The Corfu Channel Incident 

I am indebted to various sources for this information on the Corfu Channel Incident, our own Gem (hard G) Emery who was on board at the time, various other ex Super Bees, various correspondents to "The Daily Mail", and to a book which I can thoroughly recommend, " Roll On The Rodney" by David Phillipson, published by Sutton Publishing. I have attempted to gather all the information from these sources. The result is my own and is an attempt to pull it all together for the benefit of shipmates of the Cruiser Superb Association, any errors are mine and mine alone (corrections gratefully accepted).

 

The involvement of H.M.S.Superb started in May 1946 when H.M.S. Superb was in Haifa Harbour in (then) Palestine, threats had been received from the Stern Gang, Israeli terrorists or freedom fighters, depending on your point of view. The threats boiled down to "if H.M.S.Superb doesn't leave harbour we'll blow it up", so she did, and they didn't. On May 14th 1946 two British cruisers, Orion and Superb were on passage in the Corfu channel, a narrow channel between the island of Corfu and the Greek mainland, a route regularly used by British warships steaming between the Mediteranean and the Adriatic.

 

Mine clearance in the area was also a British responsibility, but due to the political climate at the time there was considerable anti British feeling among the Albanians. An Albanian shore battery fired on the ships without any hits being scored, the British ships held their fire. Naturally this brought a strong protest from the British Government who were not too thrilled at having their ships shot at, a series of weak excuses from President Hoxha of Albania resulted from these diplomatic exchanges, with the British Government, warning that if British ships were fired on again, then they would be ordered to return fire. The Albanians declared that all foreign ships would need permission to sail through the channel, this was rejected by Britain as the area was International waters. In the afternoon of 22nd October 1946 the Cruiser H.M.S.Mauritius leading the destroyer H.M.S.Saumarez, followed by the cruiser H.M.S. Leander and another destroyer H.M.S. Volage were in the channel with guns trained fore and aft, but with orders to return fire if fired upon.

 

The exercise was designed to show that ships could proceed safely in what were recognised international waters. During the passage down the charted swept channel a violent explosion occurred for'rard of Saumerez's bridge as she hit a mine, followed by a fire. Volage took Saumarez in tow but herself hit a mine which blew her bows off. Eventually all four ships returned to harbour, but there had been casualties, 44 men killed and 40 injured, Saumarez was scrapped and Volage had a new bow fitted.

 

The channel was immediately swept and the swept mines were found to be brand new and had not been long in the water. Albania was taken to the International Court by Britain for illegally mining a swept channel was found guilty and was ordered to pay Britain £843,947 damages which included £50,000 for the lives lost and injuries caused. However, no apology was ever received from Albania for the deaths or injuries.

 

Albania would not pay the damages at the time so Britain laid claim to Albanian gold recovered from the Nazis, but although this was returned after the death of President Hoxha, the fine remained unpaid. In recent times the Albanians offered to pay the compensation agreed at the International Court at The Hague, conditional upon the release of Albanian funds frozen at the time, but still no apology for lives lost or injuries caused.

 

I repeat that the above is a compilation from various sources for the sole purpose of informing any ex ships company of the cruiser Superb of her part in this bit of history

The following recollection was received in October 2015 from Ted Davy one time crew member and now living in California, USA

Ted has since Crossed the Bar

After reading your summary of the Corfu, Channel Incident, I am taking the liberty of sending the following personal recollection. Am not relying on memory at this stage (now 89) but have in front of me what I remembered in 1964. HMS Superb's first commission began in December, 1945.

 

The following month we went to the Med for "working up". Soon after returning to the UK we were again sent to the Med, this time to relieve HMS Ajax as Guard Cruiser at Haifa. First, however, we were sent to Trieste where trouble was expected on international Labour Day (May 1).

 

In the event, there were only minor problems, and we went from there to "show the flag" in Venice for a couple of days. From there, in company of HMS Orion, which carried the Flag of the 15th (?) Cruiser Squadron we sailed down the Adriatic Not sure if we were going direct to Haifa or via Malta.

 

As we passed the rugged Albanian coast we were startled one morning at about 0730 to hear gunfire. The Torpedomen's Mess was midships on the upper deck level, and from there I rushed out to the port waist to see what was going on. It just amounted to several small splashes about 100 metres from us.

 

As I recall no general announcement was made, but the rumour that Albanian coastal guns had opened fire on us, spread rapidly No action alarm was given, and the two cruisers continued to steam in the same direction. I remember wondering at the time why we didn't return fire, though the common sense of the Admiral was quickly realized.

 

The immediate and memorable result of the incident was an unexpected but delightful stay at Corfu for a few days whilst awaiting orders from Whitehall. The Superb was not involved in the terrible incident off Corfu in October that year.

 

Ted Davy

 

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