Saturday, 20 September 2003

HMS Battler - September 1943 - Letter home after Salerno

Letter / Narrative

I suspect you have by now given up hope of ever hearing from me again after such a long silence? Actually we have been rather busily engaged on the recent Italian operations so you will no doubt appreciate that my chances of writing have been practically negligible.

Your next question will probably be “what part did they play in the invasion,” so in the next paragraph I will endeavour to enlighten you on the matter.

On August 29th the Captain informed the ships company that “Battler” with numerous other ships of the Royal Navy had been formed in to a force to carry out an operation at present unknown.

So it had come, the show was on, everyone was wondering with excitement what lay ahead of us in the next few days. Shortly after hearing this news we left prot X and escorted an all American troop convoy, it was our job to give these chaps air cover and needless to say, everyone of them reached his destination safely, we shared in the killing of one German aircraft which carried out a torpedo attack on the convoy.

Five days later we arrived in Malta, part of our task was finished but the big part lay ahead. Anyway I forgot all about further operations and the war and after contacting my brother-in-law who has been living on this island for over 5 years I toured the many places of interest which of course included the local bars and in general had one hell of a good time.

Gee has Malta suffered, it’s churches, homes, hospitals and places of historic interest have been blasted to pieces, the place is nothing more than a shambles, but still life seems to go on as usual. My visit to the port ended far too soon because after only 2 days in port our ship put to sea again only this time for the grand finale.

The captain informed the ships company of what they were about to undertake. At 0315 the next morning Allied troops were going to invade the Italian coast, it was our job to provide air cover for these troops until such times as the American and Royal Air Forces were able to operate from an aerodrome in Italy.

That night we passed through the Straits of Messina, the place that had seen so much fighting, and 6 hours later our fighters were ranged on deck.

Friday, 19 September 2003

HMS Battler - Salerno September 19th 1943

In detail:

The time had come for the first section to fly off. What a moment that was for everyone, what opposition were we going to meet, the ship was just a few miles off the Italian coast, open to aerial and underwater attacks, but this did not deter anyone.

It was 0600 on the clock, a brilliant moon shone overhead, dawn was just beginning to break through the dark skies. Inside the Fighter Direction Office everything was a bustle, take off was at 0615, each squadron putting up 4 aircraft.

Doc is there of course. Doc hangs around at all the take offs and returns just in case. People bring their aircraft back in a bit of a mess sometimes, invariably the prang on the deck. Not often thank God.

On deck there is a roaring and revving as the first Spitfire gets ready, pilots of all aircraft are aboard. G for George, F for Freddie and good old N for Nuts. They are all waiting, checking gauges set. Her cannons are loaded, deadly things, each one carrying a present for the enemy.

0615 on the clock, the Commander Flying gives the green light and the first aircraft roars along the deck followed by the others in quick succession, our flight is airborne, it forms up and heads westwards to look down on the shores of Italy. Below thousands of troop ships and battle craft unload troops and supplies, above planes of the Royal Navy prevent any interference. After 1 hour and 20 minutes our aircraft return and another section take over, and so this cycle of take-offs continued day in and day out for 5 days.

5 days later

Yesterday with only 4 aircraft remaining our task was completed, we had made history by covering the biggest landing the world has ever known.

Last night we had evening quarters on deck for the men that lost their lives during the action, after which we proceeded – whether or not we will arrive back in England before XXX I really don’t know, but I can assure you that I am very much looking forward to doing so.

Wednesday, 10 September 2003

HMS Battler - Captain's speech prior to Salerno - September 1943

CAPTAIN'S SPEECH TO SHIP'S COMPANY OF H.M.S. "BATTLER"
PRIOR TO LANDING AT SALERNO BAY, ITALY.


"I expect you have heard enough of my speeches by now. This is my final speech before the great operation timed to commence at 0330 tomorrow morning. That is the time when the first assault craft touch the sands in Salerno Bay - just south of Naples. Our first operation commences at 20 minutes before sunrise tomorrow when our first four aircraft are taking off for fighter protection for the landings. We shall continue throughout the day until sunset - a strenuous day but I know everyone will make it.

As I promised to you before, we are the Actors, with our young Fighter pilots the Stars, and the rest of us the Chorus. The stage is now set, all preliminaries are now over, and the curtain is about to go up. The audience is the world, and chief pride of place there goes undoubtedly to our Majesty King George VI, he sits in No.2 box. But in No.1 Box there sits the Greatest, and only God there is, and He will judge us on our performance tomorrow and the days to follow. He only expects each man to do his best - nothing more, and I feel completely confident that not a single one of us will be found wanting at this supreme moment of our lives.

I can do no better finally than quote the signal of the greatest sailor of all times - "ENGLAND EXPECTS EVERY MAN THIS DAY TO DO HIS DUTY" and I might add to that "WITH GOD'S HELP".

Good luck to us all and may we all meet again to celebrate a glorious victory in which "Battler" played her part.

We shall probably be slipping the two K.G.V. Battleships in the despatches, and then Force V (that is us) will proceed through the straits of Messina to our operating theatre, which is a square some 30 by 30 and some 30 to 40 miles off shore south of Naples. How long we remain there I cannot say, but it all depends on how long our Airborne Troops take to capture a very important aerodrome from which the Allies will then operate shore based Fisher patrols.

I believe we proceed to Gibraltar via Algiers on completion of the operation, but I cannot possibly tell you when that will be. That is all."-

-----o0o-----

Monday, 8 September 2003

HMS Battler - report of Salerno action 8th - 19th September 1943

I have the honour to submit my report of proceedings in Operation Avalanche carried out by Force V between 8th and 19th Sep.

8th Sep

In accordance with RAV’s signal “B” slipped for No.7 and 7a bouys and proceeded out of Malta Grand Harbour and took up station with Force V. Zigzag commenced at 1510. Entered Messina Straits at 2215, course as necessary. Firework display were observed at Messina, at other positions on both sides of the Straits, thought obviously to be Peace celebrations of the Italian surrender to the Allies.

9th Sep

Between 0045 and 0510 on the 9th gunfire was observed bearing 000 degrees. At 0517 star shells, lights and aircraft were seen bearing 000. Operating area for Force V was entered at approx 0525. At 0620 Martlets from Force H arrived over Force V. At 0848 air raid warning Red was received and negative about 12 minutes later. Force H on the beam about 14 miles, Force V’s course being 308. At 1201 a large number of landing craft were observed bearing 025, 7 miles, on course 130. Air raid warning Red at 1510 was negative at 1512. 1 Italian seaplane few across our bows at 1630 about 4 miles and dropped two depth charges, aircraft crashed into the sea 1633 bearing 220, 7 miles. Ett 1720 hospital seaplane destroyed and survivors picked up (signal from MTB 313 tuned 091710). Force H bearing 255, 6 miles at 1908 at 2252. Unidentified aircraft flew across fleet on course 160 and one with navi lights on flew over at 2202. Presume hostile a/c flew over at 2332, cleared 2345.

10th Sep

Fighter cover 4 Martlets arrived over Force V from Force H at 0635. At 0845 it was signalled that Unicorn top cover had shot down 4 enemy fighters. Sylla detected unidentified a/c ahead bearing 134, 4 miles notified that cruisers may fire barrage, gunfire heard 2313, probably from Force H

11th Sep

A/c to starboard presumably hostile at 0500. Coloured flares dropped. Destroyers make smoke screen. Gunfire heard at 0510 bearing Green 145. Fleet reported clear of hostile a/c at 0535. Large number of landing craft seen at 0740 bearing 080, 7 to 9 miles. Signal received stating that aerodrome would be serviceable at 1500 today. At 1310 depth charge dropped 2½ miles astern. More depth charges dropped at 1350, bearing 350, 1 mile portside. Unidentified a/c at 2045 5 miles closing. Smoke screen by destroyers at 205. At 2353 aircraft reported bearing 160, 9 miles. Charybdis opened fire. Secure 0013.

12th Sep

Passed tank craft, one American 8” Cruise and 2 American destroyers on bearing 020. At 0627 2 Destroyers joined Force V from Force H. Destroyers on screen dropped 2 Depth Charges at 1220 ahead of fleet. Made emergency turn at 1220 to 150. At 1355 3 Seafires flew off for aerodrome (Monte Coraino) piloted by Lt / Cdr Firth and 2 Fighting French pilots.
At 1410 Cleveland and Krackowiack reformed screen. HMS Battler anchored at Palermo with fleet at 1945.

13th Sep

Weighed anchor at Palermo 0610 and arrived at Bizenta at 1900.