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CAPTURE of BRITISH YARD MINESWEEPER BYMS-72, November 1943
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An excerpt from the book on the U.S. Navy's coastal and motor minesweepers, 1941-1953 by Cdr David Bruhn USN (Retired) (C) 2007. All rights reserved
The image above (click for enlargement) is entitled "Moonlit Assault in the Aegean". Painted by Richard Derosset, it is the cover for David Bruhn's forthcoming book "Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The U.S. Navy's Coastal & Motor Minesweepers, 1941-1953".
David would like to acknowledge the efforts of Derek J. Sullivan of Merseyside, United Kingdom, to uncover the facts concerning the attack by German forces on, and subsequent capture of BYMS-72.
His companion book is "Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The U.S. Navy's Ocean Minesweepers, 1953-1994", published 2006. Following is the cover for that, also painted by Richard Derosset - "Sea Battle off the Cua Co Chien River Mouth" showing the USS Endurance (MSO 435) engaging a North Vietnamese gunrunner.
The Aegean Campaign
“The direction of these (Aegean Campaign) operations was seriously hampered by the capture of B.Y.M.S. 72 at Kalymnos on the night of 11th/12th November, which resulted in all the codes carried by these small craft being compromised.” A.U. Willis, Vice-Admiral, Commander-in-Chief, Report of Naval Operations in the Aegean between the 7th September, 1943 and 28th November 1943 (The British Aegean Campaign.)1
BYMS-72 was struck on November 11, 1943 by a German aircraft-launched Henschel HS293 glider bomb during an attack just off Alinda Bay, on the east side of Leros, one of the Greek islands comprising the Dodecanese archipelago in the southern Aegean Sea. (Fashioned in the shape of a glider and carried beneath a parent bomber, the air-to-surface missile was used against shipping. Remotely controlled with a joystick, the projectile was steered to its target by the bombardier, who visually tracked it with the aid of a red guidance flare in the tail. The actual flight path of the missile resembled a series of arcs as it received and followed corrections.) Badly damaged, many of its crew dead and wounded, the minesweeper made to enter Portalago harbor early the following morning for temporary repairs. However, while attempting to locate the narrow entrance, it was captured by units of a German invasion force on the eve of the battle for Leros. The battle itself was the culmination of an unsuccessful British defense of the Italian-held islands of Leros, Tamos and Samos, which, following the surrender of Italy on September 3rd, Winston Churchill had wanted to seize before the Germans could establish a presence. During the Italian occupation, Leros, with its excellent deep-water port of Portalago (Lakki), had been transformed into a heavily fortified air base, "the Corregidor of the Mediterranean," as Mussolini boasted.
BYMS-72 had the shortest service of the 150 vessels of its class built in America (7 months, 5 days from launch), and never performed any operational minesweeping. Supplied to the Royal Navy as part of America’s Lend-Lease Program, she was originally given the hull number J872 prior to transfer and BYMS-72 by the British. In December 1943, the number 2000 was added to her pennant (hull) number, yielding BYMS-2072, to avoid confusion with the series of numbers the Royal Navy used for its motor minesweepers (MMS). She was built by the Wheeler Shipbuilding Corporation of Whitestone, New York, the keel having been laid on June 25, 1942 and the hull launched a year later on April 7th. She was originally fitted with such luxuries as ice-cold drinking water, a washing machine and spin-dryer, and a coffee percolator that the Admiralty later removed as “non essentials.” The ship’s company, comprised of three officers and 30 men, was based at Asbury Park, New Jersey before joining her. The 72 was completed and transferred to the Royal Navy on May 15, 1943 and did her sea, compass, and engine trials in New York’s Staten Island area, calling at several yards and depots to have equipment fitted before sailing on to Iowa Island up the Hudson River to take on ammunition. Since most of the crew had previously been assigned to old minesweepers that had been converted from trawlers, they must have found conditions aboard the BYMS luxurious in comparison, sleeping in, for example, bunks instead of hammocks.
right - line drawing of BYMS-72 by Derek Sullivan
Three newly constructed BYMSs, 72, 73, and 190, left Throggs Neck, a narrow spit of land in the borough of the Bronx in New York City, on July 14, bound ultimately for England. A part of the 156th minesweeper flotilla, they arrived at Boston on the following day and thereafter called at Halifax, Nova Scotia and Saint Johns, Newfoundland, where they were joined by the BYMS-32. Having topped off their tanks with diesel oil and taken on 50 drums of extra fuel stowed on deck, the four minesweepers sailed on July 25 for Londonderry, Northern Ireland, arriving via the great circle route on the 4th of August.
BYMS-72 departed the next day for Oban (the “Charing Cross” of the Western Isles) and, upon arrival, entered the Caledonian Canal, passing through the locks at Banavie (“Neptune’s Stair Case”), and then through the freshwater Lochs Locky and Oich. Continuing onward through Loch Ness and past Inverness, she proceeded between the two old stone structures of Fort George and Fort Rose and out into the wide waters before turning to starboard and entering the Humber Canal. Although it had 29 locks and was 60 miles long, the canal provided a safer and shorter way to the north of Scotland than navigating the coastal route. After exiting it and rounding Scotland's easternmost point, she headed down the coast to Grimsby, a seaport on the Humber Estuary in Lincolnshire, England and underwent modifications for Royal Navy service. Two days later the 72 headed back to Inverness, on through to Fort William and then to Oban. From there she continued south to Milford Haven, near the mouth of the River Cleddau at the extreme end of southwest Wales, from which she sailed for Gibraltar. At this stage, the crew was still unaware of their final destination.
The rotation (posting) of personnel off the ship now left her company at two officers and 28 men. Upon arrival at Malta on the 23rd of August, 72 tied up alongside the American-built tanker Ohio, a survivor of the famous “Pedestal convoy.” After leaving port three days later for Alexandria, BYMS-72 spotted a mine, which despite all her efforts she could neither blow up nor sink. In the end, short of time, the commanding officer decided to leave it.
After departing Alexandria, the crew had been told that Tel Aviv would be their next port of call. However, after a night’s stopover at Port Said, at the northern entrance to the Suez Canal, 72 was diverted to Beirut and rejoined BYMS-73. There the two minesweepers embarked men and supplies bound for Leros. The two ships left port on November 8. Aboard BYMS-72 were four army officers, forty-six troops, and stores (mainly heavy drums of cable), while the 73 transported three army officers and forty-five men of the Buffs and Signals (an east Kent regiment) and members of a deployed Signals Regiment, as well as lighter stores. The minesweepers arrived at 1:30 A.M. off the island of Castlerosso, near the Turkish coast, having been joined by the motor minesweepers MMS-102 and 103. The BYMSs then received orders to lie in Turkish waters until late that day and sail at dusk. (As the German Air Force had almost total control of the skies, the Royal Navy carried out most operations at night. To help them remain undetected by day, the minesweepers had been issued camouflage nets and other equipment.)
They departed Castlerosso late afternoon, passed to the north of Rhodes, and anchored in Turkish waters at 6:00 A.M. on November 10. Underway again in early evening, the four ships passed eastward and then north of the German-occupied Greek island of Kos. Unfortunately, MMS-102 ran aground, and the two BYMSs proceeded independently towards their destination. (The troops aboard the motor minesweeper were disembarked for onward passage in motor launches, and MMS-102 was refloated in the early evening on November 12 with the help of the wakes of three passing destroyers. She entered Gumusluk, a fishing village in southwest Turkey, the following day and was berthed alongside the Greek destroyer RHN Adrias [L67] for repairs. The latter vessel, whose bow had been blown off by a mine, was lying at anchor for use as a depot ship.)
The two minesweepers arrived at Alinda Bay on the east coast of Leros an hour past midnight on November 11th. Having lost seven officers and 128 soldiers together with vital equipment when the destroyer HMS Eclipse (H08) was mined and sunk east of Kalymnos in the Dodecanese less than a month earlier on the night of October 14, the Army urgently needed the personnel and signals equipment that were aboard the ships. (Five naval officers and 114 ratings also perished when the destroyer was lost). BYMS-73 offloaded the equipment it carried aboard before the vessels received orders to proceed to Guvechenlik Bay, Turkey and remain there until nightfall. The two sweeps entered Turkish waters as daylight approached. BYMS-72 remained at anchor until early evening, when she parted company with her sister ship to return to Alinda Bay so that the heavy cables for the Army Signal Corps she carried aboard could be offloaded.
Attack from the Air
In early evening, as she neared the bay within three miles of Leros, she was spotted and attacked by elements of the Luftwaffe. Taking immediate evasive action while radioing for help, she experienced three or four near misses before her luck ran out. A 500lb glider bomb struck the ship forward on the port side and the resulting explosion blasted the port 20mm gun and its platform into the sea, taking along the gunner who was strapped to it and killing the other member of the gun crew as well. Moments before the bomb had struck, the commanding officer had shouted “Get Down” to crewmembers, perhaps having sighted the red flare on the tail of the ordnance. However, the ship’s diary entry indicates the vessel had been generally surprised by the undetected attack:
Enemy could not be heard owing to the noise of our own engines and we had difficulty in seeing enemy, as it was a full moon and the enemy seemed to make his runs out of the moonlight, all [our] guns being fired without effect.
(A British Enigma intercept of a German transmission indicates that 62 German aircraft, armed with 59.8 tons of high explosives and 12 HS-293 glider bombs patrolled the Aegean Sea and the area southeast of Rhodes throughout most of November 11 without sighting any enemy ships, at the same time conducting attacks on shore gun batteries. In the early evening, after detecting an enemy shipping formation consisting of one relatively large and three small units approaching land from the east, four German DO-217 bombers, armed with eight glider bombs, attacked. Their report indicated that one “fairly large” unit was probably sunk by a direct hit [probably the BYMS-72] and one small unit damaged [perhaps the LCM-923]).
As the ship heeled over 45 degrees to starboard, the mast toppled and lay over the side with the yardarms in the water. As it fell, it struck the starboard Oerlikon gun, resulting in the loss of a third crewman and injury to another. The ammunition loader for the starboard gun was knocked unconscious and, when he recovered, viewed with horror the decks now awash with blood and body parts. The head of one of his shipmates was rolling on the deck and a leg from one of the deceased was draped on the rigging of the mast. Sighting Jack, the ship’s dog, foraging among the body remains, he threw him overboard in rage. The main 3-inch gun mount on the foc’sle was also damaged in the attack and the two men assigned to it injured by shrapnel. One of them died later from his wounds in a hospital ashore. The other man dove among coils of line on deck to gain protection from aircraft fire only to find they had been used to store ammunition. Several other crewmen were injured as well. 72’s steering was affected and for a time she turned helplessly in a circle, strafed by aircraft guided by the illumination of a now unmanned signal searchlight pointing up into the sky. The commanding officer was about to order abandon ship when after steering regained local control of the rudder.
The commanding officer of BYMS-72 ordered his radioman to signal Navy House ashore about the condition of the damaged ship and to do so in clear language as speed was of the essence. The Gyro compass repeater located on the upper bridge had been blown from its pedestal, the engine order telegraph on the bridge was out of action, and the watch team had no bridge control of the engines. The master gyro was inoperative and the vessel had suffered structural derangement. The engine-room hatch cover had been blown off and the wardroom and mess decks badly damaged. Following receipt of 72’s distress message, Navy House (a villa on the western shore of Alinda Bay that had been taken over by the Royal Navy) sent the motor launch ML-299 and motor torpedo boat MTB-315 to assist, and the commanding officer of the latter vessel (a New Zealander serving in the Royal Navy) piloted BYMS-72 into the bay.
Wounded Crewmen Moved Ashore
Thereafter, Army personnel removed the bodies of those who had fallen and transported the wounded to the hospital, while the ship discharged the cargo it carried. The crew then hosed down the decks. While the commanding officer went ashore to receive orders from Navy House, the remaining crewmen huddled aft while the coxswain opened the rum store for tots all round. Upon his return aboard, the commanding officer informed the crew that the German pilot had reported the BYMS sunk, and that the ship was to proceed to Portalago (Lakki), a “quiet bay” on the west coast of Leros, for emergency repairs. Until the end of September 1943, Portalago had been the primary base on Leros for the Allies’ ships, to which destroyers and submarines brought in troops and supplies. Now abandoned after heavy enemy air raids, the port had only one crane still available by October 2, and the Royal Navy had relocated its headquarters from an Italian depot ship based at Portalago to the shore base at Alinda Bay. The wounded crewmen were taken to Villa Bellini, a private residence on the west shore of Alinda Bay. Built by a Leriot shipping magnate, it was then in use by the British as a military hospital.
Search for a Safe Haven
BYMS-72 stood out of Alinda Bay one hour past midnight on November 12, under orders to proceed to Portalago, sailing north about the island and hugging the shore line for an estimated distance of 14 miles, using only a small scale chart (because such charts cover a large area, they do not provide the detail desired when navigating restricted waters). The island itself was a peculiar shape, due to some half dozen harbors and bays that bite into its shoreline. Two of the main bays, Alinda and Gurna, almost cut the island in two, leaving a narrow strip of land a little more than a mile wide separating the inlets. Sailing shorthanded in the clear starlit early morning, with all her guns inoperative, the 72 was to be met at the entrance to Portalago harbor by a motor launch that would guide her to a berth. The minesweeper sailed north and then turned and headed down the west coast of Leros; however, it missed the entrance to Portalago where the Naval Officer in Charge waited aboard the motor torpedo boat MTB-313. The harbor entrance, a narrow cleft in a long line of vertical hills, would have been difficult to locate at night. Signaling the 72 without reply, the officer then returned to Lakki and sent the motor launch ML-456 in pursuit of the minesweeper, which was now proceeding towards the adjacent island of Kalymnos, some ten miles distant and separated from Leros by only a narrow channel, which was held by the Germans.
As 72 unknowingly headed for Kalymnos, her signalman flashed a message to a harbor the ship mistakenly believed to be Portalago. Receiving no reply, he went to a larger (Aldis) lamp but again received no response. However, the piercing bright light of the lamp uncloaked to a lookout stationed on the lower deck some barges near the ship, which he reported to the bridge. The commanding officer told the watch stander to warn the barges to stay clear of the minesweeper because its mast was still hanging over the side. As the 72 drifted into the harbor, the lookout reported there were Germans in the barges. (In the darkness, the enemy may not have realized the 72 was only a very small vessel and not keen to disclose their position did not open fire on it.) The minesweeper then departed the harbor.
Attack from the Sea
After putting the barges containing enemy forces behind it, the minesweeper unluckily ran into the German Western Invasion Force. The Gruppe Aschoff (II./Gren.Reg.16/22.Inf.Div, which had left bases at Kos and Kalymnos in late evening the previous day) had sighted the 72 headed toward Kalymnos, whereupon it laid smoke to cover a group of landing craft carrying 800 German troops. The naval officer in charge of the landing, Oberleutnant z.S. Hansjürgan Weissenborn (who was embarked aboard the motor minesweeper R-210) hailed the debilitated vessel in flawless English and asked, “Hello what ship?” to which the 72 replied that she was a minesweeper looking for a safe place for the night. As the R-210 passed within a few feet of BYMS-72, Weissenborn told the minesweeper to follow him and signaled the escorts UJ-2101 and UJ-2102, “Quickly, here is a Tommy; let’s strip him.” (The two escort vessels may not have been recognizable to the British as enemy ships. The German Navy designated vessels that fell into its hands as “TA” or “UJ,” followed by a hull number. TA stood for Torpedoboot Ausland [“foreign torpedo boat”] and UJ for Unterseeboot Jäger [“sub hunter”]. Unterseejäger UJ-2101 was the ex-British WWI-era minesweeper Widnes, which had been acquired by and captured earlier in the war from the Greeks, and UJ-2102, the former large Swedish yacht Brigitta.)
A former crewmember recalls encountering the enemy vessel, mistakenly believed in darkness to be the motor launch that had been previously arranged, and ensuing events:
I was on the bridge doing electrical repairs, when I heard a clear call in English “Who are you, and what are you doing?” The 1st officer replied, “We are damaged and looking for a safe haven for repairs.” We were instructed, “Follow me.” During this exchange a seaman shouted, “They’re Germans!” but was told not to be so stupid by most of the crew. Having commanded “follow me,” the unknown craft went around the bow to the port side of the 72 and, almost immediately, it and numerous other craft opened fire at less than 50 yards range. I dropped to the bridge deck and it was like being in a hornet’s nest in hell. I received five shrapnel wounds in the inner and upper thigh and in my right hip and buttock.
At 2:25, German vessels took the minesweeper under a withering crossfire at close range, causing loss of life and damage to the ship in addition to that which the glider bomb had inflicted the previous day and starting fires in the engine room. Badly holed, her engines inoperable, the injured vessel began to sink by the stern. To make matters worse, the starboard Oerlikon ammunition locker was also on fire. Believing she might blow up at any moment, the commanding officer gave the order to abandon ship. Their ship ablaze, her guns out of action and slowly sinking, the surviving officers and men of BYMS-72 finally had to surrender. During the time between the cessation of fighting and the arrival of a boarding party alongside, crewmembers attempted to throw overboard or destroy the ship’s confidential books and papers. However, their efforts were only partially successful, and enemy boarders captured some of the documents and codes. German vessels than came alongside the minesweeper and put out the flames before a “Flak ship” (gunboat) took aboard her wounded. Two officers and fourteen men were taken prisoner and the 72 was made up for tow to Kalymnos. The last the now-imprisoned commanding officer saw of his ship was when, released from the towing vessel upon arrival, she listed to port and sank stern first. Only the foc’sle and top bridge remained above water. Weissenborn, the victorious commander, returned to his base at Piraeus aboard the R-210, flying the White Ensign of the BYMS-72.
The ML-456, dispatched to find the minesweeper, had after viewing the engagement returned to Lakki to report that the BYMS-72 had been attacked by enemy forces off Argyynondas Bay at the northern end of Kalymnos. The commander of the launch, which was to have guided the damaged wooden vessel into Portalago harbor, stated in his report that the 72 had come under heavy crossfire that continued for two minutes.
Escape of Two Crewmembers to Alexandria, Egypt
Three crewmen, a wireman (electrician), a stoker (engineer), and a seaman, evaded capture and came ashore in Linaria Bay on the west coast of Kalymnos. They had earlier, upon receipt of the order to abandon ship (subsequently cancelled), been among a group of crewmen who had jumped overboard and swum for shore. Friendly Greeks (Kalymniots) provided them food and water and hid them for 4 days in a succession of caves located northeast of the bay. On the night of November 16, they took two of the men by caique (Greek boat) off the island, leaving from a small bay east of Kalymnos town. A shipmate who had suffered bullet wounds in both his legs and could not walk was left behind. The wireman and stoker were taken to the neighboring island of Pserimos, where some of the Greeks also disembarked. The people who helped the sailors would not disclose their names, fearful that if the British were captured by the Germans they might be forced to disclose the identities of those who had aided them. However, they provided the “British Tars” with the phone number of the brother of one of the men, who owned a business in London. The sailors crossed by boat to the Turkish mainland the evening of November 17 and eventually reached Alexandria six days later.
The following details about the journey of these two men to safety through the German-occupied and-patrolled Greek and Turkish islands and Aegean Sea area are based on an account provided by the wireman during a debriefing of the two men by the Royal Navy following their safe arrival at Alexandria. Upon the order to abandon ship, he and the other two men jumped overboard on the starboard side of the 72 and made for shore, reaching the beach exhausted. Not knowing whether the island was under German occupation, their first priority was to hide. Two of the men dragged their wounded shipmate, who was in agony from shrapnel lodged behind his kneecap, behind some rocks as an E-boat came close inshore searching for escapees. Leaving the injured man hidden on the beach, the British conducted a reconnaissance, hoping to meet some friendly locals. Luck was on their side when they met three young girls who, although they could not speak English, took them to what appeared to be an unused hunting hut. After verifying the relative safety of the dwelling, they returned to the beach to retrieve their wounded shipmate and carry him there. The girls brought figs and water and a Greek woman applied hot poultices to the injured man’s damaged knee to draw any infection.
Word of their arrival on the island quickly reached the members of the island resistance group, who informed them that they would have to move, because the Germans were about to conduct a census of the island population (presumably by searching all dwellings, nooks, and crannies) in order that they could better ration available food. Because the injured seaman could not walk nor be carried or moved in the rugged mountain terrain in which they must hide, the injured man had to remain behind with the resistance group. The two evaders were moved from cave to cave, sustained by food and water provided by the girls. On one occasion, a very elderly woman, who appeared to be at least seventy years of age, climbed the side of a mountain to bring them a huge pot of spaghetti. They were visited in one cave by a young boy of twelve or so who gave them a knife after graphically demonstrating his preferred method of cutting the throats of German soldiers. He also provided a pistol with a bent barrel and a handful of assorted bullets (machine gun and rifle), none of which fitted the weapon but which he thought might help. Feeling sure that if caught with the weapons (in conjunction with wearing civilian clothes) they would be shot, the wireman buried the offending items beneath the cave floor.
The two men kept moving from cave to cave, all the time able to view the temptingly close shore of Turkey and freedom across the expanse of the Aegean Sea. On two occasions during such movement, they were passed by German soldiers and the wireman could feel their rifles pointed at his turned back, worried that, although disguised as a shepherd, his blue eyes would give him away. Eventually the Greek resistance arranged a fishing boat supposedly to take the men farther up the island coast. However, the boat put out to sea and headed through enemy waters towards Turkey. German aircraft over flew the boat and it was stopped by an E-boat, which, however, withdrew without boarding after an exchange of words. On November 19, they were picked up (along with some British SAS members who had escaped Leros) by the BYMS-73 off Samos, one of the east Aegean Islands. (Major Lord Earl Jellicoe, the commander of the Special Boat Squadron, which during the war conducted highly dangerous missions into the German-controlled Greek islands, thanked the crew of BYMS-73, following its arrival at Alexandria, for the safe return of his British Special Forces men.) The crew of the minesweeper, which had waited in Turkish waters for the return of its sister ship, first heard the story of the demise of BYMS-72 from the two evaders who came aboard at Samos.
Before leaving Kalymnos, the wireman had met with the leader of the resistance movement, who informed him of the difficulties experienced in passing information to the Allied forces. After they had jointly conducted a reconnaissance of the island defenses, he made a solemn promise to the leader that he would speak to the top man and only the top man when he reached safety. Accordingly, after arriving at Alexandria he had a face-to-face meeting with the naval officer in command of the eastern Mediterranean, during which he identified enemy gun placements, other defenses, and E-boat pens on an aerial photograph of Kalymnos, thereby aiding in their subsequent destruction.
Disposition of the Captured Minesweeper and Imprisoned Crewmen
BYMS-72 was towed to Kalymnos and beached in Parthia harbor in early morning on November 12, ending her continued service to the Royal Navy. At about the same time, her crewmembers who had been hospitalized on Leros due to injuries suffered during the glider-bomb attack were being moved inland in anticipation of an impending German invasion. Those that were able walked to Navy House and then on to the caves at the bottom of Searchlight hill, in which Italian ammunition was stored. They remained in the caves, together with some German POWs, for three days. In late morning of their final day, one of them who had ventured from the hiding place to use the latrines hurried back with the news that the place was full of Germans. When enemy soldiers located the wounded within the cave, an injured German officer requested that the British be given good treatment because the German troops had been well looked after. Thereafter, the captors became the captured.
All the prisoners captured on Leros were taken to Alinda Bay and loaded onto an old cargo ship, the British on deck and the Italians below. Upon arrival in Athens, the injured were transported to a hospital and, from there, by train and lorry to German POW Camp No. 4b at Mulberg on the River Elbe and then to the naval POW camp Marlag und Milag Nord (M&MN) at Westertimke. All the POWs were interrogated upon arrival at M&MN in Lager 1, Dulag, which was used as a transit compound.
On February 19, 1944, German officers from Mine Trial Command conducted a survey of the wreck of BYMS-72 and reported both that her sweeping gear appeared to be in good condition and that salvage of the ship seemed possible. The Portalago harbor commander, Kovettenkapitän Fetzer, and a member of mine trial command, Sonderführer Leutnant z.S. Eichen, sailed to Kalymnos on March 6 to discuss the salvage of the ship. After determining twelve days later that salvage was indeed feasible, the pump steamer Adda was dispatched to Kalymnos to dewater the sunken minesweeper. Salvage was stopped in late March while the crew of the German sub-chaser UJ-2144 (a decoy ship) removed her 3-inch gun and then resumed with the help of the Greek tug Titan. In October, the derelict, less its superstructure, was towed to Portalago Harbor and beached. Reclassified by the Germans as GD-07, she apparently never served with the Kriegsmarine and her disposition is unknown. At the end of the war, it was reported that the 72 had earlier foundered and sunk while being towed to the mainland, but two British minesweeper sailors claimed to have seen her after the reported date of her demise in the harbor at Salonica (Thessaloníki), Greece, painted in camouflage.
Remembrance of British Yard Minesweeper 72
There's no flowers on a sailor’s grave,
No lilies on an ocean wave,
The only tribute is the seagull’s sweep,
And the tear drop on a loved one’s cheek.
We shall remember them.
Lieutenant D. J. Dampier, Royal Navy
Senior surviving officer HMS Firedrake 17th December 1942.
The surviving crewmembers of the BYMS-72 and the families and friends of their shipmates killed in action may take some solace in the fact that its capture delayed the German Western Force approximately five hours, benefiting Allied shore batteries by providing daylight to assist them in the ensuing Battle of Leros. When the Western Force (with the infantry battalion II./16) finally approached the planned landings at Kafalu and Drimonas (two coves at the entrance to Gurna Bay on the northeast side of Leros) on November 13, it came under fire by several Italian batteries and was driven off. Two more attempts to land under the cover of Stuka aircraft attacks and destroyer gunfire also failed, and the enemy force had to retreat to Kalymnos before finally landing at Panozimi later that morning with the loss of one tank landing craft. This small victory, however, only delayed the inevitable enemy triumph. By November 16, German forces outnumbering the defenders by four or five to one had achieved overwhelming command of the air and had the ability if necessary to land additional reinforcements. By early evening that day, having received word that there would be no evacuation and determined that a suicidal defense would serve no useful purpose, the commander of the British forces, Brig. Gen. Robert Tilney, surrendered, thereby ending the Battle for Leros, considered by some to be the last great defeat of the British Army in World War II and one of the last German victories in the Mediterranean. Tilney and 3,200 British and 5,350 Italian soldiers went into captivity, although some Allied soldiers were able to escape and slip into Turkey, including the British SAS members and two BYMS-72 crewmen.
The cost of the failed Aegean campaign to the Royal Navy was four cruisers damaged, six destroyers either lost or damaged so badly they never returned to action, several other destroyers damaged to various degrees, and BYMS-72 captured. Additionally, the small Greek Navy lost two destroyers.
Decades later, two former shipmates and buddies who each thought the other had died when their ship was bombed in the Aegean discovered, as a result of an advert placed in the Navy News, that they had been living within walking distance of one another for 30 years. Eighty-five year old Colin Crichton of Penryn, Cornwall, one of the two evaders who had made their way to Turkey, and Len Bunyan of Ashvale, Surrey, also 85 and less fortunate, having spent two-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war, were able to renew their friendship and share remembrances of their lost shipmates.