- Contributed by
- Paul Bevand
- People in story:
- Jack Taylor, Andy Mulholland, Lieutenant Churchill, Lieutenant Roberts, Captain Lambe, Admiral Nimitz,
- Location of story:
- Pacific, Sydney, Philippines, Leyte, Okinawa
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 January 2006
With many of my old shipmates from "Electra" I attended the HMS Hood Association 10th Reunion Dinner, held in the Victory Club, HMS Nelson, Saturday, 24th May, 1986. Back row L to R: Jack Taylor, Bill Brealey, Tom Shiersmith, Bob Tilburn (Hood survivor), Eddie Skerrit, Cyril Madell, Phil Perkins. Front row L to R: Charlie Mantle, Bert Allen, Jim Preet, Ted Briggs (Hood survivor)."
This article is a transcription of a book written by Jack Taylor who served in the Royal Navy throughout World War 2. Jack saw service in a wide range of ships and in many theatres of the war. Another article, written by Jack, about the loss of H.M.S. Hood can be found on the H.M.S. Hood web site www.hmshood.com
A Destroyer and Aircraft Carrier at War
Chapter 9, In the Pacific with Nimitz
We had orders to refuel, store ship and take on ammo. Also to replace lost aircraft from the small escort carriers as well as spare parts and aviation spirit. All vessels were made ready for sea and we knew something was up and a flap was on. Proceeding to sea the Fleet made a frightening show of power. Two days out from Leyte we ran into bad weather. The wind and rain and very high seas made it impossible to make headway so we hove to, head to wind and waited for the storm to blow itself out. A week went by and gradually the storm abated. The Fleet had scattered a little and we reformed. After the storm the weather was ideal — a normal sea and sunshine. It gave one a sense of tranquillity but that was soon shattered by the blaze of the Action Klaxon. Men grabbed helmets, anti-flash gear, gun ports dropped open, the crash of loading trays as they were slammed into position. My director was closed up and turning to starboard. I was training my rangefinder searching the horizon when I heard over my shoulder, “Aircraft bearing Green 3 OH, all guns follow the pointers!” Training on the bearing I then saw them 20 plus planes coming in low over the sea. Torpedo attack range! 10,000 closing! All guns shoot! An almighty racket started. We put up such a barrage, it’s a wonder anything could live through it but on they came. I saw two planes go down. A third just incinerated in the air. I saw two other planes drop their torpedoes. Everything seemed to be attacking us in the “Illustrious,” The first ship in the line, the “Victorious” had got fighters up and also the “Indomitable” so we had to really check our target before shooting. The reason in the Navy why the order given is “Shoot!” instead of “Fire!” is that “Fire!” has a completely different meaning at sea.
Fortunately no torpedoes hit their targets. When the Jap planes had made their attack and made for home our fighters had a field day, many of the enemy were shot down.
We had a short lull. Time for a you know what! And a cuppa.
“Action Stations!” Fly off aircraft. This time the bombers were back with fighter escort. The whole fleet opened up with every anti aircraft weapon they had. The sky was black with shell bursts and tracer bullets cut a path into the sky. A cruiser away on our port bow was hit aft on X turret. A great pall of smoke billowed into the air. Her remaining guns were still firing and she was still on station. All day they came at us with many near misses. A two man airplane we called an Aunt Sally came very low about 100 feet above the sea, flew down our ship side and opened up with a machine gun raking the ship’s side. I could hear bullets rattling on the director and the director trainers yelled, “Christ! I’ve been hit — me and Andy Mulholland.” Both men had been hit in the hand. One the left and the other the right hand. This meant that our director was out of action. Having got the two men out of the director, we called the stretcher party and both men were taken down below to casualty. Whilst out of the director I noticed a bomb had not gone off and was lying on the flight deck. I called to another A.B. who was on damage control to give me a hand and together we got it to the ship’s side and pushed it over.
It was now getting dusk and the attack fizzled out. Darkness gave us a respite action. A warm meal, a bath and a few hours sleep. 0300 hours next morning we were back at action stations waiting for the dawn and this is a most vulnerable time for a surprise attack. Our own fighter bomber aircraft were made ready and were warming up on the flight deck. They were to attack the Sakashima airbase and radar installation. I watched one of our ace pilots sitting in the cockpit of his plane and it had a blond girl painted on the cowling with the name “Veronica” on it. The pilot’s name was Lieutenant Churchill — a coincidence only and no relation to the great Winston. Behind him his wing man was waiting to take off, Lieutenant Roberts.
The great ship turned into the wind and all was ready. With a deafening roar one by one they took off. With a silent “Good luck and safe return” we did not envy them in their job.
Dawn had broken and the sun was coming up on the horizon. Daylight came very fast. “Starboard watch to breakfast! Port watch stand fast!” 30 minutes later “Starboard watch close up! Port watch to breakfast!” By 0700 hours we were all back at Action Stations. From the three carriers there were some 80 aircraft in the attack on Sakashima for this was where the Japs had come from when they attacked us. 1000 hours “Alert! Alert stand by to take on aircraft.” Our lads were returning. We had mustered 25 aircraft and now the count started. Some were trailing smoke, some blowing oil and others with pieces shot out and full of holes. In came Lieutenant Churchill with a great deck landing and oil blowing back over “Veronica.” The handlers quickly pushed the plane into the cleared area to allow others to land on. Churchill was yelling, “Change that oil line and armour up! Refuel!” He was in one big hurry to get back again.
Unfortunately Roberts did not come back. All tolled we lost 5 planes. Three of the pilots managed to radio that they were ditching and gave us a position. A destroyer was sent to pick them up out of the sea. Suddenly the order, “Stand to! Aircraft bearing Red 20°. 20 plus coming in high” On the outside of the fleet they had already started shooting. Great balls of black smoke hung in the air and tracer shells were making vivid patterns through the air. The noise was terrific. Our ship shuddered as she was hit on the starboard side above the water line. There was chaos down below. Several men had been killed and many wounded but the Japs pressed home their attack. This was the first time we had seen Kamikazi suicide planes, although none got through and most had been hit and exploded in the air. Those that did try missed their targets. After the action it was realized that we had been hit by 5.25” from the cruiser “Euryalus” when she was firing at a low flying aircraft. A lot of signals passed between the ships and we were ordered back to Australia for repairs. On the way back we buried our dead shipmates at sea.
We had a fair run back to Aussie Land and went into the new dry dock at Woolamaloo, Sydney. Always the heros are dead and the lucky ones well. We were getting ready for a run ashore and the first boozer we could find! We had been three months at sea and we had our pay and we were going to howl! Sydney was just like London. There was Hyde Park, St James, Kings Cross. The pub only opened for two hours every evening from 1630 to 1830 hours after which the only drink you could get was what we called plonk. It was a cheap Australian red wine — Arggh! For the next four weeks we forgot about the war and concentrated on wine, women and song. We had taken on several new crew members to replace those who had been killed and wounded.
The day came when we had to leave Sydney and get back into the war. When we made ready to leave harbour the quayside was crowded with people waving and some of the girls were crying. Obviously some of the lads had formed permanent relationships. We left the quayside going astern. When we were about 50 yards off a young sailor, I don’t know who he was, came running up and yelling, “Wait for me! Wait for me!” and with that he dived off the edge of the quay and started swimming towards us. A boat was put out and the man was picked up. He was late getting back which would have meant fourteen days’ No. 11 (extra work). If he had missed the ship and we had gone into action he could have been court martialled. Captain Lambe was amazed at his effort to get back and accepted his excuse and he got away with a caution.
Away from the quay we turned out into Botany Bay past the Sydney Harbour bridge and to the open sea, our destroyer escort taking up position. We headed back into the Pacific like a mother duck and her brood.
Once again we were back to sea routine which was two watch cruising, four hours on and four hours off. The weather was very good and the first few days back at sea were like a pleasure cruise sunning ourselves on deck in off duty hours but at the same time not forgetting that at any moment we could be under attack.
We headed out round New Guinea and on towards the Philippines. Then out into the Pacific to join up with the American Task Force under Admiral Nimitz. It was quite a sight the two fleets converging and sailing on together. Ships of all sizes: aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, transports, oilers and supply ships. It was not long before we found out where we were heading.
The Tonnoy system sounded and then, “Do you hear there. This is the Captain speaking. As you have already observed we have joined up with the American Task Force, our objective is the Island of Okinawa. We are going to help and give cover while the American troops make landings. Keep a sharp look out and good luck!”
That night the weather turned bad. The wind howled and the sea started to show its fury. The waves came at us thirty to forty foot high. The old girl was rolling a bit and what with the flare of the flight deck forwards where the wind caught us she started to pitch and yaw. At least with weather like this we had no fear of a submarine attack. All that night we wallowed about the ocean. When dawn broke we could see just how rough it was. The little destroyers were really getting it, practically standing on end, pitching, rolling and shipping tons of water over the top.
For nine days it just blew and blew and everybody was getting fed up and on each other’s nerves. Finally the storm blew itself out and, looking round, the British Fleet were all on station and keeping formation. Not quite as close as when the storm started but all there just the same.
The Americans were scattered about and most of the day was spent getting shipshape again and getting ready for all comers. On checking, the Americans had lot two destroyers somewhere in the storm. I never did know what happened but we never saw them again. The American Admiral Nimitz, who was in command of the Task Force, congratulated us and said he was glad to have us with him.
We were now within striking range of South Japan and the Island of Okinawa. With American planes and planes from “Illustrious” we attacked the island which was mostly volcanic rock. Our pilots said there was very heavy flak and that the islands were well fortified. We were continually closed up at Action Stations beating off attacks of Japanese Kamakazi suicide planes. Our Bofors and pom pom gunswere having a field day. Jap planes got very close but our gunners were well on target. I was at my action station on the rangefinder in the director control tower and could see them coming at us like flies homing in on a jam pot.
Our sister ships “Victorious” and “Indomitable” were also under heavy attack. When “Indomitable” was hit the armour plated flight deck served its purpose. There was some structural damage and a few casualties but otherwise she was still operational. The air attacks seemed to slow down. I suppose they had lost many aircraft and could not afford to lose many more. The transport that we were covering came to the fore and loaded with American Marines to make the landing on Okinawa. The landing craft were milling around loaded with troops. The Battleships and cruisers put in a very heavy gun barrage on the landing area for many hours, then in went the troops. The rest is history…
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