- Perry, W.G.
- RAN operations, History - WW2
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1979 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Printed by permission of the Editor of the Journal of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors Association
IN OCTOBER 1943 I was serving as FNCO on the staff of the C-in-C Levant. The Aegean campaign was nearing its end, and the Navy in the Eastern Mediterranean was suffering more severe losses than any since the disastrous days of Crete. On the night of October 22nd, HHMS Adrias, a Hunt Class destroyer, in company with HMS Hurworth, was operating off Leros when she struck a mine, took on a list to starboard and started to go down by the head. The captain, Commander John Toumbas, RHN, was ordered by his Senior Officer in Hurworth to sink his ship, but he determined if possible to beach her.
Not many minutes after Adrias had been mined there was another terrific explosion, and Hurworth literally disappeared from view. Suspecting that the enemy had attacked by torpedoes, Commander Toumbas dared not stay to pick up survivors. After dropping Carley floats, he set a course for Gumusluck Bay, a remote spot on the Turkish coast, about 10 miles north of Kos, where he arrived about two hours later, listing about 20 degrees to starboard. He succeeded in beaching his ship.
For a month Commander Toumbas prepared for escape. Adrias was very severely damaged at the fore end, No. 2 4-inch gun mounting being blown backwards to a crazy angle with guns projecting vertically over the bridge front.
With assistance from the Turkish salvage ship Allemba, the damaged structure above water was cut away, and the damaged bulkheads patched and shored.
In the C-in-C’s office at Alexandria, a succession of signals told of these preparations, until finally the escape was fixed for the night of November 30th. After asking for my views on the matter, the Chief of Staff decided that I should go to Gumusluck to return in Adrias. I left Alexandria in company with a salvage officer, Lieutenant Collins, RNVR, on the morning of November 29th in MGB 645 with MGB 647 in company. These vessels were to provide the escort during the initial part of the homeward journey.
We arrived at Casteloriso early next morning and laid up during the day. This tiny island, which lies within Turkish territorial waters, was a fantastic place. There was no civilian population, and the Services had been reduced to 70 men. Very large quantities of stores of all descriptions were piled up in the buildings, and I was told that there were rations on the island for 350,000 men.
In the evening of November 30th, we left Casteloriso and proceeded westwards. Our course took us within 10 miles of Rhodes, and continued up along the Turkish coast, past the German-held island of Kos, through the Kos Channel, which separates the island from the mainland by a mere 2 miles, and thence to the little bay of Gumusluck where we arrived just before dawn.
Adrias was on the beach, landing craft fashion, with Allemba secured astern. At 0430 (December 1st) we assembled in the Captain’s cabin and Commander Toumbas outlined the plans for the escape, his intention being that Adrias should proceed astern under her own power. An hour later MGB 645 slipped away to join MGB 647 in Phallah Bay, a little to the north, where they were to lie up during the day.
After two hours’ sleep in a bug-ridden bunk, I spent most of the day trying to weigh up our chances on the strength of the salvage work which had been done. Lying on the beach was a great pile of twisted wreckage, ammunition and fittings removed by the Allemba.
When dusk came, the Chief, Lieutenant- Commander Arapis (who not so long before had done the Constructors’ course at Greenwich) started to raise steam. At 1900, MGB 645 crept back into the bay, and we had a final conference. The local British agent, a Greek, was present. His job had been to put the local telephone out of action – the only one for miles in this primitive country. He produced a piece of paper and unwrapped the microphone of the telephone instrument, which he said he would put back at 1130 the next morning.
At 2045 the voyage commenced. Adrias came off the beach easily and on a level keel. MGB 645 led the way out of the bay, Adrias following stern first. At the entrance, the CO had to turn to port into the Kos channel, but despite all his efforts the ship continued to turn to starboard. The damaged shell plating on the port side below the waterline was acting as a very effective rudder.
After another abortive attempt, we had an anxious conference on the bridge. It was clear we should have to abandon the idea of going stern first, and either steam bow first or return to Gumusluck. The CO flatly refused to go back, and it was agreed to try going ahead. I suggested slow ahead, but Commander Toumbas rang down 200 revs. The ship went plunging through the water and almost immediately the draught forward increased from about 10 to 20 feet through the weight of water piling into the fore end.
We were now entering the Kos Channel. It was a dark night and everything depended on our getting through undetected. As I was looking over the damaged bow to see how the structure was standing up to the strain, I saw a light flickering at the waterline on the starboard side. This was caused by damaged electric cables which were still alive. Fortunately the sparking was shielded by the ship’s side plating.
When I returned to the bridge, I found everyone taking cover from heavy machine gun fire coming from the Turkish mainland, which we were hugging very closely. No serious damage was done, although a bullet through the engine room of one of the MGBs pierced an exhaust pipe. We were fortunate to pass through the Kos Channel at nearly the same time as a German hospital ship, and the searchlight on Kos island was not switched on until after we had passed through.
We were still plunging ahead at nearly 10 knots, and the damaged bulkheads were beginning to show the strain. The upper deck passageway near 37 bulkhead was beginning to flood, as was the wardroom flat on the lower deck. All we had was the 70-ton electric portable pump. The fact that a suction could not be obtained on the main suction line had been accepted philosophically since the ship commissioned.
I continued to press the CO to reduce speed, and at last a sudden rain squall caused him to lose sight of the guiding MGB, and forced him to reduce to 100 revs. This caused the bow to come up, and the flooding on the upper deck stopped, enabling us to concentrate on the lower deck compartment. In crossing the Gulf of Kos, we were steaming head on into a moderate sea, and the ship was bumping badly. It was a relief when we turned the corner, and took a more easterly course which brought the sea abaft the beam.
By dawn (December 2nd), we had reached Lorima Bay where the ship was again beached. As the island of Rhodes was plainly visible about 10 miles away, it was not too sheltered a spot, but there was no alternative. Fortunately, the weather was in our favour, low cloud and rain preventing enemy reconnaissance.
In the evening, after a day spent in patching, shoring and pumping out, we set off again. We managed to get clear of the Rhodes channel without being detected, although we saw the Germans’ searchlight go on from a distance. The weather was bad and as soon as we emerged from the shelter of Rhodes, pounding was fairly heavy. Later, the wind freshened and the portion of 37 bulkhead between the lower and upper decks began to work heavily, swinging fore and aft from its upper deck connections as the seas surged in and out. Gradually it broke up into three pieces and fell to the bottom, leaving an open compartment between the upper and lower decks extending aft to 44 bulkhead. Fortunately the effects on the structure were damped by the entrapment of air by each wave as it surged in. That night the CO was content to proceed at 100 revs, at which bumping was not excessive.