Editor’s Note: This is a copy of a letter from Lieutenant Commander Jefferson H. Walker, MVO, RAN, (then CO of HMAS Parramatta (II)) to his wife, describing a particularly nasty series of air attacks.
On Shore – recovering after a stupid taxi accident
Having now received your cutting from the SMH about our action with aircraft and since the BBC have broadcast the whole of the story about the Auckland, saying at the same time that the survivors were picked up by an Australian sloop, there is nothing censorable left about the business and I can therefore tell you the whole story. I am sure you will find it interesting.
The ‘escort’ duty mentioned in the cutting was the job of escorting a petrol carrying ship with fuel urgently required from ‘A’ to ‘B’. The voyage was risky and opposition was expected as the route lay close to large enemy bases on the shore. Fighter protection was provided for us where possible, but commitments were heavy, and we expected to have to rely on our own protection. The Escorting Force was HMS Auckland (for so long our chummy ship in the Red Sea) and Parramatta. Auckland was the senior officer of the party.
The first day and the first night of the voyage went according to the programme, and was without incident. The second day was full of incident and when I say ‘incident’, I mean it!
The day dawned fine and clear and hot with a smooth sea. The first thing to happen was a completely unseen attack by a single aircraft at a great height, at 0915. When this occurred, I was aft doing some job, and raced forward to the bridge with bombs falling into the sea around the ship. The result was that I was drenched with spray by the time I got there. I was wearing a white shirt and the enemy was using some sort of oil in his bombs. The shirt is beautifully speckled grey forever. The attack was a good one, and the ship was neatly straddled, but not hit. Auckland fired on the machine, our rangefinder being out of action for the minute owing to spray from the bombs.
Throughout the rest, Auckland was leading, the Merchant Ship between us and I brought up the rear, both the warships, of course, were zigzagging. Just before noon, an attack was made by three planes dropping torpedoes, one ahead and the other two on either side of me. Bursts of fire at the machines near me made them unload their torpedoes and they made off, one, I think, being winged. I saw the track of a torpedo on the starboard side and was able to avoid it with ease. Probably the torpedo to port was aimed at the Merchant Ship. No hits.
At 1346, a single aircraft made a high-level attack dropping four bombs which fell around me without hitting. He was also engaged by both of us.
There was now a long and anxious pause whilst we got nearer and nearer to the most dangerous zone. The expected attack occurred as late as 1735, and was in full force by about (estimated) 3 formations of 16 aircraft each moving in at about 14,000 feet then dive bombing. This is pretty heavy weight for two small ships. We both opened fire at the formations when they were at long range and they worked round to the sun, then overhead then down in numbers. When they started to come down, things happened at pace. About two thirds of them attacked Auckland, one or two the Merchant Ship and the rest me. I don’t know if I can convey the intensity of this sort of thing, with the sky above alive with aircraft, whistling down (or rather roaring down at one), pulling out at the last moment, the bombs crashing into the sea continuously, the whole being added to by the crash of one’s own guns. The effect is terrific as the sky seems to rain death at one. I have a vivid memory of seeing aircraft apparently just missing the masts of the Merchant Ship fairly spitting bombs at her. On the bridge I was continuously nearly blinded and wet through with spray from the bombs around me.