HMS Penelope (97)
Light cruiser of the Arethusa class
|Navy||The Royal Navy|
|Built by||Harland & Wolff (Belfast, Northern Ireland)|
|Ordered||5 Feb 1934|
|Laid down||30 May 1934|
|Launched||15 Oct 1935|
|Commissioned||13 Nov 1936|
|Lost||18 Feb 1944|
|Loss position||40° 55'N, 13° 25'E|
On 18 February 1944, HMS Penelope (Capt. George Devereux Belben, DSO, DSC, AM, RN) was leaving the Anzio area to return to Naples when she was torpedoed in position 40º55'N, 13º25'E, by the German submarine U-410.
The torpedo struck her in the after engine room and was followed, 16' later, by a second one which hit in the after boiler room, causing her immediate sinking.
The remarkable point of the attack by U-410 is that the cruisers was making 26 kn when hit. As far as can be ascertained, this is a unique case in the history of submarine attacks in all of WWII, no other ship running at such speed was ever successfully attacked.
415 of the crew, including the captain went down with the ship. There were 206 survivors.
Hit by U-boat
|U-boat Attack||See our U-boat attack entry for the HMS Penelope|
Commands listed for HMS Penelope (97)
Please note that we're still working on this section.
|1||Capt. Gerald Douglas Yates, RN||17 Aug 1939||12 Sep 1940|
|2||Lt.Cdr. (emergency) Alan Moir Harris, RN||12 Sep 1940||21 Feb 1941|
|3||Lt.Cdr. William Thomas Warren Curtis, RN||21 Feb 1941||15 Apr 1941|
|4||Capt. Angus Dacres Nicholl, RN||15 Apr 1941||15 Jun 1942|
|5||Cdr. John William Grant, DSO, RN||15 Jun 1942||10 Aug 1942|
|6||Capt. George Devereux Belben, DSC, RN||10 Aug 1942||18 Feb 1944 (+)|
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Notable events involving Penelope include:
11 Sep 1939
Several ships from the Mediterranean Fleet conducted gunnery exercises off Alexandria; these were the battleships HMS Barham (Capt. H.T.C. Walker, RN), HMS Malaya (Capt. I.B.B. Tower, DSC, RN), heavy cruisers HMS Devonshire (Capt. J.M. Mansfield, DSC, RN), HMS Sussex (Capt. A.R. Hammick, RN) light cruisers HMS Arethusa (Capt. Q.D. Graham, RN), HMS Penelope (Capt. G.D. Yates, RN) and four destroyers from the 4th Destroyer Flotilla; HMS Afridi (Capt. G.H. Cresswell, DSC, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. F.R. Parham, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. R.F. Jolly, RN) and HMS Sikh (Cdr. J.A. Giffard, RN).
On completion of these exercises these ships set course to take up a position to the west of Crete to provide cover for convoys passing from west to east through the Mediterranean.
HMS Barham and HMS Penelope however returned to Alexandria after the exercises had been completed while the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious (Capt. G. D’Oyly-Hughes, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN) joined the other ships. (1)
9 Oct 1939
The battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. V.A.C. Crutchley, VC, DSC, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. H.T.C. Walker, RN), HMS Malaya (Capt. I.B.B. Tower, DSC, RN), the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious (Capt. G. D’Oyly-Hughes, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN), the light cruiser HMS Penelope (Capt. G.D. Yates, RN) and the destroyers HMS Duncan (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), HMS Daring (Cdr. S.A. Cooper, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. F.M. Walton, RN), HMS Grafton (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN), HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN), HMS Gipsy (Lt.Cdr. N.J. Crossley, RN) and HMS Bulldog (Lt.Cdr. J.S.M. Richardson, RN) conducted exercises off Alexandria.
During the exercises HMS Malaya, HMS Glorious, HMS Daring and HMS Bulldog split off. They were to proceed to the Indian Ocean (Socotra area). (1)
11 Apr 1940
HMS Penelope (Capt. G.D. Yates, RN) entered Vestfjord to support the attack of British destroyers against the German destroyer flotilla of Commodore Bonte at Narvik, but on the way in the cruiser ran aground on rocks off Fleinver and was badly damaged. She was towed clear by the British destroyer HMS Eskimo (Cdr. St.J.A. Micklethwait, DSO, RN). While executing temporary repairs, she was attacked by German bombers, which obtained 4 near-misses to port, within 13 metres of the hull, exacerbating the damage already sustained by hitting the rocks. Penelope eventually reached the Tyne but was under repairs until 7 July 1941.
12 Sep 1941
HrMs O 10 (Lt. Baron D.T. Mackay, RNN) participated in A/S exercises off Scapa Flow with HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN), HMS Ulster Queen (A/Capt. D.S. McGrath, RN), HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, RN) and HMS Castleton (Cdr.(Retd.) F.H.E. Skyrme, RN). (4)
13 Sep 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted exercises to the west of Scapa Flow together with HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN).
During these exerices Prince of Wales was escorted by HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. B.G. Scurfield, OBE, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN) and HMS Vivacious (Lt.Cdr. R. Alexander, RN). (5)
21 Oct 1941
HMS Penelope arrived at Malta to join Force "K".
24 Nov 1941
The British Force K, made up of the British light cruisers HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN) and HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN) and the British destroyers HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN), intercept an Axis convoy about 100 nautical miles west of Crete. The Axis convoy is bound from the Aegean to Bengasi.
The two German transports in the convoy Maritza (2910 GRT) and Procida (1842 GRT) are both sunk by HMS Penelope and HMS Lively despite the presence of the Italian torpedo boats Lupo and Cassiopea.
1 Dec 1941
Acting on an ULTRA intercept, a British force sailed from Malta in the evening of 30 November with the British light cruisers HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D. McCarthy, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN) and the British destroyers HMS Kimberley (Cdr. J.S.M. Richardson, DSO, RN), HMS Kingston (Cdr. P. Somerville, DSO, DSC, RN) and HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN). At 0330 hrs of 1/12 the British intercept and sink the Italian transport Adriatico (1976 GRT) then proceed towards the Libyan coast. At a point 60 nautical miles north-north-west of Tripoli, Libya, Penelope, Aurora and Lively intercept a small convoy consisting of the Italian oiler Iridio Mantovani (10540 GRT) escorted by the Italian destroyer Alvise da Mosto (2125 tons) and sink both.
15 Dec 1941
Operation MF 1 and the resulting first Battle of Sirte.
Operation MF 1, passage of the British supply ship HMS Breconshire to Malta.
At 2200 hours on 15 December 1941 the British supply ship HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) departed Alexandria being escorted by HMS Naiad (Capt. M.A.H. Kelsey, DSC, RN flying the flag of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Carlisle (Capt. D.M.L. Neame, DSO, RN), HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Kimberley (Cdr. J.S.M. Richardson, DSO, RN), HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Sommerville, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St.Clair Ford, RN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, RAN), HMS Havock (Lt. G.R.G. Watkins, DSC, RN) and HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Alliston, RN). This last destroyer was also to proceed to Malta for repairs to her bow that had been damaged in a collision at Alexandria. HMS Breconshire was carrying oil fuel for Malta.
At 1100/16 the Allied destroyers HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNN) departed Malta. They joined up with the convoy at daylight on the 17th. During the day the convoy was attacked by enemy high level and torpedo bombers
These were followed at 1800/16 by ‘Force K’; HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, CB, RN), HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN).
At dark on the 16th HMS Carlisle, HMS Havock and HMS Kingston were detached to make a W/T diversion to the eastward at midnight of the night of 16/17 and then to proceed to Alexandria. They were later joined by HMS Griffin (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN).
Enemy heavy forces were reported at sea at 2230/16 by the submarines HMS Unbeaten (Lt. Cdr. E.A. Woodward, RN) and HMS Utmost (Lt.Cdr. R.D. Cayley, DSO, RN) in the Gulf of Taranto area. Neither submarine was able to attack. The Italians were at sea to cover an imported Axis convoy to North Africa.
From Taranto had departed the transports Monginevro (5324 GRT, built 1940), Napoli (6142 GRT, built 1941) and Vettor Pisani (6339 GRT, built 1939). They had a close escort of the destroyers Ugolino Vivaldi, Antonio Da Noli, Nicoloso da Recco, Lanzerotto Malocello, Emanuelle Pessagno, Nicolò Zeno. From Naples the German transport Ankara (4768 GRT, built 1937) departed on the same day. She had a close escort made up of the destroyer Saetta and the torpedo-boat Pegaso.
Cover was provided by two groups of warships. One group was made up of the battleship Caio Dulio, the light cruisers Emanuele Filiberto Duca D’Aosta, Muzio Attendolo, Raimondo Montecuccoli and the destroyers Aviere, Ascari and Camicia Nera. The other, and larger group, was made up of the battleships Littorio, Andrea Doria, Guilio Cesare, heavy cruisers Gorizia, Trento and the destroyers Granatiere, Bersagliere, Fuciliere, Alpino, Corazziere, Carabiniere, Antoniotto Usodimare, Maestrale, Alfredo Oriani and Vincenzo Gioberti.
The enemy heavy forces were reported by reconnaissance aircraft at 0825/17 and again at 1525/17 when they were with their convoy and only about 60 nautical miles from the Allied convoy. Very few Allied aircraft were available for reconnaissance and shadowing was therefore not carried out at all. At 1745/17 the Allied convoy unexpectedly ran into the larger of the Italian cover forces. The Italian battleships opened fire but drew off to the northward when the Allied convoy escorts closed to attack. Contact was lost in the dark. When both forces made contact HMS Breconshire was detached with HMS Havock and HMS Decoy as escorts. They later made rendez-vous with ‘Force K’.
The original convoy escorts meanwhile retired to the eastward and then proceeded to the north of Benghazi to try to intercept the enemy convoy but as it was bound for Tripoli they made no contact. They therefore retired eastwards and arrived at Alexandria during the night of 18/10 December.
HMS Breconshire and her escorts arrived safely at Malta during the night of 17/18 December 1941. (6)
19 Dec 1941
While on their way to intercept an Italian convoy bound for Tripoli the British Force K (light cruisers HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN), HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN) and the destroyers HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, DSO, DSC, RN, HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN), HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN) and HMS Havock (Lt. G.R.G. Watkins, DSC, RN) ran into an newly laid Italian minefield. HMS Neptune and HMS Kandahar sank while HMS Aurora was badly and HMS Penelope was slightly damaged. HMS Aurora was patched up at Malta before returning home for repairs at Liverpool from April to June 1942. HMS Penelope was repaired at Malta until January 1942.
16 Jan 1942
Operation MF 3.
Two convoy’s (MW 8A and MW 8B) departed Alexandria on 16 January 1942 for Malta where they arrived on 19 January 1942.
Convoy MW 8A was made up of the transports Ajax (7540 GRT, built 1931) and Thermopylae (Norwegian, 6655 GRT, built 1930). Escort was provided by the light (AA) cruiser HMS Carlisle (Capt. D.M.L. Neame, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Griffin (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Arrow (Cdr. A,M. McKillop, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt. N.H.G. Austen, RN) and HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO and Bar, RN). This convoy departed Alexandria at 0830/16.
Convoy MW 8B was made up of the transports City of Calcutta (8063 GRT, built 1940) and Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938). Escort was provided by the destroyers HMS Maori (Cdr R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, DSC, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. W. Harmsen, RNN). This convoy, which had a higher speed, 14 instead of 12 knots, then convoy MW 8A, departed Alexandria at 1530/16.
Both convoys were to converge later but they were delayed by heavy weather.
Cover for the convoy was provided by ‘Force B’ made up of the light cruisers HMS Naiad (Capt. M.A.H. Kelsey, DSC, RN flying the flag of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN) and the destroyers HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Alliston, DSO, RN), HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St.Clair Ford, RN), HMS Kingston (Cdr. P. Sommerville, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Hotspur (Lt. T.D. Herrick, DSC, RN) and HMS Havock (Lt. G.R.G. Watkins, DSC, RN). This force was due to sail at 2359/16. However when they left the harbour Alexandria was struck suddenly by very bad weather resulting in HMS Kingston and HMS Foxhound colliding with each other causing serious damage to both ships and they were unable to proceed. HMS Hotspur then fouled a propeller and was also unable to proceed. HMS Dido was delayed for a few hours and sailed only at 0545/17 while the remaining ships had departed at 0240/17.
HMS Gurkha, escorting convoy MW 8B, was torpedoed at 0740/17 by the German U-boat U-133 in position 31°50'N, 26°15'E. She was towed clear of the burning oil by HrMs Isaac Sweers which managed to rescue 240 survivors. Only 9 of the crew of the Gurkha lost their lives. While rescueing the crew of the Gurkha, HMS Maori screened them and hunted the attacker but she was unable to obtain contact. HMS Gurkha sank at 0917/17. HrMs Isaac Sweers and HMS Maori then rejoined convoy MW 8B at 1125 hours. HrMs Isaac Sweers was detached at 1540/17 to land the survivors at Tobruk where she arrived at 1745/17 and already left again at 1830/17. She rejoined the convoy the following day at 0200/18.
’Force K’, made up of the light cruiser HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN) and the destroyers HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN), HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN) and HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN), left Malta at 1900/17 to make rendez-vous with the convoy on the morning of the 18th.
Both convoy and ’Force B’ eventually joined up at 1100/18. ‘Force K’ made contact at 1315/18 and the convoy then proceeded westwards. There were a number of attacks by single German Ju-88 aircraft during the day but without damage to any of the ships.
Before ‘Force K ‘had joined the transport Thermopylae was detached at 1130/18 due to engine defects and was ordered to proceed to Benghazi escorted by HMS Carlisle, HMS Arrow and HMS Havock. She was later able to make 13 knots and was then ordered to return to Alexandria.
At 1930 hours on the 18th, air reconnaissance had not sighted any enemy warships so HMS Naiad, HMS Euryalus, HMS Dido, HMS Griffin, Kelvin, HMS Kipling, HMS Hero, HMS Hasty, HrMs Isaac Sweers and HMS Jaguar set course to return to Alexandria. HMS Maori joined ‘Force K’ vice HMS Jaguar and HMS Legion also proceeded to Malta as she was to dock there. At daylight on the 19th HMS Hero and HMS Hasty were detached to join the ships escorting the Thermopylae.
However at 0945/19 the Thermopylae was hit by two bombs in the engine room during a bombing attack by a single German JU-88 pressed right home. The ship caught fire and could not be saved. She was eventually scuttled at 1153/19 in position 33°02'N, 24°16'E by a torpedo from HMS Havock.
The remaining ships of the convoy arrived safely at Malta at 1530/19. Heavy enemy air attacks having been held off by effective fighter protection.
’Force B’ had also been attacked on the way back to Alexandria by single German JU-88’s. The only damage done was to HMS Naiad by a near-miss. In the afternoon of the 19th, HMS Kelvin was detached and ordered to proceed to Tobruk to pick up the survivors from HMS Gurkha and take them to Alexandria.
The first ships to return to Alexandria were the ones from ‘Force B’. They arrived around 0830/20. HMS Carlisle, HMS Arrow, HMS Havock, HMS Hasty and HMS Hero arrived shortly afterwards as did HMS Kelvin later on the day with the survivors of HMS Gurkha. (7)
24 Jan 1942
Operation MF 4.
The passage of HMS Breconshire from Alexandria to Malta from 24 to 27 January and the passage of convoy ME 9 from Malta to Alexandria from 25 to 28 January 1942.
In the morning on of 24 January 1942, HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) departed Alexandria with stores for Malta. Escort was provided by ‘Force B’ which was made up of the light cruisers HMS Naiad (Capt. M.A.H. Kelsey, DSC, RN flying the flag of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN), HMS Carlisle (Capt. D.M.L. Neame, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Griffin (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Arrow (Cdr. A,M. McKillop, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt. N.H.G. Austen, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Alliston, DSO, RN), HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St.Clair Ford, RN), HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. W. Harmsen, RNN) and HMS Kingston (Cdr. P. Sommerville, DSO, DSC, RN). HMS Kingston was to proceed to Malta for docking and repairs.
In the morning of 25 January 1942, convoy ME 9 departed Malta for Alexandria. This convoy was made up of the transports HMS Glengyle (A/Capt.(Retd.) C.H. Petrie, DSO and Bar, RN) (9919 GRT, built 1939) and Rowallan Castle (7801 GRT, built 1939). Escort was provided by ‘Force K’ which was made up of the light cruiser HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN) and the destroyers HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, DSC, RN) and HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN).
On the 25th HMS Breconshire and ‘Force B’ were shadowed by enemy aircraft. They were attacked by eight German JU-88 bombers between 1445 and 1520 hours. No ships were seriously damaged. HrMs Isaac Sweers sustained six near misses causing the Asdic and Gyro compass to be out of action for a few hours. Two JU-88’s are thought to have been shot down during the attacks. The enemy aircraft are thought to have been damaged.
At noon on the 26h both forces made rendez-vous. ‘Force B’ then turned back with the ships of convoy ME 9 while ‘Force K’ took over HMS Breconshire. Also HMS Lance joined ‘Force B’ vice HMS Kingston.
’Force K’ was bombed during the afternoon and both ‘Force B’ and ‘Force K’ were attacked during the afternoon by enemy torpedo bombers. No ships were damaged although HrMs Isaac Sweers was missed by a few hundred yards by a torpedo down the starboard side.
’Force K’ and HMS Breconshire arrived at Malta around 1000 hours.
’Force B’ and convoy ME 9 arrived at Alexandria around 1100 hours. (7)
19 Mar 1942
In the aftermath of the Battle of the Syrte, attempted towing the damaged Breconshire (9776 GRT) into port, but the freighter sank before reaching safe waters.
20 Mar 1942
In the period between 20-30 March 1942, Axis air attacks on Malta were extremely heavy. Ammunition expenditure by Penelope during the 10-day period amounted to 6.500 rounds of 102 mm (4") and over 75.000 rounds of small calibre. She sustained so much splinter damage to earn the nickname "Pepperpot. Folowing a particularly heavy attack on 26 March, it was decided to send her to the US for repairs. She sailed from Malta on 8 April for New York Navy yard and was under repairs until 1 September. Returned to the Med in early 1943 and was assigned to Force "Q", operating out of Bone, Algeria.
During the first week of June bombarded Pantelleria and Lampedusa islands, in the Sicilian Channel, on 11 June supported the Pantelleria landings.
Deployed in support of Operation "Husky", the Sicilian landings.
9 Sep 1943
Deployed in support of the Salerno landings, after the announcement of the Italian Armistice ferried troops to Taranto and in October moved to operate in the Aegean.
7 Oct 1943
The British light cruisers HMS Penelope (Capt. G.D. Belben, DSC, RN) and HMS Sirius (Capt. P.B.W. Brooking, DSO, RN) and the British destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.K. Scott-Moncrieff, DSO, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.F. Taylor, RN), north of Astipalea (Stampalia) in the Dodecanese, attacked a German convoy consisting of the auxiliary submarine chaser UJ 2111 (667 tons, former Italian Tramaglio), cargo Olympus (5216 GRT) and 5 MFPs. All were sunk. On the return leg of the mission, the British were repeatedly attacked by German planes while transiting Karpathos Strait (Scarpanto).
Left the Med for a short period of time to hunt down blockade runners in the Bay of Biscay.
Deployed in support of the Anzio landings.
18 Feb 1944
My father William C. Moen was a member of PT Boat squadron 216 off the coast of Anzio. My father jumped in the water and helped save several of Penelopes crew just after the Penelope was sunk. He received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for valor. (8)
- ADM 199/389
- ADM 173/15879
- ADM 173/15881
- File 2.12.03.6377 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands)
- ADM 53/114892
- ADM 199/415
- ADM 199/650
- Personal communication
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.
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