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The mined HMS Volage, less her bow, entering Malta (Photo Ships,click to enlarge)

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This is a short introduction to a long forgotten cold war event just after the end of World War 2 in which two British destroyers were mined in international waters with heavy casualties.

The London Gazette did list the honours awarded but did not include an official despatch. In its place the proceedings of the House of Commons as recorded in Hansard have been quoted. In themselves they give a good account of the incident itself and the subsequent diplomatic overtures made to the Albanian Government. It is interesting to see that Winston Churchill continued to make his mark.

The helpful maps are courtesy of the extensive Perry-Castaneda Map Collection of the University of Texas at Austin. The sources of the images are given as appropriate.


Hansard Parliamentary Proceedings (right)

Background Maps

Ships Present and Images

Royal Navy Casulties

British Honours and Awards


Corfu between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas

The island of Corfu off the coasts of Albania and Greece.
Sarande on the Albanian coast is near the top right

Another version clarifying the position of the Corfu Channel.
The two shaded areas have not been identified.


(with links to ship histories)

First Cruiser Squadron - Mauritius, Leander

Destroyers Saumarez, Volage

HMS Mauritius (Navy Photos)

HMS Leander (Navy Photos/Mark Teadham)

HMS Saumarez (Photo Ships)

HMS Saumarez (Photo Ships)

HMS Volage (Photo Ships)


HMS Saumarez ((c) IWM A31207) - "showing the damage sustained by an influence mine laid in the Medri Channel area of the Corfu Strait in the Mediterranean. The mine was laid by Albania against international agreements. She is seen here under tow from HMS Volage, which suffered a similar fate just two hours later."

HMS Volage ((c) IWMA31208) - "showing the damage (lost bow) sustained by an influence mine laid in the Medri Channel area of the Corfu Straight in the Mediterranean. She is seen here towing HMS Saumarez (out of view to right), which suffered a similar fate just two hours previous."

HMS Volage in Malta (Navy Photos/Peter Crocker)


 with thanks to Don Kindell

Tuesday, 22 October 1946

 Saumarez, destroyer, mined in Corfu Channel off Albania
 ATKINSON, Bernard, Leading Radio Mechanic, C/MX 658647, killed
 BECKETT, Lauriston B, Cook (S), D/MX 750559, killed
 BRIFFA, Victor E A, Act/Steward, E/LX 667166, killed
 BUTCHER, Donald G, Stoker 2c, C/KX 779246, killed
 EDWARDS, William A D, Writer, D/MX 738317, killed
 EVA, Stanley J, Leading Cook, D/MX 53041, DOW
 FISHER, Robert, Able Seaman, D/JX 655048, killed
 FORD, William J N, Engine Room Artificer 5c, D/MX 93556, killed
 FRANCIS, Vernon, Able Seaman, D/JX 709105, killed
 GALLAHAR, Enoch J, Telegraphist, D/JX 724465, killed
 GERMAN, Raymond, Able Seaman, D/JX 708935, killed
 GOODE, Trevor W J, Stoker 1c, P/KX 763125, killed
 HALL, Francis R, Telegraphist, D/JX 711742, killed
 HOLMES, Norman, Able Seaman, D/JX 642544, killed
 KITT, William J H, Leading Stoker, D/KX 98204, killed
 LEWIS, John, Able Seaman, P/JX 632719, killed
 LLEWELYN, Frederick E, Able Seaman, D/JX 769885, killed
 LOCK, Samuel F, Stores Petty Officer, P/MX 59959, killed
 MALLIA, Francis X, Assistant Cook (O), E/LX 77952, killed
 MORRIS, Ronald, Cook (S), D/MX 750902, killed
 MUNN, Reginald H, Petty Officer Writer, D/MX 58072, killed
 PARSONS, Ernest W, Chief Petty Officer, D/JX 125562, killed
 PINE, William H, Stoker Petty Officer, D/KX 90676, killed
 ROSS, William P J, Able Seaman, D/JX 650092, killed
 SCHOLES, Frank M, Chief Petty Officer Telegraphist, D/J 112746, killed
 SPEIGHT, Gordon, Ordinary Telegraphist, P/JX 745538, killed
 STAERCK, Walter J, Able Seaman, D/JX 709285, killed
 WILSON, Henry J R T, Leading Telegraphist, D/JX 245788, killed
 WINTER, Brian J, Leading Radio Mechanic, P/MX 742378, killed
 WINTERBOTTOM, Sam, Able Seaman, D/XX 729949, killed

Volage, destroyer, in company with Saumarez, mined in Corfu Channel off Albania
 BROOM, Harry G, Leading Stoker, P/KX 92073, killed
 CHANNELL, Archibald J, Stoker Petty Officer, P/KX 88770, killed
 KEETON, Cyril, Stoker Petty Officer, P/KX 78483, DOW
 KNOTT, Joseph, Petty Officer, P/JX 161869, killed
 LOCHLIN, James L A, Stoker 2c, D/KX 786732, killed
 MILLSON, William E, Engine Room Artificer 3c, P/MX 55187, killed
 PRICE, Horace G, Act/Sub Lieutenant (E), RNVR, killed
 TAYLOR, Cyril J, Stoker 2c, P/KX 784766, killed

Wednesday, 23 October 1946
Saumarez, mining
 BEVAN, Leslie O, Stoker 1c, D/KX 98551, DOW
 DEBATTISTA, Antonio, Leading Steward, E/LX 23209, DOW
 HALES, Gordon H, Able Seaman, D/JX 652361, DOW
 SAYERS, William H, Leading Stoker, D/SKX 86, DOW

Thursday, 24 October 1946
Saumarez, mining
WEAVER, John, Leading Seaman, D/JX 150227, DOW

Monday, 4 November 1946
Saumarez, mining
 ZARB, Salvatore, Petty Officer Cook, E/LX 20225, DOW



Recorded in The London Gazette, issue 37937, 18th April 1947

St. James's Palace, S.W.1
22nd April, 1947.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the British Empire Medal (Military Division) to the undermentioned:

Petty Officer Maurice Frederick RICHARDS D/JX.149722, H.M.S. SAUMAREZ.
Stoker Petty Officer Charles MITCHELL P/KX.75119, H.M.S, VOLAGE.
Able Seaman Arthur Reginald MUNTON D/JX. 707942, H.M.S. SAUMAREZ.

for outstanding and gallant service in damage control, fire fighting and rescue work when H.M. Ships SAUMAREZ and VOLAGE were mined in the Corfu Channel on 22nd October, 1946,


22nd April, 1947.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following Awards:


Commander Reginald Trevor PAUL, C.B.E., Royal Navy, H.M.S. VOLAGE.

On 22nd October, 1946, H.M.S.SAUMAREZ struck a mine in the North channel, Corfu. The explosion caused grave damage and started a major fire, while the disabled ship drifted towards shoal water off Sarande, Albania. H.M.S. VOLAGE was ordered to stand by, and was later directed to take her in tow. The tow was passed just in time to prevent the SAUMAREZ drifting ashore. Fifty minutes later the VOLAGE also struck a mine, which blew off her bows. The tow was slipped, but the VOLAGE later returned to the disabled SAUMAREZ, took her in charge once more, and proceeded, both ships stern first, to Corfu Roads, arriving ten hours later.

The whole operation took twelve hours, the greater part being carried out in darkness. It was due to Commander Paul's seamanship and skill that two of H.M. Ships, both seriously damaged, were saved from total loss.

Captain Williiam Halford SELBY, D.S.C., Royal Navy, H.M.S. SAUMAREZ.

When on 22nd October, 1946, H.M.S. SAUMAREZ struck a mine in the North channel, Corfu, the explosion occurred just forward of the bridge, causing heavy casualties and starting a major fire. The ship lost all power, and drifted close to the Albanian shore. After an interval, steam was raised again, and Captain Selby was able to turn his ship stern to wind, to begin fire-fighting, and to secure a tow provided by H.M.S. VOLAGE. Later, H.M.S. VOLAGE was also mined, and slipped the tow, but afterwards another tow was passed, and the ships proceeded stern first to Corfu Roads. Still later an emergency lead was run from the VOLAGE, and the fire was got under control with the help of this, and of parties from other ships. The vessels arrived in Corfu Roads some twelve hours after the first explosion.

Although badly shaken and bruised, Captain Selby, by his leadership, example and cheerful devotion to duty, encouraged his ship's company in their efforts to save their vessel and to extinguish the fire. Thereafter he remained on duty for a further two days, until ordered to report sick.

the report of proceedings of the House of Commons (HC) and the House of Lords

available under the Open Parliament Licence


HC Deb 23 October 1946 vol 427 cc1667-9 1667

Major Bruce (by Private Notice) asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he has any statement to make on the mining of two British Destroyers off the coast of Corfu on 22nd October.

Mr. Dugdale Yes, Sir.

On the afternoon of 22nd October, the First Cruiser Squadron, with accompanying destroyers, was on passage through the straits between the Island of Corfu and the mainland, close to the Greek-Albanian boundary. The cruiser "Mauritius" was leading, with the destroyer "Saumarez" close astern; the cruiser "Leander" with the destroyer "Volage" in company were two miles astern of the "Mauritius."

At 14.53 hours an explosion occurred in the "Saumarez," which was believed to have hit a mine, and the ship caught fire forward. "Volage" was then ordered to tow "Saumarez" back to Corfu, but at 16.31 there was an explosion in "Volage," whose bows were blown off.

"Volage" then attempted to proceed stern first with "Saumarez" in tow, but with a westerly wind there was considerable danger that both ships might drift ashore. The Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, ordered immediate assistance to be sent from Malta and the Hospital Ship "Maine" was also ordered from Zante to Corfu. The Greek and Italian naval authorities were also asked for assistance.

In spite of the difficulties, both of the damaged destroyers succeeded in making their way back and have now arrived safely at Corfu. A board of inquiry is being assembled to inquire into the cause of the explosion.

I regret to have to state that the casualties suffered have been serious. The latest figures received at the Admiralty are:

Killed & missing, believed killed Injured
Officers 1
Ratings 37 43

The next-of-kin are being informed. I am sure the House will join with me in expressing the deepest sympathy with the relatives of the killed and injured men.

I should explain that at the time of the accidents, both ships were in the very centre of the swept channel, which is one mile wide. Their position at the time was about 1 1/2 miles from the Albanian coast. The channel was searched by British minesweeping forces periodically from October, 1944, to February, 1945, and no mines were found. Since that time, the channel has been in use by naval vessels of various sizes; it has also been open to merchant ships for nearly two years, though I cannot give particulars of the amount of merchant traffic that is using the channel.

(later exchange)

Mr. Churchill Is this the channel where our cruisers were fired upon by the Albanian batteries some months ago?

Mr. Dugdale Yes, Sir.


HC Deb 20 November 1946 vol 430 c133W 133W

Commander Noble asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he will make a further statement on the recent mining of two destroyers; what further mine sweeping of the channel between Corfu and the mainland has been carried out since 22nd October; and with what result.

Mr. Dugdale Yes, Sir. The damage sustained by H.M.S. "Saumarez" was very severe, and she may he a total loss. The damage to H.M.S. "Volage" was also severe, but it will be possible to repair her. On 12th and 13th November, His Majesty's minesweepers swept the North Corfu channel. During this operation 22 mines were cut, two of which were recovered and sent to Malta for detailed examination. I regret that I cannot make a further statement until the evidence produced by this examination has been fully considered.


HC Deb 11 December 1946 vol 431 cc1168-75 1168

Mr. Eden (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any further information to give concerning the questions raised in the Note delivered to the Albanian Government.

Mr. McNeil As Members will be aware, His Majesty's Government delivered a Note concerning the incidents in the Corfu Channel to the Albanian Government on 9th December. In this Note, the text of which was published today, His Majesty's Government pointed out that they hold the Albanian Government responsible for the mining of two of His Majesty's ships in the Corfu Channel on 22nd October, as a result of which 44 officers and men of the Royal Navy lost their lives. In these circumstances, His Majesty's Government are demanding an apology and assurances that there shall be no similar incidents in the future. His Majesty's Government are also demanding full compensation for the relatives of the officers and men of the Royal Navy who lost their lives, and reparation for the damage suffered by His Majesty's ships.

His Majesty's Government also informed the Albanian Government that, as this matter is of such importance from the point of view both of safety of life at sea and of the issues involved, failing satisfaction, they will have no alternative but to bring the matter before the Security Council of the United Nations as a serious threat to, and a breach of, international peace and security, showing criminal disregard of the safety of innocent seamen of all nationalities lawfully using this international highway.

His Majesty's Government hope that the Albanian Government will recognise the most serious view which His Majesty's Government take of these deplorable happenings, and that they will, therefore, return an early and a favourable reply.

(later exchange)

Mr. Rankin Was any attempt made to inquire into or seek to find out any reasons on the part of the Albanian Government for these actions?

Mr. Churchill For murdering our sailors?

(and later still)

Mr. McNeil Following is the text of the Note (to the Albanian Government).

His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have been reviewing the recent incidents in the Corfu Channel ending with the serious incident of 22nd October, in which two of His Majesty's vessels were heavily damaged by mines with a grievous loss of life.

2. The Albanian Government will be aware that during the war of 1939–45 some hundreds of thousands of mines were laid in the waters of the Mediterranean and North-West Europe. They will recall that in 1944 and 1945 the following areas of Albanian territorial waters were swept or searched by British minesweepers:

* Valona Bay—December, 1944.
* Durazzo Approaches—December. 1944: March, 1945.
* North Corfu Channel—October, 1944

No objection to this action was raised by Albania or any other Power.

3. Only about 20,000 of the mines laid in the waters of the Mediterranean and North-West Europe had been swept by the end of hostilities. In order to carry out the formidable task of removing the remainder in a co-ordinated manner, an international organisation was set up in November, 1945, by agreement between the Government of the U.S.S.R., United States, United Kingdom and France. The objects of the organisation were:

(1) To use the available minesweeping forces to the best advantage for—

(a) the clearance of fishing grounds'.

(b) the widening of all channels;
(c) the establishment of clear water for vessels, repairing important telegraph cable routes;
(d) the clearance of areas containing mines dangerous to surface shipping;
(e) the clearance of deep anti-submarine mines.

(2) To promulgate information about mines and mine clearance to the shipping of the world.

4. The International Central Mine Clearance Board was composed of representatives of the four powers mentioned above. On the recommendation of the Central Board, other Powers were invited to become members of Zone Boards. Thus, the Mediterranean Zone Board consists of representatives of France, Greece, U.S.S.R., United Kingdom, United States and Yugoslavia. Certain other Governments were invited to send observers, but Albania was not so invited because she possessed no mine-sweeping forces.

5. As the Albanian Government are aware, the second of the two objects mentioned in paragraph 2 above was fulfilled by the issue of MEDRI charts and pamphlets by the International Routeing and Reporting Authority. The areas of Albanian territorial waters swept by the British minesweepers were included in these publications. Albania, together with all other Mediterranean countries, whether represented on the Mediterranean Zone Board or not, received thirty copies of these documents and a like number of all subsequent monthly issues.

6. It was thus publicly notified that the international waterway of the North Corfu Channel was once again open to navigation and it an other swept channels, wholly or partly in Albanian territorial waters, were used by British and other ships in possession of these documents. In fact, until May of the present year, shipping of all kinds regularly used the Channel without hindrance from either Greece or Albania, the territorial powers concerned, in accordance with the normal rule of international law, which recognises that in peace and war there is both for warships and merchant vessels a right of innocent passage through straits forming highways of international maritime traffic.

7. On 15th May, however, His Majesty's cruisers Orion and Superb while passing Southward through the swept channel in pursuance of their normal occupations were fired on by Albanian batteries fortunately without damage.

8. His Majesty's Government at once protested strongly to the Albanian Government against this deliberate and outrageous breach of international law and maritime custom. They requested an immediate and public apology and an assurance that the persons responsible would be punished. The Albanian reply dated 21st May, was completely unsatisfactory. It alleged that the Commander of the coastal batteries had signalled the ships to move further off shore, that they were not flying their flags and that they hoisted their flags when fire was opened. All of these allegations proved on investigation to be without foundation. The Albanian reply assumed that foreign warships have no right to pass through an international strait part of which is included in territorial waters, and added that the ships would not have been fired upon if they had been recognised as British ships.

9. His Majesty's Government renewed their protest on 31st May, pointing out that the Albanian reply ignored the right of innocent passage, recognised by International Law, to which attention has been drawn in paragraph 6 above. Even if the Albanian Government mistakenly supposed that they had the right to prevent such passage, the procedure adopted for asserting it was contrary to the practice accepted by all civilised nations in cases where there are reasons for requiring vessels belonging to another power to halt. In this instance no warning was given and fire was opened with twelve live rounds not fired across the bows of His Majesty's ships but aimed at the ships themselves and falling astern of them. His Majesty's Government repeated their request for the punishment of the officer concerned, for an apology from the Albanian Government, and for an assurance that there would be no further interference in the right of passage through the Corfu Channel.

10. In their reply, dated 21st June, the Albanian Government said that they had no intention of interfering with navigation on the open sea or in the Corfu Straits, provided shipping did not enter Albanian waters without permission or show aggressive intent. They reasserted the allegations made in the previous Albanian note and stated that it was not the intention to attack or damage British ships.

11. On 2nd August, His Majesty's Government informed the Albanian Government that they had taken note of this reply, that they could recognise no right on the part of a territorial power to demand the fulfilment of conditions before entry was permitted into a recognised international channel, that they could not agree to give prior notification of passage through the Channel and that if in future British ships were fired on in the Channel, fire would be returned.

12. On 22nd October, while a detachment of His Majesty's ships was proceeding through the North Corfu Channel, which as stated in paragraph 2 above had been swept, in October, 1944, two destroyer's, H.M.S. Saumarez and H.M.S. Volage, struck mines which had been laid in the fairway. The explosions caused serious damage to the two ships and a heavy loss of life. On this occasion the Albanian batteries did not open fire but a vessel of the Albanian Navy appeared flying the Albanian ensign and also a white flag.

13. On 27th October, His Majesty's Government informed the Albanian Government that in view of the serious accidents to His Majesty's Ships the channel would shortly be swept. On 30th October the Albanian Government protested to the Secretary-General of the United Nations Organisation against what they termed "the violation of territorial waters" and "provocative incursions" by British warships. It was also alleged without any justification in fact that British aircraft had flown over Albanian territory. Meanwhile, His Majesty's Government in reply to their intimation that minesweeping would shortly take place, received a note from the Albanian Government on the 1st November, protesting against the entry of British warships into Albanian territorial waters on 22nd October and stating that there was no objection to minesweeping provided territorial waters were not entered either inside or outside the Strait. Since the part of the Channel concerned lies wholly in territorial waters this statement could only be construed as meaning that the Albanian Government refused to agree that the Channel should be rendered safe for navigation. The note also stated that the Albanian Government could take no responsibility for the consequences if the minesweeping took place and would regard it as a violation of their sovereignty.

14. The Albanian Government were thus attempting to obstruct the clearance of this serious menace to international navigation. His Majesty's Government therefore replied on 10th November, that the sweeping of the Corfu Channel would take place on the 12th. They informed the Albanian Government that the sweeping of the Channel had been unanimously recommended by the Central Mine Clearance Board on 1st November; they defined the exact area to be swept; they declared that none of His Majesty's Ships would be stationed in Albanian territorial waters; and they stated that the operation would be carried out in the same way as the original sweeping in 1944 and 1945 to which the Albanian Government had raised no objection.

15. On receipt of this reply and on the eve of the sweeping operation, the Albanian Government addressed a further note to His Majesty's Government stating that while the Albanian Government did not in principle object to the Royal Navy undertaking the sweeping of the Channel they proposed that a mixed commission should be set up to determine the area involved. The swept Channel had in fact existed for two years and all the information published about it was in possession of the Albanian Government. Thus it can only be inferred that their motive in putting forward this last-minute proposal was to delay the operation of sweeping the mines which, as subsequent investigations leave no doubt, the Albanian Government well knew to have been laid in the fairway.

16. The Albanian Government simultaneously addressed a second complaint to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, protesting in strong terms against the action of His Majesty's Government in presenting them with a fait accompli. They denied knowledge of the existence of the Central Mine Clearance Board in spite of the fact that a request that Albania should be represented on it had already been put forward by the Yugoslav Government, doubtless with the knowledge of the Albanian Government. Finally they again declared that the extent of the Channel could only be determined by a mixed commission set up by the United Nations and including Albania.

17. On 12th and 13th November the sweeping operation was carried out. Twenty-two mines were cut, two of which were taken to Malta for expert examination. This has shown that the mines were of German manufacture, that they were free from marine growth and that they still had grease on their mooring cables. These facts leave no doubt whatever that the mines were laid only a very short time before the date on which His Majesty's Ships "Saumarez" and "Volage" suffered damage and casualties. The condition of the mines has been verified by an independent observer who was present during the sweeping operation. Fragments recovered from H.M.S. "Volage" also confirm the origin of the mines which exploded on 22nd October and bear out the conclusions reached above.

18. Ever since the attack on H.M.S. "Orion" and "Superb," the Albanian authorities have maintained a close watch on all ships making use of the North Corfu Channel. Thus in June of this year merchant ships passing through the Channel were fired on, and during the passage of His Majesty's Ships on 22nd October, the coastal batteries were seen to be manned. It is certain that no mine-field could have been laid in the Channel within a few hundred yards of the Albanian batteries without the connivance or at least the knowledge of the Albanian authorities.

19. His Majesty's Government must accordingly conclude that the Albanian Government either laid the mine-field in question or knew that it had been laid. The Albanian Government has thus committeed a flagrant breach of International Law. Under Articles 3 and 4 of the 8th Hague Convention of 1907 any Government laying mines in war-time, and a fortiori in peace, is bound to notify the danger zones to the Governments of all countries. (This obligation in fact applies even if the zones in question are not normally used by shipping). Not only have the Albanian Government never made any public notification of this minefield but they have also made no comment on the continued issue of the relevant Medri charts and pamphlets. They thus endorsed a clear statement by the recognised international authority concerned to the shipping of the world that the Channel was safe for navigation. As a result two of His Majesty's ships have been seriously damaged and forty-four innocent lives have been lost. Moreover, this conduct on the part of the Albanian Government menaced with destruction shipping of any kind using a Channel which is a normal and recognised route for international navigation.

20. His Majesty's Government demand that an apology be made to them in respect of the unprovoked attacks upon the Royal Navy, which took place on 15th May and 22nd October, and that they receive assurance that there shall be no repetition of this unlawful action. They further demand that reparation be paid for the damage suffered by His Majesty's ships on 22nd October and that lull compensation be paid to the relatives of the forty-four officers and seamen of the Royal Navy who lost their lives in consequence of action on the part of the Albanian Government which was an undoubted breach of International Law, constituted a menace to international shipping, to the safety of which the most callous indifference was shown, and must, in view of their knowledge that His Majesty's ships habitually used the Channel and claimed the right to do so under International Law be regarded as a deliberately hostile act against His Majesty's Government.

21. As this matter is of such importance from the point of view of safety of life at sea and of the issues involved, His Majesty's Government must ask for an immediate reply. If no satisfactory reply is received within fourteen days of the delivery of this note His Majesty's Government will have no alternative but to bring the matter before the Security Council of the United Nations as a serious threat to, and a breach of, international peace and security, showing criminal disregard of the safety of innocent seamen of any nationality lawfully using an international highway.

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