THE CAPTURE OF THE ITALIAN U-BOAT "PERLA" IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANIAN ON 9th JULY, 1942.
On 9th July,.1942, the Flower Class Corvette H.M.S. Hyacinth was on her way from Haifa to Beirut. At 1727 hours, when she was zigzagging at 15 knot she sighted the tracks of two torpedoes approaching on the port beam ; she went hard a-port and they missed 20 yards astern. She then altered course to comb the tracks and almost at once made contact at a range of 1,000 yards with a slowly moving target. Holding it down to 120 yards, she dropped six depth-charges, set to 100 and 150 ft., within three minutes of sighting the torpedo tracks.
Regaining contact astern, she made a second attack with charges set to 350ft. the rails jammed and only the throwers fired rather fortunately as it turned out. A third attack was made at 1745 with six depth-charges set, to 250, 350 and 500 ft., and two minutes later a U-Boat's conning-tower broke surface 800 yards away.
The guns' crews, made all the readier for action by the appearance of oil and disturbed water, opened fire without the least delay, the Breda gun getting away the first round. After four minutes of hot fire an officer was observed peeping round the conning-tower and waving a white shirt. Fire was then reduced to short bursts above the heads of the enemy and a boarding party was sent away to receive the surrender.
' The U-Boat was the Italian " Perla," the smallest of the four which in the spring of 1941 made the 'famous passage from Massawa to Bordeaux.* She had sailed from Messina on 1st July, 1942 and had intended to end her patrol at Leros. The crew were. taking to their new base a great amount of kit, which they stowed in luggage racks, like those in an English railway carriage, running lengthwise in the U-Boat. "Hyacinth's first depth-charges made the U-Boat roll violently and brought all the articles in the racks tumbling down upon the heads of the already confused Italians. •
The Italians had all the luck in the action. The jamming of the trap in the second attack saved them from anything more serious than. the extinguishing of two-thirds of the lights in the U-Boat ; the depth-charges in the third attack, exploding directly beneath the U-Boat, greatly assisted her to rise to the surface from the depth of about 270 ft., where she had taken refuge. At the same time, nevertheless, the pattern put the motors out of action and caused the air bottles stowed in the ballast tanks to burst. So great was the pressure inside the U-Boat that, although another man was 'hanging on to his legs, the man who opened the conning-tower hatch shot through it and was not seen again.
The crew, well trained though they were, had by this time given way to panic, and the Captain led them out in a scrambling rush to abandon ship. The Second-in-Command, however, found time to destroy a number of secret documents.
. A Maltese cook' from "Hyacinth " was the boarding party's 'interpreter. His pride in 'Malta was about equal to his contempt for the Italians and he did not fail to make the most of his opportunities.
Two of the boarding party ascertained that the torpedoes were safe and that no attempt had been made to sink. the U-Boat by scuttling charges or flooding. They then got all the Italians below, despite some protests by the Engineer Officer, who babbled about water and batteries, but the only trace of water was from a slight weep forward, where a bulkhead and a water-tight door appeared. to have been strained. All this was accomplished within about 20 minutes of the U-Boat surfacing.
At about 1840 hours after unsuccessful efforts had been made to get the U-boat under way, a line was passed from Hyacinth, but thanks toPerla's yawing, her rudder had been jammed hard a starboard and to the bow net cutters, the tow soon parted.
MTB 261 who had with HMS Gloxinia and MTB 265 had come out from Beirut had been sent back to harbour to bring out two officers with submarine experience and returned just after the tow parted. These officers went below to find a stifling atmosphere and an extraordinary amount of kit and stores lying in confusion. That the U-boat would have to be towed was made clear by their inspection, in making which they found a lack of willing assistance among the Italians. An obvious movement of a revolver solved all the problems.
With the assistance of Gloxinia's skiff and the MTB's a 3.5 in wire and an 8 in manilla towing pendant were therefore passed from Hyacinth. The rudder was cleared and with the Italian captain on board Hyacinth set course for Beirut with her prize in tow.
Starting at dusk they made 9 knots and passed the boom at 0100 hours on the 10th. By 0990 hours Perla was snug in harbour.
In June. 1940, " Perla " was attacked by air and surface craft in the Red Sea and sank in shallow water, She was raised in the following month and repaired locally. Considering the state of her engines and equipment, her passage to Bordeaux was a remarkable achievement.
'A seventh explosion was heard by "Hyacinth" after the third attack.
The officers' report on the condition of " Perla " was as follows :
" We boarded " Perla " at about 2015 on 9th July. " Perla " was in very low buoyancy having a list of about 6 degrees to starboard. The air conditions inside the submarine were trying, it being ascertained that the ship had been submerged at 0300/9 and, on being forced to surface by H.M.S. Hyacinth, only the conning-tower hatch had been opened and no fans had been run.
Conditions inside the submarine were as follows :
An extraordinary amount of kit and stores were being carried which had broken loose (if they were ever secured) and made movement through the vessel difficult. Every man appeared to have brought a full kit, including plain clothes in the case of officers.
The battery had been severely damaged. Later examination showed approximately 50 per cent. cells cracked.
There was no H.P. air in any group. All groups were connected to the line. Certain groups are carried in the double hull tanks amidships and it is suspected that the air line burst in these tanks and the submarine automatically surfaced. All kingstons were open.
The motor of the only independent H.P. air compressor was defective.
The starboard main motor could not be started. The port main motor functioned " grouper down."
Compressors incorporated in the main engines are capable of pumping up the air groups. In view of the condition of the battery, the lack of light (only about one bulb remained in each compartment), and the absence of any British submarine ratings it was not considered safe to attempt to start the port main engines by the main motor.
The control-room pump was started and some water removed from control-room bilges. The pump suction became choked very soon and it was not possible to clear the suction.
The steering gear aft, in a poor state originally, had been damaged and could not be worked at all 'in power and most inefficiently by hand."
Source – Anti-submarine Warfare Division Of The Navy Staff August 1942
Perla was commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS P 712. On 5 December 1942 she was transferred to the Greek Navy. She served asMatrozos until decommissioned in 1954.