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The Loss of HMS Spartan

29th January 1944

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Neil Midgley : 2019-2-15;11:43
RAYMOND BOMBY (died 2009)survived the sinking of HMS Spartan. In his account he writes of being picked from the sea by HMS O'Rien but I can find no records of a ship of that name. Any suggestions to neil.midgley49@btinternet.com would be appreciated.
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Spartan bombarding the Italian coast
Spartan bombarding the Italian coast
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(photo kindly provided by Bruce Marfell whose uncle was on the starboard pom-pom when she was sunk - there has been some debate about whether this photo was taken at the time of the attack, the blob top right being the bomb - another version of this photo is on the main Spartan page so you can form your own opinion)

Spartan served initially in the Home Fleet and then went to the Mediterranean, where she was hit on the port side and sunk by an Hs 293 glider bomb while lying off the Anzio beachead.

Hs 293 glider bomb
Hs 293 glider bomb
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Length: 3818mm
Total Weight: 975kg
Fuselage Diameter: 470mm
Fuel Load: 66kg
Speed: 265 meters per second
Explosive Weight: 295kg
Wingspan: 3100mm
Thrust: 600 Kilopounds

There are two stories here. The first is the story of Derek Evans, a young seaman whose action station was a loader on an oerlikon gun starboard side aft.

The second describes the experiences of Able Seaman Howard Burris, an A/A Gunner.

If you knew Derek or Howard, or served on Spartan, I would be happy to pass on your messages.

If you want to know more about Spartan and the strange circumstances surrounding her sinking visit David Hughes excellent site.


Spartan on commissioning in 1943
Spartan on commissioning in 1943
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We had been up the West coast of Italy North of Anzio, giving support bombardment to the ground troops, I believe it was called Nettuno, and after returning to our Anzio anchorage there was another Red warning that an air attack was imminent. We were still closed up to action stations and the 5.25 A.A. guns were firing, it was very noisy but I failed to hear any explosion after we received a direct hit from a glider bomb, which, of course had been controlled by a parent aircraft. My action station was at an oerlikon gun starboard side aft. After being told by an old messmate recently that I was lashed to a Carley float and put over the side, apparently the float overturned and Dennis Brownhill then presumed that I was dead and it wasn't until we got in touch last year that he found out the truth.

I have a very hazy memory of being in the water, wondering how, and why, I was in this predicament. My legs wouldn't work and my fingers on my right hand were bent backwards at right angles to the back of my hand. No proper recall then until I came round in a sick bay or something similar. It was definitely a ship as we were moving, but there was only dim sheltered lighting visible. I was freezing cold and very thirsty but my needs were soon attended to. Back into oblivion and my next lucid memory was coming around in a hospital bed and receiving ministrations from a padre, turned out later he was administering the last rites !!!! I didn't realise the full implications of this until later.

The hospital was the 92nd General Hospital in Naples on the top of a big hill. We visited Naples a few years ago and saw the building but didn't visit. The hospital ward was very large and between every bed there was a stretcher complete with a casualty. One night there was a great commotion as a Yugoslav partisan, who had lost a leg, crawled out of bed, fell on a stretcher case below, and then with a knife in his mouth tried to get at a wounded German P.O.W. in one of the other beds. This effort was unsuccessful and peace was restored to the ward.

Eventually the powers that be decided that I would be repatriated, and eventually I was embarked on a Hospital Ship, the name eludes me but it could have been the Devonshire, and we set sail for the U.K. There was a large hold with a serried rank of cots, all suspended in gimbals bolted to the deck. Consequently whenever the ship rolled all the cots remained on an even keel. I don't have much recollection about dates, times at sea, routine or anything really at this time. We eventually docked at Avonmouth, nr Bristol and thence by Hospital bus Ambulance to R.N.Aux. Hospital at a place called Barrow Gurney

I remember every bump in the road on this never ending journey !!! We eventually arrived and I was put into bed in a small ward with about half a dozen other patients.

I applied for a transfer nearer home, home being Llandudno in North Wales, and sod's law prevailed and I ended up in Sherbourne in Dorset, However eventually I was transferred to the Ministry of Pensions Hospital at Childwall in Liverpool and had a lengthy stay until my discharge home nearly two years later.


MY EXPERIENCES IN THE ROYAL NAVY 1942 - 1946

A recent Spartan reunion - the young men in the photo are from the submarine HMS Spartan who in respect always attend the reunion. Howard Burris is eighth from the right.
A recent Spartan reunion - the young men in the photo are from the submarine HMS Spartan who in respect always attend the reunion. Howard Burris is eighth from the right.
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Ever since I was a young boy I wanted to be a sailor. So on reaching the 'calling up' age of 18 in April 1942, I volunteered for the Navy. I duly went to Malvern for a medical and passed. When I received my 'calling up' papers, I was instructed to report to the Royal Navy training camp HMS Raleigh at Torpoint in Cornwall.

After a rigorous three months of training, I was selected for gunnery training at Breakwater Fort in Plymouth Sound and eventually qualified for an anti-aircraft gunner. After a short while in Devonport Barracks (HMS Drake), twenty of us were drafted to Barrow-in-Furness in the North of England, our mission was to load HMS Spartan, a new ship built there, with food, ammunition etc ready for the arrival of the main body of the crew and the subsequent commissioning of the ship.

Following this we proceeded to the Firth of Clyde where we did speed trials etc and gunnery practice at the Mull of Kintyre (made famous by Paul McCartney's music). One of the days that we carried out an exercise was, I recall, a really beautiful day, and also a Sunday. It seemed a sacrilege to lob shells around. The ship left the Clyde and sailed to Scapa Flow.

At Flotta in Scapa Flow, we anchored alongside other ships of the Royal Navy. This was where we were able to go ashore to the Naval canteen where one could eat as many eggs and chips as one wished - there must have been a lot of hens in the Orkneys!

From there we went on to further exercises in the Pentland Firth where on one occasion we passed a fleet of American ships which were led by the aircraft carrier USS Ranger.

Following the working up in Scapa Flow, we sailed for Devonport and from there we went out to protect convoys which were passing to and from the United Kingdom. German Focke Wolf aircraft were doing a lot of damage in the Bay of Biscay. This meant Spartan had to be placed in the middle of a convoy whilst the destroyers and corvettes were circulating around looking for submarines. We sat there merely as a protection. It is well known that the speed of its slowest ship, so it was frustrating to be on a ship able to perform nearing 40 knots.

One night Spartan should have gone into the Channel to deal with German E-boats which were posing a threat to shipping, but because of radar problems HMS Charybdis took our place and unfortunately was sunk that night with much loss of life.

Following all this activity, we were sent to the Mediterranean. The Spartan called at Bizerta in North Africa and on departing the port ran across a sunken ship. As a result of this, one of the propellers was damaged. At this time, the eighth army had progressed on the east side of Italy and captured Taranto, which was the most important naval base of the Italian Navy. Spartan was sent there for repairs and put in a floating dry dock. During that time, HMS Aurora sailed in having been badly damaged in the Dodecanese. Little did we imagine that some of us would join that ship.

After the propeller problems had been repaired, we were sent round to Naples on the west coast of Italy. We arrived to see Vesuvius erupting and ash went right across Italy. The paradox was that Vesuvius was covered by snow when it blew its top.

The first operation Spartan undertook in Italy was to bombard the German navy whilst a crossing was being undertaken on the River Garigliano. The American Army who were operating on the West coast of Italy were reinforced by British regiments of the Eighth army. On returning to Naples after the operation, it became apparent that the ship would be involved in another large operation. This proved to be the invasion of Anzio. This took place on the 22nd January 1944. Spartan was part of the original invasion fleet. The Army unfortunately could not get their vehicles ashore, and this led them to becoming surrounded by the German forces. On Saturday, January 29th 1944, the Anzio beachhead was under intensive air attack, Spartan was not designed for that type of conflict in a confined space and was attacked by a radio-controlled glider bomb which sank the Spartan with much loss of life. The hospital ship 'St. David' was also attacked. Commander Ambrose, the Second in Command to Captain McLaughlin lost his life that night.

All the survivors landed one way or another in the Bay of Naples. I, along with others, was transferred to the 'Winchester Castle', one of the well known passenger ships of her day. We were told we were going home to the United Kingdom. Unfortunately this could not include those who were lying wounded in the Naval hospital in Naples. We were transferred to the French ship 'Champollian' which would take us to Algiers to get another troop ship back to the United Kingdom. We eventually arrived in Algiers.

The days passed when the 'buzz' went round the ship that we were not going home. Need I say that those who wanted to sample the 'plonk' (drink) went ashore and, on their return, wrecked part of the ship. The survivors were put ashore in a Naval barracks called appropriately HMS Hannibal. Later we were transferred to Malta and spent some time in a rest camp called Camp 12. The next move was to Taranto on board French destroyers.

I was on the destroyer called Le Terrible. It lived up to its name! We all spent the night on the upper deck. When we arrived at Taranto we went on board HMS Aurora and went on to further wars.

Able Seaman Howard Burris A/A Gunner

'A SPARTAN SURVIVOR'
I'm only a 'Spartan' survivor
I swam by myself to the shore
That trip were'nt no blooming lark either
But no one wants me anymore
I thought they'd be glad I got safe away
So I goes to the pay-bob, but what does he say
If aint got no papers, you don't get no pay
Oh nobody cares about me

I'm only a 'Spartan' survivor,
The clothing store sold me a pup,
Gor Blimey, why Lady Godiva
was equally well kitted up
A blooming great battledress sets off my charms
a look in the mirror gave me many qualms
Gor Stuff Me, the trousers came up to me arms
Oh nobody cares about me

I'm only a 'Spartan' survivor
In the Bay of Algiers we were moored
The bloke from the Trooper says
'Why the blue blazes don't you come on board'
I said 'It was true I was led to believe I
was bound for U.K., and a nice spot of leave'
But I ain't got lace on my sleeve
Oh nobody cares about me

I'm only a 'Spartan' survivor
and here in the Med I must stop
though I foam at the mouth with saliva
and I'm chocker right up to the top
In Hannibal barracks, they gave us no heat
In the Free French destroyer we got nowt to eat
So roll on civy street
For nobody cares about me

ANON

Spartan passing astern of Orion at Anzio the week before her loss
Spartan passing astern of Orion at Anzio the week before her loss
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