Stuart Robottom interviewed me and another ex Navy type. Bob Appleton, whom I happen to know for his History Essay at the Royal Australian Naval College HMAS Creswell.
Two Interesting Naval Members.
This entry by Stuart won him the Historical Prize for 2003 for the New Entry of Cadets 29, at the Royal Australian Naval College at HMAS Creswell, situated at Jervis Bay, New South Wales, Australia.
Through accident rather than design I ended up with two ex Navy personnel being prepared to share their stories with me. One was a Second World War Royal Navy Sailor. The other was a Royal Australian Navy Officer with a career beginning prior to that conflict into the early years of the "Cold War." They have more in common, however, than simply serving during the same war. Both were sunk during that war, surviving to give further service, and both have contributed to Australia and the community in the period since that war. What follows is but a brief glimpse into their fascinating stories.
War broke out in 1939, prompting Bob to leave his job at Seabrook Garage and enter the Royal Navy in 1940 as a signalman, becoming a radio operator shortly afterwards.
His first ship was the submarine L-27. Whilst in this ship he undertook his first patrols of the North Sea. In 1941, he transferred to HM Submarine Tribune, for more North Sea patrols as well as service off France, and later that year transferring to the Tempest, another T Class submarine. Whilst off France, Bob experienced his first depth-charging - it was apparently quite an experience ---- I can't express his exact words here, but the edited quote is "Frightened all the s-t out of me."
This wasn't the only time he was on the receiving end of depth-charges, it happened on two more occasions at later stages of the war. The next time is remembered thus:
It was aboard the Tempest that Bob's most significant naval event occurred. On the 13th, of February of 1942, a Friday, the Tempest was on a patrol in the Gulf of Taranto. This day was different. At 0302 Tempest and the Italian destroyer Circe sighted one another. Tempest dived below the surface as the destroyer moved in, depth charging, Bob's third experience. Of this ferocious attack, begun at 0332, he describes as:
At 0716, after several hours of depth charging, Circe spotted oil on the surface, but Tempest remained below. It was at 0945 that she finally came to the surface, with Circe opening fire on the submarine as she appeared - killing several of the crew attempting to exit the Tempest. The submarine's crew had been ordered to abandon their ship, in seas rough enough to prevent the Italians from effecting a boarding, Tempest stayed afloat until the early afternoon, before finally sinking whilst the Circe was preparing to take her in tow.
Bob was one of 23 survivors. the remainder of Tempest's 62 crew perished. He was a prisoner of war for the next thirteen months before being repatriated in an exchange of prisoners. After the exchange, he spent six weeks at Alexandria prior to being returned to the UK aboard the ILE DE FRANCE, a famous inter - war liner.
Bob's war was not over. He returned to action in 1943, aboard the frigate HMS Cam. This ship was based in Scotland, and Bob stayed aboard for several months, until that ship blew her stern off when attacking a U-Boat in the channel. It was in 1944 that Bob passed his Leading Telegraphist exam, commencing work with Special Services in Greece. He was involved in the Greek Civil War for a short period, before being posted to HMS Canopus, at the Nile in Egypt, and then HMS St Angelo in Malta.
Bob's naval career ended in 1946, when he was demobilised on the 23rd. of April.
This not the end of Bob's naval life. In 1953, four years after migrating from the UK to Australia, Bob joined the Geelong Sea Cadet unit as Commanding Officer. He retained this position, with the rank of Lieutenant, until 1958, when the pressure of business forced him to leave. This was to be temporary. He returned to Training Ship Barwon, now considered as Naval Reserve Cadets ( NRC ), as Commanding Officer, this time in the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
During this period TS Barwon was to become one of the more successful NRC units in the country. The Ship's company rose to well over 100 cadets. For three years in a row, the unit was judged Victoria's best, and in consecutive years won the Australian Colours. This was an Australian record. Such success saw the local community respond, with the unit being given: " Freedom of Entry to the City of Geelong." Bob remained CO of TS Barwon until 1984. This time the departure was due to the RAN's decision - they considered him, in Bob's own words: " TOO OLD."
However, Bob was of a different opinion. Whilst no longer involved in the NRC, he started the Navy League of Australia's Geelong Branch that same year, and was appointed Royal Australian Navy Liaison Officer of Geelong Port. Still later, in 1989, Bob became Foundation Honorary Curator of the Geerlong Naval and Maritime Museum. He remained n that position until 1996. During his tenure, the museum expanded through the former Osborne House gym and engineering workshop. Whilst not in Osborne House proper, the museum is located next to the building that was the original home of the Royal Australian Naval College. Photographs of cadets ( including those with names of Collins, Farncomb et al ) decorating the walls have extra significance - they are of, and taken at, the very place the viewer is visiting! The most ambitious of Bob's projects was an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to have an Oberon class submarine moved to the Geelong museum. Bob consulted with the Royal Navy Submarine Museum to assist with costing this project and found ways to get the submarine moved to Geelong at no cost. However, the Geelong Council did not support this attempt, and it ultimately failed - something Bob still considers a lost opportunity.
Bob's contribution to Australia in general, and the Geelong region in particular, has resulted in him being awarded the 2003 Centenary Medal, for: " Contribution to Australian Society.", as well as, also in 2003, the Order of Australia for " Services to the Geelong Community."
These days Bob remains active, sailing several days a week on Corio bay, and is currently working as a volunteer production coordinator at a local radio station, and presenting his own Sunday breakfast show: " Weeties and Wayback."
Like Bob's story, Mac has many events which would be considered significant by many people. But for this assignment I will re-tell just a few.
In early August, 1942, the Canberra was steaming off Savo Island. The night of 08-09 August was to be her last. Japanese warships managed to pass by several US radar pickets without detection. They continued southwards, until early on the 9th. contact was made with Canberra's group.
The Japanese fired torpedoes. The Canberra managed to avoid being hit by these before several shells exploded around the bridge. Canberra's Captain, Frank Getting ( one of the RANC's 1913 entrants ) was mortally wounded. Several other personnel were killed or suffered injuries. In two minutes Canberra was hit by 24 Japanese shells, leaving her with serious damage. She was on fire amidships and below decks, and had a significant list to starboard, with many of her crew dead or wounded.
Sub- Lieutenant Gregory was on Canberra's bridge that night, and is quoted as saying of those short minutes: "... For Canberra the war was over..." He left the bridge just after 0143 and went to his action station, the fore control. However, he spent little time there as the ship lost power, so abandoned his station to help in other ways, recovering wounded and dumping ammunition. before the fires spread to the magazines. Later in the morning a ship approached the crippled Canberra, and opened fire - it was USS Chicago, their former consort. USS Patterson, a destroyer, lay alongside Canberra - she and Chicago exchanged identities and the shooting ceased.
The sinking of someone's ship is a major event in anyone's career, and this was undoubtedly so for Mac. However, after just two weeks of leave he was posted to HMAS Adelaide, which was engaged in convoy escort and patrol work. He stayed in Adelaide until transferring to Shropshire, Canberra's replacement, shortly after the Battle of Surigao Strait in October 1944.
Mac's time in Shropshire began on a slightly humorous note. Having experienced much frustration in attempting to organise air transport to join his new ship, Mac asked for a Travel Request. It stated:
Shropshire's Pacific war included experiencing the Kamikaze attacks which ended HMAS Australia's war. Shropshire, a ship almost identical in silhouette, emerged unscathed. Mac describes this period as follows:
Having survived the Kamikazes, Shropshire was able to participate in the Tokyo Bay surrender ceremony, which ended the Pacific War. When the Japanese came aboard USS Missouri to sign the surrender documents, Shropshire was there, one of several ships representing Australia, to witness the event. Mac described the day as follows:
Mac served for nearly a decade after the end of the war, in various capacities. He was the first RAN officer to qualify as a Torpedo/Anti-Submarine Officer ( TASO ) and served on the staff of several senior RAN officers of note. Changing tack in 1950, Mac became Aide - de - Camp to the then Governor- General, William McKell until 1953. Back with the fleet in 1953, Mac served as Fleet TASO to then Rear Admiral R. R. Dowling, aboard the aircraft carrier HMAS Vengeance, through the period of the Royal Visit. This, his last operational posting in the RAN, and Mac resigned from the Navy.
Mac is still active, and runs his own Navy history website. He is recognised as a great source of information by many Internet users, with a website visited by many, many people seeking answers to obscure questions - including those from nosy Sub-Lieutenants asking him for his life story.
Both supplied me with more than enough information for this piece, and were happy to do so. In fact they were both prepared to provide further information if requested! I found it of great interest to be exposed to these personal recollections of history. There are ever fewer primary sources available to us as time marches on, and takes its inevitable toll on people with such interesting and amazing stories to tell.
Through EEC we have read about ships being sunk in peace and war, including the Canberra's loss. But most people only get to read someone else's version of the event, based on the memories of people like Mac and Bob. I consider myself fortunate to have to have been allowed to tell both Bob's and Mac's stories, and hope that this piece does them and their memories justice.