Geoffrey Robert Bensly Back, RN

Born  22 Feb 1894Smallburgh, Norfolk, England
Died  29 May 1941(47)Killed on board HMS Orion


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Ranks

15 Sep 1911 Mid.
15 Jan 1914 A/S.Lt.
30 Aug 1914 S.Lt.
30 Nov 1915 Lt.
30 Nov 1923 Lt.Cdr.
30 Jun 1929 Cdr.
31 Dec 1936 Capt.

Decorations

1 Jan 1942 Mentioned in Despatches (MID) (posthumous)
3 Feb 1942 Mentioned in Despatches (MID) (posthumous)

Warship Commands listed for Geoffrey Robert Bensly Back, RN


ShipRankTypeFromTo
HMS Duncan (D 99)Capt.Destroyer8 Jul 19392 Jan 1940
HMS Orion (85)Capt.Light cruiser31 Jan 194029 May 1941 (+)

Career information

We currently have no career / biographical information on this officer.

Events related to this officer

Light cruiser HMS Orion (85)


21 Jun 1940

Operation MD 3

Bombardment of Bardia, 21 June 1940.

An Allied force sailed on 20 June 1940 to carry out operation MD 3, the object was to destroy military objectives at Bardia and to destroy enemy submarines.

At 0800/20, the destroyers HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, RN), HMS Havock (Lt.Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN) and HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, DSO, RN), sailed to carry out an A/S sweep along the North African coast as far as the longtitude of Tobruk, reaching this position at 0400/21 and to return to Alexandria at 1830/21.

A second force, made up of the French battleship Lorraine (Capt. L.M.L. Rey), the British light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.C. Tovey, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O’Coner, RN), the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, RAN) and the destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN), HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN) and HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Thyrwitt, RN) departed Alexandria at 1130/20 to conduct a bombardment of Bardia, Libya.

After this force had sailed, information was received from air reconnaissance that there were three enemy cruisers, three destroyers, two submarines and ten other ships over 40 feet long and eleven smaller vessels at Tobruk. It was therefore decided to provide cover for the destroyers of the A/S sweep. Another force left Alexandria at 1730/20 with orders to be in a position 40 nautical miles north of Tobruk at 0600/21 and if no enemy forces were encountered to return to Alexandria by 2000/21. This force was made up of the French cruisers Suffren (Capt. R.J.M. Dillard) and Duguay Trouin (Capt. J.M.C. Trolley de Prevaux). They were escorted by the British destroyers HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN) and HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitkat, RN).

The actual bombardment.

The bombarding squadron arrived off the coast at 0500/21, a few minutes before sunrise. As he could not avoid the disadvantage of the dawn light, Vice-Admiral J.C. Tovey, CB, DSO, RN had decided to make the last 20 nautical miles or so of his approach at that time, and to attack while the sun was still low enough to dazzle the Italian gunners on the shore. The ships spread as their instructions prescribed, and stood to the south-westward towards Bardia in the order HMS Orion, Lorraine, HMS Neptune and HMAS Sydney with two destroyers on the outer bow of each wing ship, HMAS Stuart and HMS Decoy to port and HMS Dainty and HMS Hasty to starboard.

At 0548 hours, HMS Orion opened fire, followed immediately by the other big ships except HMAS Sydney, which joined in about five minutes later, by which time the squadron had altered course to 145 degrees. The destroyers also started firing after the turn. At 0610 hours the squadron withdrew to the north-westward.

HMS Orion started by ranging on the lighthouse on Point Bluff at about 13500 yards range, it stood close to the position of the Italian coast defence battery, and at that time was the ony object in the target area that could be seen clearly to the haze. After turning to the south-westerly course at 0550 hours, she fired on the battery position itself until it was clear that the battery was not replying. Then at 0600 hours, she shifted to her second target area, the Wadi Jefran. Shooting was difficult as communication with her spotter aircraft could not be established.

The Lorraine attacked various targets in the left half of the area assigned to HMS Neptune, the town of Bardia, with her 13.4” guns, and perhaps silenced an anti-aircraft battery in that area with her 5.5” guns.

HMS Neptune ranged on the barracks in the left half of the town. As soon as she began firing for effect, however, the smoke of the explosions prevented her aircraft from observing, so she fired a few salvoes blind, which, with the Lorraine’s fire in the same quarter, raised cloud of dust that hid all that part of the target area. Accordingly HMS Neptune shifted her fire right, by steps, to attack an anti-aircraft battery in the northern half of that area and on regaining communication with her spotter aircraft during this sweep, she fired seventeen 4-gun salvoes with its help and the battery ceased fire.

HMAS Sydney fired at one target throughout, the camp in the centre of her area, starting a fire in one corner and probably causing losses amongst troops that were seen to leave the camp during the shoot. Smoke and dust obscured the target, so that she only saw half her shell burst. An unfortunate attack by fighter aircraft from the R.A.F. drove the spotter aircraft for HMAS Sydney out of action after her second salvo.

As for the destroyers, HMAS Stuart and HMS Decoy, now ahead of the line fired into the area of HMS Neptune at the wireless masts and the barracks respectively from a range of about 12000 yards. Smoke and dust made spotting difficult, and HMS Decoy fired only four salvoes in consequence. On the other hand HMAS Stuart could distinguish her shell bursts from those of HMS Neptune and the ones from the Lorraine so she continued firing until the smoke at last made spotting impossible.

HMS Dainty and HMS Hasty were astern of HMAS Sydney. The former attacked a house near the artillery headquarters, and believed she set it on fire. She also fired at the wireless masts. The main range for her shoot was about 14000 yards. Like the other destroyers she found her fall of shot hard to distinguish from that of the bigger ships. HMS Hasty fired on the wireless station, probably the same building as one of targets of the Lorraine. HMS Hasty then shifted her fire to a party of troops coming from the camp in the area HMAS Sydney was firing on. She could not see her fall of shot when firing at these troops.

Rounds expended in the shore bombardment was as follows; HMS Orion 118 rounds of 6”, Lorraine 53 rounds of 13.4” and 37 rounds of 5.5”, HMS Neptune 134 rounds of 6”, HMAS Sydney 148 rounds of 6”, HMAS Stuart 39 rounds of 4.7”, HMS Decoy 12 rounds of 4.7”, HMS Dainty 56 rounds of 4.7” and HMS Hasty 47 rounds of 4.7”.

Results

The Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet, called this bombardment ‘ a useful minor operation, in which the damage caused fully justified the ammunition expended ‘. So far as could be judged from air reconnaissance / photographs and from what the ships could see at the time, the squadron destroyed some ammunition and other storehouses in the Wadi Jefran, blew up an anti-aircraft battery’s ammunition dump, and damaged or set fire to barracks and other government buildings in and near the town.

The Italians did not reply to the fire, indeed the squadron could see no coast-defence guns in position. The only opposition came from anti-aircraft guns, which fired a few rounds at the spotting aircraft without effect. (1)

27 Jun 1940

Operation MA 3, convoy’s from Malta and convoy AS 1 from the Dardanelles.

Convoy AS 1 from the Aegean (mostly from the Dardanelles) to Port Said.

This convoy was made up of the following ships:

From the Dardanelles:
British merchants: Deebank (5060 GRT, built 1929), Destro (3553 GRT, built 1920), Eastlea (4267 GRT, 1924), Egyptian Prince (3490 GRT, 1922), Palermo (2797 GRT, built 1938), Volo (1587 GRT, built 1938) and the tug Brittania towing the small river tanker Danube Shell II (704 GRT, built 1934).

From Kalamata:
British merchant Destro (3553 GRT, built 1920).

From Izmir:
British merchant African Prince (4653 GRT, built 1939).

The Dutch merchant Ganymedes (2682 GRT, built 1917) also joined the convoy. Her port of origin is currently unknown to us.

These ships were escorted by the British light cruisers HMS Caledon (Capt. C.P. Clarke, RN), HMS Capetown (Capt. T.H. Back, RN, senior officer of the escort) and the destroyers HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN) and ORP Garland (Kpt. mar. (Lt.) A. Doroszkowski, ORP). These ships had sailed from Port Said (HMS Capetown, HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk. These ships had sailed late in the afternoon of the 26th.) and Alexandria (HMS Caledon, HMAS Vampire and ORP Garland. These ships had sailed in the evening of the 26th).

The escort joined up with the convoy late in the morning of 28 June 1940 and then proceeded towards Port Said where it arrived on 2 July 1940. In the afternoon of 29 June 1940, when near the Doro Channel, the convoy had been bombed by Italian aircraft but no damage had been sustained. The next day, when between Gavdo Island and Crete the convoy was attacked again by the Italian air force but again no damage was sustained. Following the first air attack HMS Orion, HMS Neptune and HMAS Sydney proceeded to the convoy to provide additional protection. They were near the convoy when it was attacked for the second time and were attacked themselves by eight enemy aircraft. Heavy bombs fell close to the Orion and Neptune but no actual hits were sustained although Neptune suffered some splinter damage to her aircraft and some superficial damage to the superstructure as well. The aircraft was jettisoned due to the danger of fire. Three of her crew were injured. The three cruisers left the convoy at 0900/1. When they arrived at Alexandria in the second half of 1 July 1940, HMAS Sydney landed 44 survivors from the Espero.

Operation MA 3

On 27 June 1940, five destroyers (HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN), HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN) and HMAS Voyager (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Morrow, RAN) departed Alexandria at 0600/27 to carry out an A/S hunt off the Anti-Kithera channel on 28 June leaving that area at 2200/28 to arrive at Malta at 1800/29 to provide escort for two groups of merchants ships that were to proceed from Malta to Alexandria. They were to sail at 2100/29 with a 13 knot convoy and a 9 knot convoy. The convoy’s were to arrive at Alexandria on 2 July and 4 July respectively. The fast convoy was to be escorted by HMS Dainty, HMS Ilex and one destroyer from Malta, HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN). The slow convoy was to be escorted by the other destroyers, HMS Decoy, HMS Defender and HMAS Voyager.

Also on 27 June 1940, at 1100 hours, to provide cover for the convoy’s from a position about 60 nautical miles north of their track. They were to return to Alexandria at 1800/3. HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, OBE, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN) and the destroyers HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN), HMS Hasty, (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Havock (Lt.Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN) and HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN) were to leave Alexandria at 1230/28. They were to cruise to the north-west of position 35°N, 22°E from 2000/29 until the convoy had passed.

The 7th Cruiser Squadron, made up of HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice Admiral J.C. Tovey, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMS Gloucester (Capt. F.R. Garside, CBE, RN), HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN) and and HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, RAN) departed Alexandria also at 1100/27 to provide close cover for the convoy’s coming from Malta.

On 28 June air reconnaissance reported three Italian destroyers about 75 nautical miles west-south-west of Cape Matapan and the 7th Cruiser Squadron set a course to intercept which they successfully did at 1830 hours. In a long range action one of the Italian destroyers, the Espero was sunk by HMAS Sydney. She attacked the British cruisers so that the other two destroyer had a chance to escape in which the succeeded. After this action it was decided the next to postpone the sailing of the convoy’s and to send HMS Gloucester and HMS Liverpool to Port Said to complete with ammunition and the remaining forces were ordered to cover convoy AS 1 coming from the Aegean. As said above the other three cruisers of the 7th Cruiser Squadron returned to Alexandria on 1 July. HMS Royal Sovereign, HMS Ramillies, HMS Eagle and their escorting destroyers returned to Alexandria in the first half of 2 July.

The A/S sweep by the five destroyers also proved very successful as they sank three Italian submarines. On the 27th the Console Generale Liuzzi by HMS Decoy, HMS Defender and HMS Ilex and on the 29th HMS Decoy, HMS Dainty, Defender, HMS Ilex and HMAS Voyager carried out depth charge attacks on three Italian submarines. They sank the Uebi Scebelli and damaged the Salpa. The Capitano Tarantini (offsite link) managed to escape. Following the sinking of the Uebi Scebelli, HMAS Voyager picked up secret Italian documents and she was ordered to proceed with these documents to Alexandria where she arrived in the second half of 30 June 1940. The destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN) and HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, DSO, RN) proceeded to sea from Alexandria to join the hunt for other Italian submarines of which the patrol positions were mentioned in these secret documents. HMS Dainty had picked up 10 officers and 72 ratings from the Liuzzi and Uebi Scebelli. The destroyers continued their A/S sweep until 2000/30 but no further enemy submarines were encountered. (2)

12 Nov 1940

Attack on Italian convoy in the Straits of Otranto.


11 November 1940.

At 1310 hours, the Vice-Admiral light forces, in HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN) with HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D. McCarthy, RN), HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, CB, RAN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN) and HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN) in company, parted company with the bulk of the fleet to carry out an anti-shipping raid into the Straits of Otranto.

12 November 1940.

At 0100 hours, the force had reached their northern limit and turned back. No enemy ships had so far been sighted.

At 0115 hours, while just on the way back towards the fleet, ships were sighted to the south-east. They bore 120° and were about 8 nautical miles away. They were thought to be four merchant vessels escorted by a destroyer and a torpedo boat. They were steering westwards towards Brindisi.

At 0125 hours, HMS Mohawk opened fire on the torpedo boat.

At 0128 hours, HMS Orion crossed the bow of the convoy and opened fire with her 6” guns on the third merchant vessel in line and with her 4” guns she fired four salvoes at the torpedo boat. Range was 6400 yards, bearing 88°. The merchant ship was badly damaged and set on fire. Two torpedoes were fired at her of which one hit and she was seen to sink.

Fire with her 6” guns was then shifted to the fourth merchant ship in line bearing 63°, range 5300 yards. The 4” guns meanwhile fired star shell to light up the target. Hit repeatedly she was set on fire and abandoned by her crew. She was then hit by a torpedo fired from 5000 yards and was seen to settle by the stern.

HMS Ajax had opened fire at 0130 hours on the destroyer. She did not appeared to have been hit. She then shifted fire to one of the merchant ships that was set ablaze. She then opened fire on another ship and also fired a torpedo which apparently missed. The ship was then hit by two salvoes and left in a sinking condition.

HMAS Sydney, the last ship in line, opened fire from 7000 yards on the leading ship which was hit and set ablaze. Fire was then shifted to the second ship from the right which was lit up by star shell. This ship was seen turning away with shots falling all around her. Then the destroyer, which was making smoke, came under fire. She drew ahead and fire was now shifted back to the original targets now bunched together. The targets were hit but were soon lost out of sight into the night. At 0140 hours, a torpedo track passed underneath Sydney. Fire was then shifted to a ship hat was laying stopped and was also under fire from other ships. This ship was seen to be badly hit. At 0148 hours two torpedoes were fired by Sydney on a ship that was to the right of the previous one. At 0150 hours Sydney ceased fire. Two ships were in sight bearing 20° and 25°. Also a ship on fire was in sight bearing 349°. This ship was seen to sink at 0200 hours.

HMS Nubian had opened fire at 0131 hours on a light grey ship from 8000 yards. When this ship was on fire she shifted her gunfire to the ship to the right of the previous target. The escorts by now had been lost out of sight. At 0145 hours HMS Nubian sighted land looming on the starboard bow.

HMS Mohawk opened fire at 0125 hours on one of the escorts from 4000 yards. A hit was obtained with the fourth salvo and the enemy turned towards the convoy making smoke. Fire was then shifted to the second merchant vessel from the left. Mohawk also sighted land at the same time as Nubian. Mohawk then shifted target to the fourth ship from the left. This ship was hit by a salvo and was seen to lay stopped emitting large clouds of steam. HMS Nubian who was now astern of HMS Mohawk took over the target. HMS Mohawk was about to attack disabled enemy ships with torpedoes when she received orders to leve the area with the remainder of the force and course was set to 166°, speed 28 knots.

At 0315 hours, HMS Ajax reported a shadowing aircraft which remained with the force until around 0515 hours. The force had maintained a speed of 28 knots to get as far as possible from the enemy bases. No attacks however followed.

The force rejoined the fleet around 0700 hours.

The convoy this force attacked had been made up of four merchant vessels which had all been sunk. There had been two escorts, these were thought to be a destroyer and a torpedo boat. These managed to escape. The merchant vessels Antonio Locatelli (5691 GRT, built 1920), Capo Vado (4391 GRT, built 1906), Catalani (2429 GRT, built 1929) and Premuda (4427 GRT, built 1907) had been sunk. Their escorts had been the armed merchant cruiser Ramb III (3667 GRT, built 1938) and the torpedo boat Nicola Fabrizi. The convoy had been en-route from Vlore, Albania to Brindisi. (3)

Sources

  1. ADM 199/386 + ADM 234/323
  2. ADM 199/386
  3. ADM 234/325

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


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