HMS Neptune lost in Mediterranean minefield

19 December 1941

HMS Neptune
HMS Neptune (© IWM FL 2929)

In New Zealand’s worst naval tragedy, the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Neptune struck enemy mines and sank off Libya. Of the 764 men who lost their lives, 150 were New Zealanders.

In early 1941, New Zealand provided crew for the Leander-class light cruiser HMS Neptune, which was to serve alongside the New Zealand-crewed HMS Achilles and Leander. The Neptune headed to the Mediterranean to replace naval losses suffered during the Crete campaign and joined Admiral Cunningham’s Malta-based Force K.

On the night of 18 December, Force K sailed to intercept an important Italian supply convoy heading to Tripoli, Libya. At around 1 a.m. on the 19th, 30 km from Tripoli, the ships sailed into an uncharted deep-water minefield. The Neptune triggered a mine, then exploded two more as it reversed to get clear. Several attempts were made to assist the stricken cruiser, but when the destroyer HMS Kandahar also hit a mine, the Neptune’s Captain Rory O’Conor flashed a warning to other ships to ‘Keep away’.

The Neptune struck another mine shortly afterwards and sank within minutes. Only one crew member survived.

Community contributions

4 comments have been posted about HMS Neptune lost in Mediterranean minefield

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Kevin Gunn

Posted: 03 Jan 2024

There is a brass plaque in our small village and church of Beaford Devon to a Royal Marine who died on HMS Neptune,I presume he was from the village


Posted: 10 Apr 2021

This ANZAC day I’ll remember my relative Alfred (Wally) Jenkins who was lost onboard HMS Neptune, for those interested the NZ Archives do have an audio recording of Xmas greetings home from NZ’ers onboard. It was recorded a matter of weeks before she was sunk and as a result the recording was never released. I ordered a copy and actually heard Alf sending his greetings home- pretty amazing to hear.

Jeanette hayden

Posted: 07 Jun 2020

My mother was engaged to reg Gillen from Dunedin and his memory is thought of on Anzac Day were i post a poppy on his memory site at Auckland war many brave men died and we visited their memorial in Dunedin, he is remembered although no relation plus our thoughts go to the men of h m s neptune


Posted: 11 Oct 2019

I came across this site by accident when looking up the history of the Neptune. I do this periodically in memory of my Uncle, William Miller, who went down with his shipmates in 1941 on what just happened to be my mothers - his sisters - 15th birthday. It's something that always makes me feel very sad when thinking of the hundreds of young men in those fateful hours, and what fear they must have been experiencing. I'm so glad that you continue to commemorate them, I fear you may be the only one's to do so officially, but my sister and I speak of them still even though the war was over by more than a decade by the time we were born. Always remembered