Gentlemen Cordite, Lieutenant Commander Warwick
edited by Nicholas Bracegirdle

A few days in the life of a Destroyer Crew in the Mediterranean during WW II

Extracts from the World War II records of
ex C. P.O.G.M. Arthur Cooper, H.M.A.S. Voyager
(before the Siege of Tobruk)

Saturday 11 June 1941 - Mediterranean - Alexandria, Egypt.
Left Alexandria at 0130 and proceeded to sea with the Australian Destroyer Flotilla, less Waterhen.   Ships present were:  H.M.S. Wrynick, Aircraft Carrier HMS Eagle, and Battleship H.M.S. Barham with us.   Very nice weather, calm and warm.   Passed a floating mine and dodged it.   Our leader, H.M.A.S. Stuart broke down with engine trouble for a few minutes but otherwise nothing eventful happened.   We had four Maltese passengers on board, taking passage to Malta.

Our programme was to bombard Tobruk then zigzag up to Malta via the Island of Crete then oil ship and come back to Alexandria and covering several convoys going and coming to and from Greece and Malta.   News that the cruiser H.M.S. Southampton had been hit by a torpedo and was on fire badly on the stern.   Rumour that another ship H.M.S. Galiant had been hit also.

Italian radio announced that a cruiser, an aircraft carrier and destroyers were successfully attacked by torpedo bombers.   The light cruiser HMS Ajax and some more destroyers were due to join us some time tonight.   There was a bright bombers' moon shining tonight.

Several programme changes occurred during the night, i.e. we were going to the assistance cruiser Southampton, then we were going to Greece again.   All were cancelled and we joined the main fleet again.   The fleet were missing Aircraft Carrier Illustrious, Cruiser Southampton and Destroyer Galiant.   One bomb tipped the Warspite's anchor and never exploded.

It appears that German Junkers aircraft, JU88s and German dive bombers made a sudden attack on the main fleet right out of the sun, and hit Southampton aft and amidships.   She was in a bad way and on fire as well as 100 killed.   The destroyer H.M.S. Diamond went alongside and took everyone off including the wounded, and was heavily bombed while doing so by Jerry aircraft.   One bomb missed by two feet and never exploded.   Southampton had to be sunk by own forces. Aircraft carrier was hit by a salvo of bombs and was put out of action but made it to the Malta dockyard and was repaired.  

Destroyer Gallant struck a mine which blew her bows off.   She was later repaired at Malta.

Monday, 13 January 1941
We got a bit of a hiding this time, but their turn will come.

The weather was bad but behind us as we made for our base at Alexandria.   Bright moonlight nights.

Tuesday, 14 January 0230
Left Alexandria for Sollum with a one ship convoy, "Singalese Prince".   Weather fair, just a nice swell.

Closed up for action stations at dusk in case of attack from torpedo bombers but all was quiet.   Sighted a floating mine, fired the Port Lewis gun at it but with no results.   The darkness came down too quickly.  

Secured alongside lighters in Sollum at 2230.   Then the Launch S.O.3 came alongside and transferred passengers, one officer and a rating for H.M.S. Ladybird.

Wednesday 15 January
Left Sollum early and escorted Singalese Prince passed Mersa Muttra.   Wind blowing hard and about 2100 (9 p.m.) a dust storm began and reduced visibility to 50 yards.   It howled and blew dust and sand all night.   We lost our convoy, stayed at see all night, and in the morning we sure looked a sorry sight.

Thursday 16 January
Storm cleared this morning.   We sighted a derelict ship flying a distress signal.   We left her anchored near the coast after reporting the incident by W.T.   We took the poor hungry Ship's Cat with us.   We then hurried back to Mursa Muttra, arriving at 1000.

Had trouble getting alongside the pontoon at the sand bar (no wharves here), and then took on 289 troops.   Full speed for Sollum.   Weather perfect, sea flat calm.   Arrived 2130.

We invited all the local sergeants into our Mess for a showing of our own movies (a couple of us had bought 8mm movie cameras, Bell and Howell).

We began unloading troops and stores onto lighters and when the moon came up the unloading speeded up.   During the way dawn, in talks with our passengers, we heard some very interesting stories about how game the Aussie soldiers were and others not so hot.   The troops showed a lot of respect for the Italian Artillery.

Too many incidents to relate here.

We were told that only 5000 troops took part in the capture of Bardia and they captured 45,000 prisoners.

Friday, 9 January (?)
Sollum, sea, Mersa Muttra, sea, Sollum, and sea.
Repetition of yesterday, 250 troops with all gear and equipment, plus tons of stores, transported to Mersa Muttra.

We picked up the coffin bearing the body of General Tilley, C.O. of the Tank Corps., who died here at Sollum, and took it to Mersa Muttra.   We now resumed our usual duties of escorting convoys until -

Monday 20 January
In company with H.M.S. Terror (a flat bottomed monitor of a ship who packed a punch of 15 inch guns) and set off to bombard Tobruk.   In company with us were H.M.S. Ladybird, Gnat, Bagshot, and motor boat S.O.3.   Plans for attach were well laid in advance.

We arrived in the dusk at 2100.   We knew that the sea approaches were heavily mined and so all hands were at action stations from 2100 until 0600 the next morning.   We were given the eastern leg of the area to catch any "E" boats endeavouring to come out.

At 2300 Terror, Ladybird and Gnat opened fire and we could see the fires starting and vehicle headlights flashing.   M.B.  S.O.3  kept setting off flares and we fired blank charges to create a diversion.   When the moon rose, at 0200, we secured and headed for home.

Tuesday 13 January 1941
Arrived at Sollum 1330.   Anchored and still covered in dust, filthy, tired, worn out and hungry.

The O.I.C. of the operation came on board and told us that the operation was a success.   No damage to us but a lot of damage to Tobruk.  

At 1530 we got sudden orders to put to sea at full speed and go to a spot 200 miles along the enemy coast where 8 enemy Merchant ships had anchored.   At 1600 we were 27 knots and preparing for an unknown type of action.   We speculated that may be we would capture a ship or two.

As we passed the waters off Tobruk, just at sunset, clouds of smoke and fires were visible and as it got dark, about 2200 we saw a terrific explosion in Tobruk which lit up the sky and the dear old Voyager lit up for fully half a minute.   We were 80 miles away by that time.

Some more explosions were seen and what appeared to be tracer ammunition were criss-crossing the sky.

We proceeded on our way and news came through that the R.A.F. had bombed and sunk the Italian cruiser, the "San Gorgio" in the harbour of Tobruk.   (Don't forget to read the next chapter - did we have a battle with the 8 ships, or did we?)  Answer?  Some higher up-higher up ordered us to get out of it and return with the utmost dispatch.

A British submarine was in the vicinity and was told to sink any ship which they saw.

Thursday 22 January
Tobruk had now fallen to our forces and we were able to enter Tobruk harbour, and from then on we made numerous trips into and out of the harbour.   The harbour was littered with sunken ships.   Some could be seen, the sides were just above water, a mast here and there, others out of sight.   One time while we were slowly entering harbour we brushed against a wreck and were suddenly pushed sideways about a foot.   Luckily no damage.

Another time, a few weeks later, a vessel laden with P.O.Ws and others, set off an acoustic mine at the entrance of Tobruk harbour and sunk in ten minutes.   That is another story, written later.

The Army at this stage drove the Italian Army right back to Benghazi and we on "Voyager" with H.M.S. TERROR got right into the harbour.   The Italian civilian inhabitants said:  "You wont be for long".   They were right.   The Germans, under Romell, arrived and we got out quickly.   TERROR was sunk in the process.   The story goes on.

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