Two penfriends

April 27 1942 Wrote to Hugh. Also wrote to Ray.

It was unpredictable how long letters took to arrive and they frequently crossed. Jim received a letter from Hugh on May 7 1941 and recorded there is little news in it. This could have been either the February or March one.

It had been in March 1941 that Raymond wrote from Surrey. He told Jim that he had at last joined a regiment as part of the ‘intelligentsia’. He also told her that tragic news had interrupted his infantry training.

Bad news from Ray

I had a telegram to say that my younger brother had been killed in a plane crash (March 2). He was navigator on that particular trip, and they crashed just a few miles before reaching their home base in Yorkshire. They had been in Cologne, and apparently the pilot lost his bearings. Leon was the only one killed, though the other members of the crew were injured or shaken up. I had four days’ compassionate leave, and went up to Doncaster, where I met my mother, sisters, brother-in-law and a friend of Leon’s. The funeral was held near the station; with military honours. Mother is still dreadfully upset, I’m afraid. He was an amazingly popular kid. She has had more than 100 letters of sympathy. The officers at the station were pretty decent – so they ought to have been, for that matter – and told Mother she should be proud of Leon. It’s just another result of this beastly war.

Ray’s brother was Leonard Thomas Richards. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records him as the son of Samuel and Jessie Richards. His final resting-place was Hatfield Woodhouse Cemetery in Yorkshire. He was a sergeant with the Royal Air Force Reserve.  It was in the early hours of the morning that the Hampden X2984 was returning to Lindholme.  Visibility was poor and the four-man crew thought they were over the sea when they crashed into a small plantation near Driffield.  Leonard was only 23. His name also appears on a War Memorial at St Aidan’s Scottish Episcopal Church in his home town of Clarkston.

The 1911 census shows Ray as a two-year-old living with his parents in Calderwood Road, Stonelaw, Rutherglen.  He had a four-year-old sister and the family had Samuel’s mother staying as well as a servant.  Samuel was an Electrical Engineer at a ‘sewing cotton manufacturer’s’. This would have been one of the great mills of Paisley such as Coats or Clarks, remarkably near Hugh’s home town. In fact, both companies had set up American mills. An amalgamation meant Clarks had become J&P Coats Limited by the time Hugh’s father arrived in Newark in 1920. Maybe Ray and Hugh spoke about their shared heritage with their fathers working in the same line.

Ray goes on to say that he had spent an evening with Dr Wyse and his friends at the Cafe de Paris in London at the end of February.

Just two weeks later a bomb dropped plum into the cafe. Called him up to know if he was still alive and he was. He generally went on a Saturday but on this particular Saturday he had changed his plans at the last moment and gone elsewhere.

It was on March 8, the Saturday following the death of Ray’s brother, that two bombs exploded in front of the band. The dance floor was packed and there were over thirty deaths. Ray thanks Jim for sending books and a copy of her article about their trip. He completes his letter with a mention of heavy bombing in Glasgow, something which would have been a concern for Hugh at the time.

Jim received another missive from Ray in July 1941saying that Dr. Wyse had become an officer in the RAMC and that he himself had transferred to Winchester for training which included motor-bike riding. 

Hugh’s turn to write

Hugh chose an Air Mail Letter Card for his next message. It is a single sheet folded in four so that the address is visible. As well as a 3d postage stamp, it bears a censor’s stamp dated May 11th. Jim wrote to Hugh on May 24, possibly too early to be answering this letter.

Dear Jim,

A few lines to thank you for the book of Shelley verse and the ‘Countryman’ you sent to me. They are both very acceptable and came at a good time as I am going to sea today for about twenty-five days. Both parcels came together but the enclosed letters were dated about a month apart.

Hugh remained in Alexandria for the rest of March. The men were kept on their toes with a lecture on security aboard Medway on the 23rd. Osiris, after thirteen years’ service, was embarking on many weeks of repairs followed by basin trials. The boat was never far away from HMS Medway with its access to new parts and facilities for the men.  An inspection by Commander Steel on the 28th followed much cleaning and painting. Although there were frequent changes of berth within harbour, Osiris did not go to sea during March. A convoy left Alexandria with supplies for Malta on March 21. This was the period when Britain claimed victory of the Second Battle of Sirte with Italian ships suffering damage. However, air attacks destroyed most of the supplies with only a few reaching Malta.

I listened to Churchill on the radio last night and I thought he sounded much more encouraging than in his last few speeches. He always leaves the impression that there is no doubt about the final outcome of it all. Out here we are still waiting to hear the results of the battle of the Coral Seas. Sooner or later the Japanese will get it where the chicken got the chopper.

Jim, too, usually had a positive frame of mind. If anything went awry in her life she would often finish a diary entry with Ad Metam Contendo

Following Pearl Harbour, there had been crucial action in the Far East. Jim reports on December 9, 1941:

The American fleet and Air Force have suffered losses. The Japanese now threaten Singapore and have captured Thailand (Siam) and bombed Bangkok. Australia is feeling nervous and all countries seem to be mobilising.

1942 February 12 Deathly struggle taking place for Singapore. Soap is now rationed and the petrol ration reduced – woe is me.

Three days later Jim listened to Churchill’s speech which she describes as rather a gloomy one ending with the news that Singapore has fallen.

Further south, during the first few days of May, The Battle of the Coral Sea involved both air sea forces of America and Australia forces. It was not a great success in terms of targets destroyed but Allied forces succeeded in pushing Japanese ships away from Papua New Guinea. Had they attained a stronghold there, Australia would have become isolated and also open to attack. Whilst he was writing to Jim, Hugh would not have known that the crew of the US Navy oil tanker Neosho were being rescued following an attack by the Japanese. The success of the battle set up the more decisive victory, implied by Hugh, as played out a few weeks later at Midway, based on the appropriately-named Hawaiian atoll about halfway between North America and Asia.

A new boat

One of the reasons for writing this short note is to inform you that I am now on another boat which means a change of address. It is now H.M. s/m TURBULENT.  Still a submarine but of a later type than the last one.

Arrangements were being made to transfer Osiris to the Eastern Fleet with which she served for the rest of the war. She made one last patrol in the Mediterranean, intercepting Italian warships to prevent them interfering with landings in Sicily by the Allies. Hugh was not involved in this July patrol as, by then, he had joined Turbulent. Many of the crew were transferred to newer boats at this time. Hugh was anxious to acknowledge Jim’s latest mail in this short note before embarking upon this long patrol. There is a sense of apprehension as he thinks about the coming weeks. A change of boat would have added to the nervousness.

As I began to research the history of Turbulent, I was uneasy. Amongst Jim’s documents were newspaper cuttings relating to this boat. One dealt with Turbulent’s successes but the others reported that the boat was missing. There was a lot of information about the Commander, John Wallace Linton, but I did not know whether Hugh had been on board the final patrol. There was also Jim’s letter from the Admiralty.

I visited The National Archives to find out more. As I had done for Osiris, I transcribed Log Books and Patrol Reports. Technology had moved on and in some cases I could photograph the document and have it emailed to me.

Turbulent was a new vessel. In fact, the ‘T’ class submarines were designed to be replacements for classes of boats that included the ‘O’ Class such as Osiris. Vickers Armstrong’s shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness received the order for Turbulent at the outbreak of war. Bearing the pennant N98, she was launched in May 1941. In November, she left Barrow under the command of Lt Cdr John Linton and carried out trials and exercises at Holy Loch. Commissioning took place at the beginning of December and, following a similar course to that of Osiris, she then headed for the Mediterranean, arriving in Gibraltar on January 10, 1942.

Linton’s naval career began in 1923. He volunteered for submarine service which, for a talented rugby player, is surprising. On the outbreak of war, Linton took command of HMs/m Pandora in the Far East. In 1940, he took her to the Mediterranean where his reputation soon earned him the Distinguished Service Cross.

Linton’s 1st War Patrol with Turbulent was from Gibraltar to Malta, transporting passengers and stores whilst carrying out anti-submarine exercises. It was the next patrol that took her, via Crete, to Alexandria arriving on February13. Turbulent then returned to the Crete area for a busy 3rd War Patrol leaving on February 23 with orders to patrol the Aegean Sea and Dardanelles areas.  On February 26, Linton attempted an attack on a convoy made up of Italian and German boats. Although detected by the enemy, Linton managed to leave the area with only slight damage from a depth charge. The following afternoon, Turbulent used gunfire to sink a lone Greek sailing vessel laden with cargo. These two incidents show how Linton was not only successful at finding targets but also used opportunistic sightings, even in broad daylight, to his advantage.

The month of March was no quieter, beginning on the 2nd with little time for the usual daytime sleep. Action began at noon when a schooner was spotted. Turbulent closed in and fired its guns, burning the schooner which then sank. Most of the fifteen German soldiers on board were lost. Turbulent dived but later in the afternoon another schooner appeared and Turbulent surfaced to fire guns again. This attack was also successful as was one on a third schooner around midnight. Gun attacks continued into the early hours of the next day and a further similar success was marked up for Turbulent. Another was aborted when it was realised the vessel was full of women.

Two days later Linton deployed his torpedoes but they missed the targets. The following week, Turbulent’s guns fired on another Greek schooner causing it, too, to sink. Linton’s ability to dive as soon as the guns had fired avoided return attacks. The next day a similar incident took place leaving Turbulent with depleted ammunition supplies. She entered safe harbour at Alexandria on March 17.

Hugh transfers

It is possible that between his letters of March 19 and May 11 Hugh took part in Turbulent’s 4th War Patrol which began on March 30th. The fact that he had not written to Jim during that time may also suggest this. However, his Service Record states that he was with Osiris until June 30, though this is a date much later than indicated by his current letter. The 4th patrol took place in the Adriatic, Linton being given free rein to follow his own routes above 40 degrees North, an area including the coast of Croatia which had been invaded by Nazi Germany a year earlier.

The monthly log for April, ADM 173/1768/1, gives a vivid picture of this busy patrol. Linton’s raison d’etre was to intercept vessels ferrying supplies to and from the ports of North Africa and Turbulent was to cover vast areas of the Mediterranean doing just this. He now set a north-westerly course from Alexandria, heading for the Adriatic Sea. As usual, he dived by day, checking regularly for position and for other craft. At night on the surface, he could use both engines and charge electrics. This was not possible when submerged.

A diligent watch was kept and Linton quickly dived if enemy vessels were spotted. The trip was free of incident for the first few days but, on the April 7, his gun action sank a small steamship off the Croatian coast. He was now two degrees north within the area where he could make his own decisions. Another gun action took place a week later. As Hugh had said, there were short periods of intensive action, this in broad daylight:

April 7th 1415 Sighted a ship approaching from Popovanjiva Bay. Soon after sighting it altered course away. It was noticed that it was a small ship of about 1200 tons.

1433 Surfaced and opened fire with the 4″ gun from 4500 yards. The ship stopped and the crew was seen to abandon it even before it was hit.

1441 Dived as the ship seemed to be sinking. 39 rounds had been fired for about a dozen hits.

1451 The ship capsized and floated bottom up for a few moments before it sank. This ship was heavily laden and had a big deck cargo including 4 cars.

Late in the afternoon two days later, two ‘fish’, or torpedoes, were deployed south of the medieval city of Sibenik. The crew spotted enemy aircraft and fire from an enemy vessel so Linton aborted the action. On April 10, four torpedoes were fired at 1620 and a small fishing vessel was sighted late at night. These were busy waters but sometimes too shallow for gun action. If aircraft were spotted, Turbulent would dive deep and remain there for several hours, unable to keep periscope watch.

Still moving north, there was more excitement in the following days including an attempted attack on a U-boat. This part of the Dalmatian coast is dotted with islands and one can only imagine the dangers of submarine warfare in this territory. It had now been over a year since the invasion following Croatia’s refusal to accept the Tripartite Pact which in effect had rendered it a neutral state. The Adriatic Sea was therefore a very dangerous place with Italy to the west and a German presence to the east.

I visited this coast in 2019 and was hoping to take a boat trip through the islands. Due to bad weather, my only relevant picture was of a small, yellow submarine!

 On the Croatian coast, a tiny yellow submarine is decorated with images of The Beatles – pertinent link with the Liverpool Jim knew in the ’60s

 

Apr 13 0928 Diving stations, attacked ship fired two torpedoes and missed.

Apr 14 1917 Diving stations, course variable for attack. Opened fire on schooner and shore battery. Fired at s/m 43.28N 1602 E.

2024 Dived.

Diving to avoid shore-based gun-fire, Turbulent was now heading south and only just within the latitude for Linton working on his own initiative. At two o’clock on the afternoon of April 16, he fired two torpedoes off Brindisi. Both hit the target, a 6000-ton merchant ship heavily laden with stores and heading south. This must have been a morale-booster for the crew as they left the patrol area to return towards Alexandria, zigzagging and keeping watch.

Heading for port

After five more days, continuously deciding whether a defensive course of action or one of attack should be taken, Linton was within sight of Alexandria. On April 22, the patrol ended and the following day, Turbulent took up a mooring alongside Thrasher whilst most of the crew took a well-earned rest and those on duty cleaned up the boat. Scraping the boat was essential work in order to clear barnacles and return the boat to a stream-lined condition for maximum speed. Painting finished the job. This involved a certain amount of moving around the port but frequently returning to berth on Medway.

Log Book ADM 173/17682 gives the details for May 1942. The first few days of the month were spent on exercises using harbours at both Alexandria and Port Said. Men were working on torpedoes and generally preparing for sea. At Port Said, off-duty crew had billets ashore. Two days before departure, loading of stores began and final painting took place. May 9 saw Turbulent back in Alexandria berthed alongside Medway ready for loading with provisions. At 1300 each day, the men had ‘make and mend’ time for an hour or so when Hugh may have written his letters. Certainly Hugh wrote to Jim on the 11th and that same evening Turbulent left harbour bound for the Gulf of Sirte, her 5th War Patrol. They were accompanied for two hours by HMS Airedale and then dived, surfacing at nightfall.

May 11 2044 surfaced. 31.21 N 29.20 E.

I’ll write you a long letter at sea this time and mail it as soon as I return. Wishing you the best of luck and thanks again for the books.

Yours, Hugh

Finishing with a promise of a longer letter, Hugh now prepares for the patrol which turned out to be exactly twenty-five days as he had anticipated.