- Contributed by
- People in story:
- As written by “Ted”, Lewis Edward Butterfield 14/01/1919 to 10/01/1990
- Location of story:
- At sea off Anzio
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 January 2005
On board H.M.S. PALOMARES at sea off Anzio, Italy. The previous few days had been spent in the “Meddy”, waiting for the greatest “Armada” in history to assemble for the second invasion of Italy, at Anzio Beach-Head. (The first had been at Salerno, further south.)
Eventually all the ships were in place, and the huge convoy steamed for Anzio, led by H.M.S. Palomares, a tripod masted ship especially fitted with all the latest R.D.F. equipment and the most advanced ship of this nature in the world. (R.D.F. standing for Radio Direction Finder, the forerunner of Radar.)
We were off Anzio a little before dawn in a most terrific thunder storm. At dawn the invasion started, and soon all hell was let loose. H.M.S. Palmare’s job was to detect the approach of planes, and pass this information to other ships in the convoy. To do this, the closer we could get to the shore, the better, but the whole of the bay was mined, and eventually we were hemmed in on all sides. To get out of this situation we were exploding the mines by gunshots.
That night, there was hardly a lull in the “Red alert” all hands on deck, action stations. When there was a lull, a mug of “Ki” (naval term for cocoa) was quietly appreciated below decks.
As the night wore on, up and down, up and down, began to take it’s effect, and with hardly time to have a sip of “Ki” in between action stations, some began to feel they wanted to ignore the order. I was one of them.
So far I had faithfully answered the call, others had not, one or two missing out for just once, then back in line. Then came the time, nearly out with exhaustion and a mug of hot “Ki” in my hand, I wanted to ignore the order. Everybody rushed to action stations, except me.
I was a Petty Officer at the time, and therefore in the Chief and Petty Officer’s mess. This was situated below decks in the stern. There was only one entry-exit way, through a water tight door. One could not get out once the water tight door had been closed from outside, and all water tight doors had to be closed on the call to action stations. The Chief Shipwright called, as he prepared to close the water tight door, “You coming Ted?” “No, not this time”, I said, and he closed the door. I sat there, “Ki” in hand, relaxing, then began to think how quiet it was. Suddenly the silence was broken by the heavy metal of the water tight door being opened. “You sure you’re not coming Ted?” I thought for a few seconds, (the exhaustion had slightly gone by now), “Yes, OK, I’m coming,” I said and made for the door.
I stood there waiting for the door to be closed, then we ran up the companionway together. Half-way up, the most horrific explosion rocked the ship, and bits and pieces were flying everywhere.
A mine had hit astern, where our mess had been, where I had been sitting locked in, less than a minute before, the deck rolled up like an opened sardine can.
A marvellous escape, yes, but what, or who, prompted the Chief Petty Officer Shipwright to throw me that lifeline?
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