British Submarine HMS Oswald
With help from David Barnes

"Of all the branches of men in the Forces, there is none which shows more devotion and faces grimmer perils than the submariner.
Great deeds are done in the air and on the land; nevertheless, nothing surpasses your exploits." Winston Churchill.

"Only in attack does a submarine reveal herself, before creeping away to the concealment of the deep"

Class O
N 58
Built by
Vickers Armstrong (Barrow-in-Furness, U.K.)
2 Dec 1926
Laid down
30 May 1927
19 Jun 1928
1 May 1929
1 Aug 1940
Loss position
37.46N, 16.16E

She was rammed and sunk on 1st August 1940 with 52 survivors.  She had been caught, on the surface, by an Italian Destroyer Division. The Royal Navy commissioned the submarine HMS Oswald on the 1 March 1929. It departed from Portsmouth with HMS Osiris, Odin and Otus as part of the 3rd Submarine Flotilla. During World War Two the Italian destroyer Vivaldi rammed HMS Oswald whilst it undertook a patrol in the Straits of Messina. The crew were captured and taken as prisoners of war in Italy.

The ramming and depth charging by the Italian destroyer Vivaldi caused extensive damage to HMS Oswald and the vessel’s Lieutenant Commander decided to abandon ship and sink the craft. Petty Officer Edwin Clay describes in his prisoner of war logbook his escape from the submarine. After getting a few DSEA sets out, the vents of the submarine were opened and we took in water.  The Captain made us keep in a bunch and we gave the Oswald three cheers as she dived. A few minutes after we felt the battery tanks go with a bang'. Following two and a half hours of being in the sea the Italian destroyer returned to collect the crew. 52 submariners had survived but three of the ratings had died whilst in the water. The Italians gave the newly captured prisoners food and blankets before taking them to a naval hospital at Taranto, Southern Italy.

From Taranto the crew of HMS Oswald moved to the island of Poveglia, near Venice, where they worked on repairing the local roads and gardens. Then, in October 1940, a train transported them to the prisoner of war camp in Sulmona. At each station Italian soldiers faced the carriages with fixed bayonets, however, they did allow people to throw bags of sweets to the hungry prisoners. The prisoner’s brick built huts at Sulmona had a concrete floor and furniture consisting of iron beds with two blankets, two sheets and a pillow. As the weather in the camp grew colder the prisoners felt the need of warm clothing. Ninety per cent of the boots had holes and their owners fixed wood to the soles to keep their feet off the snow. For socks they used pieces of sheeting bound round their feet.

Prisoner escapes altered life in the camps for those captives left behind. After a successful getaway the guards often ransacked the huts and withdrew privileges from the remaining prisoners. Despite it being contrary to the Geneva Convention, the guards often enacted some form of collective punishment such as a reduction in food.  In Italy numerous accounts by Allied fugitives speak of the kindness and generosity shown by all sections of Italian society to escapees. Most striking of all was the help offered by the impoverished peasantry. If discovered this could result in their punishment and even death. One such account involved Leading Telegraphist E J Arnold who became a prisoner of war when the Italian corvettes Minerva and Euterpe sank the submarine HMS Saracen in 1943. He managed to escape from his internment camp and found refuge with two Italians called Rosa and Seraphina in the village of Caparolla. Uniquely, during his escape, he had taken a Luftwaffe shirt.

After the war Arnold returned to Caparolla to say thank you to Rosa and Seraphina for their help in saving his life. He discovered that someone had reported them to the Germans. They made Rosa and Seraphina stand outside of their house all night long and in the morning shot them. As a vivid reminder, Arnold saw the bullet holes still in the side of the house.

. - Says: On 19th July 1940 HMS Oswald left Alexandria for patrol east of Sicily. At 1230 on the 30th she spotted a convoy comprising three merchant ships and several destroyers. Oswald’s unsuccessful attack on the convoy alerted the Italians to the submarine’s presence and the 14th and 16th Destroyer Squadrons were ordered to seek out the submarine. On 1st August the destroyer Vivaldi sighted Oswald on the surface at a range of 2500 metres. The destroyer immediately turned to ram the submarine, striking Oswald’s starboard side. Oswald began taking in water and the order to abandon ship was given. Not long after a series of explosions shook the submarine and Oswald sank to the bottom.

After detection by the Italians, HMS Oswald is rammed and sunk by Italian destroyer Ugolino Vivaldi. The RN submarine makes no attempt to escape or to attack the Italian ship, possibly because the commander suffers from night blindness when he is suddenly called to the bridge. The RN commander (who ordered abandon ship BEFORE the ramming occurred, when Vivaldi was 100 yards away) is court martialed  on 5 charges for the loss of his ship and found to have been negligent in performing his duties. He is sentenced to forfeit all seniority as a lieutenant commander, to be dismissed and to be severely reprimanded. There were 3 casualties, but 52 of the crew survived to become POW. (taken from info provided on forum

HMS Oswald ' Crossing the Line Ceremony'

August 2009: I read your stuff about the Oswald. My dad, Robert (Jock) Scott, was stoker aboard when it came to an inglorious end, but he survived and spent the rest of the war as one of the  POWs. He died at the very young age of 57, and never talked about his experiences to us kids (I was conceived on his return to UK) My brother John is 4 years older, and bears the middle name of Oswald! But he never liked being named after dad's boat. I would like to learn more of his time as a POW. On another site I found a picture of about 34 of the crew posed in the camp, but it is a bit small, and I'm guessing which is dad, if he's on it. Love to hear from you, Mike Scott.

From Pat Larkin, Eastbourne. July 2012. My Uncle, Ronald Douglas Elliott was a member of the Oswald's crew when she was sent to the bottom.....he was taken prisoner with the other members of the crew who survived that ordeal. I understand three crew members perished that day. Uncle Ronnie and a friend decided to attempt an escape. My Dad's story was that Uncle Ronnie and his oppo. did escape. They were spotted, challenged to halt but the friend with him said 'Run'....which they both did. Uncle Ronnie was shot in the back and killed....the friend with Uncle Ronnie later returned to Windsor. My Dad and his remaining brothers arranged to meet this man who subsequently told them the story of what happened that fateful day. My late uncle's name is written on the memorial board to Windsor's dead from two world wars. The board is on the inside wall of the entranceway to the Windsor Parish Church, Windsor, Berkshire.
I visited the church last year and took some photos of his was an emotional time for me...My Dad, Ronnie's older brother, (there were six boys and two girls in the Elliott family), told my brother and I that Ronnie was a quiet, unassuming, very happy and likeable lad. He joined the Royal Navy and became a Stoker, 1st Class. His ambition, though, was to be a submariner. My Granddad Elliott, (a long-term Grenadier Guardsman), refused to sign the papers allowing Ronnie to transfer to subs. However, whilst Granddad was at work, (he eventually left the army and became a lorry driver in Windsor's Central Station), Granny Elliott gave in, reluctantly it has to be said, and signed the papers. I have a couple of good photos of my Uncle. I never had the privilege or honour of meeting him. He died when I was two years old. He sent two postcard letters from the P.O.W. camp in Firenze, (Florence), in Italy. He asked my parents 'how's the baby?' meaning me......
I wrote to Hayes where I was sent photocopied records relating to my late uncle's service in the Royal Navy, including his submarine papers. They were so useful and helpful to me. I wrote back to the clerk who had sent these papers to me, thanking him for his kindness and help. Going back to my two photos. One photo is of a group of prisoners wearing naval bellbottoms, small, white caps and white tops. They are all hoeing a piece of land, supposedly within the prison grounds. They all look well and happy too. Uncle Ronnie is smiling. The other black and white photo is of him when he first joined the Royal Navy. It's a typical pose of a new matelot, according to my brother, that brother served 13 years in the Fleet Air he should know, I suppose!  Anyway, thank you for reading my letter. Good luck with your site. From Mrs. Pat Larkin, Eastbourne.

Aug 2013: My father, stoker Walter Ernest Wort served on the Oswald and my understanding from him was that he was a survivor on that fateful night. I'm unable to obtain a copy of the ships company and wondered if you are able to help. I also served in the RN and did a two year commission on HMS Eagle from 1966-68. Our captain for the commission was John Ernlie Pope and from research was the brother of Lt Pope who is mentioned during the sinking of Oswald. Strange that I should serve under the brother of someone who may have been instrumental in saving my fathers life. My father died in 1984 but mentioned he also escaped on two occasions, unfortunately all his details including his log book have been lost and I would be very grateful for any further information that you may have. With best wishes John Michael Wort


My first ever book - order it here