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Wartime Experiences of John Leslie Carter = from schoolboy to sailor. Part 4

by navalmichael

Contributed by 
People in story: 
John Leslie Carter
Location of story: 
UK and Europe
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
25 October 2005

Training completed, on 26th June I returned south to the headquarters base of Coastal Forces, HMS Hornet at Gosport to await draft to a boat. For ten days whilst waiting I was assigned to guard duty, 48 hours on and 24 off, the 24 was spent catching up on lost sleep. Hornet was full of boats returning from Normandy and life on board seemed far more exciting than guard duty. Fortunately after the ten days I was drafted to HMMTB 511, the first of a new class of boats designed and built by Camper & Nicholson, a well known firm of yacht builders at Gosport, the boat was moored near their yard close to the ferry. Compared to the Fairmile “D” boats, which formed the backbone of the larger MTBs the new type was much more rounded in appearance and achieved greater speed with only three engines instead of four. Our skipper was Lt. Commander A.R.H.(Bobby) Nye DSC was to be senior officer of the flotilla which we were to form. Another member of our crew was Able Seaman Lamont, at 60 the oldest rating in coastal forces. He was a real old sea dog who loved his rum, in addition to his own daily tot he would often be given sippers by other members of the crew as a result he spent most of the afternoon sleeping it off! After commissioning the boat had to be put through extensive tests. The boat was powered by three Packard 1250 HP petrol engines but which kept blowing cylinder head gaskets. Eventually it was decided to replace these with the more powerful 1500 HP, engines after which the trouble did not recur. When this problem was sorted we left for Portland where we aroused a good deal of interest being a completely new design of boat. Tied up nearby were Lt. Commander Bradford’s “shark’s “ teeth flotilla and Peter Scott’s Steam Gunboats, as a newcomer they were very interesting . We were at Portland to test fire torpedoes to ensure our tubes were correctly set. In course of a few days we fired 100 torpedoes , all at the breakwater surrounding Portland Harbour, fortunately the warheads were not armed so no damage was done! Dashing in and out of harbour to keep reloading torpedoes was hard work and at the end of the tests the deck was black with shale oil, the task of cleaning it all off was no mean one. Following completion our next tests were to drop full sized depth charges at all speeds including as slow as six knots, the explosion lifted the boat’s stern clean out of the water and threw all the pots off the galley stove. The boat survived intact which says something for its construction, unfortunately we harvested very few fish.
After these tests we returned to the builder’s yard at Gosport for checks to be carried out. By this time the Germans had begun their V1 campaign, some of them were seen making their way towards Southampton but one night whilst on watch I saw a V1 descend on the centre of Portsmouth, just across the water, causing many casualties.
Next we went to Newhaven to take part in filming us shooting at a towed target, the film was being made for training purposes but we were never shown the finished article. Whilst at Newhaven we again saw V1s flying overhead this time heading for London.
Being a newly commissioned boat we were required to spend time at the coastal force training base at Holyhead, North Wales. En route we put into Milford Haven to refuel, to do this we pulled alongside an old hulk, little did we know at the time that it was in fact HMS Warrior, the first ironclad warship which has now been restored and lies on view in Portsmouth Harbour. Although most of the work at Holyhead was carried out in classrooms we also did a trip out into the Irish Sea where we saw the liner, Queen Elizabeth carrying another 10,000 American troops proceeding at high speed and escorted by a number of destroyers. As part of our training the skipper took the opportunity to carry out a dummy torpedo attack on the liner, presumably having obtained the escort’s permission! During our stay in the area we had to pay a visit to a boatyard in Bangor for some repairs. In coastal forces we were issued with a daily rum ration neat instead of having it watered down. This enabled one to bottle it and drink it
later. A shipmate and I had accumulated about a tumbler full which we consumed before going ashore, with a few pints of beer to follow it was quite an evening! Having completed our training we returned to Hornet making an overnight stop on the way at Appledore, North Devon. Here there is a sandbar at the entrance to the river and we had to spent a couple of hours rolling our guts out whilst we waited for
the tide.
Whilst waiting further instructions at Gosport we took a trip to Le Havre, the port had been very badly damaged and had been largely replaced by floating landing stages similar to the Mulberry Harbours.
We stayed at Hornet until October and then proceeded to HMS Mantis at Lowestoft, most coastal bases were named after insects. En route we stopped at Dover where we spent a very rough night due
to high winds and a tidal change of 20feet. Our stay at Mantis lasted only a month during which we had to spend some time on the slips of a boat builder on the River Waveney. This gave the opportunity for
the first leave for over twelve months , unfortunately it consisted of two 48 hour passes and when you consider the time taken to travel from Lowestoft to Worcester via London and back the time spent actually at home was minimal. It was during one of the return journeys that I had my one and only view
of a V2 rocket exploding as we left Liverpool Street Station.
From Lowestoft we moved a few miles up the coast to HMS Midge at Great Yarmouth, this was one of the major coastal force bases on the East Coast and several flotillas of MTBs were based there. We
were now fully operational after five months of testing and training and began our first patrols in the North Sea. There were one or two alarms about E Boats but they came to nothing. A week or two later in Mid December we left Yarmouth for Ostend in Belgium. The port had been badly damaged by
the retreating Germans but enough facilities remained to establish a major coastal force base as an extension to HMS Midge, this enabled us to patrol off the coast of Holland without a long journey across the North Sea. Weather permitting we were out on patrol two or three nights a week, on leaving
harbour we would proceed towards the Dutch coast and rendez vous with a frigate which would oversee operations. Most patrols were uneventful but on one our radar had picked out an object which we illuminated with a searchlight and which turned out to be a midget submarine, although we let fly with
our guns at short range we were not able to confirm its destruction and, therefore were never credited with its sinking. We also saw many V2 rockets being launched from the Dutch mainland, the fiery trails
were plainly visible. The winter of 1944/45 was exceptionally cold and the North Sea was not exactly an attractive place to be but it could not in any way be compared to arctic convoys. We were issued with what we called zoot suits, the inner garment was a padded insulated one piece suit over which you pulled another one piece oilskin suit, this kept one surprisingly warm even in the coldest weather. At Christmas the ground was completely snow covered but we were not out on patrol that day so our Christmas Dinner was taken in harbour and as is traditional was served by the officers. In harbour was a Canadian flotilla of MTBs whose crews’ idea of celebration was to let off firearms and rockets ! Going ashore in Ostend had few attractions, there were no pubs and very little opportunity to have glass of beer which in any case was in very short supply, most off duty hours were spent playing crib on board. One afternoon I did hitch a lift in a military vehicle to Bruges about twenty miles away but it was only many years later that I realised what a beautiful city it is. All things considered it was a comparatively quiet time until St Valentine’s Day, 14th February 1945. In the afternoon when most men were taking it easy prior to any night patrols a fire started on an MTB , as boats were tied up three or four abreast several trots deep it was impossible to move them away from the quayside quickly. The fire quickly spread, a total of eleven boats, British and Canadian, were lost as were the lives of sixty of their crew, the worst disaster to befall coastal forces in the whole of the war. Fortunately we were tied up a little way away from the seat of the fire and were able to get clear with only minor damage resulting from a collision with another boat. After a patch had been places over the hole in our hull we resumed patrols for a few weeks longer but we were in need of a refit. Before leaving Ostend one fine Saturday morning we received an urgent call from an ML. which had hit some object and was in danger of sinking . We left harbour at speed and soon reached the stricken boat which was well down in the water at the stern. The ML was operating a shuttle service between Ostend and Dover carrying mail and passengers and we took off all the crew. Whilst we returned to harbour attempts were made to tow the boat back to Ostend but unfortunately she sunk. In early March we returned to Great Yarmouth, a force 6 wind was blowing which is rough for an MTB and the RAF personnel we were carrying as passengers did not enjoy the trip and were violently seasick! After a short time at our base HMS Midge we left for Gosport on a beautiful early spring day, the weather was calm and we did the 240 miles in eight hours, the fastest long distance trip we ever made. After a few days at Hornet we went to Camper and Nicholson’s yard and up on the slips for nearly six weeks, most of this time was spent on leave, the longest I enjoyed throughout my service. During this period new more modern radar equipment was fitted and the boat was renumbered twice first to 2004 and then to 2011. By the time we returned to Great Yarmouth towards the end of April the war in Europe was almost over and we never went on patrol again.

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