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15 October 2014
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Near miss in the Med

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Alan Bennett Parry
Location of story: 
Mediterranean, East of Malta
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 September 2005

In 1942 I was stationed at the Central Interpretation Unit at Medmenham, when a call came through for volunteers overseas. On Friday 13th February I sailed on a troopship the S.S. Nea Hellas, an ex-Greek meat ship, bound for the Middle East. In June 1942 I embarked with a few other R.A.F. personnel on M.V. City of Pretoria and set sail in a convoy from Haifa, destination Malta, codenamed "Operation Vigorous". At the same time a separate convoy left Gibraltar, also bound for Malta, in order to relieve the beleaguered island.

One convoy had to get through. Our convoy, sailing through 'Bomb Alley' between Crete and the African mainland occupied by Germany, came under intensive bombs, torpedoes and surface attacks. Some of this was concentrated on our vessel, whose position in the convoy was between a WWI warship fitted as a floating gunship, and an oil tanker. Any of our group who had experience with firearms were allocated to the guns, and I was ordered to be in charge of a small fire picket.

As we proceeded West towards Malta our vanguard ran into units of the Italian fleet. In order to lure the enemy away from Malta and give the other convoy a chance, we made several movements, still under concentrated attack. I was on deck and spotted four Stuka dive bombers heading our way. The concentrated fire on the convoys diverted the first Stuka from its attack, whilst the second and third released their bombs which exploded either side of our ship. The bombs of the fourth Stuka I watched heading towards us, and was horrified to see one hit the ship's starboard rail near the bows, sending up an enormous column of water. I was conscious of the engines stopping, and we gradually lost weigh. At that time there was a shout "Fire picket to the engine room," and we made our way down to where the crew was frantically working to restart the engines. I then returned to the deck, thanking God that I was not part of the regular engine crew. When regaining the deck I looked around for the convoy to find, apart from us, there was just one destroyer keeping watch. We were a sitting target, but thankfully we escaped and then followed the rest of the convoy. By then the Gibraltar convoy had arrived in Malta, so we were ordered back to Egypt.

Since that time I have found that one cruiser, three destroyers and two merchant vessels in our own convoy were either set on fire or sunk. I often thank the Lord that the bomb fell seaward instead of inward; otherwise it is doubtful that I would be here to write this account. I did reach Malta a few weeks later and served there until October 1944 when I was posted back to England.

This story was entered on The People's War Website by Stuart Ross on behalf of Alan Bennett Parry. Alan fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Operation Vigorous

Posted on: 21 September 2005 by Robert Nicklin

Operation Vigorous sailed from the port of Alexandria on the 12th June
1942 not April,I was on board the
Destroyer H.M.S.Javelin in this convoy
and we lost three Destroyers and the
cruiser H.M.S.Hermoine and had another
cruiser very badly damaged after being
torpedo'ed with a heavy loss of life,
the merchant ship losses were never
disclosed but I saw quite a few hit by
dive bombers and on fire dropping astern, I kept a diary of day to day
events while on H.M.S.Javelin in the
meditteranian operating out of Alex
and Malta' we also did two more Malta
convoy's after the Vigorous.


Message 2 - Operation Vigorous

Posted on: 01 October 2005 by 653379

To Robert Nicklin ref:the date of the above operation. You are quite right the month was June 1942 - I had not thought that I had been in transit in Egypt for that long between arriving there and my posting to Malta. Time can play funny tricks with the memory.
I was appalled at the spelling of the word enormous and the misinterpretation of the expression 'lost weigh' which has appeared as 'lost weight'I suppose these things happen.
Sorry for the date error and I wish you well
Alan Parry


Message 3 - Operation Vigorous

Posted on: 07 October 2005 by BBC Southern Counties Radio

Dear Mr Parry,

Thank you for your message about the errors in your story. I have corrected the date on your behalf and the spelling errors in your account.

Now that you are a member of the People's War website you can submit additional wartime accounts of your own if you wish.

You can take the Guided Tour that can be found on the green column on the left hand side of this webpage.

Best Wishes
Eleanor Fell
BBC People's War Team

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