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HMS Ledbury

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Ledbury goes into the flames to rescue survivors from Waimarama
Ledbury goes into the flames to rescue survivors from Waimarama
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This is the report submitted by the captain of Ledbury following the Pedestal Operation. I was researching the loss of HMS Manchester when this report fell out of the Pedestal files in the Public Record Office.

Knowing what Roger Hill did following the sinking of the Waimarama I was very interested to see how he described it.

Further information including video and sound clips can be found on the Pedestal 3 page.


SECRET.

H.M.S. LEDBURY.

OPERATION PEDESTAL - LETTER OF PROCEEDINGS.

Sunday 9th August 1942.

0300 Sailed from Gibraltar

1400 Sighted convoy.

1440 Took up station on screen of convoy.

Monday 10th August l942.

2300 Left convoy and proceeded to oiler.

Tuesday 11th August 1942.

Oiled from 0700 to 0819 from DINGLEDALE, taking 101 tons.

0950 In station as starboard wing ship of screen.

1314 H.M.S. EAGLE was hit by torpedo/s.

1318 DERWENT ordered me to stand by EAGLE.

1225 EAGLE sank. There were many survivors in the oil patches in the water and one destroyer and the tug JAUNTY were stopped picking them up. As we reached survivors, we were ordered by D.19 to rejoin convoy.

1420 High level bombing attack.

2058 Shallow dive-bombing by Junkers 88s started. One plane was seen to be on fire. The port Oerlikon hit one plane. (Many other ships were firing at this machine).

2010 Ordered to A/A station. 1 cable on the starboard beam of No. 43

Wednesday 12th August 1942.

0537 Ordered by NELSON to investigate periscope reported on starboard quarter of No.43.

0710 NELSON reported submarine periscope bearing north of her.

Single scare charges were dropped to cover INDOMITABLE from this submarine, and destroyers astern appeared to follow up this contact.

0900 An air attack by Junkers 88s developed on the convoy.

0915 One Junkers 88 crashed bearing 058 degrees. Four small bombs were seen to go by the bridge, landing on the starboard aide, and a large bomb near missed the port quarter.

0930 Ordered to fill in gaps in the screen caused by ships falling back on contact. On the way to this position three airmen were seen coming down by parachute. One was picked up and found to be German, so the other two were left. He stated that the last raid consisted of German airmen flying Junkers 88s from Sicily; and that he had been shot down by close range weapons from the convoy. The most interesting thing about him was that the nails of his boots were made of wood.

1215 An attack by dive-bombers. Two groups approached from ahead, but neither got over the convoy. Two were shot down by gunfire.

1238 Resumed station on the starboard side of the convoy

1240 Torpedo bombing attack took place from the port side and fourteen torpedo bombers were sighted on the starboard side.

These were driven off by gunfire, one being shot down. There was no damage to the convoy.

1318 An attack by Junkers 88s started whilst our own fighters were landed for refuelling. One near miss off our port quarter.

One ship in the convoy was damaged. H.M.S. BRAMHAM stood by her.

1700 A submarine was forced to the surface astern and sunk by a Tribal class destroyer.

1857 Junkers 67s dropped parachute mines which all fell clear.

1859 12 torpedo bombers approached from the starboard side but were turned away by gunfire.

At the same time, Junkers 87s carried out dive-bombing attacks, and H.M.S. INDOMITABLE was hit.

1900 Force "Z" retired

1950 The convoy was in process of forming two lines with the three T.S.D.S. destroyers ahead, and the remaining ships in their A/A stations in the column of the convoy. A signal, "Form two columns" was still flying, but most ships were anticipating the movement and moving to their new positions.

1956 HM Ships NIGERIA and CAIRO and the tanker Ohio were torpedoed. The convoy carried out an emergency turn to starboard, and most destroyers turned back to stand by the damaged cruisers.

2000 We were in station on the starboard side of the convoy - about half way up - which was now roughly in two columns with Manchester, Kenya and Pathfinder ahead.

A cruiser reported aircraft detected by RDF on the port bow of the convoy and ship was taken through the convoy to get to the engaged side; but a heavy and sustained attack by Junkers 88s dive-bombing developed when we were in between the columns.

Things were very warm for a few minutes two ships were hit, one blowing up and making a huge mass of burning petrol on the water, the other remaining afloat but on fire.

Torpedo planes were now sighted on the starboard bow very close. The light was failing quickly. We engaged the torpedo planes, but one delivered a very good attack, dropping two torpedoes. Another ship blew up, and I think the BRISBANE STAR was torpedoed at this time.

Told MANCHESTER we were standing by the damaged ships, out in the darkness sighted six ships steaming on various courses, mostly in a north or north-western direction.

I called up the nearest ship and ordered course 120 which I think she was turning round to. This ship was the MELBOURNE STAR. The other ships were follows and hailed by Ardente; told to turn to 120; to make their best speed that the Admiral and naval escort were proceeding slowly down the coast waiting for them. The Admira Lykes was furthest to the westward and was the only one of the ships who queried this order.

I then returned to the OHIO intending to take her in tow, but she reported that she could steam with her steering aft but had no compass. We switched on a brighter stern light and told her to follow us to Malta.

I realised now that if the stragglers continued on 120 they would pass to the east of Zembra and the minefield. I made an emergency signal informing C.S.10 that stragglers had been ordered to steer 120°.

I also informed HMS PENN with whom I was in V/S touch at this time, that the survivors from the damaged ships had not been picked up and I was going on with the oiler.

It seemed a very long time before we got clear of the glare of the burning ships. The oiler was grand. She yawed heavily at the beginning, but was soon steadied and we had worked up to 15.5 knots before reaching Cape Bon.

During the night, four spectacular E Boat battles were sighted just ahead around the next corner (At 0204, 0332, 0345 and 0431).

Thursday 13th August, 1942.

0304 Three merchant ships were sighted whilst rounding Kelibia. I think one of these was the BRISBANE STAR.

ALMERIA LYKES was told to follow.

0250 Sighted small patrol boat apparently towing a target inshore off Kelibia. Fire was withheld as our policy was evasion.

During the morning three abandoned merchant ships were passed, some of them with boats with flares close by. (One passed at 0330 and two at 0431).

I did not feel very happy leaving these crews, but knew PENN was astern of me and I would not risk stopping or losing sight of the tanker.

0514 A glow was sighted from which no R.D.F echo could be obtained. The glow suddenly blew up leaving a small petrol fire which only lasted about ten minutes. This was thought to be a damaged E boat blowing up.

0540 Convoy sighted

0350 Led the tanker in astern of the line.

I informed C.S.10 in ASHANTI that there were three stopped merchant ships between there and position "R" and three more under weigh astern of that.

0730 I also informed him of the tanker's condition. Torpedo planes flew in to distract attention from Junkers 88s which were coming in from a height. We had detected these by R.D.F. but could not sight them and were slow in opening fire on them.

The WAIMARAMA was hit, probably by about three or four bombs, and blew up with a tremendous explosion leaving a great pylon of flame on the sea. ASHANTI signalled me to pick up survivors. I went to the scene, but did not think it possible that anyone could survive such a terrific explosion or mass of flames, but on approaching, men were seen in the water.

the sea burning after Waimarama explodes
the sea burning after Waimarama explodes
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I cannot speak too highly of the sheer guts of these men. They were singing and encouraging each other, and as I went through them explaining by Ardente that I must get the ones nearest the flames first, I received answers of "That's alright, sir. Go and get the other chaps".

The flames were spreading outward all the time - even to windward - and at one time spread the whole length of the ship while picking up two men close to the after nets. I had to go astern, and these men were supported by my rescuers who themselves were clinging onto the nets.

I twice had to pass a merchant seaman who was some way away from the fire, and each time we passed he said, "Don't forget the diver, sir".

The last man to be picked up was on a raft which was anchored to some sunken debris in the middle of the fire. Owing to fatigue an order was, repeated wrongly, and I had to go around again to get this man. I am deeply conscious that owing to this mistake I increased his suffering and serious burns.

45 survivors were picked up, one of whom was dead. He was buried that evening with military honours.

Some tine later it was discovered that we had survivors from the WAIMARAMA and the MELBOURNE STAR onboard.

When the WAIMARAMA blew up, it happened so suddenly that the MELBOURNE STAR steamed right through the flames. Those aft quite understandably thought that their own ship had gone up and jumped over the side. It was a fine thing to find this ship in harbour at Malta when we arrived.

My cause for anxiety during this retrieving of survivors was the parachute mines which we had seen fall all around the burning ship, but no mines or parachutes were sighted in the water.

The ship was attacked by Junkers 83s during this period but the attack was not pressed home after we opened fire. The director claimed one plane shot down, but I did not see it.

0934 Completed picking up survivors. By this time I estimated that we were about 30 miles astern of the convoy and would have to go very fast to catch them up before we turned around and went home.

I knew that my fuel was the limiting factor for the speed home of Force "X".

A signal was made to C.S.10, "30 miles astern of convoy -interrogative rejoin or go home?". Course was set to rejoin the convoy.

1050 An attack was made on "Ledbury" by Junkers 88s. Near misses as usual.

1115 Found OHIO and DORSET with BRAMHAM standing by DORSET and PENN dropping depth charges.

The convoy was about ten miles away being attacked from the air.

C.S.10's reply to my signal was received very corrupt, apparently ordering me to go home, but I considered it had been made before OHIO was stopped.

I suggested to PENN that I should take OHIO in tow was coming up to do this, when I received a signal from V.A.M to C.S.10 (R) LEDBURY suggesting that I should stand by MANCHESTER in the Gulf of Hammamet.

A signal originated from S.O. Cruiser Force, had previously been received, saying "Engine room flooded. Afire".

In view of the delay in signals, and as PENN and BRAMHAM were standing by these two ships, I proceeded at 24 knots to look for MANCHESTER in the Gulf of Hammamet.

1345 Passed wreckage of ALMARAMA LYKES

1545 Two three-engined Italian bombers approached on the port beam. 4" cease fire bells were rung in order not to discourage them, and short bursts from Oerlikon and pom-pom shot them both down in flames. The second one had time to drop his torpedo whilst we were dealing with the first. This was small, slow and a "" type.

This success came at a very apt time as the ship's company were showing signs of very great fatigue, and the survivors were, most understandably, jumpy. The whole ship was cheering hard, and everything after this went with a swing.

1630 Landfall was made.

1700 Identified as Ras-Mahmur.

Course was set to follow the coast line looking for the MANCHESTER. When we were almost certain that she was not in the bay, the coast was closed in case there might be any survivors on the beach.

The signal station at NEBOEL started calling up "VHM - VHA". We did not reply.

The signal station at Hammamet made a flag signal, "show your signal letters". We hoisted an Italian group consisting of flag "I" and three other flags tied in knots so as to be unreadable. This apparently satisfied the shore station as they hoisted a large French ensign.

During this period I was showing no ensign. Unfortunately we do not carry an Italian ensign.

I went on down the coast until 12 miles south of Hammamet.

During this time there were enemy reports of a cruiser near Zembra and two destroyers making for Pantellaria. I felt very lonely, particularly as a signal from C.S.10 was intercepted saying that LEDBURY was standing by OHIO.

Course was set to pass 5 miles south of Linosa. We altered course after dark to rejoin OHIO.

I could not get a D/F bearing from PENN or BRAMHAM but sighted their gunfire at first light the next day.

Friday, 14th August, 1943.

OHIO was stopped with no hope of getting her engines going as she had been hit again whilst in tow of PENN.

A 6" Manilla was passed from the tanker's stern to my midship oiling bollard, my idea being to take the stern to port, whilst the minesweeper RYE towed her; but I put on too much weight and RYE's tow parted, PENN then ordered me to take the tanker in tow from ahead, which I did, using the tanker's tow and a shackle of my cable. RYE took me in tow to keep the ship from falling off, whilst PENN went alongside the starboard side of the tanker to act as a drag to keep her straight.

My gunner, who was in charge of the towing party onboard the tanker tried out all the tanker's guns, which was as well since at 1044 we were attacked by nine Stukas (Junkers 87s).

We received a near miss within a few feet of the foc'sle, which fortunately was an oil bomb and caused no casualties. There was also a near miss astern.

The following is an extract from the ship's narrative: -"Mr. Musham, Gunner of H.M.S. LEDBURY whilst acting master of the OHIO (unpaid; fired six magazines of Oerlikon ammunition at the dive bombers, and claimed that he shot down one of them. The gun's crews of PENN confirmed this. He complained that he was forced to use hosepipe firing instead of eyeshooting, as the sights had already been stolen by the gunner of H.M.S. "LEDBURY".

This was the last attack, and PENN and BRAMHAM secured either side of the tanker, by magnificent seamanship and endurance brought OHIO into Valletta Harbour.

Saturday, 15th August. 1943.

0315 Took oiler in tow in order to get her straight for the channel.

With the help of an ML. pushing my bows. I managed to turn her 140 in three hauls, turning her about 45 each time.

No damage or casualties were sustained in the ship. The behaviour of the ship's company throughout the operation was exemplary, and no Commanding Officer could have wished for a finer ship's company.

(Signed) Roger Hill

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HONOURS AND AWARDS, ETC.

Lieutenant Herbert Antony John Hollings, Royal Navy.

Recommended to be mentioned in Despatches.

By his organisation and leadership, men who would otherwise have been burnt to death by the spreading petrol fire were saved, although suffering from painfully swollen ankles his leadership and efficiency were again outstanding on the three occasions that the tanker OHIO was taken in tow, the last time being at 0430 on the last night when hardly anyone in the ship could stay awake.

Mr Charles Edward Musham, Temporary Gunner, Royal Navy.

Did fine work in charge of the whaler in picking up twenty-two survivors from near a burning petrol fire.

when in charge of the towing party onboard the abandoned OHIO, had the foresight to get that ship's armament ready for action. Fired six magazines of Oerlikon ammunition at Junkers 87s dive-bombing the ship, one aircraft being probably shot down by him.

Charles Henry Walker, Petty Officer Cook (S) P/MX.49548.

Dived over the side and rescued a man who was on the edge of a burning mass of petrol. The heat was extreme, and he must have known that I must take the ship out any second.

Recommended for a Decoration.

George Walter Preston Ordnance Artificer. 3rd class P/X.49240.

Recommended for a mention in despatches

The fact that 1023 rounds of 4" ammunition, 2148 rounds of pom-pom ammunition and 1190 rounds of Oerlikon ammunition have been fired in seven months without a serious breakdown is due to his outstanding devotion to duty.

During most of this period, the ship was under arctic conditions.

A man of fine character and example.

Douglas Meakin, Leading Seaman,. P/SSX21909.

Recommended for a mention in despatches

His unfailing zeal and cheerful leadership at the pom-pom for seven months of arctic conditions were rewarded by getting two planes with 40 rounds per gun.

Arthur Edward James, Able Seaman P/JX.165645.

Recommended for a decoration or a mention in despatches.

Shot down a Heinkel 111 in P,Q.17; shared both the Italian torpedo bombers with the pom-pom; was seen by me to hit for certain two other Machines. His keenness and devotion to duty is a continual inspiration to the younger ratings

Reginald Sida. Ordinary Seaman P/JX.297259.

Recommended for a decoration.

The last survivor was on a raft which was burning in the middle of a large petrol fire. Sida went over the focsle on a line, getting a line around this man, and together they were hauled back.

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