Allen Griffiths' Service Medals (L-R): 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; France and Germany Star; Medal 1942 (above); Defence Medal; War Medal (1939-45).Allen Griffiths
Allen Griffiths in London, Ontario, March 2010.Historica Canada
"And as he was pulling them, up he went and I went, and shut them. Hey, give me a chance, buster. And anyway, the officer that run through and said everybody out."
We fired guns until they were wore out and we shipped three new ones on, three times we had to change the guns. All the shells that went up had to come down and they were bombing us, and the airplanes were coming over. There was blood everywhere. Suddenly, it stopped and the stillness came. It was like the end of the world, you know.
Then the people started shouting, hey, come on, get your rag out and this, that and the other, get cleaned up and pick the shells up they’ve been dropping on the desk and the shrapnel that had come down from everything. And it was so quiet. And everybody was looking at everybody else. I had a piece of shrapnel going into the gut here and I didn’t even know I was wounded.
I was taken to beaky bay, the hospital; and somebody took a little bit of shrapnel out there. I went down here and they said I had a tiny rupture here or something, and I came back and joined another submarine. I went back and picked up the [HMS] Oswald [Royal Navy submarine] again. And now she was ready for sea again under another skipper.
We went full speed ahead one night to Taranto [Italy], we were off the foot of Taranto. And then we dived and the skipper said, now, he said, we’re here, he said, off the foot of Taranto and the ships are inside, so we’re going to go inside and try and get at these cruisers and destroyers, and that, they were hiding in there. And they were causing havoc to us, because they were supplying North Africa.
Our skipper decided to fire a torpedo through the nets and we’d go in through the hole, see. Well, we heard the torpedoes hit the shore or hit something, we heard that, and we were going through, and then we heard scrape, scrape, scrape, and the next thing we couldn’t move. So we had to juggle it backwards and forwards and then we broke free, and then dived down. And we went down as deep as we could and we heard the ships come over us then, we heard a destroyer and … We could tell by counting the revolutions, what it was, the speed of the revolution told you whether it was a cruiser, a destroyer or just an ordinary ship.
And they went over the top of us, see, but they dropped depth charges [anti-submarine weapon] and stuff down on us and stuff like that, and then took off to sea somewhere. And now we struggled and struggled, and gradually we got free. So when we got away, we had to surface in a hurry because our batteries had gone dead; and we surfaced and it was nighttime, and it was a dark, dark night. And the clouds were out. I went up on the conning tower [raised platform from which directions can be given], that’s the only time you’re allowed up. You’re only allowed three at time to go up for a breath of fresh air. And you have a look around and some guy smoked or I’ll have a smoke, or something and down you go again. That’s that and the other.
Well, the gunner, who was looking aft from the bridge, he shouted out, cruiser on astern or something, coming in from the dark. And so we all dashed down the conning tower as quick as we could and the next thing, we were rammed by this cruiser. The cruiser’s name was the [SS Ugolino] Vivaldi [Italian naval vessel]. And then she skid off us and dropped depth charges on us, and then fired at us; and I don’t know what happened or anything. But anyway, we started to take water.
And so a couple of us run back down in, some jumped right away into the sea and others stood on the casing and stuff like that. And then the lieutenant coming running through the boat and said, everybody, get out. And there was already somebody pulling the tanks, opening the valves, and the deep sea diving tanks, you fill up and down you go, you know. And as he was pulling them, up he went and I went, and shut them. Hey, give me a chance, buster. And anyway, the officer that run through and said everybody out, Lieutenant Pope, he took off up there and that left just me, and an able [seaman], I think.
But when I went up, I had to open the valves again as quick as I could because you’ve got to destroy everything in your boat, any information and signal, and what all that has to be destroyed. So, anyway, by the time I was going up that ladder, the water was coming down, right drenching, and I thought, oh, you know. But I suddenly made it to the top, and out I shot.
We were all out in the sea now and it was all dark, and the sea was calm, but dark. It was calm. And then the sun came up the next day and we were all floating around. It was beautiful: you could see a fly on the water, if there was such a thing. It was all calm and that, and we were all basking in the sunshine like kind of thing. And then we’d dry out. You’d start to dry out and your faces get red and that because it’s hot sun.
Anyway, come to nighttime and the night went through; and the next morning, the cruiser came back and picked us up. That submarine had blown up underneath us and it spewed oil on the top of the water, and we were all covered in oil. And a plane went over the top of us and spotted us, and must have sent a signal to the Vivaldi and she came back, and picked us up. And then we were taken prisoner of war in Taranto.
Interview date: 15 March 2010