- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Maurice Openshaw
- Location of story:
- Bay of Bengal
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 29 September 2005
In the Spring of 1945 I was an 18 year-old Cadet on an armed merchant ship in the middle of the Bay of Bengal heading for the Burmese coast. Our ship travelled alone, independent of convoys as she was capable of doing 17 knots and was well armed with 6 Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns, 2 twelve-pounder guns, 1 four-inch gun and the latest depth-charges, all manned by naval gunners. In addition she was fitted with the latest A.S.D.I.C. underwater detection equipment and 'Radar' surface detection system.
At that stage of the war in the East there was a shortage of oil tankers and we were carrying a full cargo of thousands of drums of high-octane aviation fuel.
These had been loaded in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf and destined for the R.A.F. wing in Burma where the 14th.Army was driving the Japanese invaders southwards. During my afternoon watch I was on lookout on the starboard wing of the bridge when the Asdic operator reported a submarine off the port bow. 'Action stations' was sounded and the ship swung to port to present a narrower target for a torpedo strike and to give us a chance to drop depth charges if the sub was to dive. The officer of the watch was quickly joined by the Captain on the port wing of the bridge, hoping to see some sign of a periscope. However the sub must have moved across our bows as we were swinging round to port as I suddenly saw the telltale bubbles of a torpedo track heading straight for my side of the ship. Before I could move or shout the thick white finger of the torpedo track ended squarely against the hull directly below the spot where I was standing. I froze, expecting the hold full of high-octane fuel to explode into flames and send us all to eternity. Miraculously nothing happened so, pulling myself together, I rushed to the other wing of the bridge yelling 'torpedo,torpedo' .
I reached there just in time to see a line of bubbles moving away from the the port quarter. The torpedo must have passed right under the hull, possibly due to a faulty mechanism which, thank God, saved us from a fiery end.
After describing what I had seen to the Captain I rushed back to my station while our ship began circling the area dropping depth charges, hoping to damage the sub which had shut down its engines and was lurking somewhere beneath us. However no more torpedoes were detected, hopefully the enemy had fired his last one?
Suddenly the sub surfaced on our starboard quarter and several figures emerged from the conning tower to man a gun which was mounted on the foredeck. They began to fire a few rounds at us which fell short of the target but our gunners soon swung into action with the 4-inch gun and the two 12-pounders. Our shells straddled the Jap who, realising that he was out-gunned, quickly cleared the deck and crash-dived. After circling the area again and dropping a few more depth charges we had no more sight or sound of the sub so proceeded on our way.
Next day, however, our radio officer picked up an S.O.S. from an Indian coaster which was near the position where we had been in action. It reported that a submarine had surfaced close by and was firing at them from a deck gun. Then came an ominous silence which indicated that the ship had been hit and maybe sunk. For the sub to attack the coaster with its gun rather than torpedoes bore out our theory that the torpedo fired at our ship must have been his last one.
Our good fortune turned out to be bad luck for the coaster as our radio operator heard later that an unarmed ship had been sunk by gunfire from a Japanese submarine in the area where we'd had our encounter.
Such are the fortunes of war!!
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