Veteran Stories:
Frank Rusling

Navy

  • Mr. Frank Rusling in Saint John, New Brunswick, on July 28, 2010.

    Historica Canada
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"he whole ship was absolutely vibrating so much. And the screws were out of the water and the four propellers; and they were screaming because they were not in the water."

Transcript

I joined my first ship, which was a cruiser, the HMS Sheffield and I joined her and walked up the planks onto the deck on Friday, 13 January 1939. [laughs] Somehow or other, that always struck me as unlucky, but it never turned out so for me.

It was in the Denmark Strait, between Iceland and Greenland. A rogue wave, we got two, one after the other, and absolutely, that day, not only myself, but the whole ship’s crew thought that we were going to go into the ocean. Because the first big wave came and we’d been going up and down, and up and down; and it was very burying the nose in and we’d come back up. And about fifth or sixth [time], there was what we called a rogue wave, bigger than the others. We were already trying to get out from one [wave] and we had the second one following. It brought the ship up at an angle like that; and I was on the bridge on duty at that time. I thought we were just going to go slide right in. The whole ship was absolutely vibrating so much. And the screws were out of the water and the four propellers; and they were screaming because they were not in the water. Anybody who was below deck was coming up on deck and because, quite honestly, I thought we were going right down. We did manage to pull us out, well, the ship did, not us, we could only pray. [laughs] But the ship’s bow finally came up.

We went into dock and all the repairs were made, all the damage was retrofit. And then from there, we went down into the Mediterranean and we weren’t sorry about that. [laughs] Quite a difference in temperature ̶ and calm seas. [laughs]

We joined [Royal Navy] Force H, which was the battle fleet that worked out of Gibraltar. Force H at one time, they bombarded Genoa in Italy. That’s northern Italy, west coast. The force moved in under what we call Levanter [a Mediterranean weather formation], fog. But it was mast high, the fog. We came in that morning at daylight; the Italians had no idea we were there. The whole fleet. We were in enfilade, one behind the other, coming up. When we opened up, they thought they were being bombarded by aircraft because the [HMS] Ark Royal [Royal Navy aircraft carrier] had put aircraft up in to spot where our shells were going, to see whether we were on target or not. So the Italians, they didn’t realize they were being bombarded by the sea. We were hidden by the fog. They couldn’t see us. It was something unreal, really. I mean, there were periods later that we could just get a slight glimpse of the shoreline but no, we successfully ruined their dockyard.

Well, I was on a 20 inch signal light and the signal light was sufficient to penetrate to the ship behind us for turning and everything. And now, as I said, we had no anti-flash gear [fire resistant protective covering for the head and hands] or anything like that. I was in summer clothing, just a short sleeve shirt. I had my arms along a side of this big light. And as we moved past the targets, and the guns came around, B gun, which was the one immediately just below the bridge on the upper deck, when it fired its salvos, my arm, I didn’t realize it at that time, but I was, the flame and the cordite from the explosion of the guns, I didn’t know, it pitted my arm. But when I was treated by the doctors onboard (we had two onboard for this sort of stuff), it looked like nothing. I didn’t feel it either. But, anyhow, it wouldn’t heal and after I think two or three months, I was dismissed from the ship and I went back to England on another vessel. In actual fact, I went back on the same boat because we had to go back to England. But then I was discharged to shore.

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