- Contributed by
- CSV Solent
- People in story:
- Ex. A.B. LOFTY John Mills, Captain Manley Power, Commander Tomkinson, A.B King, Officer (Stopper) Knott, A.B. Eric Gates
- Location of story:
- Burma, Ceylon Sri Lanka, Durban South Africa, Indian Ocean
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 21 September 2005
Our reluctant Japanese prisoners - most of them had been pulled aboard against their will.
The Reluctant Survivors — 25 March 1945
This story has been entered into the People's War website by a volunteer with John Mill's permission. John Mills is in complete agreement and accepts the terms and conditions of the People's War website.
“Stop engines.” The captain, Commander Durlacher of the destroyer HMS Volage, called down the voice pipe to the quartermaster at the wheel. Stand by to pick up survivors. Number One, First Lieutenant walked to the starboard wing of the bridge, called to the chief bo’suns mate to lower scramble net to pick up survivors. “Survivors won’t come aboard Sir”.
A week earlier HMS Volage had been involved with an engagement at the Andaman Isle, Indian Ocean, with a Japanese shore gun battery of three 6” guns at Stewart Sound along with Destroyers HMS Saumarez (Captain D) Captain Manely Power, HMS Rapid to tow Rapid (Commander Tomkinson). Rapid had been hit by shells and was still in the water. Saumarez closed alongside to Rapid to tow Rapid to safety. Volage charged through past the other destroyers to engage gun batteries coming under fire themselves, also laying a smoke screen around Saumarez and Rapid, enabling both to escape to sea.
Volage being hit, steering out of control, heading for enemy shore, secondary steering engaged, Volage entered own smoke screen, escaped to sea.
HMS Rapid had seventeen killed, twenty wounded, HMS Volage three killed, five wounded. The three destroyers with air escort next morning retreated to Akyab (Burma).
Five days past, Rapid having sailed to Simons town (Cape town) South Africa for repairs. Volage had temporary repairs alongside HMS Cumberland, a cruiser.
Saumarez and Volage were now joined by HMS Vigilant and HMS Vivargo also of the 26th Destroyer Flotilla, at Akyab. So once again we were at sea, seeking out Jap convoys bring supplies to their army.
The four destroyers were spread out beam of each other in the Andaman Sea, hoping to pick up a radar contact of the enemy. All ships were at Defence stations, four hours on, four hours off for the ships company, day followed night, a contact was make next morning and sighted. A small Jap convoy having been sighted. Action Station ordered on British ships. Enemy ships consisted of five ships, largest being a roop ship of five thousand tons, a small coaster and three small submarine chasers.
The greater superiority lay with the British ships. Jap sub chasers took off in different direction.
Captain “D” Manley Power ordered his ship Saumarez plus Vigilant and Vivargo to engage other ships. Captain “D”’s orders were to engage at a distance as British ships could out gun with larger calibre 4.7” guns to Jap smaller size guns, to save British casualties.
In the ensuing battle the three sub chasers highly manoeuvrable, took some time to sink, though the three destroyers out gunned them and of greater speed.
Myself on ‘A’ Guns crew on HMS Volage had the order, “load, load, load.” The firing of Volage’s four 4.7” guns was by director control, each salvo, all four guns fired together. We at ‘A’ gun could see our first target had been hit and sinking, gun crew all dead. We had the order to cease fire. As we watch waiting for the ship to sink, out of a deck hatch way, two of the ship’s crew below, came out, ran for the cannon gun who bravely opened fire on us, a greater formidable opponent. A. B. King soon shot them down with his twin Orlickon.
HMS Volage now sped after the trooper, overhauling with a greater speed. With the order for the main armament to open fire on the vessel, but on ‘A’ gun, Captain of the gun, shouted “miss fire, check, check, check, half cock, safety level to safe”. Gun drill that was the procedure for all trained gun crews.
With a miss fire of a gun, the next procedure is sent for the O. A. (Ordinance Artificer) and wait 20 minutes.
Ships other three 4.7” guns were still carrying on engaging enemy trooper. Petty Officer (Stopper) Knott stated he would go and get the O.A. As the troopers’ smaller guns were still replying to the Voyage’s gun fire, A.B. Eric Gates, our gun layer, considered being fired at, not being able to reply, not to his liking, said to me if he opened the breach of the gun, would I catch the brass cartridge. Cartridge and shell being separate on our type of gun.
With that we could be in action again, P.O. Stopper Knott having not returned, taking the initiative, I installed myself as Captain of ‘A’ gun, getting four or five rounds off before our P.O. returned.
We all had trained to take on others duties if required.
HMS Volage fired six torpedoes of our eight (two fours) that she carried, at the Jap ship that was still underway, but the ship lost way because of shell damage and fire aboard, the torpedoes all missed just ahead of trooper.
A loud voice came over our ships loud speaker on the bridge, audible to us on ‘A’ Gun. “Cease fire, I’m coming in “. A terrific noise of aero engines! We looked up to see a liberator four engine RAF. Bomber came over our ships from port side streaking towards Jap Trooper. We watched as the plane, even lower, approached the enemy ship, the pilot dropping his bombs, bit the ships mast and blew himself and the ship up. All over, the last of the Jap convoy sunk immediately.
STOP ENGINES, lower scramble net to pick up survivors. “Survivors won’t come aboard sir”. “Send two seamen down the nets to pull some aboard.” First Lieutenant ordered.
Us on the upper deck could see sixty to eighty Japanese soldiers and seamen floating or treading water, some with life jackets on close to our ship. All reluctant to be saved, something we as sailors could not understand, battle over, our human instincts to try and save all we could.
A young officer close to the ship was pulled aboard by one seaman with help from other seamen on the upper deck, followed by eleven soldiers and sailors.
Just then a Japanese swam to the stern of our ship with what appeared to be a small cannon shell in his hand, proceeded to strike it on the side of our ship, our engineer officer shot at the culprit with a pistol, but missed. Our Captain ordered three or four turns on the starboard propeller, which sucked the culprit under the stern not to be seen again.
Myself, with others watching the proceedings, became worried that others in the water might retaliate in some way and felt exposed lining the ships side. Also our ship, to us, had by then been still in the water too long for fear that an enemy submarine could be near by. We like to be under way at speed for safety. Captain ordered our ship to be underway, to our satisfaction, with the twelve prisoners aboard, leaving all those men to their fate.
We learned later, our other ships had the same experience, picking up few prisoners, plus one airman from the RAF plane. A midshipman off the HMS Saumarez, upon seeing a woman in the water, dived in to save her, we understand she tried to drown him, he knocked her out and was taken aboard.
The midshipman, we heard, was put on charge for leaving the ship without permission.
Our prisoners who were assembled together on the upper deck by the after torpedoes tubes, were given blankets, cigarettes and sandwiches. One had a small wound which was dressed by our doctor.
All four ships now proceeded back to our base, Trincomalee Ceylon (Sri Lanka), at twenty knots. Two seamen guarding our prisoners with a rifle a piece. Halfway through the afternoon suddenly a prisoner went to the guard rail and jumped overboard, we didn’t stop the ship at all. Later a Petty Officer reported one of their W.C.’s had been locked for sometime. An officer ordered a door to be forced. Inside a prisoner was found to have hung himself, the wounded one had taken his head bandaged off, placed it over a vent shaft, jumped off the toilet seat.
As we closed to Trincomaleee for entering harbour, HMS Saumarez leading other ships line astern. Procedure as always for entering harbour that ship company line the side, standing to attention, captain saluting if possible, to ship whose Captain is senior to us.
To our surprise as we passed down the line of Battleships, Aircraft Carriers, Cruisers etc., all the ships companies lined the ships sides cheering us in turns, having such a reception we could not believe. Without permission we cheered back.
Our reception, new to us younger ones, seemed unbelievable. Told by old hands, a procedure to welcome R.N. ships who have achieved a victory, an old naval tradition.
Proceeding to our buoy, with ship duties resumed when secured. Our prisoners taken ashore by boat, other boats came and went bringing oil, ammunition stores. Then a launch appeared with a pretty Wren Officer in charge brining us our mail. Ships company still feeling the euphoria of the day greeted the Wren Officer with cheers and cat calls.
A few days passed, orders came for us to go to sea again. Destination Durban, South Africa for needed repairs. Cheered us up no end.
Us shipmates at the time, 1945, knew of the fanatical fighters the Japanese could be, but we were astounded at the number of solders and seamen remained in the water who refused to come aboard our ship to be rescued which to us seamen, wish to do.
Battle over the Royal Navy have always tried to rescue those who we were fighting only a short time before, if circumstances prevailed.
Years on, we have seen many times in history before and since those days. Nations of political and religious dictatorships can, with state doctrine and idealogy, repeated loud enough and long enough, is believed.
Today. I often wonder if our Ten “RELUNCTANT SURVIVORS” with hindsight were pleased with the passing of time, that they let themselves be rescued.
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