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Uncle Buns Battle

28th December 1943

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These photos were sent home by Bernard Hamilton - Uncle Bun - a sailor on the Glasgow. He sadly passed away last year. The family kept them glued in an album, and the text accompanying each photo was found on the back, between the 55 year old globs of glue. If anyone who served on Glasgow remembers Bun, I am sure his family would like to hear from you. Please let me know and I will forward to Dan McIsaac who kindly allowed me to use this material - thanks Dan !


In late December 1943 the inward-bound blockade-runner Alsterufer was expected to arrive in the Bay of Biscay from the Far East with valuable raw materials. A German destroyer flotilla, reinforced by six large Type 39 torpedo boats were ordered to escort the sorely needed cargo into a French port. The British Admiralty, too, were aware of the impending arrival of the ship and disposed forces to intercept her: the light cruiser Glasgow had been sailed from the Azores on 24 December; Penelope was steaming north in the latitude of Lisbon; Mauritius had been ordered out from Gibraltar; Gambia was in the Western Atlantic; and Enterprise was steaming to join Glasgow.

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Korvettenkapitan Kohlauf sailed from Brest on the morning of the 27th with T23, T24, T26 and T22, and the 8th Destroyer Flotilla put out from the Gironde with Z24, Z37, Z32 and Z27, accompanied by T25 and T27. By 0400 hours the next day the 4th Flotilla was some 300 miles due south of Cape Clear, the 8th Flotilla standing to the south. Unbeknown to them, their task was already fruitless, for the previous afternoon a Liberator bomber of No. 311 (Czech) Squadron RAF had sighted and sunk Alsterufer. This released the British cruisers, two of which, Glasgow and Enterprise, had rendezvoused at 0300 hours some 300 miles southwest of the German forces and were now steaming eastwards along the 45th Parallel.

In the outer bay a fresh to strong easterly breeze was blowing and the waves were beginning to build up white horses; overhead, the sky was cloudy. Conditions were becoming difficult aboard the destroyers and torpedo boats as they laboured in the rough seas. Already Allied aircraft had reported the position of the German ships. Armed with reasonably accurate information concerning the German forces, Captain Clarke, aboard Glasgow, took his cruisers northwards to intercept. Just after midday the 8th Destroyer Flotilla sighted the 4th Flotilla to the east, whereupon the torpedo boats turned east astern of the northernmost destroyers, taking station on their port wing. The German flotilla commander appears to have first received reports of the British cruisers at about 1258 hours. The destroyers were now steaming into the wind and sea since by now the easterly wind had risen to near gale force.

Glasgow sighted the destroyers at 1332 hours at a range of 16 miles and the two cruisers increased to full speed and altered course to cut the German ships off from their base. Sixteen minutes later Glasgow opened fire with 'A' and 'B' turrets using her Type 273 radar for ranging, Enterprise following a few minutes later. The 1st Division, Z23 and Z27, nearest to the cruisers, received eighteen broadsides between 1346 and 1400 hours.

This picture was taken when Glasgow had sighted the enemy destroyers and was closing in for the kill. The sea was pretty rough that day, as you can see by the spray that is coming over the bows
This picture was taken when Glasgow had sighted the enemy destroyers and was closing in for the kill. The sea was pretty rough that day, as you can see by the spray that is coming over the bows
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Despite very good shooting by the cruisers the two destroyers remained unscathed as shell splashes towered only 100-150m from their targets. Z23 launched six ineffective torpedoes, three from each bank of tubes, when the range was down to 17,000m. Both destroyers opened up with their 15cm guns and landed their first shots only 200m over on Glasgow's port quarter.

This was taken by the other cruiser just when two shells landed close to our stern. He came a little bit closer later on.
This was taken by the other cruiser just when two shells landed close to our stern. He came a little bit closer later on.
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As the cruisers engaged the destroyers to starboard, a lone Fw 200 pressed home a bombing attack on Glasgow from the disengaged side, to be met by fire from the cruiser's 4in guns.

A running fight now developed in a generally southerly direction until about 1418 hours, during which time the 4th Torpedo Boat Flotilla was on several occasions ordered to attack with torpedoes. However, despite manoeuvring out of the line and closing with the cruisers, the attacks were frustrated by the heavy seas. Z32 and Z37, initially stationed on the starboard, disengaged, side, were ordered to press eastwards for a torpedo attack. The two destroyers turned to port towards the cruisers, opening fire as they did so. Closing to 12,800m, Z32 launched six and Z37 four torpedoes, as the cruisers continued to rain down a heavy and accurate fire. The destroyers, too, were returning the fire with accuracy, and in fact it was they who obtained the first (and only) hit on Glasgow at about 1405 hours, although Enterprise was continually straddled by near misses.

Both destroyers laid smoke and then retired back towards the German line. The torpedo attack forced Glasgow to make an emergency turn to port as the track of one passed 30m from her port quarter and two more close down her port side. Enterprise had by this time parted close company with Glasgow and, acting independently, was not troubled by the torpedoes.

By about 1418 the German flotillas were spread in a long line in the order Z32, Z24, Z37, T23, T27, T26, T22, T25, Z27 and Z25, Z32 and Z37 being off to port in the course of their torpedo attack. The two cruisers, meanwhile, having avoided the torpedoes, continued southwards until it became apparent that the German force had split up, whereupon Glasgow reversed course at 1435 hours to chase the northern group of destroyers; Enterprise had already altered course to the west to head them off.

Shortly after Z27 had fired her torpedoes she received a shell hit, probably from Enterprise, which struck No. 2 boiler room, passed through an oil bunker and caused a huge fire. Clouds of steam gushed from her forward funnel as the leader's speed fell off. She was still fighting, however: after being hit she fired her second salvo of four torpedoes, again without effect.

Glasgow continued to engage, concentrating on T25. At 1454 hours the torpedo boat sustained hits in the region of the after torpedo tubes, the Vierling and the 3.7cm flak platforms, which killed or wounded all their crews. Then a second hit struck near to the forward funnel, blowing the mast as well as the funnel into the air and overboard. T25 was now clearly doomed and requested T22 to attempt to come alongside and take off her crew.

Glasgow shifted to T26, which was quickly surrounded by near misses. T22 had the enemy ships on her port quarter, and, in an effort to drive them off while she closed her damaged consort, she fired her full outfit of torpedoes and opened fire with her guns. The torpedoes, however, went unnoticed, and as T22 turned to starboard towards T25 she too was surrounded by shell splashes from the cruiser. The attempt was plainly suicidal and was abandoned: laying smoke and still engaging with guns, T22 withdrew to the south-west, soon coming upon T26, still under fire and by now badly hit in the boiler room. As T22 laid smoke to screen her, the damaged ship signalled that she was sinking and, now alone, T22 turned northwards to break away.

The two cruisers reversed course to a generally southerly direction, chasing and soon catching T26. Glasgow ordered Enterprise to finish her off while she turned north again to look for the other damaged enemy vessels, particularly T25. As the cruiser steamed northwards there came into sight, in the north-west, not T25 but Z27, drifting and silent. Closing to point-blank range, Glasgow fired, exploding the destroyer's magazines. She sank quickly to port, taking with her Korvettenkapitan Erdmenger, his staff and the captain.

The German torpedo boat T26 taken in 1943
The German torpedo boat T26 taken in 1943
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In the meantime T25, her bridge and upper deck a shambles and her after superstructure wrecked, remained afloat. At about 1635 hours Enterprise hove into sight, having despatched T26 with a torpedo; she closed to 3,000m, but her shells were met by only a feeble reply from two guns, and another torpedo sealed the fate of the German boat. Abandoned and on fire, T25 soon sank.

Having accounted for three of the German squadron at no significant damage to themselves, and with no further enemy in sight, the two cruisers withdrew towards Plymouth, where they arrived on the evening of 29 December with little ammunition or fuel remaining. Glasgow had received only one hit, which had exploded in 'A' boiler room fan intake, killing two members of the port pom-pom crew; Enterprise had been continuously straddled but hit only by splinters which caused no real damage.

Only 283 survivors of the 672 men on the three sunken ships were rescued, 93 from Z27, 100 from T25 and 90 from T26. British and Irish ships, Spanish destroyers and German U-boats took part in the rescue.

This one was taken when the casualties were taken off. The lad at the front of the stretcher is a marine. They comprise a part of the ships company.
This one was taken when the casualties were taken off. The lad at the front of the stretcher is a marine. They comprise a part of the ships company.
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after the battle - burial at sea on Glasgow
after the battle - burial at sea on Glasgow
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