LIFE VEST FROM JAPANESE ‘HELL SHIP’

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The Nitimei Maru, a Japanese troop ship with around 1,000 Dutch prisoners of war and 1562 Japanese soldiers aboard, departed from Singapore on 29 December 1942.

The prisoners of war were being taken to work on the Burma Railway.

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The Nitimei Maru was just one of many ‘hell ships’, given this name because of the deplorable conditions on board and the frequent beatings by the guards. American planes bombed the ship on 15 January 1943.

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Thirty-eight Dutch prisoners of war were killed. This Japanese life vest, a tangible reminder of that disaster, saved the life of a Mr A.B. Kresmer.

Below is the list of the victims.

Last Names First Names Date of Birth Place of Birth Place of Death
van den Berg Wilhelmus 09-12-1914 Utrecht Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Berkeveld Willem 20-03-1919 Djombang Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
van den Biesheuvel Anthony Adrianus 04-05-1914 Rotterdam Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Bouquet Jacob 27-06-1915 Amsterdam Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Bouter Albert 25-05-1911 Den Haag Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Brouwer Eugčne George 26-02-1916 Soerabaja Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Brunet de Rochebrune Alphonse George 29-11-1895 Batavia Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Burg Herman 13-09-1905 Semarang Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Consemulder Adrianus Gerardus 24-09-1912 Amsterdam Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Correlje André 28-03-1918 Rotterdam Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Crugten Henri Hubert André 17-09-1907 Maastricht Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Dumas Rudi 25-03-1920 Batavia Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Evertse Jan Pieter 03-03-1903 Haamstede Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Fleuren Johannes Petrus 06-03-1917 Oeffelt Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
van der Gaag Reijer Wijnandus Willem Theodoor 14-09-1915 Utrecht Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
de Haas Adrianus 22-05-1914 Rotterdam Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
van den Heuvel Johannes 12-10-1913 Edam Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Hoeberechts Louis Joseph Marie 12-08-1902 Maastricht Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
van der Hoeven Johannes Hendrikus 25-01-1914 Rotterdam Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Houthuijzen Evert 08-05-1910 Hilversum Gulf of Martaban o/bb Nitimei Maru
Huismans Marinus 11-04-1907 Oss Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Huizinga Wilhelmus Johannes 01-12-1913 Wildervank Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Jansen Johannes 22-02-1912 Zutphen Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Konings Adriaan 06-03-1905 Alkmaar Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
van Kooij Jan Thijs 22-01-1922 Cheribon, NOI Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
van der Meer Hendrik 24-08-1915 Haulerwijk Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Meijer Jan Frederik 05-02-1907 Utrecht Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Olivier Hendrik 07-05-1915 Deventer Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
van Oorschot Petrus Adrianus Joseph 11-03-1914 Sint-Oedenrode Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Peelen Theodorus Johannes 18-08-1915 Elst Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Snijders Theodorus Marinus 15-05-1909 Haarlem Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Soetens Hendricus 22-04-1919 Vessem Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
von Stockhausen Hans Waldemar Adalbert 11-12-1902 Salatiga Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Tergouw Otto 20-10-1914 Sittard Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Verhoeven Johan Willem 14-09-1912 Paramaribo, Sur. Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Vos Klaas 03-08-1918 Strijen Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Walda Roelof Hendrik 04-05-1922 Bolsward Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru
Zegers Veeckens George Frederik 01-01-1911 Amsterdam Gulf of Martaban o/b Nitimei Maru

 

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The Sinking of the HLNMS Van Nes

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HNLMS Van Nes was a Admiralen-class destroyer of the Royal Netherlands Navy. The Admiralen class were eight destroyers built for the Royal Netherlands Navy between 1926 and 1931. All ships fought in World War II and were scuttled or sunk..

The Van Nes was laid down on 15 August 1928 at the Burgerhout’s Scheepswerf en Machinefabriek in Rotterdam and launched on 20 March 1930. The ship was commissioned on 12 March 1931

Van Nes escorted the submarine K XIII back to Surabaya to be repaired there after the vessel was damaged as a result of a battery explosion in Singapore harbor on 21 December 1941. Three men were killed in the explosion. They arrived at Surabaya on 6 January 1942

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The HLMNS Van Nes was under command of Captain Charles Lagaay.

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17 February 1942 Van Nes was sunk south of Bangka Island while escorting the troop transport ship Sloet van Beele. Both ships were sunk by aircraft from the Japanese aircraft carrier Ryūjō.

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Many survivors were rescued by seaplanes of the Marine Luchtvaartdienst. However, 68 men ,including the Captain, of Van Nes died

 

 

 

Action of 9 February 1945

 

u-864_mapThe Action of 9 February 1945 refers to the sinking of the U-boat U-864 in the North Sea off the Norwegian coast during the Second World War by the Royal Navy submarine HMS Venturer.

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This action is the first and so far only incident of its kind in history where one submarine has intentionally sunk another submarine in combat while both were fully submerged.

U-864 was a Type IX U-boat, designed for ocean-going voyages far from home ports with limited re-supply. She was on a long-range, covert mission codenamed Operation Caesar to deliver highly sensitive technology to Germany’s wartime ally, the Empire of Japan.

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Commanded throughout her entire career by Korvettenkapitän Ralf-Reimar Wolfram,she served with the 4th U-boat Flotilla undergoing crew training from her commissioning until 31 October 1944. She was then reassigned to the 33rd U-boat Flotilla.

U-Boot-Kommandant Ralf-Reimar Wolfram

On 6 February 1945, U-864 passed through the Fedje area without being detected, but on 9 February  the HMS Venturer ,under the command of 25-year-old Jimmy Launders, heard U-864s engine noise. Launders had decided not to use ASDIC since it would betray his position and spotted the U-boat’s periscope as her captain looked for his escort.

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In an unusually long engagement for a submarine, and in a situation for which neither crew had been trained, Launders waited 45 minutes after first contact before going to action stations. Launders was waiting for U-864 to surface and thus present an easier target. Upon realising they were being followed by the British submarine and that their escort had still not arrived, U-864 zig-zagged underwater in attempted evasive manoeuvres, with each submarine occasionally risking raising her periscope.

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Venturer had only eight torpedoes as opposed to the 22 carried by U-864. After three hours Launders decided to make a prediction of U-864s zig-zag, and released a spread of his torpedoes into its predicted course. This manual computation of a firing solution against a three-dimensionally manoeuvring target was the first occasion on which techniques were used and became the basis of modern computer-based torpedo targeting systems. Prior to this attack, no target had been sunk by torpedo where the firing ship had to consider the target’s position in three-dimensional terms, where the depth of the target was variable and not a fixed value. The computation thus differs fundamentally from those performed by analogue torpedo fire-control computers which regarded the target in strictly 2D terms with a constant depth determined by the target’s draught.

The torpedoes were released in 17 second intervals beginning at 12:12, and all taking four minutes to reach their target.(picture below are not the actual torpedoes)

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Launders then dived Venturer suddenly to evade any retaliation. U-864 heard the torpedoes coming, dived deeper, and turned away to avoid them. The first three torpedoes were avoided, but U-864 unknowingly steering into the path of the fourth. Exploding, U-864 split in two, and sank with all hands coming to rest more than 150 metres (490 ft) below the surface. Launders was awarded a bar to his DSO for this action.

During her career she also sank five merchant ships

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The Four Chaplains-Heroic sacrifice

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The Four Chaplains, also sometimes referred to as the “Immortal Chaplains” or the “Dorchester Chaplains”, were four United States Army chaplains who gave their lives to save other civilian and military personnel as the troop ship SS Dorchester sank on February 3, 1943, during World War II. They helped other soldiers board lifeboats and gave up their own life jackets when the supply ran out. The chaplains joined arms, said prayers, and sang hymns as they went down with the ship.

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It was the evening of Feb. 2, 1943, and the U.S.A.T. Dorchester was crowded to capacity, carrying 902 service men, merchant seamen and civilian workers.

Once a luxury coastal liner, the 5,649-ton vessel had been converted into an Army transport ship. The Dorchester, one of three ships in the SG-19 convoy, was moving steadily across the icy waters from Newfoundland toward an American base in Greenland. SG-19 was escorted by Coast Guard Cutters Tampa, Escanaba and Comanche.

Hans J. Danielsen, the ship’s captain, was concerned and cautious. Earlier the Tampa had detected a submarine with its sonar. Danielsen knew he was in dangerous waters even before he got the alarming information. German U-boats were constantly prowling these vital sea lanes, and several ships had already been blasted and sunk.

The Dorchester was now only 150 miles from its destination, but the captain ordered the men to sleep in their clothing and keep life jackets on. Many soldiers sleeping deep in the ship’s hold disregarded the order because of the engine’s heat. Others ignored it because the life jackets were uncomfortable.

On Feb. 3, at 12:55 a.m., a periscope broke the chilly Atlantic waters. Through the cross hairs, an officer aboard the German submarine U-223 spotted the Dorchester.
The U-223 approached the convoy on the surface, and after identifying and targeting the ship, he gave orders to fire the torpedoes, a fan of three were fired. The one that hit was decisive–and deadly–striking the starboard side, amid ship, far below the water line.

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Captain Danielsen, alerted that the Dorchester was taking water rapidly and sinking, gave the order to abandon ship. In less than 20 minutes, the Dorchester would slip beneath the Atlantic’s icy waters.

Tragically, the hit had knocked out power and radio contact with the three escort ships. The CGC Comanche, however, saw the flash of the explosion. It responded and then rescued 97 survivors. The CGC Escanaba circled the Dorchester, rescuing an additional 132 survivors. The third cutter, CGC Tampa, continued on, escorting the remaining two ships.

Aboard the Dorchester, panic and chaos had set in. The blast had killed scores of men, and many more were seriously wounded. Others, stunned by the explosion were groping in the darkness. Those sleeping without clothing rushed topside where they were confronted first by a blast of icy Arctic air and then by the knowledge that death awaited.

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Men jumped from the ship into lifeboats, over-crowding them to the point of capsizing, according to eyewitnesses. Other rafts, tossed into the Atlantic, drifted away before soldiers could get in them.

Through the pandemonium, according to those present, four Army chaplains brought hope in despair and light in darkness. Those chaplains were Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish; Lt. John P. Washington, Roman Catholic; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, Dutch Reformed.

Quickly and quietly, the four chaplains spread out among the soldiers. There they tried to calm the frightened, tend the wounded and guide the disoriented toward safety.

Witnesses of that terrible night remember hearing the four men offer prayers for the dying and encouragement for those who would live,says Wyatt R. Fox, son of Reverend Fox

According to some reports, survivors could hear different languages mixed in the prayers of the chaplains, including Jewish prayers in Hebrew and Catholic prayers in Latin. Only 230 of the 904 men aboard the ship were rescued. Life jackets offered little protection from hypothermia, which killed most men in the water. The water temperature was 34 °F (1 °C) and the air temperature was 36 °F (2 °C). By the time additional rescue ships arrived, hundreds of dead bodies were seen floating on the water, kept up by their life jackets.

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“As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the Four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.”

— Grady Clark, survivor
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The USS Mounthood disaster

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USS Mount Hood (AE-11) was the lead ship of her class of ammunition ships for the United States Navy in World War II. She was the first ship named after Mount Hood, a volcano in the Cascade Range in Oregon.

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On 10 November 1944, shortly after 18 men had departed for shore leave, the rest of the crew were killed when the ship exploded in Seeadler Harbor at Manus Island. The ship was obliterated while also sinking or severely damaging 22 smaller craft nearby.

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At 08:30, 10 November 1944, a party consisting of communications officer, Lt. Lester H. Wallace, and 13 men left the ship and headed for shore. At 08:55, while walking on the beach, they saw a flash from the harbor, followed by two quick explosions. Scrambling into their boat, they headed back to the ship, only to turn around again shortly thereafter as there was nothing but debris all around.

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Mount Hood, anchored in about 35 feet (11 m) of water,had exploded with an estimated 3,800 tons of ordnance material on board. The initial explosion caused flame and smoke to shoot up from amidships to more than masthead height. Within seconds, the bulk of her cargo detonated with a more intense explosion. Mushrooming smoke rose to 7,000 feet (2,100 m), obscuring the ship and the surrounding area for a radius of approximately 500 yards (500 m). Mount Hood’s former position was revealed by a trench in the ocean floor 1,000 feet (300 m) long, 200 feet (60 m) wide, and 30 to 40 feet (9 to 12 m) deep.

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The largest remaining piece of the hull was found in the trench and measured no bigger than 16 by 10 feet (5 by 3 m). No other remains of Mount Hood were found except fragments of metal which had struck other ships in the harbor and a few tattered pages of a signal notebook found floating in the water several hundred yards away. No human remains were recovered of the 350 men aboard Mount Hood or small boats loading alongside at the time of the explosion.The only other survivors from the Mount Hood crew were a junior officer and five enlisted men who had left the ship a short time before the explosion. Two of the crew were being transferred to the base brig for trial by court martial; and the remainder of the party were picking up mail at the base post office. Charges against the prisoners were dropped following the explosion.

The concussion and metal fragments hurled from the ship also caused casualties and damage to ships and small craft within 2,000 yards (1,800 m). The repair ship Mindanao, which was broadside-on to the blast, was the most seriously damaged.

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All personnel topside on Mindanao were killed outright, and dozens of men were killed or wounded below decks as numerous heavy fragments from Mount Hood penetrated the side plating. Eighty-two of Mindanao’s crew died. The damage to other vessels required more than 100,000 man-hours to repair, while 22 small boats and landing craft were sunk, destroyed, or damaged beyond repair; 371 sailors were injured from all ships in the harbor.

A board convened to examine evidence relating to the disaster was unable to ascertain the exact cause. After only a little over four months’ service, Mount Hood was struck from the Naval Register on 11 December 1944.

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Doris Miller-Cook,Soldier and Hero.

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Today marks the Birthday of Doris Miller.

Doris “Dorie” Miller (October 12, 1919 – November 24, 1943) was a Ship’s cook Third Class that the United States Navy noted for his bravery during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He was the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross, the third highest honor awarded by the U.S. Navy at the time, after the Medal of Honor and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal. The Navy Cross now precedes the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.Miller’s acts were heavily publicized in the black press, making him the iconic emblem of the war for blacks and was their “Number One Hero” and so energized black support for the war effort against a colored Japanese enemy.[3]Nearly two years after Pearl Harbor, he was killed in action when USS Liscome Bay was sunk by a Japanese submarine during the Battle of Makin.

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After a boyhood of farming and football in Waco, Texas, Doris “Dorie” Miller enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1939. He was 19 and wanted to see the world and earn some money to send home.

Miller joined the Navy as a mess attendant, third class, but was soon promoted to second class, then first class, and finally to ship’s cook, third class

On December 7, 1941, Miller awoke at 0600. After serving breakfast mess, he was collecting laundry when at 0757 Lieutenant Commander Shigeharu Murata from the Japanese carrier Akagi launched the first of nine torpedoes that would hit the West Virginia.

When the “Battle Stations” alarm went off, Miller headed for his battle station, an anti-aircraft battery magazine amidship, only to discover that a torpedo had destroyed it.

He went then to Times Square, a central spot where the fore to aft and port to starboard passageways crossed, and reported himself available for other duty. Lieutenant Commander Doir C. Johnson, the ship’s communications officer, spotted Miller and saw the potential of his powerful build, and ordered him to accompany him to the bridge to assist with moving the ship’s captain, Mervyn Bennion, who had a gaping wound in his abdomen, where he had apparently been hit by shrapnel. Miller and another sailor lifted the skipper and, unable to remove him from the bridge, carried him from his exposed position on the damaged bridge to a sheltered spot behind the conning tower. The captain refused to leave his post, questioned his officers about the condition of the ship, and gave orders.

Lieutenant Frederic H. White ordered Miller to help him and Ensign Victor Delano load the unmanned #1 and #2 Browning .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns aft of the conning tower. Miller was not familiar with the machine gun, but White and Delano told him what to do. Miller had served both men as a room steward and knew them well. Delano expected Miller to feed ammunition to one gun, but his attention was diverted, and when he looked again, Miller was firing one of the guns. White had loaded ammunition into both guns and assigned Miller the starboard gun.

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Miller fired the gun until he ran out of ammunition, when he was ordered by Lieutenant Claude V. Ricketts, along with Lieutenant White and Chief Signalman A.A. Siewart, to help carry the captain up to the navigation bridge out of the thick oily smoke generated by the many fires on and around the ship.

Bennion was only partially conscious at this point, and died soon afterward. Japanese aircraft eventually dropped two armor-piercing bombs through the deck of the battleship and launched five 18 in (460 mm) aircraft torpedoes into her port side. When the attack finally lessened, Miller helped move injured sailors through oil and water to the quarterdeck, thereby unquestionably saving the lives of a number of people who might otherwise have been lost

The ship was heavily damaged by bombs, torpedoes and resulting explosions and fires, but the crew prevented her from capsizing by counter-flooding a number of compartments. Instead, the West Virginia sank to the harbor bottom as her surviving crew, including Miller, abandoned ship.

“It wasn’t hard,” said Miller shortly after the battle. “I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about 15 minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us.”

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Just days after the attack, Miller was transferred to the U.S.S. Indianapolis, on the 15th of December.

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In May 1942 he became the first African American to receive the Navy Cross, presented for courage under fire.

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Miller continued to serve in the Pacific and was reassigned in 1943 to a new escort carrier, the U.S.S.Liscome Bay. Early on November 24, 1943, off Butaritari island, in the South Pacific, a Japanese submarine’s torpedo ripped into the Liscome. The torpedo detonated a bomb magazine, sinking the ship within minutes and eventually killing 646 of its 918 sailors, including Dorie Miller.

Miller’s sacrifices afforded him a reputation far above his rank. In honor of those sacrifices, the U.S. Navy in 1973 commissioned a new frigate–the U.S.S.Miller.

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Doris Miller was played by Cuba Gooding, Jr., in the 2001 ,Michael Bay movie,Pearl Harbor.

 

 

The sinking of the HMS Curacao

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Today marks the 74th anniversary of the sinking HMS Curacao and it wasn’t sunk by the Germans or Japanese or other Axis powers but by one of the most famous cruise liners HMS Queen Mary.

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On the morning of 2 October 1942, Curacoa rendezvoused north of Ireland with the ocean liner Queen Mary, who was carrying 10,000-odd American troops of the 29th Infantry Division.The liner was steaming an evasive “Zig-Zag Pattern No. 8” course at a speed of 28.5 knots (52.8 km/h; 32.8 mph), an overall rate of advance of 26.5 knots (49.1 km/h; 30.5 mph), to evade submarine attacks. The elderly cruiser remained on a straight course at a top speed of 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph) and would eventually be overtaken by the liner.

Each captain had different interpretations of The Rule of the Road believing their ship had the right of way.Captain John Boutwood of the Curacoa kept to the liner’s mean course to maximize his ability to defend the liner from enemy aircraft, while Captain Charles Illingworth of the Queen Mary continued their zig-zag pattern expecting the escort cruiser to give way.

“We could see our escort zig-zagging in front of us it was common for the ships and cruisers to zig-zag to confuse the U-boats. In this particular case however the escort was very, very close to us.

I said to my mate “You know she’s zig-zigging all over the place in front of us, I’m sure we’re going to hit her.”

And sure enough, the Queen Mary sliced the cruiser in two like a piece of butter, straight through the six-inch armoured plating.

— Alfred Johnson, eye witness, BBC: “HMS Curacao Tragedy
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The RMS Queen Mary was used as a troopship throughout World War II and usually crossed the Atlantic without an escort, relying on her speed to evade the U-Boats. In the WWII conversion, the ship’s hull, superstructure and funnels were painted navy grey. As a result of her new colour, and in combination with her great speed, she became known as the “Grey Ghost.” To protect against magnetic mines, a degaussing coil was fitted around the outside of the hull. Inside, stateroom furniture and decoration were removed and replaced with triple-tiered wooden bunks, which were later replaced by standee bunks.

As she came north of Ireland on the 2nd October 1942 she was joined by HMS Curacoa, providing an anti-aircraft escort for the last leg into Scotland.

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At 13:32, during the zig-zag, it became apparent that Queen Mary would come too close to the cruiser and the liner’s officer of the watch interrupted the turn to avoid Curacoa. Upon hearing this command, Illington told his officer to: “Carry on with the zig-zag. These chaps are used to escorting; they will keep out of your way and won’t interfere with you.”At 14:04, Queen Mary started the starboard turn from a position slightly behind the cruiser and at a distance of two cables (about 200 yards (183 m)). Boutwood perceived the danger, but the distance was too close for either of the hard turns ordered for each ship to make any difference at the speeds that they were travelling. Queen Mary struck Curacoa amidships at full speed, cutting the cruiser in half. The aft end sank almost immediately, but the rest of the ship stayed on the surface a few minutes longer.

Acting under orders not to stop due to the risk of U-boat attacks, Queen Mary steamed onwards with a damaged bow. She radioed the other destroyers of her escort, about 7 nautical miles(13 km; 8.1 mi) away, and reported the collision.Hours later, the convoy’s lead escort, consisting of HMS Bramham and one other ship, returned to rescue approximately 101 survivors.

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Lost with Curacoa were 337 officers and men of her crew, according to the Naval Casualty file released by The National Archives in June 2013.Most of the lost men are commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial and the rest on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. The graves of those who died after rescue, or whose bodies were recovered, were buried in Chatham and in Arisaig Cemetery in Invernesshire.Under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986, Curacoas wrecksite is designated a “protected place”.

Those who witnessed the collision were sworn to secrecy because of national security concerns.The loss was not publicly reported until after the war ended, although the Admiralty filed a writ against the Queen Mary’s owners, Cunard White Star Line, on 22 September 1943 in the Admiralty Court of the High Court of Justice. Little happened until 1945, when the case went to trial in June; it was adjourned to November and then to December 1946. Mr. Justice Pilcher exonerated the Queen Marys crew and her owners from blame on 21 January 1947 and laid all fault on the Curacoas officers. The Admiralty appealed his ruling and the Court of Appeal modified the ruling, assigning two-thirds of the blame to the Admiralty and one third to Cunard White Star. The latter appealed to the House of Lords, but they upheld the decision.

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I am not sure how to qualify this event because it wasn’t even ‘Friendly Fire’ it was purely accidental but a tragedy nonetheless.

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The Sinking of the HMS Courageous

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On September 15 1939, a convoy contact was made due west of the English Channel, in an area the British called the Western Approaches. The sea lanes were abuzz with traffic and some successes against British shipping had occurred in the early days of the war. To provide at least some form of protection for these ships, the Admiralty had deployed the old aircraft carrier HMS Courageous with a destroyer escort screen to conduct anti-submarine patrols.

Launched in February 1916 and commissioned in January 1917, the HMS Courageous was originally laid down as a Battle Cruiser,

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being converted into an aircraft carrier between June 1924 and May 1928. A hangar and flight deck were installed aft of the hull with the original armament of two twin 15-inch guns being removed and replaced with 4.7 inch anti-aircraft guns. The light armament meant that she had to rely on her screening escorts for protection against surface ships.

When Donitz received word of the convoy contact, he ordered all boats in the Western Approaches to converge on the convoy. That included Otto Schuhart in U-29 and Ernst-Gunther Heinicke in U-53.

Searching for the convoy on September 17, Heinicke found and attacked the 5,000 ton British freighter, Kafristan with a combination of gunfire and torpedoes. The ASW fleet of the HMS Courageous was close by. Two of her destroyer escorts (out of four) and Swordfish biplanes from the Courageous were dispatched to the area of the Kafristan sinking to hunt Heinicke.

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Meanwhile to the east, Schuhart in U-29 was still searching for the convoy. While running submerged, he spotted a Swordfish biplane instead.

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A Swordfish 300 miles out in the open sea could only mean one thing – that an aircraft carrier had to be close by. Keeping a sharp watch, at 1800 hours a puff of smoke was spotted on the horizon. It was the carrier Courageous. Schuhart sent his crew to battle stations and adjusted for an interception course.

But he could not mount an attack. Planes were circling over the carrier and the two remaining destroyer escorts were clearly visible. He later wrote in his log “At that time it looked like a hopeless operation. Because of the aircraft, I could not surface and my underwater speed was less than 8 knots while the carrier could do 26. But we were told during our training to always stay close and that is exactly what I did, following him submerged”.

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Schuhart trailed on for another one and a half hours, all the while losing distance with the carrier. Then suddenly at 1930 hours, the carrier turned into the wind to launch aircraft, inadvertently placing the ship in perfect position for a torpedo attack. By 1940 hours, U-29 was in position and Schuhart fired all three forward torpedoes from less than 3,000 yards. Schuhart logged “the vast size of the target upset all normal calculations and in any case, I was looking straight into the sun”

Just 500 yards away, while the torpedoes were still making its run, Schuhart observed through his periscope lens as one of the destroyers sailed by, still unaware of the impending attack. To evade, he dived deep – to a depth of 180 feet, the deepest he had ever dived. Then, in the creaking silence of U-boat’s pressure hull, the crew heard two resounding explosions. Two torpedoes had it the target and exploded with such force that Schuhart thought he had been attacked. The crew cheered, although they all knew what was to follow next – an impending depth charge attack.

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They braced themselves for the attack and minutes later, one of the destroyers picked up the U-29 on sonar. The second destroyer rushed to the location to join the hunt and both attacked with such fury and ferocity that during the pounding, Schuhart thought he had lost the U-29. The boat reeled and creaked under the force of the explosion which lasted for hours. Then at 2340 hours, the last depth charge exploded. Both destroyers had expended all depth charges and were now weaponless in attacking the enemy down below. Silently easing away, Schuhart in the U-29 made good his escape. As soon as he surfaced, he radioed to Donitz, “Courageous destroyed. U-29 homebound”.

Meanwhile, back at the sinking of the Courageous, a Dutch passenger liner Veendam was passing nearby.

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Eye witnesses account that a huge white cloud had engulfed the Courageous. They thought it was a smoke screen and paid little attention until two tremendous explosions ripped through the carrier. Pieces of steel and dismembered aircraft shot upwards as with the flames and oil slick which soon followed. The Courageous sank in less than 15 minutes with the loss of 519 lives, including her commander Captain W T Makeig-Jones. Her total complement was 1,260 officers and ratings (including air group), and two squadrons of Fairey Swordfish aircraft (48 planes). The Veendam and a British freighter Collingsworth participated in the rescue, fishing survivors from the oily waters.

By the next morning of September 18, news of the sinking had been broadcast worldwide. The sinking of the HMS Courageous was the first U-boat offensive against the Royal Navy, and more importantly, Schuhart’s victory prompted the Admiralty to withdraw all three remaining carriers from the Western Approaches. The first naval engagement turned out to be a resounding victory, as carriers were not to be seen in those waters for another four years.

This was precisely what Donitz had wanted, as the withdrawal of ASW vessels allowed his U-boats to continue with their sinkings unabated. Politically, Hitler was neither pleased, nor displeased. He was still hopeful of a diplomatic solution with Great Britain and did not want to further antagonize the Western Powers by sinking a major capital warship. However, no specific orders had been issued otherwise and in fact, the Kriegsmarine was ecstatic. Donitz noted gleefully in his diary “A wonderful success”.

Schuhart was awarded the Iron Cross First Class and the entire crew the Iron Cross Second Class. In tonnage sunk for a single patrol, his tally was 41,905 tons which was to stand as a record high for a very long time.

The U-29 was a Type VIIA U-boat, an oceangoing boat which had four bow and one stern torpedo tube.

HMS Courageous was sunk on September 17 1939 at 1940 hours at the Western Approaches (Southwest of Ireland), Grid BE3198, 150nm WSW of Mizen Head, Ireland.

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Her sister ship, the HMS Glorious and her two escorting destroyers, Ardent and Acasta was to suffer the same fate on June 8 1940, during an attack by two German battle cruisers, Gneisenau and Scharnhorst

 

The Sinking of the HMS Oxley

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HMS Oxley was the Royal Navy’s first loss in WWII. Today marks the 77th anniversary of that event.

You probably are wondering why I am doing a blog about it. Because lets face it , it was war and there were going to be losses. This is true,however, what makes this special is not because it was the 1st loss but the fact it was sunk by another Royal Navy submarine the HMS Triton.

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When the Admiralty was notified that the United Kingdom would declare war on Germany, five submarines of the 2nd Submarine Flotilla were ordered to patrol on the Obrestad line off Norway on 24 August 1939.Thus, on 3 September all British submarines were in their combat patrol sectors.

At 19:55 on 10 September 1939, Triton had surfaced, fixed a position off the Obrestad Light, set a slow zigzag patrol, and began charging batteries. Lieutenant Commander Steel, having verified that the area was clear and having posted lookouts, gave the bridge to the officer of the watch and went below, leaving orders that he was to be called if anything unusual appeared. At 20:45, he was called to the bridge when an object in the water could be seen very fine on the port bow.

Steel ordered propulsion shifted to the main motors, the signalman to the bridge, and torpedo tubes 7 and 8 readied for firing. The object was recognised as a submarine low in the water.

Once on the bridge, the signalman sent three challenges over several minutes with the box lamp, none of which were answered. Steel wondered if the boat could be HMS Oxley, which should have been patrolling next in line, but some distance away. Steel and his bridge crew studied the silhouette, but could not distinguish what type of submarine it was.

A fourth challenge was sent: three green rifle-grenade flares. After firing, Steel counted slowly to 15 and then decided that they were seeing a German U-boat.

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He ordered tubes 7 and 8 fired with a three-second interval. Less than a minute later, an explosion was heard.

Triton moved into the area to investigate and heard cries for help. The light from the Aldis lamp revealed three men floundering amid oil and debris.

Lieutenant Guy C. I. St.B. Watkins and Lieutenant Harry A. Stacey entered the water and rescued Lieutenant Commander H.G. Bowerman,Oxley’s commanding officer, as well as Able Seaman Gluckes, a lookout. The third person in the water, Lieutenant F.K. Manley, was seen to be swimming strongly when he suddenly sank from view. Neither Manley’s body nor any other survivors from Oxley were found.

A Board of Enquiry found that Steel had done all he reasonably could in the circumstances. Oxley was out of position, Triton had acted correctly, and the first Allied submarine casualty of World War II was due to “friendly fire.” During the war, the loss of Oxley was attributed to an accidental explosion. After the war, it was explained to have been a collision with Triton. The truth was not revealed until the 1950s

 

Charles Herbert Lightoller:Titanic survivor,WWI Hero and rescuer in Dunkirk.

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Some people really have lived a life. Charles Herbet Lightoller survived three major dramatice events and lived to tell the tale.

Charles Herbert Lightoller (30 March 1874 – 8 December 1952) was the second mate (second officer) on board the RMS Titanic and the most senior officer to survive the Titanic disaster.

As an officer in charge of loading passengers into lifeboats, Lightoller not only enforced with utmost strictness the “women and children first” protocol; he also effectively extended it to mean “women and children only”. In pursuance of this principle, Lightoller lowered lifeboats with empty seats if there were no women or children waiting to board.Indeed, Lightoller is known to have permitted exactly one adult male passenger to board a lifeboat, namely Arthur Godfrey Peuchen, who was permitted to board a lifeboat (no.6) that was otherwise full of women, because he had sailing experience and could help navigate the boat. Lightoller stayed until the last, was sucked against a grate and held until he was under water, but then was blown from the grate from a rush of warm air as a boiler exploded. He clung to a capsized collapsible boat with 30 others until their rescue.

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Lightoller served as an officer of the Royal Navy during the First World War. Despite his involvement in the alleged massacre of shipwrecked German sailors, he was decorated for gallantry.

On August 4th 1914, the Great War began and the R.M.S. Oceanic became H.M.S.Oceanic, armed merchant cruiser, while First Officer Lightoller of White Star Lines became Lieutenant Lightoller of the Royal Navy. Oceanic had two captains, a Royal Navy skipper, Captain William Slayter, and Captain Henry Smith, who had been the commander of the Oceanic for the last two years.

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Just before Christmas 1915 Lightoller got his own command, the torpedo boat HMTB 117. During his tour with this boat, on 31 July 1916, Lightoller attacked the Zeppelin L31 with the ships Hotchkiss guns. For his actions Lightoller was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and he was also promoted to commander of the torpedo-boat-destroyer Falcon.

On 1 April 1918, Lightoller was again off watch, laying in his bunk, when the Falcon collided with the trawler John Fitzgerald. She stayed afloat for a few hours, eventually sinking just about same time, six years to the day as the Titanic sinking.

Lightoller was now given a new command, the destroyer Garry. On 19 July 1918, they rammed and sank the German submarine UB-110.

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The ramming damaged the bows of the Garry so badly that she had to steam 100 miles in reverse to relieve the strain on the forward bulkheads as she returned to port for repairs. For this action Lightoller was awarded a bar to his DSC and promoted to Lieutenant-Commander.

In his 1933 memoirs, Kapitän leutnant Fürbringer ,the Captain of the UB-110 accused Lightoller of hoving to and ordering his crew to open fire on the unarmed survivors of UB-110 with revolvers and machine guns. During the ensuing massacre, Fürbringer watched the skull of an 18-year old member of his crew being split open by a lump of coal hurled by a Royal Navy sailor. When Fürbringer attempted to help a wounded officer to swim, he was told, “Let me die in peace. The swine are going to murder us anyhow.” The shooting only ceased when the convoy the Garry had been escorting, which contained many neutral-flagged ships, arrived on the scene. Fürbringer later recalled, “As if by magic the British now let down some life boats into the water.”

In 1929, Lightoller had purchased a discarded Admiralty steam launch, built in 1912 by G. Cooper at Conyer. She was 52 feet long by 12,2 feet wide, powered by a petrol-paraffin Parsons 60 hp. Commander Lightoller had her refitted and lengthened to 58 feet, converting her into a 62 hp Glennifer diesel motor yacht that was christened Sundowner by Sylvia,Lightoller’s wife. Throughout the thirties she was used by the Lightoller family mainly for trips around England and Europe. In July 1939, Lightoller was approached by the Royal Navy and asked to perform a survey of the German coastline. This they did under the guise of an elderly couple on vacation in their yacht. When World War II started in September 1939, the Lightollers were raising chickens in Hertfordshire. The Sundowner was kept in a yacht basin at Chiswick.

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Then in the closing days of May 1940, after eight months of quiet known as the “phony war”, Britain found itself on the edge of military disaster. The German armies blitzkrieged through Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Northern France in just over two weeks. Allied resistance had disintegrated and almost the entire British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was penned into a tiny pocket on the French Belgian border.

On 24 May 1940, some 400,000 Allied troops lay pinned against the coast of Flanders near the French port of Dunkirk. German tanks were only ten miles away. Yet the trapped army was saved. In the next 11 days over 338,000 men were evacuated safely to England in Operation Dynamo, one of the greatest rescues of all time.

At 5pm on 31 May 1940, Lightoller got a phone call from the Admiralty asking him to take theSundowner to Ramsgate, where a Navy crew would take over and sail her to Dunkirk. Lightoller informed them that nobody would take the Sundowner to Dunkirk but him.

On the 1 June 1940, the 66 year old Lightoller, accompanied by his eldest son Roger and an 18 year old Sea-Scout named Gerald, took the Sundowner and sailed for Dunkirk and the trapped BEF. Although the Sundowner had never carried more than 21 persons before, they succeeded in carrying a total of 130 men from the beaches of Dunkirk. In addition to the three crew members, there were two crew members who had been rescued from another small boat, the motor cruiser Westerly. There were another three Naval Ratings also rescued from waters off Dunkirk, plus 122 troops taken from the destroyer Worchester. Despite numerous bombing and strafing runs by Luftwaffe aircraft, they all arrived safely back to Ramsgate just about 12 hours after they had departed. It is said that when one of the soldiers heard that the captain had been on the Titanic, he was tempted to jump overboard. However his mate was quick to reply that if Lightoller could survive the Titanic, he could survive anything and that was all the more reason to stay.

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Following Dunkirk, Commander Lightoller joined the Home Guard, but the Royal Navy engaged him to work with the Small Vessel Pool until the end of World War II. The Lightollers youngest son, Brian, was in the RAF as a pilot. On the first night of World War II, he was killed in a bombing raid on Wilhelmshaven. Their eldest son, Roger, went on to join the Royal Navy where he commanded Motor Gun Boats. During the final months of the war, he was killed during a German Commando raid on Granville on the North French Coast

Later, in retirement, he further distinguished himself in the Second World War by providing and sailing as a volunteer on one of the “little ships”, his personal yacht that had been requisitioned by the Admiralty for wartime service, during the perilous Dunkirk evacuation.

Lightoller died of chronic heart disease on 8 December 1952, aged 78. A long-time pipe smoker, he was living in London during that city’s Great Smog of 1952 when he died.

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His body was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at Mortlake Crematorium in Richmond, Surrey.