HMS Zulu
Created: 20 February 2005 Update: 16 May 2014

HMS Zulu was a Tribal-class British destroyer, built in Glasgow by A. Stephens & Sons, her keel laid down on Aug 10th 1936 and launched on Sept 23rd 1937. She was launched with boilers and funnels in place, and this gave her the reputation of a lucky ship. Commissioned on 7th Sept 1938. Just after she was completed, the HMS Zulu moved in Mediterranean and was based in Malta. When she returned home, during 1941, she had a part in the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck. After the excitement, the 4th Destroyer Flotilla (Sikh, Zulu, Cossack and Maori) returned to Home Fleet work and Western Approaches escort duties. And in June 1941 Zulu sailed for Falmouth, England to begin her refit. Her after funnel was cut down and her mainmast was fitted with a high frequency direction finding (Huff-Duff or HF/DF) outfit. Two, single 2 pounder guns were mounted on the bridge wings. Radar was installed and the depth charge throwers were re-located.

The refit was completed by July. Then she moved back in Mediterranean, part of Force H for the better part of the year, where she performed strike attacks against Italian convoys, and later took part in the attack against the Italian base in Tobruk (Libya). Here HMS Zulu's luck turned. On September 14, 1942, she suffered some damages from the Italian coastal batteries on Tobruk coast but could still make 30 knots. Her crew were on full watch for approx 48 hours. Just a few hours later, she was bombed by Italian aircraft, the bomb piercing the side and exploded in the No 3 boiler room, and HMS Zulu couldn't move any more and steeled two feet deeper into the water. HMS Croome took off the most part of HMS Zulu's crew, and HMS Hursley took her in tow. But the British destroyer was sinking: just a hundred miles from Alexandria, again she was bombed by an enemy aircraft. HMS Zulu suddenly rolled to starboard and sank in position 32º00'N, 28º56'E. 12 men of the crew died, and 27 more were missing with one wounded (Peckham?). Her commander from 28 April 1942 until her sinking was Commander R.T. White, D.S.O.* (later Captain R.T. White, D.S.O.**). For his part in the attempted rescue of HMS Sikh, White was awarded the 2nd bar to his D.S.O.

General Characteristics

·         Displacement: 1870 tons

·         Length: 344 feet

·         Beam: 36.5 feet

·         Engines: Parsons geared turbines of 44,000 shp

·         Speed 26.5 knots

·         Complement: 190

·         Armament: eight 4.7 inch guns, seven smaller guns, four 21-inch torpedo tubes

Commanding Officers:
Cdr. John Stuart Crawford, RN
Promoted to Capt. on 31 December 1940
DSO awarded on 24 September 1940
15 February 1938 - 14 January 1941

Cdr. Harry Robert Graham, DSO, RN
DSC awarded on 10 October 1941
14 January 1941 - 28 April 1942

Cdr. Richard Taylor White, DSO and Bar, RN
28 April 1942 - 14 September 1942 

Pennant Numbers: L 18 July 1938 - December 1938 - F 18 January 1939 - Autumn 1940 - G 18 Autumn 1940 - September 1942

Zulu - Gunners Practise

The table below shows the Zulu section career of one particular sailor, Eric Bell. He served aboard Zulu until wounded on the day of her sinking. The first column is the theatre of operations, second in his ship, third is his rank, fourth is the From date, Fifth is the To date, in this case, of the sinking of HMS Zulu. The next is total number of days on that particular duty, at sea. The next is total number of days ashore followed by the whereabouts on shore. I suspect that the 35 days spent at Alexandria were on the strength of a hospital as he recovered from his wounds. My thanks to his son, Howard. He writes. My father served in the Royal Navy from 1938 until 1946. He died in 1984. He originally joined the Navy in August 1938 aged 17 years and 5 months. His full name was William Eric Thomas Bell, called Bill or Eric.

Nile Zulu Able bodied Sea 17 Jun 42 14 Sep 42 89    
Nile   Able bodied Sea 15 Sep 42 20 Oct 42   35 Shore Estb Alexandria
Nile/Sphinx   Able Bodied Sea 21 Oct 42 25 Oct 42   5 Shore Estb Sidi Bishr (outside Alexandria)
Phoenix   Able Bodied Sea 28 Oct 42 24 Nov 42   30 Shore Estab Portsmouth
Nile/Sphinx   Able Bodied Sea 25 Nov 42 08 Dec 42   15 Shore Estb Sidi Bishr


This is what his son, Howard Bell, told BBC Internet file 'People at War':

My father Eric Bell (but sometimes known as Bill or Eric) was born in 1922 and grew up in County Leitrim, Republic of Ireland. He enlisted in the Royal Navy on the 31 August 1938 aged 17 years and 4 months. My father died in 1984 just one week after his retirement. He spoke little about his wartime experiences. Last year, I came across my father’s naval papers and I decided to research this period from my father’s life.

My father received his basic training in HMS Wildfire in Sheerness. This was a shore based Boys Training Establishment.  After his training, he was assigned to HMS Drake (a shore establishment in Devonport) as an Ordinary Seaman and thereafter to HMS Jackal (a J-class destroyer) for the next 2 years and 4 months. On the 17 June 1942, he was assigned to HMS Zulu (a tribal class destroyer) based at Gibraltar.

During my research mostly via the Internet, I discovered something about the experiences of my father’s service on HMS Zulu. .....For the better part of 1942, ZULU was attached to Force H at Gibraltar, striking against Axis supply convoys. ZULU and SIKH’S final operation together was the commando attack on Tobruk, Libya on 13/14th September 1942. As a result of attacks by JU87’s and JU88’s, ZULU was hit . Her crew had been at full watch since dusk on the 13th and daylight on the 14th did not bring any rest. In spite of surviving multiple bomb attacks during that day, ZULU was mortally wounded at 1600. A bomb from an enemy aircraft had pierced her side and exploded in the engine room, thus flooding it along with #3 Boiler Room and the Gear Room. She stopped dead in the water and settled two feet deeper. HMS CROOME came along side to take off any remaining personnel except for a towing party. ZULU was taken in tow by HMS HURSLEY. By 1900, and only a hundred miles from Alexandria, Egypt, she was sinking fast. The towing party was rescued after a strafing pass by an enemy aircraft. Suddenly, ZULU rolled to starboard and sank. In both attacks, twelve men had been killed, twenty- seven went missing and one was wounded.

Brief History of Able Seaman Harold Roberti Williams Royal Navy Career.

Joined the Royal Navy in 1938, to undergo 12 months training as a “boy seaman,” at HMS Impregnable Devonport, (A shore establishment).

1939, took passage on troopship “Alcantara” to Middle East to join HMS Zulu, (A tribal class destroyer). We were dogged by a “U Boat” in the Bay of Biscay, who claimed us as a “kill” after observing another troopship “Franconia” ramming us. Fortunately, due to our captain’s quick manoeuvre, only superficial damage was done. We were informed later that the “Franconia” carried a large amount of explosives in her bows. Also, the “Franconia’s” captain was found to be a “fifth columnist”. On arrival at Gibraltar we read in the local newspaper that we had been sunk.

On arrival at Malta I joined the crew of HMS Zulu, which the following day set sail for the UK. During our passage through the Bay of Biscay, we were harassed and bombed by a “Junker 88”. Fortunately, the bombs were all near misses. But unfortunately for me and my companions battened down in a shell magazine below the water line, the explosions being amplified, deafened us all for an hour or more, not a pleasant experience.

The Zulu took part in the second battle of Norway, where we were under attack again by enemy aircraft. On patrol in the North Sea we engaged and sank a German “U boat”. Returning to Scotland she underwent a refit in the Port of Rosyth. On completion proceeded to sea to do trials with two others of our flotilla. About to pass under the Forth Bridge a magnetic mine exploded under our stern, necessitating a quick return to the docks in Rosyth. Fortunate for the crew, as we all received another two weeks leave. Zulu took part in the sinking of the Bismarck.

In 1941, we returned to the Middle East and were based at Malta, enduring many air raids during the “siege of Malta”. We took part in escorting many convoys between Gibraltar and Malta, experiencing many air attacks and “U Boat” attacks, witnessing the sad destruction of many merchant vessels.

During one convoy, we saw the sinking of HMS Ark Royal, the famous aircraft carrier. Zulu also took part in the “Battle of Sirte”, designed to destroy the Italian fleet. Their fleet was not seen by many as it was partly over the horizon, but their gunfire was certainly experienced.

The Zulu was badly damaged during the affray, but not from gunfire. A fierce storm had blown up causing considerable damage to her and to others of our warships. The Zulu’s bows were badly damaged; all her boats were smashed or swept overboard. Ammunition lockers welded to superstructure were torn away and swept overboard. The forward twin 4.7 inch guns, of which I was a member as a ‘fuse setter’, minutes after we had vacated them, were completely wrecked. At the end of the engagement, we retired to Port Said for repairs.

Shortly after I was drafted to a gunnery school in Alexandria to acquire a ‘non substantive gunnery rate’. Two months into the three months course, we heard the devastating news that the Zulu and another of her flotilla had been sunk as a result of a battle in Tobruk.

My gunnery course thankfully finished, the place being infested with bed bugs, fleas, scorpions and monster ants, I was then drafted to coastal forces and assigned to HMML 354, (a Fairmile motor launch). We did much work along the North African coast at times carrying supplies to the Eight Army.

When Italy capitulated we were directed to the Aegean Sea carrying army personnel who were to take over the various islands that had been under Italian control. Having dispatched the last of the army personnel at the Island Leros, we were enjoying a couple of days rest there, when suddenly on a Sunday morning we were attacked by the Luftwaffe in strength. Wave after wave of Junker 88 bombers, Heinkel bombers, Messerschmitt and Stukas. Several Merchant Ships were damaged or sunk, one British destroyer and one Greek destroyer, were also sunk. We were kept busy for hours rescuing survivors and ferrying them ashore. The air attacks lasted an hour, we received orders from above to vacate Leros and fend for ourselves, this we did with alacrity.

We spent some months hiding at uninhabited islets and also hiding at some of the isolated bays and inlets on the Turkish coast. At one islet, we hid beneath a cliff face draped with camouflage nets, which hid us fairly well, except for of course, our mast, which had been recently painted white.

One morning a flight of German bombers flew directly over us, flying north on a mission. On their return shortly after, our mast having been sighted on their northward journey, one of the bombers had retained some of its bombs and decided to expend them on us. Fortunately, due to the angle at which the bombs were released, two of the bombs fell on the top of the cliff and two overshot us into the water. The two landing on the cliff top, brought tons of rock and dirt down onto us. It smashed our only lifeboat, an eight foot dinghy, wrecked our 20mm Oerlikon gun and smashed my 3 pounder gun off its mounting. Also, most fittings on deck were badly damaged. I was pleased with the demise of my 3 pounder as it was practically useless as an effective weapon. - (A brief summary of its history – Built in 1895, it was presented to the king of Egypt for use as a ceremonial gun. When World War I broke out, it was returned to the Royal Navy for their use. It sank a submarine with two rounds. After the war it was returned to Egypt once more. When the Second World War broke out, it found its way to HMML 354. By this time the rifling was so worn that shells would tumble rather than rotate and would not explode on impact).

We left the area as soon as we could, but damaged one of our screws on a submerged rock, placing us in rather a perilous position. Once under way, we headed for the nearest Turkish port, the captain hoping that we would be granted asylum there. (On a previous occasion one of our British small craft, badly damaged, had put into a Turkish port and had been granted asylum in exchange for their vessel, the crew being returned to Beirut overland). However, we were not so lucky; our request for asylum was denied. Instead, we were given 24 hours to effect repairs and leave, no aid was to be given us.

As we lacked materials and the facilities to do the major repairs, we could only repair minor damage. We left there on the twenty fourth hour, having at least gained a little rest.

Being more or less locked into the Aegean, the Germans by now having taken over the major islands, posed a problem. Their largest stronghold being Rhodes Island at the mouth of the Aegean. This meant that we would have to run a gauntlet to escape from the Aegean. It was decided to give it a go, so we set off hugging the Turkish coast by night and hiding in little bays and inlets by day. Lack of food being a problem, we bartered with Turkish fishermen for fish and villagers for meat and fresh vegetables, exchanging articles of clothing and personal effects for the goods. Reaching a point east of Rhodes Island, which was only a few miles West of us, we were suddenly caught in the beam of a searchlight. It trained on us for quite a while and we all prepared for the worst.

We were surprised that gunfire didn’t ensue from the island, but soon realized why it hadn’t; we saw a destroyer heading straight for us. Thinking that all was up, we were relieved when the destroyer only a few hundred yards away suddenly veered away and headed back to Rhodes Island. We assumed that he had mistaken us for a German “E Boat”, which had a similar silhouette to ours, and as we were not displaying our flag, we reckoned that was the answer.

Once past the obstacle, we hurried as fast as we could to civilization. Some days later we arrived in Port Said, to enjoy a well earned rest and to have our ship repaired. The crew was given two weeks leave and dispersed to various places to spend their time. We returned to find a transformation had occurred. Our ship was practically renewed; everything had been repaired and in place of my old 3 pounder, stood a lovely 40mm Bofors gun.

A week or so later we left again for the Aegean Sea, this time carrying a contingent of mad Irish commandos, their job to infiltrate German held islands under cover of darkness and sabotage whatever they could and capture if they could, high ranking German officers. They carried out these tasks with great success. Also they captured a German “P Lighter” and crew. The crew, plus several German officers they had captured on the various islands they brought back to us. The commandos and prisoners were transferred to one of our larger ships in the area. This done, we were left to perform other tasks, ie: to patrol the sea and report sightings of all the enemy activities we saw, to the higher command.

During one patrol, I was able to bring down two enemy planes, a Dornier bomber and a Messerschmitt fighter. Some days later I was instrumental in blowing up and sinking a German armed Schooner, with my Bofors gun. A week later, we returned to Beirut and my term in the Middle East being over, I was transported back to the UK, aboard the “Querida Del Pacifico” (Queen of the Pacific), a troop ship.

We docked at Southampton, and I was then transported to Portsmouth Royal Naval Barracks, where I was granted three weeks leave. Two days later “D Day” occurred and all pending leave for the armed forces was cancelled, but not for those already on leave. My leave over, I returned to Portsmouth and was drafted to the coastal forces there. A fortnight later, I was assigned to MTB 480, (A motor torpedo boat). The following day we left for Lowestoft along the South English coast, which was to be our base for a while.

Once there we were engaged in patrolling the English Channel to accost the enemy shipping. After two or three affrays we returned to Lowestoft having taken a couple of 20mm shells in our port fuel tank. Fortunately, the tank was full, had it been partly empty we would have blown up. Repairs completed, we were then sent to Northern France and ensconced in Mulberry Harbour, the famous “man made” harbour. Enduring many air attacks whilst there, we did frequent patrols along the French, Belgium and Dutch coasts, harassing enemy shipping.

Suddenly the war had ended and the same day we returned to Lowestoft for celebrations and home leave. My leave all to soon ended, I returned to my home base in Devonport, HMS Drake, which I hadn’t seen for some years. Whilst there, I was summoned to an Investiture in Cardiff (capital of South Wales), where I was presented with the Distinguished Service Medal by King George the VI, for my efforts in the Aegean.

Some months later, I was sent to sea again, this time to serve aboard HMS St. Austell Bay, (A bay class Frigate), based at Malta. The war being over, we travelled the Mediterranean ‘showing the flag’, we also took part in “The Palestine Campaign”, turning back ships carrying illegal Jewish immigrants. A most distasteful task considering what they had gone through in the war. In 1949, my term abroad being up, I was returned to the UK, and back once more to HMS Drake.

Vegetating there for a while, the adrenalin rushes of war having subsided, I decided to heed the urgings of my previous commanding officers and seek promotion. Having nothing better to do, I did just that. I passed professionally for the rank of Leading Seaman but, before I could complete the rest of the course, ie: written tests, I was hospitalized. I was found to be unfit physically for further service and consequently discharged from the Royal Navy. So ended my illustrious naval career!

I am now eighty two years old. I was married in 1945 to my lovely wife, and we are looking forward to our 60th wedding anniversary in December (2005). This gent who recently passed away. 28 Jan 2012. Thanks to his grandson Josh for this priceless memory.


January 2007: Got this email from Maurice Dawe. Hi, Just as a matter of interest my brother Leading Seaman William Francis Dawe (Frankie) served in HMS Zulu from its commissioning day until its action with the Bismarck when he was wounded and put ashore in Londonderry to the military hospital where he died on the 2nd June 1941.  He was an LST so was at his action station on the torpedo tubes when he was wounded by shrapnel.  I guess there are very few survivors still alive but maybe somebody remembers him. He was from Lisburn Northern Ireland.  Maurice R. Dawe ex RN, RAN MN.

November 2007: Got an email from Robert Godwin. My uncle (L/Stoker Robert Anderson) was killed on HMS Zulu when the ship was sunk on 14th September 1942. If any one has further information I would love to know? Email him direct at crana.crana   -at- If you replace -at- with @, you have his email address.

April 2009: Hi, my name is Mark Peckham. My Granddad, Lesley John Peckham served on the Zulu and was on it during the action at Tobruk. He is dead now and only spoke to me once about it 30 years ago. He was shot in the arm and the hand while in the water. The information I remember is vague. He ended up in the water and was captured and ended up in an Italian hospital in Italy. He was given civilian clothes to escape. Can anybody shed any light on this. You can email Mark at the following email address, and info to me please, if possible. markpeckham - at - If you replace -at- with @, you have his email address.

May 2009: A request for info from Julie Johnstone in San Diego USA. My father Able seaman Thomas Ferguson was on board the Zulu and one of the crew members rescued from the water after many hours. My Dad passed away June 6th 1988, he never talked about his experience.    My mother once told us after his rescue, my grandmother was taken to BBC radio station at Queen Margaret drive, Glasgow and allowed to speak to him over the airwaves.    I do recollect there was an article related to his rescue and length of time in water, over the years it disappeared and my sister and I have tried unsuccessfully to find out any information regarding his rescue. Any information you could help us with would be most appreciated. email her at scotsgirlll - at - - replace the -at- with @ for the corrrect email address.

July 2009: Richard Marshall emailed to telling me that his mum's first husband, Charles Mansbridge, served aboard Zulu and was killed, possibly from field gun fire.

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