- Stanton, Richard
- Ship histories and stories, WWII operations
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Voyager I, HMAS Vampire I, HMAS Stuart I
- September 1988 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Thanks for printing my last article on the post-war Navy. A number of people spoke to me at the Anzac Day reunion about it and I have since had a phone call from one of the post-war men who saw the article in a friends magazine, recognised me and phoned to say he had enjoyed it and would like to see more. As my last was the story of my Post-war activities and you appear to have plenty of Corvette articles, I thought perhaps there might be some interest in the pre-corvette days. Here it is.
As my previous article was the story of my post-war activities after leaving Ballarat, now let me take you back to the days before the Corvettes were built. At FND when war was declared in September 1939 we young ODs cheered. Wasn’t this what we had joined the Navy for? Many of those near the end of their courses were sent off to raise the fleet to war complement. Those of us left champed at the bit until our turn came. In early 1940 I was one of a group to take passage in HMS Ramilles, the old RN Battleship, sailing as part of the escort for a troopship convoy. We were headed for the Middle East via Colombo, Aden and the Suez Canal. From there we overlanded by train to Alexandria to join the destroyers of the 10th Destroyer Flotilla – later to become more famous as the Scrap Iron Flotilla. My ship was Vampire. This was April 1940. In June our war began when Italy entered the war.
We were already at sea patrolling in expectation. The Italians had begun by laying mines outside Alexandria Harbour from submarines. It was Voyager who located and sank the first of these submarines within the first three days of Italy’s war. We were quite busy dodging those mines for the first days until the sweepers moved in. But in that first week we had attacked three submarines and claimed two to have been sunk. Voyager claimed two more and Stuart one. We were no longer ODs and no longer cheering. Our next introduction to the war was from the air. We had left Egypt to be part of an escort for a convoy of ships from the Black Sea. It gave us quite a strange feeling to see Gallipoli in the distance. We were really picking up the club dropped by our fathers. We sailed back through the peaceful looking islands off Greece, but they were about to witness violence instead. Bombs suddenly began to rain down.
They were high up and we had only angle guns with SAP ammunition. The captain put the ship to full speed, then put the wheel hard over. As the ship rolled heavily the guns pointed higher and we fired at those aircraft. Quite useless of course, but it was good to hear our guns firing back. They returned the next day when Vampire had a lucky escape. We had turned round to investigate a submarine contact when the aircraft dumped a full load of bombs where we had been. Our next big problem was when the French and Germans signed an armistice. The French fleet wanted to go home. Of course Admiral Cunningham could not allow these ships to fall into the hands of the Germans, so every available British warship returned to Alexandria Harbour, including Vampire. We had our torpedo tubes trained on a massive French battleship, but in turn found ourselves looking down the barrels of about 16 inch guns. It was tense. How it was solved I do not know, but the French ships capitulated and were disarmed except for AA guns.
In July we sailed with the fleet to engage the Italian fleet which had put to sea. We were escorting the aircraft carrier Eagle (our only carrier) and separated from the Battle fleet. This made us the prime target for Italian aircraft. During that one afternoon 1800 bombs dropped around Vampire without a hit. I’ll swear every aircraft which could flap a wing was sent out, even if the pilot had to throw his bomb from an open cockpit. This was the Battle of Calabria. We could see the ships of the Battle fleet in action when the spray from bombs permitted it. Commander Walsh of Vampire calmly lined up attacking aircraft by the mast, watched the bombs begin to fall and called course changes. Following the battle, we were detached to Malta to escort a convoy to Egypt. That night we sailed and became spectators to a massive air raid on Malta. We were so engrossed that we failed to notice that we had left an upper deck hatch open and showing light. It was sighted by one of the planes and we were promptly bombed.
Another lucky escape. In the morning we were bombed again, this time not so lucky. The ship was riddled with holes from bomb splinters and our gunnery officer was badly wounded. We rushed to the vicinity of the fleet and transferred Mr. Endicott to a ship with medical facilities. During the transfer the planes came again. Never was a whaler hoisted so fast. Nearly straightened the davits. Unfortunately our gunner died. Back to the convoy and much more bombing before we were ordered back to the fleet. The aircraft were very upset that we remained afloat and did their best to reverse that situation. We were told later that bets were being placed in Warspite as to whether Vampire would make it back to harbour. We did.
Much convoy work followed between Egypt, Palestine and Malta with the now-to- be-expected punctuation marks of attacks from the air and our own attacks on submarine contacts.
Our next job as fleet A/S screen was as flotilla leader. Stuart was being refitted so we had Captain Hec. Waller aboard. He was later to be killed when Perth was sunk. We had again tried to cut off the Italian fleet before they could get back to harbour. There was some frantic night action when three torpedo boats attacked Ajax. She sank two immediately. We were busy attacking a submarine when Ajax went into action against an Italian destroyer – the Artigliers.
The following morning we picked up the few survivors from that destroyer. We used them as aircraft lookouts on the way home, a job they were very willing to do. Yelled, danced and pointed to every aircraft coming over the horizon.