Running the Gauntlet – Deep below the surface of the Mediterranean lie the physical remains of one of the most audacious naval operations of World War II. Time has softened the outline of what was once a British warship, HMS Manchester, but it has not stilled the passions roused by its controversial loss. For not only was an 11,000 ton ship sunk, but so too was the official reputation and career of her highly decorated captain, Harold Drew, DSC. Hidden amongst the wreckage on the sea-bottom are clues to what really happened during the heat of battle.
The cruiser Manchester was a key participant in the most powerfully-armed Allied convoy of World War II, sent in a desperate effort to relieve the beleaegured island of Malta. 60 years later, the film shows unique footage from the first ever diving expedition to its shattered hull some 80 metres down and seeks to find out the truth behind the sinking of HMS Manchester in the night of the 12th August 1942. It asks why the incident still causes anguish and resentment amongst the captain’s family and survivors alive today. Probing recently released records of the court martial, the film will ask how a man who saved over 900 lives came to be pilloried and condemned by the Naval establishment.
The heavily armed HMS Manchester was one of a total of over fifty warships guarding fourteen freighters carrying vitally needed supplies to the island fortress of Malta. The heavily defended convoy ran a gauntlet of over 700 enemy aircraft, numerous submarines and torpedo boats, as well as battleships of the Italian navy. Success or failure of the convoy’s mission would determine the course of the war in the Mediterranean.
The cost was enormous, ship after ship was hit and sunk, and many lives were lost. To the relief of Malta and the Allies, five of the freighters eventually made it: the island was saved. Had Malta fallen to the Axis forces, Montgomery might not have achieved his decisive victory against Rommel at El Alamein and the subsequent invasions of North Africa and Italy might never have happened.
In spite of Captain Drew’s valiant efforts during three days of continual fighting, HMS Manchester was one ship that did not make it to Malta. In the dead od night and off the coast of North Africa she was torpedoed by Italian E boats. Left crippled and vulnerable to further attack, with a minefield on one side and the shallow coast on the other, she was no further use to the convoy. Rather than see her top secret radar fall into enemy hands and to safeguard the lives of her crew, the Captain, Harold Drew, decided to abandon ship and scuttle her. For what the Admiralty saw as negligently and prematurely sinking his ship, he was never allowed another command and spent the rest of his life under a cloud of suspicion that he had failed both his ship and country.
Sixty years on, his family and surviving members of his crew still believe that Captain Drew was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. The recent release of the trial records show that even the naval authorities at the time were unhappy with the way the court martial was conducted. Add the fresh evidence gained on the first diving expedition to the wreck of the Manchester and the family and survivors feel it is now time to restore the good name of Captain Drew.
Additional Underwater camera
ANDREW M LEE
DR ERIC GROVE,
CENTRE OF SECURITY STUDIES,
UNIVERSITY OF HULL
Location services – Tunisia
SURVIVORS OF HMS MANCHESTER
FAMILY OF CAPTAIN HAROLD DREW
IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM
US NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND ADMINISTRATION
THE FAMILY OF MR W.BUTLER
MALTA TOURIST AUTHORITY
2002 ANGLO-MALTESE TECHNICAL DIVING EXPEDITION
CREW OF THE PRINCESS DUDA
CUSTOM DIVERS LTD
HASKELL ENERGY SYSTEMS LTD
POSEIDON DIVING SYSTEMS
JEREMY McWILLIAMS & JOHNO DE VILLIERS, THE MUSTARD FILM COMPANY
Produced & Directed by