D-Day: Sweeping Ahead of the Destroyers, Early Morning, 6 June 1944

Minesweepers clearing approaches to the invasion beaches ahead of D-Day, 6th June 1944. Oil on canvas by Norman Wilkinson in collection of National Maritime Museum.

Wilkinson, Norman, 1878-1971; D-Day: Sweeping Ahead of the Destroyers, Early Morning, 6 June 1944

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Salvage award of two pounds and five shillings for SS Empire Haven, 1943

On 13 October 1943, German aircraft torpedoed SS Empire Haven (6,603 GRT) in position 36°15′N 02°23′W, north of Oran, Algeria. The merchantman was under contract to the Ministry of War Transport (MoWT) and travelling as part of Convoy MKS 21. One of the convoy escorts, the minesweeper HMS Rye, took Empire Haven under tow and brought her into Gibraltar.

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham, Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet, signalled:

I congratulate you, the escort force and convoy MKS 21 on your sturdy defence of convoy against heavy harassing attack. The enemy got a sore head he is likely to remember.

Empire Haven lay there until 1946, awaiting repairs. She was sold to R. Chapman & Son and renamed Clearton.

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SS Empire Haven
Builder: Taikoo Dockyard & Engineering Company of Hong Kong Ltd.
Tonnage: 6,603 GRT.
Launched: 28 April 1941.

So much for wartime events.

Enter my grandfather, SBA aboard HMS Rye, and wondering in a period of postwar austerity whether he was entitled to a share of salvage money for “assistance rendered to” Empire Haven.

I do not have copies of the letters that my grandfather sent to the Admiralty in 1946 and 1947, but I do have the replies sent my the Director of Navy Accounts.

In the first reply, dated 24 December 1946, the Admiralty acknowledges Rye‘s salvage of Empire Haven and states that a “share of the award will be made as early as practicable.”

The reply also rejects a claim for salvage on the Liberty ship SS Francis W. Pettygrove, also damaged during German attacks on Convoy MKS 21.

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The second reply, dated 27 March 1947, acknowledged receipt and return of my grandfather’s S.459 form (certificate of service record in the Royal Navy), stating “a remittance  on this account will be sent you shortly.”

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Here is a snapshot from my grandfather’s updated S.459 showing the payment of £2 5/- (two pounds and five shillings) as his share of salvage for SS Empire Haven.

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Not exactly a princely sum. My grandfather spent his salvage money on a halfway decent hat.

He still had that hat thirty years later in 1977 when he took me on the train from Waterloo down to Portsmouth to see the Queen’s Silver Jubliee Fleet Review. Memorable day for eight year old me: Southern Region breakfast in the dining car, a tour of HMS Victory, carvery lunch at the Keppels Head, miles and miles of grey funnels at the fleet review, heaps of ice cream, and home in time for tea.

I miss you, you silly old bugger.

 

 

My grandfather’s story: Minesweeping during Operation Husky, 1943

This my grandfather’s account, published in The Worthing Herald on August 27, 1943.

Les Bober was serving on the Bangor-class minesweeper HMS Rye (J76) with 14th Minesweeper Flotilla, clearing the approaches to ACID North and ACID South beaches on the night of 9th-10th July, then remaining in the area through 18th July carrying out anti-submarine patrols, mine clearance, and escort duties. Rye’s captain during Operation Husky was Lt. J. A. Pearson, RNR.

HE WAS IN SPEARHEAD OF SICILY ATTACK

Worthing Man Helped Sweep Seas For Armada

The first Englishmen to approach Sicily as the tip of the spearhead of the Allied invasion of the East Coast near Noto were the crews of four minesweepers which cleared a channel for the huge Armada which followed them.

On one of those minesweepers was a Worthing man, Sick Berth Attendant Leslie Bober, eldest son of Mrs. Wooster, of “Trevone,” Trevor-close.

A graphic account of his experience was given by Bober to the “Tripoli Times,” writes a military correspondent.

I am reliably informed that the “military correspondent” was my grandfather and that he forwarded the Tripoli Times article to his hometown newspaper.

Bober, who is 29 years old, was employed as a printer before the war, and worked for the “South London Press,” and for a time for B. H. Gadd, Wenban-road, Worthing. He runs a paper on board his ship, and has a gift for writing. He joined the Navy at the outbreak of war, and has two other brothers at sea, one in the Navy like himself, and the other in the Merchant Service.

“It’s Come at Last.”

Bober told the correspondent: “I was on board one of the first four minesweepers which approached Sicily on the Friday night of the invasion to sweep a channel for the invasion craft.

“We didn’t know where we were going until we had put to sea. We sailed to the east and then turned into Sicily. Our skipper came down and drew a map on the fo’casle and told us we were going to invade Sicily. He didn’t show a trace of excitement – just as if he were explaining some plan in peace-time. We all felt a bit mixed, but the chief feeling was “It’s come at last.”

“We swept a path into Noto harbour, on the east side of Sicily below Syracuse. We were expecting hell and we were feeling a bit tense. But strangely enough there was absolutely no opposition worth talking about. As we approached we could see our Fortresses giving them a terrific thumping, but their searchlights and ack-ack weren’t at all what I was expecting to see.

Noto is a town ~5km inland. He means Golfo di Noto, the wide inlet south of Syracuse. The harbour is Lido di Noto, a fishing village and beach town.

Landing beaches here during Operation Husky were GEORGE, HOW, and JIG. British troops landing on these beaches included 5th Infantry Division (Maj Gen Berney-Ficklin) and 50th Infantry Division (Maj Gen Kirkman).

A Few Shots

“We swept quite close inshore. We had heard that the paratroops had gone in and we all felt that the good job they had done was the reason why we were not getting all the attention we had expected.

“We stayed in Noto Bay until dawn and then we went in again to sweep in front of the troop carrying lighters. There were a few shots but nothing at all really. It was just like bringing them into Tripoli harbour.

“We could see the troops landing on the beaches and the civilians packing all their goods and scrambling away. Along the shore there were one or two fires.

“Our troops walked in; then they landed artillery and they started a barrage. Meanwhile the landing barges were going to and fro among the immense armada of ships. It is impossible to give any idea of the sight of those thousands of ships. Everywhere you looked there were ships, all the ships that you see in the London and Liverpool docks. There were battleships and cruisers, destroyers, troopships and the landing craft going backwards and forwards. We all said it was ‘Britain’s Day Off’!

No Opposition

“In the morning after the first troops had landed at Noto we swept up to Syracuse where they were landing Commandos. We would see columns of smoke going up as we swept into the harbour.

This would be No. 3 Commando (Lt Col Durnford-Slater), veterans of Vaagso and Dieppe.

“Again there was no opposition. We could see the people on the shore running away and we saw, too, the Italian flag fluttering down from the flagpole over the signal station and the White Ensign went up.

“The Italians had evidently not expected us. Our airplanes were sweeping overhead all the time – droves of them. We could see too on the shore the broken gliders that had crash-landed in Sicily. The whole show seemed brilliantly organized.

The “broken gliders” were some of the 147 gliders carrying 1st Airlanding Brigade (Brig Philip Hicks), 65 of which crash landed in the sea, others were blown off course, and only 12 landed in the target area.

“The coast of Sicily between Noto and Syracuse reminded me of Peacehaven. In places along the coast we could see the soldiers getting the railway working; and all the time inland there was gunfire.

Peacehaven is a small coastal town in East Sussex, close enough to Worthing that readers of The Worthing Herald would be able to imagine the terrain.

“We got a few air attacks at night and they were pretty heavy but our ships put up a terrific barrage.”

The Worthing Herald

Friday August 27, 1943

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The original poorly-preserved article from 1943.

HMS Hebe embarked RAdm Wake-Walker, SNO Afloat, off Dunkirk on 30 May 1940

Halcyon-class minesweeper HMS Hebe embarked Rear Admiral Frederic Wake-Walker on 30 May 1940. Wake-Walker assumed role as Senior Naval Officer (SNO) Afloat, supervising shipping offshore during the evacuation. Later that day, Hebe lifted 633 troops from the beaches.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR
THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR© IWM (A 1434)

British naval losses #OTD 29 May 1940 during Operation Dynamo

Passenger vessel MV Mona’s Queen (Capt A. Holkham) struck a mine outside Dunkirk harbour and sunk in two minutes. http://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?153

MV Mona’s Queen struck by mine off Dunkirk.

Admiralty W-class destroyer HMS Wakeful torpedoed & sunk by E-boat S.30 off Dunkirk. Survivors rescued by destroyer HMS Grafton (sunk later that day), minesweepers HMS Gossamer and HMS Lydd, and Admiralty drifter HMT Comfort (also sunk).

G-class destroyer HMS Grafton (Cdr C. Robinson, RN) torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-62 off Nieuwpoort, Belgium.

Admiralty drifter HMT Comfort rammed and sunk by HMS Lydd who mistook the drifter for a German E-boat.

Passenger vessel SS Clan MacAlister bombed and sunk off Dunkirk. Crew and embarked troops taken off by HMS Malcolm and HMT Pangbourne.

Auxiliary minesweeper HMS Gracie Fields carrying 750 troops bombed off La Panne beach. Survivors rescued by HMT Pangbourne and Dutch skoots Twente and Jutland.

Auxiliary paddle minesweeper HMS Waverley bombed and sunk by German aircraft off Dunkirk.

M/S trawler HMT Calvi bombed and sunk off Dunkirk. Survivors rescued by HMT John Cattling.

G-class destroyer HMS Grenade (Cdr R. Boyle, RN) bombed by German aircraft while embarking troops. Towed from harbour and sunk.

M/S trawler HMT Polly Johnson bombed and sunk by German aircraft off Dunkirk.

Auxiliary minesweeper HMS Crested Eagle bombed and sunk off Dunkirk. Survivors rescued by HMT Pangbourne.

Wreck of Crested Eagle Auxiliary minesweeper HMS Crested Eagle, photo by Paul Reed 2010.

French passenger vessel SS Normannia bombed in the Dunkirk harbour channel by German aircraft. Towed clear of the channel by Royal Navy gunboat HMS Mosquito, Nomannia‘s crew and her embarked troops were taken off by minesweeper HMS Ross.

French minesweeper FS Joseph Marie bombed and sunk at Dunkirk.

Why my grandfather joined the Royal Navy

My grandfather owned a book ‘Warships of World War II’ (H.T. Lenon & J.J. Colledge, price 35/-) that provided me with untold hours of statistical wallowing when I was a lad. I inherited the book in adulthood and it’s one of the few that travelled with me when I joined the ranks of expatriate Englishmen. It’s here beside now while I sit overlooking my wintery garden, drinking my umpteenth cup of morning coffee and thinking of times past.

My grandfather annotated the book with slips of paper that are filled with his neat copperplate handwriting. I’m looking at one where he notes his decision to join the Royal Navy.

Iron Duke. I went aboard this ship when a Territorial gunner in City of London Battery on weekend training at Southsea, Victoria Barracks, Hants, during 1936. It was this visit which decided me to enlist in the Royal Navy if war should come. The ships company’s food was far better than we were getting as gunners, and of course, cigarettes were duty free. I was aged 23 at the time.”

As you can see, my grandfather was a purely practical man with an eye on good food and cheap tobacco.

Oh yes… a family of patriots, one and all 🙂

As for what the book says about Iron Duke:

The IRON DUKE had been de-militarised as a Gunnery Training Ship and had her boiler power mutilated and speed reduced, here main belt armour removed and two turrets (“B” and “Y”) taken out. Deck and internal armour and the second battery were left intact and varying lighter calibre guns were added and removed from time to time for instructional and experimental purposes. Owning to severe bomb damage received early in the Second World War the IRON DUKE was grounded at Scapa Flow but continued to serve as a base ship.

Anyway, war came and my grandfather and his brother motored down to Portsmouth on a BSA motorbike to enlist in the Navy.

Here he is in Malta in 1943, already switched from cigarettes to a pipe (future tobacconist’s shop no doubt in his mind).

My grandfather in Malta, 1943

My grandfather in Malta, 1943

He was the SBA on HMS Rye. The stories about that can wait for another day.