Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Start of a Big Adventure

The Start of a Big Adventure

“The Convoy Must Go Through”
11th July. Left Glasgow, sailed 500 mile out into the South Atlantic, turned east en-route for Gibraltar, on arrival at Gibraltar we embarked 3750 troupes, escorting ships consisting of "Renown","Nelson"  "Manxman"  "Edingburgh" "Arethusa" , "Hermione""Manchester" &  twelve destroyers. What a fighting force, Ark Royal with fighter aircraft we sailed from Gibraltar, at midnight, we sailed in the direction of England to deceive the people of Spain, turned and sped past Gibraltar at full speed en-route to Malta, we are told to expect severe attacks...

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getting a good way across the Eastern Mediterranean but Enemy U Boats are operating, waiting for us, 10.30am 2 torpedoes miss our stern, destroyers attack the U boats, I make a good job of it to, Hell, the bombers will not have us, they attack attack, and one 500 pounder sales through our masts and nearly blew us out of the water when it exploded. I was down below, thought it was farewell to us all as steam pipes burst and the place is full of steam – roll on Gibraltar. 12.15 noon, just come off watch we are speeding through the water and dodging the bombers, can see the salvoes of bombs leave their planes, 4 are shot to pieces, what a very…(next page missing)...

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Enemy is expecting us to pass back the same way as we came but the navy are very elusive, we go the most dangerous way back, between Pantelleria & Tunis, right at the enemy’s back door and skip pass them at full speed without them even knowing but that’s a fine chance to pump a few shells into them and we do well and lively but that brings the damn bombers out again & and they have a good go at us, they fly nearly in-between our masts, but the darkness is our saviour again, early this morning a heap of E-boats make a big attack on Healdo Harbour, thinking we were all in there, all 17 E-Boats are sunk, by now we are...

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wounded, Nelson & Renown bomb Pantelleria Island to destroy their big bomber base, remainder of convoy is taken to Malta under escort of Manxman, Edinburgh, Hermione and Arethusa, reach Malta after an all day dive bombing attack from German dive bombers based in Sicily but we all come through ok, arrive Malta 3pm, hoping to get a nights rest in port tonight, have had no sleep for two nights; but our captain for sees an attack on Malta Harbour to block us in there, we sail again as soon as the soldiers are off the ship and we take in oil and food. Now…

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this all important convoy must go through at all costs. 22nd July we arrived in reach of the Italian Bombers from Pantelleria Islands, 09.30 23rd July, bombed by High Angle Bombers, HMS Fearless hit, and HMS Manchester hit by aerial torpedo, 1.30 torpedo carrying aircraft attacked but no hits, enemy aircraft drove off. They lose two planes, 2.20, a large bombing attack, Manxman shoots down one bomber but the WOPS lose 6 planes altogether, we get a very bad wake up as 2 big salvoes of bombs miss us by yards. Hell … Lucky 11pm passing the dreaded Pantelleria Islands, midnight...
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mass e-boat attacks, our guns just blasted them out of the water but we have to twist and swerve the many torpedoes that are fired at us, they all pass between escorting ships harmlessly, only one of our convoy got hit but she is able to make slow speed for Malta. *(HMS) Fearless is torpedoed by us, crew practically all saved, their dead removed before sinking her, a touching evening, and the dirty rats are raining bombs on us whilst we are removing her dead and wounded, but all is fair in love and war. HMS Manchester has to turn back as she is crippled from an aerial torpedo, she has abot 40 killed and 60 others wounded...
*From Wikipedia; on the 23rd whilst screening Ark Royal, HMS Fearless was torpedoed and heavily damaged by Italian aircraft. Her crew was rescued by Forester, which then sank the wrecked and burning ship with torpedoes.
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Possible preceding page missing.
Pleasant night to see Nelson and Renown and our fighters taking off (from) the Ark Royal, they shoot a lot of the Italians down, I took 2 of theirs and now for a little rest as there is a lull in the attacks, we reach Gibraltar OK and very pleased to come through those days of hell alright. Pleased to see Manchester and (HMS) Firedrake to get here to Gib OK, 60 of our dead sailors are buried at sea here, a glorious job done for our Country but it was hell on Earth we had to pass through and then come back through it again, just jaws of death for 5 whole days and we are very tired, hope for an Hrs (hours) sleep now, 28th July. It was nice to hear the First Lord of the Admiralty telling you all about it... *
*I assume Albert is referring to a Radio Broadcast back home
*Operation Substance
As part of my research I have discovered Barbara Brooks Tomblin, Ph.D. Dr Tomblin is a naval historian and the author of  G.I. Nightingales: The Army Nurse Corps in World War II; With Utmost Spirit: Allied Naval Operations in the Mediterranean, 1942-45; and the newly published Bluejackets and Contrabands: African Americans and the Union Navy, as well as articles on American military and naval history. Click on the book titles for links. Dr Tomblin holds a doctorate in American History from Rutgers University where she also taught courses in military history. I sent her the these pages and she is very kindly reviewing them. She has told me that the preceding seven pages of Albert's notes; from the 11th July to the 28th July; refer to The Malta Convoy "Operation Substance" more of which ca be found at The Malta Convoy 'Operation Substance' of July 1941 consisted of six fast merchant ships City of Pretoria, Deucalion, Durham, Port Chalmers, Melbourne Star (Captain D R MacFarlane) and Sydney Star (Captain T S Hor n). Captain MacFarlane had been appointed Commodore of the Convoy. The escort for the journey consisted of the battle-cruiser HMS Renown, the battleship HMS Nelson, the aircraft-carrier HMS Ark Royal, cruisers HMS Edinburgh, Manchester, Arethusa and Hermione, the cruiser minelayer HMS Manxman and 17 destroyers with Vice Admiral Sir James Somerville in command.

At 10.55am on July 23rd during an air attack, the destroyer HMS Fearless was hit by torpedo and was severely damaged, unable to continue, she was sunk by destroyer HMS Forrester. 1 offficer and 24 ratings were killed.

At 2.50am on July 24th there was a sudden attack by an ‘E’ Boat. The Sydney Star was hit by a torpedo on the port side and began to list. It was decided to transfer the 460 troops she was carrying to the destroyer HMS Nester for safety. Despite having a hole 40 by 16 feet caused by the torpedo the Sydney Star managed to limp to her destination, with her cargo intact.

All the merchant ship of ‘Operation Substance’, including the Melbourne Star, arrived at Malta with their valuable cargoes.
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of course you never once thought we was (sic) in that lot, now for the next convoy. August 1st, 2nd convoy to go to Malta, this includes the 18th Cruiser Squadron consisting of Manxman, Arethusa, Hermione, known as *Force X. We had 650 soldiers on board and Arethusa had 420, Hermione had 560, we sail from Gibraltar under dark for Malta again, what hell have we got to (go) through again (?), but we can go through full speed as we have no slow moving merchant ships, we reach the bombing area known so well to us as “Bomb Alley” at 4pm on the 2nd August and are paid the usual calls from Fritz and the WOPS, darkness falls thank heavens, 9pm we run...

* Deployed with HM Cruisers EDINBURGH, MANCHESTER and MANXMAN, HM Destroyers COSSACK, MAORI, NESTOR (RAN), FEARLESS, FOXHOUND, FIREDRAKE, ENCOUNTER, ERIDGE and ARNDALE for escort of convoy through Sicilian Narrows into Malta as Force X. Cover was provided for passage in western Mediterranean by ships of Force H based at Gibraltar
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the narrows through Sicily and Pantelleria Islands, swarms of E-boats and plenty of gun fire from shore batteries that denotes we have been spotted but our great speed and camouflage saves us. It’s a terrible job stumbling over the soldiers everywhere and plenty of sea sick makes things greasy but these cruisers can not be stopped and we get through to Malta at 10.30am. 3rd August the troops leave on arrival and we leave at 4.30pm to run through the death trap again, we put up a running fight with the E-boats, 3 of them where sunk *HMS Hermione rams a U-boat and cuts it in two, none of the crew are saved as we must be well away before day break, by the way…
HMS Hermione
*I found this article on Im not sure if the dates are correct on this site or on Albert’s dairies. On 2 Aug, 1941, the cruiser HMS Hermione rammed and sank the Italian submarine Tembien in the Sicilian Narrows. In March 1942 she escorted the convoy for Operation Ironclad (the invasion of Madagascar) from Gibraltar to Durban and took part in the occupation of Madagascar in May 1942. HMS Hermione (74) then became part of the 15th Cruiser Squadron in the Eastern Mediterranean 
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we took on board 16 Italian sailors that were saved form the 17 E-boats which were sunk off Malta*, the prisoners don’t like to hear about the war at all and when we showed the Ark Royal they wouldn’t believe it was her, as they have sunk her so many times. We reach Gibraltar 6th, we leave Gibraltar 6th for Northern Scotland we arrive Isle of Skye on the 10th a long rough trip. We have had no mail since the 7th July all mails (sic) have been detained at Admiralty until these secret and important operations are completed, I hope to have a few letters in the morning. I haven’t forgot the 6th was my dears birthday no hopes of a card and the 7th August my little sons birthday**. God Bless them they will guess that I am at…
* Underwater video of the wreck of an unidentified E-boat sunk during WW2 off Malta.
Nora and Derek Pettman

**Albert’s Wife Nora Pettman’s birthday and Albert’s youngest son Derek Pettman’s birthday.

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at sea and can not write,  9th (sic) leave our base at Trelawney* for fuel, it was a very long trip form Gibraltar as we had to steam out 650 miles into the South Atlantic to avoid U-boats and Bombers from Brest, plenty of letters today. 16th August we are now disguised as French Cruisers*, every detail is perfect, French uniform is worn by all; proceed to Milford Haven load up with 168 mines. 17th leave Milford Haven for Gibraltar, 5 days very dangerous trip as we are rolling very bad (sic) and these deadly eggs are not at all comfortable, hope for the best. 22nd reach Gibraltar under dark and leave at 2am for Italy, we have got go and lay these mines right…
I can’t find any reference to Trelawney near the Isle of Skye. My research shows the Manxman docked at Loch Alsh. Did it go from there to Trelawney in Cornwall I wonder?
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across the big Italian naval base of Genoa, our disguise is saving us, German and Italian flying boats fly by and think we are French, thank heaven, our boys would have loved to shot them down but that would blow the show. Crept right into the German waters and passed Pisa ok, laid all the 165 mines alright across the entrance, we were that close the harbour flashing navigation light lit us up, but the job is done, its very high speed now to get out and well clear by day break, its now 3am. The danger of this operation is that we get spotted and fired on these mines will blow us to hell and those of us that did get saved would be shot…


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as spies wearing French uniform and flying the French flag. Its 4am on the 24th and the last line of eggs (mine) are laid, it nearly drove us crackers to hang in this hole for so long waiting for the shore batteries to knock us sky high, we are now hurtling through the waters at terrific speed en-route for Gibraltar. 25th Reached Gibraltar under dark, left 3am 26th before light, we must not be seen at Gibraltar as a French cruiser, Sunday 30th reached our base in Northern Scotland, a few more letters have had had no for 16 days, hope to have a few days rest, wonder what our next adventure will be. (We) have painted over our disguise and we are now just Manxman again.
* *From the HMS Manxman website “Admiral Somerville conceived the idea that the Fast Minelayer Manxman (she was one of the new class of mine laying light cruisers, the fastest ships in the world) should disguise herself as a French cruiser, steam openly and alone along the Riviera coast in day light, dash into the Gulf of Genoa by night, lay a minefield on the very doorstep of the great Italian port of Leghorn, and then somehow find her way back to Gibraltar.
*I can’t find any reference to Trelawney near the Isle of Skye. My research shows the Manxman docked at Loch Alsh. Did it go from there to Trelawney in Cornwall I wonder?

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Gee, they ought to give us a few days leave, and half the crew would not come back again and I’d be one of them.----Sept. 1st Loaded up with 186 mines sailed at full speed for *Scapa Flow, arrived 7pm left 8pm with cruiser Kenya and destroyer Lightning as escorts en-route for Bergen Norway, weather very rough but “eggs” are well secured. Sept. 2nd escorts turn and leaves us as we are to do our very high speed under darkness to go half a mile form Bergen Harbour entrance, it has been reported the German battleship *Von Tirpitz has been seen to enter there and we’ve got to mine her in there, we...
Scapa Flow, the Royal Navy’s main anchorage in both world wars
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arrive at the area 12.30, started to lay the “eggs”, half of them gone but the running gear breaks down, the others must be pushed over by hand but we are delayed by one hour, what a strain to lay right in here right under the very muzzles of their guns, I am below and its it to be last watch if they spot us, but its raining and very dark. 1.20 the last  mine is over and now for speed, our escorts are hunting for us, us being 2 hours late meeting them they though we had gone down and they were coming to pick up survivors, if any. Sept, 3rd meet escort and proceed full speed for Scapa Flow, Sept, 4th reach Scapa, oh I'd love…

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leave this ship, I don’t like going right into German back alleys. Sept 5th leave Scapa for our base, Isle of Skye, a few days we hope in harbour I wonder if we will. Sept 6th Sudden sail for Portsmouth, I wonder if its for leave, Sept 8th we reach Pompey (slang for Portsmouth) , yes leave is right, load with 186 mines, Sept 10th left Pompey for the coast of France, Cherbourg is our objective, a very risky job they aren’t expecting us to return, they have sent all our official papers etc., ashore but it don’t put the wind up me, I would swim from Cherbourg to Dover and what’s more I told Nora I would come back, so...
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here I go with the others feeling we are coming back, we are promised a big air escort, we know what those promises are though. Sept.11th 1.10pm we arrive Cherbourg 2 miles off their coast, we fight off an E-boat attack I am below and we get the order full speed ahead, we knew what was up and it makes you feel creepy alright down there cannot see or hear much, any way we made those engines go like they have never gone before but we dodge their torpedoes alright, ad ship out to mid channel again, gee if they hit us with 186 mines, enough…

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T.N.T. to blow England up, bet my darlings in Wingham would hear it alright, but the Navy never runs away, our Captain spoke to us over the loud speaker and said “men, I am going back to lay these mines if the whole German Navy is their waiting for us” and back we go and get within half a mile of Cherbourg and lay the “eggs” ok. Is now 3 am and I have got one more hour below. I don’t know, but I must have a look at my hair when the lights come back on as I’m sure it’s gone white, daybreak we are nearing our coast, arrive at Pompey at 10 am and learn we…
I found some old news real on the Pathe News website of HMS Manxman in the 1950's Click on the links below, then click on the B&W picture and that will take you to the film on the Pathe News website. Make sure your pop-up blocker is off.

Have got 3 more loads to take over there, 13th off we go again this time off Dieppe, the lay went off ok. 14th back to Pompey, 15th loaded up another 180 mines 16th left for Cherbourg arrive half (a mile) from their coast, but the shore batteries spot us, they are throwing shells at us, hope we stop one we might get some leave then, we lay a smoke screen and hide behind it, these mines must be layed (sic) undetected or it’s of no value at all, we retire to the Channel again and wait, our bombers are sent to bomb Cherbourg just to distract their attention from us, we run...

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in again to the half mile limit and at 1am started to lay, 2am all mine are laid, a sight of relief to know they are all off the ship, we are again spotted by the lurking E-boats, but we go into action and sink two of them, the captain calls in down for more speed as there are dozens of them closing in around us, we do the speed this secret ship was made (designed) to do and get clear of them ok, very lucky the waves are coming right over us as the speed we are doing is unheard of in any Navy and it’s a great secret. We arrive in Pompey 9am, 19th we load again,186, it’s getting us down, eat, sleep…

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and all these eggs along side of you, we all chalk our names on them and put on one of the last load(s), a big present to Hitler from all at Jasamin (sic) Place Wingham*. 21st we set off again to Cherbourg and thank heaven it’s the last load for across that side. 1am 22nd all mines laid and the rain and fog help us greatly, 22nd full speed to Milford Haven and left the same day en-route for our base. 24th Arrived at base and loaded with 190 mines for a big job once again it Bergen.
*Jasmine Place, Wingham, Nr, Canterbury, Kent where Albert & Nora Pettman lived, Wingham is a small village in the county of Kent in the far south east corner of England, surrounded by farms and often referred to as the Garden of England. Check it out on Google Earth, its still a very lovely place. Albert and Nora lived in Wingham all their lives and brought up their four children, Gordon, Daphne, Derek and Stella there. Many of the grandchildren and great grand children still live in this beautiful village today.

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We have had 5 hours in port, sailing for Norway, it’s bitter cold and far to rough for mine laying, hope the weather is better in the Fjords, everyone is fed up to the hilt and fight occur very frequently, its everyone’s nerves being strained to the upmost, no sleep for nights and work work, still it’s a job that must be done. Now who can come off watch for two hours and sleep with hugh Pills (sic) * around you, still, its all in my 22 years, but we are all expecting to get a few days in harbour before to long and have actually heard chaps say “ please Mr Bomber or please Mr Shell ..”
* I guess is it’s another name for the mines “Huge Pills”
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send us all on leave for a few days. We know that the remainder of the ships that went to Malta with the convoy with us have had leave for going through that lot; we get ours later, yes “later”. 25th loaded up with 268 “pills”, sailed full speed for Norway, our objective being Bergen again, 1.10 26th the laid the “pills” ok and everything went per plan. PM 26th arrived at out base. 27th loaded up with 260 special submarine mines, 8pm left to lay mine field of the east coast of Scotland just past Aberdeen, a very easy job as its our own mine belt we are to finish...

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off. 7am 28th, arrived back at base and loaded up with another 180 Sub mines, proceeded at full speed to our mine, this time to the western approaches, fairly easy day but it’s right in the U-boat area, we are attacked by a big Condor flying boat “German”. Blaze away at it, he lets go a load, but (it) falls fairly wide of us, it’s a good job they don’t hit us by a bomb when we are full of eggs, but it would be no use worrying if the did because we wouldn’t know anything of it. 29th arrived Milford* for mines loaded 180, 30th went to Norway and laid them..
*Milford Haven

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31st, went off ok, the thick mist rain hid us from the shore, the moon is far to bight now. Oct1st arrive at base and I hear that we shall not attempt to go over there while this moon is full, Oct 3rd loaded up again with 156 submarine mines for our own mine belt reaching from Aberdeen to Scapa, a fairly quiet job, Oct 4th * sailed for the western approaches the weather is very bad, Oct 5th en-route to the Isle of Skye, our base, we have got to two or three days in, that means plenty of extra work for us, altho’ we shall get a night…
*Albert’s Birthday. I note he does not mention it.

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in our Hammock, we hope so. Oct 6th we have had a fairly good stand off, muchly appreciated. Oct7th loaded with 186 eggs for Bergen Norway. 8th left base for Scapa, Oct 9th sail from Scapa for coast of Norway, very rough and we are hoping for the heavy clouds to remain to hide the moon from us, Oct 10th 1am approach the entrance to Bergen, we actually get with in a ¼ mile of the coast, started to lay at 2.20 am. 3.10am last mine has gone over, we are speeding away now at full speed, the ship is built rather to...
Above is a hand drawn diagram in pencil by Albert of one of the mines, showing the mine cable cradle, the anchor wire, and detanator springs.

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thin to put up with the terrific power of our engines, she squeaks and bends when we hit any big waves, but she can go, it is very deafening below and the high air pressure makes yer head and eyes ache, altho’ its nice to feel her ploughing through the enemy waters at ----- knots. Oct12th we arrive at Plymouth and load with 156 mines to be laid at Cherbourg. Oct 13th weather unsuitable for the lay, Oct 14th still waiting for the weather which has go to be mild, 15th we sail for Cherbourg but its far to rough, 16th arrive at…
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Cherbourg, very close to the coast, this is a very tricky job here as the Germans have heaps of E-Boats* and plenty of Shore Batteries but these ships are very fast and the Captain very cunning at is job. 1.30am 17th we start to lay the eggs, 3am last mine gone, proceeding full speed for Portsmouth for another load and we are told this is the last run to the French coast in the old moon. Captain told us we may have 48 hours leave as we have a small defect in one engine. 18th load with 186 mines, 19th Sunday and off we..

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go with the eggs again, midnight we are nearing the same old place 1am 20th we start to lay get 50 over and we are spotted the Shore Batteries open up on us but luck we are right in close and they sail right over the top of us can hear them whizz over, even down below, makes one sweat a bit behind the ears. We dash off out to mid channel quite neat Folkestone, 3.30 they decide we cannot get back and lay the mines before day break so we return to Pompey arrive about noon 20th. 21st Sail from…
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Dunkirk and the others at Deippe. 23rd Still at Pompey waiting for orders.

The book finishes here.

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