Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Something for naval history buffs

I recently came across the Gun Plot web site.  It's a collection of histories and recollections of service in the Royal Australian Navy, and has a lot of interesting material.  One of the most interesting is an electronic copy of a 1944 book about the five aged destroyers of the so-called Scrap Iron Flotilla, derisively christened as such in 1939 by German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.  It was written by a RAN Sub-Lieutenant (equivalent to a US Navy Lieutenant junior grade).

HMAS Stuart, flotilla leader (click the image for a larger view)

Here's the author's introduction to the book.

No more thrilling actions were fought in World War II than those fought in the Mediterranean and Far East, and in these savage tussles five over aged Australian destroyers played a glorious part.

This is a factual story. I say this at the outset because you may feel that no five ships could get into (and out of!) so much trouble in such a short time. These five did. I served in one of them in the quieter days that followed the storm. There was bountiful evidence of the part she had played, captured Breda guns, Fiat guns, rifles, glasses, knives. Often the men gathered in groups in the messdecks to spin “dits” about the more hectic times. It seemed unfair that nothing had been written about them, and so this book was born.

"Scrap-Iron Flotilla" is the story of these five ships. Scouring Italy’s "Mare Nostrum" From South to North and from East to West. They fought countless fiery actions with surface craft, submarines and the Luftwaffe's deadliest planes. Of these five HMAS Waterhen was sunk, but the remaining 4 destroyers sailed back home to Australia to do battle with the Japanese in the Far East.

The story of the "Scrap-Iron Flotilla" is the story of Matapan and Calabria, of evacuation from Greece and Crete and of the immortal "Tobruk Ferry Service". It is the story too, of the war against Japan and the loss of HM Ships Prince Of Wales and Repulse.

There are brilliant first hand accounts of some of the war's most fiery encounters, but there is humour too, even in the midst of battle. It was not an easy story to write. Action and humour and dull monotony toppled over one another in a crazy procession. Some things had to be omitted for security reasons; others because there was not enough room for the whole tale.

There's much more at the link.

Written in 1944, much of what we learned about World War II after it was over (for example, the breaking of German codes by Britain, resulting in much valuable intelligence that aided in some of the battles and events covered in this book) is not recorded for security reasons.  Nevertheless, as a memoir of one of the most combat-tested destroyer flotillas in naval history, this book is invaluable.  Very highly recommended reading for everyone interested in naval and military history.



Bibliotheca Servare said...

I wish I could download the book, in case the website goes "poof" at some future date. Ah well, bookmark it is! Thanks for the link, Mr. Grant! :-)

Will said...

Sounds like a match for "The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors". A one day heroic epic vs a long area engagement of similar ships.

I ran that title past my library's search engine to verify my memory, and it came up blank. Worthless PC idiots... Goggle confirmed it, though.

Hell of a story! When you have a handful of the navy's two smallest types of combat ships go toe-to-toe with the biggest battleship ever built, along with a slew of normal sized BB's, with many cruisers and destroyers to season the brew, you would expect the result to be a mere speedbump in the enemy's progress toward the expected total destruction of the Taffy#1,#2,#3 groups. The result, however, was possibly the biggest upset in naval history.

Why those sailors weren't knee deep in medals afterwards remains a puzzle to me.

NWLAsaintfan said...

The Navy was probably too embarrassed that they let the IJN get passed their battle line to advertise the fact by handing out medals.

Even if the Japanese had succeeded in getting past the Laffy's and into the invasion force, they would have failed because the invasion force was already ashore. The best they could have done was shoot up some empty troop transports before Olendorff's fleet of Pearl Harbor survivor's caught up with him!

Dirk said...

Darn it all, I don't have time for this! And yet, it's just the kind of story I love reading. Just wish I could download it.

richard mcenroe said...

They weren't just stiffed for awards, the effed-up command on scene took more than three days to even begin rescue ops for the survivors from the lost Gambier Bay and the lost tin cans.