HMS Urge

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HMS Urge.jpg
HMS Urge
United Kingdom
Class and type: U-class submarine
Name: HMS Urge
Builder: Vickers Armstrong, Barrow-in-Furness
Laid down: 30 October 1939
Launched: 19 August 1940
Commissioned: 12 December 1940
Fate: Sunk 29 April 1942
Badge: URGE badge-1-.jpg
General characteristics
  • Surfaced – 540 tons standard, 630 tons full load
  • Submerged – 730 tons
Length: 58.22 m (191 ft)
Beam: 4.90 m (16 ft 1 in)
Draught: 4.62 m (15 ft 2 in)
  • 2 shaft diesel-electric
  • 2 Paxman Ricardo diesel generators + electric motors
  • 615 / 825 hp
  • 11.25 knots (20.8 km/h) max surfaced
  • 10 knots (19 km/h) max submerged
Complement: 27–31

HMS Urge was a British U-class submarine, of the second group of that class, built by Vickers Armstrong, Barrow-in-Furness. She was laid down on 30 October 1939 and was commissioned on 12 December 1940. From 1941-2 she formed part of the 10th Submarine Flotilla based in Malta and is the only Royal Navy ship to have borne the name. Urge spent most of her career operating in the Mediterranean, where she damaged or sank a number of mostly Italian warships and merchant vessels and took part in special operations. She was commanded by Lieutenant-Commander EP Tomkinson, DSO, RN. She was lost with all hands on 29 April 1942. There are several theories about her final fate. The long-held official view is that it is most likely that she was lost to a mine off Malta, a view re-confirmed in April, 2016. Other theories suggest she was sunk by direct enemy action, the most common being that she was lost to an Italian air attack off Libya, but this now appears unlikely.

HMS Urge had an intensive 20 patrol career lasting around a year before her loss. In 1941 Lieutenant-Commander Tomkinson received the DSO and Bar, was mentioned in despatches and at his own request received two years seniority in lieu of a second bar to the DSO; in 1942 he was being awarded a further bar to the DSO for the sinking of the Italian cruiser Giovanni Delle Bande Nere but was lost before it was gazetted [British and Allied Submarine Operations in World War II, Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Hezlet, 2001]. Vice-Admiral Sir Ian McGeogh, KCB, DSO, DSC, RN, a post war Flag Officer Submarines, who served briefly on HMS Urge in 1941, wrote that Tomkinson “should in my view have been awarded the Victoria Cross - preferably before he was lost.” [Ian McGeoch, An Affair of Chances, IWM 1991.] HMS Urge’s crew were awarded a number of DSCs and DSMs. The First Lieutenant was Lieutenant JMS Poole, DSC and Bar, RN. The Chief Petty Officer, CJJ Jackman, was awarded the DSM and Bar and mentioned in despatches three times. At the time of her loss the C-in-C Mediterranean reported to the Admiralty that the “loss of this outstanding submarine and commanding officer is much to be regretted.”

In 1975 a building at HMS Dolphin in Gosport was named after Lieutenant-Commander Tomkinson, alongside others named after other leading Royal Navy WW2 submarine captains.

HMS Urge was adopted and partially funded by the people of the Welsh town Bridgend as a result of the national "warship week" in 1941.[1]


Prior to deployment to the Mediterranean, Urge sank the Italian tanker Franco Martelli in April 1941 whilst in the Bay of Biscay on passage from the UK to Gibraltar. The Franco Martelli has been loaded with fuel destined for German U boats. Urge also damaged the Italian passenger ship Aquitania, and the Italian merchant ship Marigola. Marigola was already grounded after being torpedoed by aircraft on 24 September 1941. Then on 14 December, Urge torpedoed and damaged the Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto during the operations around the First Battle of Sirte. In the same attack the Italian battleship Littorio narrowly avoided being hit by Urge’s torpedoes through taking evasive action. One of the crew in Urge at that time was Lieutenant Godfrey Place, who would later become famous as one of the leaders of the X craft attack on the Tirpitz, for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross (Place therefore took place in two successful attacks on enemy battleships). On 1 April 1942 Urge torpedoed and sank the Italian light cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere. In March 2019 it was reported that the wreck of the Giovanni delle Bande Nere had been discovered near Stromboli.

'Urge was one of the first British submarines to land commandos by canoe (or folding kayak), and a number of successful commando raids were launched from her. These raids targeted enemy infrastructure such as railways and pioneered techniques used in later SBS work. However, special operations were hazardous, and in October 1941 a member of Urge's crew was lost to enemy fire when attempting to rescue an Allied agent from shore. On other occasions enemy patrol activity or traps were a frequent risk to landing operations involving agents or commandos.

Urge's torpedoes were sighted and avoided, suffered gyro failures, or otherwise failed to hit the target on a number of occasions including attacks on the Italian merchant vessel Capo Orso, the Italian tankers Superga and Pozarica, the German merchant Ingo, the Italian heavy cruiser Bolzano, and the Italian troop transport Victoria. Urge also unsuccessfully attacked an unidentified armed merchant cruiser south of the Strait of Messina, subsequently attacking it with gunfire on the surface, but breaking off the attack due to accurate return fire.[2]. A number of other possible success remain unclear. In October 1941 a technical failure in a torpedo which HMS Urge fired at a U boat caused the weapon to miss the enemy and explode dangerously near HMS Urge herself.


Urge left Malta on 27 April 1942. She failed to arrive at Alexandria on 6 May 1942 and was reported overdue on that day. Official sources have long attributed her loss to a mine outside Malta, which most historians continue to believe is the most likely cause of her loss. Minesweeping off Malta was severely restricted at the time following heavy air attacks. In April 2016 the Naval Historical Branch of the Ministry of Defence re-considered all available evidence and re-confirmed this position (see below).

This re-confirmation suggests that caution is needed when considering any alternative claims. One of these is that on 29 April Urge attacked the Italian sailing vessel San Giusto off Ras Hilal; in the immediate area there was a small convoy of three German MFPs, escorted by an Italian CR.42 biplane. As Urge supposedly attacked San Giusto, the biplane reportedly dropped two small bombs (but did not claim any sinking). However, the submarine would not have had enough speed to reach this area in the time available, which was in any event off its course set out in its sailing orders. Other weaknesses of the Ras Hilal theory include that the submarine sighting report was not verified, no Italian biplane ever achieved such a sinking, and the bombs involved would have been too small to damage a submarine. It also remains unlikely that Urge would have surfaced in daylight, particularly not to attack such a small target while on passage, or that an experienced crew used to avoiding fast German fighter planes would have failed to detect and avoid an Italian biplane.[3] No theory relating to Urge's loss has been conclusively proved.


On 29 April 2015, it was reported that Jean-Pierre Misson claimed to have found the wreck of Urge on sonar recordings taken off the coast of Libya at Marsa el Hilal.[4] This is not supported by physical evidence other than sonar such as photographs or material from a wreck. If the images show an object, and if that object is a wreck, it may well be that of a U-boat (U205) known to have sunk in the area. The claim that the images are of HMS Urge's wreck received some publicity but is not supported by analysis by the UK Government which is recorded below.

In April, 2016 the Naval Historical Branch of the Ministry of Defence endorsed the following paragraph by a naval historian relating to the possible causes of HMS Urge's loss:

It is not known with certainty how HMS Urge was lost, having sailed from Malta to Alexandria on 27th April, 1942. At the time of loss, the official view was that it was most likely that HMS Urge struck one of a number of mines which were laid by Axis forces at that time in the approaches to Malta. This remains the most likely cause of loss on the available evidence, although until the wreck of the submarine is found and positively identified other causes cannot be ruled out. Those other causes include the possibility of attack from Axis submarines or a depth charge attack by surface ships, although no Axis claim was made at the time. Although unlikely, there is a possibility that an accident could have caused the loss. Finally, there has recently been media interest in a claim of discovery of HMS Urge's wreck off the Libyan coast, based on a sonar image and a report of an attack by an Italian aircraft on a submarine. The evidence around this claim has been evaluated by the relevant UK Government historical authorities at the Naval Historical Branch of the Ministry of Defence, and is not considered sufficiently strong or credible to disrupt the official view that the most likely cause of loss was to a mine near Malta. It appears impossible that HMS Urge could have reached the site of the object discovered off Libya at the time of the purported attack at her speed in the sailing time available, and unlikely that she would have taken the risk of departing from her ordered course even if it had been possible. The inconclusive nature of the reports of the purported attack, and the lack of evidential weight of the sonar images of the object pending any photographic images or external visual evidence, are additional factors which have been taken into account. At this time therefore, the official view is that no claim of discovery of HMS Urge has been substantiated, and it remains most likely that the wreck of HMS Urge lies near Malta as a result of loss to a mine. For this reason, and as a sign of respect for the crew of HMS Urge, and their families, any suggestion that she was lost in another location or that her wreck has been discovered should be not be presented as fact. This is especially so in the absence of official recognition or acknowledgement by family representatives.



  • Colledge, J. J.; Warlow, Ben (2006) [1969]. Ships of the Royal Navy: The Complete Record of all Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy (Rev. ed.). London: Chatham Publishing. ISBN 978-1-86176-281-8. OCLC 67375475.
  • Hutchinson, Robert (2001). Jane's Submarines: War Beneath the Waves from 1776 to the Present Day. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-00-710558-8. OCLC 53783010.