Source: ADM 1/10785
Findings of the
Board of Enquiry held at Royal Hotel, Invergordon on Saturday 10th
February 1940 into loss of HMS SPHINX.
President: Captain G O Hewitt DSO, RN
Members: Commander LG Addington DSC ,
RN (Rtd), Commander H de C Lamotte RN Retd
- all from HMS Flora.
We find that:-
The loss of HMS SPHINX was due to enemy action, supplemented by
subsequent extremely bad weather , in which nothing further could be done
than was done.
The excess of personnel, over the minimum required to work the ship,
should have been disembarked early on February 3rd, but whilst
expressing the above opinion they allow that the feeling of the responsible
officers present that SPHINX would be towed into safety, together with the
impossibility of handling the wounded and the danger of further damaging
SPHINX by ships going alongside, may have justified their decision to retain
entire crew on board.
The large loss of life was due to the weather deteriorating so
rapidly during the night, causing tow to part after several hours fairly
easy towing, so making any question of ships remaining alongside each other
for any period of time impossible. Every effort was made by all ships
concerned to save life.
Although bulkheads were not shored up, owing to the prepared material
being lost with the fore part of the ship, this did not affect the final
issue and every effort was made by officers and men of SPHINX to bring their
ship to safety.
The pumping of some 90 tons of ballast from a light draught
ship in very heavy weather was unwise, particularly in view of the
fact that SPHINX did not appear to be making water below decks in any appreciable
quantity, but was taking in heavy seas on deck.
The handling of Confidential Books was performed with due
consciousness of their importance by a young officer in very difficult
circumstances. He received no orders to burn them, which order the
Commanding Officer had promised to give later if necessary, and in
consequence they were not dealt with as primarily laid down in CB Form U2D
No books or documents as laid down in KR & AI, Article 461 could
be produced owing to total loss of SPHINX.
8) They desire to express their appreciation of the lucid report
forwarded by Sub-Lieutenant Anthony Gerald William Bellars of
SPHINX and to
confirm the conduct of those persons mentioned in that report.
The conduct of all persons taking part
in the proceedings was in keeping with the highest traditions of the
The Board wish to express the opinion
that, though the fact was not brought out in evidence, later knowledge has
revealed that the Confidential Books on board SPHINX may be compromised,
since certain of them have been washed out of the wreck of their ship
which is presently stranded on the coast of Scotland.
C in C Rosyth noted that:
Although all witnesses were questioned
with regard to the state of readiness of the guns prior to SPHINX
being bombed and the evidence indicated that the guns were not in fact
manned, the Board failed to make this point in their finding. In my
opinion it has a considerable bearing in the matter. If these guns had
been manned as they should have been and had opened fire, it is fair to
assume that they would have had a considerable effect on the accuracy of
the enemy bombing and might well have prevented the SPHINX
The following message was subsequently issued
emphasising the need for all ships to keep armament in a fully efficient
of the Board of Enquiry into the loss of one of HM ships by enemy bombing
attack has revealed that a contributory cause to that loss was that the
failure to keep the armament in a fully efficient state and the
anti-aircraft personnel adequately alert.
of enemy air attacks indicates that, if fire is opened early the attacks
will probably not be pressed home to the very short ranges which have to be
reached in order to obtain a high probability of hitting with bombs.
Consequently it is vital not only that gunsí crews and control parties
should be fully alert but that arrangements should be made for barrage
firing and close range weapons to be ready to open fire, if necessary in
local control, as soon as an alarm is given.
following points were brought out by the enquiry referred to:
The attacking aircraft achieved complete surprise and were unopposed
during the first attack, in which the ship was hit.
There was insufficient personnel on deck to man fully even a
proportion of the armament, and about three minutes elapsed between the
dropping of the first bomb and the gunís crews being closed up.
There was a lack of decentralisation of authority to open fire after
the alarms have been given.
The state of maintenance of the armament was unsatisfactory in that:-
Close range weapons jammed after firing very few rounds
Fuses of HE
shell in the ready-use racks were not set for barrage fire and fuse-setting
keys could not be found when the attack started. Fire was opened with
Their Lordships wish again to draw the attention of Commanding Officers to
the importance of keeping a proportion of AA guns manned and fully alert
whenever the operation on which the ship is engaged renders air attack
possible and weather conditions
indicate that attacking aircraft are likely to be able to achieve surprise.
Only by care and thoroughness in the training of personnel and in the proper
maintenance of weapons and by unremitting alertness on the part of all
officers and men can loss or damage to HM Ships and heavy casualties to
personnel from air attack be guarded against.