- Bowden, D.M., PO (Telegraphist), RAN
- Biographies and personal histories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Perth I, HMAS Stuart I
- December 1975 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
This signal system worked very well and I felt we could have got away with only one aircraft attacking but with two it was no dice. They worked out a counter and I soon heard the explosive pops of the cannon shells above our engine noise as they hit and exploded. Beaumont also could hear the pops and threw our ‘Pusser’s Duck‘ around at the first burst, and I later told him I was sure glad I had hooked up my monkey strap to keep me anchored in the aircraft.
We turned off their line of attack and when our tail was clear kept firing, and the Jerries showed us respect. This at first aborted their attack. However, as we dodged one, the other was on to us and I could see pieces flying off our tail and holes appearing in our aircraft. Whenever he could do so, the pilot flew along ravines in the island but the Jerries were waiting when we flew out again and away from the island. The flares stowed just aft of my position ignited and I grabbed them and threw them over the side. The port petrol tank caught fire and I could feel the flames blowing back over my head. About this time I got a stoppage and I ducked down to clear the gun. I guess the Jerries thought I was a gone coon, what with my gun pointing up in the air apparently unattended and the aircraft on fire, it must have seem that we had the ‘roger’. I was still working on the gun when I popped up my head to check and to my surprise one of the Jerries was coming up on our port quarter almost in formation with us. My gun was useless, but I swung it towards the Jerry and I guess he got one helluva surprise for he sideslipped and turned astern. I got my gun in action again and the attack and evasion continued. Our starboard petrol tank caught fire and it was not long after that we crashed on the water.
My first thought was to get our rubber raft out of its stowage and I hoped it had not been holed, it was OK; amazing I thought. I had felt shrapnel on my right hand, right knee and on the back of my head and I hoped the pilot and observer were OK. As I backed up through the fuselage dragging the raft, I found the pilot and observer.
They took the raft and pushed it outside and pulled at the compressed air bottle, which to our relief inflated the raft.
Remembering that the Swordfish crew had nothing with which to signal us when we were searching for them, I grabbed the Verey Pistol and cartridges and passed them out, and then went back inside to get the paddles; plenty of water was coming into the aircraft but she was still floating. As I went into the aircraft the pilot sang out to me to get in quick. I grabbed the paddles and backed out just as the engine collapsed and fell in just where I had been.
I slipped over the side and joined the others in the three-man raft and we pushed off and drifted away. By this time the Jerries had disappeared. I believe they circled us after we crashed and probably thought we all had had it. We looked at our Walrus, what a sorry mess. The upper wings had burned, the engine had fallen in, but even then she appeared to be floating well – but we could see she was settling in the water. The hull must have been like a sieve and we all wondered how we had survived. A few minutes later the aircraft settled and finally disappeared completely.
As I was getting out to the raft, the pilot and observer had removed their flying boots thinking they would have to swim for it, and one of the boots was the only piece of flotsam that rose to the surface. We later used the boot as a bailer and a urinal. We could see the island but unfortunately we were several miles away. The raft was a tight squeeze for the three of us and we found when we tried to paddle, the round raft kept turning in circles and instead of getting closer to the island we seemed to be drifting further out. We debated swimming but we decided we had a better chance remaining in the raft.
We were sitting in water and we were cold, I was probably more comfortable with my boots on but as we had the Verey pistol and cartridges we decided to stay put.
We estimated the air fight had lasted over twenty minutes and we got a certain satisfaction that with our hand signals and the pilot twisting and turning we were able to keep going for so long against two cannonfiring fast aircraft.
The conversation soon lagged and we just sat, each with our own thoughts and watched as we gradually drifted away from the island. Early in the afternoon, we heard an aircraft and sighted a Sunderland flying boat at about 5,000 feet. Beaumont fired several times, but to our dismay the aircraft veered away from us and proceeded on its way.
Time passed and several times I wondered if we had made the right decision staying in the raft when the island was still in sight. Darkness came and we arranged in turn to keep watch, I think it was Brian, the observer, who first saw the destroyer. We did not know then, it was British, but actually by that time we did not care. We just wanted out. Beaumont again fired some Verey lights and to our joy the destroyer altered course towards us. She kept coming at speed and then we realised she was apparently heading to ram us, Beaumont shot off some more Verey lights and the destroyer altered slightly and shot past us, we rocked in the wash and I thought we were going to turn over.
The destroyer, HMAS Stuart, slowed and then went astern and then manoeuvred (marvellous seamanship) close to us, we had one or two anxious moments due to the suction of the screws. A line was cast to us and as we grabbed and held the line the destroyer immediately got under way slow ahead. As we were towed along, the raft swaying in and out with the wash, a Jacob ladder was dropped over the side and we were taken aboard.
Stuart’s captain, ‘Hec’ Waller, welcomed us aboard and delivered us safely to Alexandria.