Sportsman Reports

HMS Sportsman

Reports by Captain (S), First Submarine Flotilla to Flag Officer Levant and Eastern Mediterranean

Forwarded by Stephen Dearnley, a “very junior Sportsman fourth hand” at that time.

HMS Sportsman, Ninth Patrol Report 20 March — 4 April 1944 (LEUT R.G. Gatehouse DSC RN)

Sportsman completed her refit at Port Said and sailed for patrol on 20 March. She passed the Aegean through the Kaso Strait and on 23-24 March patrolled the Piraeus-Suda route between Andimilos and Ananes without sighting anything.

The remainder of the patrol was spent in the vicinity of Monemvasia where she had been informed that considerable enemy activity could be expected both in and near the harbour.

Sportsman‘s area of operations.

On 25 March, a daylight reconnaissance of the harbour revealed the presence of a German motor lighter MTS (about 450 tons, length 200 feet) berthed inside the net defences.

On that day Sportsman lay in wait for this vessel to sail. A 100-ton caique entered the harbour but was not molested in order not to spoil the chance of getting the bigger target. On 27 March a strong wind blew all day and the next day the MTS was observed either to have shifted berth or to be stranded on the north shore of the island. At about noon, 28 March, a salvage tug of about 1000 tons escorted by two UJ Boats (Ed. note: anti-submarine vessels) approached the harbour from seaward, presumably to go to the assistance of the MTS. Sportsman commenced an approach but was detected by one of the escorts. The attack was foiled by violent avoiding action on the part of the enemy that forced the submarine deep. They afterwards entered the harbour.


At dark that night, Sportsman decided to attack the ships in harbour by torpedo in the last of the moonlight. She approached close to the net defence, found the range clear through the boom gate both to the tug and the MTS, but the former obstinately kept bows on to him. At 2226 one torpedo was fired through the gate at each of the targets. The tug was missed and the MTS was hit and disintegrated with a 40-ton caique lying alongside her. Sportsman was then driven off by gunfire from the shore defences firing tracer shell.

I consider that the sinking of this vessel, which though small, is known to be of considerable value to the enemy, was an extremely fine effort. Though stranded, she could almost certainly have been salvaged by the enemy.

Radar plot

Sportsman continued her patrol off Monemvasia for the next two days during which another lighter entered harbour unobserved. On 31 March, as darkness fell, the motor lighter left the harbour unescorted and proceeded southwards. Sportsman gave chase and for the next 45 minutes obtained an accurate radar plot of the enemy course and speed. At 2120 she achieved a position on the beam of the target at very close range and fired two torpedoes that both hit and blew the lighter to pieces. Eight survivors (seven German and one Dutch) were recovered from the water. They disclosed that the vessel was the Grauer Ort (200 tons, length 130 feet), bound for Kalamata from Piraeus-Athens with a mixed cargo of explosives and food.

sportsman model
A much-modified S Class Submarine model (WA Maritime Museum)

After this, Sportsman returned to Monemvasia and was upset to find that the salvage tug had sailed. She left patrol on 2 April, dived under the Antikythera minefield and arrived in Malta 8 April.

I consider this was an exceptionally satisfactory and well-carried out patrol. In these days it is useless to wait for a very few large targets in the Aegean and it is of greater importance that the smaller ships supplying the enemy outer islands are sunk. Sportsman could not possibly have shown more enterprise in despatching the two vessels that she met.

Precision attack

I wish particularly to draw attention to her attack on the Grauer Ort, as it appears to me to be a classic example of intelligent shadowing of the enemy at night, enabling an accurate estimation of the enemy course and speed by radar plot to be obtained, culminating in a close range attack by torpedo with perfect precision. I cannot recall a finer example of so intelligent and successful an attack on such a difficult target, whose length was only 130 feet.

The torpedoes on this occasion were set to run at eight feet and were fitted with CCR non-contact pistols. (Ed. note: the CCR or Compensated Coil Rod, was an improved magnetic pistol that replaced the unsatisfactory magnetic pistol Duplex Coiled Rod, DCR in 1943.) The target drew about seven feet and I think the explosions were undoubtedly non-contact. It will be noted from the report that the guaranteed life of the non-contact circuit had expired and it was therefore essential that the torpedoes should pass very close to the bottom of the target.

Verbal information has been obtained from the prisoners of war taken by Sportsman. By a curious coincidence, several of them were in the German Capo Prio when she was sunk off Suda Bay by Sportsman in her previous patrol. These men have also given interesting information about that attack.

HMS Sportsman, Tenth Patrol Report 18 April – 6 May. (LEUT R.G. Gatehouse DSC RN)

Sportsman sailed from Malta 18 April and entered the Aegean through the Antikythera Channel 21 April to patrol in the West Aegean.

On 22 April Sportsman was ordered to cover the approaches to Candia, as the Luxemburg was reported to be in Piraeus and about to sail for Crete. Sportsman arrived off Candia on the 23rd and patrolled close to the 100 fathom line NW of Standia Island for the next six days. She was withdrawn during the nights of 25-26 and 26-27 April to keep her clear of our own surface forces. On the night of 26-27, a large armed caique was encountered but wisely left alone to avoid compromising the patrol. It was again seen in daylight 27 April, off Candia.

The PRU (Ed. note: Photographic Reconnaissance Unit) on 28 April showed Luxemburg departed from Piraeus a.m. At 1230 on the 28th, three escort vessels left Candia and proceeded westwards, presumably to meet Luxemburg. At 1505 she was sighted approaching from the west very heavily escorted by aircraft and with a surface escort of three destroyers, one torpedo boat and three UJ boats. Luxemburg was well laden and the size of the escort and the fact that additional escorts were being sent out to bring her in would appear to indicate not only the great value of the ship, but also that Sportsman’s presence was strongly suspected if not known.

The electric propulsion room of an S class submarine

Sportsman correctly anticipated a navigational alteration of course by the enemy and, as asdic conditions were perfect and the sea calm, LEUT Gatehouse decided that his best chance was to fire from outside the screen, particularly as he was reasonably sure of the enemy course and speed. Accordingly torpedoes were fired at 1634 on 115 degrees track at a range of 5000 yards.

The attack, as LEUT Gatehouse is the first to admit, was far from perfect as an attempt was made to swing the ship against the direction of the target while firing in order to shorten the interval, with the result that this was done overfast and only two torpedoes were fired before the DA (Director Angle of Attack) had passed. One was fired a third of a length ahead and the other amidships. It had been the intention to fire six spread over two lengths but, as the Commanding Officer observed “an enormous splash of discharge”, he decided not to fire any more and went deep.

Nevertheless, the estimations must have been excellent and torpedo running accurate as one torpedo was heard to hit after the correct running interval. The pistols used were CCR and set to 22 feet. The draft of the target is difficult to estimate but must have been at least 20 feet as Luxemburg is 4800 tons and was laden, so the hit may or may not have been non-contact. Luxemburg did not reach Candia, has never been seen since and is considered sunk. A short and accurate counter-attack followed in which fortunately no damage was done.

Considerable ASW activity

On the next day there was considerable A/S activity by enemy air and surface forces and in the evening Sportsman withdrew to the northward in compliance with orders to patrol on the Piraeus-Crete route off Ananes Island.

At 1138 on 2 May a convoy was sighted approaching from the southward which turned out to be Gertrude and Suzanne, escorted by four UJ vessels with numerous aircraft. After the sinking of Luxemburg the escorts appear to have been very much “on their toes”, as Sportsman was detected while her attack was developing and was forced deep. Six minutes later she returned to periscope depth and was again forced down and this time kept down for two hours during which 32 depth charges were dropped, the first pattern being unpleasantly close. Sportsman finally shook off the pursuit and nothing was in sight when she returned to periscope depth.


The Chatham-built HMS Sportsman, P229, was one of the “improved 1940 program S class” submarines. A total of 62 S class were built between 1930 and 1935, with variations ranging from displacement tonnage and engines to armament. Sportsman carried a crew of 39 and displaced 670 tons (surfaced) on a 63.4 x 7.3 x 3.2 metres hull. Her two 960 hp diesel engines drove her at 13.75 knots surfaced and electric motors gave 10 knots submerged. After WW II, HMS Sportsman was transferred to the French navy as Sibylle (above) in 1951, but was lost with all hands in exercises 40 miles east of Toulon , 23 September 1952.

Sportsman left patrol on 2 May and arrived back at Malta 6 May without further incident.

The sinking of the Luxemburg was of very great value and must have been a great blow to the enemy in his efforts to keep his outer islands supplied. In spite of the aiming error it is considered that the success of this attack is attributable to accuracy and skill and not to chance.

Arrangements are being made for Sportsman to fire a full salvo of torpedoes with blowing heads to investigate and cure the excessive splash of discharge.