Veteran Stories:
Gerald Watkins

Navy

  • Edward Clayton Hart served on the HMS Nabob during the Second World War, and was on the ship when
    it was hit by a torpedo in the Baltic sea

  • Gerald Watkins in Fredericton, New Brunswick, July 27th, 2010.

    Historica Canada
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"I think it was - the ones that was on deck was thrown into the water. But she went down in 28 seconds, just went right up and straight down."

Transcript

I got my draft to go to B.C. to pick up Canada’s I don’t know whether it was the first airplane carrier;there was two carriers at that time, the [HMS] Nabob and the [HMS] Trumpeter. The Trumpeter never did go to sea, I was told. But we left Vancouver after four months commission and we left Seattle and headed out and the first thing that pilot, ran us aground. It was on the sandbar, they was going to junk it right there but at four o’clock, they had five tugs pulling her off the sandbar and if she didn’t come off by four o’clock, they said they were going to junk her. But at four o’clock she started to move off the sand.

The crew mutinied before we got to New York. We lost quite a few hands. They, they had all their bags packed and the captain come around and they’d seen something was wrong, so he called a meeting up on the hangar deck and he said, I know it’s been tough boys, you’ve had a hard time, a lot of the sailors was on ships that had been torpedoed before. He said, I’m going to get you some leave. They knew we was going overseas but we didn’t, really. And he said, they’re going to give us four days leave. Well, it wasn’t enough time for me to get home to New Brunswick and back so I just stayed aboard. About two thirds of the crew stayed aboard and the other third took off. Some of the planes flew them to Montreal but they just wanted to get away from the, the ship because they, they thought it was just a, I don’t know what, something that could sink.

And the plating on it was only an inch thick. It was a converted merchant ship is what it was. Now, when it was just about ready to leave for overseas, the crew didn’t come back. They had planned this. And, but we left anyway. And just before the ship left, I can remember very clearly, the dock doors opened up and the Jeeps come out and they had about seven sailors in the Jeep. They thought that we had left and they gave themselves up. But they come onboard, they got them onboard. Well, they got six months stoppage of leave and this and that. Six months without smokes and everything. But we left for overseas, we got in England. I think it was Rosyth, [Scotland].

And from there, we was booked to go into D-Day. We were supposed to be part of that flotilla. We didn’t know it, but we was on trials off of the coast of Wales there. Our captain was named Horatio Nelson Lay. He was Mackenzie King’s uncle, we was told. He’d come aboard and on the trials, we was only, we was missing a lot of crew but a lot of the other sailors was very unhappy too and they didn’t perform like he thought they should. So he said, we wasn’t ready to go into D-Day.

We turned around and they sent us up to Scapa Flow, Scotland, where the big fleet was, of the British [Home] Fleet and Mister, that was something to see. We got our orders to go and we left Scapa Flow and we headed out; we had around 28 destroyers with us, two cruisers and two airplane carriers, there was us and another airplane carrier. We was told we was going to engage around Norway because the [German battleship] Tirpitz had left and got out and they put her to a run and she went into Norway and forded up in there. And we was to go in; we sent our planes in and they couldn’t see her because of the fog. So they came back and they landed and we went up and down the coast for a while, waiting to see if the fog wouldn’t lift. But we didn’t know that they had a sub sitting there.

We could oil the destroyers, we had oil on our ship too. And we was oiling a destroyer [on August 22, 1944] when we got the torpedo. She [U-354] fired one torpedo, took us right in the middle. We went down, we started to go down and we went down below and bulkheaded up the, the bulkheads and managed to save the other bulkheads from getting away. But we went down 28 feet in the back end. When we took the torpedo, an English destroyer came in to take the crew off, figuring we was going to go right down. And when she come, they fired two more torpedoes at us and missed with both. One went by the, because we was on a turn, she missed us by the front, by the back, then she aimed a little bit more and went by the front.

And then there was a lull of about 20 minutes, they thought that that was all the torpedoes they had, was three. So the destroyer came in to take us off now and we would, they were all climbing to get onto the destroyer, just ready to get on when they fired the fourth torpedo and sunk the British destroyer right there in front of us. We was told that there was a 198 aboard her and the ones that we saved we saved about 47 I think it was - the ones that was on deck was thrown into the water. But she went down in 28 seconds, just went right up and straight down.

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