A Second War ‘Operation Pedestal Malta Convoy’ D.S.M. group of six awarded to Chief Stoker Charles Gibson, Royal Navy, who displayed ‘great bravery’ when H.M.S. Manchester was badly hit and had to be abandoned off the coast of Tunisia
Distinguished Service Medal, G.VI.R. (K.64414 C. Gibson. Ch. Sto. R.N.); 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star, 1 clasp, France and Germany; Africa Star; War Medal 1939-45; Royal Navy L.S. & G.C., G.VI.R., 1st issue (K.64414 C. Gibson. Ch. Sto. H.M.S. Manchester.)
Condition nearly extremely fine
D.S.M. London Gazette 1 January 1943.
The recommendation, for an immediate award, states: ‘This man displayed great bravery, and with tenacity fought his way through choking fumes and smoke in the dark, in order to sluice oil from Y1 and Y2 tanks, to expedite trimming.’
The cruiser H.M.S. Manchester had been transferred to the 10th Cruiser Squadron in July 1942, in preparation for Operation Pedestal, another convoy to resupply the besieged island of Malta. She departed Greenock on 4 August, part of the escort for the aircraft carrier Furious. They joined the main body of the convoy on the 7th off the coast of Portugal. The cruiser refuelled at Gibraltar and rejoined Force X, the convoy's close escort, on 10 August. Later that day, Eagle was sunk by a German submarine, the first casualty of many suffered by the convoy.
By the night of 13/14 August, Force X was passing through the mine-free channel close off the Tunisian coast. At 00:40 the convoy was attacked by a pair of German E-boats, but they were driven off, with one boat damaged by British fire. About 20 minutes later Manchester was attacked near Kelibia by a pair of Italian motor torpedo boats (M.T.B’s), MS 16 and MS 22, which each fired one torpedo, one of which struck the cruiser in the aft engine room, despite her efforts to evade the torpedoes, and jamming her rudder hard to starboard. The hit killed one officer and nine ratings and knocked out electrical power to the aft end of the ship. She slowed to a stop as both starboard propeller shafts were damaged and flooding of the aft engine room disabled both inner shafts. Only the port outer shaft was operable, but its turbine had temporarily lost steam due to the explosion.
The flooding quickly caused Manchester to take on an 11-degree list and both the main radio room and the four-inch magazine to fill with water. At about 01:40 Captain Drew ordered ‘Emergency Stations’, which was a standing order when not already at action stations that required all crewmen not required to operate or supply the anti-aircraft guns to proceed to their abandon ship positions. Transferring oil from the starboard fuel tanks to port and jettisoning the starboard torpedoes reduced the list to about 4.5 degrees by 02:45. Drew felt that the ship's tactical situation was dire due to the threat of other motor torpedo boats as the ship's working armament was limited to the four-inch guns and the anti-aircraft weapons. He also felt it imperative that she had to reach deep water by Zumba Island by dawn (05:30) which he estimated would take about three hours of steaming. The initial damage reports included a two- to three-hour estimate of restoring steam power, as the extent of the damage had not yet been fully assessed, although that was repaired much more quickly than the initial estimate. Focused on the tactical situation, Drew was unaware that steam had been restored to the port outer turbine, the rudder unjammed and electrical power had been restored to the steering gear at about 02:02, before he decided to abandon ship 45 minutes later. Earlier, the destroyer Pathfinder had stopped to render assistance at 01:54 and Drew had transferred 172 wounded and superfluous crewmen before she had to depart to rejoin the convoy.
About 02:30 Drew inquired about the necessary preparations for scuttling by her own crew with explosive charges during a conversation with his chief engineer. About 15 minutes later he addressed the crew informing them of his decision to scuttle the cruiser and to prepare to abandon ship. The order to scuttle was given at 02:50 and it was impossible to rescind when the chief engineer informed him that power had been restored to one turbine and the steering gear five minutes later. Manchester finally sank at 06:47. Drew ordered his crew to abandon ship at 03:45; one man drowned as he attempted to swim ashore, but the rest of his men survived. Most made it ashore, but an estimated 60 to 90 men were rescued by the destroyers Somali and Eskimo when they were dispatched at 07:13 to render assistance to the cruiser after Pathfinder met up the rest of the 10th Cruiser Squadron. Two other men were rescued by an Italian M.T.B., but they were ultimately turned over to the French and joined the rest of the crew in the Laghouat internment camp at Algiers.
In what became the Royal Navy’s longest-ever court martial in modern times, the court determined that Captain Drew had been premature in ordering the scuttling of his ship. He was consequently ‘dismissed his ship’, severely reprimanded, and was prohibited from further command at sea.
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