Friday, 19 November 2010

2: Air Attack at Sea - Part 1.

We made very little progress and eventually stopped. Mines had been laid and it was too risky to proceed in darkness. We spent the night chatting and wandering about the blacked out desk, occasionally trying to rest.

Daylight came and we continued our journey, picking our way through the minefields. We had just eaten a makeshift breakfast when the ship's alarm sounded. The Captain spoke over the loudspeaker system asking his airmen passengers to be helpful and try making themselves useful in the forthcoming action, or get below decks out of the way as we would be under air attack within the next few minutes. I decided to try to be helpful and walked over to a sailor I had noticed standing by a Lewis gun mounted at the ship's side. At his feed were several loaded drums of ammunition. He was busily scanning the horizons as I asked him, "Would you like me to load for you?", "I would be very pleased", was his immediate reply. It was a glorious day, a brilliant morning sun in a cloudless sky, the time was around 8:30 a.m.

We recently caught up with two merchant ships that had left Singapore the day before us. One of them was crowded with airmen and had aircraft refuelling tankers on deck. I recall seeing the name 'Empire Star' on its stern. Our ship heeled over as it went into open sea behind these two ships, the cruiser 'HMS Durban' which had been alongside, sailed to the front.

It was agreed that I kept a look out for enemy aircraft to the left whilst the sailor I was assisting searched the sky to the right. Suddenly there was a shout of "There's one" from him, I turned and saw a plane coming towards us at about fifty feed above sea level, with flashes coming from a single gun on each wing as the plane rushed towards us. The sailor open up with his gun as the plan seemed to be making a direct line for us, emptying one drum which I immediately changed, the plan passed over with a roar. 

The noise was now deafening, shell bursts everywhere, bombs exploding in the sea around us and aircraft attacking from all directions. 

The ship was vibrating and sailing at maximum speed as we changed direction frequently to try to evade our attackers, a trail of black smoke marking our course. As suddenly as the attack had started, so it ended with no apparent damage being done. 

My sailor companion and I discussed the attack, he telling me he was happy to be in the navy and on a ship as it was maneuverable whilst under attack. I told him I preferred to be on land as I couldn't walk on water and an airfield didn't sink.

Lookouts were scanning the sky as we waited for the next attack. The other ships were all steaming on as if undamaged. It didn't seem likely we would be left to continue out journey unhindered. There obviously wasn't another squadron waiting to move in to carry on the attack, so I pondered how far the planes had to go to bomb up and refuel.

The alarm sounded again, then we heard the aircraft engines and saw shell bursts high in the sky. Around the shell bursts were the planes and as I watched, some of the aircraft started to dive. We resumed our erratic course and as the aircraft came within range the multiple pom poms from the deck above filled the path of the dive bomber with exploding shells. The tactics were a success, the bomb missed us, falling into the sea. The aircraft, their bombs gone, resorted to low level attacks with cannon fire and machine gun, before flying off.

I began to see the sailors point of view as we seems unscathed apart from small dents and chipped paintwork. Buckets of tea began to appear, which was a welcome sight. The tension eased as we took a break and enjoyed a cup of tea.

1 comment:

  1. Frank,

    The level of detail in this makes it most fascinating. I can imagine that the experience is engraved on your mind, because of its intensity.