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The fate of Newbury's forgotten warship





"We seek thy protection from the deep, and grant us peace whene'er we sleep," goes the Submariner's Prayer.

But prayers sadly did not save the 63 crew onboard the HMS Tigris, lost at sea in 1943.

On Sunday (March 5) dignitaries, guests and representatives of the Royal Naval Association and Submariner's Association gathered at the Newbury Royal British Legion to mark 80 years since the disappearance of the ship Newbury had 'adopted' only a year earlier.

Wreaths laid at the HMS Tigris 75th anniversary memorial at the Newbury Royal British Legion
Wreaths laid at the HMS Tigris 75th anniversary memorial at the Newbury Royal British Legion

During the war, Newbury joined communities across the country in organising various schemes to bolster Britain's armed forces, including 'Salute the Soldier Week' and 'Wings for Victory'.

In February 1942, the town set itself a huge fundraising goal of £425,000 to adopt the HMS Tigris, a T-class submarine launched in October 1939, as part of 'Warship Week'.

It hosted dances and concerts at the Corn Exchange; local students curated a naval history exhibition and a huge military parade took place in Park Way.

The town exceeded its original target, raising an astounding £431,243 — millions in today's money.

Newbury 'adopts' its own warship
Newbury 'adopts' its own warship

Newbury also adopted HM Motor Gunboat 326 the same month, while other communities hosted their own 'Warship Weeks' to achieve the overall sum.

These included Bucklebury, Marlston, Beenham, Speen, Stockcross, Thatcham, Leckhampstead, Peasemore, Midgham, Curridge, Stanford Dingley and Brightwalton.

Hungerford adopted HM Corvette Freesia in December 1941, Bradfield the HM River Gunboat Locust in February 1942 and Kingsclere the HM Trawler Kingston Andalusite in March 1942.

Advert for Warship Week in the Newbury Weekly News in February 1942
Advert for Warship Week in the Newbury Weekly News in February 1942
Newbury Weekly News promotion for Warship Week
Newbury Weekly News promotion for Warship Week

The official narrative of the Tigris' demise is that the ship left Malta on February 18, 1943 on its 18th war patrol south-west of Naples.

But when it failed to report to Algiers on March 10, the British concluded the German UJ-2210 submarine chaser had sunk the ship six nautical miles off Capri Island, Italy on February 27.

Lt Cdr George Robson Colvin and his entire crew were killed.

A Newbury man named Vernon Cole once served aboard the Tigris, but transferred to an X-class 'midget submarine' before it sunk. He returned home after the war.

"The loss was felt heavily by the town and to this day we have acknowledged our debt to those brave men," said Newbury town crier, Brian Sylvester, at Sunday's event.

"Winston Churchill, in his tribute to submariners, praised the impulse of young men who gave all they had in order that Britain's honour might still shine forth."

Ian Sugden, the grandson of Commander Colvin, attended previous commemoration services at Newbury with his family.

"For a small town like Newbury to raise so much money to help build the Tigris was amazing," he told the Newbury Weekly News. "I would love to know where she actually rests as it would bring more closure to the story."

HMS Tigris near Plymouth in July 1942. Public domain
HMS Tigris near Plymouth in July 1942. Public domain
HMS Tigris 75th anniversary memorial at the Newbury Royal British Legion
HMS Tigris 75th anniversary memorial at the Newbury Royal British Legion

Another theory exists, however, regarding the ship's fate.

Amateur Belgian diver, Jean-Pierre Misson, made national headlines in 2018 with his apparent discovery of a wartime submarine graveyard off the coast of Tabarka, Tunisia.

Mr Misson cross-referenced sonar surveys he conducted between 2014 and 2015 with period photographs and drawings to confirm the wrecks of eight British submarines and one Italian submarine — the Tigris being among them.

He attributed the high concentration of wrecks in the area to a naval mine barrage laid by the Italian Navy.

Mr Misson reported his findings to the Tunisian, Italian and British authorities. The Italians planned to send a navy sonar and diving team to identify the suspected Italian submarine, but this is yet to take place.

Historians have contested Mr Misson's findings, saying confirmation of the Tigris' final resting place cannot be achieved until all three governments agree to a joint deep diving venture to assess the wreckage he has found.

Map detailing the HMS Tigris' last passage and alleged final resting place. Credit: Jean-Pierre Misson
Map detailing the HMS Tigris' last passage and alleged final resting place. Credit: Jean-Pierre Misson

Naval historian and author, Dr Phil Weir, ellaborated on this point.

"The tricky bit with submarine sinkings is unless some readily identifiable wreckage floats to the surface, the ships attacking them may not actually know who they have sunk, which can lead to multiple claims of which submarine was sunk," he explained.

"One can put together a very good case around known patrol areas and orders, positional reports, likely targets and reasons to be in a particular area, but absolute certainty would require eyes or cameras actually on whatever has shown up as the sonar target."

In the case of the Tigris, he added: "No survivors or identifiable wreckage were recovered and the resting place of the wreck remains unknown."

Where it rests we do not know, but Newbury still remembers the sacrifice of all those onboard.



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