MY WORST DRAFT EVER IN A CAREER OF OVER 30 YEARS RN SERVICE

 

A SNIPPET

 

 

In early 1959 I boarded a RAF Dakota and flew to RAF Northolt [London] from RAF Luqa in Malta, long time now Malta's main civilian airport.

I had been stationed on the Island from mid 1957 in Commcen Lascaris on C-in-C Mediterranean's shore staff having been accommodated on Manoel Island, Gzira,  in HMS Phoenicia.  Before that, I had been at the Suez War of 1956 against Egypt's Colonel Nasser and afterwards found myself in Cyprus helping to fight Greek EOKA terrorists endeavoring to destabilise British Cyprus led by Colonel Grivas and Arch Bishop Makarios.  

Therefore I has been in the delights of Mediterranean sunshine for some time, and whilst much looking forward to seeing my dearest parents and many siblings again after a long parting I wasn't looking forward to being stationed somewhere in the UK or in home waters.

 After a long leave earned from foreign service, I returned to duty to Devonport [HMS Drake] just outside the lovely city of Plymouth and was teasingly drafted to a place called PENARTH,  an integral part of Cardiff Docks, and the tease........it was very near to Tiger Bay,  so my runs' ashore would be to listen to Tom Jones and my pash Shirley Bassey singing in the Bay's clubs whenever I wanted.

That sounded pretty good to me, but the euphoria soon left me when told that I was to join a WW2 Algerine MINESWEEPER which was in mothballs, being that way to preserve it against rust and erosion until it could be sold as redundant to our navy to a third world navy who would think they had won the pools [not the lottery back in those days]! On my draft-chit it said HMS HARE but on arrival I was directed to HMNS NIGERIA. Yes,  an African ship recently purchased, and a few years before my arrival in South Wales, Her Majesty had granted the use of the title 'Royal Navy' hence HMNS:  in 1963, at Nigeria's independence, it became the Nigerian Navy. The Royal Nigerian navy was formed in 1958 and is the largest navy in Africa.

Picture below HMS Hare in WW2 colours

 

 

A snippet taken from the Nigerian Navy page on its history during the period of 1956-1970

RN Knowledge says:-  

HMS HARE took passage with the Flotilla in October 1945 for duty based initially at Singapore with the 10th Flotilla. The ship was first deployed for mine clearance in areas near Singapore including ports in Indonesia. Later she was based at Hong Kong for this duty, She returned to UK in September 1946 and arrived at Harwich to Pay-off and reduce to Reserve status. Whilst laid-up, now at Penarth South Wales, she was placed on the Sales List in 1959 and sold to Nigeria. Renamed NIGERIA on 21st July that year she served as Flagship in the Royal Nigerian Navy until 1962 when she returned to UK. On arrival she was placed on the Disposal List and sold to BISCO for breaking-up by Metal Industries at Faslane where she arrived in tow for demolition on 6th November that year.

 

Imagine my first view of a swarm of Nigerians clambering over their ship, now stripped of the mothballing protection and just about coming to the end of an overall paint job?

At first I feared that I would be accommodate on board with them, but I was soon introduced to an RN STEAMING PARTY [drafted piecemeal from HMS Drake over a period]  with four officers and eighteen ships company members, with me the only telegraphist plus one signalman. We eighteen were accommodated as L&RA [Living and Rationed Ashore] in at least twelve separate private homes whilst the officers were in Cardiff in a hotel. Our money, all beer money was generous although we didn't, by design, eat well but then again we didn't die of starvation. Our lodgings were clean, very decent, cheap'ish and nearby in Penarth.  1959 is a long long time ago and I can't recall everything in detail, but until we were ready to go to sea, a doddle and a giggle without a real care. Clubbing in Tiger Bay was indeed a joke - one BIG JOKE - for although it was relatively NEAR it was so convoluted that it was near impossible and Bloody expensive to get there and back in one day/evening  - see my map below -  and oh, by the way we all had girl friends!  

My daily task was to teach and train six Nigerian telegraphists on how to operate the equipment and which stations we would communicate with enroute from Penarth to Portsmouth.  I also trained their signals officer in his duties. The main fit was a VHF transceiver [Type 86M], a main HF medium power transmitter [Type 89Q] and a low powered HF transmitter [Type 60 EQR].

Above Penarths "mothball alley". WW2 warships [with one or two later models] awaiting sale or scrapping in the early 1960's

 

We practiced daily and once going live to communicate with Plymouth and to Portishead Radio [just a few miles away as the crow flies, and tuned, re-tuned to the point of utter boredom in procedures, exercised in Morse Code and Radio Telephony. Some of their crew were intelligent whilst all were enthusiastic, and I got the feeling that all Nigerians on board were delighted with their new toy. After a couple of weeks, our Steaming Crew Senior RN Officer, a commander ND [Navigation and Direction] specialist, would accompany Nigerian departmental officers on rounds and ask them pointed questions as to whether  they were pleased with us,  their mentors? By week four, I often used to find all six telegraphists playing with knobs and dial on the wireless equipment, and whilst their Morse was well formed it was pathetically slow by our standards. There was no suitable Morse Broadcast for Nigeria to copy for the short trip to Portsmouth and local nets were earmarked when radio communications were necessary.

We were due to sail at the six week mark assuming no defects and favourable tides, notorious in the Bristol Channel.

Duly,  a captain from Devonport arrived in Penarth and for a forenoon quizzed us the Steaming Crew on whether they [the Nigerians] were ready for the short steam to the middle of the south coast. It was generally agreed, department by department that they were, and on Sunday, the ships complement had RN-Style divisions much to the amusement of a watching crowd of locals using the dockyard for exercise. Fortunately for us, we had been given printed matter as to what articles of clothing our small steaming kitbags should contain, and there was no mention of a blue suit plus trimmings, so we were excused!   Wednesday was our ETD [having warned the Nigerians that a good breakfast would make the trip, whatever the weather, a better experience - many had never been to sea before!  I got the signal officer to draft and 'intend sailing at' signal on Tuesday morning and the PO Telegrahist was briefed to send his 'intend setting watch on Plymouth Local Command Net [LCN] when necessary {?}  signal, understanding that later on we would need to chop to Portsmouth LCN, again when necessary, with a fall-back to utilise Portland communcations.

Tuesday night, we [Steaming Crew Ratings] had our final run ashore in Penarth and a fond farewell to Marie [my girlfriend] and a promise to write and keep in touch: in six weeks we went to the Tiger Bay bars just twice, and saw nobody of fame!

Wednesday morning was a complete farce because all the orders given where the responsibility of the Nigerian crew in English - they were, seemingly, but impossible to understand or obey to our ears. The RN had to take over and give the orders followed by the Nigerians repeating them in English????? No chance and that was a worry from minute one. Their navy at this time was officially one year old.

The RN Bunting came into the crowded W/T office to get his foul-weather gear which raised all Nigerian eyebrows. However, we prepared to set watch with Plymouth callsign MTI but didn't execute that preparation, and we slipped, moved up the narrow harbour and into the sea/river lock system ahead, all the while slowly making headway for open waters, in this case the Bristol Channel which very soon would join the St George's Channel at the bottom of the Irish Sea colloquially known in the navy as the Western Approaches, and officially the Celtic Sea.

As soon as we had cleared the lock gates at Penarth, the vessel started to rock and within minutes those black faces were green faces, disappearing in huge droves down below later appearing on the upper deck, to a man dressed in a life jacket. True, Algerine minesweepers are flat bottomed and not good sea vessels and within an hour or so we were rocking and rolling in a sea state of no more than four I would say.  I learned that our RN overseeing CO [who became the hands-on CO] had had a forecast which showed much turbulence in sea areas Sole, Plymouth, Portland and Wight but backing and moderating to Force 4.  These were the areas through which we would travel. However the forecast was a bit optimistic?

The RN steaming party were destined to share in with the ships company [and officers in the wardroom] in what were tiny areas [messdecks and flats, heads, galley and dining], which was a recipe for disaster. The food was provided and cooked by Nigerians, at least that was the intention? I well remember sighting the victuals brought on board and found them in all respects to be what we the RN would have provided. Fortunately we 'G Ratings' - I was 21 in 1959,  still drew our tots so not all was destined to be bad!

Conditions deteriorated and when we joined the English Channel proper off Lands End when things were extremely lumpy and Hare...sorry Nigeria, assumed the motions of a crazed rodeo bucking bronko. We were often awash with a stern [following sea] being pushed by untold quantities of Atlantic Ocean. It was uncomfortable to be sure, but later we saw evidence that the sea state was no more than six but with a huge short swell leading to peaks and troughs normally associated with gales and certainly with storms. The best conditions were achieved when we were heading slowly into the oncoming sea and there was no chance of that!

At this point one was lucky to see an upright Nigerian for virtually all of them, officers and ratings were now prostrate, the majority below decks free from the constant wetting extant                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     nded and from slipping to arrival at Portsmouth I didn't see one of them. I assumed at this point that those eighteen RN ratings, there to supervise and oversee Nigerians, were themselves watch on stop on with their charges immoveable and very ill to say the least. The ship had once again become a HMS rescinding the sale of a ship which was temporarily, in harbour at least,  a HMNS, for were it not for the RN'ers aboard, the vessel would have succumbed to the weather and might have been lost enroute.

 I remember going to the galley to pick and choose food suitable for conveying the short distance to the wireless office for my consumption, choosing boiled potato's, carrots and green beans, runners and broad, albeit cool to nigh on cold for the fuel used to cook this food which had been started had been turned off prior to the cook's emigrating.   They were belly-fillers quite well suited for the digestive system, after first having visited the wardroom pantry which had doubled into the rum distribution/issue point.

The first real attempt at going below was to perform a comfort visit. The smell alone from seasick spew and defecations was positively deeply offensive and in itself enough to lead to a spew resulting from eating something bloody awful and objectionable, which could be smelt long before one arrived in the heads area themselves. In some areas the heads well defined area had been extended, and some had barricaded themselves into these extensions. Officers heads and the one head reserved for senior rates [CPO's and PO's] were engaged full time. Seasick spew was not contained in these areas alone but wherever needs must, making below decks a disgusting and evil place to witness never mind to use or attempt to use. To relieve one's self, a must and no questions about it, was easy for a No1, as long as once on the upper deck, in a cosy corner free from goffa's [incoming waves], one remembered that pissing into the wind was not recommended and that actually putting one's back to the wind was the preferred way of doing things, but what about the No2's? Here again, I was lucky because I could lock the wireless office door on the the inside and with plenty of paper [signal pads] around, I could do my business, clean-up and collect the dropping in yet more signal pad paper, and then ceremoniously throw it [with my back firmly to the wind] into the raging sea, or perhaps onto parts of the ship below if my aim was wrong!  Believe me it didn't matter one damn.  Another plus was that I kept my wash bag and towel in the office ready for showering - on a good day, which wasn't anytime before reaching Portsmouth.  I was able to collect fresh water in an office waste paper metal basket and bring it to the office. I then cut strips from my towel to act as wash flannels and the remaining part to dry myself. I discarded the wash flannels on an opportune basis and the towel on arrival in Portsmouth. On completion I unlocked the office door and wedged it open to encourage fresh air, after which, like all sailors having had a tot and a meal [of sorts] I had a kip in the comfort of my own professional environment.

   Having passed Falmouth our bunting brought down a PC&S signal [Position Course and Speed] supposed to be transmitted by Nigerians {?} to Plymouth with passing instructions for it to be sent to Portsmouth, but guess who actually did it?. Having achieved that, I asked the Plymouth operator if there had any messages for us and the answer was no, so I then asked for a weather forecast for the next 12 hours for Plymouth, Portland and Wight which he duly gave me. The RN CO was well pleased at my initiative and "common sense".

The weather did not and was not abating the further east we travelled, and predictably conditions in the ships grew increasingly worse if that were at all possible. From experience, we RN'ers knew that a man continuously being seasick was bit by bit becoming severely dehydrated and needed liquid's if not food, preferably both.  Since I was deemed [by those in authority] to be an important man [put about by myself] to listen for distress calls in such conditions [remember force 6 to 7] and maybe to send them to save our souls, I was left to my own devices, but other members of the RN steaming crew were coopted to, when physically possible to raise the Nigerians from their pitiful state and get water down their throats. I don't recall any success achieved but I do know we arrived at our destination without a death or a comatose body.

Some would argue differently, but we limped in to Portsmouth quite expected for I had been signalling our intentions, but we were in a pathetic state [or succinctly the Nigerians were] the ship in many parts resembling a huge cesspit.

The smell which pervaded every square inch of that vessel still haunts me now sixty years one.

Fortunately Portsmouth's reserve fleet [at that time HMS Bellerophon] or some other nominated department would have the repugnant [no less a word] responsible for fumigating the ship and disinfecting every  square inch to make it ready for its final voyage to Nigeria which fortunately is in West Africa a trip of 3955 nautical miles [to Lagos] which at an economical speed of 10 knots would take 16 days and 12 hours to achieve. By fortunate, I mean the vessel didn't have to travel even further. But God forgive them all if they meet inclement weather, and if it were of force 8 or more that a disaster would ensue, of that I am sure!

Rule Britannia - in all cases!

 

Post Script

The Article below is copied [for the most part] from the Navy History Net who own the copyright to the article, all except for a few sentences I have added for clarification.

From 1952, many  ships of the Reserve Fleet were dispersed from the home ports to commercial ports around the UK as a precaution against nuclear attack: one of them was Penarth a part of Cardiff’s Docks.  Between 1955 and 1960 most of the wartime ships held in reserve were sent to the scrapyards.  As a result, the Reserve Fleet was abolished in 1960, and responsibility for the few ships remaining in 'operational reserve'  was transferred to the Portsmouth Command.

THE RESERVE FLEET - 1960


Until 1955 the composition of the Reserve Fleet was relatively static.  The Fleet was rundown between 1955 and 1960 when large numbers of war-built ships were sent to the scrapyards.

This a summary of the Reserve Fleet in May 1952

                        BB    CV    CL    DD     FF    MSO    Aux
Medway                                        8       19     13         5
Harwich                              1        7       30       4         3
Portsmouth                2       5        9       29       5
Plymouth        1                  1      17       30       8         3
Rosyth                                1                   1
Gareloch         3         1                                                2
Gibraltar                                       1
Malta                                                                4
Simons Town                                 3

Between  1953 and 1954 many ships were transferred from the major naval bases to commercial ports around the UK.

When submarines were out of commission, they were in dockyard hands, rather than being laid up. 

 

The Reserve Fleet was disbanded in 1959-60 and replaced by a small ‘operational reserve/potential sales list’ based on Portsmouth, for many years parked-up in Fareham Creek. Penarth was one of the first to go after HMS Hare was sold from there  to Nigeria in 1959. Harwich lost its Reserve Ships  during the period 1953-1954 when I was at HMS Ganges,  at a time when HMS Mull of Galloway was being established, mid-stream off Harwich as the depot ship for inshore sweepers. This page, concerning HMS Hare https://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-22MS-Algerine-HMS_Hare.htm wrongly shows her as being part of the Harwich reserve as late as 1959.   In 1982 for the Falklands War, four Tribal-Class frigates were brought out of operational reserve ready to join the Fleet. They did, but were not deployed South