HMS Olympus: a historical note

A brief story of HMS Olympus as told by our historian Joseph-Stephen Bonanno

 During the Second World War, due to the difficulty of passing convoys to Malta, submarines were used to run essential supplies to the island. Among those which contributed towards this hazardous task was HMS Olympus (N35), which unfortunately, in the early hours of 8th May 1942, few kilometers off the coast of Malta, is said that hit a mine and sunk.

HMS_OlympusHMS Olympus photo from collections of the Imperial War Museums (UK)

HMS Olympus, an O- or Odin-Class submarine, was commissioned in 1930. This class submarine measured 86.5 meters length, 6.1 meters width and had a draft of 4.9 meters. Her displacement was 1,781 tons surfaced and 2,038 tons when submerged.

From 1931-1939 HMS Olympus formed part of the 4th Flotilla operating out of Hong Kong. After that she was with the 8th Flotilla, in Colombo, Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka). In 1940 she was redeployed to the Mediterranean.

HMS Olympus played an important role in what became known as ‘Magic Carpet Service’, ferrying passengers, fuel, ammunition and food from Gibraltar to Malta.

About hundred men were on board HMS Olympus on that fateful night – 8th May 1942: her own crew plus other survivors from different sunken submarines on their way to Gibraltar. Only eleven men made it to the shore. This was a wartime tragedy of epic proportions…

Although technical divers from UK and Malta believed that they had found the wreck way back in 2008, but after, it transpired that it was not the HMS Olympus. Later, in 2012, it was announced that it had been finally located. And now it has been almost a year for me – since I started investigating the topic.

7In March, while carrying out research on wrecks of the Second World War which are found scattered on the seabed in Malta, I had the pleasure to attend a lecture presented by Dr. Timmy Gambin. Later on I met Dr. Gambin and he was kind enough to share his research on this topic. We also contacted various historians and consulted archives abroad since little information is available locally.

Day after day, our research material grew to the extent that previous misconceptions were eliminated and facts were set right. We also studied in detail the important role and contribution HMS Olympus played for the inhabitants of Malta… It is a great feeling to see your research expanding, and I am still working on it.

Now, in 2014, U-Boat Malta Ltd., together with Marine Archaeologist Dr. Timmy Gambin, for the first time dived on HMS Olympus with their Submersible C Explorer 5.8.