HMS Argyll remembers Battle of Crete Heroes

Flanked by his Commanding Officer, Commander Toby Shaughnessy, and the youngest sailor, Able Seaman Rhys Garty, HMS Argyll’s chaplain Alastair Blaine remembers a wartime tragedy.

Three dozen miles off the northeastern tip of Crete, the frigate’s crew paused to honour the sacrifices of 722 men of HMS Gloucester, one of nine ships lost in the bitter battle for the Mediterranean island in May and June 1941.

The Royal Navy dominated the seas around Crete, but the Germans used air power first to invade, then to maul both the defenders on land and at sea.

Gloucester was one of the ships dispatched to prevent the Germans reinforcing their airborne troops by sea – and the RN killed hundreds of enemy troops crossing to Crete in fishing smacks.

At this early point in Argyll’s deployment it was good to pause and reflect on the tradition of bravery and dedication which we are proud to own.

Cdr Shaughnessy RN

But the naval force was spotted by the Luftwaffe and subjected to terrible bombardment.

The final 15 or 20 minutes of the ‘Fighting G’, when she fell victim to a succession of bombs from dive bombers, were described by one survivor as a “holocaust”: there were men without arms, without legs, men burned alive.

The ship’s surgeons and sick bay attendants offered what help they could in the little time the ship had left, hurriedly applying bandages, splinting broken arms and legs, issuing morphine to deaden the pain.

And the ship’s mascot Toby was carefully lowered into the water; the shell-shocked dog was last seen clinging to a piece of wood.

Just 85 men survived when the cruiser went down on May 22 1941. Some 3,800 feet above her wreck, AB Garty offered a wreath to the waves during a minute’s silence on HMS Argyll’s flight deck; the wreath bore the thoughts and prayers of the crew written on individual poppies.

“At this early point in Argyll’s deployment it was good to pause and reflect on the tradition of bravery and dedication which we are proud to own,” said Cdr Shaughnessy.

“We have an exciting task ahead of us and Argyll carries the honour of the Royal Navy into areas where we have not operated for some time.”

The Plymouth-based frigate’s nine-month mission will take her to Singapore, South Korea and Japan.  She will support military exercises in the Asia Pacific region with Five Power Defence Arrangement partners and the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force.

She visited Crete to test her sensors and equipment on the specialist NATO ranges – it’s a rite of passage for any British warship heading through Suez and into the Indian Ocean/Gulf region.