- Contributed by
- People in story:
- John Jackson
- Location of story:
- British and Norwegian sea areas
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 26 January 2006
At the commencement of 1945 there was little to do in the way of minesweeping so convoy escort duties across the Channel continued for several weeks. The scent of victory was in the air and group numbers for demobilisation were announced. This really did seem that the end of the war was in sight.
However, before finally leaving our Portsmouth base, there was the frustrating sight of flying bombs (V-1’s) passing over at regular intervals. It was virtually impossible to shoot them down as they were so fast. This was bombardment that even the Navy could do little to counteract.
In the early months of 1945 the Tenby left Portsmouth, making her way up the north sea and stopping at Hull for a short while; then, proceeding to Granton, the Flotilla ‘rested’ for a few weeks while regular shore leave was enjoyed in Edinburgh and the surrounding districts.
Just prior to VE Day in 1945 the 9th Flotilla, now under Rosyth Command, set sail from Granton and headed out for mine clearance sweeps across the North Sea towards Norway. This was to open up the sea-lanes and enable the King of Norway to return to his homeland. The operation was called ‘Conan’, (Norwegians to Norway) and was carried out to enable the liberation forces to take over from the German occupation forces.
On VE Day, 8th May, a signal was received that hostilities in Europe had ceased, also to ‘splice the main-brace’. But it was a curtailed celebration as we still had plenty of dangerous work ahead.
Sweeping took some weeks and at the end of each day the Flotilla hove to for the night. The motorboat was lowered so that sealed orders from the Flotilla Leader (at that time the Tenby) could be collected or delivered. On one such occasion disaster struck. As the boat was being hoisted, the after-falls parted, leaving the boat hanging by the bow. L/Seaman Blackman, the cox’n, was thrown into the sea, but the bowman, A/B Macallam, was able to grab a lifeline and swing himself inboard over the ship’s rail. The whaler was lowered and for half the night the Flotilla carried out a search using the signal projectors, but unfortunately there was no sign of L/Sea Blackman.
Sweeping continued right up to the Norwegian coast. At one stage we had three German destroyer close to us with signal lamps flashing, wanting to surrender. They were told to keep out of the way as we were engaged in minesweeping.
On another occasion there was the sound of a ship’s klaxon going full blast calling the crew to action stations; not the Tenby though. A destroyer passed us at speed, guns training around; that destroyer meant business, the object of her attention being a German warship which was closing in on the minesweeping Flotilla but had failed to give a recognition signal. Fortunately, this was soon corrected.
Eventually the sweep was completed and the sweep gear hoisted inboard. At the entrance to the Fjord leading to Bergen a German pilot was taken onboard to guide us through the very heavily mined channel.
When we entered the Fjord the water looked like glass, the sun was shining and the scenery breathtaking. As we approached Bergen the Norwegian people came out to greet us in anything that floated. The welcome was overwhelming. As we tied up alongside and shut down main engines a great cheer broke out on the quayside. No sooner had the gangway been laid from ship to ship than the Norwegians just dashed aboard to greet us. From the other side of the ship others shinned up ropes from various craft and clambered over the ship’s railings. It was not until when we assembled in the mess for the daily ration that we realised to what extent the ship had been taken over, for there in the mess were scores of children, all bright-eyed and smiling broadly. Then we heard the pipe. ‘The canteen will be open for chocolate’, and we became very popular indeed. The ships working day came to an abrupt standstill!! Eventually the ship had to be cleared of visitors, but before going the children sang to us, a charming ‘thank you’ gesture.
On the first day at Bergen leave was granted and it was disconcerting to see Germans with guns strapped to their belts still directing traffic. Some of the crew settled themselves into a café-cum pub and set about drinking a dark brew called beer, but a couple of hours later it was evident that the beer was ‘non alcoholic’. The Germans had destroyed all the breweries. At another venue in Kristiansund, acorn coffee was the main fare.
After a couple of weeks or so in Bergen, we sailed south to Stravanger. Here the German Navy was in greater evidence and was employed to clear the Fjords of mines which were chained down so that explosive cutters were needed to free them. The people of Stravanger were just as welcoming and tried to be hospitable, but, as their shops were practically empty, especially the food shops, this was no easy task.
A tea party was arranged in a local hall and the ships company attended but were hesitant to satisfy their appetites too freely in view of the terrible food shortage which prevailed throughout the country.
However, this was not just a visitation or a mere liberation exercise. We had a job to do and that was to clear the minefields off the Norwegian coast. There are two efforts worth noting, the first was the clearing of a minefield off Bergen, which was laid by the Germans in 1944 in anticipation of an Allied assault on the area. Very precise details of this field was given to us by a German Naval Officer who spoke very good English. That sweep took ten days to complete and 90 mines a day were swept. The weather was very kind; in fact it was a glorious summer.
On completion of each days sweep, rifles were issued and great sport was had by sinking mines. On the first day of issue it was reminiscent of a Wild West show, the way the rifles were handled. We must have used thousands of rounds all told. The Captain claimed that sweeping 900m mines in ten days was a record and sent as signal to Captain MS in Rosyth with this information. The second round was reported in a newspaper dated 9th July 1945.
‘Minesweeping Epic. 79 Hours non stop in Midnight Sun’
A minesweeping marathon was recently completed by 9th Minesweeping Flotilla under the command of Commander RW Wainwright RN off the West coast of Norway. By taking advantage of the long hours of daylight in those latitudes the six ships HM Sidmouth, Tenby, Blackpoll, Bangor, Romney and Rye, swept non-stop for 78 hours and 52 minutes covering 607 miles at a speed of 7.5 knots.
‘In his report Commander Wainwright admitted that no difficulty was experienced in station keeping during the long nights; nevertheless we are thankful that the midnight sun does shine over the British Isles’
‘Just as the signal to ‘get-in sweeps’ was about to be made in the water for three days and nights, Tenby and Bangor found themselves in the middle of an unknown minefield. By executing a sharp turn eastwards the flotilla emerged safely, cutting four mines in the process, and returned to Stravanger from whence they had started. That sweep was the more remarkable in that navigation was frequently difficult in the occasional poor visibility of an unfamiliar coast’.
As a respite from minesweeping, we visited the delightfully beautiful Flekefjord where it was possible to swim and walk along the Fjord.
The final visit was made to Kristianland, where we sampled a much wider range of activities such as fun fairs. Whilst there we enjoyed a heat wave as well as news of VJ Day; all hostilities were now at an end.
However, for the minesweepers it was not the end. Our own waters had to be cleared now and for that purpose we returned to Newcastle in August. But first came a spot of welcome leave in which we found the country embroiled in election fever.
Although the war was finally over, minesweeping was to play the major role in Tenby’s life for the next 12 months. After leaving Newcastle in the early autumn of 1945 we returned to Granton and completed one operational sweep as leader of the 9th Flotilla. Then it was up river to allow for a boiler clean.
At the end of October, Tenby joined the 16th Flotilla and was now under Plymouth Command. The ship was provisioned and fuelled at Rosyth and then proceeded to sea, sailing down the east coast. My memory recalls a short spell at Sheerness before proceeding along the Channel and being based at Portland for a few weeks whilst carrying out sweeping operations in the proximity of the Channel Islands.
On one occasion the weather was so bad that we had to seek refuge in Cherbourg harbour. Leave was granted from 16.00 — 22.00, and about 20 ratings went ashore, each with 100 francs (10s) borrowed from the ship’s ‘treasury’. But this didn’t last long however with coffee coating 40f and glass of wine 25f, so some of the more enterprising of us started to sell off soap, chocolate, cigarettes, toothbrushes etc. Quite a crowd collected and soon we had acquired several hundred francs, but all of this had to be spent ashore and so 9 of us descended on a swanky café. Dinner was ordered, (a terrible meal of bread and earthy) and 5 bottles of champagne which tasted like vinegar. On the way back we brought another couple of bottles of champagne and gave them to the motor boat’s crew.
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