplied by Cenotaph Online, Auckland War Memorial Museum