Introduction – Journal 41 Navy
This issue of Everyone’s War illustrates war at sea from the personal testimonies held in the Centre’s archives.
To begin, the little-known event of the Peterel incident tells of the Japanese attack in December 1941 on the last regular British armed force in Shanghai, the Royal Navy’s Yangtze gunboat HMS Peterel. Petty Officer Jim Mariner, reputed to be the first British serviceman to fire a shot against the Japanese, survived the gunfire that sank Peterel but was captured, spending the next four years as a Far East prisoner of war.
Less than three months after the Peterel incident, Allied ships of the Eastern Fleet suffered a disastrous defeat against the Japanese in the Battle of the Java Sea. The event is told from the recollection of a survivor from the ill-fated HMS Electra which was sunk with the loss of over 100 lives. The author of the piece is an unknown sailor from Hull, UK. His memoir, written soon after the battle, was given to a carer of an elderly member of his family many years later. Subsequently, the memoir was donated to the Centre but, with the passage of time, any record of the family’s name was lost. Should any readers have information on the identity of the unknown sailor, the Centre would be grateful to hear from you.
From defeat to victory, we have the Battle of the North Cape which took place the following year in 1943. This major naval battle saw the sinking of the German capital ship Scharnhorst by HMS Duke of York and Allied cruisers and destroyers. John Lewis, a navigation officer aboard the destroyer HMS Opportune, describes the dramatic chase after the Scharnhorst and the final attack that led to Allied victory.
Continuing with our nautical theme, we have Operation Sea Urchin which features the clandestine SOE landing on Corsica by submarine HMS Tribune. From submarines we venture to aircraft carriers with the memoir of naval airman Bruce Vibert who gives an insight into the Fleet Air Arm, focusing on the role of the Fairey Swordfish and No. 842 Squadron’s duties of anti-submarine patrol and protection of Atlantic and Arctic convoys.
Brotherhood of the Sea and 49 Days Adrift are two incredible tales of survival and endurance. Material donated to the Centre by John Cutcliffe includes official reports and testimonies from the lifeboat survivors of SS Richmond Castle on which he was serving as a teenage cadet when it was sunk by a German U-boat. In 49 Days Adrift, Chief Engineer Richard Rees relives the astonishing feat of surviving seven weeks in a lifeboat after his merchant ship SS Sutlej was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Both articles are illustrated with images capturing the moment of rescue.
Our regular contributor James Goulty gives an overview of the un-glamorous yet vital role of the ‘queen of amphibious warfare’, the Landing Ship Tank (LST), which includes the experiences of D-Day veteran George Henderson aboard LST 8. To complete our cover theme, Naval Press Liaison Officer John Gritten gives a description of landing at King Red Beach during D-Day in a tank landing craft, illustrated with photographs covering his three years reporting on numerous operations.
The Centre was privileged to receive an article by a long- standing supporter of the Centre, the renowned author Ken Tout. How Modest are the Bravest describes the battle actions of a few of those who won outstanding gallantry awards during D-Day to VE Day. Late Arrivals Club highlights a different type of award. The grandson of Flight Sergeant James ‘Jimmy’ Heir donated to the Centre Jimmy’s official account of the loss of his aircraft offshore from Chittagong, Burma. After being washed ashore, Jimmy managed to return to his squadron long after his estimated time of arrival, a feat which entitled him to membership of the Late Arrivals Club. James’ grandson and daughter kindly contributed additional images and information for this article.
A detailed account of German assault engineer Karl Kraus of Infantry Company Ulm is reproduced in At Stalingrad. Brought in to help during the final attack in Stalingrad, Karl saw bitter close combat at the Barrikady Gun Factory, during which he was seriously injured. The Centre gives thanks to Jason Mark of Leaping Horseman Books for granting copyright permission and supplying images for Karl’s article.
The Centre has suffered the loss of a Founder Trustee, the esteemed Historian and author Hugh Cecil. Among the material which Hugh kindly donated to the Centre is a collection of original photographs of Mauthausen, a complex of extermination and slave labour camps in Austria. These are showcased in this issue with a history of Mauthausen which includes first-hand accounts drawn from the archive.