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AXIS PUSH FROM OCCUPIED GREECE AND THE NORTHERN AEGEAN

by csvdevon

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
csvdevon
People in story: 
CYRIL JACK PERKS
Location of story: 
DODECANESE ISLANDS, LEROS, KALIMNOS AND RHODES - OCTOBER 1943
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A8761232
Contributed on: 
23 January 2006

Mr Perks is willing to have his story entered on to the People's War website and has agreed to abide by the House Rules.

This is an eye-witness personal account.

The background is the Axis push from occupied Greece and the northern Aegean through the Dodecanese Islands aiming at Leros, Kalimnos and Rhodes where pockets of Allied resistance still resisted. Diversions and supplying beleaguered troops was the object.

HMS Hurworth (Commander R. H. Wright RN) and HHMS Adrias (Captain J Toumbas Royal Hellenic Navy, Greek manned with myself and six other British under Lt. H Walkinshaw RNVR, for liaison and communication duties) were ordered for this diversion and supply and were suitably loaded with gear and petrol and were steaming along the Turkish coast between Kastellorizo and Rhodes.... the date 21st October 1943 (Trafalgar Day). Not long before dusk 'Jervis' and 'Pathfinder' who had been part of the Force, detached and we proceeded independently but were spotted by the enemy and bombs were dropped, so we laid up under the coastal cliffs all during 22nd October. After dark we resumed cautiously, a pitch black night, then a sudden eruption of light and noise, a rain of lethal objects around me on the bridge. 'Hurworth' ahead of us came to our assistance and was preparing to come alongside when look-outs reported a dark object on our starboard bow, the 'Hurworth' by then on our port quarter. She circled to engage what was then thought to be an 'E' boat and we had been torpedoed but it was then seen as our air-locked bows. Commander Wright hove to but was immediately enveloped in a more violent explosion than ours as he was carrying fuel cans on deck and had also hit a mine. 'Hurworth' was a total loss and sank within 10 minutes, leaving us to fend for ourselves. The Greeks are a sea faring nation and know their islands. Captain Toumbas, slightly wounded by the explosion, and his nvigator, Lt. Mourikis, plus the surviving crew, got on with 'damage control', pumps, timber and moving gear astern, using the aft steering position, found they were able to manoeuvre but had no charts or reliable compass. Moving at about 4 to 5 knots the ship was navigated about 8 miles and by dawn on 23rd October was beached in Turkish neutrality of Gumersluk Bay.

By the light of day we saw the bridge was a shambles and there were five shells, presumably unprimed, strewn around the debris and the barrels of the forward gun pointed over the parapet facing astern, but no serious casualties on the bridge.

A platoon of Turkish military under an English speaking officer had arrived and we were now 'captured'. Repairs were started immediately and using an 'agent' in Bodrum we communicated our wants to C. in C. Alexandria and meantime buried dead and nurtured our wounded. Friendly caiques had been busy rounding up 'Hurworth's' survivors and among them Commander Wright on his way to hospital, visited us. The Axis planes were aware of where we lay and reconnoitred the area frequently but left us alone to stealthily repair us for sea again.

After five weeks, at dusk on the 1st December we were joined by three MGBs and at 6.15 pm in heavy darkness we disengaged ourselves from the shore without opposition from our 'captors' and slowly eased our way out of Gumersluk Bay, guided by a faint blue shaded stern light on one of the MGBs while the other two took up screening thick cloud, keeping close inshore and following the Turkish coast, we passed by Kos and Symi islands. The 'Gods' were with us. The searchlight on Kos and the RDF on Rhodes had a night off but as we crept along under the cliffs of southern Turkey we were subjected to sporadic small arms fire. We tied up as dawn broke and lay up all day using camourflage netting and just after dark on December 2nd, slipped away with our escorts. Still very close inshore we ploughed through heavier seas and at first light on the 3rd December off Kastellorizo picked up a small red light winking from HMS 'Jervis' with 'Penn' in company. Under their protection we reached Cyprus and refuelled and headed for Alexandria escorted by HMS 'Aldenham' and HMS 'Exmoor', arriving at Alex, harbour 2 pm December 6th. We entered harbour flying the biggest Greek Ensign we could find, at 8 knots, under our own steam and all the warships present cleared lower decks and cheered us as we tied up at our birth.

I later learned that 21 Greek shipmates were killed and 28 wounded.

Captain Toumbas was awarded the Greek equivalent of the British Victoria Cross and the British Distinguished Order. He later became superintendant of the Royal Hellenic Dockyard in Salonica and inspired the erection of a memorial as tribute to the 134 men of HMS 'Hurworth' who died when they tried to come to the aid of HHMS 'Adrias'.

The inscription reads:

"Remember that on October 22nd 1943, 134 British Officers and men of HMS 'Hurworth' commanded by Commander R Wright DSO RN nobly risked and lost their ship and lives to save the company of HHMS 'Adrias' which was in peril.

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