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HMS Cachalot file photo [29014]

Cachalot (Grampus-class)

CountryUnited Kingdom
Ship ClassGrampus-class Minelaying Submarine
Hull NumberN83
BuilderScotts Shipbuilding, Greenock, Scotland, United Kingdom
Laid Down12 May 1936
Launched2 Dec 1937
Commissioned15 Sep 1938
Sunk30 Jul 1941
Displacement1,810 tons standard; 2,157 tons full
Length293 feet
Beam26 feet
Draft17 feet
MachineryDiesel engines (3,300hp), electric motors (1,630hp), 2 shafts
Speed16 knots
Armament6x533mm bow torpedo tubes, 12 torpedoes, 1x4in deck gun, 50 mines
Submerged Speed8.75 knots


ww2dbaseHMS Cachalot (N83) was one of the six-ship class of Grampus-class minelaying submarine of the Royal Navy. She was built by the Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Greenock, Scotland, United Kingdom in 1937. On 20 Aug 1940, she sank German submarine U-51 with a torpedo in the Bay of Biscay; all 43 aboard were lost. In the following month, one of the mines she laid sank German auxiliary minesweeper M 1604 Ă–sterreich. In 1941, she was transferred to the Mediterranean Sea. In late Jul, she departed Malta for Alexandria, Egypt, with orders to look out for an escorted tanker heading for Benghazi, Libya. At 0155 hours the officer of the watch, T/Lieutenant R. D. C. Hart, RNVR, sounded the night alarm and called the commander, Lieutenant Hugo Rowland Barnwell Newton. He reported a destroyer very close. Cachalot then dived. Trim was obtained with great difficulty. There were also problems with the hydrophones and hydroplanes and due to an error in drill the battery was almost depleted. When Cachalot surfaced around 0250 hours it was thought the enemy must have passed by so a new course was taken in order to catch up with the enemy vessel. If no sighting was made within the hour then the action was to be broken off. Around 0335 hours the starboard lookout reported an enemy tanker bearing green (ie. starboard) 120 degrees. The ship was seen by all the others on the bridge and appeared to be a heavily laden tanker. Cachalot then turned to follow, closing up, all lookouts temporarily on the port side to search for escorts of which nothing had been nor was seen. A twenty-minute chase through patches of mist followed and Newton considered that whatever the escort it might have lost touch with the tanker. Owning to the visibility Newton decided that, in order to keep the enemy in sight, she must be slowed down as soon as possible so he ordered to man the deck gun. Four rounds were fired bearing green 30 for a range of 1,500 yards. After the fourth round the gun crew sighted the ship and fire was continued by them in independent. The eleventh round appeared to be a hit and dense clouds of smoke appeared amidships. The enemy appeared to be altering course towards Cachalot as if he was to ram. Cachalot then also turned to counter this threat. However the enemy was lost out of sight in the smoke almost at once. One minute later a torpedo boat was seen coming towards at high speed at a range of only 800 yards. When Cachalot was able to dive the torpedo boat was only 300 yards away. It was now no longer possible to dive and escape before she was going to be rammed and order was given to abandon ship. The enemy torpedo boat, realising that Cachalot was not diving, and not wishing to collide with a larger ship in full buoyancy at high speed, had gone full astern and finally rammed Cachalot in Z tank at a speed of about 4 knots. She then remained stopped 20 feet astern with all her armament trained on Cachalot whose own gun would not bear. The crew meanwhile continued to abandon ship. Newton went below to inspect any damage and to ensure that the ship had been abandoned. The pressure hull had not been punctured but there was little doubt that Z tank had been holed. It was therefore certain that when Cachalot was to dive trim could not be held and depth control would be lost. When Lieutenant Newton returned to the bridge, he decided that he would attempt a static dive together with the first lieutenant, giving the Italians the appearance of having scuttled the ship with key ratings only on board and hoping to be able to get away on a main ballast trim. However in the abandonment of the submarine all hatches had been open, which greatly complicated this evolution. Whilst it was being organised the Italians opened fire with the torpedo boat's entire anti-aircraft armament. Fortunately all shots went high, causing no casualties. It would have required several minutes to organise and carry out Newton's orders and he realised that the enemy became very impatient and would never allow the amount of time needed. Main vents were then opened and Cachalot sank bows first in 200 fathoms of water. No debris appeared on the surface. All passengers and crew (seventy in all), apart from one passenger, the Maltese steward Giuseppe Muscat, were saved by the Italians. They were very well treated. Newton was ordered to the bridge and on finding out that one of Cachalot's passengers was missing the Italian commanding officer, Tenente di Vascello Gino Rosica, ordered a thorough search of the area. During conversation with the Italian commanding officer it became apparent to Newton that the tanker that was sighted was in fact the Italian torpedo boat (classified as a destroyer prior to 1929) Generale Achille Papa proceeding northward to rendezvous with the incoming transport ship Capo Orso, arriving from Brindisi, Italy. The hit that was thought to have been obtained and the smoke that followed were in fact the Italian warship laying a smoke screen from where she emerged to counterattack and ram her attacker. Newton would later be a part of a prisoner of war exchange with the Italians on 28 Mar 1943.


Last Major Revision: Oct 2019

Minelaying Submarine Cachalot (Grampus-class) (N83) Interactive Map

Cachalot (Grampus-class) Operational Timeline

12 May 1936 The keel of HMS Cachalot was laid down by the Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Greenock, Scotland, United Kingdom.
2 Dec 1937 HMS Cachalot was launched by the Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Greenock, Scotland, United Kingdom.
15 Sep 1938 HMS Cachalot was commissioned into service.
20 Aug 1940 British submarine HMS Cachalot torpedoed and sank German submarine U-51 in the Bay of Biscay 100 miles west of St. Nazaire, France, killing the entire crew of 43.
24 Sep 1940 British submarine HMS Cachalot attacked a German submarine in the Bay of Biscay off France without success.
26 Jul 1941 HMS Cachalot departed Malta for Alexandria, Egypt.
30 Jul 1941 British submarine HMS Cachalot was scuttled during an engagement with Italian torped boat Generale Achille Papa in the Mediterranean Sea north of Benghazi, Libya.

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