HMS SABRE My Dads First Ship
At the outbreak of war HMS Sabre (Lt Cdr B Dean), was part of the Home Fleet based at Scapa Flow, as a TB Target and PV ranging vessel. In 1939 she was deployed for convoy defence in Western Approaches. On the 13 Oct 1939 while at Rosyth HMS Sabre was heavily damaged when rammed by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Jervis Bay. Sabre was under repair to 6 May 1940.
(I remember my Dad telling me about this incident; He was the youngest on the ship when they abandoned the vessel as it was believed she was in sinking at that stage, He had been freezing in the water so was happy to volunteer to return aboard to help save the ship, which they eventually managed to do.) A little later in the war…….
So we decided to take a detour and stay one night in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. I was curious. My Dad had spent some time there mostly at the end of the war in 1946. I remembered him speaking about Cyclops. That’s the ship of that name, the mother ship that parented her baby submarines. The crews of which would spend a more comfortable time sleeping aboard her when in port; enjoying better food, movies etc. For some reason that name stuck in my head – CYCLOPS. In mythology, a one eyed giant? He made up scary tales about this Cyclops bloke that made an interesting bed-time story! Anyway, I found myself splitting off from the family in search of the local museum, I felt there must be some information there. It was closed!
I wandered about the streets, realising that all traces of the Royal Navy’s influence on this place had now gone but at least it gave me the chance to imagine what a bleak and distant outpost this must have been for submariners. My Dad had married at the end of the war and he now had a daughter, my big sister. There would be little to do for a sailor on a run ashore here in winter. Apart from the movies and pubs there was the weather; the rain, the endless rain.
Just then my wife and boys appeared. She informed me she had been in an antique shop and entered into conversation with the proprietor who was a local historian. She told him the reason for our brief visit and that I was in possession of medals, photographs and various documents pertaining to that period. He said he would like to have a chat and see them.
We spoke for a while about all sorts, and he gave me an image of what life may well have been like for a sailor ashore in this place; something I also had first-hand experience of being an ex-matelot. We wandered about the old shop and he even showed us around the back. I asked him what the shop had been before he took over – A photographers came the reply; it had been so since the late 1800`s.
Having a selfie is taken for granted these days but back then if you wanted to send a photo of yourself to your nearest and dearest you would have to go to a photographers Rothesay only had one!
Operation Dynamo (27 May – 4 June 1940)
Part of the 22nd Destroyer Flotilla, HMS Sabre was conspicuous in the evacuation of British and French soldiers from the beaches of beaches at Malo-Les-Bains and the harbour mole during the Dunkirk evacuation. During nine days and nights of the evacuation, despite being damaged in an air attack, Sabre made ten round trips to Dunkirk. An example of her activity at this time:
In the early hours of 28 May, three ships boats from HMS Sabre picked up 100 men in two hours, from the beaches at Malo-Les-Bains to the east of the harbour mole ( Dad told me he was the bowman and did a number of trips to the beach, I recall him saying as the stuka dive bombers dived at them, he pulled his tin hat over his ears in a futile bid to protect himself!) Then it was full speed to Dover with a turnaround of only 58 minutes, and the ship was back again at the Dunkirk harbour mole at 11.00am, where they loaded a further 800 men. Departing at 12.30pm, by now the ships weight had increased considerably, lowering her propeller draft. This meant because of the falling tide and a defective echo sounder, Lieutenant-Commander Dean had to slowly edge her passage through the shallows (Dad told me that as a seaman,he took his turn at `swinging the lead` and was sounding the depth whilst under attack).
Standing in the chains finding the depth.
She arrived back in Dover at 6.20pm. Refuelled, she was back to the Dunkirk mole at 10.30pm, the third trip of the day. This time, the ship stayed for only 35 minutes picking up another 500 troops.
Before my father died I had one of our many chats together and I asked him about Dunkirk. He had been there during the great evacuation during world war 2 and he recalled an event that even I had not heard before, retold by him. His ship entered `the mole`, which I understand was the harbour wall and they secured to it with grappnels. One of the ships directly ahead of them (or behind?), was bombed and many survivors ended up badly burnt and in the water. He was tasked to assist them as they came up the scrambling net of his ship. He was clearly shocked as he recalled the terrible injuries he witnessed from not only the survivors but also the dead and the dying. I had heard his stories before but he had always left this bit out. I suppose he was thinking about his own mortality then. He did say that it
was the reason he was `squeemish` about anything medical during his life.
In total the Sabre rescued well over five thousand troops! Dad escaped death a number of times throughout the war. In directing weaponary you have to be accurate with both distance, speed and time. That last element in ballistics is the one that saved me. And while I think back about escaping the horrors in war, I recall my own experience; a time aboard HMS Glamorgan when my action station was the port seacat missile launcher. As loaders, I believed I would be safe were our ship to come under attack, as the upper deck seemed a less likely candidate for a steel coffin. In 1982 in the South Atlantic, the ship was hit with an exocet missile killing 14 crew causing an horrendous fire but at least it had missed me. That missile could never have my name on it; the Argentines had the element of time in their ballistics calculations way out!
HMS GLAMORGAN Following the missile attack and fire.
IT WAS ON THE 4th OF DECEMBER 1972, AS A JUNIOR SEAMAN I JOINED MY SHIP GLAMORGAN WAS ONE OF HER CREW
AND WHILE IN GUZZ, WE SAILORS MUST FOR THE MEDITERRANEAN SAIL,
COLD WAR TO FIGHT, SAIL AT FIRST LIGHT, TO THE MED BOYS WE`LL SAIL AWAY.
CHORUS/ 2, 6, HEAVE AND AWAY, 2,6, HEAVE AND AWAY, WE WANT TO BE IN THE QUEENS NAVY TO THE MED BOYS WE`LL SAIL AWAY.
GANGES BOYS HAD TO CLIMB THE MAST AND WE LEARNT TO SAIL IN WHALERS, ON THE QUARTER DECK THEM LETTERS READ, “FEAR GOD AND HONOUR OUR LEADER”,
TRADITION RUNS IN THE MODERN FLEET LIKE NELSONS NAVY BEFORE US,
WE COULD HAUL ON A FALL OR A LIGHT JACK-STAY TO THE MED BOYS WE`LL SAIL AWAY.
UNTIL THEN LET OUR DREAMS UNFURL CAUSE WE LEAVE PLYMOUTH SOUND IN THE MORNING,
ON FORIEGN SHORE WE`LL MEET WITH WHORES, A SAILORS LIFE JUST DAWNING,
WITH YOUTH IN A WHIRL WE`LL TRAVEL THE WORLD AND BE VETERAN COLD WAR SAILORS,
THE COLD WAR RAGED AS THE FIGHTS WERE STAGED, IN THE MED BOYS WE SAILED AWAY
WHEN THE FLEET SAILED SOUTH I WAS WATCHING IN THE SPRING NOW OF 82,
I WAS CRITICAL OF CONFLICT DAWNING NOW A CIVY WITH A DIFFERENT VIEW,
BOOT-NECKS THEY PLAYED HEARTS OF OAK THEM FLAGS THEY WERE AWAVING
I WATCHED THEM SAIL MY OPPO`S GO, TO THE SOUTH ATLANTIC AWAY.
I WAS LYING IN BED I WAS DREAMING AND WISHING THAT I WAS THERE
BUT ON JUNE THE 12TH WAY ON DOWN SOUTH GLAMORGAN SHE WAS THERE
AT MY STATION THAT MISSILE STRUCK….I COULD NOT BELIEVE THOSE HEADLINES.
THE SHIP SAILED ON BUT 13 GONE, IN THE SOUTH ATLANTIC AWAY.
MANY YEARS ON NOW FEELING I BELONG, CIVY STREET NOW NOW LONGER A STRANGER
BUT I OFTEN WONDER HOW I`D FARE SWAPPING DRUDGERY FOR THAT OF DANGER
BUT I SERVED MY TIME LEFT IN 82, IN THE LOTTERY OF LIFE I WAS VICTOR;
STILL HERE TODAY, WITH MY CHILDREN PLAY – AT HOME I SHALL BELAY
2,6, HEAVE AND AWAY, 2,6, HEAVE AND AWAY, I SERVED MY TIME IN THE QUEENS NAVY,
AT HOME I SHALL BELAY!
Song I wrote and recorded a few years back.
Middle row 4th from left facing right (HMS Spark 1945)
Dad spent the last two years of WW2 in the Pacific on a number of submarines one of which was HMS Spark taking part in Operation Struggle, which was the highest VC action of the war.
In August 1945, HMS XE1 and XE3 executed a joint attack on Japanese warships within Singapore harbour. XE3 was tasked with mining the heavy cruiser Takao while XE1 was to attack the heavy cruiser Myōkō. HMS Stygian left Freemantle towing XE3 and HMS Spark towed XE1.
HMS Adamant Depot ship in Freemantle circa 1945?
The approach of XE3 along the Straits of Johor and through the various harbour defences took 11 hours plus a further 2 hours to locate the camouflaged target. Despite several opportunities for Japanese defenders to spot the vessel, XE3 successfully reached the Takao, fixed limpet mines and dropped its two, 2-ton side charges. The withdrawal was successfully made and XE3 safely contacted HMS Stygian, the escort submarine. Meanwhile the crew of XE1 had failed to find their target. Instead, and knowing that the explosives already laid could explode, XE1’s own charges were also laid under the Takao. XE1 escaped successfully to successfully rendezvous with Dads sub the Spark. I recall my Dad telling me about the tow line to the x craft stretching and it parted the communication link so he was essential in sending under water morse code to them in order to relay information.
The Takao was severely damaged and never sailed again. Lieutenant Ian Edward Fraser RNR, and Leading Seaman James Joseph Magennis were awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for their part in the attack; whilst Sub-Lieutenant William James Lanyon Smith, RNZNVR, who was at the controls of XE3 during the attack, received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO); Engine Room Artificer Third Class Charles Alfred Reed, who was at the wheel, received the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM). XE1’s C/O, Lieutenant John Elliott Smart RNVR received the DSO, and Sub-Lieutenant Harold Edwin Harper, RNVR received the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC); and ERA Fourth Class Henry James Fishleigh and Leading Seaman Walter Henry Arthur Pomeroy received the Distinguished Service Medal. ERA Fourth Class Albert Nairn, Acting Leading Stoker Jack Gordan Robinson, and Able Seaman Ernest Raymond Dee were Mentioned in Despatches for their part in bringing the two midget submarines from harbour to the point where the crews that took part in the attack took over.