Veteran Stories:
Robert George Earl

Navy

  • Robert Earl (L) receiving an award from Soviet Ambassador Alexei Rodionov at the Toronto Naval Club, 1988.

    Robert Earl
  • Survivor's Boat used to rescue survivors of the Belgian Tanker "President Francqui," January, 1943.

    Robert Earl
  • Survivors of the sunk Belgian tanker, President Francqui, January 1943. Robert Earl takes issue with the reports he has read about the sinking, which indicate there were no survivors. As he describes, there were "12 men on a raft, all pretty weak, frozen feet, etc. Adrift for six days and nights. The survivors were taken to the Azore Islands, neutral Portuguese, we were only allowed 24 hours by international law to re-fuel, etc."

    Robert Earl
  • The survivor boat carrying the survivors of the sunk Belgian oil tanker, President Francqui, before being rescued.

    Robert Earl
  • Robert Earl, date unknown. Mr. Earl's birthdate on his Statement of Service is incorrect. He was actually born August 26, 1924.

    Robert Earl
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"Got word that the German battleship Scharnhorst was out; figured that they were going to try to get to the convoy."

Transcript

We rejoined the convoy and we ended up, we were back in Canada now, in Halifax. In May 1943, anyone who could write an examination with permission of our commanding officer [could] go ashore, first time we were there in Canada for some time, and write an examination, that if you pass, you could maybe qualify for a petty officer’s course, which I did and for the next three months, I took the petty officer’s course in Halifax, so I was ashore. And after we qualified for the petty officer’s course, finished the course, hey, a whole bunch of us, a thousand of us are going to the old country [England] on the [RMS] Mauretania. So we get to the old country, I think it was in October 1943. To make a long story short, they didn’t, nobody knew we were coming and no, no facilities for us to get our head down or anything like that. So anyway, they gave us a few days leave and we all went to London, did a little sightseeing; couldn’t afford anything else. And when we went back off our leave, we were all drafted, split up and drafted and 125 of us were drafted to the British cruiser - we called it shanghaied - shanghaied into the British Navy. And I was one of the ones who was drafted on the HMS Sheffield. And she’s what they called a Town class cruiser: 12six-inch guns for main armament plus secondary armament, etcetera, etcetera; 31 knots and all that foolishness. We joined the Home… it was in the Home Fleet, which was in Scapa Flow [Scotland]. Shortly after we were there, we started doing patrols up and forth and helping with [Arctic] convoys to Murmansk [Russia] and all that foolishness. And we took a convoy into Murmansk – Kola Bay actually - and I think it was on the 21st of December, 1943, I actually put my feet onshore in Russia, so I could say I was in Russia, just for a couple hours, because there’s very little daylight at that time of the year. This was, by this time, December the 21st. Got word that the German battleship Scharnhorst was out; figured that they were going to try to get to the convoy. The Sheffield was part of the 10th Cruiser Squadron which consisted of the Sheffield, the [HMS] Belfast, which was the sister ship and the [HMS] Norfolk, which was a County class cruiser, which had eight-inch guns as against our six-inch guns. We made contact on December the 26th at 9:20 in the fore noon, 0920 hours. Scared the hell right out of me when we opened up a full broad side of 12 six-inch guns. But anyway, the action only lasted I think for about 15 or 20 minutes and the Scharnhorst wasn’t interested in us, they were interested in getting at the convoy. So she broke off and it was pretty rough up there, so we were capable of fairly high speeds but in calmer waters, whereas the bigger battleship could maneuver in rougher water at higher speeds. So she got away from us. Our flagship was the Belfast, which had the admiral on, our admiral, and he made some decisions and some way or other, while the Scharnhorst circled or whatever it was doing, trying to get to the convoy, he laid out a course sufficiently that we made contact again shortly after twelve o’clock, at noon. And then we got into a pretty good engagement that time. We were hit, Norfolk was hit and the flagship, the Belfast, didn’t get hit. Again, the Scharnhorst wasn’t interested in us except they wanted to get away so they could get at the convoy. But unbeknownst to the Scharnhorst, the British Admiralty was actually laying a trap for the Scharnhorst. The [HMS] Duke of York, which was a 14-inch gunned battleship was coming our way to rescue us. We’d never admit we’d ever have anybody rescue us but anyway, she came up and eventually we sank, amongst us, we sank the Scharnhorst. There was 1960 people aboard the Scharnhorst, 36 survivors. And I have a copy of the autographs of the 36 survivors.
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