HMS Tara and the Bir Hakkim Rescue

It was March 1916 and Major Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster was operating across Italian Cyrenaica (modern Libya) with three batteries of Rolls-Royce Armoured Cars. Each car had armour half an inch thick armour and mounted with a revolving machine gun. As the vehicles stopped to repair a puncture, the party investigated the wreckage of a car, where they discovered an abandoned letter written by Captain Rupert Stanley Gwatkin-Williams, R.N.
Captain Gwatkin-Williams had commanded ‘HMS Tara,’ a twin-screw steamer torpedoed by the submarine ‘U-35’ off the North African coast 4 months earlier. 92 survivors, many of them from Holyhead, took to the lifeboats, which were then towed to port by the German U-Boat. They were ultimately handed over to the Senussi, indigenous rebels sided with the Ottoman Empire, who marched them to Bir Hakkim, and to a 135-day ordeal in the Libyan desert. Captain Gwatkin-Williams briefly escaped in late February 1916. Although he was recaptured days later, he wrote the letter and laid the groundwork that eventually led to the Duke of Westminster’s dramatic rescue operation.

Holyhead Maritime Museum displays many fascinating artefacts related to HMS Tara’s former service as a passenger vessel, TSS Hibernia, the crew’s experiences in the North African desert, and the extraordinary rescue orchestrated by the Duke of Westminster. Explore the 3 objects on People’s Collection Wales to learn more.

Cover image: Crew of H.M.S. Tara (Anglesey Archives)

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