- Gregory, Mackenzie J.
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Australia II
- December 1993 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
This boat flew the French flag, and a white flag of peace – but was fired upon – and nothing further was heard of them since.
Battle flags were now hoisted – the Australian ensign at the fore, a large white ensign at the main, and the usual ensign at the gaff.
I recall the pride I felt observing our `Commonwealth’ ensign flying at the fore mast for the first time.
At 1000, ships were reported to be moving out of harbour – we were ordered to turn back these French destroyers and sloops – we fired a warning shot, and they returned to harbour.
The forts engaged us at close range, and we rejoined the battleships.
I did not think the situation ashore was at all `Happy’ – our force closed the forts and the battleships engaged them, in turn, the forts responded with 9.4 inch and 5.4 inch gun fire.
Submarines were reported, and a British destroyer, the FORSIGHT, was hit – the shell passed right through her hull.
DRAGON scored a hit on a submarine, but was herself hit by the shore batteries. Two shells from the fort fell close to AUSTRALIA as the force turned away, but CUMBERLAND was hit by a 9.4 inch shell. `Action Stew’ was served to our crew at action stations.
My action station was in the high angle control station, situated well below water level, in the bowels of the ship. Completely blind visually to whatever happened above deck – I relied on a running commentary linked by phone to the high angle control position, located high in the ship.
When the shells landed close by, fragments could be heard hitting the ship’s side, well below the waterline – very, very scary. Aircraft reported an enemy destroyer in the Baie de Gloree – with 3 destroyers AUSTRALIA was detached to investigate. At 1624 the enemy was in sight, at 1626 we opened fire, three minutes later she was on fire from stem to stern. We ceased fire. Although termed a destroyer, this ship, the FANTASQUE, was in reality a light cruiser. This class mounted 5 x 5.5 inch guns, carried torpedo tubes, and were capable of very high speeds.
A destroyer was sent to pick up survivors, but the forts opened fire, and our destroyer withdrew.
By 1640 we had rejoined the battleships. We had been at action stations all day; sunset was welcomed, so we resumed a lower degree of readiness for the night.
Tuesday, 24th September, 1940
At dawn, action stations again. With DEVONSHIRE we rejoined the battleships, and closed Dakar. The cruisers were detached to engage the French cruisers that escaped from CUMBERLAND and DEVONSHIRE.
Visibility was extremely poor, we could only fire at the gun flashes from the French ships. At the same time a twin-engine Martin bomber attacked us, dropping a stick of six small bombs close to our starboard side. Ironically, these Martin aircraft were sold to the allies by America, prior to the capitulation of France.
Our target retired behind merchant ships in the harbour, and we withdrew to the southward. The battleships engaged the forts, and the RICHELIEU, a new French battleship, that had reached Dakar. She carried 13 inch guns and was a most formidable adversary.
We were again attacked by a Martin bomber, dropping a large bomb, which fell very close to our port quarter. Deep in my dungeon I felt the whole ship shudder. No damage done – but I hated not being able to see what was going on.
Many of our company, by necessity, served at action stations, unsighted, below decks – as did I – but given a choice (which will never happen) I would opt for an action station where I would know what and when things happened. What wishful thinking, I needed to accept my lot, and perform to the utmost of my capacity.
de Gaulle’s troops attempted a landing but were fired upon and they withdrew.
de Gaulle stated he did not want to shed the blood of French men for French men. A French submarine surrendered and another was sunk by our aircraft.
Another action day ended with sunset.