- Garrard, Richard Noel (Jerry) , RANR
- Biographies and personal histories, RAN operations, WWII operations, History - WW2
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Stuart I
- March 2006 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
This is just another example of Hec Waller’s expertise in seamanship and signaling and devotion to duty which won him the respect and admiration of the whole crew.
I passed out as an Able Seaman (WOW!)…
‘…Our SS men were caught in Romania but some sailed back to Alexandria and we met them ashore…’
‘Worked hard – lots of buzzes (rumors) – left Malta 2:00pm – picked up Glorious and Ark Royal (aircraft carriers) with Bulldog and Westcott (destroyers) – heavy seas …all off to Gibraltar at 26 knots.’
About midnight, I was doing my trick on the wheel in almost impossible conditions. We were slipping and sliding under the stern of the carrier, when suddenly our destroyer yawed to Port, and although I put the wheel ‘hard to starboard’ to correct it, it kept on going to Port. Of course the OOW was screaming down the voice pipe saying, ‘Wheel hard a Starboard’, and I’m screaming that it already is. Then the OOW said ‘Wheel hard a Port then.’ The ship was still swinging to Port, so I said, ‘NO SIR,’ and just then Hec was beside me and he said, ‘Can you hold it there?’ and I said ‘Yes!’ Then the Captain shouted up the voice pipe, ‘Captain here, everything is OK, just hang on.’
So we hung on, and the ship kept swinging to Port for 180 Degrees, with the wheel still hard to Starboard. It slowly came to and gradually we caught up with the aircraft carrier. The Captain said if he hadn’t seen it, he would not have believed it.
‘Up at 5:00am – slipped at 6:10am – exercises with umpteen battleships, cruisers, carriers and aircraft, submarines and destroyers. Night attack maneuvers with searchlights etc. …dog tired and do I sleep!’
We were closed up at Action Stations all day and I was the starboard lookout on the bridge. Actually it was to be the most exciting day of my life in the Navy.
Our Captain was ‘Passed Out’ for his 4th ring as a full-blown Captain by Admiral Cunningham of the battleship Warspite. There was a fresh wind blowing, white capped seas, and all these ships, including the French Fleet, traveling at approx. 20 knots, kept changing directions and forming columns in line ahead, then wheeling and passing between each other in opposite directions without slowing speed, then reforming in all directions. An amazing spectacle that would have to be seen to be believed. So as the bridge lookout, I could just watch and wonder, and enjoy this wonderful spectacle.
‘…Italy declared war at 8:00pm – everybody stunned …Arrived in Alexandria 11:00pm…’
‘Slipped at 2:00am with 16 destroyers –Warspite (battleship), Malaya (battleship) and Eagle (battleship) at 18 knots towards Rhodes Island – Italian Naval Base …At 6:00pm got signals from Warspite to return…’
During this first encounter with the Italian Fleet (which was shortened because they turned away when we opened fire and they returned it), it was interesting that in the battle formation the pride of position was on the starboard bow of the battleship Warspite, which Admiral Cunningham gave to HMAS Stuart (Hec Waller) of course. When the enemy turned away and was outdistancing us, the Admiral signaled, ‘Act independently,’ so Hec yelled out, ‘Full speed ahead,’ and off we went at 36 knots and left the whole fleet behind, until the Admiral signaled, ‘Return to position immediately.’ I don’t think Hec ever forgave him. However, the last shot from the Italian Fleet, a 10” projectile, clipped the top of our mainmast and demolished our wireless aerial, and gave the crows nest lookout a nasty shock. Being armour-plated the shell didn’t explode, just splashed into the sea between us and the Warspite.
‘Met up with rest of British fleet – one aircraft carrier – three battleships – three cruisers – fifteen destroyers – chased Italian Fleet (fifty two units) to Italy and had a good battle – they ran as usual – we were bombed continually and thousands of bombs dropped (from high level) – Eagle was hit three times – we fired 27 times from our 4.7” guns – closed up (at guns) all day and night – no sleep or eats – we started firing at ten miles away – Warspite is good in action – five cruisers in line kept up continuous fire – we led the battle