- Wright, Ken
- Ship histories and stories, WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2008 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
During a withdrawal from Kithera Channel near Crete on 22 May 1941, HMS Fiji came under heavy air attacks. Fiji and HMS Gloucester had been providing anti aircraft protection for the destroyers HM Ships Kandahar and Kingston while they were picking up survivors from HMS Greyhound which had been sunk. Due to the intensity of the Luftwaffe air attacks, Gloucester was hit and set on fire and had to retire from the area accompanied by the three other destroyers. A single near miss from a lone bomber started flooding in Fiji’s engine room which reduced her speed and caused her to list. In another attack, Fiji was hit by three bombs increasing her list. Fiji rolled over and sank an hour later. Kandahar and Kingston were unable to pick up the surviving crew members until nightfall because of the continuing air attacks.
RANVR member Lt John Linton aboard Fiji recounted with some good humour his thoughts just prior to leaping into the water from the listing ship. ‘The leading seaman of our mess was not a bad sort of chap but he was certainly one the most foul mouthed fellows I had ever met. If you ever let him get close to you, he just had to fondle your buttocks or your genitals, depending on which way you were facing at the time. A lone bomber delivered the fatal blow at about 7 pm. We were told to abandon ship which was slowly rolling over. Just before I was about to jump, that leading seaman, the one with the foul mouth and wandering hands came up on deck, walked to the side of the ship, flung his arms to the heavens and cried, GOD HELP ME! I clearly remember thinking at the time that if God helps him, I’ve got nothing to worry about. We were finally rescued and eventually made our way back to England via Durban in South Africa. Many kind residents of Durban, alerted to the fact that a ship load of shipwrecked sailors were in port, sent us large quantities of comforts such as socks, pullovers, clothing, cigarettes, chocolates etc plus hundreds of second hand books. The problem was one of distributing these books having regard to the individual tastes of the readers. The problem was solved by having the ship’s company simply walked past in single file and handed a book, any book, by the petty officer in charge of the operation. You just got a book. I got One Hundred Ways to Mix Concrete.’
St. Nazaire Raid
In the famous St. Nazaire raid on 27 March 1942, Lieutenant William Wallach in the leading Motor Launch ML 270 managed to knock out one of the German searchlights that were illuminating the destroyer Campbeltown as she was on her run to ram the dry dock gate [caisson] and allow commandos to disembark to destroy dock installations. Two other RANVR officers and three ratings were also involved in the raid. One of the ratings managed to get ashore after his ML was sunk and spent the remainder of the war as a POW.
Despite many difficulties, both the British and French Secret Services eventually set up a network of agents who could provide reliable information about what was going on in occupied France. These agents ran the risk of being reported, tortured and executed if caught. They needed to have the highest courage and dedication, as did those who transported the British Secret Intelligence Services and the Special Operations Executives across the Channel by sea and by secret flights in Lysander or Hudson aircraft of the Royal Air Force. During 1942, the 15th Motor Gun Boat Flotilla of the Royal Navy was established and based in the River Dart at Dartmouth. Lieutenant Lloyd Bott RANVR was one of those honoured by the Director of Naval Intelligence, who in January 1945 said, ‘These officers and men were outstanding representatives of an irregular Naval Flotilla which had performed hazardous duties for all services since the fall of France.’
HMS Somali- Artic convoy
In June 1942, RANVR Ordinary Seaman Philip Power was aboard the Tribal class destroyer HMS Somali, one of the escorting ships with convoy PQ 17. The men who sailed on these Arctic convoys had to endure horrendous conditions. The convoy, consisting of 35 merchant ships with an escort of cruisers and destroyers bound for Russia had a reasonable chance of success until the order came to ‘scatter’ when the convoy was subjected to a massive German aerial attack on 4 July 1942.
Twenty four merchant ships were lost. Vice-Admiral W.D. O’Brien, CB, DSC, Commander, Far East Fleet later wrote; ‘I have never been able to rejoice with my American friends on Independence Day, because July 4 is, to me, a day to hang my head in grief for all the men who lost their lives on Convoy PQ17 and in shame at the recollection of one of the bleakest episodes in Royal Navy history, when the warships deserted the merchant ships and left them to their fate. For that, in simple terms, was what we were obliged to do.’