Convoy QP11 steamed out of Murmansk on the 28th of April 1942 and passed the Kola Inlet into the frozen Arctic seas, lashed by wind and water. The temperature could easily fall to -10 degrees, and the ships decks would often become sheets of ice.
A few hundred yards away lay the German submarine U456 which had been lying in wait for the convoy. The submarine had only two torpedoes left after its patrol, and it watched the zigzagging HMS Edinburgh. As chance would have it Edinburgh turned onto a new course just as she got within firing range of the U-boat. If she had turned the other way, this entire story wouldn't have happened.
At 1555 on the 30th of April the Edinburgh's ASDIC operator reported a contact, very near by and they were closing on it. It was judged to be a false contact.
Realising that the cruiser would maintain the course she currently had, the U-boat fired both torpedoes.
None of Edinburgh's crew saw the torpedoes as they streaked towards her. Both were perfectly aimed and slammed into her starboard side. The first torpedo struck her amidships and tore through to the boiler room and shattered Edinburgh's fuel tanks. The blast had also cracked open the deck, dropping about 50 sailors into a storage tank which then began to flood with oil.
The second torpedo hit the stern and caused the most critical damage. The explosion blew the deck plates up, wrapping the armour around the rear turrets and rendering them utterly inoperable. The blast caused a similar effect on the stern pushing the hull downwards to form a sort of keel from the damage.
Signalling for assistance the Edinburgh drifted helplessly. The crew were shivering and freezing as they were exposed to the worst of the weather without the clothing to protect them. However the rest of the convoy was currently under attack, and so no help could be dispatched.
By now the damage control parties had managed to get Edinburgh's propulsion working and she could make a maximum speed of 8 knots on one shaft. Unfortunately though due to the damage caused by the second torpedo she could only steam in a giant circle.
One of the destroyers (HMS Forester) managed to attach a tow line to Edinburgh's bow. The tow line broke under the strain with such force it sounded like a gunshot, and the cable wrapped itself around a stanchion. Four further attempts all ended the same way.
As the officers devised a new plan, suddenly a lookout yelled a warning about a submarine three miles astern. HMS Forester immediately went to full power and healed over towards the contact to engage. As she approached the spot where the U-boat had crash dived her captain ordered her to slow ahead so the ADISC could get a reading.
HMS Forester’s throttles had jammed wide open, so the ship overshot. By the time she could be brought back under control the submarine was long gone. A couple of depth charges were fired in the vain hope of hitting. Again chance appeared, and unknown to the crew of the HMS Forester one of the depth charges did damage the U-boats periscope.
The new plan to tow the Edinburgh was successful. The line was attached to the stern of the ship, and one of the destroyers could counter the turn. It did mean that the top speed was two knots, and with about 200 miles to go it would take at least four days to reach Murmansk.
At 0600 the next day the two Russian destroyers signalled they were almost out of fuel and had to return to Murmansk. On a more positive note a Russian tug and four Minesweepers were already on the way to support Edinburgh.
Overnight a force of German destroyers had attacked the Convoy but had been seen off, knowing the Germans were in the area in force the Admiral considered his position and issued the following signal to her escorts:
"In the event of attack by German destroyers, Foresight and Forester are to act independently taking every opportunity to defeat the enemy without taking undue risks to themselves in defending Edinburgh. Edinburgh is to proceed wherever the wind permits, probably straight into it. If the minesweepers are present they are also to be told to act independently, retiring under smoke screens as necessary."
At 1800 the Rubin, the Russian tug appeared, and about midnight the four minesweepers hove into sight. It was then found that the tug had insufficient power, so one of the minesweepers had to assist in the towing. The other minesweepers split up to take positions round the damaged Edinburgh. The rear most minesweeper (HMS Hussar) suddenly spotted three German destroyers following the massive oil slick that Edinburgh was bleeding from her broken hull.
The two Royal Navy destroyers HMS Forester and HMS Foresight turned towards the Germans and fired spreads of torpedoes. On the HMS Edinburgh one of the gunnery officers threw open a hatch on the top of B turret, which was still unable to traverse. Using nothing more than his judgement he waited until the ships bows bore on one of the German ships. Yelling the command to fire the three guns he managed to bracket the German destroyer Hermann Schoemann.
The Germans broke off laying smoke, and a swirling melee occurred. Ships of both sides were using the cover of mist and squalls or laying smoke screens as they raced around at speed taking snap shots at targets as they appeared. Suddenly the HMS Edinburgh found herself pointing at the Hermann Schoemann again, and again the 6" guns roared. The first two shells bracketed the wildly manoeuvring destroyer and the third smashed into its hull destroying its boilers. The Hermann Schoemann drifted for the remainder of the battle and was later scuttled.
To cover their withdrawal the Germans launched a spread of torpedoes at the temporarily immobilized HMS Forester. Unable to do anything but watch the ships company held their breath for the explosion. It never came as both torpedoes streaked under the hull.
Chance had one final part to play in the battle. One of the wildly fired torpedoes drew a line straight into the circling Edinburgh. It hit amidships on the port side, almost directly opposite the hole from the previous hit.
With the battle over, and only a few deck plates holding the HMS Edinburgh together the order to abandon ship was given. The minesweepers pulled alongside and took off the remaining ships company.
After everyone was off the ships pulled away from HMS Edinburgh and waited for her to sink. After fighting to stay afloat for so long the habit seemed ingrained in the battered ship, and she stubbornly refused to heel over.
One of the minesweepers then fired twenty rounds at the floating carcass. these had no effect other than starting several small fires. Two salvo's of depth charges were then dropped close to the hull in an attempt to break HMS Edinburgh's back, but still to no effect.
Finally HMS Foresight used her one remaining torpedo on HMS Edinburgh. The defiant cruiser rolled onto her side then broke in two with the stern sinking immediately. The bow reared up before slipping backwards under the water.