- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Leonard Charles Eades
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 27 October 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Michael Maw of the ‘Action Desk — Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Mrs Sheila Russell and has been added to the site with the authors permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I arrived just as the ship shook under the discharge of the 12-6-in., and I watched the R/DF pricker creeping along the range plot. 13,000 - 12,000 - 10,000. "Open Fire." They began a confused medley of sound through my phones. The crack crack of the 4-in., the whoosh and shake of the 6 in., the roar of diving bomber engines, the pom-pom and chatter of close range weapons, the whistle of falling bombs, the tilt of the deck as the helm went over followed by the concussion as the bombs exploded near and a clang-clang as pieces hit the ship's side. Often the ship seemed to leap and then drop back again. Above all this I could hear the 4-in., control officer commenting, "That was close, I'm drenched to the skin." "I believe they've got the Gloucester; no, she's coming out of the spray; yes we are all here still." Occasionally he would say, "That's one so-and-so less," or "Did you see the pieces fall from that one? I don't think he'll get far."
During the first lull I checked the ammunition and was forced to order the director to wait until the target commenced his dive before firing. Then came a blow as the 4-in. control officer said, "God, they've got the Gloucester this time; yes, she's stopped and on fire." Over the broadcast system came, "All available hands stand-by to let go c Carley rafts." We zig-zagged a bit more and then turned towards where the Gloucester was slowly settling in the water and men were already taking to the water. A stick of three bombs had caught her amidships. We could not stop, as once more came the warning, "Aircraft ahead," so as we passed we dropped the Carley rafts which hung from the sides of our hangars and went on to draw the attack away from her. We fired the last of our I-I.E. and I ordered, "Carry on with practice and target smoke-shell." Long before this, the 6-in, had finished their H.E and were firing low angle armour piercing shells. I went on deck to go to the after 4-in. T.S., just as a terrific explosion seemed to lift the ship right out of the water. We heeled right over but came back upright and with a sigh of relief, I saw we were still going at full speed. I went over to the side of the explosion and found the triple torpedo tubes had been lifted bodily inboard. Then I went on the 4-in. gun deck and found the deck under the foremost mounting had been rolled up like a piece of cardboard and the gun thrown over backwards. Looking over the ship's side I saw a sheet of armour about 20 feet long hanging by two bolts and flapping in the rust of the water. I think that near miss must have been a small one, say about 2,000 lbs. But there was not time to think about it, as back they came again; 1-leinkels this time, 9 of them. As I looked up at them I remember thinking, "How beautiful they look, just like a flight of swallows with the sun shining on them." But that idea was soon dispelled when they all released their bombs in a pattern.
How the captain managed to dodge them I can't imagine, but the ship seemed to swerve between them like a rugby forward going for a try. Fountains of water splashed down on us, knocking the breath from our bodies. Then we were up again, and now we only had low angle H.E left. So we started busily unfuzing them and fuzing them for H.A. Only the two after mountings were now in action and the after director had jammed after that big near miss. So for the next hour, we shifted fuzes as if our lives depended on it, as they probably did. Each time the attack came we would drop everything and fire off what we had, in local control. It was Messerschmidts.
Ts coming now, in groups of 3, which seemed to suggest they were running short or else we were wearing them down. At last we had fired our last round and I had collected the crews to join up with the porn pom supply parties. I also assisted to clear away the mountain of links and empties round the porn porn. The sun was well down in the sky and if we could hold them for an hour, we should get away.
Then came a lull and we began to think it was all over. Utterly worn out, I think we all began to relax. Suddenly the captain's voice, "Look out! Hard a starboard!" It was too late. A Messerschrnidt had come in out of the sun and a terrific explosion seemed to lift the ship bodily. She went over to 30 degrees and this time she did not come back. There was a hiss of escaping steam and our speed slackened. A bomb had entered the water to starboard and as it passed to port, it exploded where that sheet of armour was hanging off. We were still doing half speed, but now she would not answer her helm quickly enough. Three more Messerschmidts appeared and behind them, another 3. We survived the first group with only the porn porn firing now, in hand. But all the captain’s skill could not save us from the next group. A near miss; then a hit which stopped us completely, and increased the list. It was plain to all, we were doomed and after the Engineer Commander had reported damage to the Captain, he gave the order, "Abandon ship, over you go everybody." Our boats were smashed by near misses, our rafts had been given to the Gloucester, so we threw over planks and everything movable that would float. Then came "aircraft astern" and slowly majestically a Heinkel came gliding in to make an end of us. Then suddenly came the Porn Porn of the 2 pounder and I looked up to see the Captain of the gun heaving round with all his strength training uphill against the list of the ship, while an ordinary seaman worked the hand firing gear. Puffs of black smoke appeared under the Heinkel and she swerved away. Then as the Heinkel returned to the attack, the ammunition gave out and we threw ourselves flat as 3 bombs left her. They shone red and gold in the last rays of the setting sun, and seemed to float down. I saw the fins sprout on the centre one and shut my eyes. I was asked afterwards by the doctor if I had shut my mouth, but I couldn't remember that. A giant hand seemed to catch me in the small of the back and squash me; something smacked against my tin helmet and whipping it from my head, a deluge of water descended on me and I passed out. The bomb had burst as it entered the deck 12 feet away and it had taken heavy toll of the men in the catapult space below who were waiting their turn to take the water.
At the same time another had dropped amongst those in the water. When I came to, I seemed to be the only one besides the captain still on board and as the ship was now at an angle of about 60 degrees, I caught a rope dangling from the davit and walked down the side into the water. The wooden planks and benches had all drifted astern, so I struck out for one of the destroyers some 200 yards away. Then I saw her get under way and looking up, I saw more enemy aircraft approaching. I grabbed a 6-in. cardboard cartridge case floating by and rested while I watched one of the planes detach itself and circle over us. I wondered if the rnachine-gunning of survivors was about to commence, but no, after a few moments circling, the plane shot off again after the destroyers. It was getting dark then and the sea began to get a bit choppy. I found myself getting low in the water and as my support was getting waterlogged and it hindered my swimming, I let it go. Then feeling my lifebelt, it seemed rather slack so I screwed up a bit tighter on the valve. I dared not try to blow it up harder for fear of losing the air I had in it. Then I realized I must get to a group before it became too dark to see them, so I swam over about 50 yards to where about six others were hanging on to some oars and a lifebuoy. Time passed and my brain swam. Waves were breaking over us and I found difficulty in breathing. I did not know it then, but the blast of that last bomb had injured my lung. It would have been so easy to have given up the struggle and drifted away into the darkness, as two of them did. We dared not go after them because we had not the strength.
Our last meal has been 24 hours before and the only sleep we had, was what could be snatched closed up at action stations the two nights previous. Then someone said, “The destroyers are back, we must make for them." Another group about 50 yards away was flicking a torch and the destroyer came up between us and stopped to pick them up. The others let go and swam towards her, but I felt I could never make it. Yet if I remained, I should drift off into the darkness and be lost, so I HAD to make it. It needed an effort to force my fingers to let go, and then began a swim I shall never forget. It was only 20 yards, but it seemed to take me hours. Could I fight off, long enough, the waves of blackness that clouded my brain? Would the destroyer go on before I reached her? At last she loomed over me; my fingers clutched a trailing rope. I twisted it round my wrist and remembered no more. I came to, to find myself lying on a messdeck table wrapped in a blanket and someone forcing Navy rum through my clenched teeth. I had only been 3 hours in the water, but it seemed like ages. Although I did not hear of it till long after, a little act of heroism had just occurred. A Lieutenant Commander, himself a survivor from the Greyhound earlier in the day, saw the Fijis dropping back exhausted after catching hold of a rope, so he jumped overboard to assist them. He was seen securing ropes to one man, but then was lost to sight. After saving his own life he had given it up trying to save others.
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