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Perlethorpe to Portsmouth part 2

by DebbieRBrown

Contributed by 
DebbieRBrown
People in story: 
Roland Clarke
Location of story: 
England, France etc
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A2945621
Contributed on: 
25 August 2004

Another phase was now starting, shipping was gathering in the "Solent", our Base inevitably changed again, Vernon Creek - Portsmouth. The big day everyone was waiting for was not far distant. On June 3rd, all normal night leave for boat crews was suspended, all our kit on board had to be taken into the gymnasium where we were to sleep, on call, also films were shown for entertainment until the early hours. No boats were sent to sea and the following day everything was to be on top line as if for Admirals inspection.[n]
Sunday evening we were put to sea - three boats - were to make for Cherbourg again, to shadow two destroyers with routine much as before. There was a force five wind and freshening, our object was to stay within sight of harbour entrance at all costs. As we lay drifting with engines ticking over, flashes from shore were seen and seconds later the fall of shot forty yards ahead, engines were put astern and then another stop, waiting for the next salvos. This was kept up throughout the night, but no one ventured from the harbour. At daybreak we made for Portsmouth.[n]
The following evening, 17.30 hours, we were distributed with pamphlets signed by Winston Churchill and Eisenhower. We put to sea at 20.30 hours - all boats - we knew what this was all about - and were ready. We were probably the first surface craft to sail on this mission, making for an area to the west of the proposed landings. By the time we were to return in the morning, the invasion of Normandy would be on.[n]
We were part of the van of the assault on the beaches, marking the route for the great mass of shipping to follow. Some to the east of Le Havre, others towards Dieppe, to kick up a noise and form a decoy.[n]
Our duty was to stop any enemy shipping coming from the west into the landing area. As night came, towards midnight, paratroopers could be seen descending, going for the Orne bridges no doubt and the gliders being towed in. At first light, the deafening salvos from the capital ships, Warspite-Belfast-Rodney-Nelson and Frobisher, pounding away at enemy positions ashore. Destroyers came nearer in their swarms, while above aircraft released their deadly loads. The weather had really deteriorated by now. The whole thing was a tremendous softening up process for when the troops landed. The huge rocket barges discharging their weapons broadside on, making a great ear splitting noise. Finally, with the barrage over, the troops went in. Later, that morning we were to lay off Omaha beach to assist the Americans who were having trouble getting away.[n]
At night we worked in conjunction with the Frigate, H.M.S. Stayner, who could detect a prey with her radar long before us and would vector us to a course to enemy craft.[n]
It was D-Day plus 5 before we met anything to speak of, that night Rodney Sykes was Senior Officer in 448.[n]
In all there were fourteen separate actions as wave after wave of E Boats came to our patrol area, some were turned back, some never got back. We were only two boats, in the distance bow waves were visible approaching line ahead, we turned to intercept keeping them on our starboard bows, to run down their line, giving them all we had, four or five six pounder shells stopped the first and the second stopped and on fire. The five more astern turned back and we gave chase, one of these broke away and returned to one of the two that was on fire.[n]
The others had been chased far enough, so we returned for the other three. One crew had been taken off from the boat on fire, the other had got under way. This boat was re-engaged and shot out of the water and picked up survivors as prisoners. Meanwhile, the remaining five had regrouped and were coming in again, abreast. It was decided to attack with depth charges and go in either side of their centre boat. 453 managed to get through their formation with a little damage, all that remained of 448 was the crew standing on the part submerged upper deck, they had no time to set the demolition charges, we took them on board and I was detailed to sink 448 with six pounder shells. The enemy lost two more boats and the rest fled to the west. On returning to Portsmouth in the morning, we docked at Hornet, with five prisoners of war, a war reporter and spare officer dead, survivors - entire crew of 448 and our own crew with slight wounds.[n]
Although the "None" Operational Memorandum 113 purposely leaves a wide discretion to the officer on the spot which may justifiably be accepted, Lt. Rodney Sykes received a very serious reprimand, for the form of attack executed on a body of ships in line abreast is necessarily a risky one. He lost his own command and also risked someone else.[n]
On many occasions I would find myself in the embarrassing and unenviable position with my back to the action, not being able to train my turret without injuring someones arm or leg, the only way to extricate myself without involving other persons, from such a situation, was to compromise. On the 14th July I was granted a draft, but not without suspicion.[n]
I was across to "Hornet" on the ferry that day and off to "Instow", North Devon, the next, to commission the Harbour Defence Motor Launch 1456, built at P.K. Harris Docks in Appledore across the River Torridge. She was a fine looking boat, 72 foot - 54 tons, with twin 150 Horse Power Diesel Engines and could attain 11 1/2 knots.[n]
I was to be the gun layer on the hand operated Mk.11* Pom-Pom forward, there was a single 20mm Oerlikon aft and a pair of twin Vickers gas operated .303's.[n]
We had done some engine trials in Barnstaple Bay and when completed moved our moorings nearer to Bideford and whilst there the Skipper had a signal from C.O. of 453 - The first time of picking up prisoners from the water, some were hanging on to a buoy off the Belgium coast, one in fact tried to thrust a flare into one of our exhausts, from these we had chance of uniform decorations, i.e. - a laurel leafed surround, topped with the eagle and swastika and coming through the bows of an E Boat, this embellished by being secured to a small plaque. The signal was asking for my kit to be searched as I was under suspicion. I was called into the Skippers quarters for discussion on the matter. I told him he could do a search there and then but he declined and he said he knew he could put me in a position of trust. I was able to show him the article I possessed, it was almost identical except there was no E Boat, a splash of water as from an under water explosion. He thought the accusation was in bad taste.[n]
We left Appledore for Bursledon off the Southampton Water, where having done gun trials from there, back along the coast to Brixham and of course on the way testing the Asdic equipment, we were to be used against midget and one man submarines, that were now being used among the shipping off the invasion coast line. We would be issued with numerous small depth charges for that use.[n]
However, as we entered Brixham, the inevitable happened, the Asdic dome had not been retracted, with the consequent damage and repair to take up more valuable time. Repairs completed, we had need to call in at Weymouth on our way back to Portsmouth. It was Sunday and H.M.S. Warspite was about to weigh anchor, of course we were just preparing lunch as usual and had to do a patrol immediately, owing to suspected midget submarine activity. We did several sweeps but found nothing, we used one or two small charges, and caught, or rather they gave themselves up - fish ! We lost the lunch but caught some breakfast.[n]
Arriving at Portsmouth we were given a small convoy to escort to the Mulberry Harbour, being used by the invasion for supplies. A number of these trips were done. On one in particular, with our eleven knots and in the dark, no way could we keep up. Eventually we came across H.M.S. Rodney, the Skipper hailed to ask if they could see it. All this came to an abrupt end, the boat was being despatched to Hong Kong, half the crew were sent on embarkation leave, while four of us were to take 1456 along the west coast to Wallasey Dock at New Brighton to be loaded as deck cargo on a large merchant ship. It turned out to be another rough trip, we spent four days tied to a buoy in the Harbour of Fishguard Bay, there was no hope of shore leave, as Goodwick and Fishguard were full of Americans. Fortunately, six American L.S.T's had just anchored in the bay and our forthright C.O. lost no time inviting their C.O's on board for drinks. Some accepted, and because they didn't feel well with the motion of our little boat, enquired when we were last ashore. We soon had a Liberty Boat alongside. Eventually 1456 was hoisted out of the water on to this great ship, it looked like a ship's lifeboat, looking from the dockside. It was 13th October.[n]
Our arrival at Coastal Forces Base at Gosport was with very mixed feelings, my correspondence by the fact we had been moving from one place to another, had at last caught up with me, just had time to scan through it knowing I was being piped at the draft office. There were a couple of letters from Barbara and one from my old headmaster - Mr. Harris at National School - congratulating me on something which as yet I had known nothing about - "Mention in Despatches". I quickly read and placed them in my small attaché case, then off to the draft office, there was a Petty Officer Cox'n, a Stoker and myself AA Gunner, we were to be replacement crew on a Fairmile "D" Class Motor Torpedo Boat 738, said to be at Dover.[n]
On going back to mess after draft routine, medical and so forth, someone had stolen my small case and greatcoat, this after having my Oilskin Coat stolen previously, but to have that letter taken was most disappointing and irreplaceable.[n]
We caught the train and pleased to be out of the place, arriving at Dover to be told 738 had gone across to Ostend and told our next journey must be to Tilbury by train and pick up a L.S.T. bound for Ostend, which was taking over a R.A.F. Recovery Unit as cargo, although the three of us were victualled with the crew. The passage took 48 hours and in daylight, arriving and having to wait for the tide to enter. Before this happened M.T.B. 738 had come alongside to claim us, she was about to go out on an operation to the north. 738 was the S.O's of Sixty Fourth Flotilla, Lt, Cdr. David Wilkie, and Lt. Peter Smith was the 1st Lieutenant, my position on board was to be the Six Pounder Gun Aft. Tony Watkins, whom I have lost sight of over the past years, was the forward Six Pounder Gunner and George Alan was on the twin Oerlikon. We did numerous trips until December, mixed up with the Walcheron landings, the odd times going in a southerly direction and being popped at from Dunkirk where there was still a small pocket of German troops, sometimes a quick dash in the day on errands to Great Yarmouth. For a time when Walcheron was flooded out we had a brief stay at Flushing. We did get ashore and had a pleasant walk along the banks of the Shelt up to the village of "Middleburg", along there we could see some of the armaments left behind in the quick evacuation of the German troops, most of the houses were waterlogged halfway up their gables. We had been taking some particularly bad weather and the time had come to pay another visit to Brightlingsea, the boat had got into a really bad shape, it was the 15th December, and it was decided that she was almost beyond repair. We were given indefinite leave, after two weeks recalled and to make our way back to H.M.S. Beehive - Felixstowe, to work ship in the base awaiting a new commission. [n]
In the crew their had been two "Nobbies" and at "Beehive" we both were detailed as "cell sentries" who are generally termed as "Watch Keepers" and under those terms you could normally be ashore when off duty. But this was to turn out not particularly true, due to the part de-commissioning of 1456 when part of her crew were sent on leave, it was unlikely we would receive our daily "tot" whilst the rest of us were on passage to Wallasey Dock. We opted to discontinue grog and I was still at that present state.[n]
It so happened I had the weekend, Saturday 20th. until Monday 22nd of January free from duty and had intentions of taking advantage of it. Nobby said he would "look out" for me just in case anything cropped up. Already I had two requests, one to continue grog on Monday 22nd and the other to see the Commanding Officer with a view to being granted my three year "Good Conduct Badge" which became due on December 30th.[n]
Owing to Nobby's generosity it was agreed he could have my tot for a week starting January 22nd.[n]
I travelled home on Saturday lunch time and arrived back at Felixstowe midnight on Monday. Nobby was waiting for me at the Station, to greet me with the bad news.[n]
He had drunk a tot in the mess on Sunday and as rum in the Navy is treated as Gold served to the strict measure it was evident someone was short of a tot. The next thing that happens is to have a mess muster. Of course, Able Seaman Clarke is adrift and is reported to the appropriate party.[n]
On entering the base I reported myself to the Regulating Petty Officer, it was still P.O. Brewer, he had a laugh at my expense and was pleased to tell me I would have need to see the "Old Man" ( C.O. ) at 09.00 hours the next day, for being thirty seven and a half hours adrift without leave and seeing I was supposed to be a cell sentry I stood a good chance of being the other side of the bars, picking hemp.[n]
I saw the Old Man as dictated. Thankfully, my records had gone adrift and could not be found, meaning my conduct badge was held over. I would have earned myself 7 days cells for breaking ship but for the fact it couldn't be decided on warranty of G.C. badge. If I was entitled it could have been taken away in lieu of cells.[n]
However, I finished up with fourteen days No.11's punishment, pay and leave stopped. Luckily by this time there was about six inches of snow, I helped in the Galley early morning as a penance and an early breakfast with another one later on. I missed the pay, but still have the scars by going through the wires ashore.[n]
I was able to keep my "Good Conduct" badge, also the V.G's in an unbroken line in the Character column of my Certificate of Service.[n]
We were to be in the Base until the middle of February and continued duty, delivering coke to different areas internal and ashore at Officers and Wrens quarters, until such time I had an argument with the backboard of the lorry, which put me excused duties for two weeks with back trouble. Recovering, almost, for the 17th February to travel up to "Kingsley's" country again - Bideford, North Devon. A brand new Fairmile D.Class M.T.B. waiting for us, 788, still to be the Senior Officers Boat, Lieutenant Commander D.Wilkies, doing our own trials, wasting no time before going round to our flotilla base at Yarmouth for stores and then to Ostend. To learn that while we had been away, on 14th February, twelve boats, including four D. boats, had blown up and were destroyed by fire, with sixty eight lives lost. The D's belonged to the Canadian Flotilla, leaving the base sadly depleted, the reason for getting back there as soon as possible. With the movement of boats in the harbour, bodies would surface out of the mud in the bottom, it would then be a case of lowering the dinghy into the water and recovering the body in a cage and eventually, burial in Ostend cemetery.[n]
All the crew had the same stations on board as previous - I still had the after Six Pounder Gun.[n]
Able Seaman Omerod was certainly a case - he would always go ashore by himself. He had found this billet where he could always acquire sufficient cognac to get him stupid. The sick bay knew where to find him and would stretcher him back on board. On one occasion he picked up a box tricycle and he had loaded it with radios from different cafes and rode the lot off the jetty. He once attended a concert being given by Henry Hall in the town and came back with his trilby. Once while at Flushing, two of them arranged by themselves to sell the dinghy to a Dutchman, when it became dark they managed a lift ashore and fetched the thing back.[n]
We did have quite a bit of other activity towards the war effort of course, although things got few and far between. On May 8th we were told the war was over in Europe. David Wilkie explained the situation and immediately after without any notice - "Lets Go Forward" - "Lets Go Aft" - we are bound for the U.K. and Yarmouth, we paid off in the afternoon, all guns and ammunition, that night I was back in St. Mary's Gunnery School, Chatham. As far as I was concerned the cessation of activity in Europe was the end of an era, after years of innumerable night patrols, staring out into the darkness, mirage after mirage - flat calm - boredom - seas washing over - from the North Sea - English Channel - Dutch - Belgium - French Coastal Waters - The Channel Isles, but the twenty three separate actions did get the adrenaline running. All this forgotten at a stroke, no celebrations, the crew split up. Thankfully, Tony Watkins, George Alan and myself were immediately sent off to H.M.S. Queen Charlotte, Ainsdale, near Southport, for a refresher gunnery course. The following Sunday we were involved in a Victory Parade, down "Lord Street" in Southport. It all seemed too much of an anticlimax, other boat crews were allowed to take the credit due after the unconditional surrender, German S Boats were escorted into Felixstowe and some to "Hornet".[n]
I managed to get digs with the Hesketh family in Ainsdale, for Barbara and twenty one month old Pauline, for a weeks holiday. The gunnery school was adjoining the beach and during the day I would often see Pauline running along the front of the enclosure, to see her daddy.[n]
During some of the firing at aircraft targets, we would receive cheeky remarks from the pilots that they were pulling the target drogue, not pushing it, as they thought the fall of shot was getting too close. In fact, one plane watched the shot too much instead of paying attention to his flight path, he clipped the top of the mast and finished up in the sea.[n]
The only thing we saw that was new to us was the gyro - sight on the gun arrangement, we had been used to the open three hundred knot sight. All this was very well, but we had been used to having a surface moving target to fire at for the past three and a half years. Tony Watkins met his future wife, Dorothy whilst at Southport, quite a few of the young lads found young ladies, the war in Europe being over and it being seaside, people were getting a little more adventurous, from inland, Dorothy was from Rochdale. I did a few duties, Passive Defence wise, such as Stirrup Pump fire fighting for the lads to allow them to get ashore. Owing to the gunnery instruction and using live, our tots were served at teatime, so I would be sinking theirs in lieu of duty.[n]
Once when doing fire stations a stroppy young Sub Lieutenant argued, the stalk on my oak leaf was looking the wrong way, he was so insistent and he was shouting for water. I happened to have the small hose, he got his water in no uncertain manner.[n]
By the end of July we were back in St. Mary's Gunnery School, just in time, coincidentally, for the Admirals Garden Party in Rainham.[n]
The idea was to get rigged up with white gaiters - belt - Le Enfield rifle and bayonet and transported to aforesaid village. We were not only to be "Guard of Honour" for the Admiral, hence our early arrival, but to stow away our gear, erect the stalls and give help in general and before the arrival of Sir to get rigged up once more and get fell in for inspection. Before being required again to dismantle stalls, etc., we are supposed to get lost and be unseen.[n]
This was almost the same routine on a Saturday for the Captains Rounds. Clean Ship - polish everything that didn't move then get out of sight, usually marched in to Gillingham until it was all over.[n]
It was thought a little more training wouldn't do us any harm, get your bag and hammocks packed and join the ferry for journey, along the "Medway" to Sheerness. A Commando Course was on the cards (August 14th - the unconditional surrender of Japan). For eight weeks we were in the charge of a six foot three Commando Petty Officer with the first thing facing us very daunting - hand to hand bayonet fighting, we had day after day of this and how to use the knife.[n]
How to climb a ships side using grappling hook on the end of a knotted rope. That's easy - try it from a punt in the canal - as one or two of the lads found out, the ships side was thirty foot high, losing grip near the top and falling back into the canal - so called, two feet of water under which, four feet of sludge.[n]
With a full pack and rifle, climb on to a twenty feet high structure, a taut wire tightrope sort of thing, forty feet long, lie face down, with one foot hooked over the rope behind you, the other leg hanging straight down as a keel, serving the same purpose as a boat - stopping you from capsizing and pull yourself along that forty foot of wire ! ![n]
Imagine doing a "Tarzan", swinging on a rope hanging over the ten foot wide canal, same water, same sludge, with a full pack and rifle.[n]
An obstacle course was negotiated daily, walls, dykes, pipe tunnels, scrambling nets. The "Gladiators" isn't something new. I must mention, one night it poured with rain, the sheep I omitted before took shelter in the pipe tunnels, leaving enough deposit to make thing difficult the next morning. I ought to have said at the beginning, we are not wearing uniforms but boiler suits. The three pence per day would not cover replacements.[n]
Being a gymnast of long standing before the war and now being just twenty five, this game did not dent my ego.[n]
Rifle Range, Hand Grenade, aim and delivery were all taken care of. On the very last day of the course, live ammunition and fire crackers were used, consequently the whole moor was set on fire, it being left to us and the local brigade to get it under control.[n]
Back on the ferry to Gillingham and St. Mary's Gunnery School and given ten days leave, with my left eyebrow in stitches owing to the only thing derogatory at Sheerness, some clot had slipped and dropped the heel of his boot into my eye. I was home for Paulines second birthday.[n]
So the war being over and back off leave, St. Mary's scratching their heads where to put us. The Draft Board went up - R.N.A.S Sparrowhawk - what's that ? - the Americans had vacated a flying field in Suffolk and the Royal Navy had taken it over. Rail tickets, singles to Halesworth, a sleepy little Suffolk village. Royal Navy Air Station, H.M.S. Sparrowhawk, had been making use of Royal Marines doing air field perimeter guard and we were to be their relief.[n]
However, on arrival, the question was asked if any of us was conversant with the building trade. With the Navy taking over from the Americans there was no chance at the time being of obtaining a rum issue. All the buildings had been Nissan Huts and it was required to have a more substantial building, preferably in brickwork, for the rum store, with a palisade. I didn't need to be told what to do - and I was accepted. Numerous jobs cropped up on the list from the word go, but everyone appreciated the Rum Store should take priority.[n]
By the time I was halfway through the next priority, the rum was being served. The Captain Of "Sparrowhawk" and his family had taken over a series of large Nissan Huts which were connected to make up living quarters and were a bit spartan with stoves. It was a nice little number inside, away from the cold, briquette fireplaces, something a little interesting. I could turn - to about 09.00 hours after a late breakfast, finish at 15.00 hours, with a tot in between.[n]
I had the misfortune to be called in one night for "Shore Patrol", one Petty Officer and four ratings, white belt and gaiters as normal. It was only a village but the Railway Station was quite handy. The drill was to leave our accoutrements, with permission, at the station, then drop in to the most convenient pub. This being the only duty I ever had to do whilst there. We had to excuse ourselves for being particularly late back from our patrol to the Regulating Petty Officer. Our transport unfortunately had broken down and failing to be able to make repair, we were marched back to Sparrowhawk.[n]
Number three job on the list did not go down so well with the people concerned. One of the large Nissan Huts, used as a dining mess, shared between the Wr'ns and Petty Officers, was to have a nine foot high wall, to separate the sexes. I had lots of barracking executing that job and not only from the men.[n]
The Administration block offices was next on the list and was looking very much like the last, as the demob routines had started to operate. The Block is exactly what it was, built as a large air raid shelter. The walls were eighteen inches thick supporting a twelve inch thick concrete top. (we have not as yet gone metric) ![n]
However, windows were required in all the individual offices, quite an amount of hand thrashing with lump hammer and cold chisel. So much so in one instance, the Wrn Officer asked the inevitable question, did I ever and what would I do if ever ! She was too late and could not leave the room quick enough, the language and the air was blue. I did manage to let a fair amount of light in the place before Lt. Bentham requested my presentation for the medical at Southwold and start my demob routine. I had already been paid my Seventy Pounds Gratuity, the fifth of March was the day, a single ticket to Nottingham from Halesworth, a return from Nottingham to Northampton. I was to be home for a week and then present myself there to collect my box of demob clothing. On the day Bruce Woodcock was to fight Baxi...[n][n][n][n]
Technical Information
M.G.B 67 70' x 20' x 4' 6"
British Power Boat - Scott Pain Design
Hard Chine Hull - Double Skinned Mahogany
Displacement 32 Tons
3 - 1100 H.P. Rolls Merlin Engines
Speed 45 Knots
2 Officers 11 Ratings
1 - 20 mm Oerlikon Aft - 450 rpm
Twin Vickers Machine Guns in Revolving Turrets either side of the Bridge - 700 rpm
Tommy Guns - Stripped Lewis
Two Depth Charges
M.T.B. 453
71' 6" Mk V1 British Power Boat
20' 7" Beam 6' 9" Draught
Hard Chine Hull - Double Skinned Mahogany
Triple Skinned Bottom
Displacement 48 Tons
3 - 1250 H.P. Packard Engines
40 Knots Max 35 Knots Continuous
2750 Gals - 100 Octane
475 Nautical Miles at 35 Knots / 550 at 20 Knots
2 Officers 12 Ratings
6 PDR MK 11 A Gun on Mk V11 Mounting Auto Loader
Twin Oerlikon 20 mm on Mk 1x Mounting
2 Twin Vickers Gas Operated Guns Mk 1
2 Mk V11 Depth Charges
2 - 18" Torpedo Tubes

H.D.M.L. 1456
Roundbilge Admiralty Design - 72'
54 Tons
Twin 150H.P. Diesel Engines - 11 1/2 Knots
Mk 11* Pom-Pom Forward Hand Operated
1 - 20 mm Oerlikon Aft
2 - Twin .303s

M.T.B. 738 Beazley Ltd, Southampton.
M.T.B. 788 Harris & Sons Ltd., Appledore
Admiralty Design constructed at 30 different yards
Prefabricated, Hard Chine, Double Diagonal Mahogany
115' x 21' 3" 5' Draft 29 Knots
4 - Packard 1250 H.P. Supercharged Engines
2 - 6 PDR Mk V11 Guns
4 - 0.5 Vickers in 2 Power Operated Turrets
Twin 20 mm Oerlikons in Power Operated Mounting
4 - .303 Vickers on Bridge Wings
4 - 18" Torpedo Tubes
30 Officers 27 Ratings

Torpedo Boote
Kondor 924 Tons 278' x 27 1/2' x 9' Draft
32 Knots 6 Torpedoes
3 - 105 mm Guns 4 - 20 mm Guns

Motor Torpedo Boat ( Schnellboote ) E
82 Tons 108' x 16' 6' Draft
36 Knots 2 - 21" Torpedoes
2 - 20 mm Guns

Motor Launch ( R'a'umboote ) R
125 Tons 124' x 19' x 4 3/4' Draft
20 knots 1 - 37 mm Gun
3 - 20 mm Guns

An apology for the manner of my introduction to Motor Gun Boat 67, but that is how it was given to me.[n]
According to Lt. Henry Franklin (Deceased) who was at one time a midshipman on M.G.B. 67 told me several years ago.
The Rating I relieved was given time in civilian gaol for abuse to an L.D.V. who was working in the base.
The information of the serious reprimand received after losing his boat, to Lt. Rodney Sykes on the eleventh of June, 1944 was also from Henry Franklin.`

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