Friday 28 March 1941
The usual dawn “Stand To” and then its to our breakfast which was very rudely interrupted by an aircraft ‘Yellow’ immediately followed by ‘Air Raid Red’ and much gunfire but no bombs or torpedos were dropped so we presumed (rightly) that they were reconnaissance planes. Less than half an hour later a message came over the speakers: – “Several ships presumed to be enemy are just in view astern. Stand by for surface action in a few minutes” but the message had hardly died when action stations were sounded/ No one lost any time in jumping into their place of duty.
About 0800 they opened fire with eight inch whilst we raced madly to open the range not wishing to try our 6 inch against their superior armament. Their gunnery at extreme range of about 20,000 yards was far too accurate for our comfort or peace of mind as our battle range is 17,000 – they were straddling the Orion. Just before they opened fire upon us we hoisted our battle flags with the flag of Australia at the foremast. Everyone cheered that we were fighting under very own banner.
We spent a very uncomfortable hour and a half dodging in and out of range with the Dagoes dropping them everywhere – one just ahead of us and one right in our wake. Our job was to entice them into a trap if we could. We were the baited trap and now I know just what it feels like to be a piece of cheese.
The Italians kept firing jubilantly at us while we kept just ahead hoping for our Battle Fleet to appear on the horizon at any moment. About the middle of the forenoon the enemy turned away 180 degrees and laid a smoke screen .
Round we swept to follow them – away from the direction of our main striking force – we had to keep in contact with them at all costs though it was so unequal for us. And blindly we fell into a self same trap which we had been luring them. Without warning we were suddenly startled by 15” shells falling about us. We almost sat up on our tail the way we turned and with every ounce of speed under a pall of black smoke we raced the dagoes at their own game. We had blundered into Italy’s new class battle ship Littorio or Vittorio Veneto – 32 knots and fifteen inch guns (ten of ’em).
We were racing – four cruisers and two destroyers and our dustmen did a job well worth doing to make so much smoke and still retain a high speed. The Engineer Commander opened up all valves bar the safety valve which he tied ruthlessly down. The ships at this stage might as well blow up with her boilers as with high explosives from Musso.