Juno
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Fred Allcock

 

The destroyer Juno was the first ship lost to the air attacks of the Stukas, and aircraft from the Italian air force.

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William Woolmer

Was the Juno hit by German or Italian bombs?

I added this page after I was contacted by a John D'Esposito whose mother's first husband, Joseph (Joe) Mifsud, a Maltese national, was one of those killed in the sinking of the Juno. At the same time as John Talbot survives the sinking of the Juno, his brother Henry dies on Iceland.
 
In June 1940 the British Mediterranean Fleet was based at the eastern end of the Med in Alexandria, half of the capital ships of the British Navy were in this theatre, 4 battleships, one aircraft carrier, 9 cruisers, some 33 destroyers and 12 submarines.  One of the prime functions of the fleet in the early part of the war was to deny the eastern Mediterranean, the Aegean and the Ionian waters to the Italian navy.

A picture of the Juno that was used on postcards sent by the crew to their families.  Photo courtesy of Gerald Allcock.

In late April of 1941 there was a great deal of naval activity related to the evacuation of the forces who had retreated from Greece to Crete.  One of the convoys to leave Crete, with 10,931 persons in six transports and a covering of cruisers and destroyers was GA15, bound for Alexandria.  The convoy sailed from Suda Bay at 11:00 on Tuesday 29 April.  The convoy covering force was commanded by Vice Admiral Pridham-Wippell, and they would route to the east of Crete through the Kaso Straight, then to Alexandria.  They were to rendezvous with the First Battle Squadron from Alexandria, under the command of Rear Admiral Rawlings in the Barham, with the Valiant, Formidable and escorting destroyers.  Following the rendezvous south of the Kaso Straight, Rawlings relieved Pridham-Wippell who left for Alexandria, but the Perth, Phoebe and Nubian remained with Rawlings.  The First Battle Squadron was now joined by the destroyers Juno and Jaguar who had sailed from Malta.  Among the crew of the Juno was a Maltese civilian, Joseph Mifsud, married only 2 weeks earlier, on the catering staff of the destroyer.  By May 3rd the Battle Squadron was back in Alexandria, the withdrawal from Greece was now complete.
For the expected invasion of Crete Admiral Cunningham had distributed his forces as laid out in the page Sea Invasion.  the Juno was in Force C commanded by Rear-Admiral Destroyers, Rear-Admiral Glennie, this force was to deal with the expected enemy landing at Heraklion.  As has been mentioned on the Air Attacks page the navy was to operate under intense daylight bombing, especially from Ju87 Stukas, because of the total lack of Allied fighter cover.
On the 18th May the need to refuel caused changes in the naval forces on station around Crete.  Force C, with Juno, returned to Alexandria to refuel, with orders to sail again on the 19th.  the German invasion of Crete began on the 20th May at around 08:00.  At this time Juno was in the Kaso Straight, withdrawing southward with the rest of the force.  The tactics for the naval forces around Crete were to patrol north of the island by night, but withdraw to the south in daytime to minimize the risk of aerial attack.
Now that the invasion had started Cunningham issued his orders to the various naval forces.  Force C, comprising the flagship Naiad, Perth and the destroyers Khandahar, Nubian, Kingston & Juno, was to pass through the Kaso Straight at 22:00 on the 20th, sweep along the coast towards Heraklion, arriving there at 07:00 on the 21st.  British reconnaissance located the German invasion fleet on the 20th, en-route to Crete, and as a result Cunningham at 18:00 on the 20th ordered King and Force C to move to the north of Crete at once.  They were to patrol to the north of Heraklion.  During the passage through the Kaso Straight the force fought off an attack by Italian torpedo bombers, and later an attack by Italian motor torpedo boats.  
Following the night time patrols north of the island Force C withdrew again through the Kaso Straight.  They came under attack from German and Italian air squadrons.  The attack on Force C lasted from 09:50 to 13:50 on the 21st, and at around 13:00 the Juno was struck by three bombs and sank in two minutes, 80 miles south of the Kaso Straight at 340 30'N  260 30'E.  She had survived some three hours of bombing.  Of the three bombs that hit her, two hit the after boiler room and the engine room, letting in the sea.  The third detonated the after magazine, this explosion broke the ship in half.  Six officers and ninety-one ratings were rescued.  As this class of destroyer had a ships compliment of some 185 men, it looks as though half the ship's company were lost.  Joseph Mifsud was one of those who died.  He is remembered on the Naval War Memorial in Chatham, UK.
The Juno was the first ship in the action around Crete to be sunk by the much feared Stuka bomber.  Those that hit the Juno were from the Stukagruppen under the command of Hauptmann Heinrich Brucker, based on the island of Scarpanto to the east of the Kaso Straight.  Taking the point below, from William Woolmer, it is also backed up in the book "Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete, 1940-41" which states; 'when she had been under attack from Ju87s from III/StG 2 as well as by Z1007bis bombers of 50 Gruppo BT'.   However, the book does not credit the Stuka or the Cant with the bombs that did the damage.
I have been contacted by Gerald Allcock (64) whose father, Stoker Petty Officer Frederick Allcock, was killed in the sinking of the Juno. His father was 35 when he died.
I have recently been contacted by William Woolmer, and I include the following extract from his email; "I have been researching the history of HMS Juno, as my cousin, Bernard William Woolmer (able seaman) was lost with Juno. There are a number of differing thoughts on who sank the ship, one of which states that the ship was bombed by Italian bombers from Scarpanto. The bomber alleged to have sunk Juno was a Cant Z.1007 from the 50th Gruppo piloted by a Lt.Morassuti. It is more likely that this version is correct as Juno was hit by three bombs which sank her in 2 minutes. The Junkers JU 87B could only carry 1 large bomb & 2 smaller bombs & it is doubtful that all three would hit in one attack. Also, one eyewitness states that the three bombs were part of a stick of five two of which fell astern."
The picture below is an Italian Cant Z.1007bis similar to that which attacked Juno.

This was a tri-motor medium bomber, which went into production in 1940.  The aircraft carried a crew of 5; pilot, co-pilot, gunner either for the top gun or the ventral mounted unit, radio operator/bomb aimer and tail gunner.  The three radial engines gave it a speed of 283 mph, and a range of some 1,200 miles.
THE SINKING OF THE "JUNO" BY FIVE ITALIAN BOMBERS CANT Z 1007 BIS LED BY LT. MORASSUTI.   

I was sent this by PAOLO HOFFMANN 

Was the Juno hit by German or Italian bombs?  In the end, does it matter, but the question is a little difficult to resolve.  We have already seen the comment in William Woolmer's email detailing his reason for believing it was the Italians, and the photo above also seems to back this up, but it is difficult to get a definitive statement.  In a recent email from Rod Wise (Australia) he quotes his uncle (John aka 'Jack' Wise) who was on board a ship with Juno, Rod's uncle says he saw three 'Stukas' which he thought would hit them, but hit the Juno.  Rod says that his uncle is no longer alive for him to definitively say that his uncle could recognise a Stuka from a Cantz, but the Stuka had become a familiar shape to servicemen in the Med.  On the Juno was Jack's brother in law, Eric Taylor, a Leading Torpedoman.  Eric was married, 30 years old, and believed to have had children.  He is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial.

David Thomas in his book [Crete 1941, the battle at sea p.132] refers to a report by the German Fliegerkorps VIII stating that on that day they flew sorties 'Stukas from Scarpanto and Italian Air Force units from Rhodes' which "scored one direct hit on a destroyer".  Thomas gives a slightly different slant on p.143 where he says; 'such was the Luftwaffe's concern with supporting the hard-pressed German paratroops ashore that only a single Stuka Gruppen (approximating to RAF Wing) was spared to attack the british ships, with the single success we have already recorded - the sinking of the Juno.  In his papers Admiral Cunningham refers only to the fact that Juno was 'hit by bombs and sank in two minutes', no mention of whether it was attacked by german or Italian dive-bombers.

 
On the Daily Telegraph website I found the following article about the recovery of the bodies of 4 WW2 airmen from a crash site on Iceland.  I believe there are plans to try to also recover the aircraft.  John Talbot survived the sinking of the Juno, but in the same month his brother, Henry, died in the air-crash on Iceland.

A final farewell, 59 years after air crash
By Sally Pook in Reykjavik
(Filed: 28/08/2000)

FOUR Second World War airmen were honoured in full military tradition at a windswept cemetery in Iceland yesterday, 59 years after they died on a routine wartime flight.

A solitary piper played a lament and an RAF Nimrod flew low over the Commonwealth military grave at Fossvogur, near the capital, Reykjavik, where the three Britons and their New Zealand pilot are buried.

For the first time, relatives of Plt Off Henry Talbot, Flt Sgts Reginald Hopkins and Keith Garrett, and Flg Off Arthur Round, who died when their plane crashed into a mountain, gathered at a communal grave for a commemorative service. The RAF does not put a time limit on recovering its dead, but with the passing years the hopes of relatives of ever placing poppies on their graves had faded.

John Talbot, 79, whose brother was 24 when he died in May 1941, had travelled from North Shields, Tyne and Wear. Accompanied by his son Henry, 48, who was named after the lost airman, Mr Talbot said: "I never thought I would see this day. I thought about my brother throughout the service - I always do. He was a lovely lad."

Mr Talbot's mother received two telegrams on the same day in 1941, telling her that both her sons were missing. It was a week before she discovered that John had survived the sinking of the warship Juno during the battle of Crete.

The bodies of the airmen lay in the remote mountains until painstaking work by an Icelandic historian and one of Iceland's hottest summers led to their discovery on a melting glacier last year. Their bodies were placed in a communal grave marked by four simple headstones, buried as they died, together.

After a short commemorative service yesterday, attended by the British and German ambassadors to Iceland, four poppy wreaths were laid on the graves as an RAF Nimrod and RAF Sea King helicopter flew past in a final act of homage.

Flg Off Round, 26, the pilot, was not meant to be at the controls of the aircraft when it crashed. He had volunteered to go in place of a friend, Tommy Robson. His nephew, Arthur Fickling, said Flg Off Round's 25-year-old brother, Heathcote, was killed three years later when his bomber was shot down over Lincolnshire. Their last remaining brother, Ron, was taken off active service by the RAF and diverted to training duties.

Flt Sgt Hopkins, 21, from Southampton, was a close friend of Flg Off Round, and they served together in 98 Squadron. Together they had collected Plt Off Talbot and Flt Sgt Garrett, 22, of Worksop, Notts, who had been injured in a road accident and were on their way home.

Kathleen Wyeth, 66, Flt Sgt Hopkins's half-sister, said: "My mother spoke about him every day. He was her first-born and I suppose you never forget your first-born. He was very precious to her."

Patricia Joinson, 60, Flt Sgt Garrett's niece, was wearing her uncle's service badge yesterday as she stood next to her brother, Keith Slaney, 58, named after him. "We knew he had been killed in Iceland. This closes a chapter."