- Walker, Jefferson H., MVO, Lieutenant Commander, RAN
- RAN operations, Ship histories and stories, WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Parramatta II
- December 2010 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
At last we saw them, apparently in myriads, looking just like mosquitoes, at a great distance to the south. I did not open fire as I wanted to conserve all my remaining ammunition. We watched them form up, move around the horizon, then overhead and then they started at 1955. The final estimate made after the action was 48 dive bombers in six formations of eight each, five more who remained at height and did not attack, I don’t know why not – possibly the Senior Officer watching and directing the attack, or possibly scared, although that is unlikely, two formations of level bombers who bombed from 6000 feet, independently of the dive bombers. Then above the whole issue 25 to 30 fighters as protection. These remained at immense height looking just like flies. Therefore, about 95 aircraft in all, and as you can imagine the sky seemed full of them.
They seemed to fall about like leaves in the zenith, and roar down in ones and threes, and they seemed never ending. The noise was indescribable, with the guns roaring, the planes roaring, and bombs crashing into the sea all around without ceasing. I tore about the ocean at full speed continuously putting over the wheel, trying to turn beam-on to each attack to give the guns their best chance, and to complicate our track for them. Several times I thought the ship had been struck, but they were only near misses which lifted her in the water. How we survived an attack of such scale is simply a miracle, helped by the way the men kept at it, meeting each new attack with heavy fire. I think some devoted prayers of many people must have helped us about then.
Just before the attack commenced, an explosion, (possibly boilers), curiously and deliberately lifted the wreck of Auckland out of the water on a level keel. Then she broke her back with a pronounced fold down the side, and then settled down with an increased list. As the attack on us commenced, she slowly rolled over and sank, her mainmast battle ensign going under last of all. I then felt awfully alone, and realised it hadn’t been so bad whilst she was still there, even though she was a wreck.
At last it all ceased, just as the red sun touched the western horizon. I stopped the guns wasting ammunition on a retreating enemy, and stared at the sky trying hard to believe that it really was empty at last. Then I went to the back of the bridge and stared down at the ship, unable, for a moment, to comprehend that it really was intact. It wasn’t until I got all the reports through that I could believe that we hadn’t been touched. After all, allowing for one large and three small bombs for each aircraft bombing (that is 60 aircraft) in this last attack alone, no less than 300 bombs must have fallen within not more than one or two hundred yards of us. There must have been more that 400 throughout the day. It is a miracle, don’t you think? The men in Auckland watching who had experienced Norway and Crete and other actions said they had seen nothing like it – the ship seemed to be living in a boiling sea and the sky seemed alive.
The three aircraft I claimed as certains were those I saw hit myself. They were all direct hits with 4-inch shells, and in each case the aircraft were blown to pieces. There may have been more – several were reported to me and vouched for from the boats. I am certain some others must have at least been knocked about.
In the slowly gathering darkness, I turned to the west to meet the threat of a close torpedo attack in the lowering visibility, but to my astonishment, none came. Do you think they had had enough or had they no more aircraft available? Bit by bit, I crept closer to the boats, and then, to my inexpressible relief, I made contact with two destroyers racing toward me, firmly believing they would have to pick the whole party out of the water. They had of course, received my various signals throughout the action. By the time they had arrived, I was stopped in nearly full darkness, picking up the thankful Aucklands, and rehoisting my boats.
The Merchant Ship had received a near miss and could no longer steam so I told one of the destroyers to take her in tow and get her to her objective. He just had time to do it and get clear by dawn. Then the other one on his original duty, and finally, with 164 survivors on board, I lit out for home, Mother and more ammunition. I don’t think I breathed evenly again until port was in sight.