- Selby, Gordon
- Biographies and personal histories, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2002 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
At approximately 0500 whilst still on the surface, it struck a newly laid mine in the swept channel about seven miles off shore and the order was passed to prepare to abandon ship. A small number of people had been trapped forward when the explosion occurred and 88 survivors mustered on the bridge and casing. Dawn was just breaking and the outline of Malta could be seen in the distance, but all attempts to attract attention on shore came to nothing and of course, the radio had been put out of action by the shock of the explosion. The submarine remained on the surface for an estimated 10-15 minutes before it gradually subsided and left everyone swimming, quite a number without lifesaving equipment of any kind.
Every attempt was made to get the swimmers to stay together in one large group, but inevitably individuals drifted away or gave up the struggle and eventually a group of only seven reached the beach close to Ricasoli, where they were sighted by army personnel and transported off to hospital for observation. Once the alarm had been raised a launch was sent out to pick up any other survivors but only one was found alive. All eleven officers on board, including three submarine commanding officers, were lost, together with seventy nine ratings – probably the worst British submarine disaster of the war.
During the course of the weekend, the remnants of a convoy arrived in Malta under a heavy smoke screen, escorted by the minelaying cruiser HMS Welshman and two or three destroyers. On the Sunday morning the group of seven Olympus survivors were embarked in Welshman for passage back to the UK, where they arrived at Milford Haven on the following Saturday, still clothed in whatever items they had been able to salvage from Lazaretto, and from there were sent on by rail to HMS Dolphin. There they were kitted out and sent on leave, only for the three senior ratings among them to be recalled to London for an investigation into the loss of Olympus by Vice Admiral Sir Max Horton, who was at the time the Flag Officer Submarines.