- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Ray Lapham
- Location of story:
- Trincomalee, Ceylon
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 November 2003
The dry dock at Trinco.
It was midnight and I was sleeping on the upper deck in my hammock when the Tannoy blared out “Away Sea Boats Crew, Away Cutter, etc. -----Away Captains Boat Crew”. At that point with all the ships’ boats called out, I knew that something was wrong.
I was serving, as an Electrical Artificer, on a Submarine Depot ship moored in Trincomalee Outer Harbour, which is in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Trincomalee was the Base Harbour for the Forward Attack Force of the Pacific Fleet in 1943. Our submarines were operating in the Malacca Straits for a month at a time, and were also dropping off white-faced officers in canoes behind Japanese lines. When they returned from a Patrol they went immediately to the rest camp in Diyatelawa, and after fumigating the “boat “, as the Submarines were called, the spare crew stripped the boat out and brought it into a suitable state for recommissioning.
I realized why the Officers were white faced when I happened to enter an upper cabin in which some Japanese prisoners of war were being held. They cringed into the corner of the room trying to get behind each other as I entered. I beat a hasty retreat with a sick feeling in my stomach. The spare crew was accommodated alongside in a Chinese riverboat called the Wu Chang. This riverboat had escaped from the Japs with refugees from the Japs and had included children.
I had become accustomed to the boats, coming in with the Jolly Roger flying from the conning tower, already updated with the different symbols for the various successful sinkings on that patrol, the deck crew would be lined up in their Submarine sweaters. Then it would come smartly alongside pass the wires across, tie up, and immediately the Captain would appear in full dress uniform including dress sword, and come sharply aboard to make a report to the Flotilla Captain.
It was not always so happy a return, I recall a “Boat” returning without the forward gun turret, where on surfacing to attack a gunboat the gun turret and gun crew were both shot away. Then there was the occasional “Charioteer” seen as a bobbing head above the water. Previously during the preceding months, to our great surprise, a large floating dock had been towed out from UK in three parts, had been connected together, and was now accommodating the HMS Valiant for various servicing tasks. It was this, which had caused the panic, as the dry dock had started sinking, with the Valiant still in it.
I heard later that the Valiant had fortunately kept up a head of steam, and so had managed to escape from the dry dock with only slight damage to its propeller. However, it then had to limp home to UK, was refused passage through the Suez Canal, but eventually made it with a detour around the Cape.
There is a sequel to this story, I returned to work in Ceylon after the war, and was able to dive on the wreck of the Floating Dock. It was like new one of the towers still visible above the surface, as I dived the portable generator was visible still sitting on the upper deck, and the supports and ironwork which held the Valiant were in a tangled mess about 90 ft down at the bottom part of the dock.
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