- 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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