- Contributed by
- People in story:
- frank clarke
- Location of story:
- middle east
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 17 June 2005
ACCOUNT OF AN INCIDENT IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC EXPERIENCED BY L.A.C. CLARKE, SERVICE NO. 901301 RAF, TRAVELLING ON THE TROOPSHIP H.M.S. EMPIRE TROOPER FROM THE U.K. TO THE MIDDLE EAST ON DECEMBE
The R.A.F. contingent of about 300 men were quartered on the forward starboardside of the ship.
We were having breakfast when we heard and felt a loud explosion. There were fourteen men
sitting at my table, and we were all hurled violently from our seats into the middle of the ship.
Most of us grabbed our lifejackets and dashed out onto the deck. The sea was very rough and
the light poor. I saw several flashes of light on the starboard bow. A naval officer appeared
and ordered us back to our quarters, where we learned we had been hit by a shell on the water
line on the starboard side.
We tried to block the ^hole with our kit-bags and planks of wood, but every time the ship
dipped its bow the kit-bags and wood got washed away, some overboard and some back into
When we ran out of wood, we smashed up the ship's brig, which was fortunate for the
After spending some time in trying to block the hole, the water level in the hold reached such a
high level that we abandoned the task. Shortly afterwards we were told to man the lifeboat
'®.-'.-®'.'fDuring the early part of the voyage I had been so seasick that I did not know where my lifeboat station was, so I retreated to the forward well of the ship, where I found a sailor who did not know his lifeboat station either.
We both decided to make use of the 'Carley raft1 which was fixed to the rigging, but we could not decide whether to release it, or to wait for the ship to sink and allow the buoyancy of the raft to set it free.
Fortunately for us, the instruction came over the tannoy to return to our stations. All the bulkhead doors of the forward part of the ship had been closed to prevent the ingress of water spreading to other parts of the ship. The effect of this was to cause the ship to list to the starboard and the propeller to come out of the water.
Most of the troops spent the rest of the day either on the portside or at the rear trying to get the ship back on an even keel, and the propeller back into the water. I ate one boiled potato for my Christmas dinner. We spent a couple of days in the officer's Lounge, making for San Miguei in the Azores. We were escorted by a Royal Navy sloop. We spent 72 hours repairing the hole in the side of the ship.
On the way to Gibraltar, the engine stopped. It turned out that the Empire Trooper was a captured German ship. Prior to capture, the Germans had placed valve grinding paste on all the bearings.
There we were alone, a sitting duck. It seemed to take ages to repair the ship, but eventually we got under way and reached Gibraltar.
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