Allied Warships

HMS Orpheus (i) (N 46)

Submarine of the O class

NavyThe Royal Navy
TypeSubmarine
ClassO 
PennantN 46 
Built byWilliam Beardmore & Co. (Dalmuir, Scotland) 
Ordered21 Dec 1926 
Laid down14 Apr 1927 
Launched26 Feb 1929 
Commissioned23 Sep 1930 
LostJun 1940 
History

HMS Orpheus (Lt.Cdr. James Anthony Surtees Wise, RN) went missing after 2115 hours on 19 June 1940 when she sent her last signal. She was then en-route to Benghazi, Libya where she was to patrol until 1600 hours on 24 June 1940. She was then to proceed to Alexandria where she was to arrive at 0230 GMT on 26 June 1940.

The most likely cause of her loss is that she was mined off Benghazi.

It is often stated that HMS Orpheus was sunk on 19 June 1940 while on patrol about 25 nautical miles north of Tobruk, Libya in position 32º30'N, 24º00'E by the Italian destroyer Turbine but as this should have taken place before Orpheus sent her last signal this in incorrect. Besides that HMS Orpheus at that moment must still have been on passage to Benghazi.

HMS Orpheus was declared overdue on 27 June 1940.

 

Commands listed for HMS Orpheus (i) (N 46)

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CommanderFromTo
1Lt.Cdr. Charles James Blake, RN19 Jun 1938May 1940
2Lt.Cdr. James Anthony Surtees Wise, RNMay 1940Jun 1940

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Notable events involving Orpheus (i) include:


The history of HMS Orpheus as compiled on this page is extracted from the patrol reports and logbooks of this submarine. The revised fate of HMS Orpheus was kindly provided by Mr. Platon Alexiades, a naval researcher from Canada.

This page was last updated in February 2015.

13 Oct 1939
While refitting at Hong Kong, HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN), was undocked. She had been refitting at Hong Kong since July 1939. (1)

13 Nov 1939
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) conducted engine trials off Hong Kong. (2)

15 Nov 1939
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) conducted post refit trials off Hong Kong. (2)

17 Nov 1939
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) conducted torpedo firing trials off Hong Kong. (2)

20 Nov 1939
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) conducted trials off Hong Kong. (2)

21 Nov 1939
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) conducted exercises off Hong Kong. (2)

22 Nov 1939
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) conducted exercises off Hong Kong. (2)

23 Nov 1939
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) conducted exercises off Hong Kong. (2)

27 Nov 1939
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) conducted exercises off Hong Kong. (2)

30 Nov 1939
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) departed Hong Kong for Singapore.

For the daily positions of HMS Orpheus during this passage see the map below.

(2)

5 Dec 1939
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) arrived at Singapore. (3)

9 Dec 1939
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) departed Singapore for Colombo.

For the daily positions of HMS Orpheus during this passage see the map below.

(3)

14 Dec 1939
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) arrived at Colombo. (3)

18 Dec 1939
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) departed Colombo for her 1st war patrol. She was ordered to patrol off the Chagos Archipelago.

For the daily positions of HMS Orpheus during this patrol see the map below.

(3)

16 Jan 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) ended her 1st war patrol at Colombo. (4)

22 Jan 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) departed Colombo for her 2nd war patrol. She was ordered to patrol off the Chagos Archipelago and the Maldives.

For the daily positions of HMS Orpheus during this patrol see the map below.

(4)

4 Feb 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) ended her 2nd war patrol at Colombo. (5)

8 Feb 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) was docked at Colombo. (5)

10 Feb 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) was undocked. (5)

15 Feb 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) conducted exercises off Colombo together with aircraft and HMS Widnes (Lt.Cdr. R.B. Chandler, RN). (5)

16 Feb 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) departed Colombo for her 3rd war patrol. She was ordered to patrol off the Chagos Archipelago and the Maldives.

For the daily positions of HMS Orpheus during this patrol see the map below.

(5)

2 Mar 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) ended her 3rd war patrol at Colombo. (6)

15 Mar 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) departed Colombo for her 4th war patrol. She was ordered to proceed to Diego Saurez, Madagascar. En-route she was to inspect several anchorages. Upon departing Colombo exercises were carried out with HMS Widnes (Lt.Cdr. R.B. Chandler, RN).

For the daily positions of HMS Orpheus during this patrol see the map below.

(6)

23 Mar 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) ended her 4th war patrol at Diego Saurez where she was immediately docked. (6)

25 Mar 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) was undocked. (6)

26 Mar 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) departed Diego Saurez for her 5th war patrol. She was ordered to patrol off Réunion together with the French sloop Rigault de Genouilly (CF (= Cdr) L.G.E. Frossard).

For the daily positions of HMS Orpheus during this patrol see the map below.

(6)

28 Mar 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) was ordered to return to Diego Saurez. (6)

30 Mar 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) returned to Diego Saurez. After fuelling she departed for Aden. Orpheus was to proceed to the Mediterranean.

For the daily positions of HMS Orpheus during the passage to Aden see the map below.

(6)

6 Apr 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) arrived at Aden. (7)

14 Apr 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) departed Aden for Port Said.

For the daily positions of HMS Orpheus during this patrol see the map below.

(7)

19 Apr 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) arrived at Port Said. (7)

21 Apr 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) departed Port Said for Malta. She made the passage together with HMS Moy (Lt. V.G. Palmer, RN) and HMS Odin (Lt.Cdr. K.M. Woods, RN).

For the daily positions of HMS Orpheus during this passage see the map below.

(7)

26 Apr 1940
HMS Orpheus (Cdr. C.J. Blake, RN) arrived at Malta. (7)

30 May 1940
HMS Orpheus (Lt.Cdr. J.A.S. Wise, RN) conducted exercises off Malta together with HMS Grampus (Lt.Cdr. C.A. Rowe, RN) and HMS Rorqual (Lt.Cdr R.H. Dewhurst, RN). (8)

4 Jun 1940
HMS Orpheus (Lt.Cdr. J.A.S. Wise, RN) departed Malta for her 6th war patrol (1st in the Mediterranean). She was to take up a defensive position off Malta.

We are not sure of the exact date of her sailing for this patrol. Most likely it was the 4th. (9)

10 Jun 1940
When the war with Italy started, HMS Orpheus (Lt.Cdr. J.A.S. Wise, RN), was on patrol to the south-west of Malta. Late in the evening she was then ordered to patrol off Corfu. She acknowledged this signal at 2354/10. (9)

11 Jun 1940
At 2115 hours, HMS Orpheus (Lt.Cdr. J.A.S. Wise, RN), was ordered to return to her patrol position off Malta [one source indicates that this was to the south west of Malta, the other that it was 130° - St. Elmo -14 miles]. Again she acknowledged having received this signal. (9)

12 Jun 1940
At 1200 hours as HMS Orpheus (Lt.Cdr. J.A.S. Wise, RN) was 70 miles north-east of Malta, an Italian squadron described as three Zara-class cruisers and six destroyers were sighted on a NNW course. The submarine was probably too far to intercept as no attack were reported. These were actually the heavy cruisers Pola, Trento and Bolzano screened by the destroyers Artigliere, Camicia Nera, Aviere, Lanciere, Ascari, Corazziere and Carabiniere (an eight destroyer Geniere had turned back a few hours before). They had sailed from Messina and Reggio to intercept a convoy reported by an aircraft off Crete on a westerly direction but were now returning home as the report had turned out to be incorrect.

13 Jun 1940
At 0100 hours HMS Orpheus (Lt.Cdr. J.A.S. Wise, RN) arrived back in her patrol position to the south-west of Malta. (9)

18 Jun 1940
In the evening HMS Orpheus (Lt.Cdr. J.A.S. Wise, RN) acknowledged having received the signal ordering her to proceed to Alexandria. (9)

19 Jun 1940
In his signal timed 1211/19 Capt. S.1 ordered HMS Orpheus (Lt.Cdr. J.A.S. Wise, RN) to patrol off Benghazi, Libya as part of the deployment in support of Operation BS2 (bombardment of Bardia). The German B-Dienst had intercepted the signal but chose not inform their new allies. HMS Orpheus acknowledged having received this signal at at 1416/19 and again at 2115/19. This was the last signal received from HMS Orpheus. (9)

20 Jun 1940
In his signal timed 1703/20 Capt. S.1 ordered HMS Orpheus (Lt.Cdr. J.A.S. Wise, RN) to leave her patrol off Benghazi after 1600/22 and to arrive off Alexandria at 0230 GMT/26. Orpheus was not told to acknowledge this signal. She was expected to pass through position 33°30'N, 18°40'E at about 2000/20.

Capt. S.1 amended Orpheus's route in his signal timed 1421/22 but again this signal required no acknowledgement.

The exact cause of her loss are not known but it is possible that she ran in one of two minefields (each of 40 mines) laid about 9-10 miles west and northwest of Benghazi. Surviving Italian documents do not give the precise date in which they were laid except that it was in June 1940, possibly just before the outbreak of war. (9)

Sources

  1. ADM 173/15839
  2. ADM 173/15840
  3. ADM 173/15841
  4. ADM 173/16367
  5. ADM 173/16368
  6. ADM 173/16369
  7. ADM 173/16370
  8. ADM 173/16486
  9. ADM 199/1115

ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.


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