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HMS Aldenham's Survivors

by clevelandcsv

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Capt. Dixon - Capt. Evo Paradovitch - A/S Jarvis
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Royal Navy
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22 August 2005

Dr. Keith Hodgkin

Keith’s Wartime Diaries

Keith Hodgkin, a surgeon Lieutenant aged 25, joined the Navy in January 1944, but only started keeping a diary after D Day. The following chapters are based on extracts from personal letters and diaries typed up for Keith’s grandchildren to read. The family have been kind enough to give consent for extracts from the material to be reproduced.

Chapter Two

HMS Aldenham’s Survivors

14th. December 1944.

Set off at dawn for the bombardment of Pag town and Carlobag battery on the mainland, which covers the straights. Partisans were to land on Southern end, work up through the island and take Pag at 1600 hours. We were to spend, from 1000 — 1500 hours, bombing Pag and Carlobag batteries. Two F.O.O’S being landed at various points.

Lovely view with the Aldenham in the foreground blazing away. Beyond this the low barren island of Pag with the glorious mountains behind with their top in cloud.

After a few false starts, we found the target with the help of the F.O.O. and were blazing away all day. Amazing the noise. There is an incredibly loud bag and flash and then an piercing high swishing noise of the projectile, gradually diminishing and giving one an amazing sense of speed and power.

After this, there is a series of echoes from the clouds just like the “tambour” noise of a peel of thunder and the last of all comes the echo from the hills and the explosion of the shell, all mixed up, often hidden by the explosion of the next salvo going off.

There is also the noise of the explosions from the Aldenham’s guns and I realise the word “ballistic” is almost perfect onomatopoeia. Lunch during a lull in the firing.

We could see the F.O.O. was having rather a thin time of it for the battery had spotted him O.P and were shelling him. We learned later that he had only just managed to move away a little before a shell landed right on his old position. Later, he only just got away before a German patrol turned up.

The partisans working up the island were supposed to prevent this by taking Pag town, But when they arrived soon after 1400 hours, they fired a few shots, found that the Germans didn’t intend to evacuate without a struggle and that the bombardment hadn’t softened them up completely so they retired all the way back the way they’d come and re-embarked back to their base, making the who operation useless.

All this was from F.O.O. 2, who was with the partisans the whole time. So annoying as both destroyer together fired about 2,000 round all told at a minimum of £50,000, if not twice this.

After this we upped the hook and away. Steaming in line ahead of us at 18 knots about 5 minutes later the Aldenham struck a mine amidships. It appeared as if she suddenly decided to disintegrate. Bows structure parting company on paths at 90 degrees to each other in a blinding flash. 30 minutes later she was on the bottom with only the rudder showing, a pool of oil in which floated debris, rafts and a few survivors.

On seeing this, the Captain’s only comment was, “**** me, Port 30.” Though he said afterwards that his mental reaction was quite different. D5 was in the Aldenham and as a result, throughout the proceedings we’d been under orders from him. As a result, the Captain’s first reaction was to think, “They can’t do that, they’ve not sent me a signal about it.”

We dropped up hurriedly and picked up survivors. Everyone was speaking in whispers and creeping about quietly, for fear of setting another acoustic mine. We all realised the mines had clearly been laid to catch us and expected another one for us at any moment.

I didn’t have much time to think, after a first petrified blink, when I was down in the Ward Room starting the preparations for dealing with the survivors. Looking back on it, these arrangements, both the provised and the improvised went far better than I could possibly have hoped for.

For the next three hours I was busy trying to get some sort o order out of the chaos. Sailors came streaming aboard, up the boarding nets rigged just astern of the break in the fore deck. In all there were 68 survivors out of total compliment of 180. Of these, 5 were officers, including Captain Dixon. The Doc and Captain Evo Paradovitch, who would not have missed the bombardment on any account, were both unheard of.

Hot tea and blankets were ministered. Survivors covered in fuel oil started rolling in. Mostly very shaken and shocked. All the others were stripped outside the wardroom or in the wardroom passage and fuel oil cleaned off with cotton wool waste. Once dried, they were given a blanket or a duffle coast and passed into the wardroom.

All cases in pain or shocked in appearance were sidetracked into the wardroom port side and stretcher cases were kept on the wardroom starboard side, while the rest passed through the wardroom into the For’ard mess deck. Each casualty was given a “Atherstone Special,” consisting of;
A packet of dry Red Cross clothes.
2 packets of cigarettes.
2 Mars bars
2 screw top beer bottles filled with hot sweet tea, which could be drunk or used for warmth.

In this way all survivors received warmth and minimal comforts and about 16 serious cases were separated from the main body, who had been somewhat shaken but did not need further treatment. Morphia was given I.V. into all cases shocked, in pain or anxious

As soon as survivors had ceased to come aboard and these minimal needs had been satisfied, I went rapidly round all the survivors collected in the For’ard Mess, to make sure that no serious injuries had been missed. All the officer, except one who was badly concussed were sent up to the Captain’s cabin. The remaining 16 cases in the wardroom could then be inspected.

At this point one of the stretcher cases died of blast injuries to the lung. He was moved under the wardroom table, until it was noticed that blood from his lungs was covering the rest of the wardroom floor and he was shifted to the officer’s bathroom. (Keith later added, that the steward, who was very Jeeves like — not Jarvis — was shocked, “Not in the officer’s bath surely, Sir?”)

After making a note of names, injuries, pulse and morphia of all cases any further treatment was started. It was now about an hour and three quarters since the survivors started coming aboard. When I reported to the Captain, I discovered we were making for Zara and would probably be able to get more assistance from Columbo, a light A.A. cruiser, in about one and a half hour’s time.

The mainstay of the treatment had been Jarvis and Cromwell (canteen manager) also Ross, (the Cook) highly emotional, but if not given too unpleasant jobs was very useful. Captain Dixon was also very helpful. The SBA were very willing, though incredibly green and didn’t know where anything was. Poor chap, I expected he though it was all in a day’s work. (He had only arrived the day before.)

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