- Germaine, Max, OAM, Lieutenant, RANVR
- Biographies and personal histories, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2002 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
After Fremantle, south and west into the Indian Ocean, away from the normal shipping routes where a German raider had been reported, and north to the hot and interesting port of Durban, South Africa, to be warmly welcomed by the British residents who .took us away from our ship’s hold into their homes for our four day stopover. Then the Cape and again well into the South Atlantic, away from normal shipping routes and north to the port of Freetown, Sierra Leone, then a British Protectorate. Shore leave was minimal because of the hostility between the Jola on one side of the river and the Joloff on the other side. However, it was pleasant living under awnings on the upper deck listening to Tommy Handley and Vera Lynn on the BBC. For their war news, the Captain and the radio officer used to listen to Lord Haw Haw from Berlin and were concerned when he sent a message to the Australian sailors in Freetown, telling them to enjoy themselves because the brave submariners of the Third Reich would be waiting for them when they came out. The Captain, a wily Scot, did not mention this until we reached the UK.
After Freetown, in the fine tropical weather, Themistocles became a very busy ship with seamanship, navigation and aircraft recognition in the forenoon and unarmed combat and deck sports in the afternoon. It seemed a long way at nine knots and the day before Liverpool we heard a plane and all rushed on deck to see the biggest plane we had ever seen and all the experts shouted “Focke Wulf Condor.” We felt better when later in the day a British plane flew around us and waggled its wings.
At Liverpool, the sub-lieutenants were first ashore and on their way by train to HMS King Alfred, a wartime officers’ training establishment on the seafront at Hove, Sussex. Late in the afternoon, the ordinary seamen were given some English money, informed that their train would leave early the next morning and that arrangements had been made for them to unroll their hammocks and sleep on the floor of the drill hall at the nearby Missions to Seamen. Also in residence were a number of Liverpool Irish merchant seamen whose ships had been torpedoed and after survivors leave, were awaiting another ship. After a very friendly night we had no illusions about the sea war in the North Atlantic!
An early start by train to Portsmouth and to HMS Collingwood, the main basic training establishment for the Royal Navy, where we were told by those already there that training was in the hands of a very tough Chief Petty Officer who hated all people, particularly sailors, and to tread carefully. The next morning, the yachtsmen were in two groups on the parade ground and nearby, a small motley group being the new entry by conscription. The feared CPO went along their front rank asking “What did you do before you joined the Navy, son?” `Grocer’s boy, sir”, ‘Farmhand, sir’; `Stallion walker, sir ; “Unemployed, sir” and he stopped and raised his eyes and both hands to heaven, but we were too far away to hear what he said. He then approached the first group of yachtsmen. `So you are Australians, what did you do before you joined up?” `Architect, sir.” “University lecturer, sir.” “Company director, sir.” `Professional yachtsman, sir.” and he stopped, he thought we were having him on. He then asked a few more and then smiled, we had made his day, and for the few weeks we were at Collingwood he did everything to polish us up and cram us with useful knowledge.
The people of Portsmouth suffered terribly due to German air attacks and it was here that one of the first yachtsmen was lost when fire watching at the Naval Dockyard when landmines were being dropped by parachute.
Back to the course of the war when on June 14th Hitler marched into Paris and three days later France, Holland and Belgium capitulated, giving the Germans had control of the entire coastline. Hitler, Goering and entourage proceeded to Calais where, standing on the heights, Hitler pointing to England obviously discussed Operation Sealion. A month later on July 10th, Goering started his around the clock air raids which developed into the Battle of Britain and by early October, had lost over 1900 aircraft and control of the air. Hitler then cancelled Operation Sealion for the invasion of England and historians reported that he said, `We will leave England until later’: (Schenk P 1990 p147, Bevan N 1998)