William Coyle in British Coverup

A married Blantyre man lost his life in WW2, caught up in a little known British coverup.

William Coyle died in 1942, his grave stating he was a Prisoner of War. Reported at the time as being deceased in a prisoner of war camp, the truth was different. William was aboard a ship which was sunk by a British Submarine!

William was a driver in the Royal Army Service Corps. At the time of his death on 14th November 1942, he was just 38 years old. Captured in Italy, he was on the day before hoarded into Italian ship SS Scillin’s cargo hold at Tripoli along with another 813 Allied POWs. It is thought the space was only suitable for around 300 people. The result was severe overcrowding and insanitary conditions. About half the men had dysentery and a great many were seasick. The only air and light came in through a small hatch. It was kept open during the day and battened down at night.

More prisoners would have been loaded, but the British military doctor (Capt. Gilbert, RAMC) made vehement and repeated protests. Some reports state that a further 195 POWs were disembarked before SS Scillin sailed and that there were some 200 Italian troops on board; others dispute these points saying that the only Italian troops on board were guards and gun crews and the surplus POWs were never actually boarded.

Anyways, what is known is that on the night of 14 November 1942 off the Tunisian coast SS SCILLIN was ordered to stop with gunfire by the British submarine HMS SAHIB. The ship carried no flag and did not respond. So the  British Submarine Captain decided to torpedo the Italian ship, which by that time had sent a wireless signal for help. Those in the ship hold had little chance of survival as the torpedo hit the hold itself and the ship sank rapidly, apparently killing most people instantly or very quickly.


British Submarine HMS Sahib in 1942

HMS SAHIB moved in to the kill zone and was able to rescue 27 POWs (26 British and one South African), the SCILLIN’s captain and 45 Italian crew members, before the arrival of an Italian warship obliged her to leave. Only when survivors were heard speaking English, did HMS SAHIB’s submarine captain realise that the Italian SCILLIN was carrying POWs!

The British Ministry of Defence decided to cover this up. They kept this incident a closely guarded secret for fifty-four years, telling relatives that the victims had died while prisoner-of-war in Italian camps or lost at sea. It was not until 1996, after repeated requests for information from the families of the drowned men that the truth came out.

The HMS Sahib was sunk in 1943 (pictured)



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