In September 1943, the allies invaded Italy. The main invasion force landed around Salerno on the western coast on 9 September, while two supporting operations took place in Calabria and Taranto. After nearly a month of fierce fighting the Germans withdrew allowing allied troops to enter the important city of Naples on 1 October. Soon after this, we were ordered there to offload much needed supplies.
Approaching port, the Captain had one of his “efficiency moods” and ordered me to take soundings before anchoring off. I knew it was a waste of time because Naples Bay is deep, but who was I to argue. When I reported “no depth at thirteen fathoms” he instructed the Mate, standing by the windlass, to let go. The anchor and chain took charge and the Mate, with his crowd, backed off the forecastle amidst a shower of rust and stud links. Unfortunately someone had forgotten to secure the end and we all watched as 900 feet of chain and a three ton anchor were lost overboard. The Captain’s suggestion to get a diver was ignore!
Left: Naples in 1943
We were later ordered Propriano Bay, Corsica, where a Royal Navy Officer came aboard. “Great”, I thought, “back home to reload and a chance to sign off”. It was then that he told us the secret news. In an almost comical way he said, “Don’t tell anyone but we are invading Southern France on Wednesday”. Within the hour, almost all the crew knew about it. Later, when he had left, the Captain broke different news which stunned us. We were to proceed to the Pacific Ocean theatre to supply the fleet there.
Before heading for the Pacific we had to comply with Admiralty orders which dictated that any vessel proceeding East of Suez had to undergo a gunnery test. So a few days later we moved out to sea with a naval Lieutenant aboard to oversee the operation and a Petty Officer to supervise the gun crew. The target was to be a wooden framework towed by a tug and when this came into view I gave the order “Enemy submarine bearing green 150, range 0500, deflection two left” then, seeing them ready, “Commence firing!” Not seeing the shot land near the target, I turned my binoculars on the towing tug in time to see the shell land some fifty yards ahead of her. The order “still” was given and on inspection, and much to my relief, the PO pronounced that the sights had jammed. Having settled that hiccup, firing recommenced and the Lieutenant later said that although it was not the best shooting he had observed, it was good enough to deter an enemy submarine.
Shortly after, we turned East, through the Suez Canal across the Arabian Sea to Colombo for bunkers and then across the Indian Ocean to Perth in Western Australia and it was here, despite my previous escapades, that I came closest to being killed.