Allied Warships

HMS P 32 (P 32)

Submarine of the U class

NavyThe Royal Navy
PennantP 32 
Built byVickers Armstrong (Barrow-in-Furness, U.K.) 
Ordered11 Mar 1940 
Laid down30 Apr 1940 
Launched15 Dec 1940 
Commissioned3 May 1941 
Lost18 Aug 1941 
Loss position33° 02'N, 13° 10'E

HMS P 32 (Lt. David Anthony Baily Abdy, RN) sank about 15 nautical miles east-north-east of Tripoli, Libya in position 33º02'N, 13º10'E on 18 August 1941. Only two men (the commanding officer and the coxswain) managed to escape from the submarine.

It is often stated that P.32 hit an Italian mine, but there were none in the vicinity. The Italians initially suspected that she was a minelaying submarine and had been blown up on one of her own mines and they carried out a thorough search of the area around the wreck but found no mines. As no mines were found in the area we also rule out that she had strayed in a British minefield (QB.10 or QB.11) by faulty navigation as was later suspected by the British.

So what caused the sinking of P.32 ?
[ According to Canadian historian Platon Alexiades the following could have happened ].
1. An internal explosion cannot be overruled perhaps due to faulty drill when the torpedoes were being loaded. According to Abdy the bow caps were open to the sea when the explosion occurred. Also the day before on board HMS Regent who was at Alexandria the air vessel on one of her reload torpedoes exploded causing extensive damage to other torpedoes and the submarine itself. It is stated in the debrief report of Lt.Cdr. Abdy (made up when he returned from captivity) that it was thought at the time that the explosion might have originated inside the submarine.

2. It is quite possible that she was lost on a French mine! The French submarine Nautilus had actually laid a minefield on 14 June 1940 (two lines, one of eight mines and one of 24 mines, the latter in 008° - Tripoli Light - 9 miles, P.32 is recorded to have been lost 009.5° - Tripoli Light - 6.8 miles. The direction is almost right but the distance is off by 2.2 miles (less if one believes a report is that it was 006° - Tripoli Light - 8 miles) but a mistake in navigation would not be surprising especially since Nautilus was laying the mines at night. The Italians did attempt to clear the minefield in September 1940 but only 21 mines were accounted for so it is not impossible that P.32 fouled one of the 3 mines not accounted for.

3. An odd air-laid mine. Swordfish of 830 Squadron (operating from Malta) had laid six "cucumbers" (magnetic mines) off Tripoli on the night of 20/21 December 1940. Most likely more such minelaying sorties had been undertaken. The only doubt is that a magnetic mine would lay probably in shallower water. If this was indeed one, the explosion would have probably propelled the submarine upward and the damage most likely to the keel rather than the side. None the less it is a possibility.

The following is known from the Italian side. The explosion was observed by a Cant Z.501 of 145^ Squadriglia (observer S.T.V. Berardo Gallotti, pilot Mllo Aonio Giunti) at 1603, it flew over but without observing anything. It landed at Tripoli at 1635 and informed the authorities of the explosion and took off again at 1700. At 1705 four men were observed in the water, two live and two dead ones. The aircraft landed again at Tripoli at 1715 and informed the Naval Command [I assume that the radio was not working despite the presence of a radio operator in the crew of five]. The aircraft took off again at 1730 and signalled the two survivors that help was coming and at 1915 was back in Pisida. MAS 528 (Midshipman Rolando Perasso, not MAS 530 as in Abdy's recollections) arrived and at 1827 picked up the two survivors.

On 26 August 1941, the Italian deep sea dive master from the diving vessel Rostro did a thorough survey of the wreck in a diving bell. The report is in the Italian archives. The interrogation of both survivors by Italian Intelligence has also survived but it is essentially the same with what they revealed later when they were debriefed. This diver believed that the explosion had been forward on the port side and perhaps the forward torpedoes had detonated. He observed that the bow was lying at a depth of 64 metres, with a 25° list. The submarine did not have stern tubes, was of a small size and carried no mines. He found the hull to be very clean as if the submarine had just had a docking. It was broken in two parts a few metres forward of the deck gun and the two parts were almost at right angles indicating the submarine had hit the bottom heavily. He noticed that the conning tower and the aft hatches were both open. Since the two survivors had escaped from the conning tower, it did seem to indicate that men trapped in the engine room had at least attempted an exit but none survived [two Italian fishing vessels and the MAS had remained in the vicinity of the wreck during the first night in the hope that more survivors might be recovered but none were seen]. The conning tower hatch was partially obstructed by loose dunnage which led the diver to express his opinion that the two survivors had left the submarine before the sinking as he did not believe they could have left through this exit [he probably was wrong]. According to him, it would be very difficult even for an experienced diver to enter the wreck and recover documents and he did not recommend it. 

Commands listed for HMS P 32 (P 32)

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1Lt. David Anthony Baily Abdy, RN24 May 194118 Aug 1941

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Notable events involving P 32 include:

The history of HMS P 32 as compiled on this page is extracted from P 32's patrol reports and logbooks. Corrections and details regarding information from the enemy's side (for instance the composition of convoys attacked) is kindly provided by Mr. Platon Alexiades, a naval researcher from Canada.

This page was last updated in December 2013.

2 May 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) departed her builders yard for Holy Loch. She was escorted by HMS La Capricieuse (former French) (Lt.Cdr. G.W. Dobson, RNR). (1)

3 May 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) arrived at Holy Loch to begin a period of trials and training. (1)

26 May 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) departed Holy Loch for Gibraltar. She was escorted South through the Irish Sea by HMS Cutty Sark (Cdr.(retired) R.H. Mack, RN).

For the daily positions of HMS P 32 during this passage see the map below.

HMS P 32 passage Holy Loch - Gibraltar click here for bigger map (2)

31 May 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) is depth charged and damaged by a German Heinkel 59 seaplane in the Bay of Biscay. moderate damage was caused to P 32.

Later the same day P 32 sighted a Westbound tanker but she did not attack her as to do not give her position away in her damaged state and it was also possible that this tanker was Spanish.

(All times are zone -2)
1600 hours - In position 44º24'N, 09º46'W sighted a Heinkel 59 bearing 110º. She was seen banking towards. Dived.

1601 hours - When at 70 feet and still on our original course three depth charges exploded causing damage to the after hydroplanes and the battery. Went to 150 feet.

1640 hours - Heard three detonations.

2035 hours - Surfaced in position 44º15'N, 09º54'W and resumed passage to Gibraltar. (2)

3 Jun 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) arrived at Gibraltar. (2)

10 Jun 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) is docked at Gibraltar for repairs to the damage sustained on 31 May. (3)

18 Jun 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) is undocked. (3)

21 Jun 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) is docked again at Gibraltar. (3)

23 Jun 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) is undocked. (3)

3 Jul 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) completed her repairs at Gibraltar. (4)

5 Jul 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) conducted trials and exercises off Gibraltar. (4)

6 Jul 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) conducted exercises off Gibraltar. (4)

9 Jul 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) conducted exercises off Gibraltar. (4)

14 Jul 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) conducted exercises off Gibraltar. (4)

17 Jul 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) departed Gibraltar for her 1st war patrol. She was ordered to patrol off Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy. She was to proceed to Malta upon completion of this patrol.

For the daily positions of HMS P 32 during this passage see the map below.

HMS P 32 1st war patrol click here for bigger map (5)

31 Jul 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) ended her 1st war patrol at Malta. (5)

12 Aug 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) departed Malta for her 2nd war patrol. She was ordered to patrol off Tripoli, Libya. (6)

18 Aug 1941
HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) is lost by an explosion (either internal or a mine) off Tripoli, Libya while attacking an enemy convoy.

(All times are zone -2)
Around 1530 hours P 32 was at periscope depth when a convoy of four medium seized merchant ships in line ahead was sighted with an aircraft overhead. No escorts were seen. Started attack on the rear ship that was thought to be a tanker of about 6000 tons. Went to 50 feet and closed at speed.

Around 1540 hours when P 32 was returning to periscope depth from 50 feet when at 34 feet an explosion occured and P 32 took a large angle bow down. She was out of control and hit the bottom at 200 feet where she remained.

The submarine was flooded up from forward up to the control room. Chlorine gas was filling the submarine and it was decided to try to escape from the engine room escape hatch using D.S.E.A. apparatus. The Commanding Officer and two ratings went to the conning tower to try to escape from there. The commanding officer and one of the ratings, the coxwain, succesfully did so. The other rating drowned during the attempt. The two survivors were later picked up by an Italian MAS boat and taken to Tripoli.

The ships P 32 had sighted were part of a convoy made up of the Italian merchants Nicolò Odero (6003 GRT, built 1925), Caffaro (6476 GRT, built 1924), Marin Sanudo (5958 GRT, built 1926), Giulia (5921 GRT, built 1926) and the Italian tanker Minatitland (7651 GRT, built 1941). Another Italian merchant vessel the Maddalena Odero (5545 GRT, built 1921) had already been torpedoed and damaged by aircraft and was no longer part of this convoy. Escort of this convoy had been the Italian destroyers Freccia, Euro and Dardo.


  1. ADM 199/400
  2. ADM 199/1119
  3. ADM 173/16868
  4. ADM 173/16869
  5. ADM 199/1120
  6. ADM 199/2565

ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.

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