- Contributed by
- Peter Walker
- People in story:
- Peter Walker
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 28 February 2004
HMS 'Bellona' at sea, during World War Two
Bellona was a modified Dido class cruiser named after a Goddess of War. Her motto was 'Battle is our Business'. Her main armament was 5.25 guns in twin turrets. She was commisioned around September 1943, having been built at the Fairfield ship-building and engineering company's shipyard at Govan on the Clyde. At the same time, a battleship, an aircraft carrier and several destroyers were being built at Fairfields. Over 50 warships were built on the Clyde. As a Petty Officer Higher Submarine Detector I stood by the ship while she was being fitted out, and stayed with her until the end of war in Europe.
Bellona participated in several Russian Convoys, both before and after D-Day. Prior to D-day, she took over Channel patrol in place of HMS Charybidus, which had been sunk off the Channel Isles by a radio-controlled bomb. On arrival at Plymouth, Bellona was fitted with equipment for jamming the radio signals that controlled the bombs. Bellona and seven destroyers were involved - Tartar, a RN tribal class, lead six Canadian tribals named after indian tribes. The codename for the Channel patrol force was 'Snow White and the seven dwarfs'.
During the day, the force anchored in Plymouth Sound, as air defence of Plymouth. At dusk, under cover of darkness and maintaining radio and rador silence, the force would proceed at full speed to the French coast to keep the German Narvik class destroyers bottled up in Brest. The force would return to Plymouth by daylight. By day, the RAF would patrol the Channel and, by night, Plymouth.
Leave before D-Day
To our suprise we were suddenly ordered to proceed to Bangor, Northern Ireland, where we were given 36 hours' leave following each watch. I and some of my messmates went ashore, booked B&Bs, drank draught porter in the local pubs, then went to the Lido to swim and sunbathe. In the evening we went to a club to dance. This was our only real run ashore since commissioning. We watched as other warships also assembled at the anchorage.
A view of the beaches
Eventually we were briefed about D-Day and the ships proceeded to Normandy. As soon as we cleared harbour, paravanes (mine-counter-measures devices) were streamed, then as we got into to the Channel we went to action stations. I was the Action 1st Operator on the Asdic (sonar) and as far as I can remember operated in the mine-detecting mode as we approached the beaches. Bellona's duty was to help to support OMAHA beach, the American sector. The American battleships Texas and Arkansas were also there.
Serenaded by Frank Sinatra
After the initial bombardment we were allowed to go to breakfast in relays. On my way to the mess I heard the SRE (sound reproduction) speakers come on - it was Frank Sinatra singing 'I Didn't Sleep a Wink Last Night'. I don't know if it was a BBC broadcast or a record.
As the landing ships were further off shore, we saw the landing craft from the ships pass by on their way to the beachead. One stopped because there was a rope round the screws. In the distance we could see a Mullberry Harbour. Seeing the rocket ships close inshore firing salvo after salvo of rockets in quick sucession was an awesome sight.
Bellona's continuing contribution
As the army advanced, Bellona fired her guns well inshore at targets spotted by aircraft and forward observation officers off shore. There was a Fleet Air Arm Officer and an Artilliary Officer in the operations room who communicated with them. The stench of burnt cordite permeated the whole ship. On several occasions Bellona returned to Plymouth to get more ammunition and change the gun barrels because of wear.
At night Bellona went close inshore and did the night firings. The Gunners' Mate said that the ammuniton was of recent design and was flashless. Gunflashes from the older ships would have given their position away.
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