South African sacrifice in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm

18301541_655088058024408_5990826112865938099_n

FAA pilot standing on the wing of a Seafire (adapted Spitfire with arrest capability). Note the “beard”  and his wings on his sleeve above his rank.

The Fleet Air Arm (FAA) is a lessor known service in the bigger picture of World War 2, but no less important.  In essence the Fleet Air Arm is the Royal Navy’s own Air Force, designed solely to be launched either at sea from aircraft carriers and ships or from shore bases on maritime based operations and in defence of the Royal Navy specifically.

The Royal Air Force was an independent arm of service from the Navy, it worked in conjunction with the Navy and the Army in joint commands, however it also worked in conjunction with the Navy’s own Air Force – the Fleet Air Arm.

The Fleet Air Arm is interesting as it flew a wide variety of very unique fixed wing aircraft in World War 2, and rotary wing aircraft post war (helicopters).  The FAA aircraft in World War 2 were usually a little different to the ‘landed’ cousins as they to be specially adapted for operating at sea, they also had to be a lot more robust and made to ‘fold-up’ to store them on deck.  They were even given different names, for the same equivalent Royal Air Force and US Air Force aircraft, an example is the famous ‘Spitfire’ had its named changed to ‘Seafire’ when serving with the FAA along with its special additions (like assesting or catapult hooks).

Even lessor known is the fact that the Fleet Arm has had a number of South Africans serve in it, and it all ties back to the strong Naval ties Britain – and the Royal Navy specifically – had with South Africa, especially as the Naval Base at Simonstown is near Cape Town, South Africa, and it was British sovereign territory during the war (a status that existed well in the 1960’s).

Like the South African Naval Forces personnel (SANF) finding themselves seconded to the Royal Navy or South Africans joining the Royal Navy directly as Royal Navy volunteer reserve – South African branch (RNVR), so too did many South Africans find themselves in the Royal Navy’s FAA either as SANF personnel or RNVR personnel.

It also unfortunately follows that when tragedy strikes the Royal Navy and its Air Force, there are South African losses.  So, lets look at each of the South African men specifically lost serving the Fleet Air Arm, honour them by telling a little about their story, the squadrons they belonged and the unique FAA aircraft they flew.  By looking at the sacrifice it will also give us a small insight into this very unique history of the FAA.

Fleet-Air-Arm

A unique book was written and illustrated by Derrick Dickens called ‘Stringbag to Shah’ on the history of the Fleet Air Arm, illustrated because many of the aircraft used by the FAA were not recorded in colour, or at best obscure with no record of paint schemes etc – and he wanted to bring these unique aircraft to living in vivid colour using his artwork.  We’ll be using this unique catalog with the permission of the copyright owner.

In all there were 9 men according to current records (this can change as more research has been done on the honour roll) who were South African and died serving in the Fleet Air Arm.  So lets start with the first South African man lost.

HMS Ark Royal

BOSTOCK, R S, Lieutenant, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 800 Squadron, HMS Ark Royal died 13 June 1940

FAA2

Blackburn Skua during Norway Operations by Derrick Dickens

At the time of Lt. Robert Bostock’s death, the HMS Ark Royal (a massive aircraft carrier), operated a number of FAA squadrons from its flight deck.  In June 1940, FAA 800 Squadron was operating as part of the reaction force to the German invasion of Norway, 800 and 803 had dive-bombed the German Cruiser Königsberg on 10 April 1940 and sank it, flying the ‘Skua’.

800 squadron embarked on Ark Royal later that month, with the carrier providing air cover to the fleet and to Allied troops. 800 Squadron’s Skua’s claimed six Heinkel He 111  bombers shot down.  On 13 June 1940, Ark Royal launched a dive bomber attack against the German Battleship Scharnhorst with 800 Squadron losing four Skuas out of six, along with Lt Bostock (our South African) and the Squadron’s Commanding Officer, Captain R.T. Partridge.

FAA1

FAA Blackburn Skua B-24 by Derrick Dickens

“Too big too slow. too late, this was the Blackburn Skua and the reputation that followed it. Slow and big it certainly was by the standards of the day, It towered above the ground on a spindly under carriage, and was indeed a large piece of ironmongery to expect the under powered Perseus engine to hoist into the air. But considering the radical nature of its design by British standards at the time of its conception the Skua was competent enough, maintaining Blackburn’s name for rugged naval aircraft, and adequately fulfilling the demands of the specifications that had given it birth, but as a combat aircraft it was not very successful” (Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

The next South African man lost was not a FAA pilot or navigator, he was a FAA aircraft mechanic;

HMS Hermes 

RILEY, H, Air Mechanic, Fleet Air Arm, HMS Hermes, died 9 April 1942

At the time of Air Mechanics Riley’s death the HMS Hermes (also an aircraft carrier) was searching for the Japanese Imperial Fleet off Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) during the infamous Japanese ‘Easter Sunday Raid’ on Colombo – the Royal Navy’s own ‘Pearl Harbour’ and the South African Navy’s ‘Darkest Hour’ because of all the ships were lost with large South African Naval personnel on board – see this Observation Post link for the full story by clicking this link; The South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’ is not recognised and not commemorated).

While sailing south off Batticaloa on the East Coast of Ceylon, HMS Hermes and its accompanying flotilla was by Japanese Carrier-Borne dive-bombers from the Imperial Japanese Task Force in the process of attacking the Naval Base at Trincomalee.

Approximately 70 Japanese aircraft were despatched to bomb the HMS Hermes which became an inferno and sank within ten minutes of being hit by numerous aircraft bombs.

At the time of her sinking the HMS Hermes was the home to No. 814 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm flying the famous ‘Fairey Swordfish’ torpedo bomber, and these were the aircraft that Air Mechanic Harry Riley son of Alfred and Mary Ellen Riley, of Springs, Transvaal, South Africa, would have worked on.

FAA3

FAA Fairey Swordfish ‘Stringbags’ by Derrick Dickens

“Stringbag’ so named because of all the wires and stays. Archaic in appearance even when it first flew, the venerable Swordfish was the Fleet Air Arm’s premier torpedo-bomber at the outbreak of World War II and was destined to become a naval legend.

 Having arrived at a stage of World War II when a biplane, was a very rare sight, despite appearances, this beautifully ugly aircraft was no anachronism, for the Fairey Swordfish, as it was named, had then a still vital role to play in World War II. The Swordfish had the distinction in fighting the Axis from the very first days of the war until victory for the Allies in Europe had been assured.

Swordfish first saw action in the Norwegian campaign, and went on to see service in the Mediterranean, the Western desert, Iraq, the Battle of the Atlantic, and in support of convoys bound for Russia, attacks on the French fleet at Oran in July 1940 following the D-Day evacu­ation, and attacks on the Italian fleet at Taranto, and the German battleship Bismarck. The Swordfish is credited with the destruction of a greater tonnage of enemy shipping than any other allied aircraft during World War II. In so doing, the Swordfish outlived and outfought aircraft which had been designed to replace it in service, and during this period created a record of the machine achievement in association with human courage that makes pages of the Fleet Air Arm’s history a veritable saga.” (Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

The next South African man lost with FAA was lost from HMS Formidable.

HMS Formidable

CHRISTELIS, C, Sub/Lieutenant, Royal Navy Reserve FAA 803 Squadron, HMS Formidable, died 1 August 1942

FAA 803 squadron at the time of Sub/Lt. Christelis’ death was equipped with the Fairey Fulmar II and operated from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) against the Japanese (also participating in the infamous sea battles surrounding Japanese Imperial Navy’s Easter Sunday raid against the Royal Navy), joining the HMS Formidable from April 1942. Sub/Lt. Cornelius Christelis was the son of Christos and Eleni Christelis, of Germiston, Transvaal, South Africa.

FAA4

FAA Fairey Fulmar Mark II

“The first eight-gun fighter to enter service with the Fleet Air Arm, the Fulmar two-seat shipboard general-purpose fighter was designed at a time when the Admiralty held the view that navigational aids were inadequate to ensure the safe return of a single-seat fighter to its carrier in inclement weather, and that a navigator was, therefore, indispensable”.(Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

The next South African man lost with FAA was also lost from HMS Formidable from FAA No. 888 Squadron around the same time as Sub/Lt. Christelis.

HMS Formidable

BROKENSHA, G W, Lieutenant, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 888 Squadron, HMS Formidable, died 11 August 1942

Lt Brokensha had an extensive career with the Fleet Air Arm, he flew Skua II with FAA 803 Squadron, taking part in Operation “Duck” on 17th April 1940 in defence of HMS Suffolk returning from Norway and from HMS Glorious he took part in numerous operations over Norway were he was even Mentioned in Despatches.  From HMS Ark Royal he took part in numerous operations including attack on Scharnhorst in Trondheim Harbour on the 13 June 1940, for which he earned DSC.  By 1942 he was posted to 888 Squadron flying Martlets as Senior Pilot, joining HMS Formidable on 1st February 1942.  His death is a little mysterious, he is recorded as  missing overboard from HMS Formidable, at night on the 11th August 1942.

FAA 888 squadron’s Marlet Mk II aircraft are an interesting addition to the Fleet Air Arms rich history, as they are essentially American Grumman Wildcats with a Royal Navy spin.

FAA 6

FAA Martlet Mk II by Derrick Dickens

“The Royal Navy’s effect upon the F4F Wildcat was considerable. The Fleet Air Arm introduced it to combat a year before Pearl Harbor, and exerted influence in its armament fit which ran con­trary to opinion in US Navy squadrons. The Wildcat was the first truly modern fighter flown from British carriers, and represented an enormous leap forward in Royal Naval aviation” (Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

The next South African man lost with the FAA was a very senior officer, a Lieutenant Commander on the HMS Indomitable.

HMS Indomitable

JUDD, F E C, Lieutenant Cmdr, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 880 Squadron, HMS Indomitable, died 12 August 1942

At the time of Lt Cmdr Judd’s death, the HMS Indomitable and its fleet of 880 Sea Hurricanes was involved with Operation Pedestal which revolved around securing supplies to Malta in the central Mediterranean.  In early August the Royal Navy were engaged in heavy combat with German and Italian aircraft bombing their ships securing these vital supplies to the besieged island of Malta.  The date Lt. Cmdr Judd died was a particularly heavy day of combat when 4 waves of German and Italian aircraft attacked the British Fleet, on 12th August the HMS Indomitable’s 880 Squadron FAA Sea Hurricane fighters had been in heavy aerial combat with Axis forces, with crew losses and in the evening the HMS Indomitable’s defensive screen was breached and she was hit by two 500 kg bombs; a 500 kg bomb penetrated the un-armoured portion of the flight deck, killing 50 and wounding 59 men causing damage that required her to withdraw from the fight.

FAA7

Sea Hurricane Mk II by Derrick Dickens

“That the Hawker Hurricane occupied a vital place in Britain’s history cannot be denied. Put simply, the Hurricane saved Great Britain in 1940; it was the right aircraft, at the right time, and flown by the right pilots. No one can deny the excel­lence of the Spitfire, nor that it one of the great fighting aircraft of World War II. Yet, outdated though the Hurricane may have appeared by comparison, its simplicity of concept and opera­tion was such that it could be — and was – dispatched to any of the danger spots that spread like cancer during those first three years of the war when events threatened to engulf the Allied nations with disaster.

Overshadowed by the Spitfire, the Hurricane was slower, less manoeuvrable and half a generation older in terms of technology. What mattered was that it was available in numbers and could be adapted to a variety of roles. One of which was a carrier-based fighter version which the Navy dubbed the ‘Sea Hurricane’ (Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

The next South African man lost was from the Fleet Air Arm’s No. 762  Squadron on the HMS Heron

HMS Heron

O’BRYEN, W S, Sub/Lt Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 762 Squadron, HMS Heron, died 26 November 1942

At the time of S/Lt O’ Bryen’s death the HMS Heron and 762 Squadron were raining units.  The HMS Heron is not a ship or carrier, it’s a shore base and one of the last of the Fleet Air Arm’s bases still in Operation now re-named Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset, England. It was used primarily during World War 2 as the home of No1. Naval Air Fighter School and later the Aircraft Direction Centre. The 700-series squadrons are generally experimental or training squadrons, which produce trained aircrew for the operational 800-series squadrons.

S/Lt William Stanislaus O’Bryen, the son of John and Ivy O’Breyen of Fynnland, Natal, South Africa is buried at the Fleet Air Arm’s Church in Yeovilton which contains a small number of FAA members killed in aviation accidents whilst training at HMS Heron.

It is unclear from records what aircraft S/Lt O’Bryen was involved with, however one of the more famous aircraft flown at HMS Heron used to train young pilots by the middle of the war was the famous Seafire, a naval adaption of the iconic Spitfire.

FAA8

FAA Seafire MK 1B by Derrick Dickens

“The Seafire which in fact was little more than a “navalised” Spitfire, it was without any doubt the most effective British built naval fighter of World War 2, even though it had the reputation of not being suitable for the rigours of carrier operations. To some degree, this reputation was deserved for the Spitfire was of lightweight design, never intended for naval service, but it filled a gap till the specialist naval types in the shape of the Corsair and Hellcat arrived, in the mean time serving in major campaigns in the Far East, Africa and Europe” (Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

The next South African man lost was from the Fleet Air Arm’s No. 851 Squadron on the HMS Shah, and he in fact was a member of the South African Navy, having been seconded to the FAA.

HMS Shah

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nMACWHIRTER, Cecil J, Ty/Sub Lieutenant (A), Fleet Air Arm (Royal Navy) 851 Squadron HMS Shah, air crash, SANF, MPK 14 April 1944

At the time of S/Lt Macwhirter’s death the HMS Shah had just completed an operation to the United States to collect equipment and airframes for twelve Avenger aircraft allocated to 851 Naval Air Squadron (FAA) on the 14th.  The Shah sailed for Melbourne, departing Australia on 8th February 1944 for Cochin.  On the 23rd February she disembarked her ferry load of American fighters; this included the Avenger airframes earmarked for 851 squadron.

851 squadron was to remain ashore until 6th March before rejoining the ship. The next two weeks would be spent working up her air department and flight deck parties; this was the first opportunity for flying operations to be carried out.  HMS Shah arrived in Colombo on February 19th and 851 was flown off to RNAS Colombo Racecourse. Aircraft were embarked as required when further training; it was on such training that 851 suffered its first operational loss when Avenger FN813 stalled and ditched in the sea off the West coast of Ceylon while conducting a night anti submarine exercise on April 14th killing all three crew members, including S/Lt Cecil John Macwhirter, our South African son of Samuel and Elizabeth MacWhirter.

FAA9

FAA Tarpon (Avenger) Mk 1 by Derrick Dickens

“When the Grumman Avenger first joined the Fleet Air Arm in 1943 it was very aptly named after a big ugly bird, the Tarpon. No 832 was the first Tarpon squadron to be formed and  in December 1942 they  sailed on HMS Victorious to America to commence training on the new torpedo bomber at the US Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Virginia They were equipped with US navy aircraft as the British machines were not ready Their first embarkation was on USS Saratoga and they landed up in the Pacific theater in April 1943. A month later they re-embarked on HMS Victorious for a period of operations in the Solomons. The FAA retained the name Tarpon until January 1944, when the name was changed back to the original American Avenger and  became known as Avenger 1s” (Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

The second last South African to be lost fighting in Fleet Air Arm was with 1772 Squadron (FAA) on the HMS Indefatigable, he was also a member of the South African Navy and seconded to the Fleet Air Arm.

HMS Indefatigable 

LA GRANGE, Antony M, Sub Lieutenant (A), SANF, Fleet Air Arm (Royal Navy)1772 Sqn HMS Indefatigable, air operations, MPK 28 July 1945

FAA10

FAA Firefly Mk 1 by Derrick Dickens

In July 1945 1772 Naval Air Squadron, flying Fireflies, boarded HMS Indefatigable and joined the British Task Force 37 which then joined the US Task Force 38 in the northern Pacific for the final assault on the Japanese Mainland. The combined Task force comprised 14 Fleet Carriers, 25 Cruisers , at least five battleships, 75 Destroyers, and many other craft…. and 1300 aircraft. This was the largest naval force ever gathered in one area in history. The American Fleet comprised at least three-quarters of that combined fleet.

Many raids and bombardments took place in these last days of the war and losses were considerable despite the fact that the Japanese forces were very depleted by this time. The previous engagement had been largely American again and of course the European war had ended. This was the final massive battle against the remaining island possession occupied by the Japanese, Okinawa. Noteworthy in this engagement, which cost many American lives, was the Kamikaze and the Indefatigable received one Kamiikaze strike on its deck, killing several personnel.

The HMS Indefatigable went on to join the Americans in Tokyo Bay for the Peace Treaty signing.  S/Lt. Antony Michael La Grange, the son of Mrs. I. B. La Grange, of Albertinia, Cape Province, South Africa is remembered on the Plymouth Memorial.

FAA11

FAA Firefly Mk IV by Derrick Dickens

“The Fairy was conceived in the late “thirties”, blooded on the mid “Forties” withdrawn from production in the mid “Fifties” and finally retired in the mid sixties such was the 25 year lifespan of one of the most versatile aircraft to lift off a carrier deck. Combining performance, handling, maneuverability, and firepower never before displayed by a previous ship board aircraft, it wrote its own history due to its adaptability for roles and weapon loads unforeseen at the time of the creation of this handsome fighter – reconnaissance aircraft. The Firefly saw relatively limited action during World War Two, never the less it earned for itself a place in naval aviation history, for although the longevity of the Firefly was to be superceded, and its remarkable versatility was to remain peerless.  1,702 Fireflies were built over a period of 14 years, the most of them in post world war two guise which differed greatly in role and different in appearance from the original aircraft which made its operational debut on HMS Indefatigable, taking part on the attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz” (Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

The final South African to be lost in World War 2 flying for the Fleet Air Arm was also a member of the South African Navy seconded to the FAA on HMS Landrail.

HMS Landrail

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nWAKE, Vivian H, Ty/Lieutenant (A), FAA Fleet Air Arm (Royal Navy) 815 Squadron HMS Landrail, air crash, SANF, MPK 28 March 1945

By the time of Ty/Lt. Wake’s death, 815 Squadron had been reformatted in November 1944 at HMS Landrail, a shore base now called RNAS Machrihanish located 5 km west of Campbeltown on the western side of the Kintyre Peninsula in Scotland.

FAA 815 Squadron by this stage was flying Barracudas on anti-submarine operations, and doing DLT (deck landing training) on HMS Campania in preparation for the final operations in the Far East against Imperial Japan.

FAA12

FAA Barracuda Mk V

“The Barracuda was a large ugly beast of an aeroplane, when its wings were folded it looked like some prehistoric bird straight out of Jurassic Park. Un-pretty, big bulky, solid and generally disliked by the aircrew, they were used to good effect in 1944 during attacks on the Tirpitz, which was lying crippled in Kaafjord, North Norway, after being damaged in an attack by midget submarines. From April 1944 Nos. 810 and 847 began operations in the pacific theatre on board HMS Illustrious. Barracudas were also heavily involved in dive bombing attacks on Japanese land and maritime targets, as well as raids against Japanese targets in Sumatra. They continued to support the Allies advance until the end of the war

Towards the end of the war a major redesign of the Barracuda was undertaken to provide an interim aircraft for use in the war against Japan, until the Fairey Spearfish became available. This development resulted in the Barracuda TR Mk V”. (Stringbag to Shah by Derrick Dickens).

In Conclusion

HRH Prince PhilipThe best way to summarise the Fleet Air Arm, its commitment and sacrifice is in fact found in the forward of Derrick Dickens’ Stringbag to Shar’ written by none other than the Admiral of the Fleet, HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh K.G., K.T., O.M., G.B.E.

“When you look at the difficulties experienced by the pioneers of aviation Lord Cayley, the Wright brothers, Hiram Maxim and Colonel ‘Buffalo’ Bill; Cody – to get a machine to take off from mother earth and to fly through the air, it is not surprising that many people considered them to be extremely foolhardy, if not actually insane. To the far-sighted, the use of aircraft in war may have seemed obvious, it really needed the conviction of a saint to visualise the practical use of aircraft in a war at sea.

This splendid book traces the chequered history of naval aviation, and the extraordinary vision and determination of the designers, builders and pilots of naval aircraft against every sort of discouragement. It also illustrates the remarkable imagination of those who helped to develop all the ancillary equipment, such as aircraft carriers, catapults, arrestor wires, angled decks, ‘ski-jumps’, and all other gimmicks that enabled naval aviation to make a solid impact on the war at sea.

Looking through the illustrations in this book, it seems almost unbelievable that men could be found, not just to fly them, but to inflict damage on the enemy, and return to tell the tale.

The contribution of naval aviation to the war at sea during WW1 and WW2, may not have made the headlines in quite the same way as land-based aircraft, but, as the final days of the war against Japan demonstrated, the participation of naval aircraft was crucial to the ultimate allied victory”.

Related Work and Links

Related work of South Africans serving in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm

HMS Hermes “Dante’s Inferno”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hermes

Dick Lord Dick Lord – the combat legend who took learnings from the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm to the SAAF

Easter Raid The South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’ is not recognised and not commemorated


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens, references from Wikipedia, The Commonwealth War Graves Commissioned, SAAF and RAF Honour Roll compiled by Graham du Toit, BBC People’s War, Fly Navy – HMS Shah, Fleet Air Arm Officers Association, CASUALTIES BY DATE and SHIP Compiled by Don Kindell sourced on the Royal Naval History Homepage.

Large extracts and paintings taken from “Stringbag to Shar 1938 to 2006” Compiled by Derrick Dickens. All the images used in this book are photographs of original paintings
by the author. These images may not be used anywhere else without the
specific permission of the copyright owner – Mr Peter Dickens. Images © Derrick Dickens 2008. (All original paintings).

The South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’ is not recognised and not commemorated

1200px-Emblem_of_the_South_African_NavyHere’s a question for many,  in what action did the South African Navy (SAN) experience its greatest single loss of personnel, the largest sacrifice of South African life in a single  sea battle  – in essence when and what was the South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’?

I’ve asked this question of senior South African military personnel, including the South African Navy as well as the South African Naval fraternity, the veterans – and the bottom line is … nobody knows.

Some immediately say it was the Mendi, as the remembrance of the Mendi is now the South African Navy’s key responsibility, but the loss of the SS Mendi in World War 1 was not a loss of South African Navy personnel (the South African Navy did not exist in WW1 and the Royal Navy was in charge of this particular troop ship full of South African ‘Army personnel’) and the loss of the Mendi was an accident at sea and not a combat action.

za)nv81Most (actually the majority) of SAN officers and veterans would say it was the loss of the SAS President Kruger (16 souls) but that would also be very wrong, both in terms of scale and action, the SAS President Kruger loss was also an accident at sea and not a combat action.

A tiny handful of SAN officers and vets who have a little knowledge of World War 2 might venture to answer the question by stating the loss of any one of the four South African minesweepers sunk during the war as the ‘darkest hour’ of the war.

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nThese are the HMSAS Southern Floe (24 souls) or the HMSAS Parktown (5 souls), or the HMSAS Bever (17 souls) or the HMSAS Treen (23 souls) – getting warm but that too would be wrong, as these did not happen over a defined period of the war that would warrant a ‘darkest hour’ in Churchill’s definition of the phrase (Churchill coined the term).

Nope, the largest loss of South Africans in a single sea battle, its ‘Darkest Hour’ took place fighting against Imperial Japan from the 5th to the 9th April 1942 … yup, the Japanese – believe it, and by the end of this particular naval engagement at sea a grand total of 65 South African souls were lost.  Now how many people know that!

The reason to ‘forget’!

So why does nobody know about this, why is this incident not ‘recognised,’ why is nobody ‘commemorating’ it and what exactly happened?

Simply put, it’s because they all died fighting whilst seconded to four British war ships in an action in the Pacific called ‘The Easter Sunday Raid’ – and it involved the sinking of the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire in a single day – and later the sinking of HMS Hermes and HMS Hollyhock a few days later by the Japanese Imperial Navy.  But why should that be an issue and a reason to ‘forget’?

Imperial Japanese ensign

Japanese Imperial Fleet Ensign from World War 2

Again the simple answer is because just three short years after World War 2 the National Party in a stunning and unexpected election win over Jan Smuts’ United Party, came into power with their proposal of ‘Apartheid’ and making South Africa a ‘Republic’ independent of Britain – and they hated the British or anything to do with Britain.  The Nationalists had grounded an entire Afrikaner identity and a country’s ‘nationalism’ on two events – The Great Trek and The 2nd Anglo-Boer war, both of which carried a history of either British betrayal or British atrocity.

During the Second World war these nationalists either openly sided with Nazi Germany and in many cases (by their tens of thousands in fact) even joined Neo-nazi South African parties and/or adopted national socialist movement (Nazism) ideology publicly, some (including a future Nationalist South African President) embarked on sedition and terrorism to undermine the war effort (see “Mein Kampf shows the way to greatness for South Africa” – The Ossewabrandwag).

Bottom line, to the Nationalists thinking anyone who took part in Smuts’ campaign for South Africa to fight in the Second World War was a traitor to their ‘Volk’ (peoples).  In their minds they went to fight ‘Britain’s war’ alongside the hated British – traitors all (even though an unprecedented 1 in 4 white South African males volunteered to fight in WW2 – half of them Afrikaners).

For the Nationalists commemorating the sinking of South African ships fighting alongside British ones in World War 2 was bad enough.  However, commemorating and remembering the South African loss whilst fighting on His Majesty’s British ships themselves would be, for the nationalist government at least, an unforgivable betrayal.

SANF

Members of the South African Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve serving on board HMS Nelson. The group is sat on one of the 16 inch gun barrels.

For this reason, the sinking of South African ships lost in World War 2 was not really extensively commemorated by the ‘old’ South African Defence Force  (SADF).  The SADF came into existence once the Nationalists declared South Africa a ‘Republic’ and replaced Smuts’ old ‘South African Union Defence Force (UDF) with a reformed military entity.  The sinking of HMSAS ships are only ‘remembered’ in small pockets of veteran South African Legion branches and MOTH shell-holes.

It is also for this reason that the SADF and the South African Navy did not ever commemorate the South African losses on British Ships, it is the reason why this particular ‘darkest hour’ in the South African Navy’s history is not recognised or remembered at all, which is utterly unforgivable as this is the very institution who supplied the men to The Royal Navy in the first place.

It is made worse in the modern epoch, by the newly reformatted South African National Defence Force’s Navy after 1994, which has not only lost the link thanks to the Nationalists, but also does not attempt to re-kindle it, party because of lack of knowledge, but also because it suits the African National Congress’ political agenda not to remember this association (commemorating or remembering a time when South Africans went to war for the ‘Colonials’ does not suit their current narrative).

So, let’s start addressing this betrayal of our armed forces personnel and understand what happened to qualify this as the South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’, who is on this honour roll and what’s been done about in now?

What happened? 

3397451999_8e45bbe5a4_b

Simonstown Dry Docks, when next there look out for the ships emblems of the Dorsetshire, Cornwall, Hermes and Hollyhock

As Simon’s Town was a Royal Navy base during World War 2 (British soil in the middle of South Africa), men volunteering for the “South African Naval Forces” (SANF) to fight in World War 2 where either allocated to Royal Navy ships (titled HMS – His Majesty’s Ship) or on South African Navy ships (tilted HMSAS – His Majesty’s South African Ship), therefore whenever a large Royal Navy ship was lost during the war it is almost guaranteed that a number of South African Naval Personnel (SANF) were lost with it.

When large HMS ships are lost in an action on the same action the number of South African naval personnel lost just rockets – and this is the case with the sinking of the HMS Cornwall, HMS Dorsetshire, HMS Hermes and HMS Hollyhock.

The Japanese Easter Raid of 1942

Zero

A Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane takes off from the deck of the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi, part of the Japanese Naval force in the Indian Ocean

With Japan’s entry into the war, and especially after the fall of Singapore, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) became a front-line British base. The Royal Navy’s East Indies Station and Eastern Fleet was moved to Colombo and Trincomalee.

Admiral Sir James Somerville was appointed as the commander of the British Eastern Fleet, and he decided to withdraw main component the fleet to Addu Atoll in the Maldives, leaving a small force to defend Ceylon (now Shri Lanka) consisting of an aircraft carrier, the HMS Hermes, two heavy cruisers – the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire, one Australian Destroyer the HMSAS Vampire and the flower class HMS Hollyhock.

The Imperial Japanese Navy, in much the same way and with the same objectives that were used at Pearl Harbour planned a decisive attack of the British Eastern Fleet to end their presence in the North Indian and Pacific oceans.  Unaware that the main body of the British fleet had moved to the Maldives, they focused their plan on Colombo.

The planned Japanese attack was to become collectively known as the Easter Sunday Raid and the Japanese fleet comprised five aircraft carriers plus supporting ships under the command of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo.

In an almost exact copy of the raid on the American fleet at Peal Harbour (as if no learnings were made by the Allies), on 4 April 1942, the Japanese fleet was located by a Canadian PBY Calatina aircraft, the Catalina radioed the position of the Japanese Fleet to The British Eastern Fleet which alerted the British to the impending attack before it was shot down by six Japanese Zero fighters from the carrier Hiryu,  However, despite the warning Nagumo’s air strike on Colombo the next day, Easter Sunday – 5th April –  achieved near-complete surprise (Pearl Harbour was also attacked on a weekend). The British Radar installations were not operating, they were shut down for routine maintenance.

aichi-d3a1-mod-22-val

The Japanese high command had planned the bombing of Colombo very much like the Pearl Harbor operation (many of the same planes and pilots participated in both strikes); but most of the British Eastern Fleet was at Addu Atholl in the Maldives, so when the Japanese attacked at Colombo there were only three ships there.

The sinking of the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire.

The day before, 4 April, when the Japanese carrier fleet was spotted, the two heavy cruisers the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire set out for Addu Atoll in pursuit of the Japanese. On 5 April 1942, the two cruisers were sighted by a spotter plane from the Japanese cruiser Tone about 200 miles (370 km) southwest of Ceylon.

As part of the engagement known as the Easter Sunday Raid, a wave of dive bombers led by Lieutenant Commander Egusa took off from Japanese carriers to attack Cornwall and Dorsetshire, 320 km (170 nmi; 200 mi) southwest of Ceylon, and sank the two ships.  Both the Dorsetshire and the Cornwall had long associations with South Africa and had large contingent of South African Naval Personnel on board.

DorsetshireCornwall

Japanese combat photograph showing the Royal Navy heavy cruisers HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall on fire and sinking

In the attack, the Japanese airman flying Japanese  D3A-1 ‘VAL’ dive bombers, a total of 53 dive bombers in the attack wave, dropped 10 bombs on the HMS Dorsetshire itself (250- and 550-pound bombs) and 8 near misses, all in the span of 8 minutes.  One of the bombs detonated an ammunition magazine and contributed to her rapid sinking.  Of the two British cruisers, the HMS Dorsetshire sank first, with her stern going first at about 13:50, the HMS Cornwall was hit eight times and sank bow first about ten minutes later.

For a full story on the HMS Dorsetshire and her long association with South Africa, see this Observation Post by clicking this link: “They machine gunned us in the water”; Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Dorsetshire

29352408_2115130958715891_1241973539881913227_o

For a full story on the HMS Cornwall and her long association with South Africa, see this Observation Post by clicking this link: “A terrific explosion lifted the ship out of the water”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Cornwall

29542625_2113775675518086_7029672198895321022_n

British and Allied losses were 424 men killed; 1,122 survivors spent thirty hours in the water before being rescued by HMS Enterprise and two British destroyers.

The sinking of the HMS Hermes and HMS Hollyhock

If the above losses qualify a dark day for the South African Navy it then becomes the SAN’s ‘darkest hour’, when in the same Japanese Operation, only a couple of short days later, on 9 April 1942, the Japanese focussed their attack on the harbour at Trincomalee and the British ships off Batticaloa. The HMS Hermes left the Royal Naval Base of Trincomalee, Ceylon escorted by the Australian Destroyer HMAS Vampire and HMS Hollyhock looking to engage the Imperial Japanese fleet which had attacked Colombo.

While sailing south off Batticaloa on the East Coast of Ceylon, this British flotilla was also attacked by the Japanese Carrier-Borne dive-bombers from the Imperial Japanese Task Force now in the process of attacking the Naval Base at Trincomalee.

Approximately 70 Japanese aircraft were despatched to bomb the HMS Hermes which sank within ten minutes of being hit by numerous aircraft bombs. HMAS Vampire was also sunk by bombs a short while later.

13086706_580301575472912_9134783755502643981_o

HMS Hermes ablaze and sinking

The HMS Hollyhock was about 7 nautical miles from the HMS Hermes escorting a tanker, the RFA Athelstane when the Hermes came under attack.  The Hollyhock came under attack by the same Japanese aircraft and it too was bombed and sunk.

Once again, the HMS Hermes also had a very large South African Naval Forces contingent seconded to it on board, and the same applied to the HMS Hollyhock, and therefore once again there is a large of loss of South African life in this action against the Imperial Japanese fleet.

For a full story on the HMS Hermes and her long association with South Africa, see this Observation Post by clicking this link “Dante’s Inferno”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hermes

22290016_2032097947019193_784550767658191370_o

For a full story on the HMS Hollyhock and her long association with South Africa, see this Observation Post by clicking this link “She immediately blew up”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hollyhock

hmshollyhock_sunderland

HMS Hollyhock

The Honour Roll

Total South African Naval Force (SANF) losses on the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire in the single day of action were as follows (MPK means “missing presumed killed”):

HMS Cornwall

BESWETHERICK, Hedley C, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 86671 (SANF), MPK
BOTES, John S, Stoker 2c RNVR, 68924 (SANF), MPK
COMMERFORD, Noel P, Able Seaman RNVR, 66493 (SANF), MPK
CRAWFORD, Cecil E, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c RNVR, 67922 (SANF), MPK
DU PREEZ, Charles P H, Able Seaman, 68175 (SANF), MPK
DUTTON, Charles C, Stoker 2c RNVR, 68949 (SANF), MPK
HANSLO, Raymond F, Able Seaman RNVR, 68295 (SANF), MPK
KEITH, Kenneth I B, Able Seaman RNVR, 66742 (SANF), MPK
KENYON, Graeme A B, Able Seaman RNVR, 68002 (SANF), MPK
KIRSTEN, Monty G W, Able Seaman RNVR, 68917 (SANF), MPK
LAW, Edward, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c RNVR, 66760 (SANF), MPK
MCDAVID, William K, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69138 (SANF), MPK
MITCHELL, William A, Stoker 1c RNVR, 68796 (SANF), MPK
PALMER, Walter A, Able Seaman RNVR, 68344 (SANF), (rescued, aboard HMS Enterprise), Died of Wounds
SPENCE, Noel W, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68732 (SANF), MPK
SQUIRES, John E, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68728 (SANF), MPK
STEPHEN, Eric B, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68861 (SANF), MPK
SWANN, Lawrence T, Stoker 1c RNVR, 68710 (SANF), MPK
THORPE, Maurice, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69140 (SANF), MPK
VERSFELD, Peter H S, Able Seaman RNVR, 68859 (SANF), MPK
VINK, Benjamin F, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68860 (SANF), MPK
WILLSON, Gerald F, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69006 (SANF), MPK
WRIGHT, Thomas H, Able Seaman RNVR, 68039 (SANF), MPK

HMS Dorsetshire

BELL, Douglas S, Ty/Act/Leading Stoker, 67243 (SANF), MPK
BRUCE, Alexander M, Stoker 2c, 67907 (SANF), MPK
CONCANON, Harold Bernard, Surgeon Lieutenant (Doctor)
EVENPOEL, Albert, Stoker 2c, 67909 (SANF), MPK
GEFFEN, Sender, Stoker 1c, 68035 (SANF), MPK
HOWE, Horace G, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68680 (SANF), MPK
KENDRICK, George, Stoker 2c, 67910 (SANF), MPK
MCINTYRE, Norman G, Able Seaman, 67446 (SANF), MPK
MCLELLAN, Robert, Ordinary Telegraphist, 67897 (SANF), MPK
MILNE, Lawrence Victor, Able Seaman
MORROW, Douglas E, Able Seaman, 67989 (SANF), MPK
ORTON, Charles P, Able Seaman, 68009 (SANF), MPK
REDMAN, Roland A, Leading Stoker, 67406 (SANF), MPK
SCOTT, William J, Able Seaman, 68007 (SANF), MPK
SEVEL, Harry, Stoker 1c, 68100 (SANF), MPK
VAN ZYL, David Isak Stephanus, Stoker 1st Class
WILLETT, Amos A S, Stoker 1c, 67240 (SANF), MPK
WILLIAMSON, Walter N, Able Seaman, 67803 (SANF), MPK

But, unfortunately there is more.  As in the same Japanese Operation, just a couple of days later saw the loss of the HMS Hermes and HMS Hollyhock (also lost in a single day), the honour roll of South Africans on board these two fighting ships who were lost is as  follows:

HMS Hermes

BRIGGS, Anthony Herbert Lindsay Sub-Lieutenant (Engineer) Royal Navy (South African national), MPK

BRYSON, Neil W, Ordinary Telegraphist, 69147 (SANF), MPK
BURNIE, Ian A, Able Seaman, 67786 (SANF), MPK
CLAYTON, Frederick H, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 68102 (SANF), MPK
DE CASTRO, Alfred T, Stoker 1c, 67914 (SANF), MPK
KEENEY, Frederick W, Able Seaman, 67748 (SANF), MPK
KEYTEL, Roy, Able Seaman, 67296 (SANF), MPK
KIMBLE, Dennis C, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 67600 (SANF), MPK
KRAUSE, Frederick E, Able Seaman, 68321 (SANF), MPK
RAPHAEL, Philip R, Able Seaman, 67841 (SANF), MPK
RICHARDSON, Ronald P, Able Seaman, 67494 (SANF), MPK
RILEY. Harry Air Mechanic 2nd Class, Fleet Air Arm, Royal Navy (South African national), MPK
TOMS, Ivanhoe S, Able Seaman, 67709 (SANF), MPK
VICKERS, Colin P, Able Seaman, 68296 (SANF), MPK
VORSTER, Jack P, Able Seaman, 67755 (SANF), MPK
WHITE, Edward G, Stoker, 68026 (SANF), MPK
WIBLIN, Eric R, Able Seaman, 67717 (SANF), MPK
YATES, Philip R, Supply Assistant, 67570 (SANF), MPK

Included in this Honour Roll is also a South African serving with the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm on the HMS Hermes.

RILEY, H, Air Mechanic, Fleet Air Arm, HMS Hermes, died 9 April 1942

HMS Hollyhock

ANDERSON, Henry G, Able Seaman, 67501 (SANF), MPK
BASTON, Douglas T, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 68600 (SANF), MPK
BUITENDACH, James M, Stoker 2c, 69223 (SANF), MPK
JUBY, Kenneth J, Ordinary Seaman, 69211 (SANF), MPK
LEACH, Peter A D H, Stoker 2c, 69225 (SANF), MPK

 Lest we forget the tremendous sacrifice of our countrymen in this world war for the liberation of human kind.

Why is it important we get this history right?

Logo_of_the_Royal_NavySo there we have it, the South African Navy’s biggest single loss in a single day – 41 souls, a ‘black day’ and added together with the HMS Hermes and HMS Hollyhock , we see a complete total of 65 South African souls lost in one single engagement at sea – qualifying a very ‘black week’ – The Easter Sunday Raid and this then marks the Easter period as the South African Navy’s ‘Darkest Hour’.

But is this correct – is this the full complement of South Africans lost in the incident?  The answer unfortunately is – probably not.

Whilst the honour rolls distinguish the South African Naval Forces personnel seconded to British ships, they do not distinguish the South Africans who joined the Royal Navy directly in either Simonstown or in the United Kingdom – of which there were thousands and those who lost their lives are now listed under the Royal Navy’s honour roll.

The ‘old’ South African Defence Force (SADF) did not maintain these records, nor was a honour roll tracked by the South African Navy and simply put, when the Nationalists broke the formal ties with the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, and after the resultant four decades in the ‘wilderness’ during the Apartheid epoch – many of these names are now ‘lost’.to all of us as South Africans.

To find out which of these are South Africans requires research into each and every case on the Royal Navy’s record – a momentous task which some dedicated people looking into this are only now beginning to get their heads around.  Here we must thank the likes of Glenn Knox, David Bennet, Allan du Toit, Cameron Kinnear and Graham Du Toit and a handful of others for sterling work recovering this history.

So, in all likelihood more than just ’64’ South Africans died in this action, and why is this important for us to know who they were? Read this letter I received when I published this honour roll and action in a previous article on the HMS Dorsetshire it says everything as to the importance of this work:

Letter from Chris Crossley

Hi Peter,
Just another story for you! This post you put up on the Legions page has some amazing history which you wouldn’t know about but I am happy to share with you to show my gratitude for these “nuggets” of info you share with us.

My wife, Tracy, was an adopted child who after 35 years found her birth parents. Wonderful people they turned out to be and we are building a relationship with them that is priceless. As things go, curiosity led us to find out about family history and Tracy’s birth Dad told us about an uncle of his that was lost during the war. He was in the SAN and went down with “some” ship somewhere. He was married at the time and his wife, on hearing the news that her husband was lost at sea (MIA) never gave up on the hope of his return to Durban because he was never seen and not confirmed deceased. Because of this, she never remarried and passed away many years later, remaining faithful to her husband. Her husband was Roland Redman who served with the SA Navy volunteers on the HMS Dorsetshire that your story includes. His name is included in the Role of Honour for the Dorsetshire.

None of the wider family have ever known what happened to him and the facts and details of his service were not known by the surviving family members either. This last Saturday evening, I was talking to my wife’s birth Dad when he recounted the scant details he had of his uncle. I went on line and found your article and shared it with him on fb. Well he was overcome by this information as well as other members of his family and now for the first time in seventy odd years the facts of Uncle Roland, his service and his sacrifice are now known and cherished by his family left behind.

As an historian, I am sure this story will be something that you can cherish as your post has made a huge difference to some wonderful people! Thank you.

Chris Crossley

See When “nuggets” of history make a BIG difference

In Conclusion 

Now, with this letter in mind, I cannot think of a better reason to get this history right and establish the correct commemorations and full honour roll.  We owe it to our countrymen whose sacrifice brought us international freedom and liberty – it is our duty to carry this flame of remembrance and rid ourselves of the divisive and petty politics of one-upmanship played out by politicians with agendas (nationalists and the ANC) – this politicisation shrouds our most honourable history and only serves to dishonour the sacrifice of our South African servicemen and women – which is by its very nature is as ‘unforgivable’ as it is ‘dishonourable’.

Related work and Links:

For related work in the Observation Post on the above story, click on the following links:

SS Mendi: Let us die like brothers … the silent voices of the SS Mendi finally heard 

HMSAS Southern Floe:  ‘A sole survivor and a ship’s crest’; the South African Navy’s first loss – HMSAS Southern Floe

HMSAS Parktown: The feisty South African minesweeper that went down fighting – HMSAS Parktown)

HMSAS Bever  “Under a hail of shells”; Recounting the bravery and loss of HMSAS Bever

HMSAS Treern: The last South African Navy ship to be lost in action; HMSAS Treern

SAS President Kruger:  “Out of the Storm came Courage” … the tragedy of the PK

South Africans lost on other Royal Navy ships:

HMS Barham: “She blew sky high”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Barham!

HMS Edinburgh: “Gold may shine; but it has no true light” South African sacrifice on the HMS Edinburgh

HMS Gloucester: A “grievous error”; Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Gloucester

HMS Helca: “Every man for himself” … South African sacrifice and the sinking of HMS Hecla

HMS Neptune: South African sacrifice on the HMS Neptune


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.  References Wikipedia. CASUALTIES BY DATE and SHIP Compiled by Don Kindell sourced on the Royal Naval History Homepage.  Image copyright of Royal Navy, SA Naval Reserve, Imperial War Museum.  Japanese Imperial Ensign object, Imperial War Museum copyright.

 

Guy Hallifax, the most senior African Naval officer lost during WW2

29662349_2114964258732561_5863672511395231607_oThis Easter we also remember Rear Admiral Guy Hallifax, the most senior South African Naval officer  to lose his life during World War 2.  His contribution to the Navy is significant as he literally is one of the founding fathers of the modern South African Navy as we know it.

Guy Hallifax served in the Royal Navy from 1899 to 1935, and ended his RN career on the staff of the last British Governor-General of South Africa, the Earl of Clarendon.  Remaining in South Africa, at the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939, he was recruited by the South African government to form a Navy, which was to be named the ‘Seaward Defence Force’.

As the first Director of the Seaward Defence Force, he established a small fleet of minesweepers and anti-submarine vessels for coastal defence, and organised naval detachments in the major ports.  In his work, the South African seaward defence forces became a formidable institution by 1943, please take the time to watch this short Pathé newsreel which captures it.

In March 1941, Guy Hallifax flew in a small de Havilland Dragon Rapide to Walvis Bay, a small South African naval territory in South West Africa (now Namibia), for a staff visit to the base.   Uncomfortable with the old bi-plane Dragon Rapid, he elected to return in a heavier, modern and more powerful Loheed Lodestar.  This is Dragon Rapid he flew to Walvis Bay in – courtesy the SA Naval Museum.

10514263_10154387948540147_7537883925917828340_o

The de Havilland Dragon Rapide used by Guy Hallifax to fly to Walvis bay

On the 28th March 1941, when Rear Admiral Guy Hallifax returned from his staff in a civilian registered South African Airways Lockheed 18-08 Lodestar, Registration ZS-AST en-route to Cape Town, which tragically flew into the high ground near at Baboon Point near Elands Bay (Elandsbaai) in dense fog. All on board were killed which including Rear Admiral Guy Hallifax and three civilians.

189aa4e8838281b5ce39efb5921ae90c

Similar SAA Lockheed 18-08 Lodestar to ZS-AST

They are all buried in a mass grave in the Plumstead cemetery, the grave is cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  Here is his final resting place.

10506815_10204393630786316_1096154183815390699_o


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.  References Wikipedia and the SA Naval Museum, with thanks to Glenn Knox.  Video copyright Pathé news , also referenced is Day by Day SA Naval History: By Chris Bennett.

“They machine gunned us in the water”; Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Dorsetshire

This is an image of the HMS Dorsetshire listing and burning just prior to her sinking, it was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy using carrier borne dive bombing aircraft. A large number of South African Navy personnel were involved in the battle and were lost with this ship whilst seconded to the Royal Navy during World War 2.

rotate

As Simonstown in South Africa was a British Naval base thousands of South Africans in WW2 served in the Royal Navy as well as in the South African Naval Forces (SANF). The loss of a heavy Cruiser the size of the HMS Dorsetshire is bound to include a South African honour roll and unfortunately this one does – a very long one at that, especially given this particular Battle Cruiser’s long association with South Africa.

The sinking of both the HMS Cornwall and the HMS Dorsetshire in the Indian Ocean by the Japanese on 5th April 1942 is linked.  Not only that they were sunk within range of one another on the same day, but also in terms of the relationship of these two ships had with South Africa and the number of South Africans on board.  This is further linked to the sinking of the HMS Hermes and HMS Hollyhock later in the same engagement with the Japanese, with similar relations and consequences to the South African Navy.

So, let’s focus on the HMS Dorsetshire today, a hero in the sinking of the German Battleship Bismarck and the extraordinary link between this ship and South Africa.

HMS Dorsetshire Short History

1399036_810766838985484_5239559498358212933_oThe HMS Dorsetshire  was a heavy cruiser and after commissioning in 1930 became the flagship of the 2nd Cruiser Squadron Atlantic Home Fleet.  Before the war, from 1933 until 1936, HMS Dorsetshire served on the Africa Station. Her first recorded docking in the Selborne dry dock at Simonstown, South Africa was on 5 January 1934.

When the Second World War broke out HMS Dorestshire had joined the China station and in October 1939 she was joined into the hunt for the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee along with the HMS Cornwall.  Both were withdrawn from the China station and despatched to Ceylon to form Force I.

In December 1939 the HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall arrived in South Africa where they embarked many South African volunteers, drawn mainly from Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves (RNVR – South African Division) and South African Naval Reserve Force.

The HMS Dorsetshire was called into pursuit of the German ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Graf Spee, which having left Wilhemshaven on 21 August 1939  had reached the eastern part of the South Atlantic in early October 1939. In this region she managed to sink three British ships, Newton Beach, Ashlea and Huntsman on 5, 7 and 10 October respectively some 1,000 nautical miles north west of Cape Frio in Namibia, and then the Trevanion 630 miles north west of Walvis Bay on 22 October.

Admiral Graf Spee then continued on south and rounded the Cape passing some 400 miles south of Cape Agulhas. On 15 November she sank the small tanker Africa Shell a mere 10 miles off the coast of Mozambique before moving once again around the Cape keeping at least 300 miles off shore passing Cape Agulhas once more on 3 December 1939.

When the German Battleship ‘Admiral Graf Spee’ was discovered and pursued by the British Royal Navy, the Graf Spee was sent to the River Plate estuary in South America and because of the potential fall-out should it be sunk or captured the Captain was ordered by the German High Command to scuttle his vessel after leaving the Montevideo harbour – without encountering the Royal Navy.

In February 1940 while in the Atlantic, the German supply freighter Wakama was stopped by Dorsetshire in the area off Cabo Frio and her crew scuttled also her . On 2 March 1940 she left the Falklands with wounded from the cruiser HMS Exeter en-route to Cape Town, South Africa. On the 11th , the wounded and the prisoners from the German freighter were all put ashore.

She was then docked again at Simonstown’s Selborne dry dock, prior to sailing back to United Kingdom.  This short movie Pathé news reel captures the HMS Dorsetshire in South Africa and its well worth a quick look:

On May 25th, the cruiser arrived in Plymouth in the UK, and at the end of the month sailed for Freetown to commence operations around Dakar in pursuit of the Vichy French Battleship Richelieu.  She sailed on again to South Africa and was dry docked in Durban on the 4th September, on the 20th September she arrived back in Simonstown, where a day later she sailed for Sierra Leone.

November saw her in the Indian Ocean where she bombarded Zante in Italian Somaliland. In December Dorsetshire docked once again in the Selborne dry dock in South Africa and later that month she was ordered to search for the German pocket Battleship Admiral Scheer.

On 18 January 1941, HMS Dorsetshire captured the Vichy French freighter Mendoza and escorted the ship to Takaradi. In March 1941, Dorsetshire was once again docked in the Selborne dry dock in South Africa.  Late in May 1941, whilst in the North Atlantic on convoy covering duties, HMS Dorsetshire together with the cruiser HMS London were tasked to search for the German Battleship ‘Bismarck’.

The sinking of the Bismarck

bismarck

The Bismarck

At the time she was ordered to search for the Bismarck on 26th May 1941 the HMS Dorsetshire was some 360 nautical miles (670 km) south of  the Bismarck’s actual location. HMS Dorsetshire steamed at top speed, though heavy seas until she encountered the destroyer HMS Cossack, which had been engaging the Bismarck during the night, the German battleship’s gun flashes could be seen six miles away by early morning.

The HMS Dorsetshire then took part in the Bismarck’s final battle,  The battleships HMS Rodney and HMS King George V neutralised Bismarcks main battery early in the engagement,  the HMS Dorsetshire and other warships closed in to join the attack.  The HMS Dorsetshire opened fire at a range of 18,00 meters. In the course of the engagement, she fired 254 shells from her main battery.  In the final moments of the battle, she was ordered to move closer and torpedo the Bismarck and fired three torpedoes, two of which hit the crippled battleship.

Bismarck survivors

Survivors from Bismarck are pulled aboard Dorsetshire on 27 May 1941

The Germans had by this time also detonated scuttling charges, which also with the damage inflicted by the British Royal Navy, caused the Bismarck to rapidly sink just before midday on the 27th May 1941. 

The HMS Dorsetshire and the destroyer HMS Maori were tasked to pick up survivors. A reported U-boat sighting forced the two ships to break off the rescue effort, after picking up only 110 men: 85 aboard Dorsetshire and 25 aboard Maori.

African Duties and Raiders

In late August, HMS Dorsetshire left Freetown and participated in the unsuccessful search for the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, On the 4th November HMS Dorsetshire sent to investigate reports of a German surface raider in the South Atlantic with no result.

After arriving again in Cape Town on 9 December 1941, having sunk a German U Boat supply ship the ‘Python’ whilst she was refuelling a pair of German U-boats.

Beginning 1942, HMS Dorsetshire, under the command of Augustus Agar was assigned to the Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean.

The Easter Sunday Raid

With Japan’s entry into the war, and especially after the fall of Singapore, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) became a front-line British base. The Royal Navy’s East Indies Station and Eastern Fleet was moved to Colombo and Trincomalee.

Admiral Sir James Somerville was appointed as the commander of the British Eastern Fleet, and he decided to withdraw main component the fleet to Addu Atoll in the Maldives, leaving a small force to defend Ceylon (Sri Lanka) consisting of an aircraft carrier, the HMS Hermes, two heavy cruisers – the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire, one Australian Destroyer the HMSAS Vampire and the flower class corvette, the HMS Hollyhock.

The Royal Navy’s own ‘Pearl Harbour’

The Imperial Japanese Navy, in much the same way and with the same objectives that were used at Pearl Harbour against the American fleet planned a decisive attack of the British Eastern Fleet to end their presence in the North Indian and Pacific oceans.  Unaware that the main body of the British fleet had moved to the Maldives, they focused their plan on Colombo (the commercial capital of modern-day Sri Lanka).

The planned Japanese attack was to become collectively known as the Easter Sunday Raid and the Japanese fleet comprised five aircraft carriers plus supporting ships under the command of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo.

In an almost exact copy of the raid on the American fleet at Peal Harbour (as if no learnings were made by the Allies), on 4 April 1942, the Japanese fleet was located by a Canadian PBY Calatina aircraft, the Catalina radioed the position of the Japanese Fleet to The British Eastern Fleet which alerted the British to the impending attack before it was shot down by six Japanese Zero fighters from the carrier Hiryu.

A6M2_on_carrier_Akagi_1941

A Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane takes off from the deck of the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi, part of the Japanese Naval force in the Indian Ocean

However, despite the warning Nagumo’s air strike on Colombo the next day, Easter Sunday 5th April 1942 they did manage to achieved near-complete surprise (Pearl Harbour was also attacked on a weekend). The British Radar installations were not operating, they were shut down for routine maintenance (another parallel with the attack on Peal Harbour).

Easter Raid

Captain Mitsuo Fuchida

The first attack wave of Japanese planes took off in pre-dawn darkness (30 minutes before sunrise) from the aircraft carriers Akagi, Hiryu and Soryu, moving about 200 miles south of Sri Lanka. The first attack wave of 36 fighters, 54 dive bombers, and 90 level bombers was led by Captain Mitsuo Fuchida the same officer who led the air attack on Pearl Harbour.

The Heavy Cruisers, HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire set out in pursuit of the Japanese. On 5 April 1942, the two cruisers were sighted by a spotter plane from the Japanese cruiser Tone about 200 miles (370 km) southwest of Ceylon. A wave of  Japanese dive bombers led by Lieutenant Commander Egusa took off from Japanese carriers to attack Cornwall and Dorsetshire, 320 km (170 nmi; 200 mi) southwest of Ceylon, to sink the two ships.

In the attack, the Japanese airman flying Japanese  D3A-1 ‘VAL’ dive bombers, a total of 53 dive bombers in the attack wave, dropped 10 bombs on the HMS Dorsetshire itself (250- and 550-pound bombs) and 8 near misses, all in the span of 8 minutes.  One of the bombs detonated an ammunition magazine and contributed to her rapid sinking.  Of the two British cruisers, the HMS Dorsetshire sank first, with her stern going first at about 13:50, the HMS Cornwall was hit eight times and sank bow first about ten minutes later.

aichi-d3a1-mod-22-val

An eye-witness account from a South African Seaman on board the HMS Dorsetshire recounts the ferocity and nature of the Japanese attack:

Seaman WJ Spickett of Cape Town South Africa who was on lookout duty on Dorsetshire saw the whole action from start to finish.

“We were steaming to keep a rendezvous and when about 400 miles off land, a seaplane which we could not identify, started shadowing us. This was about 10 o’clock in the morning. Dorsetshire and Cornwall were steaming fast, keeping about four miles apart. At 20 minutes to two we spotted a large formation of between 40 and 60 aircraft coming towards us. Within a few minutes they were overhead — so high they were mere specks. Then they came straight for us in formations of three, diving at such a steep angle that it was impossible for our guns to get at them.

I saw the first bomb, a silvery flash in the sunlight, come straight for us. It was a direct hit, blasting our aircraft platform to pieces. In that first attack, I think 10 bombs were dropped. We were steaming at high-speed but eight of those 10 were direct hits. The other two were near misses. The ship listed badly and within 10 minutes of the first bomb being dropped we got orders to abandon ship.

We got away two whalers and a skiff and several rafts. There were hundreds of us in the water and then three planes came over and added to the horror of these moments ‘. Many were killed and wounded in this attack but apparently it was just a gesture of victory for it was not repeated.”

This witness account of machine gunning the survivors in the water is verified by a number of survivors including the Engineering Officer Lieutenant E. A. Drew, who said that whilst in the water they were “subjected to machine gun fire from the large number of Japanese planes that hung around until the ship sank”.

DorsetshireCornwall

Japanese combat photograph showing the Royal Navy heavy cruisers HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall on fire and sinking

Survival and Sacrifice 

In all the survivors of the sinking of both the Cornwall and Dorsetshire spent over 30 hours in the water clinging to debris or huddled in life rafts.  Many seriously injured and burned and during the night ‘space’ was made available on the tiny rafts and flotsam for many clinging onto them as many of their colleagues succumbed to their wounds.  Being the Indian ocean there are also tales of sharks circling the men and even taking them.  Harrowing would be an understatement.

Between the two ships, 1,122 men out of a total of 1,546 were picked up by the cruiser HMS Enterprise and the destroyers HMS Paladin and HMS Panther the next day. In this action, of the 424 members of the ships’ companies of the two cruisers who lost their lives, over 42 were South Africans.

HMS_'Dorsetshire'_survivors_after_sinking_by_Japanese_aircraft_Indian_Ocean

Survivors from the HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall in the water

Because of his ship’s long association with South Africa, a very high proportion of the losses were from the South African Naval Forces. Here is the South African Naval Forces honour roll (MPK means ‘Missing Presumed Killed’) from the sinking;

HMS Dorsetshire – South African Navy Personnel Lost, Honour Roll

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nBELL, Douglas S, Ty/Act/Leading Stoker, 67243 (SANF), MPK
BRUCE, Alexander M, Stoker 2c, 67907 (SANF), MPK
EVENPOEL, Albert, Stoker 2c, 67909 (SANF), MPK
GEFFEN, Sender, Stoker 1c, 68035 (SANF), MPK
HOWE, Horace G, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68680 (SANF), MPK
KENDRICK, George, Stoker 2c, 67910 (SANF), MPK
MCINTYRE, Norman G, Able Seaman, 67446 (SANF), MPK
MCLELLAN, Robert, Ordinary Telegraphist, 67897 (SANF), MPK
MORROW, Douglas E, Able Seaman, 67989 (SANF), MPK
ORTON, Charles P, Able Seaman, 68009 (SANF), MPK
REDMAN, Roland A, Leading Stoker, 67406 (SANF), MPK
SCOTT, William J, Able Seaman, 68007 (SANF), MPK
SEVEL, Harry, Stoker 1c, 68100 (SANF), MPK
WILLETT, Amos A S, Stoker 1c, 67240 (SANF), MPK
WILLIAMSON, Walter N, Able Seaman, 67803 (SANF), MPK

HMS Dorsetshire – South African’s lost serving in the Royal Navy, Honour Roll

CONCANON, Harold Bernard, Surgeon Lieutenant (Doctor)
MILNE, Lawrence Victor, Able Seaman
VAN ZYL, David Isak Stephanus, Stoker 1st Class
WILLETT, Amos Alfred Sidney ,Stoker 1st Class

Note: Some more South Africans may not accounted in the above list as they may have been Royal Navy personnel having volunteered to serve in the Royal Navy, there is a long list of South Africans not accounted on the Navy’s honour rolls because of the complication of citizenship, the position of the South African Union in supporting the war and the nature of Simonstown near Cape Town as ‘British territory’ and not South African.

Related work 

The Japanese Easter raid was to bring a terrible toll on not only the Royal Navy, but also on the South African Navy whose personnel were involved.  It remains the South African Navy’s darkest days, as not only were the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire full of SANF personnel.  For a full article on the HMS Cornwall, click on this link (“A terrific explosion lifted the ship out of the water”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Cornwall).

So too were the other two ships sunk later in this engagement on the 9th April 1942 by the same Japanese raiders, with similar South African naval personnel losses  – the HMS Hermes, see related article by clicking this link (“Dante’s Inferno”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hermes) and HMS Hollyhock, see related article by clicking this link ( “She immediately blew up”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hollyhock).

In Conclusion

This history is lost to most South Africans, however good work is now been done by a handful of individuals to try and correct and up-date these honour rolls and recount the full depth of South Africa’s involvement in warfare at sea during World War 2.

That the history is lost is due to the political expediency of the National Party, who on acent to power after WW2, effectively wiped it clean of the national consciousness – branding our World War 2 veterans as ‘traitors’ instead of ‘heroes’ for serving a British cause in their estimation. It is further lost to the new generations due to the slow up-take in recognition if this history by the African National Congress (ANC) government, again for their own political expediency.

That the darkest days of the South African Navy – The Easter Raid of 1942, is not even officially acknowledged or even remembered by The South African Navy in our modern day is testament to this and the subject of a future Observation Post article.

We, as South Africans, do however have an excellent tradition at the Selborne Graving Dock, the dry docks in Simonstown, allowing visiting crews to paint their ships emblems on the docks walls, it is an excellent record of many of the proud Royal Navy fighting ships who visited our shores in World War 2 and on whom many South Africans served.  Next time you are there look out them, including the HMS Dorsetshire.

Simonstown Dry DocksTheir names have not been forgotten.


Researched by Peter Dickens.  Background on HMS Dorsetshire extracted from U Boat.net.  Wikipedia.  News reel copyright British Pathé. British Broadcast Corporation account on the war (BBC)  WW2 The Peoples War. Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, World War 2 by Don Kindell. Extracts fro ‘Day to Day SA Naval History’ by Chris Bennett.  Thanks also to Graham Du Toit for his excellent research into the Honour Roll including South Africans serving in the Royal Navy.

 

“A terrific explosion lifted the ship out of the water”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Cornwall

This is an image of the HMS Cornwall under attack just prior to her sinking, it was taken by the Japanese attack aircraft. A number of South African Navy personnel were lost with this ship whilst seconded to the Royal Navy during World War 2.

11227764_471697846333286_6697642980063770182_n

As Simonstown in South Africa was a British Naval base thousands of South Africans in WW2 served in the Royal Navy as well as in the South African Naval Forces (SANF). The loss of a heavy Cruiser the size of the HMS Cornwall is bound to include a South African honour roll and unfortunately this one does. Read on for their story.

HMS Cornwall Short History

hms_cornwall_F99_emb_n12997HMS Cornwall was a heavy cruiser of the Kent-subclass of the County-class. When World War 2 began in September 1939,  Cornwall was transferred from her pre-war China Seas operations to the Indian Ocean and joined Force I at Ceylon.

On 5th October 1939, she was involved in the search for the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. Between the 8th  and 14th February 1940, she was docked at the Selborne dry dock at Simonstown, South Africa.  Its was here that she would have taken onboard a large contingent of South Africans either volunteering for the Royal Navy or seconded to the Royal Navy as members of The South African Naval Forces stationed there.

In September 1940, together with HMS Delhi, she intercepted Vichy-French light cruiser Primauguet and tanker Tarn, forcing them to return to Casablanca, Morocco. By January 1941, HMS Cornwall returned to the Selborne dry dock in South Africa for refitting, at the same time taking on more South African personnel.

Sinking of the German Auxiliary Ship Pinguin

The HMS Cornwall was on patrol in the Indian Ocean of Seychelles when she engaged and sank the German ship ‘Pinguin’ on the 8th May 1941, Pinguin was known to the German Navy as Schiff 33, and designated HSK 5. The most successful commerce raider of the war, she was known to the British Royal Navy as Raider F.

Unfortunately, without the knowledge of Cornwall’s crew, Pinguin sank along with 200 Allied prisoners of war in addition to 232 Germans lost (60 German crew members and 22 Allied prisoners were rescued). She returned to Durban, South Africa to repair her stern, which was damaged during the battle against Pinguin; the repairs lasted until 10th  June 1941.

HK Pinguin

HK Pinguin

On the 25th November 1941, Cornwall intercepted the Vichy-French merchant vessel Surcouf in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Somalia. Surcouf was originally en route to Djibouti with food, but was forced to sail to Djibouti instead.

Between January and March 1942, Cornwall escorted convoys between Ceylon and the Sunda Strait in the Dutch East Indies. In March 1942, she was sent to Colombo, Ceylon in preparation for a possible Japanese attack into the Indian Ocean.

The Easter Sunday Raid

With Japan’s entry into the war, and especially after the fall of Singapore, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) became a front-line British base. The Royal Navy’s East Indies Station and Eastern Fleet was moved to Colombo and Trincomalee.

Admiral Sir James Somerville was appointed as the commander of the British Eastern Fleet, and he decided to withdraw main component the fleet to Addu Atoll in the Maldives, leaving a small force to defend Ceylon (Sri Lanka) consisting of an aircraft carrier, the HMS Hermes, two heavy cruisers – the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire, one Australian Destroyer the HMSAS Vampire and the flower class corvette, the HMS Hollyhock.

The Royal Navy’s own ‘Pearl Harbour’

The Imperial Japanese Navy, in much the same way and with the same objectives that were used at Pearl Harbour against the American fleet planned a decisive attack of the British Eastern Fleet to end their presence in the North Indian and Pacific oceans.  Unaware that the main body of the British fleet had moved to the Maldives, they focused their plan on Colombo (the commercial capital of modern-day Sri Lanka).

The planned Japanese attack was to become collectively known as the Easter Sunday Raid and the Japanese fleet comprised five aircraft carriers plus supporting ships under the command of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo.

In an almost exact copy of the raid on the American fleet at Peal Harbour (as if no learnings were made by the Allies), on 4 April 1942, the Japanese fleet was located by a Canadian PBY Calatina aircraft, the Catalina radioed the position of the Japanese Fleet to The British Eastern Fleet which alerted the British to the impending attack before it was shot down by six Japanese Zero fighters from the carrier Hiryu,

However, despite the warning Nagumo’s air strike on Colombo the next day, Easter Sunday 5th April 1942 they did manage to achieved near-complete surprise (Pearl Harbour was also attacked on a weekend). The British Radar installations were not operating, they were shut down for routine maintenance (another parallel with the attack on Peal Harbour).

Easter Raid

Captain Mitsuo Fuchida

The first attack wave of Japanese planes took off in pre-dawn darkness (30 minutes before sunrise) from the aircraft carriers Akagi, Hiryu and Soryu, moving about 200 miles south of Sri Lanka. The first attack wave of 36 fighters, 54 dive bombers, and 90 level bombers was led by Captain Mitsuo Fuchida the same officer who led the air attack on Pearl Harbour.

The Heavy Cruisers, HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire set out in pursuit of the Japanese. On 5 April 1942, the two cruisers were sighted by a spotter plane from the Japanese cruiser Tone about 200 miles (370 km) southwest of Ceylon. A wave of  Japanese dive bombers led by Lieutenant Commander Egusa took off from Japanese carriers to attack Cornwall and Dorsetshire, 320 km (170 nmi; 200 mi) southwest of Ceylon, to sink the two ships.

In the attack, the Japanese airman flying Japanese  D3A-1 ‘VAL’ dive bombers, then dropped 9 bombs on the HMS Cornwall itself ( 250- and 550-pound bombs) and six near misses, the HMS Cornwall becoming dead in the water within minutes, the HMS Cornwall sank in about 12 minutes after the first hit (and Dorsetshire suffered the same fate).

aichi-d3a1-mod-22-val

An eye-witness account from a South African officer on board the Cornwall recounts the ferocity and speed of the attack:

Sub-Lieutenant R. Ellis Brown, son of the mayor of Durban, said he was down below in the control room of the high angle guns when the warning was flashed that aircraft were attacking.

“Almost immediately afterwards there was a terrific explosion and the ship lifted out of the water and listed to port, “ he said. “This was followed almost immediately by another hit. The lights went out and I continued on to the sick bay. I went forward from there to contact the control officer and shortly after I left, a bomb dropped on the sick bay, killing most of the men there. I could not get through on account of the flames, so went to the aft deck. Here we managed to get a whaler and also five or six floats. We got the men off and I looked up and saw a dive-bomber coming down at me. I saw the bomb released at about 700 feet and it appeared to be coming straight at me. Although I knew that if a bomb appeared to be coming straight at you it would actually fall far beyond. I must say I did not like it one bit. The men jumped into the water and finally the two other officers and myself left on this deck followed them.”

Sub-Lieutenant Ellis Brown said that the men were in the water for about 30 hours. The wounded were placed in a motor boat which had floated off when Cornwall sank. The remainder stayed in the water, hanging on to debris and floats. To the discomforts the men suffered in the water was added the horror of knowing they were in shark-infested waters.  He recalls, “We saw several fins cutting the water but as soon as they came near, the men would kick and shout and they would make off.”

 

DorsetshireCornwall

Japanese combat photograph showing the Royal Navy heavy cruisers HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall on fire and sinking

 

HMS Cornwall was sunk in position 01º54’N, 77º45’E. All boiler and engine rooms were out of action within minutes, thereby resulting in a lack of power to the pumps and fire fighting equipment. In all the men spent 30 hours in the water, before a combined rescue of the HMS Dorsetshire men (also in the water) and HMS Cornwall’s men by the HMS Enterprise, HMS Paladin and HMS Panther. In total 192 of Cornwall’s men were lost, of a very high proportion – 23, were South African.  Here is the South African Naval Forces honour roll (MPK means ‘Missing Presumed Killed’) from the sinking;.

HMS Cornwall – South African Navy Personnel Lost, Honour Roll

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nBESWETHERICK, Hedley C, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 86671 (SANF), MPK
BOTES, John S, Stoker 2c RNVR, 68924 (SANF), MPK
COMMERFORD, Noel P, Able Seaman RNVR, 66493 (SANF), MPK
CRAWFORD, Cecil E, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c RNVR, 67922 (SANF), MPK
DU PREEZ, Charles P H, Able Seaman, 68175 (SANF), MPK
DUTTON, Charles C, Stoker 2c RNVR, 68949 (SANF), MPK
HANSLO, Raymond F, Able Seaman RNVR, 68295 (SANF), MPK
KEITH, Kenneth I B, Able Seaman RNVR, 66742 (SANF), MPK
KENYON, Graeme A B, Able Seaman RNVR, 68002 (SANF), MPK
KIRSTEN, Monty G W, Able Seaman RNVR, 68917 (SANF), MPK
LAW, Edward, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c RNVR, 66760 (SANF), MPK
MCDAVID, William K, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69138 (SANF), MPK
MITCHELL, William A, Stoker 1c RNVR, 68796 (SANF), MPK
PALMER, Walter A, Able Seaman RNVR, 68344 (SANF), (rescued, aboard HMS Enterprise), Died of Wounds
SPENCE, Noel W, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68732 (SANF), MPK
SQUIRES, John E, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68728 (SANF), MPK
STEPHEN, Eric B, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68861 (SANF), MPK
SWANN, Lawrence T, Stoker 1c RNVR, 68710 (SANF), MPK
THORPE, Maurice, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69140 (SANF), MPK
VERSFELD, Peter H S, Able Seaman RNVR, 68859 (SANF), MPK
VINK, Benjamin F, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68860 (SANF), MPK
WILLSON, Gerald F, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69006 (SANF), MPK
WRIGHT, Thomas H, Able Seaman RNVR, 68039 (SANF), MPK

In earlier incidents on HMS Cornwall two South Africans lost their lives they are also remembered here:

AINSLIE, Roy, Petty Officer, 66382 (SANF), died on 5 September 1940
HAWKINS, Reginald D, Able Seaman, 66700 (SANF), died of illness 4 March 1942

Some South Africans may not accounted in the above list as they may have been Royal Navy personnel having volunteered to serve in the Royal Navy, there is a long list of South Africans not accounted on the Navy’s honour rolls because of the complication of citizenship, the position of the South African Union in supporting the war and the nature of Simonstown as British territory.

Related work 

The Japanese Easter raid was to bring a terrible toll on not only the Royal Navy, but also on the South African Navy whose personnel were involved.  It remains the South African Navy’s darkest days, as not only were the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire full of SANF personnel, so too were the other two ships sunk later in this engagement on the 9th April 1942 by the same Japanese raiders – the HMS Hermes, see related article by clicking this link (“Dante’s Inferno”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hermes) and HMS Hollyhock, see related article by clicking this link ( “She immediately blew up”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hollyhock).

The HMS Dorsetshire is featured in a full Observation Post article, follow by clicking this link (“They machine gunned us in the water”; Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Dorsetshire).

In Conclusion

This history is lost to most South Africans, however good work is now been done to try and correct and up-date these honour rolls and recount the full depth of South Africa’s involvement in warfare at sea during World War 2.  We, as South Africans, do however have an excellent tradition at the Selborne Graving Dock, the dry docks in Simonstown, allowing visiting crews to paint their ships emblems on the docks walls, it is an excellent record of many of the proud Royal Navy fighting ships who visited our shores in World War 2 and on whom many South Africans served.  Next time you are there look out them, including the HMS Cornwall.

Their names have not been forgotten.

3397451999_8e45bbe5a4_b


Written and researched by Peter Dickens, with extracts taken from Wikipedia, Force-z survivors official webpage, the British Broadcast Corporation account on the war (BBC)  WW2 The Peoples War. Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, World War 2 by Don Kindell.

The last South African Navy ship to be lost in action; HMSAS Treern

It is not known now to many modern South Africans, but the South African Navy lost four ships in total during WW2, all of them minesweepers.  Hardly recognised today all these ships carried with them tales of great bravery,

The first ship lost in the Mediterranean near Tobruk was the HMSAS Southern Floe with its remarkable tale of a single survivor (see The HMSAS Southern Floe was the SA Navy’s first ship loss & it carries with it a remarkable tale of survival.).

The second ship lost was the HMSAS Parktown, which went down fighting during the Fall of Tobruk in Libya, with the HMSAS Bever fighting at her side out the port (see The feisty South African minesweeper that went down fighting – HMSAS Parktown).

The third ship to be lost was the HMSAS Parktown’s sister ship, the HMSAS Bever which went down later in the war during the liberation of Greece when it struck a mine, and carries with its story a tale of miraculous survivors (see “Under a hail of shells”; Recounting the bravery and loss of HMSAS Bever).

The final minesweeper to be lost was the HMSAS Treern, it was tragically lost right at the end of the war, and it remains the last South African vessel to be lost in action, even to this day, yet hardly anyone is aware of her history.

So lets examine this last combat loss, and why it is that we tend to overlook all this sacrifice at sea in the South African Navy’s vessels during the Second World War.

The second minesweeping flotilla prepares for the Mediterranean 

27797891_2090641777831476_3648925428113256571_o

HMSAS Treern

On the 12 May 1941, the HMSAS Treern (under the command of Lt. H H Cook) is commissioned, she is a whaler now converted for wartime service.  Now a magnetic minesweeper she is given her number T451 and allocated the pennant number 94.

By the beginning of November 1941, there is a small flotilla of South African minesweepers ready for deployment in the Mediterranean in support of Allied combat operations there.  The HMSA Ships, Bever, Gribb, Seksern, Imhoff, Treern, Parktown and Langlaagte, all are former whale catchers of about 260 tons and built between 1926 and 1930, and all are ready to go as part of the 166th Minesweeping Group in the Mediterranean.   Each minesweeper is fitted with one 3 inch gun plus smaller QF guns, depth charges and LL sweeps.  They are the second group of South African minesweepers to sail from Durban for the Mediterranean.

The liberation of Greece 

The Treern has a long record of service conducting duties alongside Allied shipping, she spends almost the entire war in the combat zone, towards the end of the war she finds herself under the command of Lt. P Byrne assisting in the liberation of Greece sailing in the Aegean Sea – the end of the war in Europe and surrender of Germany is a tantalising four months away.

Treern

HMSAS Treern

By January 1945 the situation in the Greek Islands was somewhat confused. Initially the task of the Allies appeared to be a straightforward one; simply the supply and distribution of food and other essentials and the opening up of communications which, from the nature of the country, was largely by sea. However, internal dissension (which the retreating German forces had done their best to promote) considerably complicated and delayed the Allied take over.

ELAS

The Greek People’s Liberation Army or ELAS was the military arm of the left-wing National Liberation Front (EAM) during the period of the Greek Resistance until February 1945, then during the Greek Civil War.

HMSAS Treern, with orders to relieve HMSAS Seksern at Volo, arrived there at noon on 27 December 1944 only to find the harbour deserted and therefore anchored in the bay whilst radioing for instructions. Soon afterwards an emissary from ELAS (Greek People’s Liberation Army) arrived, ELAS was one of the factions in the internal dissension in Greece caused by the vacuum created by the German occupiers retreating from Greece.

The ELAS emissary informed the HMSAS Treern that Volo was under ELAS control and then asked the Captain what his intentions were.

The ELAS emissary eventually agreed to let the ship remain there for the night. Next morning Treern left for Skiathos where she met up with the British destroyer, HMS Musketeer, considerably to the relief of both captains, and came under the orders of the Musketeer.

In the town of Volo a somewhat lukewarm ELAS control prevailed – political fervour being influenced by the presence of the destroyer and her 4.7-inch guns, under cover of which all local craft, arriving and leaving, were interrogated and searched for arms.

mus

Treern assisted in this duty for the next few days before being attached to a small naval force then operating against the ELAS in the Gulf of Volo and along the north-east coast of Euboea.

The loss of the HMSAS Treern

On the morning of 12 January whilst off the northern shore of the Trikiri Channel and towing a caique laden with fuel for motor launches then lying off Volo. At about 08:30 there is a huge explosion, presumably caused by a mine, which destroys Treern almost immediately with a very heavy loss of life.

Only one man survives 

The only survivor, Stoker J.J. Bosch, later states that he was in the port waist, while most of the other men off duty were watching a pig being slaughtered on the boat-deck above him. Suddenly he felt a tremendous concussion and found himself somersaulting through the air into the water. On coming to the surface he found a life buoy floating near him and saw the last few feet of the ship’s bows disappear below the surface.

At the same time another mine exploded about 100 yards away, presumably a sympathetic detonation caused by the first explosion. One of his legs had been injured, but the caique picked him up and about an hour later transferred him to HMS Musketeer.

Honour Roll

MPK means ‘Missing Presumed Killed’.  SANF stands for ‘South African Naval Forces’.

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nANDERSON, Robert D, Engine Room Artificer 2c, 71067 V (SANF), MPK
BARKER, Ronald E, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
BLAKE, Robert E, Petty Officer, P 6572 (SANF), MPK
BROWN, Ian H, Able Seaman, 71719 V (SANF), MPK
BYRNE, Patrick, Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
DAVIE, William, Stoker 1c, 70681 V (SANF), MPK
ENGELBEEN, Leslie C, Able Seaman, 562235 V (SANF), MPK
JACOBZ, Frank H, Stoker 1c, 70374 V (SANF), MPK
MATTHEWS, George A, Stoker 1c, 70728 V (SANF), MPK
MCINTYRE, William G, Cook (S), 585360 (SANF), MPK
MCLARTY, William D, Leading Stoker, 562246 V (SANF), MPK
MCLEAN, Godfrey, Able Seaman, 562455 V (SANF), MPK
NILAND, St John E, Able Seaman, 209905 (SANF), MPK
PERRY, Desmond A, Petty Officer, 71211 (SANF), MPK
REID, Kenneth H, Signalman, 562143 V (SANF), MPK
SALCOMBE, Francis R, Stoker 1c, 58589 V (SANF), MPK
STAPELBERG, Willem J, Steward, 562221 V (SANF), MPK
SUTTON, Donald A, Able Seaman, 70426 (SANF), MPK
SUTTON, George A M, Leading Seaman, 586403 V (SANF), MPK
TRAFFORD, William O, Able Seaman, 71222 V (SANF), MPK
VILJOEN, Dennis A, Telegraphist, 70984 V (SANF), MPK
WHITE, Charles W, Petty Officer, 562200 V (SANF), MPK
WULFF, Emil F, Leading Seaman, 562466 V (SANF), MPK

In Conclusion

Successive generations of South Africans have not been exposed to the gallantry of South African servicemen at sea, many remain blissfully unaware of all the heroic actions of South African fighting ships during World War 2.

Little remains of this history, and it now has to ‘dug up’ from recent research conducted by Chris Bennet and Allan du Toit, very little to nothing is available in public on-line records such as Wikipedia, such is the degree to which it has been wiped from the South African national consciousness.

The reason for this is political, the incoming Nationalist government after the war in 1948 regarded all of South Africa’s and Smuts’ exploits during World War 2 as one of treachery (siding with the ‘hated’ British), so no large-scale Naval commemorations or recognition ceremonies were ever undertaken by the South African Navy to maintain this memory.


Researched by Peter Dickens.  Reference: Large extracts taken from Day by Day SA Naval History by Chris Bennett. Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, World War 2 by Don Kindell. Images of South African vessels courtesy Allan du Toit and reference from his book ‘South African Fighting Ships’.

“Gold may shine; but it has no true light” South African sacrifice on the HMS Edinburgh

British20Navy20HMS20Edinburgh“Gold may shine, but it has no true light” is a quote by Kristian Goldmund Aumann to mean that glittering gold is false when compared to the importance of spiritual light, and nothing is more true in this statement when reviewing the sacrifice and loss on the HMS Edinburgh – it is the subject of a multi-million dollar treasure hunt for gold and the subject of supreme wartime sacrifice, including South African life.

As Simonstown was a British naval base during the Second World War thousands of naval ratings and officers who volunteered to serve in the South African Navy (known as the South African Navy Forces) landed up serving on British vessels. So when one was sunk, as HMS Edinburgh was, inevitably there is an honour roll of South Africans. The sinking of the HMS Edinburgh also carries with it an intriguing story of gold … read on for their story.

Edinburgh3

Aerial view of HMS EDINBURGH, ‘Southampton’ class (third group) cruiser in Scapa Flow, October 1941. Imperial War Museum copyright

Operations 

The HMS Edinburgh was a very heavily armed and armoured Town Class light cruiser of the Royal Navy, she saw extensive wartime service during World War 2, including the hunt for the German Battleship Bismarck, however our story picks up from August 1941 when she  escorted convoy WS10 to Simonstown in South Africa.

After some maintenance work in South Africa and taking on some South African Naval personnel the HMS Edinburgh sailed to Malta as part of Operation Halberd. She returned to Gibraltar shortly afterwards, departing from there on 1 October 1941, with supplies and prisoners of war aboard, and bound for the Clyde in Scotland.

Edinburgh1

The cruisers HMS EDINBURGH, HMS HERMIONE, and HMS EURYALUS, steaming in line abreast whilst they escort a convoy (Operation HALBERD – convoy not visible).

After repairs at Faslane she joined the Home Fleet on Iceland Forces Patrol duties and from November 1941 to April 1942 provided cover to Arctic convoys bringing aid to the Soviet Union (Russia).

On 6 April, she left Scapa Flow to escort convoy PQ14 to Murmansk. Of the 24 ships in PQ14, 16 were forced by unseasonal ice and bad weather to return to Iceland, and another was sunk by a U-boat. HMS Edinburgh and the remaining seven vessels arrived in Murmansk on 19 April.

Here she took on gold bullion to take back to the United Kingdom, a lot of it, 4.5-long-ton (4,570 kg). The consignment, which had a value of about £1.5 million sterling in 1942 (adjusted for inflation to 2017 pounds, £63,047,983), was a partial payment by the Soviet Union  for the supplies of war material and military equipment from the Western Allies. In total the ship had 465 gold ingots in 93 wooden boxes stored in the bomb-room.

Sinking

On the return leg from Murmansk, HMS Edinburgh was the flagship of Rear-Admiral Stuart Bonham Carter who was commanding the escort of returning Convoy QP 11 involving 17 ships.

On 30 April 1942, a German Submarine U-456 (under the command of Kapitanleutnant  Max-Martin Teichert) on her 5th patrol spotted the HMS Edinburgh and engaged her by firing a torpedo into her starboard side, hitting her just fore of the bomb room, which stored all the gold.

The ship began to list heavily, but the crew reacted quickly and competently by closing watertight bulkheads, which prevented the ship from sinking immediately. Soon after, U-456 put a second torpedo into HMS Edinburghs stern, wrecking her steering equipment and crippling her.

Edinburgh2

A photograph clearly showing the severe damage to the stern of HMS EDINBURGH caused by the German torpedo and her listing to port.

HMS Edinburgh was then taken in tow by escorting British ships, and tried to return to Murmansk along with the destroyers HMS Foresight and HMS Forester and four minesweepers. Along the way she was hounded constantly by German torpedo bombers. On 2 May, as she progressed at a snail’s pace under tow and her own power, she was attacked off Bear Island by three large German destroyers – Z7, Z24 and Z25. HMS Edinburgh was cast off the tow, so that she started to sail in circles, fighting off the assault in a fierce sea battle , the Edinburgh even managed to cause such damage to one of the German Destroyers – Z7 Hermann Schoemann that it had to scuttled by her crew and sank.

HMS Edinburgh’s escorts eventually drove off Z24 and Z25, but she was struck by a torpedo amidships, exactly opposite the first torpedo hit from U-456. She was now held together only by the deck plating and keel, which was likely to fail at any time, so the crew abandoned ship. HMS Gossamer took off 440 men and HMS Harrier about 400. Two officers and 56 other ranks on HMS Edinburgh were killed in the attacks.

HMS Edinburgh was doomed at this stage and a last resort the British used HMS Harrier tried to scuttle HMS Edinburgh with 4 inch gunfire, but 20 shots did not sink her. Depth charges dropped alongside also failed. Finally, in a sad farewell to a very strong fighting ship HMS Foresight sank HMS Edinburgh with her last torpedo (the others having been expended against the German destroyers).

Foresight2

HMS Foresight (FL 4063) Underway.

In an ironic twist of history, HMS Foresight met a similar fate as HMS Edinburgh when she was torpedoed by Italian aircraft whilst on escort duty and had to be sunk by HMS Tartar after breaking her tow.

The fate of U-456, Z24 and Z25

The fate of the German submarine and warships involved in the sinking of HMS Edinburgh, U-456 was eventually sunk on the 12th May 1943 whilst hunting convoys off Ireland she was spotted by a RAF Liberator, she dived but was hit by a ‘new’ American Fido acoustic homing torpedo dropped by the Liberator. U-456 was badly damaged and forced to re-surface. On the following day she was depth charged and sunk on 12 May 1943 by HMS Opportune.

Z24 was a Type 1936 German destroyer and was attacked and completely destroyed and sunk by the Royal Air Force on the 25th August 1944 off Le Verdon.  Z25, also a Type 1936 survived the war and was taken over by the British on the 6th January 1946.

Salvaging the Gold

keith-jessop_1643679f

Keith Jessop with a gold bar from the HMS Edinburgh

After the war, the wreck of the HMS Edinburgh was classified as a war grave, making salvage operations for the gold which sunk with her difficult.  However ever anxious the British government pressed to recover the gold.  Ostensibly not just because of the value but also because of unscrupulous salvaging operations and because of tensions with the Soviet Union during the Cold War and fear they might salvage it all.

In the early 1980s, Jessop Marine, with the support of Wharton Williams Ltd (a leading global diving company) and OSA (a specialist shipping company) won a contract from the British government to attempt a recovery.  The recovered gold would be divided up between the salvage consortium, the British Government and the Soviet Government.

Cutting into the wreck by divers to get to the bomb room was deemed more appropriate for a war grave than the traditional ‘smash and grab’ explosives-oriented methods. The consortium of specialist companies for the project was then formed on the proviso the recovery be done with dignity.

In April 1981, the wreck was discovered the wreck at about 400 kilometres NNE of the Soviet coast at the Kola Inlet at a very deep 245 metres (800 ft).  The wreck was mapped and on the 30th August 1981 the diving operation began in earnest, by mid September, 431 of 465 ingots had been recovered.

At the time, the 80’s, the haul was worth in excess of £40,000,000 sterling  (£63,000,000 by today’s standard). This bullion recovery project created a World Record in deep diving which stands to this day. A further 29 bars were brought up in 1986 by the Consortium, bringing the total to 460, leaving five unaccounted for.  They also recovered the all important ship’s bell. It was billed as the ‘Salvage of the Century’ and made a rich man the famous treasure hunter Keith Jessop and others, including some Southern African divers on the project.

However, some full credit to these divers, when reaching the wreck for the first time the lead diver on his own accord conducted two minutes of silence underwater in recognition of the war dead, despite the extreme dangers of saturation ‘deep bell’ diving.  They also preformed a wreath laying service at sea on completing the salvage.

The BBC captured this story in a documentary called ‘Gold from the Deep – The Salvage of the Century,’ its well worth a view and contains some outstanding eye-witness accounts of the HMS Edinburgh’s crew.

See YouTube link Gold from the deep – the salvage of the century

“Gold may shine, but it has no true light”

Now, we come back to the quote, “Gold may shine, but has no true light”.  The true light, the true treasure lost were the lives of the 58 Allied personnel lost on HMS Edinburgh in her desperate fight to bring convoys of equipment, food and aid to the Soviet Union in a very desperate time as the Russians soaked up the biggest cost in blood of the war fighting Nazi Germany,  the later Cold War of the 1980’s and gold booty aside, we remember these South African’s whose true light was extinguished in this fight:

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nSouth African Honour Roll – HMS Edinburgh 

DRUMMOND, Valentine W, Able Seaman, 68043 (South African Naval Forces), Missing Presumed Killed
VAN DORDRECHT, William H, Able Seaman, 67851 (South African Naval Forces), Missing Presumed Killed


Written by Peter Dickens, primary source and extracts from Wikipedia, photo copyrights to the Imperial War Museum