German gunners manning the numerous 88’s found their range on the approaching ship, and a well placed shot disabled the massive destroyer. Round after round found its mark on the Sikh and, despite efforts by sister ship Zulu to tow her to safety, Sikh would eventually flounder and sink. Zulu had no choice to abandon her sister ship as she was likewise absorbing multiple hits from the Axis shore batteries. After firing numerous rounds from her guns back at her relentless attackers, Zulu turned seaward and began her retreat.
Hundreds of British marines and sailors now found themselves afloat in the sea clinging to debris from the vanquished Sikh. Many of these men attempted to tend to their wounded comrades while struggling to keep their own heads above water.
The Italian Macchis would soon make their presence felt on this side of the harbor as well, as several of the planes came in low over the water to strafe the bobbing figures below. Bullets churned the sea around its drifting, helpless inhabitants as the British had nothing to hurl back at their attackers except shouts of indignation.
Soon after the Sikh slipped below the surface, several German and Italian vessels, including the torpedo boat Castore, pulled along side the scattered debris to rescue the survivors. For these men the ordeal was over. Others fought on.
The contingent of British Royal Marines that had managed to land on the beach during the first wave had been fighting for their lives. The marines quickly realized that they were not going to receive additional support, and with the beating their destroyers were taking offshore, they knew there would be no retreat back to sea. Their only chance would be to fight their way up the bluff leading to the open desert. The marines quickly overwhelmed several Italian positions near the base of the incline and subsequently took these men prisoner. However, the British discovered that the higher they traversed, the tougher the fight became.
Using bayonets and small arms, the British marines battled their way up to the summit, and although the Italian defenders they faced were not of the same quality as their San Marco compatriots, they still were able to thin the marines’ ranks to the extent that only 17 reached the top. The British, greatly outnumbered, concluded that escape would be their only viable option. Spotting a small group of caves, the men slipped inside with the intention of hiding out until dark. But the British had been spotted entering the cave, and soon they were surrounded by a large group of Axis defenders. Surrender would be inevitable, and the marines were marched off into captivity.
Back out at sea, the HMS Zulu was wounded, but still could make 30 knots as she attempted to make her way to the safety of their port in Alexandria. She would not make it. The Zulu, along with the light cruiser HMS Coventry who had been providing distant support for the operation, would be mortally crippled by German bombers, leading to their descent to the Mediterranean bottom. The sinking of these two naval vessels was one last devastating loss suffered by the British during Operation Agreement, and served as a coda for one of the most ill-advised raids in the entire Second World War.