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Khartoum at The Red Sea Wreck Project
The Khartoum was a 1,690 GRT “K” Class Destroyer built for the British Navy at Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson (Yard No. 1551), Wallsend, UK. The ship was ordered in 1937 under the War Build Programme and her keel was laid down 27 October 1937. She was launched 06 February 1939 and completed 06 November of that same year with a length of 108.7 meters, beam of 10.9 meters, draught of 3.9 meters, with Admiralty 3-drum Parson boilers, and triple-expansion steam engines connected to twin shafts for a top speed of 36 knots.
Armament consisted of:
6 x QF 4.7 in Mk.XII (119 mm) L/45, twin mount CP Mk.XIX
4 x QF 2 pounder Mk.VIII (40 mm) L/39, quad mount Mk.VII
8 x 0.5 in Mk.III (12.7mm) Vickers, quad mount Mk.III
10 (2×5) tubes for 21 inch MK9 torpedoes
Upon completion of sea-trials, the Khartoum was placed in service with the 5th Destroyer Flotilla, Home Fleet. In December 1939, her first deployment was for patrol and defense of the Northwest Approaches when her services were not required for screening of Home Fleet ships. On 19 December she came under attack by a submarine near Holy Isle, Firth of Clyde. The attack was unsuccessful, after which, she and the French Sloop Aldair search for the submarine 24 continuous hours without success.

In January and February of 1940, the ship was assigned escort duties for convoys to Norway until in February she sustained structural damage during anti-submarine operations in heavy weather. She then made passage to Falmouth for repairs which lasted until the end of the following April or early May.

Upon completion of repairs, the HMS Khartoum assisted in the evacuation of personnel from Holland and Belgium under the Nore Command. Experienced a mechanical failure in the Engineering plant during passage through the channel which was repaired after two days in Portsmouth.

On 08 May 1940 the ship was selected for service with the 14th Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean, departing on the 16th with the HMS Kandahar, passing through the Straits of Gibraltar and arriving at Alexandria, Egypt on the 23rd where both ships joined the Flotilla. The Flotilla then proceeded to conduct extensive exercises and training while based at Alexandria, after which the KhartoumKandaharHMS Kimberley, and HMS Kingston were deployed in June to the Red Sea to conduct surveillance of Italian warship movement from Massawa, Eritrea. While in the Red Sea, deployed with sloops of the East Indies Squadron and other destroyers in preparation for war service defending Red Sea shipping.

On 10 June, at the outreak of the war, deployed to Aden for patrol and convoy defense.

On 21 June 1940 carried out an unsuccessful attack on the Italian submarine Evangelista Toricelli.

The Loss of the HMS Khartoum:
On 23 June 1940 the ship, under the command of Cdr. Donald Thorn Dowler, RN, deployed with the KandaharKingston, and HM Shoreham in search of the Evangelista Toricelli near Perim Island. The submarine was located and attacked, eventually being forced to surface. The submarine then returned gunfire, inflicting damage to the Khartoum and Shoreham. The submarine was subsequently sunk by return fire from the ships at 0624 local time.

During the engagement, the Khartoum’s aft torpedo mount was damaged by gunfire which resulted in torpedo flask discharging approximately 5 and a half hours after the battle, launching a torpedo from the mount which struck the No. 3 4.7-inch Gunmount. It is unclear whether or not the torpedo exploded (unlikely), but a fire started as a result of a ruptured oil tank inside the gunmount. The fire became out of control which then prevented the ship’s crew from gaining access to the magazine sprinkling system controls. The resulting explosion of the magazines killed one of the crew and injured three others. The ship’s crew was rescued by the HMS Kandahar and taken to Aden. Prior to abandoning the ship, equipment was dismantled and/or destroyed, and other security measures were taken to prevent use of the ship by the enemy.

The ship sank in shallow water at position 12.38N, 43.24E where she remained visible after WWII.

In the subsequent investigation concerning the loss of the ship the official record in Ref ADM 1/11210 at the Public Record Office indicates that the explosion of the air vessel may have been due to a flaw in this component part (air flask) of a Mark IX Torpedo and that similar explosions had previously been reported in other ships. The details of the actual cause of the fire are unlikely to be determined. The Admiralty inquest also ruled out damage from enemy action and sabotage although captured members of the Italian submarine’s crew were aboard.


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Lee has been in the marketing industry for the last 15 years and now specializes in teaching marketing techniques to people in the scuba diving industry. He is founder of Dive Media Solutions which, in addition to providing complete marketing, media, communications and IT solutions exclusively for the scuba diving industry, also produces The Scuba News. You can connect with Lee via Twitter by following @DiveMedia

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